After Hours

Geek Gifts 2011: Polk Audio F/X Wireless Surround speaker system

The F/X Wireless Surround speaker system from Polk Audio is a great deal for anyone setting up a new surround sound system.

At some long-forgotten point in the 1980s, I set up a surround sound system in my family room. It was a complicated mess of manuals, diagrams, and tangled speaker wire. As part of our wireless-everything theme for the 2011 Geek Gift Guide, I set up a 7.1 surround sound system in my family room this summer using new speakers and a new home theater receiver. It was a complicated mess of manuals, diagrams, and slightly-less speaker wire.

The reduction in speaker wire was because I had the F/X Wireless Surround speaker system from Polk Audio, which eliminates the need for four rear-mounted speakers and the wires that would be required to connect them to the system.

Specifications

  • Product: F/X Wireless Surround speaker system
  • Company: Polk Audio
  • Dimensions:
    • Cabinet Size: 8-1/8" H x 19-1/2" W x 7-3/4" D
    • Transmitter Size: 1-1/2"H x 7" W x 3-13/32" D
  • Mid/Woofer: 1 - 5-1/4" Diameter (13.34cm) Dynamic Balance woofer
  • Midrange: 4 - 2-1/2" Diameter (6.35cm) Full range Dynamic Balance Controlled Dispersion Array drivers
  • Cost: $265 on Amazon

What I like

  • Wireless: Manufacturers are doing some amazing things with wireless technology these days, but this is one technology I have been wanting for a long time. Just like the HDTV transmitters we reviewed for the 2011 Geek Gift Guide, the F/X Wireless Surround speaker system uses wireless technology to do its job - in this case, delivering the sound of four speakers from one smallish box.
  • One box: This is where the F/X system really earns its keep. Using this wireless system you can eliminate the need for the normal four back speakers in a typical 7.1 surround sound setup and the wires that would connect them. I may not be much of an interior decorator, but even I know snaking speaker wires everywhere is not an attractive look.
  • Good sound: The quality of the audio produced by the F/X system was surprising. There were no glaring gaps in frequencies and the Controlled Dispersion Array (CDA) technology did a great job emulating four separate speakers from just the one box. Audiophiles are likely to claim to notice a difference, but for the rest of us, the quality of the F/X Wireless Surround speaker system is well worth the under $300 price tag.

What I don't like

  • Speaker wire: This is more a knock on the entire home theater industry, but I just don't understand why the only way I could connect my Pioneer VSX-1020-K receiver to the F/X transmitter was with connection-less speaker wire. This is the year 2011, hasn't anyone invented a standard connector for speaker systems? Do we really still have to strip the insulation of the ends of wires when we are connecting home theater systems?
  • Wireless interference: The other problem is going to vary based on environment, but I had trouble with wireless interference in my family room. While the room is several rooms away from the WiFi router, I have never had trouble with connections before. However, my Roku box would not stay connected to my home wireless network while I was using the F/X system. A 5-year old notebook located in the family room also had trouble maintaining connection. The Alienware m14x I was testing at the time was able to manage the wireless signal congestion much better, but even it dropped the connection a few times.
  • Complication: I have set up surround sound systems in the past, so I have experience with the installation process, but I am surprised that it has not gotten any easier. The home theater industry needs to adopt a consumer-friendly standard that will make the installation nearly idiot-proof. Color-coded wires with simple connections could be standardized much like they were for computers.

Special notes

After installing a complete 7.1 surround sound system in my family room, I noticed some wireless signal interference with my Roku box. The Roku would simply not stay connected. The interference I experienced could be a problem going forward, as just about everything we own is going to be wireless and fighting for limited bandwidth in the future. All of the players in the wireless space need to get together and decide how to navigate the wireless spectrum to eliminate or mitigate these conflicts.

I have asked Polk Audio representatives for some insight into this potential problem and I will pass along their wisdom when I receive it.

Geek Gift bottom line

The F/X Wireless Surround speaker system from Polk Audio is a great deal for anyone setting up a new surround sound system. At under $300, the F/X is a real money-saver and the fact that it connects to the system wirelessly is a real geek-friendly plus. However, installing a surround sound system is not as easy a proposition as it should be, so make sure your geek is up to the task. Because, while the F/X saves some of the installation hassles, it still requires careful following of the installation guide.

You should also be aware that there could be some wireless-signal interference to contend with after installation. Of course, for a tech-geek, troubleshooting and fixing that might be more fun than installing the actual surround sound system. That being said, this complication is an indication that there are still some technical challenges to iron out before wireless everything will be commonplace.

