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I have recently installed a Niles Audio CSF48A soundbar for my family room. This installation was supposed to give me all the WAF credit necessary to get away with anything I wanted for my other two systems (a 9.1 home theater and a 2-channel vintage vinyl system). The install itself is so beautiful that it would make Martha Stewart weep. A super-thin LED TV hangs above the fireplace inside a built-in, 4" deep, custom cabinet that hides the TV when not in use. Below it, in the wall, is the Niles Audio soundbar with only the white grille visible. The cable box and electrical outlets are in an equipment box in the wall behind the TV. Not a single cable, knob, or switch is visible. All this is complemented with brand new furniture pieces that actually have names. This was to be the WAF 'piece de resistance'...

However, the soundbar keeps experiencing random/intermitent audio drop-outs and my wife is furious. It took me a while to diagnose this and it involved tearing up some of the built-in cabinet (ouch$$$) to run a second audio cable, first to a secondary input in the CSF48A soundbar and then (after a drop of audio from that source) to a spare CARVER amplifier sitting on the floor driving my vintage Polk Audio RTA12Cs (WAF credits be cursed).

Now that I have diagnosed the problem, I am wondering what to do next - although I have already emailed Niles Audio and am awaiting their response. A big part of the design of this installation has to do with the form factor of the in-wall soundbar and I would like to keep the cabinet arrangement and physical layout intact.

I have experienced audio drop-out issues in the past with other components (e.g. Outlaw 970) and, in the end and in my experience, those issues are usually not easily recoverable. Any promise of firmware updates is usually a can being kicked down the road. So I am already considering several alternatives:

1. Find a replacement setup (in-wall speakers and amplifier) that will [kind of] fit in the same hole.
2. Convert the Niles soundbar to passive and use a different amplifier that will fit in the wall.

I would like to hear any recommendations for equipment or other solutions that I could use to salvage this installation.

Thanks in advance.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
I briefly considered buying a used Panasonic SC-HTB770 (look it up, I can't post links) and cannibalizing the control unit to drive the Niles speakers. However, it is looking like a Paradigm Soundscape (Google it) might fit the bill, although it is going to be a very tight fit in that cabinet. Thanks everyone for your silent prayers.:)
 

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Silent prayers, funny!

You didn’t mention how the Niles is getting a signal, but I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s HDMI from the TV? I have a friend who had this problem with his cable box and we fixed it by adding a standard digital cable – coax in his case, but it looks like optical in your case.

In my buddy’s situation he was using a standard surround sound system, so getting a good digital signal from the cable box to the AVR was critical. Not really the case in your situation though, assuming that the Niles is the only speaker in the room. You could just as easily use the TV’s analog Line Out to the Niles.

Regards,
Wayne
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks Wayne and sorry for not mentioning how things were connected.

The initial connection was only optical audio from the TV to the soundbar. In case anyone is wondering, I could have gone straight from the cable box to the soundbar (either HMDI pass-through or optical) but then I would not get the audio from the Smart TV apps (e.g. Netflix, Pandora, Hulu, etc.) and it would complicate operations for my wife.

After the audio drop-outs started, I actually had suspected it was the television, which was also brand-new. Probably wishful thinking, since the TV was the only thing NOT inside the wall. So I set the TV to play audio through its own speakers and did not notice any drop-outs there. I then called Samsung and they had me go through diagnostics and factory reset for the TV. By the way, Samsung has surprisingly good tech support for such a large company. Additionally, and just in case, I replaced the optical cable from the TV to the soundbar and added a swiveling 90-degree optical connector in case there was some physical problem with the optical cable path. That cable was also the easiest one to fish. The drop-outs went away... for a whole two days. So...

I decided to try a second configuration: still keeping optical audio from TV to soundbar, but adding an analog audio cable from the TV to the soundbar's analog source input. The idea was to run the system using the second source (analog) for a while as the primary source and see what happens. Since things were analog, I was sure this would work. However, the audio drop-outs started again. Now I began wondering if the Niles was up-converting (or some other processing) the analog signal in order to create 3.1 channels out of the stereo signal and that's where things were going haywire. So...

Third configuration: optical audio from TV to soundbar; analog audio from TV to second system - both systems playing simultaneously, along with a very annoying echo effect that was actually a great tell-tale for when one of the signals dropped. The cable for the second system was coming out of the wall through one of two [additional] holes I had to drill into the brand-new custom cabinet and running across the living room floor - so not something that would please the wife long-term. I left that configuration running for several days and the analog signal on the second system never dropped while the Niles dropped audio repeatedly.

After confirming that the Niles soundbar was the problem, duct-taping the cabinet holes, and kissing goodbye my plans for a vintage vinyl audio setup, I started exploring what limited options I had. I contacted Niles, but they would not honor the warranty since I purchased the speakers through an "unauthorized" dealer (although my receipt said "with warranty"). Like I said in my original post, in my experience, these issues tend NOT to get fixed anyway since they are design problems. So I am cutting my loses already.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
It has been about 4 months, so I figured it is safe to post a successful ending to this story without jinxing anything.

After talking to Niles Audio one last time, they offered one last-ditch suggestion, replacing the amplifier unit. So I took them up on the offer since it would not require me to tear or disasemble anything.

Miraculously, that fixed the audio drop-out issue. I might have had a bad unit, or the replacement had new firmware. At this point, I don't really care since it works.

I was so paranoid that I did not even go through the remote-learning procedure (this is where the Niles amplifier unit "learns" my TV's remote volume up/down commands instead of the other way around). Instead, I got Niles Audio to send me the hex codes for the remote and I programmed my own Logitec remote to use the native Niles soundbar codes.

There is only one minor issue. Every once in a long while (about once every few weeks), the soundbar refuses to respond to the remote volume commands until I cycle power. When this happens, the speaker still sounds fine, but the volume cannot be adjusted via the remote. But that is a very minor inconvenience compared to audio drop-outs, and one that we don't even notice until we need to change the volume (i.e. a loud commercial). This actually makes me feel even better that I decided to leave everything at the stock factory settings and makes me wonder if the volume management part of the firmware is the culprit.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Well, a little over a year of use was what I got for the new amplifier module.
The audio drop outs are back. Too bad. The unit looked beautiful but I cannot deal with the poor performance.
Any suggestions are welcome on a replacement.
 
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