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In a Hidden Place - ResidentialSystems.com

In a Hidden Place

There was a time when interior designers—with their mood boards, color swatches, and barely disguised technophobia—induced near unbearable heartburn in the chests of custom integrators.
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Discrete Installation Product Choices for Integrators Continue to Evolve

This Custom Distributor Guide was sponsored by Pakedge Device & Software and Peerless-AV, as a supplement to Residential Systems, December 2014.

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Sonance’s Discreet Opening System is a hybrid speaker system that features four small, two-way satellite speakers and one or two in-ceiling subwoofers that feature the same round or square trim-less grilles to “achieve continuous sight lines.

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There was a time when interior designers—with their mood boards, color swatches, and barely disguised technophobia—induced near unbearable heartburn in the chests of custom integrators. But as the convergence of shifting consumer decorating tastes, technology innovation, and renewed emphasis on the industrial design of form and function-defying products has gained strength, the once testy relationship has become a working partnership that continues to influence how we display and interact with popular electronics.

“Traditionally, technology integrators focus on performance and less on aesthetics,” said Gretchen Gilbertson, CEO and co-founder of Séura. “Today, the technology community is recognizing that consumers are placing a more equal value on both performance and design for home electronics. Also, interior designers are more involved in the consumer decision process when it comes to designing or renovating a new home.”

And, while AV enthusiasts are proud to park their 5-foot speakers in the middle of the room, the trend toward multi-use home spaces has spiked the demand for AV and home automation products that are far from showy.

“There is a definite shift toward cleaner lines in all aspects of design, be it commercial or residential, building or furnishings,” noted Keith Vanderkley, Amina Technologies’ director of sales for North, South, and Latin America. “The consumer wants a de-cluttering, a simplification of lifestyle, a rest for both the eye and the brain as they arrive home.”

Speaker Discretion

The creation of any chart detailing where the grandiose display of high-end AV products morphed into the demand for their less ostentatious presence in any given room arguably started with the loudspeaker. In-wall speaker manufacturers pioneered the idea of hidden and camouflaged speakers while wrestling to get big-cabinet sound out of downsized drivers. And they, along with many of their fellow manufacturers in the channel, have made great strides in that goal.

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Origin Acoustics’ patents allow for far bigger sound in a smaller footprint since the company doesn’t require traditional mounting methods to install its products.

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Sonance’s latest bow to this legacy is its Discreet Opening System, a hybrid speaker system that features four small, two-way satellite speakers and one or two in-ceiling subwoofers that feature the same round or square trim-less grilles to “achieve continuous sight lines,” as noted by Jack Hill, director of marketing for Sonance’s parent company, Dana Innovations.

“The return of bold patterns and detailed surface textures has placed a renewed focus and interest on the walls and ceilings of today’s homes,” Hill said. “At the same time technology’s relentless advance into every room of the home has grown at an exponential pace. As a consequence the ubiquitous utilities of lighting control, temperature control, video, and audio must evolve and adapt to this new landscape. The challenge of this evolution is to provide state of the art technology that does not draw attention to its own components, but rather blends in and enhances the overall ambience of the space.”

The Composer Collection, which consists of more than 40 speaker options to blend aesthetically with any home décor including speakers that mimic both flush down lights as well as design conscience recessed lighting systems, was created by Origin Acoustics. Headed by Jeremy Burkhardt, Origin Acoustics believes it has cracked the small speaker-big sound barrier.

“Our patents allow for far bigger sound in a smaller footprint since we don’t require traditional mounting methods to install our products,” Burkhardt noted. “The goal is for our products to visually disappear and become non-existent in the sight line in the environment in which they are installed and enjoyed.”

Featuring a minimal footprint thanks to their zero-bezel grilles, Harman Revel’s Architectural Series of loudspeakers features 21 in-wall and in-ceiling choices to seamless blend into any room and embodies what Jim Garrett, director of marketing and product management for Harman Luxury Audio, sees as a unique approach to shifting tides in how consumers want their content, explaining that “traditional designs simply won’t deliver the types of experience that today’s consumers want and expect.”