Geek Gift Score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: ***
  • Geek factor: ****
  • Value: ****
  • Overall: ***

For more reviews of tech gadgets, gizmos, games, and books, download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2011.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

5 comments
torontocute
torontocute

I don't agree. Efficient wireless technology ? a recent study from the university of Ottawa in Canada shows that wireless tech has an impact in the the brain cells. Neurons signals can be misinterpreted from the brain if exposed to many wireless sources. Long term side effects of wireless tech are unknown. If this technology is really damaging to our CN system than we will all be effected..

Wild13
Wild13

Aperion Audio just released a new 5.1 / 7.1 Wireless Home Theater system that addresses most of the challenges Mark faced in setting up his home theater system. In addition to fantastic audio, some of the unique features of Aperion???s Home Theater One system include: 1) The system uses the newly opened 5GHz UNII spectrum, which unlike the crowded 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz spectrum, the UNII spectrum is interference free. This means no chance of interference with 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth devices or Microwave ovens 2) The system automatically identifies the location of each speaker in the room within a couple inches of accuracy. This enables the system to automatically configure itself and optimize the volume and delay from each speaker to set the audio sweet spot where ever the user chooses at a touch of a button. 3) 100% wireless audio ??? each speaker has its own amplifier. Plug into power and its ready to go. 4) Completely digital HD audio. There is no conversion to analog and back to digital in this system. It supports full 24 bit, 48KHz, uncompressed audio up to 7.1 channels direct from the content source to the speakers. For more information go to http://www.aperionaudio.com/wireless_home_theater.aspx. You???ll find links to reviews of the system from David Pogue at the NYTimes, Wired Magazine, and others. Now for the full disclosure... I???m employed by the company (Summit Semiconductor) that enables many of the features - so I???m a bit biased on the product. If you can overlook this, go to www.aperionaudio.com or www.summitwireless.com to learn more.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

The sheer volume of transceivers in the average American household is staggering. It comes as no surprise that you have seen the interference first hand. I will refrain from getting in to the effect of radio smog on life forms and stick to the purely technical fact that there is a limited spectrum available for public use. This forces all of our consumer devices in to this narrow band where you have all sorts of electromagnetic cacophony. It???s completely unreasonable. Once all frequencies are sold out we will be moving in to light waves (infra-red) at the high end and sound waves at the low end. I think we need to be making more efficient wireless technology and using less until we can come up with something that makes more sense.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Is there a reason manufacturers of speakers and receivers continue to use speaker wire without connectors? Would a connector degrade the audio signal as opposed to bare wire? It seems to me that setting-up one of these systems is more complicated than it should be.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

The reason that I hear routinely for no Connectors is High Impedance Joints not to mention the correct polarity of whatever it is you are connecting. However saying that I recently setup a Samsung 5.1 System and that all had connectors for each device. There was a HDMI from the TV to the Box, and then individual speakers had their own Special Plugs Color Coded for what they where. So the Center Front had to be plugged to the Center Front Connection and while the Left & Right Front could be mixed up it was more just that. The Rear had a different connector again and while you could mix up the Left & Right Rear that's all of the Mix-up possible. However having said that way too often these low end Surround Systems don't have anywhere near enough wire between the Speaker and Controller Box for what the Individuals need. In the case of the above setup the Front's where long enough provided you didn't want to move the Front Speakers far enough apart to get good Stereo Separation and the Front Center was a little too short to really suit that particular bench. Personally I prefer bare wires that you have to strip back and then push into Captive connectors at each end because they are easier to pull through tight spaces. Once you start placing connectors on the ends you need to make bigger holes in things to run the wires and some are very big. Ideally if you are using connectors you need Gold Connectors so you don't get any High Impedance Joints and then you have the problem of a High Impedance Joint where the wires join the connector so instead of 1 Possible High Impedance Joint at the speaker or Box end you get 2, 1 where the wire joins the connector and the other where the connector in the speaker/Amp joins the wires inside the device. However saying that with the typical Surround Sound Systems used for Video if you get the speakers out of Phase most people will not notice it as they are all small low powered speakers with limited frequency response and not a great speaker enclosure design, not to mention poor Q on the actual drivers in the enclosures. All of the Surround Sound Systems that I've seen and while I don't claim to an expert here are low power with crappy drivers in even crappier enclosures. What helps them is Poor Quality Sound on the recorded Video be that a Blueray Disc or HD DVD. You can accuse these Surround Sound Systems of many things but comparing them to AR Drivers as High End Audio isn't one of them. ;) Col

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