SVS Prime Wireless speaker

When it comes to  wireless speakers, there’s a pretty simple way of looking at it, we think: wired speakers offer better sound, and wireless speakers tend to be more convenient.Of course, that’s a very broad statement and there are exceptions to that rule. And yes, wireless speakers are getting better. But there’s no going around that wires are better at transmitting sound than Wi-Fi (or Bluetooth for that matter).

But there is the convenience factor…

Gone are the days of crawling around in your attic, threading speaker wires. No longer do you have to have DIY experience just to listen to some cool music in the kitchen. Wireless speakers are all over the place.

You just plug them in, and with a little light fiddling, they will not only talk to each other but to your smartphone as well.

But how wireless is wireless? 

In a traditionally wired speaker setup, an amplifier uses speaker wire to pass sound to the speakers. The amplifier needs power.

However, in a wireless speaker setup, the speaker  and the amplifier tend to come in one box (a powered speaker) with no wire in sight, BUT the speaker still has to be physically attached to a power source (with the exception of battery powered wireless speakers, obviously). 

So with that out of the way, let’s have a look at what’s on offer. 

 

Bluetooth vs. Wi-Fi

 

I guess little portable Bluetooth speakers have a place, although they don’t tend to be known for their audiophile qualities. Cheap paired with poor sound kind of sums it up to the audiophile mind. 

For some of these speakers, the power plug that we mentioned earlier, doesn’t apply and this is the main appeal of a portable Bluetooth speaker: You rely on a rechargeable battery rather than the mains socket.  Clearly, battery life will be on your mind when purchasing a portable Bluetooth speaker.

Bluetooth speakers are easy to pair with your smartphone or tablet. Getting connected usually takes just seconds. It’s a direct connection that doesn’t require a Wi-Fi network, so you can set up an instant audio system just about anywhere. 

While using your phone to send music to a Bluetooth speaker is super convenient, there are also some downsides: when a call comes in or when you carry your phone beyond the speaker's wireless reception range, the music stops. Your music is also interrupted with notification sounds when an email drops or a message comes in.

The alternative to Bluetooth is Wi-Fi, although you’ll find many speakers that will offer both options. So what’s the difference? 

General AV consensus is that Wi-Fi is better, although there are some Bluetooth speakers these days that are stepping it up. Very simply put, the reason why Wi-Fi is considered superior is because you can send more data over a wireless signal then you can over a Bluetooth one. More data equals more detailed sound, which equals better sound. (It’s a bit more complicated than that, but going down that track would be a blog in itself.) Wi-Fi also tends to be more stable than Bluetooth. Although as a word of caution, we would advise to be careful with having too many devises on your home network: it can bring things to a crushing halt. Want to talk annoying? 

The other advantage of Wi-Fi over Bluetooth? You can stream quality tracks from any source that’s connected to the same network: your smartphone, laptop or your NAS box. So, if you’ve got a library full of CD-ripped and hi-res files, there is the option of looking into wireless powered speakers that support the higher resolution.

Rapallo’s Wireless and Bluetooth speaker favourites

 

  • RIVA Wand Series (Both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi)currently offers two wireless speaker options;the Festival and the smaller Arena with optional battery pack. The RIVA’s have been a very popular choice with our customers. There are a few reasons for that: the stellar sound quality, deep and powerful bass, a solid volume range, with a wide soundstage, great connectivity and a multitude of playback options. If a wireless speaker is on your wishlist, these come highly recommended.
  • Klipsch The Sixes (Bluetooth only),the bigger brothers of the Klipsch The One and The Three, has been very well received and looks million dollars. Set-up is easy and sound quality is pretty good. 
  • Both the Audioengine HD6 Premium and the Audioengine HD3 (Bluetooth only) wireless powered speakers are firm customer favourites for desktop use (although the HD6 is a little bit on the big size for that). The reason for their popularity is the extraordinary sound but also the fact that they offer a very cost-effective way for excellent Bluetooth sound.Did we mention their superb finish?   
  • For a more audiophile level desktop stereo set-up the Kef LS50 wireless speakers (both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) are the wireless speakers of choice. Yes, they are more expensive than the above mentioned Rapallo favourites, but then again, you have to remember that you are paying for a powered speaker and you won’t have to fork out for a separate amplifier. Any grumbles on the price tag front will be quickly forgotten when listening to the stellar sounding speakers.
  • But there is competition on the horizon for the popular Kefs: Later this year should see the SVS Prime Wireless speakers and ELAC active speakers (that were announced as ELAC Argo F51 and B51 with wireless transmitter option at CES 2018) become available. Both are extremely highly anticipated as audiophile options. The ELAC Argo speakers are additional to the ELAC AM200 powered wireless speakers and the ELAC Discovery Z3 wireless speaker. 

