Wireless that Just Works: WiSA Sees Watershed Year for Wireless Audio

Will 2013 be the year of high-quality wireless audio?

Jim Venable, president of the Wireless Speaker & Audio Association (WiSA), thinks so. The association was formed in 2011 to develop interoperability testing and compliance programs for wireless products with a focus on multichannel surround sound systems. Just over a year later, its membership includes speaker brands Definitive Technology, Klipsch, MartinLogan, Paradigm, Polk Audio, and Aperion, which introduced the first WiSA-compliant home theater speaker system last year (Home Theater, November 2011).

“We think 2013 is really going to be a watershed year for the association and for wireless audio in the home,” Venable said, noting that consumer electronics companies are looking for wireless solutions that work well. “The consumer has had a bad experience with wireless audio, particularly wireless surround sound in the home, because it just didn’t work. It operated at a 2.4-gigahertz frequency along with everything from baby monitors to microwave ovens to 802.11 (Wi-Fi) networks where there is a lot of interference. Then you had to compress and decompress the audio, which created latency issues. People got pretty well turned off.”

WiSA-compliant systems operate in the sparsely used 5.2-to-5.8-GHz U-NII (Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure) band, which enables interference-free transmission of uncompressed 24-bit/96-kilohertz audio. Robust error recovery and sophisticated switching among up to 24 channels is said to ensure interference-free performance with very low latency and negligible delays between speakers. The automatic channel switching must follow stringent requirements to avoid radar used by the military and the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), which limits the band’s usefulness with other applications—a good thing for audio, which Venable describes as a perfect match for the band.

If the impressive 7.1-channel demonstration I heard at CES is any indicator, WiSA-compliant systems are well on their way. The system was dead quiet, and the spectacular effects that define House of Flying Daggers on Blu-ray were utterly convincing. If you’re considering wireless speakers or other audio systems, look for the WiSA logo. Venable expects about 20 WiSA-certified systems to hit the market this year.