Cheap Echo Dot Meets Premium Multiroom Audio: The Genius of Origin Acoustics’ Valet Amp

Debuting at CEDIA 2017, Valet Amp from Origin Acoustics delivers premium whole-house audio, Alexa voice control, and a host of Amazon services with about $200 worth of Echo Dots.

 •

Origin Acoustics’ new Valet audio amplifier, debuting at CEDIA 2017, is all kinds of WOW. It takes a bunch of cheap Amazon Echo Dots and turns them into elegant sources for a premium whole-house music experience. The solution is unique. There’s nothing like it … today.

If you think about melding a $50 Dot with a high-performance sound system, it seems a little absurd; however, Origin founder and CEO Jeremy Burkhardt says the Dot’s role in the whole set-up is pretty simple: “We’re using it as a mic and an Internet device.”

And when he says “we,” he means long-time integrator Joe Whitaker, who co-developed the system with Burkhardt and team.

Makes sense since Whitaker’s Dallas and St. Louis-based company The Thoughtful Home does higher-end projects but “always incorporates technologies that clients already love,” he says. “First it was iPods in the early days, and now Sonos and Echo today.”

Meanwhile, Origin Acoustics makes great loudspeakers and audio amplifiers for professional home-technology installers. Typically, the installer connects these products to specialty music streamers, and maybe adds voice control as an afterthought.

It’s not always an elegant integration, but that’s beside the point. The point is that no one’s heard of Origin or the premium streamers that smart-home pros typically specify. Oh, and the customer has to be trained on them because they're stuck in their old ways, just asking Alexa for whatever the need. So they get frustrated and tell the installer to “just give me something that works like Alexa.”

Why not meld the familiarity and remarkable power of the $50 Dot with the luxurious audio experience provided by not-$50 components?

Enter the new Origin Acoustics Valet Amp, which does all of that and more.

Origin Acoustics Valet Amp: The Product

There’s an interesting business story behind this innovative system, but first … the product.

Like other amps, Valet takes in audio sources, and distributes the sound to regular loudspeakers via regular speaker wire.

The key difference is that the audio sources in this case are Echo Dots. And the Dots are mounted in the ceiling (optionally). And they only need one Cat 5 cable running to the amp.

In one direction, the cable feeds power to the Dot. In the other direction, the Dot delivers audio to the amp. At the Dot location, the Cat 5 plugs into a proprietary balun that breaks out into a USB connector for power in, and a headphone jack for audio out.

Origin Acoustics Valet Amp system architecture: One Cat 5 cable connects the Amazone Echo Dot with the Valet. The amp feeds power to the Dot; the Dot feeds audio through the amp to the speakers.

That’s not necessarily the magic of it, although the whole architecture is very clever from a business standpoint (below). Instead, two of Origin’s patent-pending technologies relate to the mechanics of the ceiling mount, while a third relates to a clever and very valuable muting feature. We’ll get to that.

On the mechanical side, one invention is a “toolless” mounting system developed for Origin speaker brackets – the so-called ziptie method.

The other is a harness (or “ring”) that sits on the bracket to hold a device in place – in this case a Dot – so it hovers flush with the wall. Top it off with a grille that snaps into place with magnets, and the Dot disappears into the wall like a little speaker.

This particular ring is built specifically for the Dot, but Whitaker says it’s cheap to swap it out for the next big thing in voice control … or anything that might take refuge in a ceiling, say, a wireless access point.

Whole-House Audio with Alexa

At this point, you have a four-source, four-zone audio system. You’ll hear both the music and Alexa’s silky voice through the connected speakers. Until yesterday, though, Valet would just be a point-to-point solution: One Dot associated with one set of speakers.

“We came to the conclusion that custom is more viable than ever, but the business models have to change.”

— Jeremy Burkhardt 
Origin Acoustics

At about $1,500 retail, Valet is just an amplifier. It is not a matrix switch, where software would enable the system to distribute any source to any zone.

“It would have cost twice as much for that,” Whitaker says.

Origin was banking on the very thing Amazon announced yesterday: multiroom synchronization. Now users can send music anywhere, to and from any Alexa device. From the kitchen, you could ask Alexa to play NPR in the den. Devices (zones) can be grouped as well, so you could ask Alexa to blare the William Tell Overture in the “kids’ rooms.”

Clearly this Alexa feature was going to happen at some point. It’s just that Origin was the first to “make a big bet on it,” Burkhardt says.

Now for just $200 more (four Dots), you can add voice control, streaming music services and whole-house audio to a high-quality amp. No need for a separate multiroom audio system, home-control system or media player. And of course, that $200 also gives you home automation and a host of other Alexa services.

Auto Mute!

So far, Valet could be fairly easy to replicate. But Origin has some really special sauce: a patent-pending muting system that automatically kills audio in a zone the second you say, “Alexa.”

