Digital Audio Solutions: Why the Time Is Right for Integrators to Cash In

Audio solutions serve as an extra opportunity for security dealers already working with home networks.

Advanced Storage Versatility Adds Appeal

Coinciding with the growth of mobile devices and digital music stores has been the increasing availability of affordable hard drives that can support large storage quantities. Taking another step along this path for designing a digital audio system is the implementation of NAS products.

James Wu, marketing director of NAS manufacturer QNAP, says advantages of using NAS devices over a standard external drive for digital audio file storage include:

  • Higher storage capacities. QNAP, for example, offers single- to 24-bay products, and drives up to 8TBs.
  • More protection. NAS devices typically support RAID (redundant array of independent disks) configurations. By employing RAID options, Wu says dealers and their customers can benefit from the high levels of data protection and fault tolerance.
  • Greater access. With NAS devices sitting on the network, users can access their music at home or at a remote location.
  • Device versatility. Wu says NAS units are not just storage devices, and dealers can deploy the products in clients’ homes to run as servers via DLNA. Using DLNA and Plex, he mentions, NAS devices can serve products such as Roku boxes, Amazon Fire TVs, Apple TVs, Xboxes, PlayStations, smart TVs and mobile devices.

Wu suggests that if an application calls for a NAS to host video in addition to audio files, dealers should consider products that are Intel based. He says Intel-based NAS products typically offer better performance and many come with capabilities to support on-the-fly transcoding.

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Choosing Digital Audio Components

For the past several years, the market has expanded with digital-to-analog converters (DACs), powered loudspeakers, headphones and software products designed to facilitate and enhance the digital audio experience.

With the myriad options for system design, security integrators looking to enter and simplify the digital audio category may wish to examine one-stop-shop solutions – from companies such as Meridian, NAD, Bryston, Cambridge Audio and more – that can deliver all the pieces. Ken Forsythe, vice president of Meridian America Inc. (MAI), says Meridian and its system approach provides integrators with predictable and repeatable solutions that address reliability and performance.

“This focus has led us to design system solutions rather than individual components. This enables us to offer products that are very easy to install, and in some cases as simple as ‘plug-and-play,'” he says. “With this approach, our music servers can be installed into existing networks with basic networking expertise.”

Instead of disc players, tubes and interconnects, today’s audio systems may rely on infrastructure consisting of network attached storage (NAS) drives, easy-to-use interface applications and enterprise-grade wireless networking components. Pictured a
re offerings from QNAP and Meridian.

Forsythe points out that dealers can utilize one of the company’s Meridian Sooloos products, along with a NAS device and a choice of interface solutions, including touch PCs and Apple iOS or Android apps.

“This means the only purchase needed to complete a Meridian Sooloos server system is one of our end points [a MS200, MS600 or Reference 818 source],” he explains. “In many cases the client already owns these components, which significantly reduces price of entry without compromising audio performance. We can add quality and value to a dealer’s proposition, and the assurance that our infrastructure will support upwards of 40 zones. Additional rooms lead to additional sales.”

Meridian offers dealer training, technical support and its new Design and Specification Service, but Forsythe also recommends that dealers looking to strengthen their networking skills participate in courses offered through CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association), which many security integrators are well familiar with. For more complex networking needs he also recommends the use of third-party companies such as Access Networks.

Comparing such solutions to traditional analog and disc player systems, Forsythe says a networked audio solution offers several advantages including greater content and control choices.

“In addition to ripping CDs, high-resolution albums and files can be downloaded directly into a Meridian Sooloos system. This music can be complemented by streaming music from Rhapsody and Tidal. Content from both of these services can be merged into the CD/high-resolution ‘local’ collection so they appear as one curated collection,” he says.

Factoring multizone installations into the networked audio equation could complicate the distribution of content, but companies such as Autonomic Controls are aiding residential A/V and security dealers in this regard while, like Meridian, considering the appeal of an integrated music library for the user. Autonomic, for example, streamlines music distribution with a cloud-based, whole-house platform that offers streaming and networked-stored audio via its Mirage media server.

The Bottom Line

Underscoring what is not only the most important component of any digital audio system, but any state-of-the-art home system today, Crabb reiterates performance starts with the network.

“The network is the foundation on which modern entertainment, control and automation systems are built,” Crabb says. “To create a great experience for customers, installers should use high-quality switches, routers and wireless access points designed specifically for high-performance residential applications like streaming and HD over IP. NAS and streaming media servers should be connected to gigabit switches, and wireless networks should offer excellent coverage and roaming capabilities. Also, since every homeowner loves a great-looking equipment rack, they can show off to their friends.”

Options abound for putting together a robust, high-performance digital audio system. Integrators need to look at all the various puzzle pieces and figure out the best fit for their customers. Today’s most important piece might just be the network.


Bio: Robert Archer is Senior Editor of SSI sister publication CE Pro.

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