By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
New York – Bluesound, the new Lenbrook Industries brand, has rolled out its first wireless multi-room audio products, which are positioned as a step up from Sonos wireless-audio systems in performance and price.
Lenbrook, which markets audio components and speakers under the NAD and PSB brands, is also pursuing a more limited distribution strategy than Sonos, targeting only about 100 A/V specialists, plus a potential entry into Magnolia Home Theater and Magnolia Design Center stores. The Bluesound lineup of five products has already been rolled out to about 40 A/V specialists in the U.S., almost all of them NAD or PSB dealers. After International CES, the company will expand the rollout to about 100 specialists and possibly Magnolia, which already sells NAD and PSB headphones but not NAD or PSB audio components.
Current Bluesound dealers include Crutchfield and its online store. Authorized brick-and-mortar retailers will also be able to sell the products on their web sites, but the products won’t be sold through third-party online stores, said Dean Miller, Lenbrook America president/CEO.
The lineup was developed by an engineering team that included many of Lenbrooks’ NAD and PSB engineers, and the company is promoting the new brand’s connection to the NAD and PSB brands’ hi-fi heritage. “We don’t hide our roots and affiliation” because the affiliation lends credibility to the brand’s performance message, said John Banks, Bluesound’s chief brand officer, during a press briefing.
The brand, however, is targeted to music enthusiasts that have not grown up with the types of audio components made by companies such as NAD but are interested in higher performance audio, said Banks. “The 17-inch format doesn’t necessarily resonate with them,” he said.
“We’re targeting a music enthusiast who likes the convenience of wireless and will pay a couple of hundred dollars more for performance,” Banks continued. Product development began a little more than three years ago with a mission “to create a music ecosystem that could resonate with a broad audience of music enthusiasts, not just audiophiles,” he added.
The products, which use Apple and Android mobile devices as system controllers, consist of three wireless streaming music players that stream music over a home network via 802.11b/g/n or via wired Ethernet from a networked PC, Mac or network-attached storage (NAS) drive, none of which needs to run Bluesound software or use DLNA technology. The streaming devices can also stream music from the brand’s Vault, which combines a wired streamer with CD ripper and 1TB of storage for music files ripped in the MP3 and lossless FLAC formats. The Vault is targeted to users who want the convenience of simple CD ripping and to users whose music library is on a laptop that might not always be at home.
All of the products also incorporate TuneIn app, which streams music from radio stations throughout the world, and the Rdio music service. Additional music services will be rolled out in the future. The Vault also streams from a networked computer.
The products run on a proprietary Linux-based OS.
Apple and Android mobile devices can be used only as system controllers, not as music sources that stream music directly to the components via Wi-Fi. However, when a USB-connected Bluetooth dongle is plugged into the Bluesound streamers, users will be able to stream mobile-device-stored music to the Bluetooth-connected component, which then retransmits the music via Wi-Fi around the house to the other Bluesound streamers. Likewise, music services streamed through a user’s mobile device can also be reproduced throughout the house.
Local sources plugged into the streamers’ optical inputs can also be transmitted via Wi-Fi throughout the house.
Up to eight songs can be streamed simultaneously from a PC or Vault to up to eight Wi-Fi-connected streamers, depending on a user’s network and network congestion. In tests, the company has streamed up to 12 tracks simultaneously to up to 32 streamers connected via wired Ethernet.
The Bluesound products consist of the $699 Power Node streamer/amplifier, $449 Node streamer without amplifier for connection to existing sound systems, $699 Pulse active biamplified tabletop speaker/streamer, and the $999 Vault streamer/ripper, which also lacks amplifier. The brand also offers the $999 Duo 2.1 speaker system. It can be used with the Power Node, which features an EQ switch to optimize playback through the Duo.
All prices are MAP, Miller said.
The brand promises to bring is wireless-audio technology to additional products.
To underscore the brand’s high-performance audio heritage, the amplified products incorporate NAD’s Direct Digital amplification, which first appeared in a $6,000 component amplifier and maintains the audio signal in the digital domain through the amplification stage. The products also support multiple codecs with up to 24-bit/192kHz quality.
To support the products, the company is giving dealers active freestanding Bluesound displays. Dealers pay for the demo products, however.
The brand will also promote the products through online advertising, social media, sponsorship of music events, and partnerships with such people as music-industry notables and, because of the products’ industrial design, with noted designers.
The combined NAD and PSB dealer bases number more than 400, excluding Magnolia, but the company will focus on rolling out the products only to those dealers who have storefronts, said Miller. Less than half of NAD’s more than 300 dealers are retailers, while the others are custom-only dealers without retail storefronts, said Miller.
The Bluesound name, the company said, connotes performance and music.
In the U.S., Lenbrook is using its NAD and PSB sales and marketing teams to support the products.
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