As you can probably guess, you never know where you will be asked to build a home theater. Having a completely blank slate is almost unheard of, and this project began its life as a bonus room over a new home’s garage space.
Like most structures not built from the ground up as dedicated screening rooms, this build had its fair share of design challenges. Chief among them was the litany of angled walls, the vaulted ceiling, and the need for a doorway to access an attic library space in the middle of the room.
We decided to break up the long walls in the room with columns to serve the dual function of providing visual interest and concealing the extra depth needed for bass trapping to tighten up the acoustics.
The real elephant in the room was the puzzle of maintaining access to the adjacent attic library space without compromising the theater’s overall design or acoustics.
We ultimately settled on concealing a door inside one of the room’s decorative columns.
This was accomplished using a custom door, with acoustic treatments applied directly to its face.
Space was also at a premium, so we also needed to find a way to minimize gear deployment inside the room.
We were able to commandeer some unclaimed attic space and installed a recessed rack to house all the equipment. This kept things accessible while also not encroaching on the livable space in the room.
The client opted for identical in-wall Focal 300 series speakers in all seven primary positions and a timber-matched set of 8″ In-Ceiling speakers for Atmos.
A duo of Focal subwoofers rounded out the low end.
A Nice Remote
This also marked our first deployment of the new Nice HR40 remote control. It offers seamless control of all of the sources in the system and even shows cover art from the Kaleidescape during playback.
The finest source: Kaleidescape
It’s been a long-standing secret that if you want the best picture quality, there’s only one place to get your movies.
Long hailed by Hollywood moguls and used in their own personal theaters, the Kaleidescape Strato player serves up movies at a higher quality than HD Blu-Ray with unadulterated audio to match.
Full Equipment List:
System Configuration: 7.4.2
Projector: JVC NZ-7 8K Projector
Screen: 150″ Screen Innovations Zero Edge Pro, Acoustically Transparent
Video Processing: Mad VR Envy MKII Extreme
Audio Processor: AudioControl Maestro X7s
Amplification : AudioControl Savoy G4 , Audio Control Pantages G4
Suppose you’re like many Americans who haven’t spent significant time in a small town or even a remote enclave of a developed area. In that case, the struggle to obtain reliable internet access may have never crossed your mind.
The “Better-Than-Nothing” Beta
We joined the waiting list for Starlink back in 2020, knowing the service wouldn’t be ready for prime time. But, compared to the ongoing struggles with cellular options and the associated never-ending maintenance to keep things running, I was happy to plunk down $500 and get in line. About four months later, a slot opened up in our cell, and like magic, a giant black box showed up on our doorstep, seemingly with love from Elon.
Since our home is very architecturally modern and features a flat roof, I had the service up and running in minutes. Of course, during that time, the connection would be intermittent a few minutes out of every hour, but it was rock solid the rest of the time. Speeds were clocking in well over 250mbps, and on a day when the powers at Starlink deemed our household blessed, I even recorded a speed test at over 600mbps.
The War on Speed
All of that changed around the time Space X deployed massive bandwidth to aid the people of Ukraine. While this is admittedly a first-world problem, it was shocking to suddenly have to pay attention to our connection again after being lulled into a sense of relative complacency after a year of entirely consistent service.
As we ring in the New Year of 2023, we’ve gotten used to the new normal of Starlink. It still has so much potential, and we’re cautiously optimistic that the continued expansion of the Starlink satellite constellation will offer even faster speeds and more reliability. In the meantime, I can’t help but feel the compulsion to run another speed test 😉
Is Starlink right for you?
While satellites, Elon Musk, and laser links may sound exciting and fun, Starlink is not for everyone.
I would refer to it as the “Internet of Last Resort .” Frankly, if you have wired options available at your location, in 99% of cases, they’re a much better value than internet via space.
For starters, Starlink is expensive. $110 a month for 1 TB per month of bandwidth and a $549 fee for equipment which amounts to double or even triple the charge compared to most cable or fiber connections.
There are no speed guarantees, and you kind of “get what you get.”
If you cannot procure a wired connection, I would start your search for a provider a little closer to earth. Thanks to the emergence and rapid deployment of 5G technology, T-Mobile has raced to market with an unlimited-use home internet product that is much more affordable and, in many cases, faster.
At my location outside of Nashville, TN, I’m seeing transfer speeds over 400mbps, all for the low price of $30 per month.
While I’m still doing a long-term test before recommending this as connectivity for any of our customers, it’s certainly off to a promising start. So, with no setup fees or hardware costs, what do you have to lose?
