This Integration Guide to Distributed Audio was sponsored by Niles as a supplement to Residential Systems, February 2013.
Distributed audio is one of the primary entry points for consumers wanting to integrate custom control in their homes. Once a boon for custom integrators working in both newly constructed homes and retrofits, the introduction of simple, consumer-grade distribution services such as Apple’s Airport and the plethora of mobile apps that make this functionality a no-brainer addition to home systems already fitted with wireless networks, has caused manufacturers operating in this segment to reevaluate how their products distinguish themselves from off-the-shelf brands that promise to deliver the same level of access and sound quality as custom solutions.
“One of the biggest and most influential changes that we are adapting to is the diversity of audio formats we need to distribute to, specifically, the market’s adoption of streaming content such as Spotify, Pandora, and SiriusXM Satellite radio,” noted Michael DiBella, Crestron’s marketing solutions manager. “We are now challenged with finding cost-effective distribution methods that also keep the integrity of the original audio signal. This is an incredibly exciting time for us, as we move into wireless solutions for distributed audio as the customer-base is demanding solutions that enable audio from their mobile devices to be distributed.”
|With the g! Home Entertainment and Control System proving a success for ELAN Home Systems, brand manager Robert Ridenour said the company has created easy-to-use Apple iOS and Android apps to add more audio content sources to the system. ||The Mirage product line developed by Autonomic Controls also taps into streaming services by adding advanced IP-addressable amplifiers to seamlessly integrate with Mirage Media service,|
As has been the case always with custom integration, the reaction to this shift in the consumer landscape has been swift and effective, with most manufacturers creating solutions that go beyond the basics to offer unique features to elevate home audio distribution beyond the mere amplification of sound and streaming content. These more sophisticated capabilities include the ability to stream from multiple online platforms, including Rhapsody, Pandora, and satellite radio, the strengthening of established home-based wired and wireless networks for better and wider audio distribution, the introduction of newer distribution technologies such as HDBaseT, and, as DiBella pointed out, tapping into content from once unusual sources, such as mobile and tablet devices.
“We are at the beckoning of consumer demands,” said David Rodarte, president of NuVo Technologies. “Yes, we innovate and explore technology’s possibilities, but we move not just by what we can do, but also by what our customers want. As such, the changes in distributed audio reflect the current attitudes of homeowners–things like widespread accessibility, ease, and variety. The music on their phone, on their laptop, on their preferred online radio source, also needs to be available to enjoy all throughout their home. Sources have shifted from what they can store, to what they can stream. System setups have simplified, as has control through sleeker, more intuitive user interfaces. And, as is always the case, exploring these new territories must not compromise quality and fidelity.”The Latest CI Solutions
As physical media such as CDs and DVDs make their way to the exit, content now readily and easily accessible via streaming has begun to take over. This development does not come as a surprise to CI pros, as manufacturers playing in the audio distribution channel tapped into this potential the second it became a viable option for clients. What has changed is the robustness of the hardware and software that allow access to this now standard delivery method.
|Control4 has introduced streaming music services into its system natively on our controllers and with a variety of third-party devices, including Sony’s new STR-DA5800 ES AV receiver.|
Savant Systems, which came on the scene and immediately stood out with its Apple-based control products, has continued to broaden its cache of audio distribution solutions with audio and video controllers that deliver four zones of audio on up to very large scale residential and commercial distributed audio solutions, based on its SmartAudio, SmartMedia, and SmartMediaPro hardware platforms.
“Our solutions of all sizes blend seamlessly with our control and automation functionality using our award-winning TrueControl app for iOS devices,” explained Craig Spinner, Savant’s director of marketing. “Savant now offers two-source and five-source digital music players featuring internal media storage, a built-in AirPlay receiver, and access to popular streaming content, enabling Savant to address whole-house audio system solutions from small to large while providing easy access to content residing on portable iOS devices.”
With the g! Home Entertainment and Control System proving a success for ELAN Home Systems, brand manager Robert Ridenour said the company has created easy-to-use Apple iOS and Android apps to add more audio content sources to the system.
“The brand recently enhanced the g! System with support for Fusion Research’s Ovation audio streamers, expanding the music sources to include Slacker, MOG, TuneIn, LIVE365, Last.fm, Pandora, SiriusXM, CBC-40, CBS Radio, BBC, SKY.fm, AccuRadio, and more,” Ridenour noted.
Control4, which as has gone from managing and distributing individual MP3-based audio collections to decoding a range of audio formats to help its clients maintain quality playback sound, has also added streaming to its products’ capabilities.
