Have you ever wondered about doing multi-room audio without Wi-Fi? Maybe you don’t want to go through the setup, or your Wi-Fi is too slow to support stable audio connections?
Well, Atlantic Technology’s $749 FS-252 Powered Bookshelf Speakers use a technology called SKAA that allows you to do multi-room without an arduous setup process, or worrying about a finicky wireless network.
What is SKAA?
Well, to put it simply, it’s a standalone wireless audio standard that’s not dependent on a Wi-Fi network. It uses a transmitter dongle connected to your source, which can send audio out to four other SKAA enabled products, known as receivers. This group of 5 devices is called an SKAA cell.
You can stream to just one SKAA receiver in the cell or up to four at the same time, which is where the multi-room capability comes in. The beautiful thing about this technology is you don’t have to go through the multi-step setup as you do with Wi-Fi-based systems like Sonos.
With SKAA, all you have to do is grab a product with the SKAA receiver chip built-in, like the FS-252 speakers I’m reviewing today, put it into “bonding mode” by pressing a button, then start playing the music from a source with the transmitter connected. That’s it.
You can switch between devices by just pressing the “bond” button on the unit with the SKAA receiver to connect it or disconnect it from the cell. There is also the option of controlling the cell with the SKAA cmd app, which is available for iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows.
The app works similar to the multi-room apps used by Wi-Fi-based systems like DTS Play-Fi and Sonos, but it’s pretty limited. Unlike those apps, cmd doesn’t play music directly from the app, it just allows you to control the volume and set audio channel routing (Left, Right, Mono, Stereo) for each SKAA receiver.
According to Eleven Technology, the company behind SKAA, the connection is more stable than Wi-Fi, beaming CD-Quality sound up to 150 feet away.
Atlantic Technology is betting big on this wireless platform. At the CEDIA show this past September, Atlantic showed off a total of 11 interoperable SKAA products, including subwoofers, more speakers, a Soundbar, and headphones all scheduled for release in the coming six months. By the way, some of those products won multiple awards.
They sent me two of their SKAA products, the FS-252 Active Speakers I’m reviewing today, and an integrated amp, the STA-200, which they also sent out to test out the multi-room operation. I thank them for the opportunity.
At the moment, they have transmitter dongles available for USB-A, Micro-USB, iOS Lighting, plus a dongle that transmits S/PDIF output (both coax and Toslink) from TVs and stereo receivers. No USB-C transmitter available at the moment, but there’s one on deck, scheduled for release in December.
Build and Features
The FS-252’s are a beautiful pair of speakers. They come in a rich piano gloss finish with aluminum feet, and the black grills are accented with a silver and black Atlantic Technology logo that completes the elegant look.
It’s a 2-way design in a sealed cabinet using two 3.5-inch woofers, one .75-inch tweeter in a D’appolito array, plus a 4-inch down-firing passive radiator. As this is a powered speaker, there is also a 2 x 25-watt Class-D amp inside as well.
On the back of the right speaker, there’s two sets of RCA jacks, one for line out, and one for line in, a 3.5mm Aux input. There’s also another RCA type connector that brings power/signal over to the Left speaker using the included 4ft signal cable.
Besides the analog connections, you can bring in audio wirelessly via SKAA and Bluetooth 4.0. The Apt-X codec for CD-Quality audio is supported. You can also use the Analog and Bluetooth inputs on the FS-252 as an “on-ramp” of sorts since the speaker can pass those signals on via SKAA to the other devices in the “cell.”
I thought the signal cable was pretty short compared to the wire you get with other powered speakers. Usually, they are around 10ft. This won’t be a deal-breaker for most people; it’s just something to keep in mind since it will affect where and how you place the speakers.
In the box, you get the speakers wrapped in cloth bags, a remote, batteries, RCA patch cord, 3.5mm to RCA cord, 3.5mm to 3.5mm cord, plus cords for power and connecting the two speakers. You also get a microfiber cloth to wipe the inevitable fingerprints off the piano finish and an instruction manual.
Using the speakers is pretty simple. On the side of the right speaker is a control panel, where the power button turns the speakers on and doubles as a source selector. Each press toggles through the inputs and lights an LED so you know which source you’re using.
Next to the LEDs for Bluetooth and SKAA, there are paring and bonding buttons so you can initiate those connections. Adjacent to the sources is two volume buttons. That’s pretty much it — the remote duplicates all these functions.
The remote is laid out nicely, and it works well to control the speakers. There are no tactile buttons, just pressure-sensitive points you press to perform functions, and they are easy to push.
Listening to the FS-252
For my tests, I listened to the speakers on my desktop using Bluetooth, SKAA, and Line Input, playing 24-bit Flac files.
Overall, the sound quality was decent. Their performance was big and lively with nice bass for such a small speaker. They are not the most transparent speakers I have heard, especially on the top end, but they are entertaining to listen to.
Listening to “500 Miles High” from Chick Corea’s new Trio Album, Christian McBride’s bass had a nice weight to it, and Chick’s piano had a delightful sparkle to it, but it seemed like there was a little veil over everything that you don’t hear with hi-fi speakers.
Imaging was excellent, though, with a little bit of toe-in, I was able to make the speakers disappear, and the music sat right behind them. Each instrument in the trio had its spot. The soundstage was narrow, however, with all the sound concentrated between the edges of the cabinets.
I also found the sound quality differed between connections, with the clearest sound coming from the Line-In. On the wired connection, I was able to hear more air and layering of the instruments.
Using SKAA, the music became slightly less focused, and the Bass seemed to be less composed, but I can’t say it was a massive difference, you would have to listen carefully to hear it.
Another note regarding SKAA, I must say that I was impressed at how fast the connection was. The music played almost instantaneously once I pressed the bonding button on the speaker. The signal was also stable even when I played music on both the FS-252 upstairs, and the STA-200 integrated amp downstairs at the same time using the cmd app.
When I listened to Bluetooth, it seemed slightly less crisp than the SKAA connection, but there wasn’t a big difference between those two either. Both SKAA and Bluetooth sounded good, but the Line-In was the one I liked the best.
All in all, the FS-252 was fun to listen to, but these are not speakers to do critical listening on. They are musical, though; I would say a step above all the mass-market speakers like Sonos.
The FS-252 Active Speakers are fun sounding speakers with great bass for their size, and many will like them just for that. But the Active speaker market is competitive, and for the price, you can get better-sounding speakers with multi-room audio like the SVS Prime Wireless. That being said, they can’t produce the bass the Atlantic Technology speakers do.
The FS-252 is also the only powered speaker I know of that can do multi-room wireless without depending on Wi-Fi. So if you don’t like Wi-Fi or don’t have a strong Wi-Fi connection in your home, these speakers, along with the other SKAA gear Atlantic Technology makes, give you another multi-room audio option to look for.