Getting surround sound in your living room without a lot of wires

Phil Dotree

For me, a surround-sound system is an essential part of a home entertainment center. However, many surround-sound systems are wired, and that's a problem for me. I have hardwood floors and I hate to see wires running across them to the rear speakers, and I really, really don't like the idea of tripping every time I want to head to the kitchen for some popcorn.

The good news is that there are a few ways to avoid a bunch of wires when setting up a 5.1 surround-sound system.

Sending wires through the ceiling. The most obvious way to avoid visible wires is to feed them through the ceiling or wall. My home's finished basement has a drop ceiling, so this would be perfect for that part of the home; unfortunately, my living room is in the upstairs, which has drywall ceilings and walls.

I'm not extremely handy, but sending a long audio wire through a wall and then heading up to the attic wasn't too much of a chore. To make things look nice and keep everything in place, I bought a junction box for about $10 and a specialized audio outlet cover for $5. My speakers used a standard component jack, so I bought an outlet cover that matched this (component is the little red-and-white plugs on the back of most TVs, and most surround systems use this standard). A component jack outlet can actually be a nice feature and certainly looks better than a bunch of wires. However, if you're considering running wire, make sure that you're using the right type. Some speaker cables carry electricity, so stay safe.

Wireless speakers. I didn't mind running wires, but if you don't want any wires at all, you've certainly got some excellent options. Wireless surround-sound systems cost more than typical surround-sound systems, however. You can get a decent wired system for $200-$300, but add another $100-$200 to the sticker price if you're going wireless -- and that's for a budget system.

Most wireless speaker systems are bundled with a receiver of some sort, but there are standalone sets. Wireless speakers broadcast on a set frequency and in order to provide true theater-quality sound, they need a good source of electricity. Battery-powered speakers cannot deliver great quality, and there's little point in buying a surround-sound system if you don't want decent quality.

This means that you'll still have wires, unfortunately. But in most homes, it's easier to run speakers to power outlets than to run speaker cables.

Some newer wireless speaker systems advertise Wi-Fi capability, but this does not mean that they use Wi-Fi for audio. Instead, the system's receiver connects to your home network, and you can play music directly from your home computers. Most wireless systems use radio signals, but they're very resistant to interference.

If you are running a 5.1 speaker system, which means that you have five speakers and a subwoofer, you have your choice of running wires or buying a wireless system. Some new systems offer 6.1 and 7.1, and if you go with these, you'll be limited to wired options.

I have owned several sets of wireless speakers, and they offer great sound quality for surround sound systems. Whatever you choose, make sure to follow the system's instructions for proper speaker placement to get the most out of your stereo. I ended up spending $200 on speakers and another $50 on cables and components, but it was worth it for a great-looking, great-sounding home entertainment system.