Sonance C4630 SE Home Audio Distribution System

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Audio distribution systems will never carry the chic of a 60-inch plasma or a front-projection system. A speaker discreetly placed in the ceiling just doesn't have pizzazz, no matter how good it sounds - which is why companies in the distributed-audio biz aren't usually very well known. So, if you're thinking, "Sonance? Never heard of 'em," you're probably not alone. But since its founding in 1985, Sonance has been at the vanguard of its industry, right up to laying claim to inventing the in-wall speaker.

The Sonance C4630 SE home audio distribution system, the company's latest multizone system, offers an affordable step-up to simple volume-control-only systems. The model number deciphers to a 4-source, 6-zone system with 30 watts of power per channel, and the "SE" refers to onboard BBE Sound Enhancement circuitry. BBE is one of several technologies used in TVs and sound systems to improve audio clarity and spatial characteristics; last year, Sonance was the first to add it to a distribution amplifier, the Sonamp 275 SE. But as you'll read, the company has packed many other custom-centric tricks into the C4630 as well.

SETUP Installing a C4630 system involves connecting the keypads, speakers, and source components to the main chassis. Since my home is a frequent test bed for audio distribution systems, this wiring was already in place. As in virtually all current systems, the keypad controllers connect with Cat5 wiring and the speakers are driven over traditional speaker cable. Up to four C4630s can be daisy-chained together, producing a total of 24 audio zones - though the system would still be limited to only four shared sources. That's possibly one of its biggest shortfalls.

The C4630 feels substantial, which is usually an indication that the amplifiers have a decent power supply and will deliver the goods. Like most distribution components, the C4630 won't win any beauty pageants; it's basically a black box with a power button and LEDs to indicate zone activity. The rear panel is where the action is, and it's well appointed with all manner of inputs and outputs you'd expect. Custom installers will appreciate the detachable power cord (which simplifies removing the system for service) and the rack mount ears (for installation in Middle Atlantic-style racks).

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