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.
In the latest installment of our series of no-nonsense architectural speaker reviews, we turn our attention from the Brits at Kef to the profoundly French Focal 300 IW6 LCR in-wall speaker Oui, Oui!
Table of Contents
About the 300 Series
Starting with nerdy essentials, each Focal 300 IW6 LCR comes loaded with dual 6 1/2″ Woofers, a 4″ Mid-range, and a 1″ aluminum/magnesium tweeter.
The 300 series marks a manufacturing transition point in Focal’s custom install line, assembling all models in the same factory in France that produce their high-end signature products like Kanta, Sopra, etc.
Focal claims these are “coherently aligned” with their Kanta towers utilizing the same woven flax cone material but a different tweeter configuration. This makes them a perfect complement to a two-channel Kanta system when perhaps floor space or budget prevent placing full-size speaker cabinets throughout the room.
In both of our most recent installs, we decided to build MDF back boxes for the speakers since they were installed behind fabric in one case and an acoustically transparent screen in another.
Unfortunately, Focal doesn’t provide any guidance for enclosure volume, but based on our experience with other similar units, we opted for roughly two cu ft and were pleased with the result.
Installation is simple and makes use of Focal’s “Easy Quick Install” system. Rather than relying on traditional speaker dogs and screws, Focal uses eight high-tensioned plastic spring clips to securely hold the speakers in place.
As long as you make use of the included template to cut out your openings, it really does take less than a minute to install each speaker.
A word to the wise, these are a little less forgiving than speaker dogs, so leave at least an inch and a half between the sides of your opening and any framing members.
Full stop; you will not be disappointed. In our test environment, not only did the IW6 LCRs exhibit the signature “Focal” sound, but they also offered low-frequency extension I’ve yet to experience from any other open-back architectural speaker.
Again, I’m not claiming these could go toe to toe with a set of gargantuan hi-fi towers, but they certainly qualify as full-range, which is in and of itself quite a feat for an in-wall speaker. When paired with a capable sub, the end result is fantastic and nearly invisible.
Bass performance is going to vary greatly depending on the volume of your enclosure, but in the average 8ft – 10ft wall should be more than adequate, and it will be even better with a properly sized MDF enclosure.
If you haven’t had a chance to experience the timber of Focals in person, I will describe their midrange to low-frequency crossover as exceptionally smooth and well-engineered.
Their tweeters tend to be a bit more on the sweet or articulate side, but there is a pad for you to EQ to taste if you prefer a more mellow top end. It’s a bit more forward than something like Kef’s UniQ but never sibilant or sizzly.
With a price of $1199 each, are they worth it?
I think these speakers occupy a comfortable spot at the edge of a precipice. The 300 series offer a step into the world of true audiophile sound in a compact in-wall package. Yes, at a higher price point, there is room to improve.
If you have a larger space, budget, or want the very best, there are next-level options out there (The Focal 1000 Series or Kef Reference come to mind), but for most people, the 300 series represent an investment that’s easy to justify by both their pedigree and sound quality.
If you’re starting a new home automation or AV project, here are a few ways to prepare yourselfthe situation at hand.
Communication is critical.
Having clear expectations and 100% transparency regarding time frames for equipment arrivals and project start dates is essential. We try to accomplish this by providing regular updates from vendors and informing our customers of the current environment from day one.
While we all thought many supply constraints were beginning to ease, that hasn’t been the case with some categories. AV receivers, for example, can still have a lead time ranging from several weeks to several months, depending on the model. Also, try your best to be open to product substitutions if time is of the essence.
Prepare to be invoiced upfront
Nobody likes being charged upfront and waiting to receive what they’ve already paid for. We get it. The reality is that some vendors are now billing for back-ordered products upfront and won’t even lock pricing in until the item has shipped.
When you consider some prices have risen by as much as 20%, it’s a necessary compromise to secure your place in line.
Occasionally prices change:
While we typically can absorb small price fluctuations between signing a contract and installing equipment, that isn’t always the case anymore. So be willing to work with your integrator if a supplier makes a radical price change.
Find your zen place.
Above all, embarking on any construction project right now will require some patience. Dragging a project out is not in anyone’s best interest, so try to be understanding and bide your time patiently. Delays make things stressful for everyone so remember we’re all on the same team and have to work together to bring your project to successful completion.
The process of working with a home technology integrator or AV company on your new home can seem daunting. So much so that even many builders avoid getting involved in the process altogether. While they have an entire army of subcontractors for pretty much anything else, when it comes to technology, you’re lucky to get a shortlist of contractor recommendations. Usually, you are sent off on a harrowing pilgrimage of discovery with nothing more than a prayer that you’ll find a trustworthy soul to enlighten you along the way.
Education is an essential part of our job. If you’ve never had the opportunity to build a custom home before, chances are you might not be aware of the technology that exists, and we try to at least inform you of all of the possibilities. While some things may not ultimately be in your budget, the worst thing that could happen is to find ourselves in a situation where we didn’t mention a product or solution, only for you to hear about it later when it’s too late to include it.
As integrators, we wear a lot of hats and can be involved in nearly every facet of the design of your home. If it’s not plumbing or basic electrical, there’s a chance you’ve entered a corner of our Pandora’s box. Whether it’s things that immediately come to mind like AV, home theater, and Wi-Fi, or more leading-edge systems like motorized shades, lighting control, and home automation, the possibilities are dizzyingly endless. Unfortunately, over time, we found there was so much scope to cover that most people didn’t completely understand what they were getting, let alone exactly where anything was going.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
When we first started the process of rethinking the template for our proposals, I was surprised to see there were no off-the-shelf options for making presentations to clients easy and understandable. So, with a background in graphic design, I decided to invest the time (which admittedly was an easier decision to make during the early days of the pandemic) and create an entirely custom set of icons and graphics that more effectively convey the design of our projects.
The main goal of this investment was to make sure people could easily see what was going where. This approach goes a long way towards ensuring clients understand what to expect when their home is complete and hopefully helps avoid some of those “I didn’t realize this is what you were talking about” moments.
While you don’t have to worry about how any of the magic works, I think it’s critical to provide a clear visual picture of where things are placed throughout the home. We got lots of feedback along the way from clients and family and have further streamlined the process as we’ve gone along. For example, each system is color-coded on the pricing proposal, matching our plans’ icon coloring. So if you see a blue security camera listed on the proposal, it makes it easy to look across and locate exactly where that piece is.
A fresh take on TeCHNOLOGY PLANS
At this point, we’ve ended up with an entirely new process for presenting proposals that I feel provides plenty of easy-to-consume information. At the same time, it doesn’t require an electrical engineering degree or honorary Geek Squad nametag. When clients understand what they’re looking at, they can provide meaningful feedback and ask questions that help make us more effective members of your team. It’s been a worthwhile step and helps move us closer to our goal of delivering an experience that’s true “Audio Video Luxury“.