Home theaters require a lot of equipment and attention to detail, including not only the gear itself but the type of paint (our guide) you use as well, and with every new component, there are often several new wires that need to be connected to everything else leading to trip hazards and laborious cable management solutions. But as technology continues to advance, more homeowners are looking to invest in wireless home theater systems, although few know exactly how they work.
A wireless home theater starts by converting the video and audio signal of the content into a radio frequency (typically 2.4GHz or 5GHz) and then transmitting it. The signal is decoded back into video and sound signals that the screen and speakers can use at the receiving end.
But what hardware do you need to make a wireless system work? Keep reading to find out more about the required components, how they work together and my top three wireless surround sound systems.
How a Wireless Home Theater Sound System Works
A wireless home theater starts with the audio signal sent to the receiver or soundbar (active soundbars often negate the need for a receiver, by the way – here’s why). Once converted, the receiver or soundbar can use the information on the sound that has been wirelessly transmitted to play sound over the speakers.
These speakers will get their power from either the Receiver or via a power outlet (we can’t make that cable go away yet), but they can receive the sound information from the Receiver wirelessly. Some subwoofers and also get their sound signal wirelessly from a paired soundbar.
But what do each of the home theater sound system components actually do when connected to a wireless set up? Let’s quickly recap the core elements of a home theater setup to frame the discussion around:
The receiver is the “brain” of the home theater system. It’s used for both wireless and wired setups, to route multiple media sources to the screen and/or audio equipment.
Receivers are sometimes referred to as amplifiers, and this is partially true. Amplifiers are best used for stereo-centric use. Receivers, on the other hand, are amplifiers with more functionality, which makes them better suited to home theater needs.
These “extra features” typically include HDMI and video signal relays, built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth capabilities to enhance streaming services, and more.
The number of speakers in your home theater sound system really depends on your personal preference, and the different types of surround speakers fill different roles. There’s a quick rundown of which speakers go where below, but be sure to check out our full guide on surround sound for more details.
- Center Speaker: If you use a receiver instead of a soundbar, you will likely need to install a center speaker. This speaker is typically the most powerful in your setup, just make sure you don’t underpower it because it could lead to audible distortion as we explained in our guide.
This is because the majority of the sound you hear will come through these speakers. A wireless center speaker is one of the most important pieces of your wireless home theater sound system if a soundbar is not used.
- Front Speakers: Front left and right speakers are also typically found in systems that do not use a quality soundbar. Soundbars often contain left and right or end speakers that project sound to the sides of the room. However, front left and right speakers are common in home theater systems and, in some cases, systems for cars as we’ve explored in other articles. If you’re keeping count, this would be speakers number 2 and 3.
These speakers sit at the front of the room, angled toward the main viewing area. These speakers help create a more realistic sound. Make sure you find models that are wireless if you are looking to set up a wireless home theater sound system.
- Rear Speakers: Typically a bit smaller, rear speakers are placed to the left and right back of the room. Rear speakers are used to surround sound systems that have 5 or more channels. Rear speakers primarily broadcast background sounds, off-screen voices, and other distant sound effects.
As implied by the name, rear speakers sit at the back of the room and are positioned slightly angled towards the main audience area. Although rear speakers primarily project subtle sounds, they are essential to a full surround system design.
- Side Speakers: Left and right side speakers are quieter than your center speaker, however, they are louder than the rear ones. This is because they are working on placing you directly in the center of the action you’re viewing.
These models are typically required for a 7.1 channel setup. As with the other speakers, make sure the model you invest in is wireless compatible.
- Subwoofer: A subwoofer is one of the most important components in a surround sound set up. In fact, in a 5.1 or 7.1 channel setup, the subwoofer is the “.1”.
Subwoofers are used to produce those rich, deep low notes. They are specially designed to support bass notes that rumble and boom. It is essential that your subwoofer be wireless in a wireless surround sound set up.
Soundbars are relatively newer devices used in home theater sound systems. For many home theaters, the soundbar has now entirely replaced the receiver and surround speakers discussed above, although, people who haven’t read our dos and donts article will miss out on year-saving tips when finally making the switch. Soundbars are all-in-one style devices that typically combine a built-in receiver with multiple drivers within one long, thin bar.
Professionals may prefer dedicated center speakers to soundbars, but there have been huge improvements to soundbar quality over the last few years. They still don’t beat a full surround sound setup, but they’re close enough for most. And you may even be able to connect a soundbar up to a receiver in some cases.
Whether you use a receiver to power surround-sound-speakers or use a soundbar, the audio produced by these products is far superior to that of even the most expensive televisions. So, both options are a step up, and you can check out our guide comparing surround sound and soundbars if you’re not sure which route you’d like to take.
Before I get into the other components used in a quality wireless home theater, we need to talk about transmitters. Regardless of if you are using a receiver or a soundbar, you will need a transmitter. The difference, however, is that some manufacturers will include a built-in transmitter within their product.
A transmitter is a small device that relays the audio or video signals from one device to another without having to connect them via wires. Transmitters typically plug right into your receiver or soundbar. Transmitters rely on Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or proprietary wireless systems to relay information.
