What is SKAA and Why Should I Care?
It is not often we come across a new technology. When we do, we always take a closer look to see if it is something that we, or our readers, should care about. SKAA is a fairly new wireless technology that is looking to make inroads into the home theater world. But what is SKAA and should you care?
What SKAA Promises
SKAA is a wireless streaming technology that eschews the normal routes to rethink streaming from the ground up. They have reimagined streaming focusing on ease of use and multiple speaker functionality. One SKAA transmitter can connect with up to four receivers. These can be standalone speakers or headphones. The implications for home theater are obvious. Wireless surround and rear speakers are all the rage these days. Anything that makes pairing these speakers easier should be a slam dunk.
And pairing is something SKAA seems to hate. The standalone transmitters don’t have any buttons on them. On the receiver side, there is a single button but there is no “pairing” mechanism. You simply play something through the transmitter and the receiver will automatically pick it up. The only time you’d need to control the receiver side is if you had more than one transmitter. Then there are fairly standard and easy-to-remember single button control commands.
Using the 2.4GHz frequency range, SKAA is not another Bluetooth or Wi-Fi solution. They may use the same frequency range as Bluetooth, but they have some differences. They’ve focused on low latency and high audio quality. Promising up to 480 kbps streaming, SKAA’s audio streaming should be nearly indistinguishable from CD quality. SKAA has locked their latency at 36ms which is much lower than the 60ms North American standard. This is to ensure that lipsync issues are nonexistent.
Lastly, the SKAA promises that they will enable you to add speakers to your home theater easily. Got a 3.1 system (soundbar and sub) and want to add surrounds for movie night? Just bring in some of your SKAA speakers from another room and you are good to go. With low latency and high audio quality, this seems like it would be a great solution.
The Cons of SKAA
Other than the confusion with the music that popularized the running man dance, not everything is roses for SKAA. Released in 2013 (or thereabouts), adoption has been fairly slow. In the realm of home theater, only Atlantic Technology has shown them any love. More importantly, the antennas needed for SKAA are not included in current phones, tablets, and computers. This requires the purchase of a dongle (of which there are many) that start at $80. SKAA may be easier to use than the other streaming services, but those are already included in your phone. Plus, you need either another dongle for the receiving side or to buy a very limited number of compatible products.
And that’s the real issue. Until SKAA can convince home theater manufacturers that their solution is somehow better than Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, or get phone manufacturers to include an antenna for their solution, SKAA’s battle is going to be very uphill. There is a Ryobi speaker sold at Home Depot, a couple of products from Atlantic Technology, but everything else is sold on the SKAA website. And no offense, but I’m not paying a cool grand for a pair of plexiglass speakers.
I honestly like a lot of what SKAA is selling. They have dongles that can be used with just about any audio device. Got an old VCR, Walkman, or reel-to-reel player? They have a dongle for that. Older iPhone or iPod? Yep, they have one for you too. They even have some with IR receivers so that they can learn your remote’s IR codes so you don’t have to use their app for volume control. Heck, this is literally the only product I’ve seen that has an app where the app is totally optional. You could buy the dongle and the headphones and never install the app. The two would work just as well. What I’d really like to see is a wireless subwoofer combo pack. A lower-cost (right now you’d have to spend about $150) receiver and transmitter bundle for making any subwoofer wireless. If they could get it under $100, they’d sell like hotcakes.
SKAA Wireless Audio Beginner’s Guide