Music Around the House Page 3

Elan System6 A relatively simple and affordable custom-install job Elan has been in the whole-house-music business since 1989, with gear aimed toward the high-end custom market. System6 consists of a single component ($1,770, rear in photo below, back panel below) that combines a six-zone/six-source controller with a 40 watt x 12-channel amp to power six pairs of speakers, plus your choice of remote keypads (above). elan-system6.jpg

The Components The System6's Spartan front panel doesn't even have a power button. It does have status LEDs to indicate whether system power is on, which zones are active, and which have IR (control) activity. The back panel takes the opposite approach, offering a bevy of inputs and outputs that make this system highly expandable. There are six stereo RCA inputs, one per source, and corresponding RCA outputs that make it easy to add outboard amps. elan-system6-back.jpg

Detachable, color-coded terminals make it a snap to connect the speakers. There are minijack IR emitter outputs for each source as well as an All IR output, and an RJ-45 input for each zone carries control signals back from the keypads. Elan includes some very installer-friendly features, including 12-volt trigger outputs for each zone and source-status inputs to indicate at the keypad end whether a source is on or off.

The KeypadsWhile System6 supports a variety of keypads, it's usually sold with the S6KP (right in photo, $205), a simple pad with six source buttons, some basic transport controls (play, stop, and forward/back), power, mute, and volume up/down. The  key acts like a shift, doubling the number of operations that can be controlled with relatively few buttons. Often the S6KP is bundled with the Z150 (left, $160), which offers 0-9 buttons as well as an IR target so you can use a handheld remote control.

The system also supports the Z200 keypad (center, $360) and the Z250 (not shown, $420), which feature larger buttons arranged differently. I prefer the look of the Z200, though functionally they're identical. Small LEDs light up to show when the keypad is powered or mute is engaged and which source is selected. From any keypad, you can turn the entire system off or activate a Party mode so all zones play the same music.

Wiring up the System6 was pretty straight forward. I ran Cat-5 cable from each key pad to the controller and speaker cable from the controller to the speakers. (Elan uses a unique network-cable pin layout, so off-the-shelf Cat-5 cable has to be modified per its instructions.) Once all the connections are made, the keypads power up and the IR activity light on the front of the System6 blinks when buttons are pressed.

ProgrammingElan's Via Tools software and "learner" (a small black box that goes between a computer and the keypad) are required to program the keypads, and while the programming itself is not overly difficult, these tools are available only to Elan dealers, which rules out a DIY install. A bonus is that each keypad can be programmed independently, so if you like the buttons arranged differently on different pads, or you want to deny access to a particular source from certain pads, you can do it. Programming can be stored on the computer for easy recall and changes, and downloading it into a keypad takes just seconds.

System Options Elan offers a cornucopia of optional gear. The Z600 Com-m Controller ($960) lets you use any telephone in the house to page someone over all the speakers in the system, and the Z880 eight-source/zone switcher ($930) distributes video. Remote sources can be connected to the system using the IRAWP module ($250). The System6 can also be used with Elan's outstanding Via! touchscreen controller ($1,700!), which can display color video and offers virtually unlimited programming possibil-ities.

PerformanceElan's System6 produced warm, full-sounding music and coaxed better bass from the Definitive Technology Studio Monitors in Zone 3 (the bedroom) than any of the other systems in the bunch. It also played noticeably louder, never sounding strained even on material that tripped up the other systems. Female vocalists, like Norah Jones, sounded open and natural, with lots of ambience and texture. The keypads were intuitive to use and should be easy for any member of the family to master. PDF: Fast Facts