How Do Wireless Speakers Work?
Magic? Harry Potter Wand Tricks? Leprechauns?
There is really no straightforward answer to this question. Wireless speakers can work on a variety of technologies, chief among them being Radio Frequency (RF), Bluetooth, and nowadays, even Wi-Fi.
The basic process, however, remains the same. A wireless transmitter is plugged into an audio system such as an iPod, a computer, a Blu-Ray player, a TV, etc. This transmitter sends a signal to the speakers which, in turn, convert it into sound. The signal can be transmitted via various different technologies, which we’ll discuss below.
Radio Frequency or RF, is the most common technology used in wireless speakers. The speakers use a particular unused band of the radio spectrum to transmit data wirelessly. A cordless phone works on the same principle.
RF is a fairly efficient technology, flexible and affordable. It has a good range, stretching over 100 feet in certain models (and over 300 feet in some outdoor speakers). There is a fair amount of data loss which can cause degradation of the audio signal, resulting in poor quality playback. Conflicting signals from other wireless devices in the house, such as wireless routers and cordless phones can cause interference, leading to data loss and disturbance. All in all, RF, despite its popularity, may be phased out in the next few years as newer technologies take its place.
If you bought a new mobile phone in the past 2 years, you would definitely be familiar with Bluetooth. As a wireless data transfer standard used in virtually every mobile phone, Bluetooth is ubiquitous these days. Via this technology, two Bluetooth enabled devices can be connected wirelessly within seconds. Once a connection is established, data can be transferred wirelessly at speeds of up to 3 MB/second.
Technologically, Bluetooth works on the radio spectrum as well. Instead of using a single band, however, Bluetooth chops up the data and distributes it over 79 different bands, thereby enhancing speed and reducing data loss. These bands range from 2400 MHz to 2483.5 MHz.
Bluetooth has a smaller range than pure RF signals. On the plus side, since the entire spectrum from 2400-2483.5 MHz (79 bands, along with spare guard bands) is allocated for Bluetooth use, there is no interference from other wireless devices.
One key issue with Bluetooth is that it isn’t available in all devices. Older phones, most audio and video players, TVs, and desktop computer aren’t equipped with native Bluetooth. To use a pair of Bluetooth wireless speakers with these devices, you’ll have to invest in a Bluetooth transmitter. However, if you primarily use a Bluetooth enabled device such as an iPhone or iPod Touch to listen to your music, you’ll find Bluetooth wireless speakers to be a competent competitor to RF.
Only a select few speakers use Wi-Fi for transmitting data – such as the Sonos Play series of speakers. This is the same plain vanilla Wi-Fi used in your home. It is fast and efficient and works very well with digital, Wi-Fi enabled devices like computers and mobile phones.
However, most audio players, TVs, etc. aren’t Wi-Fi enabled. This means that a Wi-Fi wireless speaker can only play back audio from your computer or mobile phone. Obviously, this limits its functionality and is the sole reason why wireless Wi-Fi speakers haven’t been accepted by the mainstream.