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Integrating SKAA Wireless Technology into our Multiroom Audio Products

Posted by Atlantic Technology on
Integrating SKAA Wireless Technology into our Multiroom Audio Products

Why Atlantic Technology Integrated SKAA Wireless Technology into its Multiroom Audio Products

Includes an Overview of SKAA, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, WiSA and Formation Wireless Technologies


Atlantic Technology offers the consumer electronics and CEDIA markets the most comprehensive eco-system of wireless multi-room audio products to incorporate SKAA® wireless technology. Comprised of a powerful soundbar, subwoofers, 2-channel and home theater surround speakers, an amplifier, headphones and outdoor speakers, all connect and stream Hi-Fi audio from any source and can play music over a multi-room ‘SKAA Wireless Audio Superhighway’ that is free from Wi-Fi network issues and congestion while providing CD quality sound. This offers tremendous benefits to the Home Technology Professional and Homeowner.

Like many other brands in the market, Atlantic Technology is using Wi-Fi in its Multiroom audio products and like some we also include Bluetooth as an additional wireless “on-ramp” audio source to connect to a wide variety of personal or friend’s audio devices.  Even with these technologies, we felt strongly that audio within the home needed a different and separate approach for the performance and flexibility the market demands in an increasingly congested home wireless environment. Enter SKAA. This paper overviews wireless technologies being used in portable and multiroom audio products today (SKAA, WISA, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) and why Atlantic Technology chose to incorporate SKAA.

Bluetooth: A peer to peer technology designed for close proximity mobile voice use. It was adapted and improved for stereo personal audio in headphones and cars. Range, variable latency and other limitations make it unsuitable for multi-room use or use with popular activities such as TV viewing or video gaming. While quality has improved in new generations, it’s still interference prone and more ideal for casual listening than serious music listening. It’s easy for consumers to use with minimal fuss in a simple pairing process that usually requires an app. It’s ubiquitous in mobile devices – it’s the mobile de-facto standard.

Wi-Fi: Created as a stationary wireless alternative to LAN’s to cover a limited closed network like a business or home giving devices in the network access to an external broadband network and cloud content. For general use (web surfing, email) interference and variable latency issues are acceptably covered up with buffering and other tricks. Wi-Fi is a general purpose network that has been adapted to carry audio while sharing an explosion of home devices creating congestion of the home network due to the shared networked devices and interference from non Wi-Fi devices such as Bluetooth, wireless phones and microwaves. Wi-Fi can be challenging for consumers to set up networks so they often require professional help to set up and maintain.  It’s a nearly ubiquitous home standard.

Wi-Fi audio systems from different manufacturers use the open Wi-Fi standard and general purpose home network, but are closed systems that can only interoperate with their own brand of compatible products or under an umbrella system such as DTS PlayFi or BluOS with brands mainly selling a narrow eco-system of similar table-top and soundbar home audio products of their own design.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are good technologies when their strengths are utilized for applications they were designed for. However, BT and Wi-Fi have a lot of variable latency (200 to 2,000+ ms) which can be overlooked in applications like email and web surfing, but people are sensitive to latency issues when audio and visual information are out of sync – there’s undesirable lip sync in TV / movies and gaming is severely compromised. That’s why gamers won’t use Bluetooth headphones. The other latency problem is the time alignment or coherence of high-quality multi-channel audio, ruining the spatial realism of a stereo recording or 5.1 surround soundtrack requiring very tight inter-speaker sync.   

Bluetooth is great for quick connectivity between personal devices for casual listening like in the car, at the beach or commuting with headphones. Wi-Fi is great as the gateway from external broadband cloud content and the on-ramp to gear within the home network but is problematic for high-quality everyday audio use in all of the different applications one wishes to cover in the audio business.

Atlantic Technology as an audio company wanted an audio solution. Both of the above technologies have roles to play, but neither technology was designed specifically for audio. The technical needs for a consumer oriented wireless approach were clear…

  • Simple: It must have simple operation independent from the need to pull out a phone or tablet and launch an app every time you want to connect and use devices. Set up must be simple. It must be truly plug-and-play, as easy to use as a radio.
  • Excellent Sound Quality: Equal to CD which is the most widely accepted consumer standard.
  • Connectivity: Easily work with any audio source analog or digital and co-exist with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
  • Robust Signal: With a long range free from interference, dropouts between speakers, headphones, amps and other devices in a home network.
  • Multi-Channel Capable: This means it must have coherent time aligned sound with fixed low latency. Variable latency with Wi-Fi and BT do not cut it for multi-channel or stereo audio where people are sensitive to jitter and sync issues creating lip sync and spatial mis-alignment.

