Savant Home Automation Control System
By Mark Vignola on
How we control our homes and home theaters has changed dramatically in the last decade. What started as a streamlined way to control the sound of our TV with a cable box remote, has now blossomed into systems that are capable of running our entire homes – coordinating between a multitude of connected devices with a goal of making our lives simpler. Turning on a receiver, TV and selecting a source is but one component of what needs to be done with a home control system in 2022. From lights, to locks, to shades – many people now need a system that can coordinate multiple tasks across their home.
While platforms like Apple Homekit, Google Home and Amazon Alexa have made the coordination of these disparate systems far more accessible, integration systems like Savant take an extra step towards making the user experience more robust and accessible.
With sleek hardware, a gorgeous interface, reliable operation and user accessible customizations, the Savant control ecosystem is a formidable player in the high end home control world.
Design & Set-Up of the Savant System
I worked with Eugene Fiks, of Fiks Consulting, to help design the system for our apartment. An assessment of what equipment we had was the first step. As outlined in my apartment build series, we had to integrate across multiple systems, including Lutron, Hunter Douglas, LG & Apple.
Nearly all of the equipment I had installed would easily integrate into the Savant programing with three exceptions. First, the Wemo switches I’d leveraged for sound machines in our bedrooms would need to be swapped out for Savant branded switches. Next, our blackout shades from Hunter Douglas, which are IP controllable, would be limited in their ability to send feedback to the Savant system. Control was possible, but integration and flexibility would be limited: we are able to incorporate commands for raising and lowering the shades – but because Savant can’t determine if the shades are up or down, I am unable to build my own scenes using the Scene Builder feature. Lastly, the Haiku ceiling fan in our bedroom, also IP controllable, wasn’t supported by Savant’s software.
As I use Airplay for whole home audio, we also specified a Savant Audio Server for the system. We also added a Savant LED Lighting strip for installation behind the TV as a bias light. Control of the main living room system would be run via a Savant X2 wand style remote control. Savant also supports iOS integration – so we made sure to enable both our tablets and our phones for the Savant Pro app as well.
Installation of the equipment was straightforward, though programming took some back and forth – especially to integrate the systems we had flagged above. Kudos to Eugene – who went above and beyond to help get things to a great spot.
Savant Control: A Polished Experience
If there is one word I can use for the Savant experience it is “polished”. Across both the iOS app, and screen on the X2, the entire user interface is clean and intuitive. Even non-technical folks will have little difficulty navigating around and executing commands. Everything is organized and makes sense — it’s also very pretty.
You can run the Savant system with identical functionality both from the X2 remote and the iOS app. The logic across both platforms is the same, though on a day to day basis, for running our theater, we definitely gravitate to the X2. With its buttons and familiar wand configuration it feels very familiar and intuitive as we navigate around our most used source, the AppleTV.
Speaking of the X2 – it’s a joy to interact with. In the hand, it feels great: solid and well built. The color screen is beautiful, and navigation across different command prompts is clean and snappy. It just feels good compared to other brands I’ve used.
Whether launched through iOS or the X2, macro commands are incredibly fast through Savant – faster than other IP based systems I’ve used. Happily for our family, this speed also translates to driving our AppleTV. Control of the AppleTV is indistinguishable from a speed standpoint to the AppleTV remote, and with its hard buttons, is way more enjoyable to use.
The iOS app is a useful companion to the X2. When the X2 isn’t nearby, all of the functionality you’d expect from the wand remote is preserved. You can control volume, switch sources and turn off the main system. In addition, the iOS app provides easier access to control of basic home control functions like shades, lights and locks as a result of increased screen area.
Control of the music browsing features of the Savant Audio server are also easier via iOS. We are a Spotify family, so it is nice that Savant supports direct access to Spotify content directly through the Savant App & remote. This is handled with more ease via the app than the X2 – though functionality is still lacking vs the native Spotify app. Savant also allows you to link TuneIn and Amazon Prime music, though these aren’t services we use in our house that much. A software update will allow Spotify Connect access to the Savant audio server. I am eager to see how this works and we’ll report back.
Home Automation is accomplished through Savant Scenes – which can be on-demand, or linked to a time or day or other actions within the house. You can automate pretty much anything – from raising shades at a particular time, or locking a door at night. While this is flexible there are some things I found easier though other apps. Things like “if then” statements (if the temperature is above 80 outside, drop all of the shades) weren’t straight forward for me to program (IFTTT is great at this).
