Industry Opinion: What is the future of multi-room audio?

different icons in green and brown representing multi-room audio

Multi-room audio is ever-increasingly a point of entry into people’s homes. Popular consumer brands like Sonos are driving awareness to the benefits offered by devices, though over-the-counter retail options naturally dominate market share for their simplicity and cost.

With this in mind, HiddenWires explores what leading manufacturers in the marketplace are doing to attract users who may not have otherwise considered a professionally installed system.

Q. What do you believe is most essential to offer to meet current demand for multi-room audio (i.e. a simple interface, hi res audio, voice control) and allow the CI market compete with ‘DIY’ installations?

Mark Fisher, Core Brands headshot

Mark Fisher, director – product management at Core Brands: “As a manufacturer, we strive to save our integrators and end-users frustration by creating products that are not only easy to install and operate, but also compatible with a wide variety of technologies. The market is crowded with confusing platforms and services, but our multi-room audio solutions are built on the ELAN smart home control platform; thus, they are intuitive for end-users and quick to install for CIs.

Installers need to offer personalised education, service, and packages to combat the momentum of DIY installations. The CI channel can better inform customers on the pros and cons of different technologies and solutions based on a customer’s budget or home environment. These solutions can include choosing between wired and wireless or determining which smart home platform offers the best value and experience for their customers. A professional installer can win over their customers by introducing new features or unfamiliar use cases within their unique ecosystem of connected devices. A tight, well-rehearsed product demo can do wonders for your business.

In many projects, entertainment will often be the focal point of the connected home, so this makes distributed video a challenge with many of today’s DIY multi-room audio solutions.  Does your multi-room audio solution address multiple video zones? Does it support uncompressed audio? How about object-based audio such as Dolby ATMOS, DTS:X, or Auro-3D? Does your solution integrate multiple non-streaming legacy audio sources such as turntables, disc players, gaming consoles, and cable/satellite boxes? Do you want to conceal your speakers, electronics, and/or wires? Is your home network unsecured and strained? These are just some of the challenges that can be addressed and resolved within the CI channel.”

Rayner Sheridan, marketing director at Meridian Audio: “We must offer the best possible experience, it’s as straightforward as that. Of course we must offer high resolution audio as the performance level is simply outstanding, but for this to be truly successful, it has to be delivered via solutions that are simple to use, scalable and robust.  There may have been a trade-off in the past between performance and usability, but this is no longer the case.

Over the last year we have introduced our new 200 series, a range of products that are dedicated to multi-room audio systems. This range, and we’re releasing more products within the next few weeks, all provide exceptional audio performance, but are also very easy to set up and operate as well as integrate with existing control systems. Our products are shipped with our own music management system, Sooloos, but we also support other hi-res audio services, such as Roon and TIDAL. They also incorporate upsampling and resolution enhancement technologies that means we can effectively ‘super charge’ the sound quality of a huge variety of sources.”

Desirée Webster, Legrand Marketing North America, headshotDesirée Webster, marketing communications manager at Legrand: “Consumers want convenience, reliability and quality, and installers are always going to be best able to provide these benefits, especially when it comes to incorporating technology into one’s home and lifestyle. None of the initials in DIY stand for “service” or “expertise,” which are the advantages installers always offer over retail solutions. On the product side, audio solutions that make it easier for the custom integrator to provide added value such as system integration with KNX, Control 4 or Crestron and hardware components designed for the professional channel are critical. Knowing the best-integrated solution for a given situation and getting it installed and operating as desired?  That’s where installers win hands down.”

Aaron Chisena, director of international business development – Autonomic, SnapAV: “Discerning consumers choose professionally installed multi-room audio in order to enhance their music listening experience throughout their home. We maintain that a quality listening experience with an intuitive user interface is what customers want from a professionally installed multi-room audio package. We focus on delivering features and performance advantages that matter to consumers, such as high-resolution audio for the most pristine listening experience, access to all of the popular streaming services, our easy-to-use app as well as compatibility with the top smart home platforms. This combination of features, performance and intuitive operability is not available from DIY products.

We enable installers to deliver a superior solution to each client either as a standalone entertainment system or as part of a complete smart home system—and we provide seamless integration with all of the popular control systems, so access to clients’ favourite programming is a button push away. Most importantly, we enable integrators to exactly meet the demands of each individual client, something impossible to achieve with any DIY solution.”

Greg Stidsen, NAD Electronics - Lenbrook Group, headshot
Greg Stidsen, director of technology and product planning at NAD Electronics: "Customers think in terms of needs and desires. They may want invisible speakers in the dining area, high-end hi-fi speakers in the media room, and a wireless all-in-one for the kids’ bedroom. Employing a music ecosystem that can accommodate all these needs is the perfect solution.

