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Sonance Adds Speakers, Programs Focused On Architects, Designers

Denver —Sonance is acknowledging the growing influence of architects, interior designers and design-conscious consumers on custom A/V purchase decisions by unveiling “near-invisible” custom speakers that lack on-wall trimpieces and don’t protrude from the wall.

“Since 1985, the cosmetics of in-wall speakers have been virtually unchanged,” said Sonance president Scott Struthers of the new 18-model Architectural Series, whose price will top out at about $3,500/pair. The speakers uses a new bracketing system (see p. 56) to emulate a trend in the high-end in-ceiling lighting industry “to go trimless,” he said.

Although installers currently step up speaker customers by selling audio performance, “visual performance gives installers another way to upsell,” Struthers said.

“The plane of the speaker and grille is even with the plane of the wall,” chief marketing officer Steve Crawford emphasized. Traditional custom speakers not only protrude, he continued, but they require visible flanges, or trimpieces, that measure up to about three quarters of an inch to mask the rough cuts that installers make in drywall to make room for traditional custom speakers.

“Some manufacturers extend the grille’s perf pattern into the flange, leaving a narrower solid edge, but it’s visible, and the speaker still isn’t a true flush mount,” he said.

To go with the new design-oriented products, Sonance developed a new museum-look show booth and new company logo to emphasize that “we are a design solution,” Crawford said.

More important, Sonance developed new programs to help dealers work with architects and interior designers to “design in” custom-installed electronics into new or remodeled houses rather than wait to be called in “as an afterthought,” said Struthers.

Also to reinforce its position as a design solution, Sonance is coming to the CEDIA Expo to unveil:

• Fascia no-grille, no-trim speakers with visible, highly stylized baffles intended to support “designers’ creativity” in “contemporary environments,” Struthers said. A magnetically held cosmetic mask covers the baffle’s screws and controls but leaves the drivers in full view. Because they’re part of the Architectural Series, Fascia speakers also don’t protrude from the wall.

The first SKU will be on display, and its price is expected to exceed about $3,500/pair.

• new behind-the-grill industrial designs for its Virtuoso, Symphony and Merlot series to reflect the growing importance of design “in every aspect of our life,” Struthers said, citing “gorgeous engines in luxury cars” as an example. The trend, however, is apparent in nonluxury consumer goods, Crawford added. “People have come to expect everyday products to be beautiful.”

Sonance’s new products underscore a need in the industry to further emphasize style after having focused on upgrading the performance of custom speakers in recent years, the executives said. “The reason the [in-wall speaker] industry started was to appeal to design-conscious people who wanted speakers to go with their interior designs,” Struthers said. “They wanted great sound without seeing it and with it being harmonious with their environment. The quality of the industry’s original in-walls was questioned for years, but now audiophiles are pretty excited about them, too.

“In 2006, the industry needs to get back to its roots and focus on interior design as well as acoustics. Looks are as important as sound to interior designers,” Struthers said.

To leverage the products’ appeal to designers and architects, Sonance will “change the way we market products to support dealers in their efforts to work with architects and installers,” Struthers said. “The way things are done now, the [architectural or interior design] drawings are done, and the installer is called in as an afterthought. We want audio designed into the house.”

To accomplish that, Sonance has developed literature for architects and designers, plans to target them with a direct-marketing campaign, and is working with the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) to develop ASID-accredited instructional classes on integrating custom audio and video in homes, Struthers said.

The speaker series will be available to Sonance’s traditional A/V installers under a separate franchise, and installers will have to be certified to sell and install it. Sonance also is experimenting in Florida with sales through a lighting rep who calls on architects and designers, Struthers noted.

The Architecture Series will fill the ground between traditional in-wall speakers and “completely invisible” no-grille flat-panel speakers that disappear behind a coat of paint or wallpaper after installation in a wall or ceiling, Struthers said. Sonance began offering such speakers with its early 2005 purchase of Sound Advance Systems.