Now and again I get to have a root around in the R&D labs of obscure Chinese factories. The sales manager is holding out a piece of kit “we are developing this for the (insert continent here) market, what do you think?” Most of the gear I see is a rework on an existing concept and you know the main difference to its uptake will rely on its price vs how heavy it feels and whether it’s available in sliver. Now and again I come across something that is actually different and this day was going to be one of those days.

About 5 years ago we were about to head off for that lunch in a foreign country (that kind of day where someone else is calling the shots and you just pray that there won’t be anything wriggly on the plate) when my man pulled out a long rectangular box with five speakers in it.

Now I’m a home theatre man through and through and where I went to school, speakers must sit around the listener in as close to a circle as possible. Time is actually spent with a measuring tape gauging the distance from the listener to each speaker and inputting this data into the receiver to calibrate the delay times – anyway back to the story…

ME: OK, what is it?
SM: It’s a sound bar.
ME: A what?
SM: A sound bar.  You sit it under the TV and it creates a 5.1 surround sound effect from the front of the room.
ME: Hahahahahahahahaha, you’re funny, good luck with that. How do you feel about burgers for lunch today?

There is no way you can make sound come from behind you when the speaker is in front and that’s that. Fast forward 5 years, and about 20 different people telling me how great sound bars are and we really must get into them, all the time I give them the same response I gave my Chinese sales manager, sometimes with the bit about the burgers, sometimes not.

Over the intervening time, LCD panels gave way to LED panels, the prices plummeted and they got thinner and thinner, but here’s the problem, so did the speakers inside them. Our audience is enjoying a 40” plus HD picture but listening to it on speakers worse than airline headphones.

Recently I was coerced into installing one of these “Bars of Sound” from Definitive Technology in a showroom in College Hill in Auckland. After tightening the last screw I sat back with a smug air to watch the device fall flat on its face.

First the left and right channels came up very nicely, a clear sound, much more bottom end and mid range than from the LCD which was to be expected, what wasn’t expected was the “sound stage” somehow the sound appeared to be wider than the sound bar itself.

Next I added in the centre channel, the dialogue intelligibility came way up, I could hear every syllable the news reader uttered. This fools toy was sounding pretty good now but finally it was time to connect the two “rear” channels, this was where the marketing hype would be revealed for the rubbish it was.

I put on a Kings of Leon Blu-ray, and bugger me, the audience applause sounded like it came from the side and back of the room. It turns out that by using clever placement of the drivers and the full depth of the bar to pack a lot of speaker into a little space that a well made sound bar can mimic the effects of a properly constructed theatre without all the hardware and cabling.

If you want to improve the sound on that sexy slim screen, or you’re renting and can’t cut holes in the wall or perhaps you’re trying to create a budget video conferencing system in a boardroom using skype then these are well worth looking into.

I was wrong, I take it all back, Sound Bars do have a place in the AV world after all. It must be nearly lunchtime, perhaps a burger…

If you’re looking for a sound bar, or wondering what your options are for audio, give the friendly experts at Automation Associates a call on 09 377 3778.

Mirage Audio System by Autonomic

The Mirage Audio System is a Media Player that allows you to enjoy all of your music and streaming services anywhere in your home. Play music in just one room, different music in multiple rooms, or start a party.

Autonomic is proud to announce that the Mirage Media Server has been recognized by the Japan Audio Society (in concert with the CEA), meeting the exceptional standards for high-resolution audio playback.

Enjoy your FLAC and other lossless files in glorious, Hi-Resolution sound quality. The Hi-Res Audio revolution has been booming, and customers increasingly demand the best home music experience money can buy. The Mirage Audio System provides the most content variety, support and quality to be had from a whole-home audio system.

Pairing the high quality, multi-room digital amplifiers with the Mirage Media Server means your installation can be scaled up to 96 zones. A complete Mirage Audio System is more affordable on a cost-per-zone basis than any consumer multi-room product.

