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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.

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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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