Speakers

Integrators Debate Wired vs. Wireless Audio Systems

Integrators prefer hardwired audio systems for performance and reliability, but wireless is king due to flexibility, lower cost and reduced disruption during installation process.


Selling wireless systems, like the NuVo Player Portfolio, enable integrators to put more emphasis with clients on deploying a more robust home network.
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In today's increasingly wireless world, there’s a perception that it’s best for all communications and entertainment devices to be untethered for convenience and flexibility’s sake. However, in the day-to-day world of A/V dealers and installers, the choice between the wired and wireless requires careful consideration. Desirée Webster, Legrand’s senior marketing communications manager, recently spoke with two longtime residential pros John Francioso of Ultrasounds (Lynnbrook, N.Y.) and John Spies of Absolute Media Systems (Newtown, Conn.) about this and how experts tackle this issue.

The resulting debate reveals that while integrators admit they prefer to install hardwired audio systems for performance and reliability sake, wireless is the new king due to its flexibility, lower cost and reduced disruption of the home during the installation process. But installing wireless audio systems is not a zero-sum game for CE pros. Indeed, it enables them to place a greater emphasis on the robustness of the home network.

Webster: Why might you as an installer recommend a hardwired network for a whole home audio system over a wireless one?

John Spies: Several reasons jump to mind right off the bat. As installer’s know, hardwiring is more reliable, faster and usually less expensive. Another advantage is that with the added reliability of wired networks we get many fewer tech support calls from customers.

John Francioso: I agree. But it can be a tough sell to customers looking for the flexibility and apparent simplicity of wireless. There are also those who would rather avoid in-wall wiring—particularly in finished homes where walls aren’t open for prewiring.

"You have to expect to take some
time going through the options with
your customers," says John Francioso
of Ultrasounds.

Webster: Are there specific integration scenarios where a wired system would be better than a wireless one?

Spies: Wireless systems are susceptible to Wi-Fi “broadcast storms” that overwhelm the network and result in transmission dropouts and failures. Mixing wireless and wired components, while not a problem with the Nuvo Player Portfolio system, may require using a managed switch, which adds cost and time to the installation.

Francioso: In a new home where walls are open for prewiring, wired systems make sense for performance and cost-effectiveness. But even then, I get more requests from customers to go wireless. 

Webster: Conversely, which scenarios would require a wireless approach?

Francioso: In existing homes where there is no easy way to get in and navigate within the walls, or customers don’t want to take the time or bear the cost to run wires throughout the house. In a multiple dwelling unit, you are often not allowed to touch anything, let alone drill into walls, so wireless is really the only option.

Webster: With respect to networked whole home audio systems, what are the pitfalls of wireless systems that you find customers do not take into account?

"Wireless systems are susceptible to Wi-Fi 'broadcast storms' that overwhelm the network and result in transmission dropouts and failures."
— John Spies, Absolute Media Systems

Spies: The performance of wireless depends on many variables, including architectural and environmental factors.  Many new building materials aren’t RF friendly and result in weak signals in some rooms. The 2.4MHz band, which is preferable to use for distance, is also subject to more noise, making it less reliable.

Webster: Are the majority of your network installations for wired or wireless networks?

Spies: For my business, I believe the balance has tipped to wireless, and I expect that to keep growing.  But there will always be situations where you’ve got to run copper – or fiber. Networking has changed the nature of my business, and we make network installation a part of every proposal we write.

Francioso: From my experience, it seems that the industry is making a major shift to wireless. The majority of my customers are asking for wireless.  I also do some hybrid systems – using both wired and wireless components – but not many.

Webster: What’s your preference for networks used for home entertainment, wired or wireless, and why?

Spies: I lean towards wired, for reliability and to preserve wireless network bandwidth for applications that require a wireless connection.

Francioso: I have a wired network in my home, which I find to be a more reliable and robust than a wireless system. If there is a connectivity issue, you’re generally going to solve it a lot faster.

SEE RELATED: NuVo Bolsters Ecosystem for Wireless Audio with New DSPs

Webster: How does cost play into the decision of going wired vs. wireless?

Spies: It’s not cut and dry—it depends on the situation. If you have open walls and can pre-wire, that makes a wired system very attractive and cost-effective. Wireless can add complexity, and, depending on the situation, make it more expensive than wired.

Francioso: You have to expect to take some time going through the options with your customers.  No matter what choice they make, they appreciate the expertise integrators bring to the table and know that there are trade-offs involved with different choices.




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Comments

Posted by Richard Stoerger on July 19, 2017

Hi Julie.  I love your willingness to take on this incredibly vital discussion (at least as it relates to custom installation).

