start with stereo (2.0) & proceed from there as funds come around.
Decent quality speakers from a maker specializing in speakers is key. You can add on over time & the sound will only develop better & better by sticking with a model line within a manufacturer.
You have a sense of inevitabilities such as wires are a bit of a nuisance to deal with. Your other half not liking bulky items like tower speakers is also problematic. Bookshelf speakers need to be elevated on things like stands. If not part of the height of the speaker, you still deal with a stand of some sort or an actual shelf.
Small size is an option. If so, give Mirage Nanosat speakers a look. Or possibly Orb.
Yes, unless you are a true home theater sorround effect fan, too many people just gravitate to ideas like 7.1 sound (usually overkill in my book.) More modest approach can be very satisfactory. 2.1 & 3.1 can be really fine.
For all the good motives of wanting wireless speakers they just don't work well. The reason is the signal must be converted & reconverted from digital to analog (with resulting degradiation) then back to digital & finally back to analog again. There is degradation at each conversion & interference galore! Wireless just doesn't work well. Perhaps someday, but not now.
i just recently purchased an onkyo 605 receiver, and have a little less than $500 to spend on speakers. i'm well aware of spending more on speakers than the receiver, but i wanted a receiver that was semi future-proof. before i get started, here is what i have:
1 - 46' aquos 1080p
2 - crappy dvd player that will be upgraded to blu-ray player one affordable
3 - nintendo wii
4 - onkyo 605 receiver
5 - verizon fios hdtv cable box
6 - my room is approx 20x20 with tv on front right corner but facing diagnol. wood burning stove oven on front left corner, chair and ottoman in mid right side, sofa about 4 feet from rear of room in middle, and loveseat on left side near sofa.
with that said, i have to fit some criteria from the better half...
1 - she hates wires! i don't have enough to get and electrician in, so it'll be done by myself for the most part. i have no problem putting in shoe rails to run some wires.
2 - she hates bulky items! so that means no tower speakers. i finally convinced her that a sub has to be somewhat bulky, but thats the best i got. so any smaller speaker system would be great.
as for my requirements...
1 - i'm still debating between a 5.1 and a 3.1. the reason i say that is because i would prefer to keep it to a 3.1 to avoid wires to the back of the room, etc. are there any 3.1 systems that provide ample surround sound compared to a 5.1?
2 - any wireless systems available for my budget? i've been reading a bit about rear wireless speakers and it seems that most are wireless from front to back, but have another receiver in back of room to go to rear speakers. is this true, or are there others out there? ideally would love completely wireless rear speakers. i cannot do the "semi" rear wireless speakers b/c sofa is not against back wall and thus wires would be seen...
3 - lastly, i want them to be black (simple enough, right?)
thanks a million!