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March 10, 2011

The Fallacy of “Wireless” Speakers

Filed under: AV Tip of the Month — Tags: — Alan @ 5:09 pm

Virtually all but perhaps the most tech-obsessive geeks (and I count myself among that group) hate the hassle of wiring up a 5.1-channel (or 7.1-channel) home theater system—stringing those speaker cables under rugs or along the walls to each of five different speakers and a subwoofer, or “fishing” them through the walls to an outlet where the speaker is located. Consequently, the audio-video panacea of so-called “wireless” speaker systems holds enormous appeal, and various manufacturers have rushed in to fill the void.

Articles online and in audio-video magazines as well as ads have been positively gushing over the wonders of “wireless” speakers.

Guess what? There are in fact more wires for a wireless speaker than a wired one! For a pair of wired speakers you require 2 speaker wires and that is it. For a wireless pair of speakers you require two AC power cords and one cable from the pre-amp to the transmitter. That’s a whopping 50% more wires for the so called “wireless” speakers!

A Speaker is a Motor

Here’s the deal. There is no such thing as a truly wireless speaker because driving a speaker or a subwoofer is all about POWER, electric power—you know, that energy that lights our homes, runs the dishwasher and the blender and countless other appliances. A loudspeaker is, in effect, a motor—a reciprocating electric motor that has to move a cone/and or dome rapidly back and forth to generate sound-pressure waves—and motors require electricity. So any wireless surround speaker or subwoofer that claims to be wireless is not; it may receive its low-level surround or subwoofer signal by RF (radio frequency) or infra-red means, but the speaker or subwoofer still has to be plugged into an AC wall outlet to provide the power for the RF receiver and for the amplifier to drive the speaker or subwoofer. Yes, you can reduce cabling somewhat, but the necessity of AC power reduces placement versatility considerably. For surround applications, how many rooms have AC outlets ideally placed on opposite side walls? Very few.

There is no magic science as of yet (I wish there were) to transmit power wirelessly. Battery technology has advanced considerably (I use lightweight high-power lithium polymer batteries to power my radio-controlled electric model planes) but all battery systems store power and when they run out, they must be recharged. Hybrid cars contain internal-combustion (gas) engines to re-charge the battery (Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius) or they must be plugged into a charging station for hours.

When Axiom embarked on a design for a wireless outdoor speaker, we decided it would need to be truly wireless, which means it would require its own internal battery and hi-efficiency amplifier and no connection to AC power. At the time the battery cost and internal amplifier simply made the product economically impractical so we discontinued development.

I’m puzzled by this curious demand for wireless speakers. After all, we have our homes wired to supply electric power for lighting and all manner of appliances — there’s a veritable grid of wiring hidden behind our walls. Asking for wireless speakers is like asking for a wireless microwave. You gotta have cables for electric power. Get used to it.

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5 comments on “The Fallacy of “Wireless” Speakers

  1. Lawrence Holyk on said:

    Just read Allan Lofft’s article on wireless loudspeakers and whole heartedly agree. I would just like to add the possibility of health hazards of transmitting signals with in your listening room. With all the print and talk of cell phones and cancer , etc would you really want to fire up a mini fm transmitter in your room as some other wireless systems did? I think the problem of wired speakers started with the monster cables and the like, never believed in them any way. thinner speaker wire works just fine and is more spouse friendly. Any way liked the article and emailed to all my techno whizz pains, by the way all their mini ,wireless, plastic, look like ice cube trays, sound like ice cube trays, are crap. And when is this small speaker home theater in the box crap going to end? ” They” have really dumbed down the speaker buying public in the last 15 years. Where is the good old Canadian Sound And Vision when you need it ? One more rant people by these thousands of dollar HD TVs and by 5 crap little speakers a shame, modern movies suck anyway. Just my two cents worth.

    Sincerely, Lawrence Holyk

  2. Hello Lawrence,

    Thanks for your remarks on my “wireless” speaker article (and for forwarding it),your praise for the Canadian Sound&Vision magazine and your amusing remarks on the “small home-theater-in-the-box crap”, with which I totally agree. Sadly, the latter is the legacy of Bose and its huge marketing/advertising clout in promoting “cute” plastic junk speakers as being worthy of the term “high fidelity.”

    As to the cell-phone issue and exposure to RF (radio-frequency) energy in general, it is worrisome that we’re constantly bombarded by RF energy from a huge range of sources, including tall TV and terrestrial radio towers, satellite transmitters, and home and business wireless networks/phones, although I tend to believe the energy is at such low levels that it is benign.

    Still, clamping a cell phone to one’s ear appears to show changes in the lobes of the brain whilst yakking (seemingly interminably if I judge from many pedestrians’ cell-phone use) however, so far there is no evidence that any long-term damage occurs.

    Thanks again for your comments.

    Cordially,

    Alan Lofft,
    Axiom Audio

  3. factchecker on said:

    I have to disagree on the AC part, even if a speaker has to be plugged in, it may be more convenient than running wires, consider than electric outlets are on walls
    while cords generally have to take into consideration folks walking over them, of course depending on the layout of your home, it may not be an issue, certain subwoofers are wireless too although interference is an issue, in addition you could have two small full range speakers in another room without wire to a receiver
    although it would have to its own amp.

  4. I totally disagree with this article on wireless speakers. When consumers want wireless speakers they are talking about no speaker wires not no electrical wires. Example I have a very good quality bluetooth speaker which I use out on my patio when we have guests, my son also uses it in the garage (gym) when he is working out and I use it in my bedroom when I am studying. In all places it is plugged into the local electricity or running on its own battery but no wires to the stereo. SO when we the customer are looking for wireless speakers then we mean no speaker wire.

  5. My speakers got that big rechargeable battery and they be wireless. Not a single wire, and they sound better than the martin logans I used to rock. Batteries last surprisingly long

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