Acoustic Design Systems

Premier Las Vegas-based technology design and integration firm celebrates 20th Anniversary.

By Douglas Weinstein

ONE OF THE COUNTRY’S PREMIER RESIDENTIAL HOME AUTOMATION AND SECURITY SOLUTIONS PROVIDERS, Las Vegas-based Acoustic Design Systems (ADS), recently celebrated their 20th year anniversary. Still owned and operated by Founder and CEO Christopher Sterle, ADS has come a long way in an ever-changing industry that operates in an ever-changing city. The numbers speak for themselves.

In their first year of business, ADS completed roughly 20 total jobs, compared to nearly 3,300 projects in 2022. They purchased their first company vehicle in 2005 — it’s still on the road today! — and now have a fleet of over 30 fully stocked service vehicles and nearly 60 employees.

ADS continues to add new large-scale accounts across the valley. In the past year, ADS has added Landon Miller Homes, Christopher Homes’ SkyVu at MacDonald Highlands, and Blue Heron’s Stonewater luxury community in Las Vegas. For nearly 10 years ADS has been the exclusive home automation and security partner for Toll Brothers in Las Vegas. And now, ADS has expanded outside of Las Vegas for the first time, opening a satellite office to service all five of Toll Brothers’ luxury home communities in St. George, Utah, consisting of 565 homes, 12 models, a sales center and a design center.

I recently sat down with Christopher to talk about ADS, his views on partnering in the design-build community, technologies that homeowners and builders are embracing, the importance of infrastructure, and that intersection where technology meets design.

DOUG: Thanks for sitting down with us. Tell us about your journey.

CHRISTOPHER: I grew up in Ohio and after college worked for a big box A/V retail store and found I had a passion for technology. I’d attend training classes for various manufacturers and learned as much about products and their capabilities as I could. I relocated to Las Vegas back in 1998 — with $63 bucks in my pocket! — and became a field manager for a local home A/V company. I took a deeper dive into the custom integration world and even did a stint on the EFX entertainment show at the MGM Grand for a few years to learn more about professional A/V gear and installation. In 2003 I launched ADS.

I know that a lot of guys who started their A/V integration companies in the 1980s and 90s came from a two-channel audio background, but my age group and the new blood that is coming into the industry probably identifies more with networking than high-end audio. And don’t get me wrong, I love great sound and it’s as important as any other component in a performance home. But the network and the proper design of wired and wireless infrastructure is what guarantees future-proofing the home from a technological point of view. As far as livability, I think acoustics is right at the top of my list because creating the right environment inside the home is so important to how well we feel in the space.

DOUG: You’re working with production homes as well as the luxury custom home builder. How do they differ and how is your business structured to accommodate both?

CHRISTOPHER: Good question! As far as the numbers, I’d guestimate that from the amount of homes we touch, five percent are custom and 95 percent are production. But our approach is unique to each project and each customer, as luxury custom projects are much more involved than production homes.

For example, for Toll Brothers, we offer a very small base package, what we call a 1+1 wiring which is standard cable for cable TV, as well as Category Cable such as CAT 6 which we run for networking capabilities. We install a structured distributed wiring box to keep the wiring/cabling clean and also integrate the Lutron Caseta product which consists of smart lighting dimmers. Everything beyond that is an option.

During the design appointments we will meet with those homeowners who want to look at upgrades, such as a 7.2.4 Dolby Atmos surround sound system for their main entertainment room, outdoor speakers and/or distributed audio throughout the house, and all the way up to a Control4 automation option. We can even explain how the other technology in the house — from the HVAC, smart doors and doorbells, etc. — can be integrated into the control system for ease of use.

And even in the semi-custom building world we are really about educating the homeowner on why technology is important. Without technology and infrastructure, it’s just an old home, no matter how new you think it is. We use a new car as an analogy — you wouldn’t buy a new car without GPS, great audio, power everything and an App — in fact, the technology is a big part of why you invest in a new car! So the same with a new home — intelligent lighting and automated window treatments and great music are must-haves for many new home buyers.

And then when we get to the luxury custom home end of the market, the Christopher Homes and Blue Heron projects, those are full turn-key packages. They are building a very bespoke home and want it all to work as one fluid experience. The foundation to the remote control and how the homeowner interfaces with the property is critical. Panelized lighting control, motorized shades. Every facet of modern technology is incorporated and there is nothing the customer has to do as we provide full concierge service up to and including monitoring homes remotely in case something goes off-line which we then fix from our offices so we don’t have to bother the client.

DOUG: You’ve built up impressive relationships with architects, designers and builders. How much do you invest in maintaining them?

CHRISTOPHER: We really care about our relationships with design-build and that starts with getting to that point where we are perceived as friends, not enemies. We understand that technology only supports enlightened design. And we understand that technology can be daunting!

So a big part of our outreach is in education. We offer CEU courses and attempt to make our colleagues comfortable talking about technology and exploring how the right light and the right acoustics can improve the performance of the space. We work with architects and discuss equipment room sizes, the need for ventilation and exhaust, and how to control dust. How they can design these spaces so they are not afterthoughts.

Our Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Amanda Crigar is heavily invested in the community. She is a Community Association Institute Nevada Educated Business Partner, a certified continuing education instructor with the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, American Institute of Architects, American Society of Interior Designers, and Interior Design Continuing Education Council, and is active with local industry organizations including the Professional Women in Building Council, Southern Nevada Home Builders Association and the Henderson Chamber of Commerce.

