Making a Mark with Multi-Room Audio
Sales to dealers of multi-room systems have ballooned in dollar value to more than double what they were in 2011 ($274 million), with the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) estimating they will reach $580 million when 2013 is said and done.
Those figures reflect a broader awareness of multi-room music (and video) sharing among the average consumer than ever before.
Technology Integrator recently spoke with three top integrators about the sudden rise in popularity of multi-room systems; a lightly edited version of that conversation follows.
Technology Integrator: How is multi-room audio changing?
Dave Raines, president, Osbee Industries, Harrison, N.Y.: Before, it was much more expensive—strictly a luxury item. Now it can appeal to the entry-level consumer who has the opportunity for a way into creating their own smaller system. The high end is still out there, but before, you weren’t really able to serve lower-end clients.
Ryan Heringer, president, Sound Concepts, Jonesboro, Ark.:
With the additions of new products that are wireless (Sonos, NuVo, Soundcast), the retrofit business is growing and allows for quick and easy installations, whereas traditional systems required the wiring to be run back to a central location. Installation time can be cut down tremendously. We are still doing a lot of traditional-style systems, running wiring back to a head end. The introduction of cloud-based services is a really big hit. Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify, etc., make it economical and easy to listen to content in any room at any time.
Las Vegas, Nev.:
It has transformed from just having control of the volume to being able to individually select sources through keypads, which is still prevalent today. But it’s moving to streaming of higher-quality information that you can send to a room through all kinds of interfaces. For example, with some of the control systems, I can use an interface device such as an iPad or an iPhone to send that information to that zone basically wirelessly. With the advent of companies like Sonos and these companies allowing us to stream information, it’s made it really easy to distribute audio.
TI: What products are you installing?
Simmons: We prefer to use one of the main control systems. Our main one is Crestron; they now have very low-profile touchscreens. There’s a beauty about having physical touchscreens. We still think it’s optimal for the client who is willing to invest some time and a little money into the system. We would much prefer to have a hard touchscreen at a location—the reason being is that it gives you the best possible direct control of that distributed zone. What’s popular is the seven-inch Crestron TSW-750 touchscreen. With it, we’re able to completely control the entire system from that area, with all the informational feedback you need for audio, video, or any content, and bring it very clearly to that area. Even though we can now distribute information wirelessly to these areas, I’d rather give the customer something where they’re not worried about misplacing the device, or not having their tablet on them. They need to be able to physically have something in that room where they know, every single time, it’s going to function, because it’s hard-wired. We can use secondary controls as ancillary—or backup—devices, but it’s always good to have a touchscreen in the room—much better than a keypad, because you’re able to get feedback and much more thorough information through that device.
Raines: There are brands including Crestron at our high end, and Sonos and Apple at the less expensive end.
Heringer: Our biggest sellers are the ELAN g! systems. The ELAN g! platform makes for the most user-friendly interface for multi-room audio. We also typically add some automation to the multi-room audio like HVAC, lighting, cameras or integration to the alarm system. Also, ELAN HC6 series controllers, HR2 remotes and M86 multi-zone controllers with built-in amplifiers; Fusion OMS-1; Sonos CONNECT:AMP and PLAY:3.
TI: What trends do you see? What do you see as the future for this category?
Heringer: Lots of retrofit business in existing residences; we are also seeing an uptick in new construction. This category as a whole will grow 15 to 25 percent in the next few years. Flush-mounted and outdoor speakers will be big sellers with integration into Sonos-like systems. The reasons for this are low installation time and products that are feature-rich and are available for a very attractive budget.
Raines: There are more clients than before who are interested in this category. Especially, they are hearing and seeing advertisements for the Sonos product. Those are the new clients out there who’d never existed before; they’re more mainstream. Usually we can sell them more than just simple multi-room audio, but we have to feel it out. We have to see whether or not that’s right for the customer. A customer is a customer to us, so you have to be careful in terms of trying to push them, if all they really need is a multi-room audio system. You don’t want to turn them off. The future of the category is it’s going all mobile. Everything will be accessible from any mobile device. And the crossover is to televisions in the home—access to content, that is.
