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Market overlaps: Growing popularity of “red hot” resimercial & prosumer

A booming home entertainment market, live entertainment, and the superyacht market are all helping fuel a red hot resimerical and prosumer market – with our newly-coined 'premsumer' products also having an impact! Steve May talks to those enjoying the heat

The crossover between commercial AV and high-end residential was more overt than ever at this year’s ISE. Even as familiar consumer facing brands were looking to court AV installers, commercial giants could be seen exploring verticals adjacent to their core business. To say the show was buzzing with opportunities is an understatement.

There’s no doubt that a booming home entertainment market is helping drive interest in upscale residential AV. According to the latest statistics from Futuresource, the video entertainment industry was worth $324 billion in 2023, a growth of 6 per cent, year on year.

Sony’s BRAVIA Series is being increasingly specified for high-end home installations

James Duvall, head of entertainment, Futuresource Consulting, reports “strong positive signals across the breadth of the video landscape”, despite a variety of inflationary pressures weighing heavy on consumers. “This year we expect a further $10 billion to go into the pot,” he adds.

Consumers are clearly hungry for content, and movies are in vogue. “SVoD is the sector’s golden child, punching through the $100 billion barrier during 2023, and ending the year on $112 billion,” says Duvall.

Commercial cinema also bounced back with a 35 per cent uplift last year, helped in no small part by the success of Barbie and Oppenheimer – and it seems consumers are prepared to pay for a comparable theatre experience at home.

But what of the residential crossovers with pro AV, resimercial (residential AV kit into commercial premises) and its reverse rabbit, prosumer (commercial AV kit into consumer premises)? Certainly, consumer favourites continue to find their way into commercial environments, and it appears to be a growing trend.

“There is a significant crossover between CI and pro AV for Sonos these days, particularly as we find Sonos products increasingly appearing in light commercial premises such as restaurants, hairdressers, beauty salons and hospitality,” says Stephen Rhead, IS manager UK & Ireland. “As a brand, we are very aware of this growth and potential, and this is reflected in our global lifestyle imagery which now includes several light commercial scenarios.” 

In many cases, the crossover into commercial premises is down to business owners having Sonos at home, observes Rhead. “Based on this user experience they want to see the products brought into their business and installed by a professional.”

Sonos reports that CI is the second largest segment of its vertical business: “Architecture is number one, but home theatre is now positioned as a significant aspect of our installed solutions business.”

So how is the resimercial trend working for CI specialists? “We are finding that in the resimercial sector, our product of choice for commercial installation is either our plug-in all-in-one Era 100, or our Amp with architectural in-ceiling speakers,” says Rhead. “Hybrid installers are our main point of call, those that work in both residential and commercial, rather than pure commercial. That said, we are increasingly seeing business from big international pro installers using Sonos for smaller spaces within a larger-scale project. These areas fall into the market that we know exists for our products today, and include green rooms, reception areas and staff cafes.”

The booming home entertainment market – which was likely rocket-boosted by Covid lockdowns – is also seeing an increase in premium hi-fi products being specified by integrators for residential installations, where perhaps in the past more easily-integrated but inferior audio would have been chosen. Let’s call this trend premsumer, a close cousin of prosumer!

Sonos wall speaker being installed in a hospitality setting

Premium AV distributor dbM (distributed by Meridian) currently offers integrators class leading products across home cinema and high-end hi-fi.  

Its brand portfolio includes Meridian, French audio auteur Waterfall and US outdoor music specialist Ambisonic. The latter can bring an unprecedented level of audio clarity to exterior spaces, while Waterfall and Meridian provide high-end interior audio systems that challenge the mainstream both in terms of design and performance.

We asked Des Ford, Meridian’s technical marketing manager, if he was tracking the appetite for high-end AV solutions.

 “As the number of households featuring some form of audio integration increases across the whole gamut of budgets, it follows that the higher end of the market has grown accordingly,” he figures. 

“We see customers who start out by looking to have distributed audio in a few rooms, or better sound for their gaming or TV viewing, then inadvertently gain awareness of the amazing things that are possible. Their experience of hi-fi may be limited to memories of an eccentric relative while they were growing up. However,  the wide range of differing aesthetics now offered by audio equipment, especially loudspeakers, means that, even with a large dollop of subjectivity, there is almost always something that every individual thinks is really cool!”