We believe the winning proposition of our BluOS ecosystem (with support for high resolution audio and MQA) is that it supports every type of music listening occasion, from critical hi-fi listening, to background music, to dancing in the living room.

BluOS works with many integrated music services (such as Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, and Deezer) and systems from Control4, Crestron, RTI and others – the best way for installers to profit from this challenging market is to ‘own’ the network in your customers home.  Every device will be connected to the network in the future, and while you may not be able to sell all of those devices to your customer, you can be the indispensable expert that makes them all work together.”

Q. What challenges does the modern-day installer face in profiting from multi-room audio and what is your company doing or working on to support them?

Mark Fisher, director – product management at Core Brands: “It’s no secret that most consumers prefer to take on a smart home installation project vs. hiring a professional to do it. So it’s wise for the CI channel to embrace it. A small, simple, and inexpensive installation job done today can yield multiple referrals and larger projects tomorrow.

We are dedicated to saving installers time and money. We are extremely focused on protecting and maximizing profits for our channel partners. We do this by offering industry-leading sales programs and support. We are also dedicated to providing our installers and partners with extensive hands-on training and technical assistance, along with attentive and responsive customer service. Most of our speaker products are backed with a Lifetime Warranty, which can’t be said for most of the DIY audio products currently available today.

While audio is something Core Brands does very well, we also offer the ability to support and complement our various audio product offerings with intuitive control, power management, connectivity, and video distribution solutions. Anchored by the ELAN smart home control platform, our large product portfolio of innovative solutions for home applications sets us apart from your typical “off-the-shelf” multi-room audio offerings, which are strictly audio-centric.”

Rayner Sheridan, Meridian marketing director, headshotRayner Sheridan, marketing director at Meridian Audio: “In complete contrast to ‘retail’ brands, we greatly value the role that the installer plays and the value they add.  In fact, we regard them as partners more than anything else. This is reflected in the margin that we are able to offer on our products, but it’s also reflected in the complimentary services that we are able to offer our installers. These services include training, on-site support, access to highly skilled sales and technical teams, and the use of our Design and Specification Service that can provide detailed plans for every type of multi-room project. By using our Design and Specification Service, the installer saves valuable time and money. If required, these plans can be co-branded and shared with the client for that extra reassurance that working directly with a manufacturer provides. 

All of our products are manufactured in the UK and carry a five-year warranty and at retail price points significantly below £1,000, are priced offering a genuine alternative to the ‘retail’ brands. These products feature our unique technologies, but are simple to install and operate, making for easy, repeatable configuration. With new products scheduled for release this year and early 2018, we are making a significant investment in products that will help installers provide their clients with the best audio solution, but will also provide a very attractive commercial option for our installers.”

Desirée Webster, marketing communications manager at Legrand: “The biggest challenge lies in making sufficient margin on hardware sales and in selling installation of audio systems that may also be available as DIY. The difficulties arise when the custom integrator is working with a customer who “recognises” a DIY brand yet doesn’t place the right value on the professional integration.  We want to support our installers and help them more clearly define their value by selling through professional channels and limiting any online sales through authorized channels only. We promote professional installation as the best solution for whole home audio and actively refer inquiries to local dealers. Also, our unique solutions for multi-room sound, like high-powered multi-zone players for streaming audio and in-wall keypads to work with wireless systems, cater to the needs of professional installers.

Additionally, we focus on how we can help their businesses succeed. We offer comprehensive training for integrators through our online resources and webinars, as well as in-field certification classes and workshops held at trade shows and events throughout the year.”

Aaron Chisena, Autonomic - SnapAV, headshotAaron Chisena, director of international business development – Autonomic, SnapAV: “In order to achieve profitability in the multi-room audio category, integrators must be able to offer a superior solution from a product line engineered specifically for the custom channel—and only available through custom integration professionals. Our products are sold exclusively through qualified integrators, giving them an opportunity to make the margins they need to thrive.

Developing great products oriented toward the needs of the integrator has been Autonomic’s business model for over ten years and greatly contributes to their overall profitability. Our product’s form factor and audio-over-Ethernet technology helps the integrator install the systems efficiently, either within a rack or decentralised in the home as needed. Reliability is also job-one at Autonomic. Integrators save money when the systems work the first time, avoiding unnecessary (and costly) service calls. Lastly, Autonomic offers a ‘DealerZone’ allowing the integrator to access systems remotely, make any changes or update firmware without having to roll a truck.”