In the meantime, I think it’s time for another speed test. 🙂
I recently had a good friend and client reach out to me about designing an automation and security system for his new property in Mt. Juliet, TN. While he wasn’t looking for a traditional monitored system, having good quality surveillance and access control for his gate was a very high priority, mainly since he’s often out of town for work.
Since the site was on a little over 5 acres and comprised of a network of pastures, barns, and a residence, I spent the better part of a day designing a system for him that I knew would be reliable and meet his needs, running coverage calculations, solving distance limitations, and value engineering where possible.
Unfortunately, what happened next was the moment an integrator fears the most. I sent over our proposal, and I’m confident the price tag induced a seizure on the other end. (Fortunately, my friend made a full recovery!), but the next day, he called back to ask what on earth could be so different about this system than DIY products like Ring or the dreaded Lorex.
Honestly, It’s a fair question, and while ultimately, he didn’t decide to move forward with what I designed due to budgetary constraints, it left me thinking of the best way to explain the value of a well-designed system as a whole vs. a pile of well-marketed but hugely inferior parts.
I’ll be the first to admit that these consumer-grade systems have a place, and for your average 3000 sq ft track home nestled away in suburbia, you certainly can’t beat the value. I often suggest this arrangement when even our entry-level products are overkill. However, as the size of the home grows or other elements like distance become a factor, these off-the-shelf solutions can quickly become massive sources of frustration.
At the end of the day, though, a custom system brings two words to the table that we know are more important than our clients initially realize; reliability and support.
So while I won’t bore you with all the nerdy details, let’s talk about one of the most common DIY products we tend to have issues with and explain what a difference professional-grade equipment can make.
Cameras & Video Doorbells:
There are two main types of camera and doorbell systems. The first is what we call a cloud-based system.
1- DIY Cloud-Based Cameras
These cameras rely on an internet connection to stream video from their installed location, through your home’s network, and out to a server in the cloud to be recorded. You can then access these recordings, or live video feeds on the go by using your cell phone, tablet or computer. Some major players in the space include Ring, Arlo, Blink, etc.
There are, unfortunately, some downsides to this type of equipment. The first and most obvious is that your property is suddenly unprotected if your internet connection is lost or intentionally interrupted. In most cases, no recording is even taking place. Second, since most of these cameras use a wi-fi connection, any level of instability or interference can once again take your cameras offline.
Lastly, unless you pay a pretty hefty fee, these cameras typically only record when a certain level of motion is detected rather than recording continuously. While it might not seem like a big deal at face value, imagine trying to figure out the path an intruder took to access your property, it can be nearly impossible to do if enough motion was only detected right as they came to your door.
2- Local NVR
The second type of system utilizes a Network Video Recorder or NVR. In an NVR System, footage from each camera continuously records across the local network without ever leaving the premises. Although cameras are usually wired to avoid dealing with batteries, wired connectivity also offers much greater picture quality and reliability than wireless.
Thanks to the NVR’s internet connection, NVR systems still offer excellent remote access. In fact, you probably wouldn’t know, based on your phone’s app, that you’re using an NVR rather than a cloud-based technology.
A local NVR-based camera system can offer several benefits:
Reliability: Since the footage is recorded locally on the NVR, there is no dependence on an internet connection for the system to work. This means that the system will continue to function and record footage even if the internet goes down.
Privacy: A local NVR system stores the footage on the NVR itself rather than sending it to a cloud server. This can be beneficial for those who are concerned about the privacy of their video footage.
Control: With a local NVR system, you have complete control over the footage and can access it directly from the NVR. You don’t have to worry about logging into an online account or dealing with potential delays in accessing the footage.
Cost: A local NVR system may be more cost-effective in the long run, as there are no ongoing cloud storage fees to pay.
Speed: Since the footage is stored locally, it can be accessed and reviewed more quickly than if it were stored in the cloud.
Now that we’ve all recovered from the closest thing to a normal New Years’ day since 2019, here are a few home technology trends we’re excited about this year at Audilux:
#1 – Broadband INTERNET for Everyone:
As our Nashville real estate market grows and matures, most of the low-effort build sites for custom homes have been snatched up and previously developed over the years. This reality is pushing people to get creative and often look to hilltops and further off the beaten path to build their forever homes.
In the past, getting internet services to these more remote locations would have been nearly impossible or, at the very least, financially unfeasible, but the advent of 5G wireless and fast satellite internet like Starlink means you can stay connected on almost any build site, no matter how extreme.
