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Why should I switch from wired to wireless audio?

Like most people, you probably have your fair share of wired audio products in your home. A peek behind your stack of home theater gear is proof of that. But you also, and increasingly, have wireless audio products too – most notably, your smartphone and tablet. Consider all the reasons why your cellphone is better than your land line (if you still have one). For the same reasons, should you consider expanding into wireless audio playback? Let’s consider the advantages and disadvantages of that.

Systems using wired cables generally work well; however, wired connections require compatible connectors, appropriate types of cables. Also, technical problems sometimes intrude, adding noise and interference to the audio signal. Most significantly, the connecting wires themselves are severely limiting. It seems that the best place for a speaker in a room is always the most difficult to reach with a cable. A cable stretched across a floor is never pretty and, even in the best cases, wiring is untidy.

Wireless audio solves numerous problems but more important, wireless creates many opportunities. For starters, since you don’t need wires to connect the source to the playback unit, the playback unit can be placed anywhere there’s AC power (some wireless systems can operate on batteries). This is important for audio playback because speaker placement in a room is critical for good sound quality.

In an earlier installment, we noted that wireless speakers contain built-in power amplifiers. The audio input to the amplifier can be wireless, but the amplifier’s cannot. Combining the amplifier and the speaker in one unit offers some advantages. Foremost, this solves the problem of running speaker cables in a room. The combination also makes the unit more portable. Whenever a speaker is wired to an external amplifier, it is usually for permanent, stationary playback. By combining the duo, you are encouraged to move it from room to room. Moreover, the smaller size makes it easier to find a suitable place for it. More technically, when the amplifier and speaker are integrated, the designers can carefully optimize the two for more efficient operation and better sound quality.

As a wired system grows, it becomes difficult to connect multiple audio sources, to multiple speakers, in multiple locations, and to select which signals go where. As the tangle of wires grows, so do problems such as flaky connections. The maintenance of a complex wiring becomes a problem. In addition, expanding a wired system always means adding more wires, and switching to connect them. Expanding a wireless system only entails adding more receivers. As an important bonus, when expanding a wireless system, the setup and operation remain simple.

With the combination of wireless speakers and a smartphone or tablet you already have, it’s easier than ever to enjoy multi-room sound from a single source.  There’s no need to pull wires though walls and ceilings or to install control panels in every room.  Wireless audio makes multi-room sound an affordable reality for those who once thought it too complicated, messy and expensive.  We’ll expand on that topic in the next installment . . .

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