Let’s play a quick game of word association. What comes to mind when you hear “volume control”?
Did you think some variation of “old,” “outdated,” “ugly,” “cheap,” “dumb,” or “basic”?
While the humble volume control has really gone out of favor in our channel, the fact is these things are workhorses that have been around basically forever! And despite the ever-changing technology in the rest of the industry, these stalwarts essentially do the same as they have always done, in a cost-effective, reliable manner.
But, yeah, I get it, you likely aren’t doing too many installs these days built around volume controls in each room. But just think about how many volume controls your company has installed over the years, and then how many other companies have been installing volume controls…for years. That means there are a massive amount of existing volume controls installed across the county. In fact, Snap One estimates more than 30 million in-wall volume controls have been installed over the past 20 years. Thirty. Million. Volume. Controls.
That represents an enormous upgrade opportunity for our channel!
With that in mind, Snap One has introduced its new WAKE Amp in-wall Bluetooth amplifier. This product is Alexa-optimized and designed to give installers the ability to go into existing homes and give them a quick and affordable technology makeover using existing wiring and speakers.
Usually, I don’t go into the background of how a product came to be, but in this case — since I happen to actually know the guy behind it — it seemed germane. If you’ve been in this industry for any amount of time, then you likely know David Moore, whose current title is executive VP of technology and engineering at Snap One.
Before that, David was one of us, working for years as a lead installer and programmer and then operations manager at CI firms in Tennessee and South Carolina. David has been there and done that with Lutron, Vantage, Crestron, ELAN, URC, Niles, and more. After that, he did a long stint as trainer and product manager at ELAN, then he moved over to Snap, where he worked on product development and engineering.
In late 2019, David started Amplify Innovations when he had this idea for what ultimately became the WAKE Amp.
“I created this product to solve a personal pain point,” David shares. “I have a distributed audio system in my house, and every room has a pair of speakers and independent zone control. Despite the flagship architectural speakers and 1000-plus watts of amplification sitting in my rack, my family listened to music on the 3-inch paper cone speaker built into the Amazon Dot! That’s when I decided to create a professional amplifier that allows voice assistants to play through professional speakers.”
After the WAKE Amp became a reality, David approached Snap about distributing the product to its channel, and this began a discussion where David ultimate rejoined Snap One in his current role and the WAKE became an Episode-branded product.
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What does all this have to do with anything? Well, as a former integrator, David understands our wants, needs, and pain points, and he designed the WAKE Amp from the ground up with integrators in mind. This is evident in simple touches like including links to the installation and owner’s manual right inside the app. David says, “As a previous integrator, I know how frustrating it is to dig for a manual,” so no longer will you have to keep it in a file or wonder where the homeowner left the documentation; it’s just right there where you need it.
The WAKE Amp comes in a single box and includes the product, the power brick, a screwless faceplate, a power adapter, and some screws. The amp features three medium-sized buttons, Up, Down, and Play/Pause, and has a row of five small LED indicators at the bottom that illuminate to show various states and volume level.
While it is designed to replace a standard volume control, the install manual says, “The WAKE Amp is compatible with deep and backless single-gang plastic back boxes,” and this is really the potentially biggest install hurdle. Not only is the device fairly deep, but the wiring connects at the top-rear-corner making it a bit more difficult to manage. Worst case, you could hacksaw out the old box and retro in a new open-back ring.
Connection-wise, the WAKE has four screw terminals for Left/Right +/- and another +/- pair for incoming power. The manual says it will accommodate 14- to 22-gauge wiring, however I found the 14-gauge wire so thick I feared I might have some stray strands touching and shorting out when pushed back into the box, so I used my Klein strippers to thin the wire down a bit. Also, if you are in a situation where you are replacing a system like A-BUS that only has an incoming Cat-cable, I confirmed you can double up the wire pairs to carry the required voltage.
We’ve gotten so used to the detachable, Phoenix-style connectors on volume controls that are easier and faster to work with, I do wish the Amp used detachable wiring connectors instead of the fixed terminals. David comments, “I worked hard to find a detachable connector, but they added several millimeters to the overall depth and I wanted the WAKE Amp to fit into a single gang box no deeper than a traditional volume control. The size requirements were extremely challenging from an electrical perspective, and, unfortunately, we could not source a detachable connector that was shallow enough. I hope to make this a running change in the future if we can source a smaller connector.”
Once all the connections are made — about a five-minute process — you screw the Amp into the box and then can use the included screwless plate to give it a nice finished look.
Back at the head-end you’ll screw the wire pair being used for power to the included adapter and connect to the 60-watt/4-amp power supply. For now, the power brick is a one-to-one with the Amp, but David says they plan to offer a centralized power supply that will power up to six WAKEs.
At this point, the WAKE is powered on and ready to work, but you should download the WAKE Amp mobile app (iOS and Android) to access its configuration settings. The app is also your portal for checking the current firmware rev installed and for pushing any updates via Bluetooth.
