THE TUG OF WAR between design and performance is no more pronounced than in the world of high-performance audio. However, the stereotype of the stereo—a set of oversized black boxes and a nest of boa constrictor cables, is only a stereotype, at least when implemented by a design-minded home systems integrator.
Dave Lalin, owner of the high-end electronics store Audio Doctor, Jersey City, N.J., met this tug of war head on in one of his most challenging projects: The Waterfall Mansion in New York City.
The Waterfall Mansion is an iconic, five-story, 11,000-square-foot luxury property that was a carriage house 120 years ago. Now it’s a showpiece for fine art and finely integrated electronics. A complete remodel of the house was done by owner/developer Kate Shin and architect Toshiko Mori. One of the most dramatic changes to the home was the addition of a 22-foot indoor waterfall and reflecting pool, which gave the home its name.
An elegant home like this needed music, so Audio Doctor was called in to give it the full electronics treatment. For this job there were two goals: create state-of-the-art entertainment spaces and make the technology blend into the decor.
For some people, blend means hide. Not to this homeowner.
The first task was to install a whole-house music system. Because the home’s remodel was already complete, and Lalin couldn’t install the type of music distribution system that requires extensive re-wiring without the process being intrusive to the building. He also didn’t want to go wireless because he was concerned about reliability. Instead he installed a wired IP system based on Netstreams. With Netstreams, all the audio (up to 24/196 high-resolution quality) is carried from an Ethernet hub over network cable to local amplifiers installed in the various rooms. This made installation fairly easy and insured music quality without having to add new wire. (Ethernet cabling was already in place when Audio Doctor was hired.)
Except for some Episode in-wall speakers in the kitchen and dining rooms, most of the home’s loudspeakers, and some of the audio components, are fully exposed and intended to function as design elements.
The home’s namesake room, the Waterfall Room, also functions as an art gallery and a place where guests are entertained, so Lalin had to ensure that the components looked like they belonged there. The waterfall is postioned behind a glass wall, so Lalin used glass speakers, coincidentally called Waterfall Niagara, to complement the real waterfall and glass wall. In the Niagara speakers, the drivers are enclosed in 15mm glass, so the entire structure is transparent, allowing the real waterfall to show right through. Between the two speakers is a Devialet 200 amplifier, which is handsomely displayed on a stand designed purposely for it. More glass Waterfall speakers are found in the library. In this room the smaller Elora models are displayed on table shelves. Waterfall Victoria tower speakers also adorn the master bedroom.
In the main living room of the home, Lalin designed a surround-sound system made up of Cabasse Artis Baltic speakers, which look like modern art sculptures placed around the room. Also making an artistic impression are the Artcoustic speakers in the lounge. Covered with printed fabric, they look more like pieces of artwork than technology.
In addition to the combination of stealth and stand-out audio, Lalin installed video and home automation products. The most attention-getting is a 7-foot custom mirror TV. This is no pre-configured mirror TV, but one Lalin designed specifically for the house. “We work with a company that custom cuts high performance 2-way mirror glass,” says Lalin. He then designed a mounting structure in the wall to house a 70-inch Sharp TV and fixed the mirror and TV together. “It looks like it’s part of the house,” he says.
The client loved the results, and enjoys showing it off. Lalin is proud of the work because it’s proof that a high-end audio experience can not only blend into a home’s design, but can also complement it. “We select products that are visually stunning,” Lalin explains. “A lot of high-end audio and electronics products are elegant-looking, but you have to find an installer who can blend these two worlds together.” —Grant Clauser