How to make a smart plan for technology in your new home.
Table of Contents
You’re finally building your dream home. You’ve hired an architect, and you’re shopping around for the perfect builder. You may not know it yet, but this is the ideal time to involve a home technology integrator.
What exactly is an integrator? An integrator is the designer and installer of your home’s technology backbone. Their primary mission is to create audio and video experiences like music throughout the house, TV installations, and home theater. An integrator brings together all of the separate systems in your home like lighting, HVAC, and security, and makes them more manageable by providing one cohesive control system.
While smaller spaces can be easily managed with off-the-shelf solutions like Apple HomeKit or SmartThings, it’s usually a huge benefit to call in an expert as the home’s size grows.
It’s important to talk through your options early on because, while you can retrofit some things after the house has been completed, it’s dramatically less expensive to pre-wire your home during construction.
IF THERE’S EVEN THE SLIGHTEST CHANCE YOU MIGHT WANT SOMETHING IN THE FUTURE, RUN THE WIRE DURING CONSTRUCTION!
LASTLY, WHILE IT MAY BE TEMPTING, DON’T RELY ENTIRELY ON WIRELESS.
Wi-Fi has come a long way, but if you have the opportunity to pre-wire for any device, like a computer or TV, you should do so. This forward-thinking frees up your wireless network to provide the best service for devices that move around throughout the home (phones, tablets, etc.) and gives you a little bit of a backup plan if you need to add something later on that can’t be hardwired.
One of the biggest trends in building today is the use of a whole-home audio system. If you’ve ever wanted to have music playing throughout your home (without deafening anyone who dares to walk in the living room), then this is the solution for you.
Some of the more popular brands you’ll probably run into are Sonos & BlueSound, but you may occasionally see others. Speakers are installed in ceilings and walls, but soundbars and freestanding speakers can also be integrated. You can stream music from the provider of your choice or even listen to vinyl from your turntable.
Once these speakers are in place, it doesn’t just stop at music. With a bit of further design, you can use these speakers to carry sound from your TV, broadcast the doorbell, or even function as an intercom.
THINK IT THROUGH:
Not every space needs the same quality of sound. Work with your designer and figure out the places where quality counts. Come up with a Good, Better, Best strategy.
This method lets you focus your investment on areas where you’ll be congregating, like a kitchen or living room, but allows you to use more economical options in transient spaces like hallways or bathrooms
TYPES OF SPEAKERS:
Let’s take a moment to make sure you have a clear understanding of the different types of speakers that are available. For purposes of discussing your new home, we can break those down into three main categories.
IN-CEILING & IN-WALL
In-Ceiling or In-Wall speakers are exactly as their names describe, but you’ll sometimes see them called “Architectural Speakers.” They’re speakers that are tucked away into your wall or ceiling and can provide rich sound without eating up floor space or providing an easy target for a Sharpie-wielding toddler or teething chihuahua. When people think of speakers in a smart home today, these are what come to mind.
In-Ceiling is a perfect solution when you’re looking for “heard and not seen.”
One caveat to be aware of: depending on the particular speakers you’ve selected, they can sometimes be lacking in bass response, but the addition of a subwoofer can quickly remedy this.
TIPS & TRICKS:
Specify in-ceiling speakers with a “rough-in” bracket that acts as a template for your drywall crew. This bracket allows you to line up speakers with other elements on the ceiling, like recessed lights or other points of interest. These brackets are cut out as your drywall is installed, leaving a perfect hole and no mess in your home later on.
Are you concerned about sound from speakers in one room bleeding into the room behind it or the floor above? Install a back box. A back box is an enclosure that installs behind your speaker and blocks the sound from traveling into adjacent rooms; it also provides a slight boost in audio quality.
Everyone knows the built-in sound from your TV leaves much to be desired. You can only expect so much from a pair of tiny speakers shooting backward into your wall. That’s where Soundbars come in. They provide a simple upgrade from your TV’s internal speakers without much of the fuss of larger speakers.
Due to their compact size, they can’t match the performance of in-wall or freestanding speakers, but they’re a great starting point and perfect for spaces like bedrooms or an office.
