So, What is a Smart Home Exactly?

By Jess Rothenburger

There is a lot of talk about the ‘Smart Home’ these days. The term is thrown around loosely, and I am not sure a textbook definition even exists. Other terms, such as ‘Integrated Home’ or ‘Automated Home’, also exist, to further complicate the matter. 


In my opinion, at its root, a Smart Home is one that leverages some sort of technology to enhance how someone experiences living in that home. An enhanced experience can make a person feel more secure, or comfortable, or cool – and I don’t just mean temperature. 


By the above definition, the truth is you probably already live in a Smart Home and use smart devices every day. Think about it. Do you have a thermostat that keeps your house a set temperature or that can even change the temperature based on a schedule? Do you have an alarm clock? Does your oven beep when the chicken is cooked? Does your toaster pop the bread when it has turned into toast?


Our homes are already smart, and thankfully they are getting smarter. Do you remember when power locks and power windows were options in a car? The same thing is happening in the home. Multi-room audio systems, smart locks, smart thermostats, etc. are gradually becoming standard features. I happen to live with these and, frankly, I can’t imagine not having them in my house. This is a good thing. 


The Smart Home is here to stay, so it can be helpful to dissect what we actually mean by ‘Smart Home’. Here are some qualities found in today’s Smart Home systems that not only help us understand what we mean by “smart”, but that can help us differentiate among the myriad of offerings: 


CONTROL: Smart Homes are almost always controllable via your smart device. Some solutions allow for local control and others allow you to control your home remotely as well. Additionally, there is the option for on-wall control, touchscreen control, universal remote control and voice control. 


Ask yourself: What ways of controlling my smart home are important and most convenient for me? 


PROGRAMMING: Basic solutions allow you to set schedules and timers. (Turn my lights on ten minutes after the sun sets) Programming is telling your system to trigger an event when something else happens. (When I get home, turn up the thermostat) The more advanced the system, the more intricate and involved and intelligent this programming can be. Traditional smart home solutions can require a trained professional like me to install the system and to implement high level programming, but basic programming can be done by the homeowner across most platforms. 


Ask yourself: How ‘smart’ do I want my house to be? Am I prepared to get someone to help me, or would I rather keep it basic and do it myself?


AUTOMATION: To my mind, a truly automated system is one that has the capacity to unify a wide variety of sub-systems under one umbrella while having them communicate with each other; the sub-systems in your home can have a two-way dialog and one sub-system’s action can inform another’s. Automation may necessarily involve higher-level programming that works continuously in the background.  So, the lights turning on at sunset is smart.  Automation is when, for example, in the case your system detects C02, it knows to turn on the pathway lights to the nearest exit, turn off your circulating air, unlock the door, open your garage and send you and your loved ones a text message.


Ask yourself:  Do I need the convenience of basic programming, or do I need the peace of mind and added functionality that comes from a truly automated house?


CLOUD-BASED or LOCAL INTELLIGENCE: Some solutions leverage the power of the internet and the cloud to communicate between the smart devices in your home – this can be cost effective but result in a laggy user experience. And, if your internet is out, you are out of luck. Some products have physical or software attributes built-in so that devices can work together across a certain platform, like Apple’s Homekit.  Other solutions require a “hub” which is a locally connected network device that facilitates the communication between smart devices. Some hubs are application or product specific and others are designed to make several solutions work together. Traditional solutions involve a “controller” which is effectively a computer that can replace a multitude of hubs. Controllers also have more physical connections and attributes to be able to integrate the lights, TV’s, audio, security system, video cameras, intercom, etc. Importantly, a controller has the processing power to reliably control all of this quickly, securely and reliably. 


Ask yourself: Do I need my smart home to do a few things pretty well most of the time, or is it crucial that my smart home do many things very well quickly and reliably? 


You can accurately guess that there are seemingly countless “smart home” solutions out there. Some are great and others are, frankly, crap. Getting clear on what works with what and which solution makes the most sense for you can be time consuming and frustrating. 