Simmons: We’re able to send streaming information, especially audio, in a much higher-quality fashion. The quality of the audio is now much better than it was, with no compression. Touchscreen is still the best way, but the customer in the future will want one device that’s controlling everything in their lives—their smart device. And they’ll want to send that information to those distributed areas from that same device. That’s where it’s heading. •
Multi-room Product Roundup
The Autonomic Mirage Audio System is a complete distributed audio solution designed to accommodate systems in a broad range of sizes and prices. The MAS is composed of Autonomic’s acclaimed Mirage Media Servers together with a choice of two digital amplifiers, two in-wall control options and applications for iOS and Android devices that can be mixed and matched in any configuration. All Mirage Audio System components have been engineered to work seamlessly together.
The Crestron Sonnex Multiroom Audio System (SWAMP-24X8; $6,200) takes audio distribution to a higher level, facilitating massive systems with up to 74 zones and over 30,000 watts of power. Sonnex minimizes speaker wiring distances by allowing expansion units to be placed central to the rooms they serve, routing 24 stereo channels of uncompressed digital audio and control to each expander over a single inexpensive shielded CAT5e cable.
Multi-room, multi-zone audio doesn’t get any simpler than the ELAN g! Entertainment and Control System. With familiar, intuitive controls through iPads, iPhones, Android devices, in-wall touchscreens or the HR2 remote, users can integrate all of their own music, plus streaming audio from Rhapsody, Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify and many more sources. With virtually unlimited sources and zones, it’s perfect for any size home.
Gefen’s GefenTV Wireless for HDMI Extender LR (Long Range) sends 1080p Full HD with multichannel digital audio up to 100 feet in between walls so you can easily send AV from one room to another—wirelessly. An IR emitter allows full control of the source from another room simply by pointing the IR remote at the receiver. It transmits through walls and does not require line-of-sight for excellent reception.
The versatile Niles SI-1650 16-channel amplifier ($3,500) delivers 50 watts per channel and includes a High Power mode that produces 100 watts per channel for eight channels without bridging. When connected to a home network, the SI-1650 features a unique Web-browser configuration tool to set up EQ adjustments, volume levels, and high/low pass selection.
Based on advanced dual-band Wi-Fi and MIMO technologies, the NuVo Wireless Audio System transmits up to 16 simultaneous streams at 600 KB per second each, the highest of any Wi-Fi music network. The system’s primary components consist of two types of wireless music players, the P200 ($599) and P100 ($479), and a network gateway, GW100 ($199). A three-zone wired player, the P3100 ($1,499), is also available for integration into wired home systems. System control is accomplished using a smartphone or tablet, with Apple and Android applications available free online.
Containing both a matrix switching pre-amp and a built-in 25 watts-per-channel amplifier, the RTI AD8x achieves amazing flexibility, distributing eight audio sources to eight zones. For larger projects, eight AD8x units can be stacked for control of up to 64 zones, while pre-outs allow for additional amplifiers and speakers. Powerful customization options include two-way IP control and zone grouping.
Savant’s SmartAudio (SSA-4000) provides 12 zones of distributed audio from up to six connected sources plus four independent iTunes streams when connected to a Savant host. Paired with Savant’s TrueControl and TrueControl II iOS apps, the listener has quick access to all locally stored and iTunes music. A mix of control ports and slim 1U fan-less chassis make the SSA-4000 an ideal multi-room audio and control solution.
Sonance has unveiled its best-sounding, best-looking, easiest-to-install and most complete range of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, ever. The all-new Visual Performance Series was designed from the ground up, utilizing state-of-the-art modeling software and the latest driver materials to deliver class-leading performance at key price points. (Suggested price: $350 pair to $2,500 pair)
Sonos’ multi-room system combines hi-fi sound with high-performance wireless that’s simple to set up, control and expand to easily fill a home with all the music on earth. The Sonos PLAYBAR brings epic, full-theater hi-fi sound to flat-screen TV through one easy-to-use player. CONNECT turns a stereo into a wireless music streaming system. And CONNECT:AMP brings streaming music to a pair of favorite speakers.
Looking to offer your clients more from their home theater than just exceptional AV performance? How about the first-ever truly integrated, scalable theater solution, plus the ability to add whole-house streaming audio and controls without kludging together a system? URC’s DMS-AV Networked Home Theater Amplifier/Processor has every spec to impress the audiophile and accommodates up to 32 zones of AV. While most receivers are limited to three zones, the DMS-AV streams audio sources to and from other DMS amps via Ethernet for access to content such as Pandora, SiriusXM and more.