Sure, most wireless whole-house music systems can be set up fairly easily by homeowners. There’s really not much to it, according to Ryan Taylor, product marketing manager at Sonos. “You buy our components off the shelf and press two buttons.” This simplicity of installation is one reason Sonos systems are so popular particularly among DIYers. But dig deeper into the wireless audio systems, and there are many compelling advantages to having a professional set them up for you.
In fact, NuVo Technologies (a division of Legrand Home Systems) strongly recommends it. “Yes, our product is wireless,” says general manager and vice president David Rodarte. “But it’s the ease by which content is managed that ultimately determines a system’s level of simplicity, and this usually can only be accomplished through the skills of a custom electronics integrator.”
A selection of Sonos wireless audio products.
This management of audio content boils down to the user interface, and these days the preferred UI is an iPad. Both Sonos and NuVo offer iPad apps to control their wireless audio systems. As intuitive as these apps are, if a homeowner’s WiFi network is weak, controlling the wireless system is futile. “If you want to be able to walk around your house and operate a wireless audio system, you need a good network,” says Leon Shaw, founder and chairman of Audio Advice, Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C., and a long-time Sonos installer. “The router and switcher most people have in their homes isn’t enough,” adds Charles Hutson, vice president of Audio Video Solutions, Miami, who has installation experience with NuVo’s new wireless system. Most homes will need additional equipment for the control signals to reach the system reliably from anywhere on the property, and this is where a professional may be necessary. “It can be frustrating for a DIYer to figure out what they need and where to put it then cross their fingers and hope it works” says Shaw. “We have figured out how to ensure a strong signal by using a few components as possible.”
Both Shaw and Hutson agree that the special non-Wi-Fi network that the Sonos and NuVo systems employ to deliver music to speakers is rock solid. However, notes Rodarte, “The listening experience hinges largely on the type of speakers employed, how they are positioned and how they are tuned.” For example, you might want to integrate in-wall or in-ceiling speakers into your wireless whole-house audio system or turn your home theater into a room that’s designed for serious music listening. In both cases, a custom electronics professional can ensure that the room environment and the equipment are installed and calibrated correctly.
And let’s say that you have or plan to have other high-tech amenities in your house, like automated lighting, a video distribution system, and smart thermostats. A CE pro has the tools, the skills and knowledge to integrate your wireless whole-house audio system with those other systems so that you can control them all from one device … and include music in scenes where one touch of a button might dim the lights, close the motorized draperies and route a particular song to the speakers in the master bedroom, for example. “One thing we like to do is integrate the doorbell,” says Shaw. When the doorbell is pressed the chime plays through the speakers of the wireless audio system. “It takes some additional magic boxes to make this happen.”
Lastly, there’s the ability to conceal or downplay the appearance of the black boxes that make up a wireless audio system. A CE pro has the wherewithal to install the equipment in a way that’s pleasing to the eye, whether he mounts it neatly in an A/V cabinet, stashes it along with other gear in specialty equipment rack or hides it in an attic.
And don’t think that due to its wireless nature that either the Sonos or the NuVo system is intended only for existing homes. Both Shaw and Hutson often choose them over hardwired systems for installation during the construction of a home. Says Shaw: “It’s [Sonos] is great for new construction because it allows your to get creative with the placement of the components, and you sacrifice nothing in terms of audio performance.”
Read More about Wi-Fi range extenders and related products from Amped, Netgear, and D-Link
Review of the Nuvo Wireless Audio System
Review of the Sonos PLAYBAR
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.