Australians are being asked to pay up to 8 times more for an A-Bus, audio control systems than US consumers despite the product being developed in Australia by LeisureTech and exported to the USA.
An investigation by SmartHouse News has revealed that some integrators in Australia have been ordering from the USA as opposed to buying from LeisureTech in Australia.
The price difference between the US and Australia is huge with Australian consumers being asked to pay $4,000 for a 4 zone A-Bus kit with entry level speaker Vs $526 in the USA. Several web sites in the USA are selling the A-Bus control systems online for discount prices.
Frank Di Bartolo Managing Director of Pacific Hi Fi in Sydney an A-Bus installer said “We know that A-Bus in Australia is expensive. We have looked at buying from the USA as there appears to be no reason for the difference. One could almost jump on a plane and personally collect the system and still be in front” he said. Andrew Goldfinch the Managing Director of LeisureTech could not be contacted to comment on the price difference.
A Melbourne dealer who did not want to be named said” LeisureTech do nothing to support the Australia market. Their web site is shocking and they treat installers and dealers with contempt. It does not surprise me that they are asking Australians to fork out more for an Australian designed and developed product. I think it demonstrates the type of Company that LeisureTech is”. Currently SmartHouseNews is investigating whether the Federal Government has awarded LeisureTech any export grants that allow them to sting Australian customers while using tax payer funded money to build up an export at the expense of Australians.
Late last year SmartHouse News reported that LeisureTech were spamming dealers in Australia with information and on at least two occasions they illegally distributed the full email address of recipients.
The A-Bus control system is set to come under pressure as new control Companies like Control4 take market share away from them. Other manufacturers grabbing share from A-Bus are the likes of Crestron who are spending millions on delivering new IP based low cost control systems along with the likes of AMX as well as several new audio control system Companies. During the past 10 years LeisureTech owners of A-Bus have built up market share in the all important US market at the expense of Australia. An arrogant Company they do little in Australia to promote A-Bus with all advertising and public relations being focused on the all important US market.
Llanor Alleyne writing for the USA Residential Systems Magazine said of A Bus, even though A-BUS eventually gained a firm footing in the US market, the concept behind the technology was not initially an easy sell to jaded integrators and manufacturers. “The biggest hurdle has been overcoming people’s old habits,” said Andrew Goldfinch, co-inventor of A-BUS and LeisureTech’s founder. “Change is upsetting to a lot of folks, and they are hesitant to try something new.”
LeisureTech had long sought a way to eliminate the long speaker runs and the subsequent power output and sound quality issues that were the bane of most distributed audio systems up until the mid-1990s. At that time, LeisureTech seized on the cabling opportunities afforded by the new cable Cat-5 standard and created A-BUS as a one-wire solution that side-stepped sound and output problems by placing the amplifier behind the wall-mounted room keypad.
As clever yet simple as A-BUS was, industry reluctance to recognise it as a viable multi-room distributed audio solution hampered its efforts to crack the U.S. market, initially. “It was an option then to jump on board and take the product to market,” said Channel Vision’s Darrel Hauk, who turned A-BUS down in its early years. “It was an opportunity, but we decided to stay with the traditional speaker wire, matrix-type product. I didn’t have the vision then. Oscar Ciornei [former CEO of Russound] really saw how A-BUS could be taken to market with the structured wiring industry.”
In 2000, Russound became A-BUS’ first licensee in the U.S. Currently the company has several licensees in the U.S., including Channel Vision, Eaton, Phase Technology, Jamo, Suttle, Cambridge Audio, Honeywell, USTec, DSC, MTX, Harman Kardon, and Onkyo Integra.
“I was one of the first to deal A-BUS,” recalled Nick Tamburri of Aggressive Home Automation Design, an A/V design and installation firm. “I worked closely with Russound because they were one of the first ones to market it; it was very sexy looking. If you showed somebody a regular volume control and then you showed them the control for A-BUS and what it can do, and understand what the product can do, then they were sold.”
