Monday, June 23, 2014

Wireless Music is Quality Music

Music is a big part of people’s lives but it has only been recently that it could be taken on-the-go in such a portable fashion. First came portable cassette players, followed by CD players, Walkman’s, then MP3 players and now the ubiquitous smartphone. But playing music at home will always sound better because the speakers are better — and bigger than what you can walk around with. But you don’t have to give up the convenience of placing them where you like because there’s wireless technology to use at home.

Streaming audio to speakers mostly fall into two categories: Bluetooth and WiFi. Bluetooth has the advantage of being able to connect at short range no matter whether the speaker is inside or outside, but the response of the audio (i.e., frequencies that are heard) is not of “CD quality”. This results from the audio files coming through the Bluetooth stream being MP3 and others of low resolution — they may sound okay when wearing inexpensive earbuds and being buffeted by surface noise out on the street or in the car or otherwise, but for sure they’re not giving you the “all” that the recording engineer put there. That’s not the fault of the speaker, since some companies have gone to the trouble to make a portable stereo Bluetooth speaker with high-end circuitry and audio response capabilities.

WiFi, however, makes for a better wireless experience because it is more stable than Bluetooth (on average) and also can covey audio without any loss of fidelity. This requires the use of the home network and the streaming of the audio does not put any drain on the other broadband functions that might be going on (such as downloading files or surfing the Internet). Additionally, in some cases the wireless speakers work to create their own secure wireless mesh network - utilizing a “bridge” device that integrates with the network and the speakers so as to facilitate whole-house coverage with no degradation of the audio signal.

Digital amplifiers are built into the speakers so as to provide a complete “package,” with the added benefit of there being no heat build-up to speak of. Of course the quality of the amplifier will play off of how much power it has, and how many speakers are in the chassis it shares. A one-speaker, one-amplifier speaker will provide a basic audio response, but today it’s more sensible to go with a speaker that has multiple digital amplifiers driving multiple speakers in the cabinet — the SONOS Play: 3 Wireless HiFi Player being an example with 3 amps/3 speakers. In this case, two mid-range drivers and a tweeter are also included, along with a bass radiator to improve on the sound — to create audiophile quality, which is the goal after all. And while this can replace the need for a subwoofer, should the listener feel assured with what he is hearing, the better response is to connect a wireless subwoofer into the overall music system. The results of doing this will be heard and since the placement can be against a wall, beneath a couch, etc., even if the sub is not as attractive as it should be it won’t matter. But any company making a quality wireless sub will also make it attractive enough to be placed where it can be looked at if desired.

These speakers can also be configured to be “smart,” and so can pick up Internet radio channels, connect with Pandora, Spotify, even function as a receiver for SiriusXM Internet Radio.
Another route allows the use of speakers that are already in place — using an amplification unit(basically a wireless amplifier) to receive the streaming music and then provide the power to drive the speakers. This wireless amplifier will usually also provide the means to connect to a subwoofer, which can only improve the stereo being outputted. What’s important is that the amp does not stint on what it provides to the speakers — just because it’s wireless doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have aggressive power or support audio formats that are “lossless” (i.e., not compressed to inhibit a full frequency response). There’s no reason it shouldn’t also support other functions such as being able to work with playlists or interact with other systems such as the Amazon Cloud Player, Stitcher, Rhapsody and others. But the important thing is that it provides audiophile quality, no matter what other features it might have folded into itself (being able to schedule music ahead of time is a worthwhile one, as well as it being able to function as an “alarm clock” and so turn itself on and begin playing at a predetermined time).  Also high on the list is that it should look good — why ruin the decor where it’s been placed in — and have a minimal impact on the room by having a loud fan or heating up during play-time.

As can be seen, having a wireless audio system does far more than just eliminate wires: it frees the home owner for arranging how and where the music he wants to hear is played. And does so without having to compromise on the quality.


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