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Game Changers by Design

Well into the third year of a stubborn recession, the specialty CE and custom installation markets have undergone a major transformation. Consumers have placed a greater emphasis on value and ease of use while custom specialists have begun searching for “silver bullet” products to help generate interest and mayb

Well into the third year of a stubborn recession, the specialty CE and custom installation markets have undergone a major transformation. Consumers have placed a greater emphasis on value and ease of use while custom specialists have begun searching for “silver bullet” products to help generate interest and maybe even sales. Big box and online retailers also have secured brands that not long ago were available only through specialty retailers and CI specialists.

Fortunately, the iPod and portable audio has rekindled a passion for music, which, in turn, has driven diverse technologies ranging from wireless music systems, DACs (wired and wireless), to two-channel audio. Many music lovers even have rediscovered the virtues of vinyl and dusted off their record collections.

The market is more diverse than ever with new products and technologies being introduced at a dizzying pace. Often what helps these products garner consumer acceptance (or not) is their “curb appeal.” Will it fit that person’s lifestyle? Is it simple to operate? Will it be easy enough to install? Does it look cool? Answers to these questions almost always come down to one thing: industrial design.

From Turntables to the iPad

In a challenging market, how well a product is designed and how it appeals to the consumer (or sometimes even to the dealer or buyer) will determine whether it sells or if it will be relegated to memory lane.

The Speaker Shop’s Ed Sullivan said that the B&W CCM682 in-wall speaker (above) epitomizes excellent industrial design.

With that in mind, we polled a half dozen of the industry’s leading custom retailers and systems integrators and asked what one product they feel epitomizes excellent industrial design. They were asked to consider all the types of products they use in their business. Their preference for the design could be for any reason, including cosmetics, ease of installation, simplicity of use, unique features, “wow” factor, or a combination of all of these.

To show the wide range of their choices, product selections included a high performance in-wall speaker, a two-channel preamplifier, a cutting-edge processor, a wireless music system, the iPad, and even a turntable. The choices and reasons behind the selections were as diverse as the products themselves. It also underscores how complex our industry has become and the challenges as well as opportunities that it presents for the specialty trade.

B&W’s CCM682 In-Wall Speaker

Ed Sullivan’s specialty AV retail store, The Speaker Shop, has been a mainstay in Buffalo, New York, since 1977. With a strong focus on accurate music reproduction and a fanatical commitment to customer service, the store has survived and prospered through one difficult economic climate after another. The Speaker Shop thoughtfully evolved into home theater and custom installation over the years but never forgot its roots in high-performance audio.

Among the many excellent brands that he carries, Sullivan had many products to choose from. His choice of a product that epitomizes excellent industrial design, however, is the B&W CCM682 inwall speaker. Sullivan says he loves the CCM682, which is part of B&W’s CI600 Series, because it is fast and easy to install, offers stealth-like cosmetics with a near-bezel-less grille, and sounds great. Among the sonic features, he noted the 600 Series adjustable tilting tweeters and switchable EQ that optimizes each speaker for its environment.

Spectral’s Studio Reference DMC 30 SS Preamp

Overture’s Terry Menacker chose the Spectral Studio Reference DMC 30 SS preamplifier (above) as a product that represents excellence in product design.

Another successful custom retailer with its roots firmly in music reproduction is Overture in Wilmington, Delaware. Terry Menacker opened Overture in 1993, first offering the finest music systems and then carefully expanding into home theater, lighting control, and automation using the same high standards he set for the store when it opened. Menacker’s simple business philosophy is, “We owe it to our clients to give them the best.”

Menacker’s choice of a product that he feels represents excellence in product design is the Spectral Studio Reference DMC 30 SS preamplifier. At $10,000, he describes its performance, build, and audio design quality as the best that he has found.