 

Multiple rooms throughout your home

 

When we talk wireless speakers, chances are you are thinking Sonos. Sonos is just one of the several ecosystems that are around. Ecosystems are a family of products and apps that work together, but usually don't work with other ecosystems.

If you want to play a song in "house party mode" for example, where it blasts from multiple speakers throughout the house simultaneously, all of those speakers have to share the same ecosystem. 

Cnet offers a good overview of the major ecosystems out there today. Here’s what they have to say:

  1. Chromecast built-in: For the cost of entry and ease-of-use Chromecast built-in is our current favorite Wi-Fi music system. There's no new apps to learn -- just press the Cast button in an existing, compatible app and music will play to the speaker(s) of your choice.
  2. Sonos: It's kind of expensive and a little exclusive, but Sonos still offers some of the best hardware available. While the newest version of the all-in-one app has changed for the worse it seems the company is moving towards support from third-party apps instead. Considering the exacting sound quality and the bomb-proof build, Sonos is still the premium Wi-Fi system to get.
  3. Bose SoundTouch: Like Sonos but only a little bit worse. Lots of app support and handy shortcut buttons.
  4. Samsung Multi-Room: It's fine, and the app is pretty easy to use. But how long can Samsung hold out against its ally Google?
  5. Yamaha MusicCast: A fun app, a relatively mature ecosystem and a number of different-priced options. Its Yamaha-only status limits its appeal, however
  6. Denon HEOS: A limited number of products at a premium price makes the appeal limited even though the app has improved. The release of HEOS receivers like the AVR-S730H -- finally -- should help ameliorate some of the issues.
  7. DTS Play-Fi: The eco-system offers the most number of manufacturers, which is great, but despite being on its second generation it's still the hardest app of all to use. It offers lots of streaming apps, though.
  8. The rest: Bluesound, All-Play, Raumfeld, LG MusicFlow; the list goes on. None of them stand above these seven, however.

At Rapallo, we like working with Yamaha MusicCast for their wide variety of products, clever design, flexibility and excellent customer support. 

As it is growing, we’re watching DTS Play-Fi with interest. It sure has potential, especially for the serious audiophile and home theatre lover who wants higher-end options and flexibility. 

   

Wireless speakers for home theatre

But what if you want a wireless 5.1 or 7.1 setup? Can it be done? 

The answer is ‘yes’ but it’s early days. As a matter of fact, this is where DTS Play-Fi may become interesting for the future. At this stage, if wireless is your only option, a good soundbar (Yamaha MusicCast has a really good variety available) that works within one of the above mentioned closed ecosystems might be your most straight forward bet.

But there is also WiSA, which stands for Wireless Speakers and Audio Technology. The WiSA standard was developed primarily for use in home theatre systems, but as of September 2014 has been expanded into multi-room audio applications. It differs from most of the other technologies in that it doesn't rely on a WiFi network. Instead, you use a WiSA transmitter to send audio to WiSA-equipped powered speakers, soundbars, etc. It’s pretty innovative, but like Play-Fi it’s still in its early stages.

As for home theatre speakers with wireless capability; the Klipsch Reference Premiere wireless HD speakers use WiSA and connects to the HD control centre at the touch of a button. 

We would like to mention the ELAC Air-X series boasting some serious high-quality speakers. The AIR-X system comprises the AIR-X AMP amplifier unit and the AIR-X BASE base station.  The BASE acts as the central control unit to which a variety of signal sources can be connected.

 

And finally…

 

And last but not least, a few final notes of wisdom before you start filling your shopping cart: 

  • Make sure your favourite music and audio apps are supported. 
  • Make sure your choice works with your phone(s) or tablet(s). 
  • Futureproof; look at multiroom expansion options. 
  • Remember, better performance and features may be only a firmware update away.  

 

As always, everything depends on a number of individual factors that will determine whether wireless speakers are right for you and if so, which set-up is the best match for your needs. 

Let us know if you need advice in making your decision, we will help you out with a smile. 

 

Source: Cnet, Lifewire, The masterswitch, WhatHifi, Riva, Yamaha, ELAC, SVS, Klipsch. Photo credit to SVS.