Audio Source. WTF…

By: Chad Allen

Ten years ago, I had unknowingly solved a problem. Though you may disagree, this concept applies to the average person who uses a distributed music system.

First, I recall a distributed audio system I encountered in my youth. It consisted of a dual tape deck connected to three amps with an RCA cable, with no impedance matching devices. Additionally, there was a four-way volume control unit at the central amp location. As automation was not an option, I had to play the tape manually, turn on the amps, and adjust the volume from the head end location. If the volume was unsatisfactory, I had to go back to the volume control and ask my guests, “Is that good?”

I get that this ages me. Feel free to call me out!

Do you recall your initial Crestron system and integration of the five-disc CD player? That was a significant improvement! You could go to the touch panel and push play, and the changer could be set up to loop continuously.

I’m going to bypass the 200-disc changer, which was a real headache, and opt for the now-discontinued Request audio player. It took a lot of labor to rip CDs and make playlists, but after all that work, you could browse tracks with great programming on a touch panel. The idea was revolutionary, yet the units were so difficult to configure and maintain that no one wanted to bother. Those who did put the effort in were livid when the units crashed and locked up frequently. Hard drives usually lasted one or two years.

Sirius players (not the internet units but the antenna units) gained immense popularity due to their ability to provide access to hundreds of commercial-free stations from a touch panel. Even today, these products remain highly successful and are still in use. Why?

Afterward, the iPod docking station was introduced. This provided a much-improved alternative to the Request systems. With this, users had to manage their playlists but no longer worry about losing effort and could be mobile with that effort.

Now let’s examine the trend and the solution. Apple Music offers the ability to sync across all devices with the family plan for $14.99 per month, perfect for those who prefer managing their own playlists. Other services also offer this feature. Streaming services also provide a variation of the Sirius model, allowing users to create playlists based on genre or purpose of listening (workout, dance), radio stations formed around an artist, and the option to add variety by typing in another artist. However, these stations stop playing after a specific duration.

Why is this information so important? Since clients often listen to the same genre, they usually want a specific style of music playing on their distributed music system rather than a particular song or artist. Having the ability to play a song for a friend or choose your own music on the fly is essential, however, it is only a 2% use case for the majority of people. Audiophiles, for example. On the other hand, YouTube creates a better group experience with friends and a bottle of wine. Furthermore, using an on-screen UI is about as easy as it gets.

What methods can we use to integrate Sonos into control platforms better to meet the needs of 98% of users?

Twelve years ago, I wanted to have music playing when I came home or when I walked into my garage. To make this happen, I set up an alarm clock to play a Pandora station I created with different music. I set the alarm to play this station at 8 am and 6 pm, with the option to use the Sonos native app in between these windows to change the music. For years, I rarely used the window to change the music. I can recall one time I needed to reboot the unit. Now, I have multiple units set up as radio stations, playing different genres, as well as an Apple Music playlist that my family can manage and add to through the Apple Music app on my phone.

When designing a system, you can include a keypad with a large music button and an Up/Down. If there are three stations in the house, press the music button three times to cycle through and press and hold to shut it down. For a touch screen or hard button remote, the radio station can be selected by name. Ask the client for the desired stations and offer them three units, one for each. Each can be overridden between alarm triggers and reset when the next alarm occurs. Additionally, a flex unit can be provided for the one-off music or 2% application.

This solution is cost-effective and easy to use, and the client can use their distributed audio system immediately. They only need to manage the music once, which will play continually over time.

What is your audio source of choice?