For many years, home audio has been a strictly wired scene. Computer, radio and entertainment system speakers could be placed around the house and mounted in nearly any location — but only if you were willing to run wires over, under and through every other part of your home to get them there. As iPods and smartphones began to appear, singular wireless speakers started to appear here and there, but they were largely gimmicks, designed to emit a bit of sound in a small space, not provide a rich surround sound experience.
But now the years have finally begun deliver wireless audio solutions worth investigating, thanks to the latest products from Samsung, Bang & Olufsen, and others. These speakers do away with the wires but still provide the much-vaunted “hi-fi” experience, keeping the fullness and delicacy of sound intact while saving you from many of those cords, wires, and annoying mounting projects. In most cases, a nearby outlet or router connection may still be necessary, but now those alcoves, shelves and wall spaces you could not reach before have opened up.
So if you have dreamed of having easy, streaming music in every room of your house, or longed for a more flexible entertainment system, technology finally has a few worthwhile answers for your consideration.
The Big Players in Wireless Audio
Several of the latest wireless sound systems offer plenty of promise. Most of these devices work the same way, using your wireless network (don’t worry, some provide a network of their own as an alternative) to stream sound to distant speakers. The speakers typically require an outlet or batteries to function properly. The primary distinction between these options and previous wireless audio is the level of quality, the integration with other technologies, and the general usability. Prices vary between $300 and $700 for each component of these systems, so prepare for some spending to take advantage of them.
The expanded version of Samsung Shape, first announced in 2014, includes an M5 speaker, a soundbar, a subwoofer, and a wireless hub to stream music and sound through. However, you can buy additional Shape speakers and use them in combination with other speakers. You can connect with them with Samsung TVs (of course) and operate them through a smartphone or tablet app (iOS and Android). The M5 speaker is especially notably as a flexible device that can be mounted in a variety of locations with ease.
Sonos is one of the leading names in hi-fi wireless audio systems. It thrives on simplicity — buy one of the sleek-looking speakers, connect it to your home wireless network, then use a mobile device to control it. You can buy a wide variety of additional speakers to customize your surround experience or put speakers in every room. Play from the radio, Internet radio, and apps like Beats and Songza, among others. Sonos also offers a very handy wireless set of speakers specifically for TV surround sound.
Bang & Olufsen Essence
If you haven’t heard of Bang & Olufsen, they are one of the premier creators of high-quality speakers in the world, and are typically on the cutting edge of any new audio tech hitting the market. Its own worthwhile audio system, called Essence, puts a unique spin on wireless speakers. It includes a sensor that can be mounted or set up on a shelf. It detects when you are in the room, and thus can “fade” the music when you leave and pick it up again when you return — or it follows you around if you want to invest in multiple sensors. It works with an array of compatible speakers you may already have. However, being B&O, you will have to pay well over $1,000 for this system.
Bem is the casual option for the wireless audio system. It offers several box-like speakers that skip elegance for fun and usability — or even portability, depending on how you choose to use them. There are even outlet speakers that plug right into the wall. This option is great for an apartment where you love music, but less great for the perfect surround sound system.
A Note on Streaming Basics
To properly use wireless speakers, you need to understand how the streaming works. Today’s wireless audio requires home wireless solutions. Most use the router you already have, but others are compatible with different formats, including even NFC (near field communication).
However, every music service also has its own streaming capabilities, and systems need to support them. In front of the TV, this is less of an issue, because the primary hub or unit can connect directly to your console/receiver/player. But for speakers scattered around the house, take note of what apps the system supports. Sonos, for example, supports basic services like iTunes and Amazon Cloud Player, but it also supports Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXm, Tunein, and other streaming options. This is a common lineup. Samsung adds support for Rhapsody. B&O offers additional support for Qplay.
It all depends on what apps you like to use the most, so don’t forget to consider that wireless audio compatibility.
Photo Credit: Nan Palmero