Here you can set the brightness of the five LEDs, set them to timeout (go dark) after 10 seconds, set whether the Up/Down buttons control volume level or track forward/back, set a fixed volume level, give the Amp a unique name, and set a high-pass filter based on size (4-, 6-, or 8-inch) of connected speakers. You also have access to +/- 6 dB of bass and treble adjustment, as well as a loudness dynamic EQ for lower volume listening.
There is also a “Bluetooth Reconnect” feature that David says is specific to Amazon voice assistants. “If an Amazon voice assistant is power-cycled or loses connection, the WAKE Amp will reconnect automatically when that device becomes available.” The manual states if this mode is off, the WAKE Amp will enter Bluetooth Pairing mode after disconnecting from a paired device.
The WAKE Amp uses a commercial-grade “Class 1” Bluetooth chipset, which allows for best-in-class connectivity and reliability, and Snap claims it will operate up to 100 feet away.
To pair a device, you press and hold the bottom Play/Pause button on the Amp for five seconds until the LEDs start cycling, making the Amp discoverable in your device’s Bluetooth pairing list.
If you’re familiar with amplified keypads (á la A-BUS) you might be skeptical about the quality and quantity that a single-gang, in-wall amplifier can produce. Let’s just say that the capabilities and performance of Class-D amplifiers has come a long way. The WAKE is rated to delivering up to 25 watts at 4 ohms (capable of driving up to two pair of speakers) and it produced surprisingly rich, detailed, and punchy audio with plenty of output to fill a room with music.
While I connected it to a variety of speakers for testing — Definitive Technology towers and Monitor Audio and PSB bookshelves — I ultimately did the majority of my listening on a pair of Sonance VP88 in-walls, as they seemed more representative of a typical WAKE install.
Driven by the WAKE, the VP88 speakers delivered the rich, detailed high frequencies I expected from the VP88’s ceramic dome tweeters, letting me hear all the nuanced detail of cymbals and brush strokes, and delivered vocals with solid clarity and nice staging. But, more importantly, the amp had the power to produce real, tactile bass that I could actually feel — certainly enough to deliver the low, jazzy bass notes from a plucked upright bass, and even the majority of the deepest bass notes from The Crystal Method’s “High Roller.”
While the WAKE Amp will work with nearly any Bluetooth transmitting device — I paired it with my iPhone 11 and a Sony H-Series LED TV — it is specifically designed to work with Alexa, making voice-controlled music accessible to everyone, so I used a Dot as my primary source.
With the Dot, it was great to just walk into the room and say “Alexa, play XXX” and have music start playing in far better quality than the little speaker could ever dream of. And with Alexa connected to my Pandora and Tidal accounts, I could ask for specific stations, artists, songs, or even albums, and then easily raise/lower the volume with my voice.
I think one of the WAKE’s real power use cases will be in kids’ or guest rooms, where they either won’t have a device or might not want to bother going through the pairing process. Simply show them how to ask for music — or anything Alexa is capable of doing — and it will start. And I’d bet a house guest would be way more comfortable just asking for music to play than trying to poke around on a fancy touchscreen where they might worry about breaking something. If they prefer to pair their device to the WAKE instead, it’s a quick and simple process.
While the WAKE is a one-to-one connection right now, David tells me the WAKE hardware is capable of multi-room linking, allowing multiple WAKEs to connect to the same transmitter for synched listening in several rooms simultaneously. This feature is currently in development and will be available in a future firmware update. Of course, you can also use Amazon’s built-in whole-home music or speaker grouping to pair multiple Alexa-enabled devices together to play synchronized music in multiple rooms.
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One reviewer at Snap One’s website complained about digital noise playing through the speakers when they are off/paused. While there is a bit of audible crackling, I had to put my ear nearly up against the speaker to hear it; with in-ceiling speakers, I can’t imagine this would ever be apparent, though I guess if you had some in-walls that were lower down near a bed and the room was totally quiet, someone might be able to hear a faint noise, but this sound certainly wasn’t enough to be noticeable — let alone an issue — for me.
The WAKE Amp represents a tremendous upgrade opportunity for installers, letting you deliver a huge technology enhancement that will improve lifestyle and performance with just a few minutes of install time. And by incorporating the WAKE with a voice assistant like Alexa, you’ll eliminate physical interactions with the system, meaning your customers will likely use their systems more, and give them more value in their eyes.
Kudos: Represents a terrific upgrade opportunity; shockingly good sound; incredibly simple install; offers a fantastic guest music option
Concerns: Might be too deep for some existing wallboxes
- In-wall power amplifier with built-in Bluetooth
- Bluetooth Class 1, BLE receiver with up to 30-meter range
- 25-watt stereo amplifier (@ 4 ohm)
- Optimized for use with Amazon Alexa devices
- Compatible with deep and backless single gang back boxes
- WAKE Amp mobile app for configuration (iOS and Android)
John Sciacca is a principal with Custom Theater and Audio, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In his free time, he blogs prolifically about the CE industry and is publisher for cineluxe.com.