August 7, 2022

State of the Art: Wireless, Not Wimpy, Speakers

The makers of home theaters would love us to discover surround-sound speakers, which transform the experience of movies and music. But as many a spouse can tell you, those speaker setups entail five or seven pain points: the speaker cables snaking across the floor. We’ve got wireless phones, wireless remotes and wireless networks. Why can’t we have wireless speakers?

We can, of course. They’ve been available for years. But few people buy them. Ira Fagan, owner of a home theater installation company in Fairfield, Conn., puts it like this: “Unless your wireless speakers cost $10,000, they’ll sound like a cordless phone.”

Aperion Audio thinks it’s about to change that game. Its new Intimus 4T Summit Wireless 5.1 Home Theater Speaker System costs $2,500, and is supposed to rival wired speakers at the same price.

(That might sound expensive, especially when surround-sound kits at Best Buy start at $180. On the other hand, some people pay $10,000 for a pair for high-end speakers. On sale.)

Once the delivery truck pulls away, your front porch bends under the weight of seven boxes: a black transmitter box the size of a cigar box; a wide rectangular center speaker that goes right under or over the TV; two tall, skinny, towerlike front speakers; two small bookshelf-type speakers that go beside or just behind your seating area; and a subwoofer, a huge black cube that pumps out low frequencies. The manual, the remote control and the tech support (based in the United States) are all excellent.

A 7.1 seven-speaker setup — with two more surround speakers behind your couch — costs $3,000.

You don’t need to worry about the great-looking piano-black finish getting scratched during shipping; each speaker is wrapped in plastic, then slipped into an individual velvet drawstring bag, surrounded by polystyrene foam and packed inside a shipping box. Where’s Houdini when you need him?

It turns out that “the first decent-sounding, reasonably priced wireless speakers” isn’t the Aperions’ only claim. The speakers also calibrate themselves, saving $1,000 or more on having a professional do the work.

You position them so that they can all “see” each other; no speaker should be blocked by furniture, potted plants or sleeping St. Bernards. You plug each speaker into a power outlet. This, of course, is the big lie about wireless speakers; they still need electricity. Until somebody invents wireless power outlets, the speaker wires are the only ones we can eliminate.

The small transmitter box also acts as a video switch; it accommodates your cable box, DVD player, game console or whatever you can plug into its inputs (a coax jack, stereo analog inputs and three 3 HDMI jacks). In other words, this tiny component eliminates the need for a bulky, expensive traditional amplifier. Each speaker has amplifiers built right in.

The next setup step is so much fun, you’ll want to do it over and over again. On one speaker, you press the Associate button. The speakers now communicate with each other, exchanging information about their number (five or seven speakers), distance and relative positions. This information is transmitted using ultrasonic sound waves, so it won’t bother anybody but the bats.

And that’s it. Your speakers are now fully calibrated and adjusted, immersing you in delicious surround sound.

For its final trick, the Aperion system offers an instant sweet-spot-repositioning feature. With regular surround- sound, you always have to sit in one exact spot to derive the maximum benefit of your speakers. You eventually wear a hole in your couch.


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