You be the DJ. Stream the most popular music services – Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, Tidal – and queue up your own digital playlist from anywhere in the house.  TuneBridge allowing you to effortlessly explore and discover new music across multiple streaming services and your library. And AirPlay allowing you to wirelessly play any audio from your device. Autonomic’s multi-award winning media servers and control system modules are the industry standard for controlling streaming sources and stored content.

For more information about adding Mirage to your home automation systems call the friendly team at Automation Associates in  09 377 3778 or email  Lets get this party started!

Entertaining accentuated with automation

You’ve no doubt have heard of slow food, the concept of entertaining mates, spending the afternoon cooking together, the actual meal just a part of the fun of the whole process.

We recently had a few friends around with their shiny new pasta machine, you know the ones, looking like a stainless steel office shredder on legs, crank handle sticking out one side…

There is basically no point in my setting foot in the kitchen, I actually have burnt water, thank god for Alex, but I make myself at least look useful by keeping the glasses filled and seeing to “the mood”, lights at the right level, good songs playing in the background, hooking out recipes or funny videos of drunk squirrels on the iPad, now we are back in familiar territory…

The music arrives courtesy of iTunes which I control from my iPhone or iPad whichever is closer.  One of the things apple has always done really badly and have thankfully just corrected in IOS5 is the ability to create playlists on the iPhone, passing your phone around and having your friends call up that long forgotten anthem from 7th form is a treat in itself and now you can save the playlist to use next time they are around.  Making playlists has stopped being a chore you “must get around to one day” (and never do) and started being the fun it always should have been.

Moving on, we have an RGB led strip behind the splash-back, we can set the colour to anything we like – our friends fight good naturedly at the touchscreen on the wall over pony pink or lurid green, 56 million colours and this is what it has come to…

As the households’ resident anal retentive – I keep our family photos organised by year then event, so I throw folders up on the TV of things we have done with the friends present, a constant source of hilarity and enough of a reason in itself to invest in a media PC (or apple TV if you are that way inclined).

Several hours in, it’s time to move from the kitchen to the table, I dim the kitchen lights down and switch from 90’s retro revival to the jazz channel on sky – I’m not a huge jazz fan by any means but there is something magical about entertaining good friends, warm close lighting and sky channel 404.

I have to point out that all these little atmosphere adjustments are subtle and done without getting up and breaking the conversation, home automation today is at the point where you can control it from just about anything, If I really want I can pop the vehicle gate from my kindle.

So, dessert is done and we are onto the obscure liqueurs from Purangi Estate that have been haunting the back of the booze cupboard since last summer and it’s time for a toast, iPhone surreptitiously under the table I drop the music a little and haul out my new favourite toast, “to nights we’ll never remember with friends we’ll never forget”

Go well.

Words by Brendon Reid

Automation Associates – specialists in entertaining, home automation, home theatre, lighting control, security and safety, multi-room audio, access control systems, TV displays and projectors, phone, data and electrical.

New Brand Ambassador for Definitive Technology

It’s becoming a common trend for artists to partner with audio manufacturers and John Legend has just joined in on the action. Definitive Technology has announced nine-time GRAMMY® Award-winning recording artist, critically-acclaimed concert performer and philanthropist/social activist John Legend as its first-ever brand ambassador. Legend, has long used Definitive Technology’s products in his own home and will serve as a spokesperson and creative inspiration for the brand’s current and future audio products line-up, including home loudspeakers and the brand’s Sound Cylinder Bluetooth speaker.

“As an artist, I strive to evolve my sound beyond what’s come before or what’s expected, while remaining true to a timeless style,” Legend said. “That’s what appeals to me about this collaboration — Definitive Technology is constantly raising the bar for innovation in audio products without ever losing sight of its commitment to putting sound first.”

According to a video posted on Definitive’s Facebook page, Legend described the company as a “wonderful audio brand that makes great products that provide surround sound for my music, my movies, my entire life.”

As an official spokesperson, the singer, who uses the product in his own home, will help the Baltimore-based company raise awareness and promote their high performance loudspeakers. The multi-year partnership will see the entertainer participating in the brand’s national ad and retail campaign as well as at an upcoming concert in Las Vegas.

In related news, John is currently putting the finishing touches on his fourth solo studio album, Love in the Future, due out September 3.