Launch Slideshow

Musical Intelligence

an advanced plug-and-play system caters whole-house audio control to the information age.

Musical Intelligence

an advanced plug-and-play system caters whole-house audio control to the information age.

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    The IntelliControl ICS modular multizone receiver from Niles Audio distributes sound from as many as six audio sources —including AM/FM and satellite radio, CD players, and iPods—to up to 30 zones of the house.

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    The ICS system has four controller options. The system control keypad with LCD display includes eight backlit, custom-labeled sound-source keys and seven backlit system-control keys.

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    IntelliControl ICS is completely configurable to a homeowner’s audio needs. Niles Audio sells interchangeable source-card modules that can be added to the system for increased versatility.

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    The iRemote handheld remote control displays metadata, such as song titles and artist names, so users know what they’re hearing. The remote also allows them to scan, search, and play content at will.

Card modules can be swapped or added at any time, and as new technologies emerge, the system can be updated with new cards to add new sources. The company is now shipping an HD Radio module and will ship a music server module this spring; a video component also will debut within a year. When the video system launches, the quantity of available sources will expand to a number that has yet to be determined. It will support up to 30 zones.

Niles Audio has taken the Switzerland approach to satellite radio, offering both XM and Sirius (while they exist as separate companies) to meet the tastes of its customers. “One customer is going to pick Sirius to hear Howard Stern, and someone else is going to want XM radio to [keep up with a] favorite baseball team,” Sterns says. “We want to serve both.” The system can also play “legacy audio” music from such products as CD players, cable TV music channels, and music DVDs, although the data from those devices can't be sent to keypads or remotes. In those cases, you can hear a satellite radio channel but not see the song information or channel number.

User interfaces come in the form of remote controls, keypads, and touchscreen controllers. From each device, users can control sources for that particular room and for any zone in the house. For parents wanting to issue an all-off command without having to do nightly rounds, this is an especially welcome feature.

retro chic

Unlike most sophisticated whole-house audio systems, IntelliControl isn't just for new-construction projects. Although the system can be wired to keypads with Cat-5 cable to take advantage of the structured wiring systems currently in homes, it doesn't have to be.

“It's completely retrofit-table,” Sterns says. In fact, the system can be installed as a wireless solution using the ZigBee meshed-network wireless networking standard. ZigBee is a radio frequency standard that can operate through walls and floors, making it particularly useful for outdoor audio systems, where wired keypads and touchscreens aren't practical. The system can even incorporate a combination of wireless and wired keypads if a homeowner chooses.

The ICS system carries a premium compared with other Niles Audio systems, however. The company positions IntelliControl ICS as its high-end system and sells it exclusively through select custom-installation professionals who cater to custom and semicustom home buyers. The minimum price consumers should expect to pay for the receiver, three card modules, user interfaces, and speakers for six zones is $5,000. The price goes up as you add rooms, interfaces, and audio sources to the system.

Sterns says the company is looking at IntelliControl for upscale multidwelling units as well. “We're seeing a trend in the market where people are downsizing after their kids are gone but still wanting an upscale lifestyle,” he says. “They're getting rid of the house but moving into a luxury condominium, where they want amenities like high-end kitchens and whole-house audio. This would be a perfect fit.”

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