Essential Install Comment From The Coalface

Andy Taylor, in charge of Smart Home and Bespoke Installations at Surrey based PJ Hi-Fi, takes on our challenging quiz.

Tell us a little about your company, what do you specialise in? Who is involved?

We are a Hi-Fi and Home Cinema equipment retailer with a High Street location in Guildford, Surrey. Over the years we have evolved from purely two channel Hi-Fi, into audio and video enthusiasts, offering solutions from a record player, amp and speakers, through to a Dolby Atmos home cinema and right over to a smart home lavished with technology. What makes us unique is that our two main concerns with any project are performance and reliability. We are lucky to have our showroom with four demonstration rooms, this allows us to indulge in our passion, allowing us to live, sleep and breathe our trade. Everything we stock is assessed and tested thoroughly before we offer them to our clients. This way we can offer our clients the purest sound quality, vivid picture quality and most reliable smart homes.

What are you doing today workwise?

Today, I am installing some outdoor speakers in the bitter cold, hardly the season for it, but our client is keen to be ready for those first rays of sunshine this year!

Tell us about the projects you are working on right now.

As usual for us, a complete mixture, a couple of high-end two channel Hi-Fi systems going in with custom cabinetry and discrete cabling to sort. A Dolby Atmos cinema or two in the first fix stages. A fun one at the moment is a big CCTV, access control and gate entry project. This one features facial recognition on the front and rear doors of the property. Our client wanted to be able to walk out into his grounds and not have to worry about, keys, fobs or having any smart tech on him when he wants to get back in. Facial recognition was the answer and it works incredibly well. Very pleased with the results.

How do you feel the industry is doing right now?

The industry for us is strong on both the Hi-Fi and both the cinema and smart home. Less new builds to work on these days, quite a few extensions on going but mostly we are doing a lot of retro fitting of systems to existing properties or garden getaway/offices.

What areas of the smart home and luxury AV sector need to improve and how?

My bug bear is the vetting and/or criteria to obtain accounts with some of our brand’s needs to be far stricter to maintain standards in our industry. I spend a good amount of time rescuing clients from bad installations. We commonly find firstly the kit specification is under par, then usually the wiring is low quality cabling and set out poorly, then on top of this the programming is substandard, ultimately leaving a bad ‘smart home’ or ‘home cinema’ taste in people’s mouth. When an installation is done right it will bring years of pleasure and enjoyment, but all too often we are finding clients with years of stress and upset from sub-standard installations.

Do you think training needs to be improved, if so, how?

I think training does need to go further in-depth. When we take over jobs we see all to often issues such as poor or zero calibration on surround sound systems that sometimes can be quiet high-end and not being used to their full potential.

Is there a project you are particularly proud of and why?

Probably my first installation about 25-ish years ago. As is usually the best way, I was chucked in at the deep end, 16 zones of audio using a Linn Knekt multi-room system, along with a big Meridian Digital Theatre cinema system with a Sim2 DLP projector. These were the days when you really had to specialise in your craft. I remember the Linn kit used Cat5 which was pretty advanced for its time, however, Linn being Linn, it was not wired in your typical 568B standard, oh no no… Linn liked you to wire your RJ45s with the striped cores on the outside and solid colours in the middle, not only that you had to reverse it at the other end. Massive headache. Anyhow, it took me weeks to complete but we got there.

Are there any brands or products you particularly like working with, and why? 

Control 4 – Great reliability when partnered with the right products, really like the new Halo remote controls and the remote support we can offer customers with it is brilliant Trinnov Altitude – The absolute pinnacle of home cinema audio processing. We have used these with some great hybrid – Hi-Fi come home cinema systems and they are so flexible and configurable which we find for our audio files clients is essential. Roon Nucleus – I love the way you can pool all your different branded music streamers across the house into one slick app. Sony x7000 – The best picture quality available without spending crazy money. Ubiquiti – We use these guys for all our networking requirements, once you have a complete setup, router, switches and WiFi Access Points it is very easy to setup, great reliability and brilliant to manage.

What is the best and the worst thing that has happened to you on site?

Went out for a simple call out, you know one of those in and out within five minutes. Well after sorting the issue out I dropped the RTI remote control onto the customer’s marble floor, marble was okay, remote control not so much! Lots of ‘best bits’ to be fair, but probably the time I had to take my swimming trunks to work because I was given the terrible task of testing out a clients brand new indoor swimming pool. I had to do a few lengths and and a couple of cannon balls to make sure the underwater speakers were working. Tough life but some one had to do it.

What is the most unusual client request you have had?

Just in the last few weeks actually, an existing client wants a big screen in a conservatory, so straight away that is a no no for projectors. The only place it can go is in an archway leading into the conservatory from a dining area. So we are working on a pocket slide-out mechanism for a 65in TV. Of course, there is only one place to turn to for such a thing; Future Automation, the kings of hiding big tech!

How do you see the sector changing in the future?

I think the change will continue towards simplicity. voice control is becoming more and more popular. Less cabling, the likes of Cat6 being used for more and more functions. Plug and play / auto setup systems. Mainstream control systems from the likes of Google/Apple etc. 

Away from work, what are you interests/hobbies?

I like to get away from it all and get out on the mountain bike, I’m a bit of a kid so I love flying my drone and blitzing my RC car around. Love a DIY project at home and work.

You have magic powers and get one wish concerning the smart home and luxury AV market, what are going to wish for?

Rock solid network connected products. Everything in a modern, Hi-Fi, home cinema or smart home wants to sit on and communicate through an ethernet network in your home. These being stable is essential to any system working satisfactorily. We are pretty much there with the networking equipment, routers, switches Wi-Fi transmitters, etc. But it’s the devices we connect to that need to up their game.

Favourite music and movies? What are you watching/listening to right now?  Gladiator and Terminator 2 are 110% my top films. Working in a Hi-Fi shop, we are constantly exposed to new music through events and client demos – favs at the moment, Agnes Obel, Oddisee, listening to Radiohead as I type this.

You can invite three people (living or not) out for a meal/drink, who’s coming and why? 

Fred Dibnah – We both like steam engines, he had a pretty crazy life and would have many incredible stories to tell. Tiesto – His music was a big theme to my younger years when I used to ‘Go Out Out’ and Kevin Bridges my favourite comedian of the moment.

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