Each spring in Europe the annual Munich High End audio show is held. Designed as a showcase for the top manufacturers in the consumer audio market to demonstrate their latest products, the event is know to highlight niche, luxury products.
Broadening the appeal of the show, the Canadian manufacturer NAD traveled across the pond to show a global audience its Custom Integrator (CI) series of networked whole-house audio products. Introducing its new CI 580 four-zone streamer and the CI 720 two-zone streamer, NAD says both products incorporate the brand’s sister company’s Bluesound BluOS, and the CI 720 adds the benefit of NAD hybrid stereo amplification.
Listening to the feedback of its dealer network, Greg Stidsen, director, technology and product planning at The Lenbrook Group, NAD Electronics, PSB Speakers, says that installers needed networked whole-house audio solutions that were complementary to their businesses.
“The idea really came from our CI dealers who had very few choices in the category, even though virtually all home automation jobs feature distributed audio. NAD decided to use Bluesound’s operating system, BluOS, and put it in a form factor that could integrate perfectly with the traditional ‘home run to rack’ custom wiring that is the norm for custom integration of multiroom audio,” explains Stidsen. “The reliability, performance, and flexibility are a step beyond the ‘PC in a box’ and UPnP client approach to network audio. BluOS is a dedicated audio operating system completely developed and controlled by Bluesound with a rich future roadmap of features and refinements to further enhance the user experience.”
Looking at the products, NAD says the CI 580 four-zone streaming player fits into a 1U rack space, and it can be setup to feed as many as 36 zones at file resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz. The product also includes variable and fixed outputs, and a system interrupt function that lowers the volume to allow homeowners to hear a door or alarm. The CI 720 Network Stereo Zone Amplifier features a “blade” form factor that enables as many as six Network Zone streamers to occupy a single 3U rack space. NAD points out the component’s small form factor also allows dealers to use the amp locally in applications that include placement behind televisions. The CI 720 includes analog and digital inputs for the connection of local sources in the scenario where the amp is located behind a flat-panel TV.
John Rein, co-owner of Nashua, N.H.-based A/V Therapy, and a top NAD and Bluesound dealer, says these new rack-mount products will help to fuel the adoption of whole-house audio by making these systems more dealer friendly.
“The penetration of whole-house audio has been exceptional over the past few years, and with the addition of MQA [to BluOS] we are looking forward to that. NAD and Bluesound are leading the way in [wireless whole-house audio] quality,” says Rein. “Having the new rack-mount products means we don’t have to use multiple shelves to store things. Before, we were using multiple rack shelves to store equipment. Now, we don’t have to use multiple shelves.”
Explaining some of the differences between the Bluesound family of products and the new NAD components, Stidsen points out the NAD BluOS products do not include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Stidsen says those technologies were omitted from the NAD products because of the company’s concern over reliability with connectivity with the NAD products located in rack environments. He does note that dealers can mix-and-match Bluesound and NAD products through applications in which NAD’s BluOS products are combined with Bluesound’s Pulse speaker for example to allow homeowners to locally stream content from their devices via Bluetooth to zones throughout their home to meet whatever installation challenges they may encounter using wired and wireless technologies.
“We only support wired Ethernet on these models [NAD], but they are fully compatible with Bluesound Wi-Fi models,” says Stidsen. “With Wi-Fi there is a limit of about six zones that can reliably sync, but with a wired system that [capability] expands to 34 zones.”
Like the Bluesound products Rein says both product lines offer high-resolution audio compatibility, and this differentiation makes a big difference to clients that are interested in better audio performance. Rein adds that carrying these products provides his company with more selling opportunities into systems that at don't at first glance seem like a natural fit for traditional whole-house audio installations.
“What happens is that we sell Bluesound as a complement to high-end systems,” admits Rein. “We are also selling [traditional] whole-house audio systems, and we are also finding that we are putting these components into home theaters. I didn’t think that would happen.”
Ensuring the NAD products are complementary to advanced control systems, the products also incorporate everything dealers need to integrate the products into automation systems from the top manufacturers in the custom-installation industry.
“We spent a lot of time discussing the requirements for this category with our dealer base and even some integrators that were not yet dealers … we wanted to have a better performing distributed music solution,” comments Stidsen. “Bluesound ticked a lot of the right boxes, like extensive integration of music services, support for high-res audio and affordability, but [it] was oriented to smaller, wireless installations and lacked some key integration features like deep integration with control systems like Control4, Crestron, RTI and others. We have fully committed to these integrations in which both NAD and Bluesound, and the control companies will fully support on an ongoing basis.”