This Integration Guide to Wireless Audio was sponsored by Russound and Soundcast as a supplement to Residential Systems, August 2014.
Sonos continues to tap into two things that consumers often respect: simplicity and forward thinking. There was a time when the ultimate in home audio was a shiny, stackable stereo system—each component acquired after much obsessive research—paired with well-sourced and matched box speakers. The MP3 player, in a little more than a decade, has relegated this vision to the realm of enthusiasts. Coupled with leaps in the capabilities of wireless networks, audio delivery and distribution looks nothing like it did in 1997, or for that matter 2005.
Companies like Russound, NuVo Technologies, Control4, and several others were creating proprietary audio distribution networks (though not necessarily wireless ones) utilizing all of the advanced technology available to them as early as the late 1990s, incrementally integrating digital music delivery as it became clear that was where the future was heading. Significantly, it was Sonos, with its modular components and embedded music subscription services, that captured the imagination of a wider consumer base and opened the door (and at the same time, revealed the ideal architecture) for what has become the standard in wireless audio distribution.
“Sonos is the 800-pound gorilla in this space and for good reason,” noted Ingo Schmoldt, vice president of sales for Fusion Research. “The key to understanding Sonos is to realize that they have one product that functions two ways. First, it’s a source and second, it’s a distribution product.”
The Wireless Music Bridge by Control4 is flexible, with both wired and wireless capabilities, and expandable with the addition of multiple units to one system for easy audio distribution.
Today, consumers have a depth of knowledge underpinned by near blasé expectations of wireless audio distribution systems that was practically unheard of just a few short years ago. The end result has been a race of sorts to keep up with, not only the technology that now makes these once tinny systems more robust in sound and operation, but also the functionality that will best appeal to savvy end-users.
WADING IN THE STREAM
Many in the CI channel, including other manufacturers, have not shied away from giving Sonos its due, with many reinvigorating their own products by streamlining functionality and design (and, in some cases, offering full integration with Sonos products), as well as significantly improving sound output quality.
“We’ve taken a similar approach when developing our wireless music distribution system,” said Schmoldt in reference to Sonos’ two-prong functionality. “We took our very popular Ovation sources and created a wireless, amplified product to allow the system to be expandable, which is ideal for retrofit or other hard-to-wire locations. To keep it simple for installers, we sit on a standard home Wi-Fi network. If you can get a decent wireless signal to a location, you can have a Fusion source.”
Fusion Research’s Ovation Base Station, which pairs with the company’s WA50 wireless amplified player, allows integrators to easily place individual sources throughout a project as well as integrates with automation systems from Savant, Control4, ELAN, Crestron, and others. Fusion Research’s Ovation Base Station, which pairs with the company’s WA50 wireless amplified player, allows integrators to easily place individual sources throughout a project while integrating with automation systems from Savant, Control4, ELAN, Crestron, and others. Ovation’s built-in Burr-Brown DAC and the ability to play 24/96 HD tracks mean excellent sound delivery.
Designed to meet the needs of the integration pros, NuVo Technologies Player Portfolio, which offers a combination of expandable players including both modular desktop units and rackmounted components, has an IP-based design and interchangeable options that work within both wireless and hardwired installation projects as integrated third-party IP control from major automation control firms.
“First and foremost, the Player Portfolio offers unparalleled audio performance,” boasted Walt Zerbe, product manager of audio for NuVo and OnQ. “The GW100 Gateway delivers unprecedented audiophile quality—up to 600Kbps— from any networked audio source wirelessly to each of the 16 zones it supports, with no added signal compression or degradation as you add zones.”
NuVo’s wireless foundation uses an 802.11N Wi-Fi network running concurrent dual band frequencies. The Player Portfolio emphasizes quality in its network design and delivers near CD-quality (600Kbps) to any or all of the 16 zones simultaneously with no signal compression. It also offers several unique convenience features. Each player component incorporates a USB port, so users can access music from any USB storage device. And the P200 wireless player module also offers Bluetooth streaming capabilities, enabling you to link to a mobile device and stream content directly into the system.”
The Wireless Music Bridge by Control4 is flexible, with both wired and wireless capabilities, and expandable with the addition of multiple units to one system for easy audio distribution. By activating AirPlay, Bluetooth, or DLNA on a personal device, music services such as Pandora, Spotify, etc. can instantly be heard on the Control4 system via the speakers throughout the home.
