Whole-house music system used to be so simple: They distributed a single source, like a CD player, to multiple sets of speakers. The only control you really needed was a wall-mounted knob in each room to adjust the volume. That was how it was in the early 2000s, says Rick Kukulies, vice president and CTO of NuVo Technologies. “Any time you wanted to switch to a new piece of music, you walked back to the CD player or the radio tuner,” he says.
Over the years, as new modes of music were introduced—like mega CD changers, satellite radio and media servers—the ability to select a source from a keypad was high on consumer’s wish list, and manufacturers delivered by developing keypads that allowed users to scroll through a list of available sources.
Today, with the proliferation of streaming content, consumers are more interested in accessing songs rather than sources. NuVo, along with others, has adapted to the change by designing controllers that facilitate easy browsing of song titles and the ability to build playlists—much like the procedures consumers go through to find and play songs on their iDevices.
The components that enable audio distribution systems to receive signals from control devices, interpret the information and transmit audio to speakers have changed, too. Like all consumer electronic devices, the components have become smaller and lighter, without any sacrificed in power or functionality. Kukulies points to NuVo’s Essentia product line. The earliest Essentia product, he says, took up two spaces in an equipment rack and weighed 21 pounds. Today the Essentia requires just one shelf in a rack and weighs 7 pounds. And, it does more, says Kukulies. “It supports a full display of metadata (information about songs like artist, genre and cover date), and requires less power to operate—1 watt of electricity in standby mode compared to 20-30 watts.
“The funny thing is, though,” Kukulies continues, is that even though the components are smaller, racks haven’t changed in how they’re configured. “We still have to make our boxes 19 inches wide in order to fit into a standard equipment rack,” even though they could fit into a much smaller chassis.
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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.