On an almost daily basis, we see advertisements and press releases encouraging us to “un-tether” our devices, to unravel ourselves from our wiry bondage. That kind of sentiment sounds seductive, but stripping away the wires doesn’t always make a device better. In fact, sometimes it can even make a device a less attractive buy. Though this may sound like heresy, or akin to asking a cop to slap the cuffs back on just after you’ve been let loose, let us play devil’s advocate for a moment and make a case in defense of wires.
This is perhaps the strongest case in favor of wired electronics. If you’re looking to buy a high-quality, expensive device, naturally you’ll want that device to last. Unfortunately, Lithium-ion batteries (the current standard for rechargeables) have a shelf life of roughly three years, regardless of how often or how seldom you charge them. If you’re getting ready to shell out $400 or $500 dollars for a portable speaker, that’s a pretty troubling thought. Sure, you can still plug it in, but you’ve lost the benefit of portability until you shell out big bucks for a replacement battery – and that assumes that the battery is replaceable, which is not always the case.
In case you haven’t noticed, many of our so-called wireless devices moonlight as wired ones. That’s largely because one piece of technology seems to be dragging it’s feet into the future: the rechargeable battery. To be fair, let’s give credit where it’s due and acknowledge that today’s rechargeable batteries are amazing feats of technology, with years of research and millions of dollars behind them. It’s not as if engineers are missing some obvious solution to our power needs, it’s just that developing a truly long-lasting, quickly-re-chargeable, and affordable battery is a trickier nut to crack than you might think.
So, for now, that battery icon on your wireless gizmos will remain a looming, foreboding reminder that if you don’t head to an outlet, you device will surely die. OK, perhaps we’re being a bit dramatic – maybe macabre, even. But take a moment to consider the percentage of the time you find that your supposedly-wireless device must be plugged in.
There does exist, however, a purer form of wireless. Those devices that have dispensed with wires entirely. We’re referring to, of course, entirely battery-operated electronics. These devices never have to be plugged into the wall, but with all this talk of modernity, it’s interesting that the typical battery-powered electronic device operates on either ridiculously heavy and expensive D batteries (introduced in 1898) or slightly less cumbersome AA batteries (standardized in 1947). True, they’re longer-lasting and more efficient than in years past, but perhaps not to the degree we’d like them to be. Bottom line: This business of constantly buying and replacing alkaline batteries is costly, inconvenient and, frankly, annoying.
Sound & Speed
Many visitors to our site are self-identified audiophiles: consumers or professionals that are obsessed with sound-quality. If you count yourself among the ranks of this group, you know that wireless audio can’t quite compete with wired audio. Streaming your music wirelessly means you must rely on various wireless codecs – some better and more expensive than others – as well as a device’s DAC (Digital to Analog Converter). As we all know, there’s always something lost in that translation, but a poor DAC does more damage to sound than almost anything else in the signal chain.
Furthermore, interference issues can quickly throw a wrench into the gears of your gathering, as music can cut out at random if multiple wireless signals get crossed – but we’ll get back to that later.
To be fair, some wireless audio systems are capable of delivering outstanding bit depth and sample rate, but the components required to do so are cost-prohibitive and hard to come by for most people. The one exception, perhaps, is the Audio Engine D2, but, as a standalone component, it is hardly convenient and certainly not portable.
The bottom line is this: For a fraction of the price of portable, wireless audio, you can almost always get a wired alternative that will sound superior – a point which leads nicely into our next section.
Bang for your buck
Speaking of costly, wireless devices upcharge for the convenience of portability as a rule. Take Xbox controllers as an example: Virtually nobody buys the wired versions anymore. But if you did, you’d save a nice chunk of change. At Sears for instance, a wireless controller will set you back $50, while a wired version costs only $40. But wait, there’s more: The price of the wireless version does not include the cost of an optional play-and-charge kit ($15), which features a rechargeable battery and – you guessed it – a wire. Plus the wired version has a cord that stretches almost ten feet; how often are you playing from further away than that, anyway?
At first take, wireless devices may seem more convenient than their wired alternatives, but the question is: How much more convenient are they, really? Is it worth paying a premium for a device just because it comes sans wires? Or, more importantly, is it worth buying a product of inferior quality, just because it happens to be wireless?
Sending signals through the air is a tricky business. For a signal to navigate unsullied from point A to point B, it has to avoid being interfered with. Interference happens when two waves that are at or near the same frequency come together, and a change in amplitude results. For now, that’s not terribly important, just know this: interference results in dropped, spotty, or slow signals. Since many wireless devices operate on at a 2.4 GHz radio frequency, interference among your household’s wireless devices is not uncommon. Furthermore, the problem is exacerbated as you add more and more wireless devices, as the saturation of signals increases the chances of interference.
The wireless revolution is coming, but it’s not ready yet
Look, we don’t mean to be that old curmudgeon in the rocking chair, obdurately adhering to the way things were done when he/she came of age. We fully understand the appeal of wireless technology and many of us have fully embraced it in our day-to-day lives. Our goal is merely to warn against the “because we can, we should” attitude that often prevails in the arena of consumer electronics. If wireless tech confers a true advantage to you with respect to a particular purchase, you should – of course – buy accordingly. We just want to be careful not to cast off the old before the new has truly made it obsolete. Wires – pesky, unsightly, and hazardous as they may be – certainly have their place, even in this brave new wireless world.