Anybody who’s spent a bit of time messing around with home theater will be able to come back with one solid conclusion: wires suck.
They really do. Sure, you can tape them to the skirting boards, pretend they don’t exist, pretend you don’t mind yanking them out when you need to move your speakers for the umpteenth time. Doesn’t change the fact that life would be better off without them. It’s tempting to look at the vast collection of Bluetooth speakers on the market, and perhaps even the Klipsch Reference Premiere Wireless Home Theater System, and wonder, why not?
Fortunately, the answer to that is simple. Because wireless systems don’t work very well. That’s why not.
(Actually, let's be specific. Wireless multiroom systems work very well. But if you have a dedicated self-contained system, like home theater, forget it. Here's why...)
Here’s the really big problem with wireless systems. Sure, you can transmit audio data wirelessly, using something like Bluetooth. That’s no problem. The problem is transmitting power wirelessly, and right now that’s something we can only do in a very limited way.
A speaker needs power to operate. That’s just how speakers work. And until someone invents a speaker that operates off the molecules in the air around it, that’s how it’s always going to work. Audio signals are unbelievably ephemeral, and they need a good dose of pure electricity to get them to an audible, let alone acceptable, level.
So let’s take the aforementioned Klipsch Reference Premiere Wireless system as an example. Because it’s Klipsch, the speakers are no doubt pretty solid. They’re also not truly wireless. You have to plug each one into a wall outlet. By the time you’ve finished expanding your system, you have to invest in so many extension cords that the manufacturers are calling you up to offer you seats on their boards. It’s a fantastic system, and it’s bound to find its fans, but come on, Klipsch. It’s wireless when I can plonk it down in the middle of my living room right out of the box and have it start playing music at the touch of an app. Until then? Take your marketing nonsense elsewhere.
It’s all very well to point to wireless subwoofers and the like as an indication that this can indeed be done. And yes, there are some truly fantastic wireless models out there, like our perennial favourite the SONOS SUB. But arguments about this always forget a couple of things. The first is that, again, these models are all connected to a wall socket and the power that comes with it, and second, the wireless audio actually isn’t that good when compared to wired audio.
This isn’t throwing shade on the SONOS model. It’s decent. But it’s normally used alongside a completely separate set of speakers, and so only has to cope with the bass frequencies. As such, there’s a lot less information to transmit, and so the sub is able to do a good job of putting out sound.
But start transmitting additional information, and things fall apart quickly. It’s not that the sound is bad, it’s just that it’s not even close to the quality you get from wired sound. Right now, in 2016, wires are just better at handling audio signals than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. They lose less along the way, and deliver a better end product. Even the longest, most tangled wire will probably do a better job preserving audio quality than a full Bluetooth signal.
There have even been reports of the signals used by wireless systems messing with Wi-Fi. The second your home theater system starts restricting your access to Facebook, you have a problem.
So what are the solutions? Surely there’s got to be a way?
Well, not really. Not with our current technology. There have been some great experiments with wireless electricity – as early as 2014, CNN was proclaiming that it was ready to go - but it’s just not good enough yet. Sure, we can do wireless charging by putting our phones on a dedicated pad, but that only works at extremely short range. Asking it to transmit power all the way across a room is a bit much.
Batteries? Please. Even if we manage to get over our current battery crisis and actually develop something that retains its charge for a very long time, changing the batteries on your speakers would be a giant pain in the backside.
We love new technology on this site. We love talking about it, holding it up to the light, exploring how it works. And one of the downsides of that is that when a new technology comes along that isn’t ready, we’ll know about it. Unfortunately, wireless home theater just isn’t ready to go yet. Sorry.
You can, however, still get some fantastic portable Bluetooth speakers. We can recommend a few good ones.