But of course! Valet is powering the Echos, and each Echo is associated with a single zone, so just shunt the zone when it hears “Alexa.”

“Because we manage the power,” Burkhardt says, “we can reset each Dot individually.”

The Dot Business

Conceived by Whitaker and Burkhardt on a mountaintop after hours of philosophizing, Valet was never meant to be a “technology” play. It was a business venture – business for Origin dealers, that is.

Amazon has sold some 35 million Echo devices, including dozens to Whitaker himself, who uses them to entice new customers. How do home-technology professionals get in on that action?

In this business, integrators fret about inexpensive mass-market solutions that always promise to upend the custom-installing industry.


More on Joe Whitaker: Dealer Drops Amazon Echo on Doorsteps, Reaps Control4 Business


Today, the pundits (and many integrators themselves) predict doom for the industry. They predicted the same thing last year, and the year before and 20 years before that. And yet, we’re still here.

That day on the mountaintop, the two inventors “came to the conclusion that custom is more viable than ever,” Burkhardt says, “but the business models have to change.”

If the world wants Alexa, give ‘em Alexa. And then attach a few thousand dollars’ worth of fine products and labor on top of it.

In fact, that same thought occurred to Burkhardt about a dozen years ago when the SpeakerCraft CEO thought it would be a super-great idea to incorporate this new iPod thing into a good whole-house music system. The mere thought was an affront to the custom community which would never stoop that low. Well, the SpeakerCraft MODE did just fine, dealers made a whole lot of money around this inferior, no-margin device, and soon everyone was doing it.

Whitaker is downright giddy: “I’m going to sell a ton of these things.”

More Details: Valet Press Release, next page

Mountaintop inventors: Jeremy Burkhardt of Origin Acoustics and Joe Whitaker of The Thoughtful Home

{pagebreak}PRESS RELEASE

 New Valet Amplifier by Origin Acoustics Links to Popular Music Sources through Alexa voice control

Connects to Amazon Echo Dot to create a simple, interactive four-zone system

More at http://www.valetamplifiers.com/

CEDIA 2017, San Diego, CA – Origin Acoustics, a world leader in architectural audio products is proud to announce its foray into the world of voice controlled audio systems. The Valet amplifier integrates seamlessly with the Amazon Echo Dot to create a simple, interactive four-zone system. Featuring eight, 75w channels, the Valet amp can be connected to a broad range of speakers and provide the power necessary to drive them to substantial volume levels.

Each of the four stereo zones sports an RJ45 connection that sends power to the Dot over a standard CAT5 cable and also returns the audio signal to the amplifier via a proprietary balun. Taking advantage of the Dot’s audio output allows both music and Alexa’s voice to play through the room’s loudspeakers. This is a huge upgrade in audio quality from the Dot’s internal speaker or even the original Echo’s larger transducer.

READ THE COMPLETE STORY: Cheap Echo Dots Meet Premium Multiroom Audio: The Genius of Origin Acoustics’ Valet Amp

Amazon Music, Spotify®, Pandora®, iHeartRadio and TuneIn libraries can all be accessed and played through the system directly from the Dot. External sources can also be played through the system and the Valet’s Patent Pending muting circuit will mute the source when Alexa is addressed and unmute when the appropriate action is completed. There is also a twelve-volt trigger for each zone that will allow for additional activation of third party devices upon Alexa being addressed.

Origin Acoustics, Valet Amp

Aesthetically blending the Dot into the room is made easy utilizing Origin’s patented Tool-less mounting system. The Dot can be ceiling mounted behind a perforated 3-inch speaker grille making it virtually invisible in the room but easily voice activated. Up to four Dot’s can be incorporated and since the Dots communicate with each other the entire home becomes an interactive playground.

The new Valet Amplifier is the joint Brainchild of Origin Acoustics Founder Jeremy Burkhardt and Joe Whitaker of The Thoughtful Home and CEDIA Board Member. 

“We have seen voice activation take center stage as the technology has rapidly improved in recent years”, remarked Jeremy Burkhardt, Origins founder and CEO. “The Valet amplifier will make integrating this technology into even modest homes a reality for millions of homeowners across the nation.” “One of the most requested devices in our market today is the Echo Dot. While it sits inside the consumer market segment there will finally be a product that allows The Echo and other devices to be treated “custom” and create profit potential to the industry”, says Joe Whitaker. “Finally a product has been made that can make these devices a part of the custom home, but also be a boon to the builder market with a cost effective multiroom audio solution”.

The Valet amplifier will retail for $1,500 and will include the baluns necessary to integrate with the Echo Dot. The new amplifier will be on display at CEDIA 2017, September 7-9, 2017 in San Diego, CA at the Origin Acoustics exhibit booth #5513.

More at http://www.valetamplifiers.com/

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
Follow
Julie Jacobson:

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson

ARTICLE TAGS:

AmazonEchoIoT