Something Old, Something New: Considerations for Today’s Home Audio Climate
Keeping up with the fast-moving currents of home technology isn’t always easy, and one area where that is most apparent is home audio.
How very different it looks and sounds today compared to what we were dealing with just a handful of years ago. But the best, most dynamic, highest-quality home listening experiences will always begin with an integrator making good choices, even if the considerations may evolve and change with the times. Perhaps now more than ever, selecting the right product and platform for the job is critical. But with numerous home audio options on the market, how do you make this judgment call?
Well, honestly, some of the first factors to consider are not new and are pretty straightforward: which solutions offer an appropriate and enticing feature set, and preferably install with the desired degree of ease. What the system can do for you, and do for your customers, will always matter. Will the installation save you time and stress with simple set up? Is there enough flexibility to meet any of the home or user’s specific needs? Is it profitable for you? (Yes, these are obvious questions, but they are no less important for their obviousness.) Also, does this system provide all of what the homeowner is expecting? And what is it, even, that consumers, right now, are looking for in home audio systems?
In my experience, what they want is for their audio system to be just that: Theirs. The most in-demand features and functions are about connecting the system to the listener in the most fluid way. So to start with, they want control through their personal devices, through apps for the mobile phones or tablets that already take such a central part in how we all work, play, and live. Browsing the catalog, surfing stations, finding that next favorite song, should all be fast and easy, and done from the palm of their hand. But note that not just any app will do. Being able to navigate intuitively, to personalise the listening, and to do it through a sleek and aesthetic interface, is what consumers are really asking for. In today’s climate, consumers expect that controlling their home audio system should be an easy and enjoyable part of the overall experience.
In line with this, the music selections themselves should be as user-centric as possible. For today’s consumers, a home audio solution needs to tap into their content, all of their content, regardless of how or where it is stored. The services they subscribe to, the Internet Radio stations they prefer, and the libraries they’ve built—whether it’s through a CD or iTunes collection—plus the music on a visiting friend’s phone, all is expected to be a finger tap away. Plus, they don’t just want to access to it, they want to play it right, with pristine fidelity in any format. More and more users today may be looking to listen to high-resolution files, and expect their audio system to do those files justice.
But in this day and age of rapidly advancing technology, a rich list of features just isn’t enough. This is where the current climate demands a newer way of thinking. The smartest integrators consider not only systems that deliver quality performance right now, but seek out solutions that were designed with future possibilities in mind. Choosing an audio system that can adapt and move with the technology trends of our industry AND the personal tastes of a homeowner is a great way to secure both future business and lasting customer satisfaction. Knowing which platforms were built with this expectation for expansion and future features can separate good systems from great ones, helping you decide what will really do the most for your customer in the long run.
In this same vein, it also never hurts to really look at the company behind the platform. Quality manufacturer support means you have a true partner in developing and maintaining great relationships with customers. This benefits you not only in its potential for future-add on sales, but also in that it fuels the most powerful marketing tool: word of mouth. The advantages of easily accessible customer service, technical support, training, and other resources, are numerous, and shouldn’t be overlooked when evaluating your system options.
Lastly, I think in today’s climate it is absolutely imperative to see how home audio fits into a house’s larger technology ecosystem. Whether you’ve decided the job calls for a wired or wireless or hybrid solution, there is so much potential for interoperability in the home. Due to that large umbrella that is the “Internet of Things,” there is an ever-expanding universe of devices to play with and accommodate, and it can be intimidating. But remember this is one of the areas where the value of pro-installers really shines through. Your expertise can be used to integrate the audio system with other systems, namely overarching automation solutions, for superior performance and control. This means you offer not only a dynamic home listening experience, but a dynamic home living experience, which is really what we all—manufacturer, integrator, customer—are looking for.
Fritz Werder is VP and General Manager of Nuvo/On-Q.