FREE STANDING / FURNITURE PIECES:
While they’re no longer as common as their in-wall brethren, sometimes freestanding speakers are a perfect choice. Since the enclosure the speakers live in can be engineered for performance, freestanding speakers are the pinnacle of audio quality. They don’t have to be ugly either; speakers from brands like Focal or KEF are available in a wide range of finishes and can genuinely give your interior designer something unique to work with.
I like to think of some of these high-design pieces as furniture and not just a source of sound. There’s no better way to say “listening room” than a bold pair of speakers commanding your attention. The downside to freestanding speakers is they do eat up floor space, but sometimes quality is worth the compromise.
SUBWOOFERS: ‘CAUSE YOU’RE ALL ABOUT THAT BASS:
One final speaker serves as a faithful companion to all three types we’ve listed above. Subwoofers reproduce low frequencies and bass in a way that most normal speakers aren’t able to. Subs are the secret sauce that makes you FEEL the music. It takes a substantial speaker to create that energy, so most subwoofers clock in between ten and sixteen inches in diameter.
A subwoofer is an absolute must for a home theater, but you should also consider using them in entertaining spaces or living rooms.
So what exactly is a home theater? A home theater can be any space that offers a few key ingredients. The size and appearance can vary, but they always employ some kind of multi-speaker surround sound system and a high-quality display. The main idea is to bring some of the magic and allure of a commercial movie theater right into the comfort of your own home.
WHAT TYPE OF DISPLAY IS BEST FOR YOU?
There are two primary display technologies available today; Flat-panel TVs (LCD & OLED) and Projection systems.
The first thing to decide is what size screen is appropriate for your space. When a screen is too small, you won’t be drawn into the action or might find yourself squinting. Conversely, if a screen is too large, it will overwhelm the space and cause you to tilt your neck to take in the entire scene.
A RULE OF THUMB:
WE RECOMMEND THE FOLLOWING SCREEN SIZES BASED ON THE ROOM TYPE:
Home Offices, Living Rooms, Great Rooms : 55″-77″
Media Rooms & Custom Theaters: 82″ – INFINITY! (Seriously!)
If you want to make sure you get things right, use a screen-size calculator from THX or SMPTE. Input the distance between your seating position and the screen. The calculator will suggest the perfect screen size for your room.
When you sit straight in front of a screen, this is called on-axis viewing. Most displays perform their best when viewed on-axis, but as you move to the left or right of center (off-axis), some types of TVs are prone to washing out and losing contrast. If a wide viewing angle is required, consider a TV based on OLED technology. It might cost a little bit more, but in the end, you (and all your guests) will be much happier with the experience.
A wide viewing angle can be one of the primary differences between a cheap TV from a big box store and the available higher-end models. Sure, it’s great to save a couple of bucks if you can, but that doesn’t matter if it isn’t usable in your space.
WILL IT PLAY NICE WITH OTHERS?
An essential but often overlooked piece of the puzzle when selecting a display has nothing to do with picture quality, screen size, or aesthetics. To integrate with most home control systems, a TV has to support network control.
If you select any mid-range or higher models from Sony or Samsung, you should be safe, but picking a TCL or Vizio could leave you banging your head against the wall.
FLAT PANEL OR PROJECTOR?
Once you’ve settled on the appropriate screen size, let’s look at which technology might be the best fit. Believe it or not, it’s a pretty easy decision!
If you need a screen larger than 85 inches, you’re going to need a projector. For any application smaller than 85 inches, keep things simple and stick to a flat panel.
PROJECTORS : THE REALLY BIG SCREEN
Projection setups have one huge advantage compared to flat-panel TVs, and that is the ability to accommodate enormous screen sizes. Nothing else can even come close to their ability to put you right in the middle of the action. When you’re looking for the wow factor, a projector delivers!
But, there are a few factors that come with the territory…
The most significant enemy to any projection setup is ambient light. When stray light from the outdoors hits your screen, it causes it to lose contrast and punch but fortunately, there are a few creative solutions that can help mitigate the problem.
The first line of defense is to address the source of the light itself. You can pair a home control system with motorized shades and automated lighting control. With a single press of a button, you can turn on the projector, dim the lights in your room, lower the shades and start your movie.
