There comes a time when every audiophile and/or home theater enthusiast needs to call in a pro. There may be many choices in your area, or there may be few, depending on where you live. Not all custom AV installers are created equal, so how do you choose the right one for your situation? Here are nine questions to consider before you hire a custom installer:
1.�How long has this dealer been in business? Are they accredited by CEDIA, THX, ISF, and/or the Better Business Bureau? Make sure they have a rock-solid reputation and good track record before you cut them a meaningful check.
2.�What does their portfolio of projects look like? Can they show you professional photos of really sweet installations they've done, or are they rocking install photos of seven-inch CRT projectors from 1991?�
3.�Are there client recommendations on the website, or will they provide you with a list of former clients you can call? Do a Google search and see if there is any chatter about the dealer. Check Yelp. The occasional bad posting is part of any business, but you want to look for a pattern of negativity. If nine out 10 reviews are bad, stay away.
4.�What product lines does this installer sell? Is he an "A-list" dealer for the top-end stuff, or is he a "trunk-slammer"?
5.�If you ask for a bid for a project, does he or she come in at your budget number, or do they try to tack on 30 percent or more? If the job needs to be larger, a top-level installer will ask permission to send a larger bid. It's a professional courtesy and smart sales approach, yet some lesser dealers just go for the gusto every time and expect consumers to pay more.
6.�Does the dealer offer you the chance to play with their programming, be it on a�Control4,�Savant�or�Crestron�system? These platforms are powerful for remotes and home automation, but they are only as good as the person programming them. Have they programmed slick interfaces with simple-to-understand pages, or are they complicated and poorly drawn? If it's the latter, run, don't walk -- a lame automation system will destroy the entire experience.
7.�Does the custom AV installer have a background in acoustics, calibration, and overall system tuning? Anyone reading HomeTheaterReview.com is interested in the best performance even if they hire an installer. Do they have�ISF certification? Do their installers get trained at�CEDIA? Do they work with people who can do high-level video calibration? Do they work with acoustical engineers that can make your room sound awesome before you install any speakers? The best firms have good solutions for all of these topics.
8.�Does the dealer have any kind of trade-in program? There is likely value in the gear you own now. Will they help you with photographing and packing your current gear for sale on eBay or Audiogon.com? You may have certain preferences in gear that may or may not be sold by this dealer. Will they get you gear that they don't sell from another dealer if it's what you really want?�
9.�What type of after-the-sale support does the firm offer? Is there a maintenance plan that will get you someone over every three to six months to upgrade firmware, check on your system's functionality, and so on? What is the cost for such a service?
For some DIY enthusiasts, the idea of not installing your own gear is unthinkable. Those of us who want get the most from our systems with the best integration, ease of use, and less grief tend to look to the pros, and it is worth a little research before you get going with a new firm. Considering what your time is worth and how complicated much of today's equipment has become, having someone help you through the ownership process can be worth the money and then some.
Do you get anyone to help you with your AV installations? Who in your area is good? Please share your experiences below in the Comments section.