Over the past few years, perhaps the biggest challenge to the custom integration business has come from the infiltration of do-it-yourself multiroom audio solutions. It’s hard to sell someone on an expansive, hard-wired solution when a few wireless speakers will a “good enough” job. NAD Electronics, however, appears poised to hit a middle ground in this struggle: a solution that adds the convenience of wireless to the power and control of true CI-grade audio.
NAD’s CI 580 Network Music Player and CI 720 amplifier are two new custom-install-facing products that will begin shipping with BlueOS integration at CEDIA 2016.
The Ontario-based company is part of the Lenbrook Group, which is made up of three brands–NAD, PSB Speakers, and Bluesound–the latter of which was launched in 2013 to provide a top-notch solution that could compete with the growing segment of DIY solutions. At the core of the brand is BluOS, the software that delivers high-resolution audio from sources to Bluesound devices throughout a home.
“It’s a complete operating system,” said Greg Stidsen, NAD’s director of technology and product planning. “We’re not using a middleware platform like UPnP, or Play-Fi, or something like that. It is a true operating system, meaning that a BluOS device can go out onto the network and pick up music anywhere. It doesn’t need to be translated through a piece of software. It can just pick it up natively on the network and bring it in.”
What this integrated software and hardware platform translates to is a very tightly knit ecosystem of products–as Stidsen explained, the software extends all the way down to the machine-code level of the brand’s hardware– that can deliver an exceptionally high-quality audio streaming performance, free of extraneous circuitry and processes required for compatibility in typical systems. Now, in the weeks leading up to their official product launch at CEDIA 2016, the NAD team is putting the finishing touches on adding BluOS to its high-end, CI-facing products.
“What we’re talking about this summer is how we’re bringing this beyond Bluesound and into the integrators’ world, where we can play into the big control systems like Crestron and Control4,” Stidsen said. “So we’re making our API available to those companies, or we’re developing the driver directly with full support and complete interaction with those companies.”
Actually, Stidsen explained, the technology that eventually became BluOS was originally conceived as a project for the NAD brand; but the market shift toward DIY solutions prompted the spinoff of the Bluesound brand. Only now is the high-res streaming capability making its way back into its intended application.
With the BluOS-equipped NAD line, customers can opt for a professionally installed, rack-based, hardwired audio solution–but with the reassurance that they can also easily expand their system later by adding wireless Bluesound speakers in other areas of their home.
And to keep the system a step up on the competition, NAD recently formed a partnership with Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) to include the high-resolution audio format in its products. In the BluOS app, the MQA indicator glows green or blue to indicate that the player is decoding and playing an MQA stream or file, and denotes provenance to ensure that the sound is identical to that of the source material.
“I don’t think any of [the competing streaming systems] have the package we have,” Stidsen said. “When you look at the capability of doing high-res audio and distributing it either wired or wirelessly, and we’re really looking at the market in a very comprehensive and inclusive way in trying to create a solution that extends into a lot of different use situations.”
As examples, the company is looking at ways to extend the system across multiple residences, as well as to mobile devices. “But those are a little further down the road,” Stidsen said. “We’re taking one step at a time, and the step we’re taking right now is to reintroduce ourselves to the custom integration world.”