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 W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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