Integrator Pumps Up 14-Zone Sonos with Custom Amps, Network, Power, Control, Faceplates

On this messy takeover job, Harry Blanchard of Creative Systems in Collegeville, Pa., boosted Sonos sound with high-performance gear from AudioControl, Ruckus, WattBox and custom Middle Atlantic faceplates.

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CE Pro caught an attractive install with custom Middle Atlantic faceplates posted online by integrator Harry Blanchard of Creative Systems in Collegeville, Pa. After asking Blanchard for permission to share, we requested more details about the project. What we got was not only some details about the faceplates, but a great story about enhancing a Sonos system with top-notch audio, power and networking gear … and great service to a three-time frustrated customer.

Thanks for sharing, Harry! (Edited slightly for grammar and clarity.) – JJ


THIS CLIENT WAS REFERRED TO ME by an architect I have worked with in the past. He is good friends of the homeowners and they were already on their third A/V person. The last one stopped calling back.

“Call Harry,” the architect said. “He will make it right.”

Being the second or third guy in is rarely ever fun. Being the fourth ….

I visited the home. It is a very old farmhouse with a large barn and surrounding fields. It even has a natural spring and one of those cooking fireplaces you can walk into.

What I saw was unfortunately not uncommon. A mess! It looks like the others tried but just didn’t have the skills. Wires everywhere! Some of the equipment they were sold was still sealed in boxes.

I asked them what their goal for the system was.

“We just want to listen to music.”

You don’t need to control anything like gates, shades, lights etc.? (I asked because they had a fairly complex AMX system “installed” in the basement rack.)

“No.”

Just music?

“Yes.”

Network? (I asked because the network they had was cobbled together.)

“Yes, but the one we have works just fine.”

Custom Middle Atlantic Products faceplates and a finished rack with Sonos preamps and AudioControl Rialto 400 amps. Click for more images.

My tests showed that it worked, but not really … not the way it could. Boy were they in for a surprise.

I counted up the rooms with speakers and used Sonos Connects to provide a pre amp signal for each. I used Rialto 400 amplifiers from AudioControl to process and power each room. The Rialto is very powerful both in its amplification and digital-to-analog function. They make Sonos sound VERY good compared to without. They are made in the U.S. and they also help the bottom-line.

I like at least one thing in each of my systems to be “special,” so I worked with Middle Atlantic Products for over a week to design and cut out faceplates that no one else has ever seen or used. It took a couple of tries but we got it: 14 Sonos Connects and 14 AudioControl Rialtos perfectly spaced and aligned.

My wiring guru of a technician – we call him “T” —  did his magic making the back of the rack look amazing.

The Sonos PlayBar and SUB were installed with the main viewing TV for both music and TV audio. The client’s remote was replaced with a URC MX-890i and MRF gateway.

Each Sonos unit is plugged into a WattBox WB-100-RSW-8. This unit is unique in that each rear outlet is tied into a switch on the front so that the client, if instructed, can manually reboot a specific Sonos Connect.

Each of the WattBox units is plugged into separate banks on the Panamax MB1500 BlueBolt UPS so that I can remotely reboot the Sonos Connects, Cable modem or PoE switch to get the systems up and working again without the need of rolling a truck.

We replaced all the AMX/PHAST touch panels with LaunchPort iPad units. This allowed us to cover the old openings and give the client a simple interface to use.

Another trick I did was to use a large power supply to charge all nine iPads instead of having nine power bricks in the rack eating up valuable outlets on the power strips.

A Ruckus and Cisco managed network was designed and installed. The client couldn’t believe how much faster and reliable a network could be — especially in a 200-year old home with crazy thick stone walls. BIG SMILE!

Lastly a couple Mobotix IP cameras were added to keep an eye on things. The clients use the iPad to view them plus they can view the cameras remotely from their iPhones when they travel.

It’s not a terribly complicated system. It simply is the system they needed and the other integrators couldn’t or wouldn’t give them.

I guess, after I put it that way, it wasn’t so simple after all.


Creative Systems, based in Collegeville, Pa., provides the Mid-Atlantic region with audio, video, home theater, home automation, lighting control systems and more.