“Its state of-the-art performance is combined with ease of use and flexibility, whether using the beautifully machined remote control, which has rubber protection strips on the bottom to protect furniture etc., or using the controls on the unit itself,” Menacker said. “Lighting is minimal, but gives the user all the information (volume, balance, phase, mute, and more) he or she needs. The lighting can be adjusted, as well as can the “speed” of the volume control. The rear panel is perfectly laid out making installation easy and foolproof. “

The Sonos CR200 and S5 Zoneplayer

Just outside Dayton, Ohio, in the town of Kettering is Hanson AV. Founded 11 years ago by owner Troy Hanson, the store is a showcase of some of the finest brands for audio, home theater, and wholehouse automation. Hanson AV is a full custom installation company working with builders and homeowners from commercial to residential applications. In more than 5,000 square feet of retail space, it offers four private auditioning rooms with a fifth to be added this fall.

Though his store favors high-end, Hanson chose the modestly priced Sonos CR200 and companion S5 Zoneplayer as his favorite product design. “It is so easy to use, from its integration and design, to the album cover art listing from each artist and song,” he said.

Hanson also noted the ergonomics of Sonos’ allcolor touchscreen LCD remote control interface, calling it a remote that “can fit almost anywhere.” He went on to add that in addition to Sonos, “these systems would not be complete without having a state-of-the-art speaker system from Focal, our favorite speaker company. The combination makes it the perfect fit for any room.”

Oracle’s Delphi Mk VI Turntable

House of Stereo in Jacksonville, Florida, is an iconic 41-year-old audio shop that also sells home theater and custom products. Owned by audiophile and music-lover Bill Gibson, its specialty is high-end audio products with a unique twist. Within the 7,000-square-foot building sits a complete art gallery and high-end guitar boutique. Talk about differentiating one’s business.

Bill Gibson, of Jacksonville’s House of Stereo (top), selected the Oracle Delphi Mk VI Turntable as an example of great industrial design.

To underscore how varied the market has become, Gibson selected the Oracle Delphi Mk VI Turntable as his example of great industrial design.

“This product has constantly evolved with enterprising solutions to solving problems,” Gibson said of the turntable. “The latest improvements involve the small, but highly audible, torsional vibrations within the framework of the turntable. Three small ‘wells,’ which hold a thick viscous material, damp these vibrations by lowering a small metal point into the material. The net result is a bigger, cleaner soundfield with more definition, which is quite shocking to hear.”

Gibson added that the Oracle table is also widely recognized as one of the most beautiful audio components ever conceived. “This latest version takes it to an even higher level,” he said.

Classe’s SSP-800/CT Processor Pre-Amp

One of the best-known and most successful highend specialists in the country is Definitive Audio in the Seattle-area. Definitive has three retail locations along with a custom installation design center.

Mark Ormiston has been with Definitive since 1983 and was appointed president in 1992.

With so many top brands to choose from, Ormiston selected the Classé CT-SSP and the SSP-800 processor preamps, for several reasons. “The user interface is simple, functional, intuitive, and flexible,” he explained. “The inputs are easily set up by the integrators to best suit the end-user’s needs and are entirely configurable in the software domain. The unit also offers a great deal of fine-tune ability allowing for reference performance within a wide range of home environments and with many different speaker systems.

Ormiston noted that the “outstanding industrial design” of the Classé pre/pros siblings is an appropriate complement to their audio/video performance, which define the current “state of the art” in the category.

Apple’s iPad

One of the industry icons for specialty A/V, home theater and custom installations is Randy Wilson of Wilson Home Theater Systems in southern California. Though he didn’t start his own retail/custom business until 1988, his impressive industry resume dates back to the 1970s. A founding member of CEDIA in 1989, and a leading participant in the association ever since, he is currently on its board of directors.

Troy Hanson features the modestly priced Sonos CR200 and companion S5 Zoneplayer in his high-end Kettering, Ohio, AV store.

For Wilson’s choice, he looked to the future and chose the Apple iPad. In his words, “The iPad is a gamechanger; it’s fun for the whole family, even my 83-year-old mom.”

