In the North American and U.S. commercial audio market, installers and end users are on the same page in terms of expectations. They want systems that deliver exceptional sound quality, ease of installation and use, simplified connectivity and exceptional reliability. That’s a tall order – but one that leading OEMs are responding to, through new products built for a digitally connected world. The trend can be a boon for commercial installers, who gain the advantages of broader solutions, easier installation, and the ability to market superior sound systems.

From small hospitality industry businesses to large-scale enterprises, end users accustomed to easily streaming and controlling audio on their personal digital devices, expect the same ease of use, control and sound quality in their commercial establishments. For commercial installers and OEMs, the challenge becomes one of scale, and how to meet end user expectations when audio must be delivered not to a personal set of headphones or a home living space, but to a large-scale commercial structure with multiple zones and varying needs for controlling the sound within each of those zones.

Digital networking technologies like Dante are key, enabling networked audio, with a centrally located core processor and audio transported over the network. This reduces hardware and the time needed to install and configure it. Manufacturers who can develop compatible components and systems will win out. New product development will focus on the innovation of components that offer multiple options within a single unit, for example an amplifier designed for various power schemes, flexible connectivity, multiple speaker loads, remote volume control and other features.

Commercial installers see the bottom-line gains made possible by digital systems, including greater productivity and cost savings. Just as important is the opportunity to increase customer satisfaction through enhanced sound quality and reliability.

Mark Higgason, Executive Vice President at Encompass Audio Visual in Elk Grove, IllinoisMark Higgason, Executive Vice President at Encompass Audio Visual in Elk Grove, Illinois

Mark Higgason, executive vice president at Encompass Audio Visual in Elk Grove, Illinois, is one commercial installer who looks for the simplicity, quality and reliability trifecta when developing a system for his customers. “Whether the application is a bar or restaurant or a corporate board room, my customers want a system that is digital, with easy-to-use interfaces, and a lot of flexibility in controlling the sound in multiple areas or diverse situations. As a designer and installer, I need components that are just as simple to install and that give me flexible configuration options.”

For Higgason, simple installs translate to a better bottom line. “We have 15 audio technicians out there doing five installations a day. Our costs can add up if an installation takes an extended amount of time. Labor is one obvious cost, but there are others that are not so obvious. For example, we do a lot of installations in urban environments, so we have parking expenses. The longer an installation takes, the higher our parking fees. It all affects our profitability. Amplifiers and other system components that are compatible with digital networks install quickly and easily, keeping us on track in cost and efficiency.” 

Sound quality – and the ability of installers to sell higher end systems – has also received a boost from digital innovations and professional grade audio components. “Customers may initially hesitate about investing in a higher-end sound system,” notes Higgason. “But when they hear a demo, the difference in the better system is like night and day. The cost becomes acceptable and customers usually opt for the higher end system. That helps increase our profit margins.” 

As the trend towards an “experience” culture grows, quality sound and the ability for users to control it, will continue to be essential. Audio becomes part of a brand’s or establishment’s identity. Immersing customers in a total experience that creates that personality includes the creation – and conveyance – of a distinguishing sound. Digital audio systems give commercial designers and installers the ability to easily provide customers with  exceptional sound quality, and highly customizable solutions that support their brand identities.

Going forward, end user expectations will continue to drive OEM innovation in digital audio systems for commercial applications. Commercial designers and installers who adapt can create their own expanded opportunities in a market that is trending toward great sound, simplified installation and easy control.

Encompass Audio Visual roots are in the hospitality industry. Since 1999 Encompass has been providing premiere AV systems to some of the best locations in Chicago and around U.S. One of the cornerstone technologies in hospitality is a great quality audio system. Whether in a lobby, lounge or amazing restaurant, audio is critical to how guests perceive their experience. For over 15 years Encompass has partnered with companies like Martin Audio of London, Lab Gruppen, and Symetrix to bring crystal clear, evenly distributed, and intelligible systems to places like Hotel Zachary, Brickhouse Tavern, and the award winning Gibsons Italia.