Companies likeScreen Innovations have worked miracles to solve these kinds of problems with new screen materials like “Slate” or “Black Diamond .” These screens brilliantly display the image coming from your projector while rejecting most of the ambient light in the room.
But wait, that’s not all!
Have you ever wondered where all the bulky speakers are hiding in a movie theater? If you’ve taken in a showing at the IMAX, you’ve probably seen the demo where they illuminate the screen from behind to reveal the colossal stacks of speakers hiding behind the screen.
When you use what’s called an “Acoustically Transparent” or AT screen, you can benefit from the same thing at home. An AT screen has thousands of tiny perforations that allow sound to pass through unencumbered while visually hiding anything concealed behind it.
This is a perfect option for people who want big-league sound without seeing where it is coming from.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO DREAM BIG
Almost anything is possible with projection.
You can hide motorized screens in ceilings or drop one down in front of a smaller TV for casual use!
A CLOSER LOOK: SURROUND SOUND FOR HOME THEATER
If you want to get more information on the basics of Surround Sound check out our blog post “Surround Sound Basics” here!
MOTORIZED SHADES & CURTAINS
If you ever wished that one day you could press a button and completely transform the feeling of a room, the future is here, and such technology is no longer just reserved for the likes of Tony Stark, James Bond, or Richard Branson.
Motorized shades serve multiple purposes like controlling the amount of light inside the room, helping control solar heat gain, and offering privacy on demand.
There are three primary categories of shade materials. “solar screen” fabrics allow a specific amount of light to pass through while offering a screened look. You’ll usually see them written as with a percentage value, representing the amount of light that is allowed to pass through the material.
“Blackout” fabrics, while entirely opaque, offer the most significant amount of privacy and temperature control.
TIPS & TRICKS FOR MOTORIZED SHADES:
When selecting a light filtering fabric, choose darker colors for enhanced viewability and lighter colors to help maximize heat reduction.
AS ALWAYS, IT PAYS TO PREWIRE.
In a remodel situation, installations are usually limited to using lithium batteries that require an annual recharge. When planning for new construction, be sure to specify a prewire to make your shades virtually maintenance-free.
Lighting Control & Automation
Lighting control is also one of those most natural and valuable ways to automate your home. Each bank of lights can be assigned to scenes or schedules., and you can even make walking around the house on the way out the door a thing of the past.
You have three options to consider when it comes to controlling the lighting.
#1 – Smart Dimmers or Switches
The traditional way is to install “smart” dimmers throughout the home. Each light or “Load” is wired directly to a dimmer switch in each room. This can save on wire costs for your electrician, but in larger homes that have multiple switches for each space, it can certainly get ugly. The advantage of this method is cost. Depending on which platform you use, like Lutron RA or Z-Wave, you could only be looking at a premium of $50-$100 per dimmer location.
#2 – Wi-Fi Bulbs
The second option is the use of wi-fi bulbs. With an app on your phone or tablet, the lights can be programmed with different flash patterns and color schemes if you’re feeling adventurous.
There are a few negatives to opting for individual smart bulbs, one being their significant price premium. Also, if you choose bulbs using wi-fi technology, they’re notorious for slowing down wi-fi traffic and crowding your network.
#3 – Panelized Lighting
The last type of lighting control is the most intensive but also has a few very distinct benefits.
Panelized lighting is the gold standard in custom lighting control.
In a typical home, light switches are installed directly in each room, and the individual fixtures or loads connect directly to them. This traditional approach is simple and does offer savings on wiring costs.
When you make use of panelized lighting, all switches and dimmers are located in a central panel (usually in your home’s mechanical room) and then remotely controlled.
This configuration does require a little more wire and planning, but the payoff is enormous. For example, you can have six loads controlled in the space, typically used for only one, or eliminate mechanical switches and centralize control on a touch panel.
We’ve talked about some of the things you can do with technology in your new home, but what’s the best way to bring everything together and make it a functional and useful part of your everyday life? The use of a home control system makes integrating all of the various technology in your house user-friendly and effortless.
You’ve probably heard of some of the DIY brands in the space like SmartThings, or Apple Home Kit. On the professional side, some of the bigger players are Control 4, Savant, Crestron, and Elan. When you’re working with a smaller home or just a few devices, sometimes the big box brands are completely adequate.