Home automation giant, Crestron has always designed its vast array of custom integration-specific products with minimal visual impact in mind, including its new 6-zone “plus two” amplifier with 12 inputs (C2N-AMP-6X100) for mid-size audio systems.

“Stack amps to send high-quality audio to up to 24 amplified rooms plus eight additional pre-amp outputs,” said Delia Hansen, Crestron’s residential marketing manager. “Each C2N-AMP-6X100 has an integrated multichannel power amp provides ample power for up to six rooms, or connect external amplifiers via the two extra line-level room outputs. Twelve stereo line inputs are included to accommodate a rack full of music and AV sources.”

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Amina Technologies’ Evolution series is an invisible two-way in-wall speaker. Amina Technologies’ Vanderkley points to the company’s Evolution series, name its AIW750E invisible two-way in-wall speaker, when discussing an AT speaker that best underscores the essentials of hidden electronics, noting that with each new iteration of the line comes better understanding of the actual physics of the technology.

“Sound, of course, will always be a part of custom integration,” Vanderkley said, “and I believe that after having accepted the same basic cone loudspeaker technology for over 90 years, we are about to turn a corner in sound transducer technology that will lead us to a much wider range of high quality choices and solutions, not just in discrete or invisible speakers, but more so in performance characteristics such as better intelligibility, smoother room-filling properties, and 360-degree dispersion.”

ION’s Rock Speaker speaks to the expanding outdoor speaker market and consumer demand for great sounding speaker that doesn’t disrupt the landscape. The wireless Bluetooth garden and patio speaker can be stereo paired and is weather resistant.

Monitor Audio’s Sound Frame, an in-wall or on-wall solution that allows the client to choose the grille cloth to cover the speaker, is the latest addition to the company’s products designed to be slick and small without compromising performance.

“In-wall products that allow the end user to pick the art of their choice, to cover the grille is [an] example of offering consumers a stylish solution and option to a traditional mesh grille on the wall, while maintaining high SPL capabilities,” said Sheldon Ginn, vice president of sales and marketing for Monitor Audio’s parent company, Kevro International. “Sound Frame is an in-wall or on-wall solution where the client picks the grille cloth to cover the speaker. It could be the stock black or white cloth or they can choose from a catalogue of images or, they can provide a high-res file with the art of their choice and we create the grille cloth for them.”

Uplifting View

OmniMount’s OE120IW in-wall TV mount and optional OPK2 power accessory kit are the epitome of a hidden installation, according to company’s director of sales, Bill Ennis. Designed to hide the mount and wiring in the wall, the OE120IW mounts a TV nearly flush-to-the- wall but has arms that extend forward for positioning flexibility for comfortable viewing from any corner of the room, with the OPK2 allowing power and AV cables to be routed through the wall.

“TV technology has undergone tremendous evolution in the last 30 years,” Ennis said. “Omnimount’s products have evolved to keep pace with the style of newer TVs, offering a more discreet or hidden installation so that the TV is the main focus. As TV manufacturers continue to emphasize fashion the same can be said for consumers, and there’s a much higher demand for solutions that complement a home’s décor.”

Stewart Filmscreen’s flagship Stealth is a totally discreet in-ceiling screen system that offers a paintable bezel that completely disappears when not in use, in addition to quiet operation and several screen material options.

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Kevro’s Sound Frame is an in-wall or on-wall solution where the client picks the grille cloth to cover the speaker. It could be the stock black or white cloth or they can choose from a catalogue of images or, they can provide a high-res file with the art of their choice and we create the grille cloth for them. “The biggest advantage Stewart has in catering to the residential market where stealthy screens are required is our ability to create virtually any conceivable screen for any conceivable environment thanks to our on-site manufacturing facilities in the US and our engineering, chemist, and on-staff design teams,” said Peter S. Brown, vice president of sales and marketing, Stewart Filmscreen. “If there is a structural issue that needs to be worked around, the Stewart integrator just needs to pick up the phone and call us. We can customize screens to the environment with the greatest of ease. It’s what we do every day.”

Draper’s Revelation projector lift offers a unique mounting solution that though admittedly complicated to install, best exemplifies the manufacturer’s homage to discretion. The lift mounts the projector above the ceiling and uses mirrors and the ceiling’s surface to project images.