A-BUS works by distributing four different kinds of electronic information throughout the house simultaneously via one Cat-5 cable: a full-frequency audio signal, systems power for the amplifier, infra-red data for remote control, and system status information for the end user. One Cat-5 cable, which can run up to 300 feet, goes to each room’s keypad from the main system site or hub, which can be located either with the source components or in a structured wiring panel. In either case, if an A-BUS-ready amplifier is used, then a RJ-45 patch lead is all that is needed to connect to the A-BUS system.
The difficult road to recognition and respect might have been a blessing in disguise for LeisureTech. In a time when new technologies are announced with great fanfare only to fall to the wayside or languish in the middle ground occupied by several similar products, the A-BUS platform has managed to plant one foot in the custom installation market and the other in the builder’s segment, where its incorporation in the structured wiring phase of new builds has raised its profile.
“We chose to become an A-BUS licensee because we firmly believe in the technology and its simplistic requirements for installation,” said David Richards (No relation) of electrical systems manufacturer, Eaton Electrical. “All the system needs for installation is Cat-5 wiring and a few components. Our main customer is the electrician. We needed an audio product line that was simple to install yet robust in its offering. A-BUS gives us that product line.”
Other manufacturers and dealers have matched Richards’ enthusiasm for the platform, universally noting the system’s affordability, upgradeability, and easy integration as huge plus points. “The advantage of it [is] that you could match the price of regular install for volume control but give them so much more flexibility,” Tamburri said. “The way I do structured wiring, I always leave some extra Cat-5 wound up somewhere so you can upgrade later on if they wanted to add anything. For a four-zone A-BUS, which in the US is about $500-$600 for kit [along] with entry-level speakers, you can give somebody four zones of audio or eight zones of audio for a decent price.” In Australia consumers are being asked to pay between $4,000 and $5,000.
Steve Schindehette, an installer and dealer with Auditory Sensations is similarly pleased, noting that “A-BUS is appropriate for a broad range of clients”, but mostly first-time home buyers whose budgets usually cap out at $5,000 when considering a whole-house audio system. “A-BUS is a very reliable product with enough ‘open’ architecture to exceed expectations for first-time audio buyers,” Schindehette continued. “It does help me expand homes past the standard six-zone systems, which is nice.”
But praise is no good without healthy criticism. A-BUS, by no means a little chugging system, does have limitations particularly when it comes to power. Schindehette points to its 7.5-watt per channel output as a hindrance as well as the “cumbersome need for multiple power supplies within a single multi-source hub.”
“The A-BUS products we use start as four-zone systems and only expand in multiples of four,” said Tim Wilcox of the California-based JWE Group, “our ‘per zone’ pricing can be skewed if someone desires three, five, six, or seven zones-anything not a multiple of four.” Richards, who believes the system is rock solid because an electrician can make a wiring mistake with out wrecking the circuitry, expressed a hankering for a touch screen. “This might limit us on the type of home we can install in,” he conceded.
The power issue, which does give many installers pause when considering an A-BUS system, can be circumnavigated if an amplifier is added in the design phase, Tamburri noted. “If you are putting A-BUS outside on a deck, for instance, you’ve got to make sure that you have some wire dropped down from that control so that later you can just open that up and switch it to an amplifier downstairs and feed the speaker wire.”
The number of products that its partner companies have designed around it has underscored A-BUS’ viability. Russound carries everything from volume knobs to hub extenders in its product range, while Channel Vision’s iBus iPod wall dock for the ubiquitous MP3 player is a standout accessory along with A-BUS amplified keypads and zoning kits.
“It is certainly growing,” said Hauk of Channel Vision’s A-BUS-driven product cupboard. “We have new keypads coming up; a new matrix that’s coming out in the second quarter, a new in-wall for installation with a double-gang box, a new amp, and a multi-room piece. We have the iPod docking station. That’s given us a lot of pull with A-BUS. Builders love it when they can see A-BUS along with an iPod in a real application.”
As A-BUS’ tenth anniversary approaches, Goldfinch is confident that his technology will weather gathering gray clouds, including a slow down in the builder market. “These builders and homeowners are now looking for more cost-effective and practical solutions for their ‘music-all-around-the-home’ wishes,” he said. “A-BUS is a perfect answer, and we are experiencing terrific growth because of this.”