If you’re controlling every aspect of your home or just have a lot of technology, you’re much better off with a professionally installed solution.
At Audilux, we’ve standardized all of our installations around Elan. We think it’s the very best option on the market for custom homes and provides a great balance of elegance and value.
One of the biggest differences between a custom system and DIY alternatives is that all of the processing is done right inside your home rather than sent off to the internet. This is called “Local Control” and it offers a huge advantage in both security and performance. Imagine asking a question from across the room rather than being forced to walk ten miles just to get an answer; I think we’d all choose the simpler option.
This also means that in the event your internet connection is down, everything continues to function normally. This is not true of store-bought solutions.
There is a lot more than just good technology going into the images of theaters you see on Pinterest or in Magazines. It takes a lot of work from talented interior designers coordinating with your general contractor and your technology professional to achieve those kinds of results.
If you have something in mind, bring it up early so everyone who needs to be involved can do their part to make your dream come to fruition!
What’s a realistic Budget for technology in my home?
You can use our budget calculator to get a rough idea of how to plan for the cost of technology in your home. Just input you’re home’s square footage and answer a few simple questions.
How do I choose the right Technology company for my new build?
The technology in your home is something you’re going to interact with every day and finding the right team to partner with is a big decision. First, realize that not all companies are created equal, and the service level you can expect can vary greatly. Look for companies that are certified by the Home Technology Association. Less than 10% of integrators make the cut, and you can trust that anyone certified has been through a rigorous vetting process.
If you’re in Nashville or Middle TN, we’d love to partner with you on your project.
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.
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.
If you’ve noticed some changes in the weather in the South recently, you’re not alone. The number of severe storms and tornados striking Nashville and the rest of Middle TN has dramatically increased, resulting in a surge in storm shelter construction. While practically speaking, a storm shelter is a great thing to have; these spaces are often only used for a few hours a year.
The story of this build begins when our client approached us with the desire to reclaim his shelter space as a proper home theater while taking full advantage of the acoustic isolation provided by the 12″ thick poured concrete walls.
Home Theater in a (Concrete) box
With a pre-build width of only 96″, space was at an absolute premium. A design requirement of having at least five fixed seats led us to create staggered wall depths in each section of the theater to help squeeze both the seating and speakers in.
This layout opened the door to employing varying types of acoustic treatments and bass trapping while at the same time creating some visual interest through the use of diffused LED accent lighting.
The crown jewel of the build is a 104″ acoustically transparent projection screen by Screen Innovations. It’s paired with a light blasting HDR projector from LG that makes high-impact viewing possible, even with the lights on.
The room’s soundtrack is voiced by a full accouterment of seven 300 Series in-wall speakers from Focal. All of which are stealthily concealed behind the screen or in the walls around the room.
We wanted to find a way to provide illumination that would be fun but at the same time not distract too much from the theater’s prime directive. Several scenes were created including one inspired by “Stranger Things” (my personal favorite).
Our client chose a fully motorized option for home theater seating by Octane. Trimmed in top-grain leather and equipped with USB power outlets, underlighting, and plenty of storage, these home theater chairs make it easy to settle into a movie or binge your favorite show.
Lights can be controlled by the keypad on the wall or even turned on and off individually with the Elan remote control.
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“.
Tip: If you’re brand new to the subject of lighting control systems, I’d suggest you start with this articleto get a basic idea of what’s available.
This post will discuss why you should consider custom lighting control for your home, how much it costs, and why we think Vantage is the best choice for lighting control.
First, let’s take a look at why you’d want to choose panelized lighting in the first place.
Table of Contents
Eliminating wall clutter
While it might sound a little silly at first, living in a large custom home presents quite a few challenges compared to the average 2400 sq ft American dwelling. We’ve all become accustomed to walking into a room, switching on the lights, and not giving it another thought, but things are considerably more complicated in a substantial estate.
As the design becomes more intricate, that single light switch turns into three or four switches and can quickly balloon into multiple banks of four or five switches each.
Suddenly you’re left trying to figure out what controls what, and your guests don’t have a prayer at operating things on their own.
Functionally, it’s incredibly confusing, and cosmetically you’re just expected to live with the “wall acne” that results.