“We have also introduced streaming music services into our system natively on our controllers,” said Kordon Vaughn, director of Control4’s listening and watch products, “and with a variety of third-party devices so that consumers have many choices for content; they can listen to virtually any internet radio station, or streaming music service.”
Crestron has added the ability to stream audio, video, and photos from Apple’s iPhones, iPods, and Macs with the introduction of AirPlay support for its Sonnex Multiroom HD Audio system. Without the interaction with a touchscreen or other controller, Sonnex automatically detects audio signals and switches to the AirPlay source.
|Crestron has added the ability to stream audio, video, and photos from Apple’s iPhones, iPods, and Macs with the introduction of AirPlay support for its Sonnex Multiroom HD Audio system. |
“Because streaming has made such a splash with the end-user, many companies are looking to offer simplified connections for their mobile devices to their existing distribution solutions,” DiBella said. “Our products have had to evolve so that different formats and methods of transfer can be easily distributed throughout the home.
“At the beginning there was only analog and that’s what we distributed—now there are analog, digital coax, optical, and HDMI carries audio. We build the products needed to distribute any source you want to throw at us. And as new technologies
emerge we will continue to address them. Take for instance, Apple’s AirPlay—a perfect example of adding solution to a product portfolio that is a direct result of new technologies.”
StreamNet, developed by NetStreams more than 12 years ago as a part of its vision for “100-percent digital distribution, DSP, and high-speed networking,” has added accessories such as its BluePort in-wall Bluetooth gateway so that NetStreams customers can use any mobile device to stream music or playback audio in any room regardless of the location of the mobile device.
|RTI vice president of sales and marketing Pete Baker calls the AD-4 and AD-8 distributed audio systems “some of the hottest and most well-received products RTI has ever released.”|
“You can even adjust the broadcast name for each device up to 16 different presets in case your client has several mobile devices and many rooms for playback,” explained Michael Braithwaite, ClearOne’s chief strategy officer, who went on to note that the company’s new Anthology service provides “a professional way to stream all of your iTunes music with it’s built in terabyte onboard memory. If you have more than a terabyte of music then just drop any network-attached storage on your LAN, and you will never run out of space. You can create hundreds of popular channels with Pandora with no need for any dedicated PC or locking up your mobile just for streaming.”
URC, which added audio distribution to its line up only a year ago, has now firmly established its Total Control line of products, including the DMS-1200 multi-zone amplifier, SNP-1 streaming network player, PSX-2 personal server, and the IP-based DMS-AV amplifier/processor.
“For the first time, with URC Total Control, integrators are no longer limited by running cables, or the complexity of adding or dealing with multiple amps,” said Cat Toomey, director of marketing for URC. “Total Control adds zones by just adding a box. With the changes in our economy, with the historically high level of existing home investments, and with people accustomed to using IP-based and wireless technologies in virtually every area of their daily lives, the ability to retrofit a distributed audio system is vital. We developed our system with that firmly in mind.”
|Savant now offers two-source and five-source digital music players featuring internal media storage, a built-in AirPlay receiver, and access to popular streaming content, enabling Savant to address whole-house audio system solutions from small to large.|
The Mirage product line developed by Autonomic Controls also taps into streaming services by adding advanced IP-addressable amplifiers to seamlessly integrate with Mirage Media services, which as the company’s CEO Michael de Nigris said, provides “a cohesive experience for the user, enabling them to control their music system in any room from portable devices, computers, and popular automation systems.”
Chronicling audio distribution’s path from Cat-5 wiring to the present ability to stream content, Rodarte pointed to NuVo’s Wireless Audio System as a natural evolutionary step in the company’s product development. The system, which utilizes two zone players and amplifiers to stream internet radio sources, as well as music stored on PCs, NAS, and USB drives plugged in to a zone player, is said by Rodarte to be deliver on the promise of incredible performance using “top-of-the-line technologies, in our easiest product to integrate, ever.”
With its AD-4 and AD-8 distributed audio systems standing as “some of the hottest and most well-received products RTI has ever released,” company vice president of sales and marketing Pete Baker said, noting that additional products, such as the four-channel CP-450 and 16-channel CP-1650 audio amplifiers with cool power technology and its popular RTiDock iPod dock, have firmly established RTI as a valuable player in audio distribution.
“We also provide the benefit of matching user interfaces across all control devices, including smartphones and tablets, to provide a very cohesive and intuitive system for end users,” Baker added.
