Music to Our Ears: Blackfire’s WiFi-Enabled Speakers Let You Access Tunes on Your PC, Mobile Devices

When it comes to tech execs who have impacted the music industry, Steve Jobs comes to mind for iTunes and the iPod and how they changed the way consumers buy, store and listen to music.

Ravi Rajapakse doesn’t have a closet full of black mock turtlenecks like Apple’s CEO, but his company is likely to have an impact on how people listen to music.

Rajapakse is president and CEO of Blackfire Research, a San Francisco-based company that has developed WiFi technology and speakers that allow users to easily stream music and other audio content to speakers from their mobile phones and computers.

“It’s crazy that we have these play lists — our entire music library — available at our fingertips, and we have all this mobility with cell phones and laptops and tablets, but we have no way of playing music wirelessly,” he says. “I want to be able to walk into a room and press play on my phone and hear music.”

To date, Blackfire Research has raised about $1 million in angel funding, says Rajapakse, who adds that he hopes to raise another angel round of about $1 million to ramp up the company, which currently has eight employees and expects to roll out its product in the first quarter. He has not yet decided on prices.

The company’s proprietary technology (Rajapakse has two patents pending) includes high-end WiFi-enabled speakers, as well as devices that attach to speakers that allow them to operate over WiFi. The company has garnered recognition from the audio industry.

At first glance, Rajapakse seems an unlikely tech exec to be leading the charge to innovate speaker technology. Before he started the company four years ago, he spent about 20 years in Silicon Valley at a number of tech startups, including Savi Technologies, which developed systems for global wireless tracking and was bought by Lockheed Martin in 2006.

But Rajapakse, a self-described audiophile, says he was interested in audio tech at the age of 12, when he tinkered around with speakers. In 2006, he wanted an easy way to play music (he prefers Chicago Blues and other jazz tunes) in any room in his house without the use of cables, docks, dongles or other connections. He thought that with his background in tech and the wireless industry, it would be a “quick project.”

But combining 5 gigahertz of processing power to a high-end speaker over WiFi is not as straightforward as it might sound.

I met Rajapakse last month as he showed off the tech in an exclusive demo to a handful of reporters. I listen to music all the time and just recently broke another pair of speakers on my home computer, so I was impressed at the sound quality and the simple interface. My only complaint is that I want to put his speakers on this year’s holiday wish list.

“We’re releasing next year,” he says. “Can you imagine how audio technology is going to change when that happens?”