In most homes, each bank of light fixtures (called a load) is connected to an individual dimmer installed in your wall. For example, you might have a chandelier, two strings of recessed lights, pendants, a ceiling fan, a lamp, etc. Each load is controlled by its own dimmer that’s installed in the wall, and it doesn’t take long to see how the wall clutter starts to build up.
As the room’s size increases, this problem only multiplies.
Panelized lighting offers an elegant and unique solution to this problem…
Rather than placing all the wiring and dimming hardware in the room, each load is pulled back to a centralized location or “panel” and then controlled by a compact keypad installed in each room.
These keypads offer up to 8 buttons to control individual fixtures, or your system can be programmed to control multiple loads with a single button.
Each button is custom laser engraved with text to explain its function. The possibilities are endless, but the result is magical.
True custom design options
When you’re investing in your dream home and undoubtedly obsessing over every detail with your designer. You shouldn’t have to spoil your design or be limited to switches that are only white, almond, or black.
Vantage gives you a vast selection of color and material options and can even custom match trims to any Sherwin Williams paint code.
You can even carry these cosmetic choices across your regular power outlets for a refined and consistent look.
Light switches are something we use over and over every day; why not make them beautiful?
Automation & Integration
Lighting control is one of the key components of what makes up a “smart home”. Fortunately, the Vantage solution integrates perfectly with home control systems like Elan. This allows us to control every light in the Vantage system from within our Elan app or touchpanels right alongside the other features in your home like Video, Audio, thermostats etc.
Scenes like “Party Mode” or “Movie Time” let us bring everything together by setting the mood with the perfect lighting, turning on the music, and even starting up a movie.
Effortless Energy Savings
When something is annoying or hard to use, most people just tend to avoid the activity. In a larger home with 50+ light switches or even multiple wings, this often adds up to lights just being left on rather than spending 15 minutes making the rounds to ensure everything is properly switched off. With lighting control, we’re able to eliminate that task and make things easier in two ways.
The first is we can provide lighting scenes that simplify things dramatically. A button labeled “all off” is installed at your main points of entry. When you press this button just as you’d expect, everything in the house turns off in one motion.
The second way is the use of schedules and motion sensors. We can schedule groups of lights to turn on and off based on the sunrise or sunset. For example, You probably won’t need your landscape lights during the middle of the day or mood lighting flipped on at high noon, but you might want to come home to a safely illuminated driveway after dark. This can both make your home more inviting and create some substantial savings on your power bill.
You can also incorporate tiny motion sensors and door switches. Using these sensors allows you to turn lights on and off just by walking in and out of a room or opening a door.
Do you have questions or want to find out more about lighting control systems? Don’t hesitate to reach out, we’d love to talk to you about your project!
How much can I expect to spend on lighting control?
Panelized lighting certainly carries a premium over traditional switches and dimmers, but it’s not as expensive as you might think. In general, a cost increase of about $4 per square foot is a good rule of thumb, but that number decreases as the size of the system grows.
What type of finish options are available?
White, Bronze, Black, and Titanium finishes are available as standard, but the sky is really the limit. There are additional premium options like Silver, Gold, Oil-Rubbed Bronze, and Chrome, as well as the custom color matching program.
Does this work as part of a home automation system?
Yes! That’s one of our favorite parts of panelized lighting. When paired with a home automation system like Elan, panelized lighting offers all kinds of possibilities.
When you’re shopping for speakers or any other piece of AV gear, the internet is typically a great resource, with tons of review sites offering a vast diversity of opinions. You can aggregate all of that information and decide what you think the best option would be. Easy as pie.
Unfortunately, this is not the case with architectural speakers.
Some of this plight is caused by the fact that most custom install brands aren’t available for sale directly to the public. It’s also understandable that built-in speakers are a much smaller market than soundbars or even traditional Hi-Fi speakers that sit in the room.
There is an unmistakable void for honest opinions and unbiased reviews of architectural speakers. If you’re building a new home or dealing with a custom installer, you’re pretty much flying blind.
Here at Audilux, we’re going to change that going forward. This post is the first of a series of in-wall and in-ceiling speaker reviews. I promise to do my best to avoid the typical audiophile sensory wankerism and offer clear and level-headed insights.
