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The Venerable iPod Helps Me Deliver on a Promise

When a long-term client came to my showroom and told me he was building a new swimming pool in his backyard and wanted to ensure that he had really impressive but simple-to-use audio for entertaining, I knew I had the perfect solution.

When a long-term client came to my showroom and told me he was building a new swimming pool in his backyard and wanted to ensure that he had really impressive but simple-to-use audio for entertaining, I knew I had the perfect solution.

One of the benefits of being an equipment reviewer on top of my day-job as a custom integrator is that I get to experience and play with an array of products that I might not normally consider or even be aware of. To me, this is also one of the real benefits to attending tradeshows like the upcoming CEDIA EXPO; there is nothing like being able to lay your hands on, touch, feel, and experience a product in person. (This is also a great argument for a local factory rep, who can bring equipment to you to demo.)

The Sonance SONARRAY SR1 Outdoor Audio System.
So, when he showed me the blueprints for his new pool area, I knew this would be a perfect opportunity to use the new Sonance SLS outdoor audio system I reviewed for Residential Systems magazine back in May. With its scalability and daisy-chain wiring scheme, it would allow us to use the perfect number of satellite speakers to fully cover the listening area and allow for expansion down the road as he built a planned pool house.

While the SLS system—with a Crown CDi1000 amp, 10 LS47 satellites, and 10-inch sub—cost more than he had initially wanted to spend for the basic array of rock speakers he had been envisioning, he trusted me enough to make the investment after I described the quality of the audio that I experienced in my own backyard.

The client’s home had an existing, legacy ELAN housewide audio system, and the system used “dumb” keypads that offered no metadata feedback on the keypads and didn’t provide any kind of portable control. When he described how he wanted to use the audio in the space—easy control by the pool, access to Sirius satellite radio and his stored music library—it made the most sense to make the pool area its own zone, off the ELAN system.

I felt the perfect source solution was a Sonos Connect. Now I realize a lot of integrators are divided on the use of Sonos. In fact, fellow Resi blogger, Todd Anthony Puma, recently put up a great piece, “Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?” that considered both sides of the “should I/shouldn’t I?” question about using Sonos on projects. The post generated quite a few comments both from Sonos supporters and detractors and is worth reading if you missed it.

For me, I see Sonos as a tool, and like any tool, there are times when it is the right solution and times when it isn’t. And for this single-zone solution with iOS control, I felt that it was the correct choice. I have yet to have a customer that didn’t absolutely love the Sonos interface (foreshadowing) and I was confident that this client and his wife were destined to be another success story.

Confident that I had a rock-solid audio system with an incredibly user-friendly control app, I promised the homeowner that he would love the system; what amounted to a $10,000 promise on my part.

After the pool was built—and, FYI, just because the builder assures you that he will leave you conduit sleeves under the concrete pathways for your wiring runs, trust him without checking at your own peril —my installer and I went out and trenched in the DB wiring, installed the speakers and electronics and configured the Sonos system. When we got it fired up, the system sounded as great as I knew it would—deep bass, and incredibly even sound levels all around the pool with a volume range from low-level, background listening to concert levels. With WiFi control, you could lounge by the pool and have a world of music at your fingertips. Perfect.

After a follow-up email from the client that read, “Sounds awesome, John! Unbelievable concert-like sound. Thanks!” I was pretty sure this was a mission accomplished.

But then I started getting emails from the client’s wife. She was having problems with the Sonos and iTunes interface. It turned out that a significant portion of her music collection was DRM-protected content purchased over several years from iTunes that the Sonos system couldn’t play. She was also having difficulty getting changes in iTunes—new playlists, added songs, deleted songs—to update in the Sonos library. We worked on the issue over a series of phone calls, emails, and texts, but the customer started becoming increasingly frustrated by the Sonos system. As a large party at the client’s home loomed, I was dealing with customer that was exasperated by what should have been a great experience.

While I was fairly certain that I could resolve the library synching issues, the DRM wrapped music had a solution: either repurchase all of the music or “match the tracks” with iTunes Match and remove the local copies by deleting the files. Then I would download the matched version from the iCloud-hosted Match library.” Both solutions, however, would be either too costly or cumbersome, neither of which seemed very user friendly. (Before you bury me in, “You should have used an Autonomic server!” comments below, yes, I realize that it can play back DRM files. However, they would have had to use the Zone 2 output of the MMS-2 which is not really intuitive, and that solution was nearly six-times the price of the Sonos…)

Then I remembered the Sonos iPod dock. The more I thought about it, it seemed this little $119 device and trusty, old iPod were going to be the perfect solution. It would allow the client to continue doing everything in iTunes—something she was comfortable with and preferred doing— while keeping her library and playlists in sync and play all of her old music while still delivering pool-browsing-friendly control.

I had an installer run the dock over, and help her get everything synced before their large party. Minutes later, I got this email: “John, I am doing the Snoopy Dance! Your installer and I got everything set up on my old iPhone 4. We synced it to my Macbook Pro. It works. I can control it all from my new phone. I could not be happier! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I am beyond thrilled!”

John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.