A treasure hunt on Florida’s Marco Island might sound like a new blockbuster movie, but for K Systems, a premier audio and video company, it became a real-life experience when the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort needed to upgrade its Florida property’s audio system. Add in Hurricane Ian right in the middle of installation, and a challenging project got even tougher, yet turned into audio gold thanks to the help of LEA Professional.
The JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort is situated along three miles of peaceful, pristine, private beaches on the Gulf of Mexico. The resort is expansive, with 12 restaurants, two championship golf courses, a fitness center, spa, and multiple meeting and conference facilities. With music and audio quality of critical importance to the total guest experience throughout the property, it was necessary for K Systems to design and install a scalable audio solution to make it easy for resort management to operate.
For some time, the resort had been battling with an audio system that was fragmented, and a challenge to operate and keep maintained. While different engineers had fixed issues over the years, these “band-aid” solutions had only aggravated the problems. Understanding they needed a more sophisticated solution to provide guests with a sensational sound experience that would match the luxuriousness of the resort, management contacted K Systems and owner Mitchell Piper.
With a reputable 20-year history of customer consultation and service expertise, the team at K Systems began the project with a lengthy exploration of the property and its issues, which it dubbed its “treasure hunt.” Only with extensive research and by digging deep to understand the property needs could they uncover the problems and dive into the audio redesign and installation.
“When we began the ‘treasure hunt,’ we started with the mechanical elements,” says Piper. “Where is all the equipment? What speakers are working; what speakers aren’t working? What wires are broken, et cetera. And that level of discovery takes a long time. It’s like peeling away a gigantic onion. And frankly, you are always still discovering things. That’s just how these properties work, because there’s no institutional knowledge. So, you have to pick it up in dribs and drabs, you have to talk to everyone, understand what their frustrations are and what they want to accomplish. Eventually, a pattern emerges where you can really see the overarching concerns.”
From this level of discovery, Piper was met with two main problems: a mechanical problem and — as Piper describes it — “a vibe problem.” In terms of the mechanical issues, there was a severe lack of understanding as to how many of the systems on the property operated. On top of this, many of the current systems needed to be constantly rebooted. From speaking with management, Piper realized the resort needed a system that could be centrally controlled through the cloud and would be reliable enough that there would be no need for continuous rebooting. If all of these things were in place, he was confident he could restore the musical experience for guests and ultimately fix the “vibe” problem.
Piper and his team ended up gutting the entire system and designing a complete redo. One of his first tasks was to find and spec out equipment that could connect to the cloud.
“On a property like this, where there are 20 different closets of equipment, it is important for management to be able to ‘see’ the entire property, either through a cloud or through a network, and then be able to control the equipment on the property through that connectivity,” comments Piper.
From the get-go, Piper knew the amplifiers for this project needed to be Dante-enabled, easy to install, reliable, and have the ability to connect to the cloud. Shortly before the install began, he was introduced to LEA Professional by Jim Mingo of TMP PRO. LEA Professional Dante Connect Series ticked all the boxes. With a choice of 2-, 4-, and 8-channel systems, these Dante-ready amplifiers feature direct HiZ (70V or 100V) or LoZ, selectable by channel. In addition, the LEA Professional Cloud Platform allows users to securely access and control individual amplifiers or entire venues of amps from anywhere in the world without the need to VPN into a Local Area Network.
K Systems installed 28 LEA Professional Dante Connect Series amplifiers for maximum coverage, a mixture of 354D, 704D, 84D, and 702D.
“I was pleasantly surprised by just how simple the setup was,” says Piper. “We’re a small business, so each member of the team wears a lot of different hats. Frankly, we do not have time for complexity when it comes to install protocol. When we went to install the LEA amp, I think it took me maybe five minutes to connect it to the cloud.”
All LEA Professional amplifiers leverage the built-in Amazon Web Services (AWS) IoT Core. This cloud platform allows integrators to control and monitor critical operational data points that are integral to maintaining system health securely and remotely. The capability delivers greater visibility and response time, which enhances preventative maintenance, simplifies troubleshooting, and cuts down or even eliminates on-site maintenance requirements. By leveraging the AWS IoT Core, system integrators can import their Connect Series systems into the LEA Professional Cloud with 256-bit SSL encryption.
Not only did the resort benefit from the cloud platform, but it also saved rack space by utilizing the unobtrusive design of the Connect Series, a plus since equipment footprint was a major consideration for this project. The spa alone at this property had 50 audio zones between its 24 treatment rooms, nine wet rooms, and 12 common spaces.
“In the spa area I didn’t need a lot of energy, I just needed a lot of independent zones,” says Piper. “So, in five or six rack units with a few network cables routed into a switch, I could completely wire the space. I had a tiny rack space to contend with, so having that much power available to me in a limited space was also an important consideration.”
Over his years in the industry, Piper has come to understand the sound quality difference between different amplifier manufacturers and describes the Connect Series amplifiers as having a “warmer, rounder” sound, which has helped restore the “vibe” of the resort.
What Piper didn’t expect through a process that was moving along quite nicely was Hurricane Ian, one of the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history that not only halted completion of the project nine months in, but required redoing some work K Systems had already completed. “By using the LEA Professional Cloud Platform, we were able to remotely monitor the status of the amps through the storm, even after power was switched over to generators,” says Piper.
While Marco Island and the Marriott property were spared the worst of Hurricane Ian’s wrath, the resort did sustain damage and worked quickly to make repairs to get the property reopened. “The folks at LEA were terrific through all this,” continues Piper. “They were able to get us replacement amplifiers for the affected areas quickly. In working for world-class organizations like Marriott, I like to provide a level of service that they give their resort guests — pure excellence. To do that, I need to partner with companies like LEA. The LEA team did not let me down.”
When LEA Professional was founded in 2019, the company chose to do things differently than other manufacturers. With a braintrust of pro audio veterans, they understood the pain points faced by partners and customers and sought to ensure that every touchpoint with LEA would be simple, seamless, and create a positive experience. They achieved this through simple, one-click transactional processes and by creating a world-class support network, including a wide array of online resources. K Systems appreciates this high level of support, and Piper was adamant that others in the industry should follow suit and do more to champion smaller integration companies like his.
“The tools and resources available to me from LEA are terrific,” quips Piper. “I recently installed the company’s Sharkware application software, which makes it easier to locally connect to all of the amps on the property and make adjustments.” Of particular help is the simplicity around amp troubleshooting. Each LEA amplifier features an indicator — a smiley face where everything is good, and a frown or yikes if there is potential trouble. “On a property like Marco where you have two dozen amps running through the cloud, a quick scan of smiles or frowns makes identifying trouble spots a snap,” adds Piper.
As a small business, every little bit helps. “We’re a microenterprise. I don’t have time to sit a guy alone for seven hours just to learn everything, read every manual, and so on. When we have a question, microenterprises are more dependent on help from manufacturers, and trusting that you’re going to get that support when you need it in a timely manner is exceptionally important. The technology I provide gives people joy, and I need partners like LEA who can help me get there.”
Overall, the resort’s management has been extremely impressed with their upgraded audio system — one that is now centrally controlled, reliable, and sounds good. Piper is proud to attest that the positive musical vibe on the island has been restored and that the sound experience is now a true pleasure, as well as treasure.