Interestingly, Leaf Audio has reported that HDBaseT has had the most significant impact on how it creates products for audio distribution. Highlighting the technology’s ability to connect several entertainment devices through its 5Play feature set, in effect combining uncompressed HD digital audio, video, 100BaseT Ethernet, among other features, Leaf Audio’s director of sales and marketing Dean Vaughan said, “HDBaseT is pushing our industry as a whole to re-define digital connectivity standards, as it also plays a leading role in driving manufacturers to incorporate forward-thinking aspects, like 4K capability, in future products, to help create AV distribution solutions that meet the wide range of consumer entertainment needs.”
At Leaf that product push includes the creation of the LTHDMI2020E 20x20 matrix switcher that features four back-panel HDMI outputs for in-rack or in-room video and audio connectivity, with 16 HDBaseT LTB1E remote breakout units able to receive audio and video from up to 52 potential sources, plus control data and Ethernet connectivity, up to 328 feet away.
URC has now firmly established its Total Control line of products, including the DMS-1200 multi-zone amplifier, SNP-1 streaming network player, PSX-2 personal server, and the IP-based DMS-AV amplifier/processor.
“It’s exciting for us to deliver such a strong, powerful product,” Vaughan said. “With the ever-growing demands of whole home HD video, our 20x20 offers unparalleled connectivity and features for even the most complex custom install project.”
Harvesting client and integrator feedback, many of the manufacturers RS spoke with are confident that they are delivering the best audio distribution experience that today’s technology can provide while acknowledging that there is always room for even richer features. Among current customer requests is greater integration of even more streaming content providers, many of which are cropping up at an unfathomable rate.
For integrators, the ability for easier integration between audio distribution networks and established automation and control systems is also something that manufacturers are working to deliver sooner rather than later, as well as the growing interest in honing uncompressed audio and video distribution as a well functioning package deal.
“Our dealers are saying that the key to distributed audio today is simple and intuitive aggregation of their customer’s content,” Savant’s Spinner said. “From local files like iTunes to streaming services, the digital age of internet-based audio must be easy to access and enjoy.”
Llanor Alleyne is a contributing editor to Residential Systems.Franklin Karp and Kurt Johannsen
AVS, Plainview, Long Island, NYWhat features have helped you pitch distributed audio to clients?
Almost all of the jobs we do at AVS include distributed audio on some level. Autonomic’s Mirage Media Servers have become the go-to solution for us because of product reliability and the critical licensing agreements that Autonomic has with the popular streaming content providers. The Mirage Media Servers deliver the functionality that our customers desire and we get excellent customer service from Autonomic.James Shapiro
Audio Video Intelligence, Easton, MAWhat features have helped you pitch distributed audio to clients?
AVI installs many Control4 distributed audio systems. We love the flexibility of the system and the ability to offer clients a wide range of control interfaces from on-wall touchscreens, portable touchscreens, handheld simple remotes, and mobile applications on client-supplied portable devices like an iPad. The Control4 amplifiers integrate directly into the system with a built-in 8-input matrix switch and eight zones of output. With this configuration, a client can have different sources playing in eight rooms simultaneously.Bradley Elliott
Electronic Lifestyle Associates, Elmhurst, ILWhat features have helped you pitch distributed audio to clients?
Push-to-talk is a big selling point for clients with their bigger homes. When we are selling HDMI matrix units, audio syncing is important also and the [NetStreams] DigiLinX has no issues in providing us synced up audio. Another point is that to control DigiLinX you don’t need to have internet access. Some of the apps out there require the app to sync with the server every time.What would you like to see change in the category?
Where we need more customization is in the user interface, Apple iOS and Android. The “any device anywhere” philosophy needs to be adopted.Charles Hutson
Audio Video Solutions, Miami, FLWhat features have helped you pitch distributed audio?
Ease of use. If the product is not intuitive to use, we have failed our client. NuVo’s iPad application is also invaluable. People have a familiarity with the product, so they are not intimidated to use it. They are actually interested in learning how to use it.David Barson
Opus A/V/C, North Haven, CTWhat features have helped you pitch distributed audio?
iTunes integration. Savant’s integration of the customer’s music content is as similar to the iTunes user experience as possible, providing a sense of familiarity that is pleasing to many consumers. We are very happy to see that Savant’s new digital music players offer synchronization across multiple residences.Randal F. Smith
GeckoHI LLC, Galveston and Austin, TXWhat features have helped you pitch distributed audio to your clients?
Our company uses RTI processors and control peripheral devices exclusively. Despite being certified with other high-end control system companies, we are able to accomplish more for less with RTI products. For instance, with the introduction of the AD4 and AD8 distributed audio systems, it was an enormous advantage to have a matrix-based multi-zone amplifier manufactured by the same company that builds our control systems. In addition, RTI products are easy to use and enable us to produce more intuitive integrations.