This ideal system designed specifically for Audio needs to avoid the pitfalls and limitations of BT and Wi-Fi and it needs to be able to expand and evolve its capabilities for the future. It should also be able to technically co-exist with other wireless technologies without interference to leverage their strengths and address their weaknesses while serving as a complimentary technology dedicated to audio. 

How did Atlantic Technology choose SKAA and why?

When evaluating options several years back and looking to the future, we saw increased technical demands for wireless and the idea of inventing our own proprietary system was not in Atlantic’s area of expertise. In the past we’ve worked with partners to foster market adoption of new solutions like Dolby Surround with early HTIB’s and later with Atmos as well as THX. Atlantic Technology didn’t wait until several others to adopt these technologies but were early adopters.

So we sought technology partners with a shared vision and technology capable of meeting our market needs.  We also needed a technology from a company that met our business needs for quality, speed to market, flexibility and scalability.

We desired using an international standard vs. a closed proprietary system so that we could sell products globally and potentially work with complementary products from other brands. We also wanted to work with an experienced company established in this space with affordable proven solutions, a company easy to work with providing the technology to ODM’s, and who provides standards setting and manufacturer support. 

The only wireless audio focused tech that fits this description from today’s perspective are the following…

B&W Formation: This proprietary mesh network intended for audio use is embedded in several of the company’s new audio products however it did not emerge until 2019 so it was not an option for Atlantic Technology. B&W claims the technology allows better wireless audio performance independent of the home Wi-Fi network and reduces inter-speaker synchronization to 1 microsecond or less. Each device in the Formation wireless network can be connected to a $699 centralized Hub or speakers, a soundbar and subwoofer from $899 to $3,999 with analog and digital inputs said to dynamically select the optimal path to route audio-data between speakers in order to ensure a robust streaming experience. Formation can stream a 96K/24-bit high resolution signal with a Roon subscription. Formation systems can receive wireless input from 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, Apple AirPlay2, Bluetooth, offers Spotify Connect.  Formation uses the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi band to receive signals and the 5 GHz band to transmit inter-speaker surround and multi-room audio over their proprietary mesh network. The system only has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplay2 and an optical input but does not have HDMI input capability.

WiSA: This is an interesting solution also intended for audio use that has been around for many years and some brands have introduced home theater products using WiSA. WiSA (Wireless Speakers & Audio) is a trade association who have licensed numerous companies in the industry, many who are also SKAA licensees, and a handful of products have entered the market. The primary OEM chip solution is from a WiSA member, US based Summit Semiconductor. WiSA only operates in the 5 GHz band.

WiSA’s only current application is in surround sound executed with a $229 Axiim dongle (aka Hub) broadcasting to dedicated WiSA surround channel speakers made by various licensee brands or certain recent LG TV models . The hub does not receive Wi-Fi or Bluetooth it is designed for TV HDMI ARC connectivity. Homeowners seeking access to streaming music services would need to do so via a smart TV or an additional AV receiver with access to music streaming services or home music files. WiSA has been working on but not yet released a multi-room capability or chipset or devices that work with other audio sources such as other audio components, computers, smartphones or tablets. Its chief selling points are low latency, interference free QOS, 24/96 audio and easy set up. While Atlantic Technology is a WiSA licensee, the company has not yet utilized the technology in its products.

SKAA: Originated by Canadian fabless semiconductor company, Eleven Engineering, who is also the licensor, supplier and responsible for industry standards and qualification. Eleven started by providing the wireless technology prior to developing the SKAA name and standard for the Sony PlayStation controller and wireless systems for Bose, Harmon, LG, Monitor Audio and Soundcast to name a few. 

They also developed the forerunner of SKAA, called PAW (Professional Audio Wireless), though not commercialized under that name; products were developed on a custom basis for major musical acts and used in the Brace Digital Wireless Guitar system. Some of the artists include Lady Gaga, Queen Latifah, L.A. Guns, Joe Lynn Turner, Buddy Guy, Eminem, Sean Kingston, Toots and the Maytals, Helstar, Adrian Belew's Power Trio, Randy Bachman, Mitchel Musso, Train, Austin Jenckes and more.

SKAA was proven in demanding professional live music applications. It was adapted for both multi-channel and multi-room consumer use with a broader market vision for consumer and pro applications in Home Theater, Whole Home (inside and outside), Automotive/marine/powersports, music and Portable.

