Technology seems to accumulate around me. Like lint.
My latest addition is a new sound system for the home theater in our bedroom, the Cinehome HD system by Enclave Audio. Is it lint or gold? Read on to find out.
Our previously stable system (Sony STR-DN860 amplifier, Sony sub-woofer, Polk Speakers) suddenly started exhibiting faults in the speaker wires. I’m sure our new kittens had nothing to do it. Haha. Anyway, after endlessly having my receiver shut down in “protect mode,” and then having to track down the problem, I decided I was ready to try the latest in home theater technology: WiSA, or Wireless Speaker and Audio. After all, speaker wire is old technology. I mean, Edison must have used a version of it.
There are several different systems out there. Vendors include Bang and Olofson, Klipsch, and Axiim. These all start at around $2,000, and for a 5.1 system can go all the way up to $7,000. Needless to say, I passed these right by. I spent about $500 on my existing system, and can’t afford a small fortune on a home theater.
Then there’s Enclave Audio and their Cinehome 5.1 system, available on Amazon for $1199. I could afford that, although for me it’s still pricey. I checked out some reviews. They were mostly favorable, although the consensus even for the more expensive systems was that the sound “wasn’t as good” as wired speakers. Still, no speaker wires. (Cat, stop pawing at my keyboard!) I took a deep breath and ordered the Enclave system.
It came two days later in a ginormous box on my patio. A box of boxes, I should say, as each of the six components was in its own box. The boxes were all clearly labeled: “Right Front,” “Center,” etc. You un-box the speakers, locate them in your room where the box says, and plug them in. If you can read and know left from right, you can install this system.
Of course, it’s not totally wireless. For one thing, you have to plug the speakers into a wall outlet for electrical power. (Enclave plans a battery pack, but I can’t imagine why.) Plugging something into the wall is way easier that stringing 20 feet of speaker cable over doors and up and down walls. Plus, there’s no wires to crimp, thread, or otherwise deal with. Just a plug. Set up is totally trivial.
The center speaker is the controller. You have to run two more wires. One from your cable box or other input to the controller, and one from the controller to your TV. (More on this later, as this didn’t quite work for me.) So you’ve got six things to plug into wall outlets (the speakers), and two cables to run. Not 100% wireless, but as close as you can get. Plus, it’s totally trivial to hook up.
Once everything is plugged in, it takes the system about 30 seconds to configure itself, where the center unit links with the satellite speakers. This is a one-time thing, unless you unplug the speakers or have a power failure. Once that was done, I was ready to listen to my new speakers.
The result was far better than my old wired speakers. Astonishingly better. I’d paid about twice as much for this system, and I’d say the sound was at least twice as good. There was solid bass from even the rear speakers, great balance and response. As a test, we listened to Jurassic Park and Inception. Both were awesome–far better than with the old system. The first scene with the Tyrannosaurus was so good, it was breathtaking.
After the reviews I’d read, I’d expected to sacrifice sound for the convenience of no wires. Wrong. I got the convenience of no speaker wires AND great sound.
So what gives with those reviews? I remember when CDs first came out. (No, I don’t remember when dinosaurs roamed the earth, although it felt like I should after watching Jurassic Park with my new system.) Anyway, the first reviews I read of CDs sneered that they “weren’t nearly as good as vinyl.” Reading more carefully, I discovered these reviewers had $10,000 turntables for their vinyl records. Well, duh. Back then, a new car cost less than that. For ordinary human beings, CDs were much better than vinyl.
I suspect that the same thing is going on with the reviews that said WiSA speakers weren’t as good as wired speakers. Maybe not, if you have invested the price of a small car in your home theater system and have Mozart-like ears. For the rest of us, it looks to me like WiSA (or something similar) will be the way to go. (No, Bluetooth has too much latency. It won’t work. There are similar latency issues with 802.11 unless you have the know-how to tune your router to give priority to your audio traffic. For simplicity, the Enclave implementation can’t be beat.)
