A Panel with Power

Multiroom audio is not a new idea. Nor are the concepts of digital amplification, touchscreen controllers, and audio distribution over CAT5 wiring. But not everyone has thought to bring all of those ideas together in one particular audio distribution product - and when a relative newcomer to the audio-in-any-room party shows up with an amplified (that's "amplified" as in "watts per channel") touchpanel in his hand, it's time to cock an eyebrow, act like you're not interested, and then try like heck to figure out exactly what's going on and how much it's going to cost.

What's going on is pretty cool. The Graphite Five folks (who are not, by the way, related to the Jackson Five - although, as it happens, they did live next door to the Gang of Four a couple of years before that messy Cultural Revolution thing started in China) have come up with an innovative system designed to move audio digitally from one location to another over new or existing audio, CAT5, or A-Bus wiring using a whopping total of two component devices. That's right, two component devices - evidently no one informed the GF people that there's good money to be made in multiple step up models, each with another must-have feature that makes us wind up spending two or three times as much as we thought we were going to when we walked into the store. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, the two Graphite Five components that make the system so interesting are a lowly little black box, an audio encoder called the GAE1-1, and a more splashy touchscreen amplifier, known by family and friends as the GTA1-70.

The GTA1-70 combines a 5.7-inch monochrome LCD touchscreen panel, a 35-watt stereo digital amplifier, a built-in ambient light level sensor, and an IR receiver in a sleek housing that can be mounted in the wall or used on a desk/counter with an optional tabletop stand. Since the amplifier is built-in, all the GTA1-70 needs to be its own happy little zone of music is a pair of speakers.

Although the little GAE1-1 audio encoder won't get anywhere near as much attention, it's just as important a part of the system as the touchpanel. You'll need to connect one of the GAE1-1s to each of the audio sources you'd like to listen to in any of the GTA1-70 controlled zones. The audio encoders accept both analog and digital audio outputs from your sources.

The sources (with their attached audio encoders) can be located anywhere in the home as long as they're connected to the wiring used by the system (audio, Ethernet, or A-Bus). Graphite Five says the system is "designed to self-discover IP addresses and do other IT chores so installations are simple, even for non-IT professionals."

The system doesn't pass video signals, but it does have the capability of making you say, "I want that." Should you be so inclined, each GAE1-1 (remember, you'll need one per source) runs $500 a piece. In order to get your hands on that digitized, multiroomized music, you'll need a GTA1-70. For one of those, you can expect to pay $920 each. Of course, you'll have to provide your own speakers. While it might not be good news for your pocketbook, those with homes as big as their music collections will be glad to know that the system is capable of handling up to 1024 GTA1-70 zones. (That's only $942,080 worth of touchpanel controllers, but you ought to be able to work out some sort of volume purchase price with your salesperson. He might give you a break on the installation price, too. But don't tell him we told you that…)

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