For instant streaming of music from Apple devices both wired and wireless, Crestron has created the Network Stream Player (CEN-NSP-1) that allows individual family members to control their listening experience via a Crestron app or touchscreen. “The Control4 Wireless Music Bridge allows consumer to play virtually any music they can access through their phone, tablet, or computer throughout their entire home—where they want it and with whom they want to,” said Ross Livingston, director of listen and watch experiences, Control4. “It’s about empowering the homeowner, their family, and guests to command and control their own music in their own space, or allow users to bring new music into a space at the touch of a button.”
Russound’s XStream X5 is also an IP-based wireless system that can be integrated with and controlled by legacy AV source devices, offering integrators a streaming music zone player easily tailored to the room and application.
Russound’s XStream X5 is an IP-based wireless system that can be integrated with and controlled by legacy AV source devices, offering integrators a streaming music zone player easily tailored to the room and application. “It was built on the backbone of our RIO IP-based protocol for simple integration with other systems,” said Jeff Myatt, marketing director for Russound. “Three different Russound keypad options can be connected to control the X5 zone, source commands and streaming services. One of the more popular benefits of the X5 is how the client can use the My Russound App to manage all functions within the system and each individual zone.”
For instant streaming of music from Apple devices both wired and wireless, Crestron has created the Network Stream Player (CEN-NSP-1) that allows individual family members to control their listening experience via a Crestron app or touchscreen as well as integrates with Crestron’s whole-home automation systems.
“With the new player, homeowners get an all-in-one streaming solution in a compact, budget-friendly package,” said Delia Hansen, Crestron’s residential marketing manager. “The family can use AirPlay to instantly connect with their own dedicated network stream player, turn on the home audio system, and enjoy their favorite music from any app—all with just a single tap on the device in their hand.”
Modular in design for flexibility, WASP Audio’s LINK-Family 2.1 systems feature three platforms: LINK-Mount, LINK-Plate, and LINK-InWall. According to the company’s founder and CEO, David Tschirpke, each mono-block wireless amplifier receiver fits into standard 2-inch by 4-inch walls based on what style of speaker is chosen for any given install application. The systems also play well with Sonos, thanks to the company’s Sonos Connect for streaming and control when plugged into a WASP 2.1 TRI-Band transmitter.
Capable of a multitude of configurations, Peerless-AV’s PeerSound Wireless Audio System (ADS100-B) was designed specifically for the pro residential integrator. “LINK-Mount systems are designed for wall-mountable speakers, LINK-Plate systems are designed for tower and bookshelf speakers, and LINK-InWall systems are designed for in-wall, in-ceiling, and outdoor speakers,” Tschirpke explained. “Selectable TRI-Band uncompressed wireless audio technology allows for unparalleled wireless performance based on wireless range and audio resolution desired. Audiophile Class D amplification is designed to drive even the most demanding speakers.”
With a focus on more dynamic sound delivery, Bluesound’s Vault combines a zone player and a 1TB HDD and a CD ripper for end-users still attached to their multidisc CD changers. Combined with additional Bluesound Nodes, the system can support up to 38 discrete zones, which can be synchronized, independent, or configured into multiple synchronized groups.
“Bluesound is a next generation system using more powerful processing and fully supporting Hi-Res Audio up to 24/192,” said John Banks, director of market development for Lenbrook International, Bluesound’s parent company. “We are also integrating with the major control systems, like Control4 and Savant, to work with their media player interface, in addition to our own highly flexible and intuitive iOS, Android and desktop controllers.”
Capable of a multitude of configurations, Peerless-AV’s PeerSound Wireless Audio System (ADS100-B) was designed specifically for the pro residential integrator. With a 140-foot range, PeerSound’s various configurations include four stereo zones, eight mono zones or a combination of stereo and mono. As noted by Hal Truax, managing director of retail and pro AV sales, the unit is FCC, UL60065, and UL2043 Plenum rated. These are certifications, he said, that provide peace of mind and quality assurance for integrators.
“The transmitter is rack mountable, including transmitting antennas that can be located outside of the rack to ensure reliable performance,” Truax said. “Second, our unit is completely pre-amp and speaker agnostic, meaning that an integrator can use the gear that he/she is most familiar with when specifying our wireless solution.”