This is important since, in all likelihood, you won’t be able to demo any of these speakers yourself.
We’re going to start our new series near the very top of the food chain of in-wall speakers.
The Kef Ci-3160-RL: THX Ultra Certified
Kef speakers are manufactured in Tovil, England, just as they have been for the last sixty-plus years. While most of the industry’s component production has shifted to Asia, Kef is one of only a handful of companies to maintain control of every aspect of their supply chain by manufacturing custom drivers and electronics in-house.
If you’re not familiar with the rest of Kef’s Architectural offerings, they offer three different series that can be specified depending on the quality level desired; ER (Value), CR (Good), and QR (Best). The Ci-3160’s happily occupy a notch above the rest of the QR series and one rung below the flagship reference series.
Unboxing & First Impressions
The first thing that’s apparent when unboxing each speaker is the staggering build quality and weight. 25 lbs. is formidable by any standard, but even more so for a product that lacks a cabinet. Everything about the package exudes attention to detail and high-quality construction.
On a typical in-wall speaker a “dog” tab provides pressure at regular intervals surrounding the baffle. The tabs are tightened and sandwich the outer frame of the speaker with whatever substrate you are installing into. With the Extreme Series, KEF has opted to use a secondary frame that encompasses the entire perimeter of the unit.
This might seem like a subtle difference, but it’s one of the many details that add up to next-level performance.
Pro Tip: One side effect of this design is that the rear frame has to be slid into one side of the rough opening and then pulled back to the intended center location. This does limit how closely the speaker can be installed to any framing, so I would suggest adding at least two inches of clearance space to either side in order to facilitate a smooth install.
Stunning Good Looks
It’s no coincidence that the Ci-3160RL made the top of our list of speakers your interior designer will love. The faceplates are machined from a solid piece of aluminum that provides an undeniable bit of visual interest to your decor.
If you’re passionate about hi-fi or an unrepentant audiophile, you’re going to love the look.
In their bare form, the Kefs are an elegant conversation starter and a great excuse to put on a record. Kef also includes paint-able magnetic grills in the box if incognito is more your style.
Sonic performance is a very subjective metric, but I would describe the overall tone of the Ci3160-RL as very focused, punchy, and smooth. One of the significant benefits of using 6″ bass drivers is the very fast transient response. Sure, you’re not going to get earth-shaking low frequencies (or frankly, get much action below 60hz), but that would be a silly goal anyway.
When paired with a sub to handle ultra low-end duties, the Kefs offer an accurate representation of the frequency spectrum that’s sure to delight.
As far as the top end is concerned, the equipped Uni-Q tweeter was enjoyable despite my militant preference for smooth or warmer-sounding tweeters. (Read: I Love Ribbon Tweeters) I found it to be very musical and articulate, but it never hinted at taking my head off, even at very high volumes.
It’s very pleasantly detailed but mercifully lacks the skulking razor-sharp armament of a Babadook Klipsch horn threatening pain around every corner.
Home Theater Performance
Using the Kef CI3160’s for movies is a walk in the park. They’re capable of nonchalantly delivering soul-crushing volumes without breaking a sweat and then quietly retreating into dialog before you even know what happened.
My test install was in a room that measured 25′ x 30′ x 15′, which is far beyond the purview of the THX Ultra spec.
They easily filled the space at reference level.
It’s probably time I address the elephant in the room regarding the KEF Extreme THX in-wall speakers. They’re undoubtedly expensive.
At $2000 per speaker, the real question is are they worth it? That requires answering a few more questions.
Are you in an 8+ seat dedicated home theater or a big open-concept living space?
Do you want a speaker that offers audiophile performance but blends into your decor?
Are you someone who lives their life by the mantra “Buy the best, buy it once”?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions, I think not only are the CI-3160’s worth it, but they’re a great deal.
Keep in mind these are the install equivalent of the Kef R7, which will set you back an additional $300 each and a lot of floor space.
The Kef Ci3160-RL is one of the few circumstances where choosing in-wall is no compromise at all.
If you’re interested in purchasing these speakers or have any particular questions about your room, feel free to reach out! We’d be happy to put together a package that’s perfect for your space.