Wilson said that the product is easy to use, and with its abundance of apps he can store and sort music, sort and store pictures, watch movies, play games, and even read a book. And for his clients, it is an inexpensive touchscreen and gateway interface to control everything.

“The iPad is sleek, sexy, and easy to use,” Wilson added. “It is a show piece. Park it in a stand-up dock and place it on your coffee table, nightstand, or next to your phone in your office. This is also the perfect device for all your agingat- home clients. The iPad is an all-in-one solution that will create many new business opportunities for CEDIA’s ESCs.”

For these six specialists, industrial design is clearly a major factor in their decision making on which brands and products to support. And it is also a way for each of them to differentiate themselves in a challenging marketplace. Some of their products are forward looking and cutting edge, while others are more retro and have improved by evolution. Yet in their own way, and by design, they are all game changers.

Peter Hoagland is an industry marketing consultant based in Warrenton, Virginia.

Honoring the Best Designs at CEDIA

To recognize excellence in industrial design, Residential Systems created the Resi Awards–the industry’s first annual award program dedicated solely to product design. While winners won’t be announced until CEDIA EXPO in September, here’s a look at this year’s finalists, by category:

• Combined Product Family:
HAI ’s Cellular Communication Center
NuVo’s Renovia Whole Home Audio System
URC’s Network Keypad Solution

• Control Interface:
RTI ’s T1B Remote Control
Crestron’s V-Panel
ELAN ’s TS 2 – Film Interactive Touchpad

• Custom Install Accessory:
Gefen’s GefenTV Auto Volume Stabilizer
Kwikset’s SmartCode with Home Connect
Atlona’s AT -PROHD1616M-SR HDMI Matrix Switch

• AVR or AV Component:
Denon’s S-5BD BD/Receiver
Marantz’s SR7005 AV Receiver (pictured)
Marantz’s UD 5005 Universal Media Player

• Lighting Product:
LiteTouch’s Remote Base Antenna
LiteTouch’s Aerial Keypad
Vantage’s Keypad Collection

• Media Server:
Kaleidescape’s M500 and M300 Players
NuVo’s Music Port Elite
Niles Audio’s DMG -1 Digital Music Gateway

• Mount (Special):
iPort’s CM-IW100T Mount for the iPod touch
TRUFIG ’s Solid Surface Mounting Platforms
Savant Systems’ In-Wall Charging Dock for iPad

• Mount (Video Display):
Chief’s Thinstall Series Wall Mounts
OmniMount’s LED Phantom
WallWizard’s ZA52 Motorized Mount

• Power Management Product:
Monster’s Home Theater HTU PS 3700
Panamax’s M4315-PRO
SurgeX’s XN120

• Projection Screen:
Da-Lite Screen Company’s JKP Affinity Tensioned Advantage Deluxe
Screen Innovation’ Reference Motorized II
Stewart’s Gallery Series

• Speakers (In-Wall):
BG Radia’s SS -303
Boston Acoustics’ HSi Architectural In-Ceilings
Niles’ ICS RWC7.7/LCR In-Ceilings (pictured)

• Speakers (On-Wall):
Definitive Technology’s Mythos XTR-50 KEF ’s T Series
Artison’s Masterpiece LCR – DualMono (M-LCR/DM )

• Speakers (Freestanding):
MartinLogan’s Motion4
Leon Speakers’ Aaros A10-UT Subwoofer

• Video Display:
Runco’s WindowWall
SÉURA’s Hydra Waterproof Television
Sharp’s Quattron LC-60LE 920UN LED LCD TV

• Video Projector:
DreamVision’s Starlight3 (pictured)
SIM 2’s Grand Cinema MI CO CONNECT
Digital Projection’s M-Vision Cine LED

• Wire & Cable:
Kordz’s EVS 7-15m Series
Monster Cable’s SuperThin Cables for HDMI