The issue, as ever, is getting these products onto a potential customer’s radar. 

At ISE, Meridian presented its flagship DS9 active loudspeakers, the very epitome of high-end audio. “This was the first ISE for our DSP9 loudspeakers,” says Ford. “We’d like to think people want to talk to us anyway, but having three DSP9s in differing finishes and colours, was like fishing with a lure, drawing plenty of attention into our part of the pond!

 “The better systems available today can produce phenomenal performance, and they often feature gorgeous industrial design and top-notch build-quality. This can mean the non-specialist customer is empowered to buy very expensive systems with confidence.”

So is this design-led audio, let’s call it haute couture hi-fi for premsumer installations, a new development, or are AV pros just late to the party?

 “We think that the venue for the party may have changed!” quips Ford.

Building a high-end system became perceived as a skill comparable with being a Michelin-starred chef or a top sommelier, he says.

“Now, there are high-end solutions offered by manufacturers and distributors which have been designed as an integrated whole. These can be streets ahead of the one-brand systems we used to see back in the day of traditional hi-fi separates, when every manufacturer offered a whole rack of black or silver boxes as well as passive speakers!”

Of course, high-end AV and custom install are two different animals. Just how does dbM plan on servicing them both?

“We plan on continuing to listen to integrators!” insists Ford. “We invest very heavily in pure research, as well as more conventional product development. We’re always glad if the market gives us a direction in which to direct our gaze; it can unlock the door for solving a problem or otherwise improving what we can do for integrators.”

When it comes to prosumer video, commercial-facing products that also appeal to the resimercial market tend to combine the best of consumer design and quality with the benefits of professional displays, according to Adam Dover, trade & segment marketing manager, Sony Professional Displays and Solutions.

“Models such as [our] VPL-PHZ51 and VPL-PHZ61 are very popular across the traditional B2B markets of corporate, retail and education as well as large exhibitions and gallery spaces, but thanks to their superb brightness and performance enhancements, they are also seeing substantial take-up in the high-end residential market. They are ideally suited for media rooms and at-home sports simulators – golf and driving, for instance.”   

Highlite technology

Sony is also reporting a market crossover with its BRAVIA BZ L lineups and the new value EZ20L series. “The 100-inch BRAVIA 4K Ultra HD HDR Professional Display, the FW-100BZ40J, is popular in both high-end residential and marine applications,” says Dover. 

“We find the BZ40L series is appreciated by both commercial markets, digital signage for instance, and consumer markets, for example in bright rooms such as conservatories. Again, the FW-98BZ50L is ideal for busy retail showrooms or corporate lobbies but also crosses over into residential markets.”

When it comes to resimercial, Sony’s FWD line of high-end consumer displays are proving popular with commercial integrators.

Bournemouth-based integration company Halo Audio Visual specialises in residential installations, but it undertook a commercial project with London retail research company, Assosia. The brief was to kit out boardrooms, meeting rooms and a recreational space with high-end displays. The client opted for Sony Bravia professional displays sourced from specialist distributor AWE.

 The Sony Bravia BZ40 Professional Display series was used across meeting rooms, with screens between 65- to 85-inches; a total of six Sony Bravia BZ40 went in, the largest finding a home in the company’s communal area. The BZ40 Series is an 4K Ultra HD HDR professional display, with brightness rated  up to 850 nits, ideal for video conferencing.

The big BZ40 was partnered with a 7.2 Denon AV receiver, the AVR-X2800H, a component more readily found in mainstream home theatres.

Live music specialist L-Acoustics recently absorbed its L-Acoustics Creations brand and quickly followed that by launching its Xi Series of loudspeakers, having identified a growing appetite for high-end AV solutions in the residential arena – and indeed, live music venue loudspeakers in restaurants and bars (see image).

“The Xi Series is designed to meet the demands of integration projects requiring powerful, premium sound in a discrete format that can blend into any room,” explains Nick Fichte, business development director, home & yacht.