Besides the 10 products Atlantic Technology has launched this past year, SKAA is currently used in 38 interoperable products: Soundboks pro-sumer extreme party speakers, Ryobi ruggedized portable speakers, Levven Home Audio, Syncronice home audio receivers and transmitters, Stanton headphones announced for pro DJ markets, Jamstack pro-sumer portable guitar amps, Dillinger Labs speakers, microphones, headphones and consumer and pro transmitters, and in Wet Sounds marine and power sports electronics. These other diverse SKAA brands and product applications are in markets adjacent to Atlantic Technology and relevant to many of Atlantic’s music and sound loving consumers amplifying and extending what they can do. According to Eleven Engineering, there are over 50 additional new SKAA products in the pipeline which all will be able to interoperate. 

Products that bear the SKAA logo or the SKAA symbol can interoperate regardless of brand.

With SKAA, it’s a full blown music party going on with home, multi-room home theater, outdoor, portable, marine, musical instruments, DJ gear, and more to come! 

In 2019, Eleven Engineering and Infineon Technologies -- one of the largest semiconductor companies in the world -- announced a partnership to integrate SKAA technology with Infineon’s MERUS class-D amplifier technology to support accelerated adoption of both technologies in a wide range of products.  

The greater number of market applications envisioned by Eleven for SKAA and the fact that it uses the globally accepted 2.4 GHz band to operate represents more product opportunities for Atlantic Technology and capabilities for its customers. Plus Eleven Engineering is the inventor, licensor, primary supplier, support and standards testing organization, making this vertically integrated partner faster and easier to work with. Their technology incorporates Bluetooth into the solution and integrates with Wi-Fi and a wide variety of analog and digital audio sources.  

For all these reasons, several years ago, Atlantic Technology saw an opportunity to create a large eco-system of interoperable products, not just table top speakers or surround sound systems, but active stereo desktop speakers, amplifiers, subwoofers, soundbars, surround speakers, outdoor speakers, and headphones, all of which we have rolled out in one year.

 

The Vast Benefits of SKAA Technology
SKAA is a new international wireless standard purpose built from the ground up to work seamlessly in all Hi-Fi applications. As we established earlier, it is proven for years in demanding live concert performances by professional musicians world-wide to reliably stream instruments and vocals in perfect sync without latency, dropouts or interference.

As we also established earlier, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth were originally developed for data networking and phone use then later adapted to entertainment audio.  However, music streaming is very demanding on Wi-Fi network bandwidth revealing many weaknesses that are readily and painfully apparent to a listener. This includes sound quality, interference, dropouts, variable latency or signal sync delay and limited signal range. Also, their variable high latency creates A/V lip-sync issues making wireless speakers unsuitable for TV, film and video games.

The good news is that SKAA eliminates all issues of other wireless audio systems. It is always clear, full-frequency and with high dynamic range delivering sound quality comparable to wired systems. SKAA’s 36 millisecond fixed low-latency signal is 4 to 5 times lower than Bluetooth’s variable 120-200 ms latency, and 50 to 80 times lower than Wi-Fi’s variable 2,000 to 3,000 ms latency which creates a perceptible, out-of-sync audio shifting between multi-room Wi-Fi speakers. In contrast, SKAA’s low 36 ms fixed latency delivers clear, unified multi-room audio with 0.04 ms precision between speakers.

SKAA also delivers a robust signal up to a 150-foot range using the worldwide open 2.4 GHz band.  It’s reliable because of its patented Walking Frequency Diversity™ (or WFD) channel-hopping technology with error correction eliminating interference, clicks, pops or dropouts even in the noisiest RF environments common in tech-laden homes, apartments, businesses or even busy trade shows.

No special app, network, Wi-Fi set-up, passwords or pairing is needed to connect SKAA devices; just press one button to connect any SKAA speaker, receiver or headphone to whichever audio source you desire.

We have the HDMI ARC Gatecrasher3 PowerBar with integrated SKAA, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, with some products (previewed below) designed to be receiver/transmitter speakers and amps easy to connect to create multi-room audio networks inside and outside the home. In addition we have a variety of outdoor transmitters priced at only $59 each that connect to any stationary or mobile digital or analog audio device turning them into SKAA audio sources to access streaming services, local and networked audio files or to directly play music from CD players, turntables, cassette decks, etc Later you can sit down with friends in front of Gatecrasher3 and four of you can put on our SKAA headphones and crank up the TV to catch an action movie or play a game without waking the neighbors. 

This kind of quality, versatility and flexibility does not exist elsewhere.    

