We don’t do much in the way of custom install products in Hi-Fi+, pretty much for the same reasons we don’t cover that much home cinema/home theatre equipment… it’s not one of our areas of specialism. Custom Install systems are increasingly integrated with home automation, HVAC, alarms… and lots of modern home sub-systems that require expertise that is often different to the requirements of the audiophile. However, the two paths have a lot in common, and Zuma might just be the perfect bridge between the two worlds.
A UK-based tech start-up, Zuma, featuring the design smarts of Morten Warren and the audio engineering skills of Laurence Dickie (of Vivid fame) among others, The £375 (excl. VAT) per unit Zuma Lumisonic is a ceiling mounted combination tuneable LED light and loudspeaker in one, coupled with a small, wirelessly networked computer and app control. Each unit fits in a very slightly larger than standard in-ceiling mount used for low-voltage lighting and runs from a 24V power supply.
The three-year project allows lighting and audio to be fully controlled from your phone or even some Bluetooth connected devices. For example, log into your Peloton spin-class via Bluetooth, and the Zuma lights in that room will react with the ambience of a small gym class (sweat smell and crushing sense of failure at your lack of hard body not included), or later in the day, play a relaxation app on your phone and the lighting tone will turn mellow, or you can even make the combination light/speaker units create a gentle background of rainforest canopy sound and lighting from the Zuma app itself… without the risk of being bitten by creepy-crawlies.
In outright music terms, Zuma integrates with both Spotify Connect, internet radio or music stored on your phone through the app or via voice commands through Amazon Alexa. It integrates well with Apple Airplay, meaning you can connect an iPhone, iPad, or TV to the sound and light show. The sound itself projects vertically downward from the ceiling – naturally, given the placement of each Kuma – and makes for a very room filling experience. Having experienced these directly at Zuma’s swanky new central London store, the effect is clever; it’s not pin-point stereo in the conventional sense and there is no surround-sound steering option, but there is a sense of dimensionality and space to the sound that is extremely alluring. Moreover, this sense of dimensionality is perhaps closer to the sound experienced through personal audio than the ‘stereo soundstage in front of the listener’ that traditional audiophiles are used to, so it might prove sonically more attractive to a generation who might otherwise dismiss good audio as ‘OK Boomer’ stuff.
The loudspeaker units are ‘full-range’ and are a two-way coaxial design, DSP-optimised, sealed box with a tiny 75W amplifier built in. The volume, dynamic range and extension from each speaker is impressive given the size of the driver itself. However, the limits of physics do kick in (as the company’s own frequency plots show). However, there is a surprising amount of bass energy in the 50Hz-80Hz range, even if attenuated. The 20Hz-50Hz… not so much.
Each Zuma device forms part of its own broadcast network, with one unit per room becoming the main broadcasting unit to local Zuma devices in its area. I didn’t have a chance to determine how these individual rooms are set-up and differentiated from each other, but it appears to be controlled through a set-up app and shouldn’t be too difficult. Potentially, the hardest part of the installation will be ceiling mounting and running power, but anyone who has done the same with modern lighting systems is more than qualified for Zuma installation.
The system offers more, later, too. Because it has that in-built processor, swapping the bezel for an active device with integrated smoke alarms, motion sensors, or other forms of security systems should be easy, and these elements are pending for future launches. In addition, other network audio systems should be unlocked over time, adding ‘the usual streaming subjects.’ There’s also a slimmed-down lighting-only ‘Luminare’ unit expected in the summer for £125 (exc. VAT).
I don’t see this as a replacement to good audio, but more as an adjunct. Those of us with a good system in a dedicated listening space will not be turning that in any time soon, but this offers an integrated ‘round the house’ alternative to Philips Smart Bulbs for lighting and Sonos One-esque devices for sound. I can also see them being used extensively in hospitality (hotel rooms for example) as soon as they re-emerge from the COVID-19 mire. And in fairness, ‘Dik’ (Dickie) doesn’t put his design imprinteur on anything audio unless it sounds good, and the Zuma sounds really, really good for what it is.
Key technology specification:
0K - 5000K
555 lumen @ 3000K, 574 lumen @ 5000K
56 degrees Beam Angle
Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify® Connect, Bluetooth BLE v4.2
Internet Radio, Works with Alexa
Ethernet (10/100Mbps), Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac),
WAV, FLAC and AIFF – up to 24bit/192kHz
ALAC (Apple Lossless) – up to 24bit/192kHz
MP3 – up to 48kHz, 320kbit (16 bit)
AAC – up to 48kHz, 320kbit (16bit)
75W max (co-axial 2 driver configuration)
Stereo 2-way; DSP-optimised sealed acoustic system