A New Breed of Wireless Speaker Beckons. You  Ready to Cut the Cord?

Photograph by Henrik Bonnevier Close

Photograph by Henrik Bonnevier

Close
Open

Photograph by Henrik Bonnevier

Wireless speakers have long been a compromise between convenience and quality. The sound might be tinny, but look, Ma, no wires.

Several companies want to consign that compromise to the past, and made a point of it at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show. Brands including Sony and Musaic introduced speakers that can receive high-resolution files via Bluetooth. In theory, that makes them comparable to traditional speakers.

In theory, says Allan Rohde, an audio consultant at Bright Home Theater in New York.

"For the moment, comparing wireless to passive [wired] speakers is like comparing apples and oranges," Rohde says. "There's a lot of new products coming out that will broadcast high-res signals, but first it's a question of the quality of the source material." If the resolution of a music file is poor, the speaker's bandwidth doesn't matter.

As a practical matter, your PC or iPod can store only so much data, and compressed MP3s can lose much of a recording's information, says Richard Dawson, a design consultant at Park Avenue Audio in New York. "And that's what you'll be transmitting to the speaker."

The second speed bump on wireless speakers' path to ubiquity is that most of these speakers aren't of high quality; up to now, they haven't had to be.

"You have a low-bandwidth source, so how much R&D would you want to spend on innovation?" Dawson says.

Before wireless speakers can compete with traditional speakers, the makers will have to improve their fundamental quality. Rohde says that's "inevitable" and that products "will be coming out very soon that give us a very good signal, and then after that comes improvements in the quality of the speaker itself."

And hey, even now ... they're wireless.

"Wireless is popular because it's convenient and listeners aren't critical," says Dawson. "If people think iPod speakers are adequate, then wireless speakers are fine for them."

Listen. It's OK to think your iPod speakers are adequate. Just don't think it around this guy.

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