I tried voice control with both Amazon Alexa and Google Home. Both platforms work, but Google Home was more fully featured in its ability to integrate scenes served by Savant into other voice commands. Alexa is able to see and run the scenes, but has limited ability to port them into routines; this wasn’t an issue at all with Google Home. I was able to very effectively leverage Google Home, to drive our Haiku fan alongside other Savant driven scenes. Every day we use “Ok Google, good night” and “OK Google, good morning” to drive morning and evening scenes from Savant. Each of these scenes is able to run lighting, fan, locks, temperature and sound machines – setting each to what we’d like to happen at night (lights off, sound machine on, front door locked, ceiling fan on, AC’s turn on/temp set) and the morning (lights on, ceiling fan off, sound machine off, temps updated).
Customization in the Hands of the User
One of the coolest things about the Savant experience was how much easy customization is available to the end user. You don’t need to interface with your programmer every time you want to add a scene, or change the picture tied to a room.
Customization is most easily accomplished through the iOS app. From there you can generate customized scenes, either by building them from scratch or by “grabbing” the current state of various rooms – where you can pull everything from audio sources, to positioning of the shades. Savant has a straightforward guided scene builder that walks the user through all of the choices. Through the iOS remote you can also change things like what picture you have tied to a room, or move the order of sources. You can even create different layouts for different users.
While working with a great programmer is an essential part of making the experience click, giving the user the ability to drive the customization of the experience without always having to pick up the phone, is a terrific part of the Savant system.
As you can tell, I’ve enjoyed living with the Savant system in our apartment – but there are some areas I’d like to see improved.
Firstly the sandbox can be limited if you aren’t starting from scratch with Savant in mind. While technology of the motors in the Hunter Douglas shades limited our ability to fully integrate our blackout curtains, I see no reason a high end, IP controllable & popular fan like the Big Ass Haiku is only part of the ecosystem with an IR blaster. Our Panasonic UB-9000 4K Blu-ray player also required an IR blaster – despite capable of receiving IP commands on other platforms like Control4, the UB-9000 IP commands weren’t in the Savant database.
AirPlay integration offered by the Savant Audio Server works but is very limited in its functionality. In my configuration, no control was linked to AirPlay – so while I can see the Savant audio server and send music, I am still required to actually turn on the system and select “Music” as an input to get the audio. A software update should allow the system to turn on via AirPlay, but I haven’t been able to test that yet.
Unlike other AirPlay devices I’ve used, the Savant won’t take volume instructions from iOS – so you are left bouncing back and forth between apps. Also frustrating is that the Savant Server isn’t groupable with other AirPlay sources: if you play something via the Savant server, other AirPlay nodes aren’t accessible. The opposite is also true: if you are using AirPlay sources, the Savant Server isn’t accessible. The result of both of these oddities makes it tough to recommend Savant as a means to get AirPlay into a system. I would imagine all of these could be addressed with software updates, so let’s hope that better AirPlay integration is on the roadmap for the Savant team.
Also complicated by the limited AirPlay is use of native apps for browsing music services. Spotify works through Savant – but as discussed above, is not as functional as using the native app. A new software will allow for Savant to be accessible via Spotify Connect – we’ve tested it and it works fine – Spotify sees the Savant music source, and plays no problem – but there is still a bit of back and forth that is, in my hands, ungainly.
Lastly, while I love the X2 remote – at least in my UniFi based system – the Wi-Fi proved to be a bit tricky to dial in, especially after a November/December firmware update on the X2. At this point, we’ve determined that the X2 isn’t compatible with UniFi’s new WiFi6 AP’s . I suffer repeated disconnections and in some configurations, the X2 churns through battery – giving only about an hour of use. We are still working to troubleshoot this issue, but at this point, if you have a WiFi 6 UniFi system, in my hands, the X2 simply doesn’t work.
My family interacts with Savant every day. From driving our A/V system, to running automation in our home, the system is speedy, reliable and easy. Importantly, guests have no issue picking up the remote and running a complex system. The X2 remote is a premium piece of gear that is as nice to use as it is robust, and iOS integration is excellent. I’d love to see some programming work on the AirPlay side – luckily I think all of my critiques can be addressed through updates. Overall I’m very pleased to be using Savant to help run not sure our audio and video, but our lives.
I have been writing on audio-video topics for more than 10 years. Before joining Reference Home Theater, I was a writer at Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity, where in addition to working on several features with Chris, I also reviewed a broad range of components, from amplifiers to speakers.
I represent the east coast office of Reference Home Theater, residing with my family on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.