Are you thinking of adding a wireless audio system to your home? Do you want more music in your house, but don’t want to run wires down the hall or through the walls? A wireless music system may be for you. Here are some frequently-asked-questions about wireless audio, plus a roundup of some great products, many of which have been tested out by Electronic House editors.
What do you mean by wireless audio?
Technically, an AM/FM radio is a wireless audio system, but today we generally mean a system that is wirelessly connected to the audio source and usually can playback music from the internet. These products can be stand-alone players or components. Often they’re wirelessly controlled as well via a smartphone app. The products will still need power, so unless it’s a portable product with a battery, then a wire to the power outlet is still required. Products like the Sonos Connect Amp and Nuvo P200 player also require you to connect your own speakers. Others, like VOCO’s V-Zone+ connect to another audio system via a digital or analog connection.
How are the systems wirelessly connected?
Wirelessly, of course. Seriously, wireless is only part of the product. Some wireless music systems include an internet gateway product that needs to be connected to your home internet router or switch. The gateway wirelessly connects to the various receivers in the house (this is how both Sonos and Nuvo work) which may or may not require additional speakers, or may be connected to other components, such as a home theater pre-amp or receiver. Other products use a smartphone or tablet, connected by Bluetooth or AirPlay, as their gateway to the internet.
What sources can be wirelessly connected?
The sources you connect to your wireless music system vary depending on the specific product, and what you want to listen to, but most allow streaming of web-based music services (such as Pandora, Spotify or vTuner) and locally-stored music files from a PC, networked hard drive or smartphone/tablet. With the later, Bluetooth and Apple’s AirPlay are usually the wireless connection methods.
Some products allow you to connect additional sources, such as a CD player, or external hard drive (via USB or network).
Why is this better than a wired music system?
That depends on what you want out of your music experience. Wireless isn’t always better, but it’s usually easier. Also, with streaming services, you have access to almost any music you can think of. Few wireless systems are capable of playing high-resolution files, so if that’s something important to you, then you should look into more traditional solutions. On the other hand, good DSPs and amp designs make many of these systems sound great. If it’s connected to another audio system, then the external amp and speakers have a great impact on the sound quality. Wireless systems are also dependent on the quality of the network, which means network activity, network interference and bandwidth issues can all impact reliability. If your music source is an online app coming from a smartphone, then what happens when the phone leaves the room or runs out of battery?
Can a non-wireless product be made wireless?
Yes, somewhat. Nearly any audio device be connected to a Bluetooth adapter or an Apple AirPort Express. This will allow you to wirelessly stream music to your speakers without buying a whole new system. That solution isn’t going to give you the same experience as a wireless multiroom music system, but it’s good for upgrading a single-room player to wireless capability for $100 or less.
Check out the slideshow for some wireless audio products we like.
Also check out:
Should You Install a Wireless Audio System Yourself?
Soundbars: Feature Options and Installation Issues
Great Ways to Maximize Your Great Room
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.