Now, WiSA isn’t intrinsically better than wired technology. It’s just more convenient. But most people won’t be able to tell the difference between wired and wireless speakers when the speakers are of comparable quality. Enclave sells you high quality speakers, tuned to work seamlessly together. For the casual user who wants to enjoy movies with surround sound, the result is impeccable. Better than impeccable.
So, we’ve got great sound and super convenience. It’s pricey, I admit, but is there a downside. Well, kind of.
There’s this industry standard called HDCP. It does exactly nothing for the consumer. It’s an anti-copying protocol that benefits the studios exclusively. The problem is that it’s (a) quirky; and (b) a moving target. The latest standard, 2.2 is not backward compatible and is designed to prevent the copying of ultra-high-definition video. The studios won’t license their products unless they are shown on HDCP compliant technology, so the manufacturers, whether it’s Klipsch or Enclave, have to implement the technology on their systems. Moreover, the manufacturers have to pay the industry association for whatever standard they implement. Of course, that means that consumers–that’s you and me–are paying for the handcuffs that HDCP puts on us, including the vast majority of us who have no intention of making illegal copies. [Rant mode off.]
Doubtless as way of keeping the price down, Enclave has chosen to implement HDCP 1.4, not HDCP 2.2. I don’t have a 4K TV and I doubt I could tell the difference in the sound anyway, so I’m just as glad to have the older standard and lower cost. BUT, while my TV isn’t 4K, it uses HDCP 2.2 and so does my cable box. So, when I route my video from my cable box through my Enclave via HDMI cable and then, via a second HDMI cable, to my TV, it fails. HDCP 2.2 decides that my HDCP 1.4 Enclave must be trying to steal the video, and my TV turns into a strobe, flashing on and off every second. Oh, and there’s a warning message about buying new equipment that’s not up there long enough to read.
The same thing happens with my Roku, and both my DVD juke boxes.
Yay. Just, yay.
Note that everything initially worked fine, but 24 hours later HDCP turned my system into an annoying strobe light. The Enclave folks explained in a nice, chatty phone call that sometimes the “sleep” mode on devices doesn’t release the initial HDCP handshake, resulting in the problems I was having on the second use.
So, what to do? The Enclave website suggests putting an HDCP-2.2-to-HDCP-1.4 converter into the system. Amazon has them for about $25. But I thought of another solution that was cost free.
What I did was hook all of my devices directly to my TV, by-passing the new Enclave (I actually ran them through an HDCP 2.2 Kinivo switch). Then I ran an optical audio cable from my TV to my Enclave center speaker and set the TV to route the sound to the Enclave. That works like a charm. I now have a working system with digital audio, just like I would have had with the “normal” HDMI throughput. True, I won’t get PCM audio, but I doubt I could tell the difference anyway.
Another small downside on the Enclave system is the user interface. It relies entirely on displaying a menu on the TV screen. Oops. In the setup I just described, I’m not running signals to the TV from the Enclave, so no menu. To access the menu for the Enclave, I have yet another HDMI cable running from the Enclave to an unused HDMI port on my TV. Now I can use the menu. Yay, again.
Even better, though, since the initial release of their product, the Enclave engineers have worked with Logitech so that Harmony remotes will work with the Enclave system. I’ve programmed all of the menu functions into my Harmony remote, so when I need them they are there. My remote also pre-configures the TV, the Kinivo switch, the Enclave, and whatever input I have, so a single button push starts everything up with the signals properly aligned. That’s another yay!
By the way, the Harmony database can be frustrating to search. It finds the Enclave system as “Enclave Audio Cinehome HD,” but the Kinivo switch under “BTN50.”
So, despite my bubble with HDCP problems, I’m quite pleased with this system. The sound is extraordinary, the setup is trivial, and there are no speaker wires. In addition, the product support appears to be quite good. The firmware update to work with Harmony remotes also came about because of a customer suggestion. The company called me back promptly on a weekend call about my HDCP issues, and chatted for quite a while about the product and my setup. So, I’m impressed with the suppot, the company, the sound and the convenience.
While most of my technology seems like lint, this one is gold.
I can recommend this system without reservation.