“The X4i comes in at an ultra-compact 100mm per side and integrates discreetly into any architecture while offering premium sound quality, high maximum SPL and a wide dispersion pattern. The X6i and X8i offer larger, more powerful variants in cabinets easily wall mounted at a variety of angles, and shallow enough to use behind acoustically transparent walls.”

A key feature of the Xi Series is its coaxial driver technology, which allows for a compact design and constant tonal balance over distance. This ensures smooth coverage for off-axis audiences thanks to its 90° axisymmetric directivity. 

Fichte believes the appeal in high-end resimercial solutions mirrors the boom in immersive experiences in the commercial sector. “Live concerts, cinema, art exhibitions and even in houses of worship, are driving demand for the same kind of spatial audio experience in the home,” he says.

“The scale of many homes and superyachts that we work on are akin to some of the commercial premises we have been involved with in the live sector. No matter the final use, integrators are looking for solutions that are designed to meet the demanding client’s expectations on this scale.”

There’s a consumer imperative for slicker experiences in the home, he says, and the resimercial market is no longer about discreet control.

“In addition to the typical home living room installation, where the owner wants to have a great audio experience to enhance their television watching, but it all needs to integrate seamlessly into the living space, we are beginning to see many new, creative demands for audio outside of the living room. 

Sexy Fish’s semi-private dining room, known as ‘The Tropical Reef Room,’ features L-Acoustics A Series and X Series

“We’ve completed premium installations in party barns, in home nightclubs and in multi-purpose spaces, both on land at sea for live entertainment not just playback of recorded content and in these types of installations, there is less of a call to hide the systems, as the technology is also a central focus of the space and the way that owners are using it.”

It’s clear that the residential and commercial markets, from hospitality spaces and clubs to residential and yachts, are overlapping, continues Fichte.

“In reality, the term hospitality covers an incredibly wide range of projects, and therefore a wide range of technical solutions. On one end of the spectrum, many average hospitality spaces like bars or restaurants often have a basic stereo sound system on which some form of streaming device is being played or, at the most, some sort of mass market audio products installed to perform simple background music.

“But when you step up to a high-end space, this world is very similar to the residential world. Where you have an owner who is looking to create a visual identity for the space. These high-end restaurant groups have dedicated creative teams focused on the atmosphere, including the audio atmosphere, and many of these teams have come from a residential background. We’ve seen this in recent projects like The Wolseley and Bacchanalia restaurants in London and Manchester’s Sexy Fish. All spaces where the sound experience plays a part as crucial as the exquisite décor in creating the required ambiance.”

Big screen specialist Digital Projection is another commercial AV specialist finding a prosumer audience in the residential sector.

Mark Wadsworth, VP of global marketing at Digital projection, says that while the residential market has been strong Stateside, growth in Europe is now being driven in part by yacht owners. 

“Residential has always been very important in the US where it accounted for a large segment of our business,” says Wadsworth,” but historically it hasn’t been that strong in EMEA. However, we have seen a strong uptick in demand in the region. There are some really interesting installations that we are currently getting involved in, especially around the superyacht market where there is a great mix of traditional high-end home theatres and multi-functions rooms.”

 One high-end projection solution in particular is proving popular. “The resurgence in EMEA has been predominantly driven by our Satellite MLS system,” says Wadsworth. “In the past, if someone wanted a pure RGB laser projector installed, they needed a big, heavy, and noisy D-Cinema projector. This obviously wasn’t always feasible due to space concerns, let alone desirable.

 “The Satellite MLS system ,which was initially designed as a commercial projector, has allowed RGB laser projectors, with all its benefits such as REC2020 colour space, to be installed in places where traditional projectors cannot go.”

 Wadsworth says that when retrofitting a space, in an old building for example, there is often no room for big, heavy projectors, but the compact satellite system solves this problem. 

“With heads weighing 19 kg and roughly 30cm boxed, they can be placed in almost any environment, without the need to sound-proof enclosures. The modular light sources can then be placed up to 100m away in a rack along with all the other IT equipment that powers the building. 

“This also makes maintenance much easier as there is very little to go wrong in the projector head, and everything else can be managed at floor level in the server rack!”

