Are Wireless Speakers Finally Good Enough for Audiophiles? Probably
But wires aren't dead yet
Wireless speakers can go toe-to-toe with high-end wired speakers.
Wireless speakers offer convenience beyond their lack of cables.
Unlike vintage passive speakers, computer-loaded wireless models may not last decades.
It used to be that audiophile Hi-Fi setups used wires, period. Now, wireless speakers are getting close, as good, and maybe even better than the old wired versions.
We're not talking about Bluetooth here. When we say 'wireless' speakers, we mean speakers that connect to your home Wi-Fi and transmit uncompressed or lossless audio data over the network. In recent years, high-end wireless speakers have come to rival the passive wired speakers usually favored by audiophiles and music fans in their home setups. But that doesn't mean the old tech is going anywhere. It's just that now we have a real choice.
"I personally still believe connected speakers sound better if you have a side-by-side comparison, but in most cases, it's negligible, and wireless can preserve the intended audio experience. Victrola's Stream turntable line designed for Sonos connectivity is a great example of a product that brings analog vinyl into a digital, wireless environment seamlessly while preserving a great sonic experience," Don Inmon, head of product and brand at Victrola, told Lifewire via email.
Wired or Wireless
First, let’s look at the difference between these types of speakers. For decades, home Hi-Fi setups have used a source (record player, CD player, etc.), an amplifier, and a pair of passive speakers. These speakers are driven by the amp and require no power of their own. Essentially they’re just speaker cones with magnets and coils, and the amp supplies the power to move those cones.
Then, there are wired “active” speakers. These have an amplifier built into the speaker, so they need to be plugged into the wall and the music source. Active speakers are popular in recording studios, and while they are used in home Hi-Fi setups, they’re less popular than the passive kind. Their advantage is that they don’t need a separate amp and that their built-in amplifiers perfectly match the speakers.
Then we have wireless speakers. These are all active, from the battery-powered Bluetooth kind to the fancy plug-in-to-the-wall kind. The wireless part refers to the audio being sent over the air rather than through a cable. But that’s not the whole story.
Convenience vs Longevity
If you have a pair of vintage speakers from the 1970s, you can hook them up to an amplifier from the 1990s and plug in a music-streaming box from today. It will all just work. And if those speakers break, they can be repaired.
With wireless speakers, can we say the same? Even if they remain physically reliable for a few decades, will the Wi-Fi still be compatible? Will the software be kept up to date? And any time you put a computer into something, you can expect it not to last. Take Apple's original HomePods, for example, which didn't last nearly as long as they should have.
"My personal opinion is that expensive speakers should last at least 40 years, probably more. That means no technology in them for me. There's no […] way you will be using LS60s in 15 years," member of the Reddit r/audiophile community PecorinoMan answered in a thread started by Lifewire. "So for me, anyway, I keep the technology separate. My speakers are passive, my amplification isn't 'smart.' I'd rather have separates and slap a network streamer on top of it all that I can upgrade every so often."
On the other hand, wireless setups bring more than the convenience of just ditching the wires. Since you have to plug them into power anyway, you're just trading one pair of cables for another. But these speakers can offer lots of extra features. Sonos speakers can synchronize your music between rooms, and many speakers can stream music from your phone or even direct from streaming services like Spotify and Tidal.
And now, as the audio quality of wireless reaches that of high-end wired speakers, you can choose exactly what you want based on features without compromising the sound. You can even mix and match.
"The solution for each listener comes down to a matter of taste and convenience, which also means there isn't a right or wrong answer. I personally have vintage Klipsch speakers that I love that are passive (wired), but I have them connected to a Sonos amp," says Victrola's Inman.
Between speaker tech, vinyl's continued resurgence, and streaming's convenience, there may never have been a better time to get amazing sound at home.