Portable and ideal for outdoor use, Soundcast’s trio of audio systems— OutCast, OutCast Jr., and Melody—provides a proprietary long-range wireless solution that allows end-users to send music from their indoor AV system, including those created using Sonos.
Portable and ideal for outdoor use, Soundcast’s trio of audio systems—OutCast (pictured), OutCast Jr., and Melody—provides a proprietary long-range wireless solution that allows end-users to send music from their indoor AV system, including those created using Sonos. “In situations when the homeowner has wired outdoor speakers— usually in one zone—the OutCast and OutCast Jr. work in a complementary fashion,” said VP of marketing, Tom Dixon, “delivering flexible added zone coverage and in some cases, much needed low end bass response. The Melody is an ultra-light Bluetooth speaker that delivers a high end musical experience out of a portable design.”
For homes already fitted with wired speakers but wanting to add wireless speakers, CasaTunes offers a variety of options, including the entry-level CT-3 (three wired zones and five wireless ones) and the top-range CT-24 (24 wired, 10 wireless).
“CasaTunes designs flexible multiroom audio solutions that allow integrators to install wired, wireless, or a combination of wired and wireless solutions for distributing iTunes and Windows Media disc-based music, internet radio, and internet-based music services throughout the home,” said Steve Guerra, vice president of business development. “Our CasaTunes Air technology ensures that both the wired and wireless speakers are completely synchronized for echo-free whole-house music.”
For homes already fitted with wired speakers but wanting to add wireless speakers, CasaTunes offers a variety of options, including the entry-level CT-3 (three wired zones and five wireless ones) and the top-range CT-24 (24 wired, 10 wireless). Bose is answering the call for wireless audio distribution with its SoundTouch Wi-Fi music systems, which connect to a home’s Wi-Fi network and features several configurations ranging from one-piece speakers to home theater systems.
“They connect through your home Wi-Fi network, and communicate with each other to create our most powerful multi-room listening experience ever,” said Adrian Eiben, Bose custom solutions business development manager. “You can stream music wirelessly in any room with Bose audio quality—by simply pressing a button.”
HEOS by Denon is a new wireless multi-room sound system that easily connects to an existing Wi-Fi network to bring Denonquality audio to any—or all—rooms with a smart device application available for both iOS and Android. The HEOS by Denon product launch includes three wireless multi-zone music players that offer easy access to the most popular cloud music services and familiar Wi-Fi setup. With the single app, users can control the whole home, and each speaker used together or separately.
Undoubtedly, the latest wireless audio distribution systems, by virtue of improved wireless networks and greater consumer awareness, have evolved by leaps and bounds. There is still work to be done, however, to achieve the transformative sound quality of wired systems. It’s a good holy grail, even as we all acknowledge that the differences might not be breached simply because the delivery platforms are inherently different.
According to Control4’s Livingston, “new wireless standards are emerging that should help to ensure high quality and highly reliable wireless connections for audio.”
Llanor Alleyne is a contributing editor to Residential Systems.
WISA CONTINUES TO SET THE STANDARD
The Wireless Speaker and Audio Association has become a leading proponent of a standards approach to wireless audio distribution integration in the custom installation channel. WiSA’s president Tom Lee talks to RS about what the association has accomplished in the past year and its plans for the future.
How has wireless audio products evolved in the last year? How is this trend taking hold in the custom integration segment?
Prior to WiSA, ad hoc wireless technologies suffered in the custom integrated segment by being limited to low resolution audio and were interference prone. The WiSA test specification delivers the most robust and highest quality audio performance while certifying product interoperability between brands. The WiSA test specification is a 200- page document that includes key test parameters such as audio sample rate, frequency of operation, transmission power, and volume normalization, to name a few…The association’s membership is growing to include more than 30 companies that are committed to developing and delivering WiSA compliant products that meet custom installers rigorous expectations for superior sound, interoperability with other brands, and an interference free network connection.
Where do you see the digital wireless distribution market headed?
Long term, the WiSA TAC is focused on defining a comprehensive solution that will address new emerging market needs. Whole house will take on a new meaning to include home theater and multi-channel decode and streaming of multi-channel content from TVs and mobile devices direct to WiSA-certified speakers within a room. Support for new audio codec’s from Dolby and DTS will require more audio channels (X, Y, Z planes), where up firing or surround speakers will be added for a 3D experience. Wireless will be used to simplify installations and reduce overall integration cost and time.