2/2/2016 - Yamaha's Wireless Multi-room Coup!

Yamaha tried years ago to get into the wireless multi-room audio business with a tailor-made set of products based on a server and client speakers. It wasn't a success, for various reasons. Other multi-room systems before Sonos tended to be wired for both distribution of sound and for the controllers. They have all been blown away by the current crop of wireless distribution systems.

Sonos got such a head start in this new category that they have been hard to catch up to, but there are now numerous me-too wireless systems, mostly using compact powered speakers - singly or in pairs.

Yamaha decided to reinvigorate the MusicCast name with an new approach, scrapping the old purpose-built architecture and embedding the music sharing and control system in their various equipments. So now you can have a muilti-room system which can be housed in gear you might have liked to own anyway. They have AV Receivers, Micro Component Systems, and Soundbars. There are Powered Speakers of several types including the NX500 which trade off the reputation of the legendary NS-10 monitors. Do you want just a stereo receiver? You've got it.

By this approach they have waltzed around the issue of having to have a range of bits and pieces just oriented towards the multi-room aspect. Instead of buying a Sonos Connect or a HEOS Link to plug into a stereo, the stereo comes with that capability built in.

One of the reasons Sonos have been successful, and there are a number of reasons, is that their control system has been better than the others. Yamaha have now put together a control app which looks brilliant, although I have to say I've not had the opportunity to try it. You can check it out here.

Yamaha's current range of MusicCast enabled products can be found here.

P.S. Yes, I know that other companies have put streaming into their stereo products and have control apps - Naim is one, but they're not so much an affordable, everyman (person?) product range as Yamaha.

Google Angling Towards Smart Homes?

The purchase of a company making smart thermostats might indicate that Google is leaning towards smart home technology.

Yep. Ars Technica has more in-depth on this, and they say it's the start of a Smart Home Division within the Google empire, and a highly placed one.

The Coming Custom Revolution

Just as Sonos and other wireless streaming audio devices have made it easy to have multi-room music, the next wave in the commoditisation of home systems (loosely and sometimes inaccurately called home automation) is about to hit. Not all of the neat little devices we are about to see hit the market are "automating" anything. They may just be enabling information flows, be they weather info, audio, video or even personal medical monitoring, as Archos intends.

The automation side of things will, as usual, include everyday matters like lighting, air conditioning, security and window/window treatment controls (louvres, blinds, curtains, and so on). Belkin's WeMo system is set to expand, and as they say, If you can plug it in, you can control it with WeMo.

Programming will be easier, and IFTTT (if this then that) will be linkable to other web-based information systems to initiate cause and effect sequences, such as turning on lights at sundown.

The older way of doing home automation was, and in most cases remains, using Cbus, programmed by specialist programmers to control the various functions. It was like being measured for an individual suit and having it tailored to your size and particular shape. The new way will be ready-to-wear items that are already programmed to do their job, and more can be added as they come to market - like apps for your phone or ipad, they will be premade and ready to run - and they'll be controlled by your phone or ipad.

Control interfaces used to be an expensive part of the custom made system, costing thousands, but now we have very affordable tablets which are readily adapted to use. Even Sonos's controller, which was $599, has gone, since the Sonos system can be controlled by most modern phones and tablets at no additional cost. Even if you don't have one of those, an iTouch for around $200 will do it, or an even cheaper android tablet or phone of some sort.

All this is not to say that people will do it all themselves. Some will, but the average consumer will still prefer that it's all set up and made easy for them. What will happen, however, is that more and more new homes and apartments will be fitted out from the word go with a system that covers all the most used items. The cost of adding it will not be that high, and the presentation of property with up to date inclusions will help sales.


Wireless vs. Ethernet Cables

I used to work at the customer interface and it was obvious that people are mad for wireless everything. I use some wireless aspects - iPads, phones, Sonos - but do not regard it as the ultimate solution, at least not yet. I'm still re-setting my router from time to time for some unknown reason, usually first thing in the morning when the iPad says it has has no contact with the internet!

This week I overheard a customer cutting up rough because the stereo he had bought had only a wired network connection. Now, leaving aside the misunderstanding on his part - it had been explained - I maintain that there is always a case for running as many Ethernet cables around the home as you can. Failing that, a fallback is a wireless adaptor of some sort, which start at around $50.

Ethernet is reliable, while wireless is "fairly reliable". Wireless becomes increasingly unreliable as the number of users increases, and the traffic increases exponentially with video on top of audio and basic page searches. Local RF interference can play havoc with this. We're seeing our TVs and PVRs network attached along with our sound systems, PCs, Laptops, Tablets, phones and assorted iThingys - even cameras now. The list grows, and the crowding of the available spectrum around the home is increasing too.

How hard is it to run an Ethernet cable to each room? Easy if you do it at building stage, harder later, but still possible. I'm not an installer, just an average DIY tryhard, but I have cables going to three rooms downstairs and two upstairs. It took a bit of time to thread the cables under the ground floor or up to the floor above via the gap between the brick veneer and the timber frame of the house. Another upstairs room was reached by a strategic hole in the roof of the downstairs hall cupboard which houses the router, and another discrete one near the skirting board of the room above. Cables are cheap, and they work well. The same goes for good old speaker cables!

Once you've got the first cable into a room, a switch can be added. In the theatre room I have all of the following connected, although not all are used at once: Yamaha RX-V3900, Yamaha BD-S1010, Boxee Box, Panasonic Plasma, Apple TV, Beyonwiz streamer.

It may be very modern to demand that things be wirelessly connected or else, but I'd caution against being totally dependent on it. As the number of demands increases, such as in the modern automated home, even the routers need to be beefed up to cope. Domestic demands can now require commercial standards of hardware. Try to think of cables as your friends!