The smartest homes are those where the appropriate solutions meet your expectations and budget.  The smart thing for you to do is to consult with a home technologist so he or she can help you achieve the goal of making your home as smart as you want it to be.

What Kind of Music Listener are you?

By Jess Rothenburger


As a home technologist, a large part of what I do is deploying audio systems in people’s homes. In the past years I have learned more than I thought possible about audio, and I know enough to know how much I still don’t know. It’s fascinating, actually, but learning about audio can be a bit of rabbit hole. Without knowledge, discerning which audio product is the best solution for an application can be a real challenge.  So, an important part of my job is matching the solution to the needs of my customers and, in so doing, the first thing I ask is: What kind of music listener are you? 


In my experience, people can generally be categorized into three music listener categories:  



Let’s dissect these people a little bit, shall we?


AUDIOPHILE: If you haven’t heard this term before, there is a good chance you are not an Audiophile. If you don’t own FLAC or MQA files, have a Dragonfly or know what a DAC is, you are not an Audiophile. Audiophile – it sounds like a bad word, doesn’t it? On the contrary, Audiophiles are, in my view, to be respected. Simply put, Audiophiles LOVE music and, importantly, they love finding the best ways to play recorded music as close to its original and purest form as possible. Quality over quantity. You can usually tell Audiophiles, because they will not only have high quality equipment, but they embrace any opportunity to show it off. They can have large music collections that include CD’s, Vinyl and 24bit/192khz digital music files. Audiophiles often also like to talk about music… the best mastering of albums, the virtues of vinyl vs. digital, types of speakers, etc. I guess, in a way, it’s a subculture. Personally, I am not a self-described ‘Audiophile’ but I do think Audiophiles are cool, and I enjoy speaking their language. I dig their enthusiasm and passion for music.


LOW-FI LISTENER: Low-Fi Listeners basically doesn’t care how music sounds, because convenience is paramount. If the music is free, great.  Low-Fi Listeners are willing to compromise on performance to achieve shape or colour or gimmick.  Quantity over quality. MP3’s, free streaming music services, crappy headphones and cheap Bluetooth speakers come to mind here. Low-Fi Listeners want the beats fast and dirty, sometimes loud but most always cheap. Definitely not my style, but hey, I get it. To stereotype, the quintessential Low-Fi Listener is… a teenager, or pathologically cheap (sorry, it’s true).  As a side note, there are many adults who self-describe as Low-fi Listeners who are actually NOT – they just haven’t had a chance to discover who they really are…. like the dude who “only drives standard” until he has driven an automatic for a week never to go back to the tedium of shifting gears all the time.  


DISCERNING LISTENER:  The discerning listener is probably you…. which means you are a healthy mix of the Audiophile and the Low-Fi Listener. If this is you, welcome to the club! We Discerning Listeners value convenience, form factor AND quality sounding music. We don’t obsess over the tech specs of how the music is being played, we just know if it sounds good or not. We can tell the difference between CD quality and low-fi streaming audio, but it may be hard for us to tell the difference between a CD and a 24bit/192kHz Flac file. When we listen to background music for more than 10 minutes our ears get tired when the sound is bad, but we turn it up when the sound is good.   Generally, we prefer high quality audio if it’s convenient and we can afford it; that said, we are not going to break the bank either, because there are many other things we can spend our hard- earned money on.  We want quality, quantity and excellent value. 


Whoever you are and whichever imaginary category you may fit into, there is no judgment here. Respect all around. If you are a Low-Fi Listener, there isn’t much people like me can help you with. If you are an Audiophile – let’s play!  


If you are a Discerning Listener who wants high quality but doesn’t want to pay too much, please don’t be daunted by the gazillion offerings out there. There is an ideal solution for you, and people like me are here to help. Knowing what kind of listener you are is the first most important step.