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Suppliers, Retailers Surf Wireless Multiroom Wave

NEW YORK – The next boom in wireless might not come in smartphones but in wireless networked multiroom- audio systems, if the sheer number of product introductions is any indication.

In recent weeks, Samsung detailed its planned product expansion, AwoX and MartinLogan entered the market, Sony unveiled new wireless speakers, Nuvo added to its wireless multiroom capabilities, and Arcam introduced a new wireless DAC.

Dealers are looking forward to the growing selection of wholehouse audio products, said ProSource co-president/ CBO Jim Ristow. During the recent Brand- Source Summit & Expo in Orlando, Ristow said wireless multiroom audio, in addition to home automation, “will sustain our members’ [business] for a long period of time, even when you include the DIY aspect,” he said. “All of these systems require networked solutions in the home and stable wireless networks,” he explained.

The spread of home Wi-Fi networks laid the groundwork for wireless-multiroom adoption. A 2013 survey by Arbitron and Edison Research found that 67 percent of U.S. residents ages 12 and older live in homes with Internet access and Wi-Fi.

With so many Wi-Fi networks in place, retail-level sales of wireless Wi-Fi speakers grew 26 percent in dollars in 2013 and 85 percent in units, albeit from a small base, The NPD Group found.

Futuresource Consulting estimates that in 2013, 15 percent of dock-less wireless-only speakers shipped in the U.S. were Wi-Fi-equipped, including AirPlay speakers. The other 85 percent incorporated only Bluetooth.

With Wi-Fi chips increasingly featuring Bluetooth at negligible incremental cost, Futuresource forecasts that wireless speakers combining both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will account for 45 percent of wireless-speaker shipments by 2017, with Bluetooth-only speakers focused on the lower end. Wi-Fi delivers improved sound quality over Bluetooth speakers and enables multiroom capability, suppliers note.

A recent survey by the Consumer Electronics Association concurs, with forty- four percent of consumers who don’t own a wireless multiroom system saying they are interested in owning one

To leverage the growth curve, the following companies recently shipped new products or announced timetables for new products:

Arcam plans April shipment of its first app-controlled wireless DAC, which will also be the company’s first AirPlay-equipped product.

The $700 AirDAC adds wireless AirPlay and UPnP streaming to existing stereo and home theater systems. An iOS app from Arcam for iPhones and iPads operates the DAC, chooses music stored on the iOS device or on an iTunes-equipped computer, and chooses music stored on any UPnP-equipped NAS drive, computer or music server running UPnP server software.

AwoX, a privately held French company, which specializes in DLNA middleware, launched its first wireless consumer products a year ago in Europe and has begun rolling them out in the U.S.

In February, the company began shipping three products in the U.S., all at $99. One is the AwoX StriimLight B-10 LED light bulb with built-in Bluetooth speaker. Another is the StriimLink Wi-Fi- and DLNAequipped music streamer, which connects via wire to a home hi-fi system to create a multiroom multi-zone audio system. The third product is the Wi-Fi- and DLNA-equipped StriimStick, which turns an HDMI-equipped TV into a web-browsing Android tablet that downloads apps and streams 1080p video from computers and mobile devices.

The company, founded in 2003, will expand its line in the third quarter to include LED lights with built-in Wi-Fi speaker.

The Bluetooth and Wi-Fi lights screw into standard medium- base light-bulb sockets, including those in in-ceiling recessed lighting cans.

The StriimLink music streamer is equipped with Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet to connect to a home network to use computers and smartphones as music sources. It also streams Internet radio stations via vTuner. In turn, StriimLink connects to existing music systems via analog output and digital optical output. From a free Android or iOS app, users push music to one or more streamers from their mobile device, or use the mobile device to select songs stored on a networked DLNA-equipped computer or NAS drive. Computers lacking DLNA connect to the streamers via AwoX’s server software.

StriimLink also features a USB port to play back music on a USB stick or connected USB hard drive.

MartinLogan launched its first wireless speaker, the Crescendo, in high-gloss black at a suggested $899.

A version with real-wood walnut veneer is expected to ship in early April, also at $899.

The speaker features Wi-Fi, Ethernet port, AirPlay, DLNA networking and Bluetooth. It also has a Made For iPod/ iPhone/iPad USB, built-in DAC and 3.5mm optical digital input.

Via DLNA, Crescendo plays back music stored on DLNA-equipped PCs and NAS drives and DLNAequipped Android smartphones. The computer or phone is the control source that selects songs for playback.

Pure Audio plans soon to add a new capability to its Jongo wireless multiroom speakers and Jongo adapter soon, which adds wireless multiroom capability to existing stereos. Via an automatic firmware upgrade, consumers will be able to use Bluetooth to stream music from any Internet streaming service from a smartphone to a Bluetooth/Wi-Fi-equipped Jongo speaker, which in turn will use Wi-Fi to send that stream to other Bluetooth/Wi-Fi-equipped Jongo speakers.

Samsung has developed a second Shape wireless multiroom-audio speaker and its first Shape adapter, which enables existing hi-fi systems to play back music streamed over a Wi-Fi-based Shape network. The Link Mate adapter also connects directly to legacy music sources such as CD players and turntables to send music from those sources over a Shape network. Like Shape speakers, the Shape adapter also features stereo Bluetooth.

Also to expand the Shape selection, Samsung is embedding Shape technology into a soundbar, two Blu-ray HTiBs and one Blu-ray player, all equipped with built-in Wi-Fi.

The company also revealed that Shape speakers can be connected over a Shape network to the company’s Shape-equipped soundbar to double as the soundbar’s outboard surround speakers. Similarly, five separate Shape speakers can be connected over a Shape network to select Wi-Fi-equipped 2014 Samsung TVs to deliver home theater surround sound.

All new audio products ship in March and April with the exception of one soundbar, due in May, and the Shape adapter, due sometime in the spring.

Sony has begun offering a trio of tabletop speakers, two of which incorporate Wi-Fi, AirPlay, DLNA, Bluetooth, and Internet music streaming. The third is a Bluetooth speaker.

The top model adds playback of high-resolution music files.

The $699 SRS-X9, $299 portable SRS-X7, and $199 portable SRS-X5 are available in Sony stores, authorized dealers, and its online store.

The top two models connect to AirPlay- and DLNA-enabled devices via built-in Wi-Fi 802.11b/g, and both offer direct access to online music and internet radio services when consumers download a SongPal app to their mobile device.