AS 2005 RECEDES, EXCITEMENT IS brewing among consumer electronics companies that 2006 could be the year vendors finally start making some headway with production home builders.

During the past year, Microsoft rolled out Windows Media Center with a home automation hook for under $2,000, and Sony introduced low-end audio and video products for roughly $1,000 per room for audio and $2,000 per room for video. One of the next big splashes will be from Leviton and JBL.

The audio/video system, dubbed “Leviton Architectural Edition Powered by JBL,” will be unveiled by the companies at next month's International Builders' Show in Orlando, Fla. It will cost builders less than $500 per room for audio, with home theater options starting at about $1,000 installed.

An earlier program with Bose in which Leviton promoted Bose audio and home theater systems with a certain degree of success convinced Leviton that branded entertainment products would be attractive to production home builders. Leviton decided that an expanded product mix with an entertainment center option could be attractive to builders looking for home theater/multiroom audio packages they can offer home buyers.

SWEET MUSIC: The addition of a Harman/ Kardon entertainment center and JBL speakers to Leviton's product mix should play well with production home builders in 2006.
SWEET MUSIC: The addition of a Harman/ Kardon entertainment center and JBL speakers to Leviton's product mix should play well with production home builders in 2006.

For the uninitiated, JBL is part of Harman International, which also markets the Harman/Kardon AV system featured in the video upgrade. JBLis best known for producing the speakers used by professional musicians, recording studios, and movie theaters.

According to Mark Cerasuolo, director of brand development for Leviton Integrated Networks and Controls, the idea is to offer a high-quality audio/video product that can be easily installed by the home builder's standard electrical contractor who also installs structured wiring or by a security contractor familiar with structured wiring.

“No audio company has really penetrated the production home builder market,” says Cerasuolo.

“JBL and Leviton think that the way to [reach home builders] is to bundle audio with structured wiring through the builder's lead contractor, typically the electrician,” Cerasuolo says, adding that the opportunity in the production home market is comparable to that of the production car market in the mid-1980s. It was then that JBL and Bose became leaders in making high-quality audio a standard in many automobiles.

Paul Bente, JBL's president of consumer products, says JBL is teaming up with Leviton to address the mainstream of the market—the mass production builder.

“This is really geared for the customers that the Leviton salesperson addresses,” says Bente, who adds that Leviton has strong contacts with the distribution network that services the electrical contractors most big builders use.

The basic package includes multiroom audio with in-wall and ceiling speakers, including smaller, single speakers for such places as bathrooms and laundry rooms. For home buyers who would like music outdoors, the package includes two patio speakers.

Home theater upgrades will include a Harman/Kardon entertainment center that has an AV receiver, a CD changer, and a DVD player. The home theater systems will come in two styles: on-the-wall or built-in. On-the-wall systems are installed on brackets that are screwed into the wall, while built-in systems are typically built directly into the fabric of the wall and/or ceiling. JBL designs speakers to optimize both installation techniques.

The AV receiver is A-Bus compatible, which means it's easy to install an A-Bus distributed audio package with these systems. A-Bus lets installers build multiroom audio into a home by installing A-Bus amps directly in each room rather than in a centralized rack.

“A-Bus is perfect for casual listening where you want music to be part of the environment,” says Leviton's Cerasuolo.