CI integrators and commercial AV professionals need to be in tune with premium design to better address the most exclusive premsumer clientele attracted by niche market products, says Nadine Aubriot, export manager at Waterfall Audio.

“We have witnessed this growing demand as more integrators are choosing to offer their customers high-end sound solutions rather than ordinary in ceiling multiroom systems.”

More and more integrators are using high-end audio solutions, such as the Waterfall Audio Niagara XT, rather than in- ceiling multiroom systems

At ISE, Waterfall Audio introduced three new speakers to complement its existing Ultimate Niagara speaker range, thereby providing customers with customisable options in their quest for perfection in sound and design. 

The Niagara XT designer floorstanders boast a striking wood horn and Nappa leather top, and comprise the XT1, XT2 and XT3 models. The range-topping Niagara XT3 boasts a clean, luxurious body with its unique glass horn tweeter design. Mechanically decoupled from the main speaker body, this tweeter reproduces medium-high frequencies and comprises 11 mechanical, precision engineered glass parts.

The Niagara XT1 and XT2 both feature a signature wood horn tweeter and are available in a Classic version with an oiled beech wood tweeter finish.  

Aubriot estimates that the high-end crossover business has grown by at least 70 per cent, resulting in far fewer enquiries for residential  in-walls speaker solutions.

 “The market is becoming more sensitive to high end sound solutions using more sophisticated electronics equipment. Customers want to know that they have luxury high-end sound solutions in their home rather than mass market products, and they are prepared to pay the bigger price tag that comes with this.”

Media rooms are another driver of AV crossovers. They may have originated on the other side of the Atlantic, but it’s undergoing a few changes for the European market, says Alex Munro, Brand director of audio specialist  Q Acoustics.

“In smaller European homes there is less likely to be a space dedicated to this, especially now that one or two home offices are also required. Buyers are certainly looking for more design-oriented systems.”

Buyers are turning away from traditional separates, preferring to see either a single device or have the technology completely absorbed into the loudspeakers. “This was the thinking behind our new M40 micro-tower powered speakers and our Q Active range. We believe there is an appetite for a convenient and compact Bluetooth music system that doesn’t compromise on a true, powerful, stereo hi-fi performance. Our designers and acoustic engineers were able to meet this brief through the unique micro-tower profile, allowing full-size floor standing sound without big, imposing cabinets.”

Lenbrook International straddles both commercial and residential markets, manufacturing  home audio and residential install applications, from the likes of NAD Electronics, PSB Speakers, and Bluesound, a platform for both wireless multi-room players and Bluesound Professional commercial audio.

We asked Peter Gibb, NAD CI product manager & channel development for custom install, how he thinks the installation business has evolved over the past 18 months or so.

“From the residential and marine install side, we definitely see more of our traditional residential integrators getting involved with commercial projects,” he says. 

“These tend to be light commercial systems in independent hospitality venues. [At the same time] many technologies from the professional AV side are now finding their way into residential projects, including AVoIP platforms such as Dante, PoE and remote monitoring, which has been around in CI for a while.”

Partnership integrations are a key enabler in the resimercial space. Lenbrook is already a Crestron Partner, and offers integrated solutions with them in both markets. It has also announced integrations with Xyte and Domotz.

Gibb suggests that there are many shared tech requirements in commercial and residential products, while the applications are slightly different. 

“In smaller markets we see much more crossover as it is more challenging to specialise in one or the other, so the integrators are required to be skilled on both sides, and they’ll often find innovative ways to use the same products in various use cases.”

It’s clear that the demand for resimercial solutions for commercial spaces, alongside prosumer and premsumer solutions in the home, and a desire for music venue loudspeakers in high-end restaurants and bars, is set to continue growing as we move towards next year’s edition of ISE, with the joins blurring further. 

What’s evident is that pro AV professionals cannot ignore residential audio products from the likes of Sonos, when it comes to restaurants and bars in particular, and residential integrators with big-spending clients need to keep abreast of commercial AV solutions – particularly vision-led kit from Sony, Digital Projection and others – and premium hi-fi kit from the Waterfalls of this world. It’s all grist to a very high-quality AV mill.