The speaker cable requirements of today's multichannel home theater systems have created a sizable market for wireless speakers. It seems as if everybody wants these things, but the engineering challenges of wireless speakers are steep, and a lot of wireless speakers sound pretty awful. There are a lot of truly dreadful products out there, and so our expectations for the Rocketfish Universal Wireless Rear Speaker Kit were fairly low. (Rocketfish, if you're unfamiliar, is one of the in-house brands of megaretailer Best Buy.) So imagine our surprise when it turned out to be a refreshingly clever product. The "Kit" part of the name was the first hint: the Universal Wireless Rear Speaker Kit doesn't include any speakers. The two-piece system instead features a wireless transmitter and a wireless receiver/power amplifier that can be used with any brand of surround speakers, so long as they use standard speaker wire (not hardwired proprietary connectors). So the "wireless" speakers can be as high quality as your front speakers. There's more good news: Rocketfish's Universal Wireless Rear Speaker Kit is priced low enough--$100--that we can recommend it for use with budget-priced systems, including many home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs).
The transmitter and receiver are plainly styled, black plastic boxes. The transmitter isn't much larger than a standard iPod. You connect it to the surround left/right speaker connectors of your AV receiver or HTIB amplifier (24-inch cables are included, but any old speaker wire should suffice). The receiver is a good deal larger than the transmitter: 1.5inches by 8.75 inches by 6.4 inches. Thanks to the system's 2.4GHz wireless technology, the transmitter sits in the front of the room (near the audio source) and beams the two surround audio channels to the receiver in the rear of the room, which is in turn attached to the two surround speakers (again, with standard speaker wire--which you'll need to supply yourself). The receiver's two 25-watt digital amplifiers power the surround speakers.
You read that right: the receiver needs to be wired to the rear speakers. Likewise, both the transmitter and receiver need their own AC power. If that sounds like a lot of wires for a "wireless" system, you're absolutely correct--but that's the same complaint we've had with nearly all other such systems to date. The "wireless" in the name refers to the cableless signal transmission between the transmitter and the receiver unit. In other words, you're losing the two longest wires in a surround system--the ones that would otherwise need to be snaked from the front (amplifier) to the back of the room (surround speakers). The receiver can lie flat on a shelf, stand vertically in the supplied cradle, or be wall mounted from its keyhole slots on the bottom panel.
Thankfully, accepting that semantic concession of the "wireless" moniker is the toughest part of the setup process--it's pretty much a plug-and-play routine. Seconds after powering up the transmitter and receiver, they automatically locate each other, and the receiver's red indicator will stop flashing and stay on. The system was fairly quiet--only when we stood right next to the speakers could we detect a small amount of audible hiss--and we weren't aware of the noise when we were listening to 5.1 channel sound from movies. (The receiver's rear panel has a volume control, so you can lock into a comfortable baseline level, then further adjust the volume through your main system's remote.) Switching over to stereo, the Rocketfish electronics produced moderately loud hum and buzzing sounds over the surround speakers (in other words, as long as the Rocketfish system is turned on, you'll want to listen in surround).
We didn't encounter any noticeable interference when using the Rocketfish. But your mileage may vary: cordless phones, Wi-Fi access points, and even microwave ovens may cause problems (the same caveat applies to any and all products that use the unregulated 2.4GHz wireless spectrum). We also noted that when we powered off our Onkyo TX-SR805 AV receiver, the surround speakers made a "pop" sound for a fraction of a second. More annoying was the fact that we had to manually power on the transmitter and receiver units each time, even though we had plugged the transmitter into the Onkyo's switched AC outlet. Rocketfish should redesign the transmitter and receiver units to automatically turn themselves on whenever they receive power or signals. Furthermore, the Rocketfish electronics add an audible amount of signal delay, which made the surround sound more echoey than we would have liked. We were mostly aware of the delay on announcer voices when listening to the radio--it wasn't all that noticeable on movies.