I also find it interesting to pit wireless vs. wired technologies against each other.  In fact they are solutions that in the most ideal world augment each other when applied thoughtfully together.  Both John’s are correct based on the question but there is much more to this discussion.

Wireless with respect to whole-house music distribution is in fact three technologies in one.  On one side it is a source, what you listen to and coupled with that, wireless is also a control system that simplifies how you access entertainment, what you want to hear as well as where and when.  The third component to wireless is a completely different animal.  It is the delivery method or better, the playback system. 

In all cases, “wireless” has come a long way.  Consider if you will that for decades, the number one recognized consumer audio brand was Bose.  But for the last several years, I would bet that when asked what is the most recognized consumer audio brand, with respect to sound systems/speakers, the answer from the guy on the street would be Sonos.  Access to media, simplicity in control and a simpler delivery system made this dramatic branding reversal all possible.

But where Sonos and its counterparts are strong, they are also incredibly weak.  Among my favorite all-time selling techniques is the use of Sonos’s own television commercial that aired during the Super Bowl in 2014 – “Fill Your Home With Music”.  It is the most amazing TV spot ever produced regarding multi-room audio.  And I have been watching TV as well as doing multi-room A/V for a long, long time (I even remember the late-night Sony multi-room infomercial). 

But while the Sonos spot is a beautiful commercial, it is an utter lie.  For starters, the commercial features a home that incorporates design elements and furnishings that indicate that if the only thing the owner did was install about $2K-$3K in Sonos gear, whoever advised this customer severely underestimated their budget and even worse, did not advise them wisely.

However, even more regretful is the false promise that three speakers and a sound-bar will deliver the promise of this commercial.  Using colored lights, the producers of this ad present the false impression that music filtrates through the house regardless of how many speakers are used to make this possible.  Imagine this commercial with one blue light, two red lights and one orange light.  You would have a tough time even finding the bathroom. 

Science and experience prove this totally and utterly impossible.  And that is the lie.  In order to “deliver” adequate sound dispersion, you would need dozens of Sonos speakers but of course how would that look on TV.  Where might one place all those speakers and remember that each speaker needs to be plugged into an AC outlet.  And of course that many speakers not only changes the budget, but would make the interior designer simply want to puke.

Instead, as this commercial clearly points to, a hard-wired audio delivery system is in fact the only way to deliver on its promise of “Fill Your Home With Music”.  Here you will need speakers (ideally in-wall, in-ceiling, book shelf, free standing, invisible … whatever).  They would need to line that corridor, be evenly dispersed in the bedroom and have great coverage in the first-floor living spaces.  You will also need speaker wiring and adequate power amplification. 

You can of course use a Sonos Connect or several (or some other brand) as a source.  You can still use your iPhone, iPad, or other such smart device for control.  And you could still add on to your wired system by placing Sonos speakers in non-wired areas (garage, pantry, laundry room, etc.).  But the delivery system requires infrastructure and componentry.  Ideally, it also requires great advice and support.  That is what I call “Custom Installation”. And that is why “We are CEDIA!”

Posted by CDMI INC on July 18, 2017

Wireless technology today is a convenience and a fix for poor planning, it’s not an infrastructure. Anyone telling you different is looking out for their best interests, not yours. If you care at all about performance, either as a dealer or consumer, you will wire your homes and businesses properly.

We should not be sacrificing performance today because the future may be different. We should be giving clients the best available technology now and planning for the future. These are not always the same. Everything may be wireless in the future (I seriously doubt it) but that is not the best available technology NOW.

We are not driving in horse and buggies because there may be flying cars someday and someone will buy an iPhone 8 even though the iPhone 9 will be out some day.

The longer you wait to take advantage of technology, the less you get to appreciate and benefit from it. We need to understand that the experience is what we are selling. Some so called smart people closed the US Patent Office in 1899 because they figured all the real significant advances had been achieved. Instead of trying to outsmart the future, let’s plan for it - without sacrificing the present.

Posted by ritchut on July 18, 2017

You may quote me:
“Nothing beats a wire” R Locke RCDD,18 July 2017

Posted by Adroit1 on July 18, 2017

There are 2, very important, reasons you left out, wives and interior designers. Wireless audio is impossible to hide, whereas in-ceiling and in-wall speakers are easy to hide by painting the grills and rims to match the color of a room. They also sit flush. I can’t tell you how many owners were really hot on some nice floor standing speakers, only to have their wives say they did not want their home to look like a music studio. There have been a large number of the above categories who would not allow in-wall speakers, even when they were told how much better the TV sound would be with the speakers pointed right at them. When possible, wired is the preferred choice, but there are just some situations where wireless is the only option. Try explaining that to an interior designer.

