Music around the house? Or wireless surround? The answer could be a Rocketfish…
Let's get the obvious out of the way right at the start: yes, it is a very silly name.
Rocketfish is a house-brand of Best Buy, the massive US-based electrical/consumer electronics retailer with big blue stores all over the States – and in Canada, Mexico, China, Turkey and now the UK, where six shops are already open, and more are to come next year.
You'll find the Rocketfish brand on all sorts of equipment: in UK stores it's in cables and similar accessories, while in the States over 250 products carry the name, soon to be joined – if the internet rumours are true – by a tablet PC.
I first encountered the brand in information from the States about a range of wireless audio distribution products, using the Rocketboost technology we covered in the News channel back at the beginning of the year.
And it looked sufficiently interesting to get me pestering the HQ of Best Buy's UK operation for review samples as and when available, and this week a couple of packages arrived from sunny North Acton containing all the elements of the system.
Two quite large packages, as it happens, as the range is fairly comprehensive: there's a wireless sender unit, able to take up to four channels of input at either preout or speaker level, a two-channel line-level sender/receiver, a stereo wireless receiver/amplifier with 2x45W output, and an 22W active outdoor speaker able to run on either mains or rechargeable batteries.
Wireless HD Audio System
The pricing looks sensible, with what's called a Wireless HD Audio Starter Kit, comprising the wireless sender and receiver/amplifier, selling for £160, and extra receiver/amps £100. The line-level sender/receiver is just £50, and the outdoor speaker, which looks rather like a hi-tech chimneypot, is £180 complete with the line-level sender/receiver.
Outdoor speaker with sender
Wireless surround, or music in the garden
Already all kinds of possibilities are opened up by that line-up, not least of which are wireless rear speakers for a surround system using the HD Audio Starter Kit, or music in the garden – though perhaps not right now, since there's about a foot of snow out there!
The wireless surround idea has definite appeal, and though it might be tempting to use the line-level sender/receiver and one receiver/amp unit for the rears in a 5.1 system, thus saving a tenner over the price of the HD Audio Starter Kit, the kit has another trick up its sleeve.
Wireless surround (left) with basic pack, or add an extra receiver/amp to run both surround and surround back channels wirelessly
The fact that it can take four channels of input, and can run each pair of channels to a separate receiver/amplifier, means that you can add on a second receiver/amp and run all four surround speakers in a 7.1-channel wirelessly.
Choice of connections on Wireless HD pack sender, seen above on top of receiver/amp
No need for preouts
And of course you don't even need an AV receiver with preouts for the rear channels, as the sender can take signal at speaker level, via chunky combination binding posts. Just as an aside, if you do have preouts on your receiver, you'll need the RCA-phono-to-3.5mm-stereo cables and adapters provided in the box, as that's the line input format the sender here – and the combined line-level sender/receiver – uses.
Line inputs and outputs on wireless sender/receiver
More interested in multiroom than home cinema? The Wireless HD Audio Kit can not only do the 'main system to a second set of speakers in the kitchen' thing, it can also deliver audio to up to nine receiver/amps, or of course line-level sender/receivers if you have an existing amp or system in the remote room(.
Up to nine receiver/amps can be run from a single sender
And the fact the sender can do two stereo streams at once, and you can switch between them at the receiver end, means you could have TV sound on one stereo 'channel' and the output from a tuner or whatever on the other, and flick between them wherever in the house you're listening.
The enabling technology behind all the products works on the 2.4GHz band, and is claimed to deliver HD-quality sound, with undetectable latency (in other words all the devices stay in sync, with no delay) and excellent resistance to interference from devices such as DECT phones, microwaves and other household devices.
The main wireless package has a range of around 15m, the sender/receiver will extend that up to around 50m, and the outdoor speaker also has a range of 50m when used with the sender/receiver.
All of which explains how I come to be sitting here with the floor of the room strewn with boxes and packaging, and speakers and Rocketfish units all over the house. There's even been talk of putting the outdoor speaker in the bathroom – for reasons of weather mentioned above – running off battery power and carrying the sound from my main system's tuner into that room.
So far I've tried running the surround and rear channels of my home cinema system using the Wireless HD Audio Kit and an extra receiver/amp, with great success: yes, you need two mains sockets at the back of the room, and of course cables from the receiver/amps to the speakers – before the inevitable comment is posted saying 'yes, but it's not really wireless' – but for many users, simply doing away with the front-to-back cabling will be worth the price of admission.
And of course that price of admission is rather less than that of other wireless speaker systems on the market, so the real question is how good the Rocketfish system sounds in pure hi-fi terms. Well, the real testing of that will have to wait until the units are in the hands of our review crew, but to these ears the system does just what it says on the tin.
Two sources, two zones
That means very high-quality sound, no interference and, if you really want, the ability to run two different sources simultaneously to two different parts of the house, perhaps using that zone switching on an AV receiver.
In fact, while multizone operation on AV receivers has always been something of a mystery facility to me – requiring as it does either long speaker runs around the house to the remote location, or similarly long interconnects to a remote amplifier – with the addition of these Rocketfish components it all falls into place.
Yes, this kind of wireless audio transmission is becoming more commonplace, with the arrival of other third-party solutions rather than set-ups dedicated to electronics and speakers of a particular brand.
But it looks to me that Best Buy's house-brand has got the jump on some better-known rivals on price, performance – even if the outdoor speaker is no great shakes in purist sonic terms, but does just the job for which it's designed – and flexibility.