Here's why wireless speakers (mostly) suck

The Audiophiliac gets into mythbuster mode with wireless speakers.

Wireless speakers usually come with a lot of wires. CNET Networks

Fact is, all of the wireless speakers I've reviewed for CNET still use speaker wires to do what speaker wires always do, deliver audio signals from power amplifiers to the speakers. And since wireless speakers have built-in power amplifiers, they need to be plugged into an AC wall outlet. So where a standard speaker has one wire, the wireless speaker has at least two! The "wireless" part refers to the system's ability to wirelessly transmit audio signals from the front of the room to the surround speakers.

The two wireless transmission systems, infrared and radio frequency, are fraught with problems. They all too frequently add noise, hiss, and pops--and when they're not adding those nasties--they just quit entirely and the sound cuts out. Infrared systems beam light from a transmitter, usually placed somewhere near the A/V receiver or home theater in a box DVD player, to the wireless speakers (so there must be a clear line of sight between the transmitter and the speakers). Depending on the room's physical layout, that may or may not be easy to implement. Radio frequency systems get around that hassle, but can have noise and radio frequency interference problems of their own.

Oh, and for the most part wireless speakers are pretty lame sounding speakers. They're typically woofers only, one-way systems--eliminating the tweeter gets around some of the noise problems associated with wireless speakers--and always at the cost of eliminating treble detail. Hi-fi they're not.

KEF's Universal Kit. CNET Networks

Now, that's I've totally trashed the wireless fantasy, there's one wireless system that I can get behind, KEF's Universal Wireless Kit . The "universal" tag refers to the kit's ability to be used with almost any speakers: big ones, small ones, you name it. I used the kit with my high-end Dynaudio Contour 1.1 speakers, and came away impressed with the wireless KEF's sonics. That said, even the KEF system comes with a big mess 'o' wires. Reality bites.

 

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