Audioaccess W.H.E.N. Audio/Video Distribution/Surround System Page 5

Audioaccess W.H.E.N. Audio/Video Distribution/Surround System RemoteWith most sources, control is limited to just eight commands in a preselected template. For example, the Cable page offers buttons for only channel up and down, menu, and select, as well as up, down, left, and right. Unfortunately, not having access to numeric keys or the ability to program macro commands for jumping to favorite channels limits the keypads to basic functions. Each keypad does have a built-in IR receiver, though, so system control is available with the optional zone remote.

The keypads display the station currently selected from the receiver's dual FM/AM tuners - and when controlling your iPod with the aDock, you get full metadata on the keypads, letting you browse tunes by artist, song, genre, playlist, and so forth. The keypads scroll very slowly through your iPod's library, however, and even when I jumped five listings at a time, it took me several minutes to work through my 30 gigabytes of artists. It was so slow, I wound up going directly to the iPod to select my music. Frustratingly, when I returned to a keypad to control the iPod again, I couldn't do anything beyond changing volume without the system kicking me out of the music currently playing and returning me to the main menu. On the upside, W.H.E.N.'s video distribution in combination with the iPod makes it a powerful housewide video server; I sent a photo slideshow of my daughter to three displays around my home, and I distributed some TV shows stored on my Pod as well.

W.H.E.N.'s intercom features are among the best I've used, letting you communicate to a single zone, page to all zones, or create groups - such as bedrooms - to talk to. Plus, if the room contains one of the seven video cameras that the system supports, then you can also see the recipient. And you can monitor a zone to keep tabs on the kids or a sleeping baby. Audioaccess is developing a module for two-way conversations with door stations, as well as door chimes that can play through the system. And the system can be programmed for different wake-up and power-down times for each zone, letting it serve as a terrific housewide alarm clock.

Each zone provides bass and treble adjustments along with several EQ curves specific to Audioaccess speakers. I would classify the 50-watt digital amplifiers in each KP21 keypad as above average, capable of delivering enough volume to fill most rooms satisfactorily. At slightly over half volume, the system provided nice background music. As with most digital amplifiers, I struggled to get enough volume from my outdoor speakers, and distortion became evident as I pushed the volume toward the top of its range. Large rooms would definitely benefit from adding high-efficiency speakers or using the keypad's pre-outs to add a subwoofer, a larger amp, or both.

BOTTOM LINE W.H.E.N. won't be right for everyone. If you have a complex home theater, you'll lament the receiver's lack of digital inputs and HDMI connectivity. Some homes with multiple users may find the inability to distribute more than a single iPod or satellite-radio feed restrictive. And others will be frustrated by the limited or slow control offered at the keypads.

Still, for many people, combining a home's entertainment, distribution, and intercom systems into one will have major appeal. For those people, the answer to "W.H.E.N.?" is "Now!"

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