“You never see the projector, and the projector fan noise is all but eliminated as well,” said Amy Madden, sales support manager and lifts product manager for Draper Inc. “We hear from clients all the time that flat panels are the “cool” technology. Pair a Revelation with an Access (recessed electric screen), hit a button to turn on the system, and tell me that’s not cool! Seems like a better choice than a big black rectangle hanging on the wall.”

Séura’s Gilbertson said the company’s vision is to achieve the perfect harmony of technology and design. Acknowledging that the escalating influence of interior designers has pushed AV manufacturers to create more visually appealing and elegant products, Gilbertson highlighted Séura’s TV mirrors as an example of that growing influence.

“Séura TV Mirrors display crisp television images when turned on, and fashionable mirrors remain without a hint of the technology behind the glass when turned off,” she said. “Incorporating the latest TV technology into the home doesn’t mean compromising the décor. Homeowners can enjoy a TV in virtually any space without the unsightly and obtrusive black monitors of a conventional television.”

Wireless Audio Distribution

Perhaps the fastest developing area of discrete custom integration, sound distribution has greatly benefited from explosive advancements in home networking and the growing strength of wireless technologies.

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Peerless-AV’s PeerSound Wireless Audio System features a rack-mountable transmitter that wirelessly communicates with an in-wall amplifier that hides behind a paintable dual gang blank plate. PeerSound powers in-wall speakers. Sonos, with its modular concept and growing cache of wireless speaker and streaming products, is still market leader with consumers and integrators alike.

“Having the ability to easily put music in any room along with the flexibility to make it be a single small speaker or connect to existing installed speakers/systems is great but it has to work and work in a way that anyone in the home can play the music they love wherever they want in their house,” said Kostas Reissis, Sonos’s director of sales for the U.S. integrator channel. “Customers who’ve had that experience are the ones who are telling their friends and driving the demand.”

Peerless-AV’s PeerSound Wireless Audio System is also some success among integrators. Featuring a rack-mountable transmitter that wirelessly communicates with an in-wall amplifier that hides behind a paintable dual gang blank plate, PeerSound is used to power in-wall speakers of the integrator or end user’s choosing.

“Technology products are getting more powerful, smaller and user friendly,��� said Mike Luttrell, sales application engineer, Peerless-AV. “This helps drive the need to keep up with the Joneses. As we look around the current landscape, we see everyone today has a computer driven touchscreen in their pocket. This was not the case 10-15 years ago. Prior to this revolution, only the very wealthy were afforded these modern conveniences. With the market shift of cheaper and smaller, at Peerless-AV we seek out and design technology products that are unique, affordable and functional.”

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Pakedge, which debuted the WAP-11G wireless access point 10 years ago, has taken that flagship product to the next level with the W6c. The WAP is mounted inside a circular “can” structure for easy installation and employs a paintable plastic cover. iRoom, who anticipated the universal obsession with smart devices, most notably Apple iPhones and iPads, continues to offer aesthetically sympathetic docking and control ports, most notably the iDock and the recently shipped fixDock mini.

“The day the first iPad was released we saw the benefit and started developing the iDock as a compliment,” said Chris Lehnen, president of iRoom’s U.S. operation. “The original design has been improved on with the addition of glass bezels and flush-mounted back boxes. We look like we belong in luxury spaces.”

Pakedge, which debuted the WAP-11G wireless access point 10 years ago, has taken that flagship product to the next level with the W6c. The WAP is mounted inside a circular “can” structure for easy installation and employs a paintable plastic cover, which can be opened easily from underneath by the installer to allow the unit to serviced and maintained. The electronics is encased in a metal chassis and can be removed for replacement or servicing.

“This design is notable in that it not only employs an aesthetically clean industrial design, but that it incorporates maintenance and serviceability as a design attribute,” said Benson Chan, vice president of business development for Pakedge. “Our company was founded 10 years ago on this exact premise—a high performance, high power wireless access point that is mounted in the ceiling with a paintable cover and blended in with the house. Since then, we’ve continued to build on that approach. We’ve moved networking equipment out of the “closet” and into the AV rack by ’hiding in plain sight.’”

Llanor Alleyne is a contributing editor to Residential Systems.

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