The Acoustic Research WHT6024 is the latest in a barrage of attempts at a wireless surround speaker system. Keeping in line with others we've tested, the wireless solution bundled with the WHT6024 is simply not wireless--in fact, there are more wires used in this $800 system than most wireless solutions we've tested in the past.
The WHT6024 is a full 5.1 system, with five identical satellite speakers and a 10-inch subwoofer. The satellites are fairly tiny as speakers go--about only 8 inches tall--and utilize a two-way design, with dual 3-inch drivers flanking a centered half-inch tweeter. The speakers carry a black metallic brushed design with steel grilles (not silver, as seen in some early photos still floating around on the Web).
Such small speakers lack palpable bass, of course, so the low frequencies are handled by the 125-watt subwoofer. The hefty 36-pound black box fills out at 16 by 10.5 by 15.5 inches, and sports a 10-inch front-firing woofer under a removable cloth grille. The active (powered) unit also boasts an impressive range of connectivity, including both line and speaker level inputs, as well as flexible crossover settings and level controls.
As with nearly all such systems, the wireless aspect of the WHT6024 is limited to the two rear speakers, thus eliminating the need to run speaker cables to them from your AV receiver (which is likely in the front of the room). That's exactly where the "wireless" promise begins to break down. Acoustic Research designed the wireless system in a way so that the included left and right rear speaker stands double as the wireless receivers and mini-amplifiers. What this means is that each surround speaker stand must be supplied with its own individual AC power. Not only is this another logistical detail to consider when laying out a 5.1 system, but it creates a wired mess. Moreover, we had a few problems with the stands, too: Tweaking them for optimal height takes some time, and our stands didn't tighten properly, which forced us to modify the attachments for a sturdier feel.
To get the wireless surround speakers working, you'll need to set up the included 2.4GHz transmitter. The tiny box accepts the two sets of speaker wire from the AV receiver and beams it--via radio frequency--to the rear speakers (the transmitter needs its own AC power, as well--yet another wire). Once that is complete, you'll need to sync the transmitter with the two speaker-stand receivers by pressing buttons located on either of the bases. Once synced, the two rear speakers gave off a loud "pop."
Acoustic Research claims that the WHT6024 utilizes "digital spread spectrum 2.4GHz circuitry with a Quality of Service (QOS) channel that continuously and seamlessly avoids any potential interference." Indeed, during our testing, the several nearby Wi-Fi routers and access points operating on the same 2.4GHz frequency range seemed to have zero effect on the wireless speakers' audio quality.
It took some time to get the WHT6024's to sound right--straight out of the box, the satellites sounded thin and anemic, and the subwoofer's bass was way too boomy. Then again, that's not unusual, and with satellites as small as these, a careful setup is always crucial. It wasn't until we placed the sub within a few feet of the front right speaker, and adjusted the crossover frequency control of our receiver--the Denon AVR-3808CI--to 120 Hertz that we achieved a reasonably smooth blend between the sats and sub. After we invested 20 minutes of fine tuning the sound, the WHT6024 was ready for serious listening tests.
Starting with acoustic music from the Avett Brothers' Emotionalism CD, we were impressed with the speakers' detail and clarity. The band's guitars, banjos, and other acoustic instruments had plenty of snap, though we noted that the vocals sounded slightly hard. Despite our best setup efforts, the speakers never let us forget they were small.
Cream's Royal Albert Hall concert DVD from 2005 sounded somewhat bright and treble-heavy, especially when we cranked up the volume. The big sub had power to spare, and it did a fair job with Cream's bass player's sound. Overall, bass definition was good, but not great.
Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers DVD sounded notably better. The big artillery blasts were communicated with surprising gusto and the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire made us jump. The speakers' detail highlighted the metallic sounds of the spent shell casings hitting the ground. Even in the midst of the fiercest battle scenes, dialog remained clear.
As far as the competition goes, you can find better-sounding 5.1 speaker systems, such as the $800 Mirage Nanosat Home Theater System--but you'd have to add your own wireless capability with add-on kits from the likes of KEF ($600) or Best Buy's RocketFish ($100). Alternately, KEF's own KHT-5005.2W--which combines its wireless kit with the excellent 5005.2 speaker system--works well, but the combined price tag is more than three times that of the Acoustic Research bundle.
In the final analysis, we were happier with the WHT6024's sound on movies than music--a verdict that is true of many surround sound systems. The wireless aspect of the system worked flawlessly, but--like nearly all such systems--the "wireless" moniker is something of a stretch.
Assitant Editor Jeff Bakalar contributed to this review.