Rako wireless lighting system review

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posted on Saturday, 29th June 2013 by Steve May

Lighting Control  Rako  lighting Design 


Lighting is increasingly a major ingredient of custom install projects large and small. From final aesthetics, where inventive and discrete lighting can transform the user experience, to the financial bottom line, lighting can make a massive contribution to the success of a job. Installers need to balance reliability, ease of deployment, cost and performance, and more often than not the go-to brand is British outfit Rako. 

But just how easy is it to fit a Rako wireless solution and what's the final customer experience like? To learn more, we tagged along on a residential install. The job in question was a half-house retrofit involving hallways, living room and kitchen area. Legacy lighting was to be replaced with halogen downlights.

Rako wireless lighting system: Components and features
While Rako does offer hardwired control hardware, it was the brand's RF wireless solution which was deemed appropriate for this particular project. A wired package would be more likely for a new build or renovation. In this instance, the team wanted to get the lights in and running with a minimum of fuss.

At the heart of the chosen system is the RTD500-L. This in-line dimmer can handle low-voltage halogen and tungsten loads up to 500w. Rako also supplies other dimmers for different loads, the RDL250-L (for loads up to 250w), and the much larger RDL1200-C (up to 1200w). The latter might typically be used with a large lighting fixture such as a chandelier, which could boast some 20 bulbs; this is probably more common in mansion houses than smaller residential properties (although never say never). Rako also offers other tungsten and halogen solutions, covering most lighting eventualities.

The 500w capacity of the RDL500-L used for this project supports a maximum of ten 50w bulbs, representing a controllable circuit. For this project, two were used in the kitchen area, creating two independently dimmable circuits, three in the hallway (top and bottom) and two in the main living space. Providing the physical user interface are a number of RCM-070 control panels. This seven button keypad offers four programmable scenes, plus a lower/raiser slider for manual dimming and Full Off. There are also matching 6-, 3- and 2-button control panels in the range, should you need them. These keypads require a front plate kit to finish them off. Handsomely made, these come in a variety of finishes and styles, including stainless steel, brass, screwless (RLF) or screwed (RVF), flush or surface mounted.

Control panels can be installed into a standard single gang UK back-box, or in the 14mm patress supplied. Working wirelessly on RF, they are powered by a coin battery, so there's no link to the mains supply required. Battery life is said to be around 3 years, based on an assumption of 30 presses a day. Matching control panels are also available for blinds, curtains and even projector screens.

Rako wireless lighting system: Set up and performance
During the Rako system set up, lights and switches are assigned a unique binary code, based on a given house and room number, via rear-mounted dip switches. The unique nature of this code prevents the lights being accidentally triggered by neighbours who might also have an RF-based Rako system up and running. Previously, the legacy lights in our test property were linked by the mains and controlled via a standard switch wire. The Rako control panel takes the place of the Switch wire.

To program the system, a USB RF interface dongle, the RAUSB, for PC was employed. This confirmed activation of the dimmer module, via a simple physical tagging, and scene lighting to be set up within supplied Rako software. For greater control, a Rako wireless bridge was also installed. The Rako RA-Bridge sits on a power supply next to a router or network switch, and becomes a Wi-Fi access point for the system, which can then be controlled via an iPad/iOS or Android device. The scene set-up from the PC is downloaded to the bridge. The Rako app replicates the keypad and selecting each button triggers the appropriate reaction. Users can also take control of the system via a browser interface from a networked PC. Both approaches allow users to trigger scenes or temporarily override any given scene via a simpler slider. The app may be unfussy but proves extremely intuitive to use. Simply download it to a mobile device and it'll find the wireless bridge on the connected network and present your rooms and scenes for control.

Additional functionality is available in the shape of a RAPIR presence/daylight sensor and keyfob. When homeowners arrive at their driveway, one touch can bring up all the lights in the house, and vice versa. Rako also offers a security TCM (time clock module) which can store weeks of control, ideal when customers are going away on holiday and want to give the illusion that the house is occupied. For larger properties, an RF repeater (the RAB100) is available. The hardwired RAK version of the Rako system controls four zones and can be rack-mounted. This four-zone provision makes the system suitable for smaller residential installs. Integrators can also mix and match wireless with wired.

Once commissioned, there are no hitches, everything just works - and the benefits of the system over the previous legacy lighting become immediately apparent. The zones in our test property feature both steerable and recessed lighting. The latter provide an extremely comfortable lighting experience, as the bulbs themselves are not overtly visible. Made in Italy, they sell for around £30 each. To heighten the element of design, steerable downlights were angled to provide on-wall splashes and highlight features.

The system itself was installed by a team of two in around a day and half. Usability proves to be high. While there is support for additional customisation, it transpires that the four scenes supplied by default typically cover most leisure eventualities. Having several circuits in each location allows considerable customisation, from All On to a variety of mood-driven alternatives. This wireless Rako system can, of course, be used with LED lighting, however our installation team advocate halogens, saying they offer "greater refinement." They also comment that a key benefit of a lighting control is economic, saying that lamp life can be extended by between 2- and 3-years, because of the gradated control. Lighting control ramps the lamp up from zero to whatever and shuts it down the same way, over several seconds. This reduces any shock to the element and extends the longevity of the bulb.

Rako wireless lighting system: Verdict
It's difficult not to be impressed by this Rako wireless lighting package, The system, which can only be installed by a certified electrician, offers a sophistication that belies its price and client satisfaction is certain to be high. The sheer variety of modules and optional accessories available from Rako seem to cover all eventualities. Six weeks later, no operational issues have been reported with the monitored system. Everything continues to work smoothly and the chance of a subsequent whole house upgrade suddenly seems a distinct possibility. When it comes to custom installation, integrators can't ask much more. It seems Rako's reputation in this space is well deserved; they're clearly the brand to beat. 

Rako Wireless lighting solutions are available now.
Price on application, dependant on configuration.
For more on Rako's wireless and wired lighting solutions, visit the brand's website.



Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology specialist who also writes for T3TechRadarHome Cinema Choice, Trusted Reviews and The Luxe Review.

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