Are There Any Negatives To Using Wireless for Audio?

mwheelerk -- Fri, 02/12/2010 - 06:33

 I have an iMac with Time Capsule that I use with my Apple TV to DacMagic to Integrated Amp to manage my music library.  I am quite pleased with this solution but I am curious if there are any obvious trade offs to sound quality by using wireless connection versus a direct ethernet or USB connection.

Steven Stone -- Fri, 02/12/2010 - 12:41

 The disadvantage of wireless is that it is not as robust as Ethernet.
This mean you can have data errors from interference or a long run from server to client.
If your current system works and you are not experiencing any data transfer issues, then be happy and listen to music...

Steven Stone
Contributor to The Absolute Sound,, Vintage Guitar Magazine, and other fine publications

Ergun Mutluay (not verified) -- Fri, 03/05/2010 - 01:19

Ethernet or wireless is not a problem. If wireless is not as robust it is a problem of technology and there will be a solution soon. However, is there anybody commenting about another source of elecromagnetic polution in the homes...

vlach (not verified) -- Fri, 03/05/2010 - 07:44

You didnt really answer mwheelrk's question; putting potential interference going wireless aside, is there a difference in SOUND QUALITY between wireless vs. direct ethernet/USB/firewire?

firedog -- Fri, 03/05/2010 - 10:18

I don't think there is a difference in sound quality, per se. By definition, network protocols insure the data is transferred properly -  the computer side of digital transfer works - unlike what happens to your digital signal on the audio end (jitter, etc.).
However in some setups wireless may be more prone to dropouts and hiccups, or interference. On my system they both seem to work fine and sound the same. YMMV.

Steven Stone -- Fri, 03/05/2010 - 10:26

 Vlach, here's an answer.
Currently the highest bit rate I've seen from a wireless music solution is 96/24. If you want higher, then wireless is not yet at that level.
As to whether there are superior-sounding wired solutions see my article about how everything in computer audio makes a difference. 

Steven Stone
Contributor to The Absolute Sound,, Vintage Guitar Magazine, and other fine publications

BigRey (not verified) -- Mon, 03/08/2010 - 15:17

As always I think that there is a convenience vs purity conflict. For those of us ( and most of the readers of this magazine) that value purity in signal path and source there will always be a compromise in any digitized format, particularly those that have FEC and parity check processes such as wireless formats. However in my case, the absolute, unparalleled convenience and joy of having ALL your music available at a touch anywhere in your home without major surgery in terms of adding wire is worth the minor tradeoff. FLAC or other lossless formats further minimize the quality degradation. I am using a SONOS system which as of yet doesnt handle the 24 bit formats, but provides acceptable although not optimum sound quality through my best speaker system and gives me the ability to perform magic in terms of surfing my music collection in real time.

BowersBum -- Fri, 01/28/2011 - 07:57

 I have been using a Logitech Touch for several weeks and couldn't be happier with the sound quality on my high end system, including 96/24 music.  My impression is that music sounds better, if anything, than directly off my good CD player with external DAC.  Originally I had intended to connect it via Ethernet, but I set it up as wireless (wi-fi)  on my home network initially to try it out.  I've had virtually zero dropouts - it happened once or twice when the network was probably over-taxed with computer data handling chores, but that probably would have happened even via Ethernet.   If someone is overly concerned about it, they could always have a dedicated router for music wi-fi but my 4-computer plus two iPod touch general purpose G data network is heavily used and it hasn't been enough of a problem to worry about.  So I have just left it connected wirelessly.  In addition to the Logitech Touch, I use Winamp as a player via a computer HDMI output to my pre-pro, again controlled wirelessly by one of the iPod touches.
I echo BigRey's comment about the joy of having (almost) all of my music in one place, including AAC Lossless, FLAC, WAV, Internet radio and 96/24 downloaded music files.  The only drawback is that it doesn't handle multi-channel music from SACD's or DVD-Audio discs.  But it is also a major convenience to be able to control it all from my listening chair via an iPod touch app, including cover art , displayed on the iPod.  All of the music files reside on a network NAS with a Raid 1 array, so even if a hard disk should fail it is always backed up automatically and I don't worry about losing all of my music data as I would with most of the fancy dedicated audio servers that use only a single hard disk - what a recipe for total disaster!

wayne325 -- Sun, 01/30/2011 - 16:54

Given same sample rate / data word depth, there is no difference in sound quality.
Firstly, there is a significant amount of data buffering at the player.  This is easily tested by turning off the wireless connection of your computer in the middle of a song, then see how long it runs.  It may go for over a minute.   Same thing if you disconnect the ethernet connection of the player.
Secondly, the data protocols are doing packet retransmits if there are data errors.  So that's nothing to worry about either. So either you're hearing the correct music or you're hearing nothing.
If you are having wifi connection problems, try to use a wireless channel that has no local interference.

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