Posted by Adroit1 on July 18, 2017

There are 2, very important, reasons you left out, wives and interior designers. Wireless audio is impossible to hide, whereas in-ceiling and in-wall speakers are easy to hide by painting the grills and rims to match the color of a room. They also sit flush. I can’t tell you how many owners were really hot on some nice floor standing speakers, only to have their wives say they did not want their home to look like a music studio. There have been a large number of the above categories who would not allow in-wall speakers, even when they were told how much better the TV sound would be with the speakers pointed right at them. When possible, wired is the preferred choice, but there are just some situations where wireless is the only option. Try explaining that to an interior designer.

Posted by ritchut on July 18, 2017

You may quote me:
“Nothing beats a wire” R Locke RCDD,18 July 2017

Posted by CDMI INC on July 18, 2017

Wireless technology today is a convenience and a fix for poor planning, it’s not an infrastructure. Anyone telling you different is looking out for their best interests, not yours. If you care at all about performance, either as a dealer or consumer, you will wire your homes and businesses properly.

We should not be sacrificing performance today because the future may be different. We should be giving clients the best available technology now and planning for the future. These are not always the same. Everything may be wireless in the future (I seriously doubt it) but that is not the best available technology NOW.

We are not driving in horse and buggies because there may be flying cars someday and someone will buy an iPhone 8 even though the iPhone 9 will be out some day.

The longer you wait to take advantage of technology, the less you get to appreciate and benefit from it. We need to understand that the experience is what we are selling. Some so called smart people closed the US Patent Office in 1899 because they figured all the real significant advances had been achieved. Instead of trying to outsmart the future, let’s plan for it - without sacrificing the present.

Posted by Richard Stoerger on July 19, 2017

Hi Julie.  I love your willingness to take on this incredibly vital discussion (at least as it relates to custom installation).

I also find it interesting to pit wireless vs. wired technologies against each other.  In fact they are solutions that in the most ideal world augment each other when applied thoughtfully together.  Both John’s are correct based on the question but there is much more to this discussion.

Wireless with respect to whole-house music distribution is in fact three technologies in one.  On one side it is a source, what you listen to and coupled with that, wireless is also a control system that simplifies how you access entertainment, what you want to hear as well as where and when.  The third component to wireless is a completely different animal.  It is the delivery method or better, the playback system. 

In all cases, “wireless” has come a long way.  Consider if you will that for decades, the number one recognized consumer audio brand was Bose.  But for the last several years, I would bet that when asked what is the most recognized consumer audio brand, with respect to sound systems/speakers, the answer from the guy on the street would be Sonos.  Access to media, simplicity in control and a simpler delivery system made this dramatic branding reversal all possible.

But where Sonos and its counterparts are strong, they are also incredibly weak.  Among my favorite all-time selling techniques is the use of Sonos’s own television commercial that aired during the Super Bowl in 2014 – “Fill Your Home With Music”.  It is the most amazing TV spot ever produced regarding multi-room audio.  And I have been watching TV as well as doing multi-room A/V for a long, long time (I even remember the late-night Sony multi-room infomercial). 

But while the Sonos spot is a beautiful commercial, it is an utter lie.  For starters, the commercial features a home that incorporates design elements and furnishings that indicate that if the only thing the owner did was install about $2K-$3K in Sonos gear, whoever advised this customer severely underestimated their budget and even worse, did not advise them wisely.

However, even more regretful is the false promise that three speakers and a sound-bar will deliver the promise of this commercial.  Using colored lights, the producers of this ad present the false impression that music filtrates through the house regardless of how many speakers are used to make this possible.  Imagine this commercial with one blue light, two red lights and one orange light.  You would have a tough time even finding the bathroom. 

Science and experience prove this totally and utterly impossible.  And that is the lie.  In order to “deliver” adequate sound dispersion, you would need dozens of Sonos speakers but of course how would that look on TV.  Where might one place all those speakers and remember that each speaker needs to be plugged into an AC outlet.  And of course that many speakers not only changes the budget, but would make the interior designer simply want to puke.

Instead, as this commercial clearly points to, a hard-wired audio delivery system is in fact the only way to deliver on its promise of “Fill Your Home With Music”.  Here you will need speakers (ideally in-wall, in-ceiling, book shelf, free standing, invisible … whatever).  They would need to line that corridor, be evenly dispersed in the bedroom and have great coverage in the first-floor living spaces.  You will also need speaker wiring and adequate power amplification. 

You can of course use a Sonos Connect or several (or some other brand) as a source.  You can still use your iPhone, iPad, or other such smart device for control.  And you could still add on to your wired system by placing Sonos speakers in non-wired areas (garage, pantry, laundry room, etc.).  But the delivery system requires infrastructure and componentry.  Ideally, it also requires great advice and support.  That is what I call “Custom Installation”. And that is why “We are CEDIA!”