in under the wire

For JWE, which works with production builders, the A-BUS platform provides a more high-tech audio option. “Before A-BUS, we just did volume controls to speakers,” Wilcox says. “We'd leave clients a bundle of wires at their media niche and they never knew what to do with them.” The wires stayed that way, he adds, because going back to tailor a system to homeowners' needs would turn a production job into a custom installation. “With A-BUS, because it finishes out and trims the same way every time, we can put in a better solution for the homeowner,” he explains.

A basic A-BUS system—the kind typically found in retail A/V receivers—distributes one source of audio to one or more rooms. Multisource A-BUS systems, sold by Russound and other manufacturers that cater to the custom market, distribute audio from up to four sources—say CD, satellite radio, FM radio, and iPod—to an unlimited number of rooms.

At JWE, a typical custom installation comprises four zones, including one zone of outside coverage. In the Southern California market, for example, a four-zone A-BUS system costs about $3,400 to install, with a builder margin of roughly 50 percent.

A-BUS is the second solution in Russound's distributed audio lineup. As the first A-BUS licensee in the United States, Russound positions its A-BUS product as a starter remote control-based infrared system at the entry level and as higher-end keypad solutions that provide detailed system status and feedback.

“A-BUS improves on our starter solution because it's a lower-cost implementation,” says Jeff Kussard, vice president of strategic development for Russound. Cost savings are realized by running simplified Cat-5 wiring (rather than more expensive speaker wire) from the equipment stack to keypads. “Not only is the cost of speaker wire more expensive,” he explains, “but heavier, larger-diameter cable takes more effort to run and pull, making labor costs go up.”

The Harman Consumer Group, another A-BUS licensee, is bringing single-source, multizone capability to consumers in four of its six audio/video receivers. According to Harman Kardon president Tom McLoughlin, “the single-cable approach allows installers to put in a moderately priced but capable system to a greater number of customers.”

Since partnering with Leviton Manufacturing Co. in the development of LE&AP —Leviton Entertainment & Applications Platform, Leviton's multiroom audio solution—McLoughlin says Harman has also been “looking at creating systems to deal with the builders directly.” That effort could result in next-generation-powered A-BUS speakers from one of Harman's speaker brands (among them Harman Kardon, Infinity, and JBL). As for next-generation A-BUS products to complement its current A-BUS line, “We're considering it,” he says.

Rebecca Day specializes in writing about home electronics. She can be reached at A version of this article originally appeared in residential architect's sister publication CUSTOM HOME.