NetStreams DigiLinX Audio System

With few exceptions, multiroom audio systems still distribute music the same way they did 20 years ago: Central stacks of source components and amplifiers route signals to speakers around the home over hundreds of feet of speaker cabling. But this approach has its drawbacks. Resistance, capacitance and inductance build up over long wires, adding up to signal losses and compromised performance. And stacks of amps generate heat, which leads to other troubles.

What We Think
This future-looking IP-audio system partners great sound with a slick interface and cool automation features, but they come at a steep price.
Austin, Texas-based NetStreams has attacked these problems with DigiLinX, a fully IP (Internet Protocol)-based audio distribution system. Music originating at a digital audio server or traditional audio component, as well as control signals from keypads, is transmitted around the house on a high-speed network as Internet-style information packets. The audio signal arrives at the speaker bit-for-bit identical to what was transmitted, where it is decoded and amplified with no signal loss. The DigiLinX promise is unlimited expandability and premium audio quality. But can it deliver?

SETUP DigiLinX systems require setup by a factory-trained installer, so NetStreams sent along their president and CEO, Herman Cardenas, to help me. We began with a multi-port Ethernet switch that functions as the hub of every DigiLinX system, monitoring the network for your control signals and then acting as traffic cop, directing source signals to various listening zones. The SwitchLinX SW324 ($1,100, not shown) has 24 Ethernet ports for Cat-5 cable connection of sources, remote amplifier modules, and control keypads.

For the listening zones, my system included two SpeakerLinX digital amplifiers: an SL220 (2 x 20 watts), $800, shown) to power existing in-ceiling speakers in my bedroom, and an SL250 (2 x 50 watts, $1,000) to drive my living room tower speakers. Additionally, a pair of Polk Audio's new LC265i-IP self-amplifed in-wall speakers created a third zone (read the full report on the Polk). A TouchLinX TL380 4-inch color touchscreen wall pad ($1,700, shown) provided control in the living room. In turn, I connected the RCA stereo audio output from my digital cable box to an AP300 audio expansion interface module ($120, shown) that wired up to the TL380 via a single Cat-5 cable. This provides a convenient way to add analog sources to the system you'll be operating locally, (such as a bedroom CD player or iPod). A KeyLinX KL200 10-button keypad controller ($450, shown) handled control from the bedroom.

For the millions of audio components in the world that don't stream audio over IP - CD players, AM/FM or satellite radio - a MediaLinX MLA101 ($950) is required. This converts the audio output (analog or coaxial digital) from the source component into uncompressed WAV-format audio that can then be streamed over the network, and communicates commands from DigiLinX keypads in remote rooms back to the source (where they're converted to IR commands to control the device).

We also connected Escient and ReQuest music servers to the system. Since these music servers can sit on a network and are currently recognized by DigiLinX, the only connection necessary was a single Cat-5 cable from each server to the SwitchLinX that carried all audio, metadata and control signals.