We go to networking events at the Las Vegas Design Center and probably invest dozens of hours each month with the design-build community. We create social media campaigns and invest in marketing to explain how incredible today’s smart home technologies are. Sometimes I think of us as a marketing and customer service company who happens to sell A/V!

DOUG: Back to infrastructure for a moment. Talk a little more about future-proofing.

CHRISTOPHER: The number one thing we talk to our partners and clients about infrastructure is the network and understanding the difference between wired and wireless. So for the right network, we talk about a managed network where signals that bounce around your house are managed to handle the “hand-shake” between devices and from room to room. Then we explain that devices that consume and require the highest connectivity need to be hard-wired, while mobile devices — phones and tablets — have to have strong, estate-wide wireless coverage.

We will also wire for audio and video distribution, automated window treatments, and intelligent lighting so the homeowner has the option down the road to incorporate new technologies or designs should they desire to. Imagine not investing a few hundred bucks to pre-wire the master suite when the customer is already sold on intelligent lighting and automated window treatments in the great room. You know once they live with that for six months they are going to want it in the master suite. And who knows what cool designs that rely on technology are coming down the road. So future-proofing your home is critical.

DOUG: Let’s talk about the hottest trends in design: acoustics, lighting and window treatments.

CHRISTOPHER: As I mentioned earlier, acoustics is something we bring to every project. In Las Vegas, homes where we work have large glass panels that reflect sound. You actually get the sound pinging around the space until it becomes uncomfortable. I’m sure you’ve been to a dinner party where the sound gets so loud that people are talking over one another, much less enjoying the music! So a combination of acoustics in the architecture and engineering design process as well as decorative treatments which look beautiful are solutions we bring to the table when we work with design-build. I can’t say enough about how important it is to have a quiet, comfortable environment to live in. In the new world of wellness architecture, acoustics is a prime factor in performance home metrics.

And then intelligent lighting and window treatments are huge right now. If you think about great acoustics in a space, and then layering in a great lighting design, that’s the house that today’s homeowners want to design.

For me, lighting is my favorite technology in my own home. It is a night and day difference between standard six-inch cans that most builders specify and modern tunable lighting and the ability to automate that process. When I talk to architects and designers and explain how we can get rid of all of the wall acne — the banks of light switches which are flat out ugly — and replace them with an elegant keypad with a few scenes, it sets such a great mood in the space. And today’s best lighting is dimmable down to one percent, so in many cases, over the lifetime of the home you are saving money and energy. We all want to live in better environments and intelligent lighting is the foundation of that promise.

As far as window treatments we are big partners with Lutron and Control4. Shades are incredible. Not only can you harvest energy and light during the day with roller shades that compliment any décor, you also gain privacy at night. All set to scenes via an astronomical timer that compliments and integrates with your lighting scenes.

We work with architects to explore and educate on cassette pocket sizes for that gorgeous, recessed look. It’s easy to understand why the combination of lighting and window treatments have taken the design community by storm. It adds to the elegance of the interior and enhances furnishings and artwork.

DOUG: You mentioned music as another key component. What are the latest advancements that you enjoy sharing with clients?

CHRISTOPHER: Landscape audio has made major advancements lately and getting high-quality audio outside is incredibly popular. Here in Las Vegas, we enjoy outdoors year around. So after a long day at the office, to be able to kick back on your deck with great sound is a luxury experience not to be missed.

Inside the home, I can only recommend that you throw away those large circular speakers you have in your ceiling which destroys the lines in the house.

Invisible speakers have come a long way and are now providing excellent sonics while completely disappearing from sight. You can integrate them behind wall paper and turn your dining room into a symphony hall without clutter or ceiling acne.

When you combine a great room performance audio system with indoor/outdoor distributed audio, the entire family is enriched with quality sound. I think it is a luxury unrealized in most homes, and that’s why we are advocates for great audio.

DOUG: Let’s wrap up with your thoughts on customer service.

CHRISTOPHER: We are a service business. We are 100 percent aware that we are the client’s partner for as long as they have that home. Once your flooring is done, you never see them again. Same with your kitchen counters and cabinets. Because of our industry, you will be with us forever. And let’s be honest, technology isn’t perfect.

Anyone who has owned a computer knows it needs updates and eventually can’t keep up with the pace of technical advances and needs to be replaced. Well, our systems are computers and so we need to maintain them over time.

You know, for many, service can be an afterthought. Long, long ago when Mr. Jones called me with a problem I would pull my service tech off of Mr. Smith’s job and have him go to fix the problem at Mr. Jones’ house. I’d rob Peter to pay Paul. But we learned a long time ago that that’s not how to run a business and how to provide the service that homeowners ask for and quite frankly, deserve.

Today, we have four full-time technicians and a full time service manager who takes care of answering the phone and performing remote updates to our clients’ systems. We have a very strict way we set up and document each project  – anyone can see how our signal paths are designed and how to make simple corrections. You don’t have to be the original tech who installed the system. And finally, we get daily updates on firmware issues so we can proactively maintain our systems. The bottom line is that our clients aren’t impacted unnecessarily.

DOUG: Final thoughts?

CHRISTOPHER: Security is another key element in our world. From point of entry, the perimeter, and indoor spaces, we spend a large amount of the discovery process understanding our clients’ personal needs. And I think that’s another reason that a qualified technology design firm needs to be at those early meetings to flesh out the technology side of the discovery process.