Many experts have found that Bluetooth wireless sound relays are of a lower quality than the other versions. Why? Because Bluetooth technology has extremely limited channel support and trouble with relaying signals over a long distance.
Is a Wireless System Inferior to a Wired System?
There are plenty of reasons to invest in a home theater surround sound system, and those reasons add up when you’ve included wireless systems as well (our tutorial in case you’re interested). But which is better for you: a wireless or wired setup? Here are some of the pros and cons to help you evaluate which option is right for you.
- Fewer Wires: Fewer wires are always a pro in my book. Yes, you will still require wires that lead to your power sources. However, you eliminate the wires needed to connect each of your speakers to your subwoofer, soundbar, and/or receiver.
Not only does this save you several tripping hazards, but it also helps eliminate the cost of additional cabling. This is one of the primary reasons owners opt for wireless systems over wired ones.
- Newer Technologies: Wireless technologies are typically found in newer items. This means many of the wireless components have the freshest technologies and features built-in. For example, state-of-the-art infrared technology is now being used is most of the quality wireless surround sound systems available today.
- More Range: As long as your wireless speakers are within the required transmission range, your surround sound system will work. This means you aren’t limited by cable lengths when designing your home theater setup.
- Cost: As with most electronics, you get what you pay for. While there are several wireless models on the market at affordable prices, quality is not cheap.
Increased technologies typically mean higher price tags and wireless surround sound components are not exempt from this. Even your base-model wireless speaker will cost more than your standard wired one.
- Wireless Misconceptions: One of the most common frustrations is that “wireless” does not actually mean “no wires”. The fact is speakers, and every other electronic device like Fire Sticks (more on that in our guide), and more, still need power whether they are wireless or not.
Power cords to and from outlets or your subwoofer will still be required. This can be a real disappointment if you purchased your system without realizing outlets and some wiring will be involved.
- Dependability: Wireless signals are not always as great as we hoped. If your Wi-Fi provider has an outage or other such issue, your wireless speakers may go down as well.
This can be a huge con if you live in an area prone to Wi-Fi issues. Wired speakers, on the other hand, will not have this issue as they rely on hard cabling to relay signals.
Examples of Wireless Surround Sound Systems
There are plenty of options if you are interested in a wireless surround sound system for your home theater. However, not all systems are created equal. Below, I list my top three favorites.
Klipsch WiSA Wireless Home Theater System
The Klipsch WiSA-certified system starts with a base of three components (links go to Amazon): the RW-34C Center Channel Speaker, the RW-51M Bookshelf Speakers, and the R-10SWi Wireless Subwoofer. These three items combine for a 3.1-channel system, and additional bookshelf speakers can be used to expand to a 5.1- or 7.1-channel set up.
Some design specifications to consider include:
- RW-34C Center Speaker: Not quite a soundbar, the RW-34C provides high-quality sound that takes seconds to set up. It features two powered speakers and can be wall-mounted or set on a shelf.
It can be connected seamlessly with your WiSA-ready devices, including computers, Xbox One S, and more. Measurements: 31-inches wide x 6-inches deep x 14-inches tall; 16.8 pounds
- RW-51M Bookshelf Speakers: Robust sound that rivals top-of-the-line soundbars and surround sound speakers. Klipsch’s proprietary, legendary, and award-winning sound will immerse listeners in quality audio. Measurements: 8.5-inches wide x 7-inches deep x 13.3-inches tall; 10.1 pounds.
- R-10SQi Wireless Subwoofer: Available in 10- or 12-inches, the R-10SWi Wireless Subwoofer includes low pass crossover and phase control. With a built-in all-digital amplifier, this subwoofer comes with a small, compact wireless transmitter that plugs directly into the speaker and can sit discreetly atop it.
With 2.4GHz connectivity, the transmitter allows for quality sound to be streamed anywhere around the room. Measurements: 12.5-inches wide x 14-inches deep x 15.7-inches tall; 25.5 pounds.
Klipsch designed this system to be user friendly and easy-to-use. Simply plug your speakers into their power sources; the WiSA-integrated features should do the rest. If you purchased the older Klipsch RP-440WF home theater speakers, you’re still in luck: while these wireless speakers utilize older technology, they are still compatible with the newer components listed above.
Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1.4
The Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1.4 (on Amazon) surround sound system is one of my favorites this year. It includes a soundbar, wireless subwoofer and dual satellite speakers. With advanced features like room optimization, video pass-through, and plenty of input options, the Nakamichi Shockwafe is a real contender when it comes to home theater surround sound.
Set up is extremely easy, and plenty of reviews rave about the quality of sound it produces. Check out my full review of the Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1.4 if you’d like to learn more about what makes this unit a great addition to any home theater.
Sonos Playbar with Sonos Play:1 or Play:5
Sonos is one of the most well-known brands in the home theater world. Producing high-quality surround sound components, the Playbar and Play:1 (on Amazon) or Play:5 (also on Amazon) speakers will not leave you disappointed.
They impressive Sonos Playbar, when paired with either the Play:1 or the Play:5 speakers, provides the ultimate full theater experience. Known for their minimalist approach, the small, compact speakers are understated in appearance. Easy to set up and go, these speakers are an investment worth considering.