Overview of Atlantic Technology Products That Integrate SKAA Wireless

Gatecrasher3 PowerBar: This innovative system is 3 products 1: a powerful active full-frequency Dolby® 3.0 LCR soundbar, a Streaming Music System and a Wireless Multiroom Audio System. It’s also the industry’s first Triple Wireless system with 3 advanced technologies for unmatched connectivity, quality and flexibility: SKAA®, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Add to this its extensive analog and digital inputs and outputs including HDMI ARC, and Gatecrasher3 is the centerpiece of an elegant, expandable modern entertainment system that can even be used in place of an AV Receiver.

 

FS Series Compact Subwoofers: The FS-S65 (100-watts powered 6.5-driver) and FS-S8 (150-watts powered 8-inch driver) subs boast the versatility of wired and universal wireless connectivity. They receive SKAA wireless audio signals from the FS-252 active bookshelf speakers, the STA-200 integrated amp and the Gatecrasher3 active soundbar. The subs also feature RCA line inputs and outputs for maximum value and versatility which is missing from most other wireless subs on the market today.

FS-WSLR1 active bookshelf speakers with SKAA are ideal for rear surround channels to the Gatecrasher3 and FS series subs or as 2-channel stereo speakers. With SKAA, no speaker cables are needed and no apps or confusing hit-or-miss Wi-Fi configuration is required. Simply plug each speaker into a nearby AC outlet, select L or R for each, turn-on Gatecrasher3 and its wireless SKAA Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) Self Setup technology automatically detects the new surround speakers and subs to change and remember its audio configuration to use the surround channels. Once set, the speakers automatically turn on and off with Gatecrasher3 as well as any optional Atlantic Technology FS-Series Subwoofers to create a complete wireless 5.1 system. It’s never been easier to install a Dolby 5.1 Home Theater system!

FS-252 active bookshelf speaker system is both a SKAA receiver and transmitter. As a receiver, it can be connected to a wide variety of analog media sources (CD players, TVs, etc) via various wired connections and wireless digital media sources equipped with Bluetooth or SKAA transmitters - a capability that sets them apart from other multi-room systems. As a transmitter it can cast simultaneously to up to four additional SKAA systems, amps or headphones for single or multi-room use. 

STA-200 compact integrated 100-watts x 2 channels Class D amp receives Bluetooth and both receive and transmit SKAA to other SKAA enabled audio systems in the home. The amp connects via speaker cable to traditional passive speakers or via RCA cable to active speakers and easily connects to an array of analog or digital audio sources such CD players, TVs, smart phones, tablets, computers and more.

All Weather Outdoor Speakers: This series of amplified AC-powered speakers with SKAA™ wireless are perfect when running signal cable is problematic or installation flexibility and transportability is needed. 3 two-way models are available: the AW-WS100 (4-inch woofer); AW-WS200 (5.5-inch) and AW-WS300 (6-inch). All incorporate a 1-inch titanium tweeter and are available in paintable black or white finish. Each pair comes with a handy remote control and a free “.cmd” app for iOS, Android™, Windows and MAC OS X to manage multi-room transmitter/speaker control. It can be downloaded here: https://skaa.com/tlc/skaa-cmd/

FS-BTWS582 SKAA/Bluetooth Over-Ear Headphones: Coming to the market shortly, these wireless headphones feature SKAA, Bluetooth or wired connectivity and killer performance with 50mm drivers, will be Atlantic Technology’s most premium headphones to date. A unique convenience is their SKAA A.I. so when switched on, they automatically connect to and mute Gatecrasher3 for private lip-sync-free TV, movies or gaming. Plus up to four users can simultaneously listen to TV, movies and games in perfect sync, something no other system can do.

SKAA Transmitter Adapters and SKAA CMD App: Small, low-cost affordable SKAA digital transmitters, adapt any analog or digital audio device to quickly and easily add SKAA wireless capability. This includes PC, MAC and NAS – and portable iOS, Android or Blackberry devices can be turned into a SKAA transmitter with adapters for USB-A, micro-USB, USB-C, or iOS Lightning. Digital TOSLINK and coax S/PDIF plus stereo analog to SKAA transmitters are also available. There’s no set-up, password or app required to use them, just plug and play. For more info see… https://shop.atlantictechnology.com/product-category/multi-room-streaming/wireless-accessories/

The free “SKAA .cmd” app gives SKAA transmitter adapters shown above, customizable multi-room operation such as setting up group control or selective speaker muting around the home. The app is available for iOS, Android, Mac and PC.  Find it at www.skaa.com/tlc/, the Apple App Store and Google Play.

 

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