You have a room in your house that needs to be wired for sound. It’s most likely the lounge which is shared with your other half and possibly your whole family if you have kids etc. You’re a serious, or closeted, audiophile who wants the best home theatre experience. This means you need at least one set of surround speakers (and that’s not even starting into the Atmos set up) at the back of the room. But there are challenges to overcome, primarily getting sound to the rear speakers. We’ve done the research, and we’ll tell you the option we went with, and how it’s been after over 12 months of use.
Existing home theatre owners want to make their surround sound speaker or subwoofers wireless.
Solutions we’ll cover – Pro’s and Con’s
- Wireless solutions – for typical home theatre/hifi set up
- Wiring options – that might pass the ‘hidden’ wiring tests
- Purpose built Wireless speaker – complete systems that are made wireless – specifically for home theatre.
The challenge of surround sound speakers
The first challenge might be physical – that is you can’t actually run speaker cables to the back of the room without crossing over a door or corridor entrance/exit to the room. Putting a rug over the cables might not be sufficient.
The second challenge might be you are renting and can’t make holes in walls and run cables through the ceiling. Even if you are not renting and you own your own home, this level of commitment might be too much for most.
A third challenge, and ultimately the most difficult to overcome is PAF – Partner Acceptance Factor (the politically correct term for WAF – Wife Acceptance Factor). This is that the person you share your space with thinks the wires look downright ugly, even if you can get them to the back of the room with as much stealth as possible.
The changing landscape of wireless home theatre audio
This post is focused more on three types of audio fans. The first is those people who have an existing system and want to add surround speakers. The second focuses on people who are specifically planning a new home theatre set up. The third is people looking into buying a new system and wondering if wireless systems are up to par for real audio (this Bose, Amazon, Sonos).
Adding wireless to an existing system
A few things to consider:
- Does the unit need to power the rear speakers (or subwoofer) or are the speakers already powered.
- Is Bluetooth range realistic, and therefore an option?
- Do you have power plugs at the back of the room to power the wireless unit(s) needed?
- Is the distance from the power points to the speakers exposed? Meaning, will it still look crappy having wires travelling across the back of the room even with wireless units?
It’s important to note at this stage – there is no ‘perfect solution’ for this. There are solutions that work but some are hit and miss. If you get a hit then it’s great! If you don’t…then you might need to return for a replacement unit to get a good one.
Cons of these devices can include:
- If your house has too many frequencies flying around it can interfere with the sound – it might cut out a little from time to time. This might be microwaves, other wireless units etc
- Ideally, you have to have a line of sight from the transmitters to the receivers. Not a must every time but consider it’s needed before buying
- These things can be very powerful and interfere with other signals. e.g. Ours was next to our Apple TV divided by a wood panels in the entertainment unit and the Apple TV 4K unit’s remote just didn’t work well. Once we moved the Apple TV away from the transmitter (about 50 centimetres) it was great. So, consider that if you have a lot of devices in the room.
- Popping and booms. Some of these can ‘pop’ which is never good for your hearing or speakers. The unit we have does not so it’s not true for all.
- You have to run these things powered all the time. Unless you turn off the amp and then the surround speakers you will have these on and transmitting constantly – this seems to be very counter save-the-earth friendly.
There are a few wireless systems available but they all share the same core technology. That is they either send sound signals via Bluetooth or the use a wireless 2.4ghz bandwidth from a transmitter unit attached to your amp to a single (or dual) receivers at the back of the room which then power the rear surround systems.
Bluetooth is unreliable and we won’t cover any of them here as they just don’t seem to cut it at the time or writing this.
The Wireless units available for surround sound speakers, or subwoofers are as follows. Each link shows reviews and current Amazon price.
This has a single rear unit that powers both speakers. This makes it easier to power but the reviews have never been great so we didn’t go for this one. Price is good but this doesn’t mean much if it’s not reliable.
The look of this is good. The speaker terminals look great but unfortunately, reviews on this one are not great which put us off. What is cool about this unit is you can buy a single speaker unit (say, for a Subwoofer), or a double unit for rear surrounds. You can also buy a 5ghz unit which will reduce the interference on your normal 2.4ghz devices (unless you already run a bunch of stuff on 5ghz).
The Winner in Wireless Surround Units
The Amphony Wireless Speaker Kit 1800 unit we purchased and it works. It’s powerful and interrupted our Apple TV Bluetooth remote signals, but other than that it’s great. When we first purchased it the rear left unit was faulty. It popped and crackled even though it had a good line of sight to the transmitter but the rear right one sounded great. We emailed and they sent a replacement unit quickly. The second unit worked no problems -this is a classic case of ‘hit and miss’ with these types of units. However, it’s run flawlessly for over a year now and we’ve been through more than one Amplifier in that time. It powered up to 80 watts per channel and has a good range (not as good as they say as that would be in a concrete room with nothing in the way and perfect line of sight). Our room is long and these work well. Most lounges are shorter than ours. Stylistically they look like they were made in the ’80s but we hide ours under the couch at the back and no one sees them. Like the other units it has a level adjuster on the rear units. It can also be bought as a single unit for a single speaker or subwoofer.
This ends the section on Wireless surround speaker units.
Hidden surround sound speaker wiring options
This section will be brief as the options are limited. Either you can run speakers through the wall and into the roof and down the back…or…you can’t and need to use the first list of wireless units or choose speaker cable that passes the ‘hidden’ test. There are a few companies that sell it and the benefit is it can often be run along skirting boards and seem almost invisible.
Flat speaker wires include:
The Nordost is the higher end of the three.
Purpose built wireless home theatre speaker systems
The emerging, but not yet mature or ubiquitous, options for wireless home speakers systems has been dominated by Bose for the most part. They have a great 5.1 wireless system. There are emerging systems and some well-known brands that have released setups which also warrant mention. Bose certainly doesn’t own the market. As more systems come online it’s hard to test them all so we’ll focus on the ‘better known’ brands. These wireless systems often cover the front of the room using a sound bar, rather than 2 stereo speakers. This for us isn’t true HiFi stuff so if you’re a moderate audio lover, mostly for the sake of some TV watching, then that soundbar set up would suit for sure.
It’s expensive, because it’s Bose, but read the reviews to get a real feel for it.
Sonos make great stuff. They really do, but this feels like they’ve tried to cobble together a few of their speakers to fill out a 5.1 offering. Still not up to par with a true 5.1 Home Theatre system and no way you’ll get Aura, DTS:X or Atmos on this, or any of these units.
This doesn’t exist yet but with the launch of the subwoofer unit and stereo options for Echo units I wouldn’t be surprised if this is coming soon.
This might not be the best system but if you are on a budget then this will be enough to rock your world…wirelessly.
EDIT: April: The Denon HEOS system also offers wireless surround. The catch is even if you have a Denon Amp with HEOS you still need to buy the HEOS Wireless AVR unit. This will allow you to play wireless to a stereo, 2.1, 3.1 or 5.1 system using HEOS wireless speakers. See this link for more: https://amzn.to/2GRCx0t
Ultimately if you still want the best surround experience from real Home Theatre setups you are going to want to run cable. The Amphony wireless unit is our second choice because it works, and has done for over a year – no latency, popping or dropouts. The idea of real audiophile quality purpose built wireless units is not here yet, but we’re optimistic they will get there – they are flooding the market more every year but still seemed targeted at the entry, mid-market. In the meantime we’ll continue to revel in our Atmos set up using the Amphone 1800 wireless units powering our Fluance surround sound speakers.