Grabbing a LiveWire with both hands

I've been in denial for months now, but I've finally cracked.

We've been having Wi-Fi problems at home: with more and more wireless networks showing up every time I use the WiFi Scanner software – last weekend I counted 22 – we've found that even changing channels and the like can't cure the dead-spots in our house.

One of which happens to be in our study, where my wife spends most of her computing time.

We've tried range extenders; we've tried external wireless bridges rather than her computer's onboard Wi-Fi; we've had no luck. Or at least no permanent luck: the problem seems to go away for a while, then re-emerge as another network pops up.

I've finally had to bite the bullet, and go for a PowerLine solution, extending the home network over the existing mains wiring. The alternative was laying Ethernet cable round the house and up one floor, without which disruption I can well do.

So, PowerLine it was, in the form of WD's new LiveWire system, which offers four Ethernet ports at each end of the PowerLine run, and also the convenience of boxes connected using conventional 'figure of eight' detachable mains leads. That makes them rather easier to accommodate and hide away than the usual plug-top PowerLine devices.

In they went, a few experiments to make sure they'd work, and we're away. One end sits next to our ADSL router, and provides three extra ports for wired components – that makes 13 ports we have now! - and the other sits under the desk upstairs, connecting the iMac and providing three more ports.

At last the network for 'Er Upstairs is stable, whether she's just surfing or streaming video or music, and I'm not spending evenings and weekends Wi-Fi troubleshooting. And that's almost the whole story: WD's new £90 Livewire Powerline AV Network Kit does exactly what is says on the tin.

Except… If you follow our Forums, you'll understand my initial reluctance to put in such a system, due to the noise it introduces on the mains. Yes, we have a separate spur for all the hi-fi and AV equipment, but you can't be too careful.

Fortunately I experienced no problems after putting the WD system in, but just for fun I did try plugging both ends of the system into the hi-fi spur, just to see what happened to the sound of the system. Interesting: no nasty buzzes or hums, but a noticeable loss of resolution in the sound. Bit less air in the sound, slightly less character to instruments, stuff like that.

However, introducing a filtered mains block for the system – while of course keeping the LiveWires connected via unfiltered sockets – did seem to put the sound almost back on an even keel, although I'm not sure it was quite as good as without the WD boxes in place on the same ring.

Now on most systems I don't think this will be a problem, and when used with modest or midrange AV equipment the benefits will far outweigh the slight diminution of performance. But to my ears the problems are definitely there, and once again the benefits of keeping your entertainment system as isolated as possible from any form of interference are proven.

However, it's great to be able to sit back and enjoy the system without constantly being aware that any minute the call will ring out from on high that 'The network's gone down again!'...

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Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.