Wireless world.

Posted on February 22nd, 2009 – 7:27 PM
By Jason Hammond

I am by no means a tech person. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate it, but I just don’t get into the nuances of it. With that said, what I love about technology is how in can simplify something that before was so much more complicated. This is particularly true for me when it comes to the area of  home entertainment.

About seven years ago we purchased a new TV and surround sound system. It was my first really nice television, and the addition of the surround sound system made us wonder why we had been watching our TV shows and movies in the relatively archaic way we had previously done. However, because we were retro-fitting the system to our old home, with lath walls, we had a mess of cords running around the perimeter of our room. We did the best to conceal the components and the cords from view but we quickly excepted the fact that the mess of cords were a necessary evil. With this in mind you would imagine that two years ago when we decided to embark on the process of building a new home you  we would ensure that our new home was wired to account for a such features, but this wasn’t the case. Stacy was convinced that for our needs the investment in wiring our rooms for surround sound was something that offered little to no return on our investment. On-top of that she was convinced that by the time our current system was ready to be changed the technology market would be offering a wide range of wireless surround sound systems.

Fast-forward to 2009 and the recent Consumer Electronics Show or CES 2009. The idea of wireless speakers is no doubt one that has been around for sometime although, as CNET stated in their prediction for this years show.

‘‘Perhaps the biggest vaporware offering in the home audio realm is wireless speakers. Several vendors have promised wireless surround systems in years past, but to date, mass-market-friendly solutions remain few and far between. We’ll no doubt see several companies touting wireless loudspeaker solutions at this year’s show, but just remember that true wireless speakers are pretty much a pipe dream–without some sort of battery power, the speakers themselves are still going to need at least one cable–the power cord.’’

So given the fact that you’ll need at least a power cable tethering your surround sound system to reality, I decided to see if what was now on the market would interest me, and meet my rather simple needs.

  1. I want it to sound good. (I’m not a audiophile so this is a rather loose constraint)
  2. Maybe more importantly I want it to be attractive or at least unobtrusive to the design of my homes interior.
  3. I want it to be affordable—an entire system that’s under $500 and preferably more in the $200-$300 rang.

Lots of companies are offering wireless surround sound systems with multiple components but here are a few that caught my attention from the CES reviews:

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Panasonic’s SC-ZT1 definitely has a super cool look to go along with its wireless feature.

Panasonic’s SC-ZT1 offers a wireless option to 4 tall “stick’’ style speakers, all wireless with the exception of the power cord. The SC-ZT1 is set for release in the spring of 2009 and will probably be a hit with medium level techies who like a minimalist decor. The suggested retail price of this system is yet to be released.

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Polk Audio SurroundBar SDA Instant Home Theater now offers a wireless subwoofer for an improved listening experience.
A popular new design trend is single source surround sound experiences usually called sound bars. These systems promise to offer the same quality of sound that you get from a normal surround sound system but as CNET’s reviewers noted, they never quite deliver on the promise in exactly the same way. However, Polk Audio’s new SurroundBar system got good reviews from CNET’s writers. The main speaker is much smaller than in other models and offers the addition of a wireless subwoofer. The one big criticism that they had was its limited single analog audio input, meaning to you’ll have to add other components to the system to get the most out of it, defeating the simplicity that a system like this offers. Polk Audio SurroundBar SDA Instant Home Theater has a suggest retail price of $499.95 and is available now.

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Philips Cineos SoundBar systems, have a great sleek design.

Another entry in the Single Source surround sound system is Philips Cineos Soundbar DVD Home Theater. Like the Polk system the Philips offers a wireless subwoofer and single sound bar speaker with a super streamlined design. Additionally, the Philips line comes in four variations of the product designer for slightly different user segments, from home theater enthusiasts to gamers. The Philips system has a lot more connection options and is designed so that in can be wall mounted below a flat panel TV. The Philips collection have a suggested retail price ranging from $299 to $399 with release dates ranging form early March to April of 2009.

I don’t know that I’m quite ready to make a purchase yet but the prospects of where the industry is headed regarding wireless home theater has me really excited that  when I am ready to make a purchase of this nature, I’ll be able to find something that not only offers me and my family a level of home entertainment up to our expectations. At the same time the new streamlined wireless designs may actually help to improve the aesthetics of the our our interior space by doing away with the unsightly cords that so many of  us despise.

5 Responses to "Wireless world."

David Ray Carson says:

February 23rd, 2009 at 11:26 am

Although not wireless, check out the home theater stuff from http://www.magnepan.com/. I bought a pair of MG 12 stereo speakers from Audio Perfection in the Twin Cities 10 yrs ago, and they have the most transparent sound. Instead of woofers/tweeters, they are a long piece of Mylar with magnets…the whole sheet vibrates. Patented. They come in white/gray/black. I have no affiliation with them, btw.

And, they are made in White Bear Lake, MN!

Jason Hammond says:

February 25th, 2009 at 3:59 pm

David,

This is very interesting, thanks for sharing the local resource. I’m going to check it out more and see if it’s an option.

Jason

J says:

February 26th, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Not to be negative, but I am little surprised that you didn’t plan out the low-voltage part of your home.

The cost of high quality 12awg CL2 4 conductor speaker wire is about .50 a foot.

2″ conduit flex tubes to house your video cables for on-wall flat screens are under $1 a foot.

I outfitted the speaker cabling in my home for 20 in-ceiling speakers (10 zones) and ran conduit for six flat screens with on wall installation for under $1500 installed.

That being said. I would consider looking into fishing audio and video cables thru the walls. Good quality wireless (not including the power cord) speakers are not in the near future.

A high end sound bar might be your best choice.

Jason Hammond says:

February 28th, 2009 at 4:05 pm

J,

The wiring was something that was somewhat of an after thought for us, but it was also a lot more complex for our home than a traditional stick framed home. Because our exterior walls are SIPs panels, and filled with solid insulation from the moment they are installed, running wiring is much more complex and time consuming. We did have cable run to various location in the house and for the most part that isn’t an issue. We do need to run a new line in one location because we got a micro-crimp in one of the lines that has intermittently effected the signal.

However, I don’t know that good quality wireless is that far off either. We run wi-fi signal throughout our home and get great sound out of the speakers attached to our computers so I don’t know that a wireless router system from your computer, TV or stereo to your speakers is that far off.

Jason