We’re looking forward to seeing the new kinds of build sites this newfound freedom opens up for architects and clients alike!
Fun Fact: I’m currently uploading this article using Starlink myself!
#2 – Lighting Control Comes of Age:
While custom lighting control systems like Lutron & Vantage have been around for decades, your options and design choices have grown by leaps and bounds.
A panelized lighting system already worked wonders for eliminating wall clutter, but the new faceplate and button options available today are top-notch.
Let me start this article by saying that Sonos is good. Sonos is REALLY good. There’s a reason why their name has become synonymous with multi-room audio, even reaching the level of ubiquity enjoyed by brands like Kleenex and Coke.
When people think of a whole home audio system, they call it a “Sonos System,” regardless of the manufacturer, and there’s a good reason for this. Not only was Sonos the first company to get multi-room right by simplifying all the intricacies of latency and delay, they single-handedly brought that Apple “Automagic” element into the space.
At Audilux, probably 90% of our multi-room installs incorporate Sonos in one way or another. It just works, but the recent supply chain issues and very tight constraints on Sonos’ most popular product for installation (the Amp) left me wondering if anyone else could deliver a similar experience.
A cottage industry of competition has sprung up since Sonos began its undisputed reign, each with varying levels of success. We’ve tested everything from Denon/Marantz’s Heos System, Yamaha Musicast, and even some DIY options. While many are functional, no one has been able to effectively replicate Sonos’s ecosystem until now.
Enter BlueSound, a new to us outfit that’s part of Canadian audio conglomerate Lenbrooke. Thanks to a collaborative relationship between sister brands BlueSound products share amplification technology from audiophile legends NAD.
Bluesound has squarely targeted customers who care about audio quality. They’re not trying to be a “Great Value” Sonos knockoff but rather a slightly more upscale alternative for people who value performance above all. But, of course, in our current environment, they’re also an excellent option for someone who wants a system now rather than waiting months on inventory fulfillment.
Let’s take a quick look at their various offerings, see where BlueSound bests the reigning champion, and where Sonos is still in a league of their own.
The Node is is a streamer that competes directly with the Sonos Port as a way to get streaming audio into your home audio system. $599
The hub isn’t really a streamer but is kind of a unique offering that allows you to bring an audio source into your Blue Sound network. You can install this behind a TV or pair it with a turn table. $319
Streamers with built-in amps:
The Power Node is the BlueSound alternative to the Sonos Amp. It’s functionally very similar, but offers an upgraded signal path, hi-resolution audio, and plenty of power. $949
Power Node Edge:
If you have a room that you’d like to incorporate into your system but don’t need quite as much power, the Power Node Edge is a great way to add a room without breaking the bank. Just announced in September of 2022, the Power Node Edge is only $650.
BlueSound has one sound bar option, the Soundbar+. This is, simply put, the best-sounding Soundbar I’ve ever heard. While soundbars are always an upgrade over pint-sized built-in TV speakers, the Soundbar+ is actually capable of enjoyable music playback and has a reasonable amount of bass.
It’s physically taller than most at 5.5″ tall but also considerably more shallow. A wall mount is included in the box at no extra cost, and just like the Sonos Arc, the Soundbar+ offers a way to pipe your TV’s audio into the rest of your home.
At $899, it’s a great alternative to the Arc.
What you get with both BlueSound & Sonos:
Reliable low-latency audio across your entire home
Wireless and wired connectivity
Sexy, well-designed applications for your phone
Voice assistant control from Alexa, etc.
If any of the following are you, you should stick to Sonos:
You’re an Apple Music user. Sonos has the monopoly on interfacing with Apple Music, and being forced into using Airplay is no fun.
You aren’t subscribed to premium streaming sources and want to access Sonos’s vast library of radio stations. They’re very high-quality curated programming and don’t cost anything.
You want the most extensive array of device options. Sonos has more models available to custom-tailor a system for your home.
Cost is the deciding factor. While the two ecosystems’ pricing is close, Sonos is around 10-20% cheaper overall.
Final Thoughts and Conclusion
At the end of the day, if someone asks for Sonos, that is definitely plan A. They’re still the de facto standard for a good reason, and we know we’re installing a tried and true product that won’t lead to callbacks.
But, if they ask for “Sonos”and need it right now, or they’re looking for the next level in audio quality, we’re happy to have another solid option. Perhaps we could introduce you to our new friend from Canada, BlueSound.
If you have any questions about BlueSound products or need help designing a system for your home, please feel free to reach out! We’d love to put together a custom solution for you.