Russound Collage Powerline Media and Intercom System Page 3

The Collage Amplified Keypad can page one or all of the keypads in a system (unless a keypad is in a Do Not Disturb mode). If the keypad is playing music, the music will stop while the voice passes through the speakers. You can set up the Collage Amplified Keypad so that the paged person doesn’t need to touch the keypad to respond. The pagee simply speaks, and the built-in microphone does the rest. Multiple intercom conversations can go on simultaneously, too. Once the intercom conversation ends, the system will play back the source that was originally playing in that zone. At first, the intercom feature is a little tricky to use because you have to choose a background noise level setting (one of four). It also has a little bit of a delay that you have to get used to.

Overall, if you can navigate an iPod, you can operate the Collage system. Since it’s a streaming media system, it’s subject to the vagaries and whims of the computer devices on your network (like any other streaming system). You won’t be able to access songs located on a powered-down computer until you turn it on again. Obviously, with only 15 wpc in the keypads, you won’t be powering a set of large MartinLogans. But the reality is that the Collage system is designed for secondary listening areas. For this use, the Collage Amplified Keypad works extremely well, providing enough juice for the average in-wall speaker.

Ready for the Big Time
Originally, a keypad’s bad power supply caused some weird and inconsistent system performance. As a result, I felt very uncomfortable with the Collage system. Since I’d seen it operate so smoothly at CEDIA, I thought it was another example of overhyping and overpromising a technology that wasn’t yet ready for prime time. I originally had a good deal of trouble getting two of my four keypads to join the Gridcast network. Once all of the keypads were in their prequalified locations, music would play fine for a while but randomly lock up. This forced me to reboot the router. When the intercom feature worked, there was a huge delay; and music playback stopped completely instead of resuming after the conversation finished. Keypads also intermittently appeared and disappeared on the Gridcast network. Anyone who’s ever had to troubleshoot a random problem knows what a huge pain in the arse it is.

Zerbe worked hard with me to discover the problem’s root. It turned out that two of my keypads had defective power supplies. When the replacement keypads arrived, the Collage system worked (and continues to work) flawlessly. Now, you might think that a 50-percent failure rate—33 percent if you include the two new Keypads—isn’t too good, and that’s true. But reviewers often get some of the first units to come off the line, and every now and then there’s a glitch. I’ll cut Russound some slack on this one because these were some of the first keypads, and Zerbe spent so much time trying to figure out the source of the problem. Obviously, Russound cares about getting the product right. If a third of the keypads have defective power supplies six months from now, that’ll be another story. But knowing Russound’s history and reputation, I don’t think that’ll be a problem.

Right as Right Can Be
In my opinion, Russound not only got the system right, it got it about as right as right can be. I’d like to see Russound add support for online access to Sirius/XM and maybe Pandora and, but that doesn’t make me any less impressed with the system. The Collage is easy to install, simple to upgrade, a no-brainer to expand, and a blast to use. The intercom feature is a cool bonus that’s fun and useful. The onscreen menus and graphics aren’t as pretty as Sonos’ graphics, and the remote control is flimsy and disappointing. However, the Collage system can easily be considered the Sonos of custom-installed multiroom systems. Once the Collage Source Bridge (for adding legacy devices and security cameras) and the Collage Dock are available, it’ll be a huge challenge for any other company to come out with a system that will top the Collage.

You might think $849 for a non-touchscreen keypad is expensive. But with the FM tuner, no need for additional hardware (other than the Collage Amplified Keypad) when you add zones, and a simple, quick installation, it provides significant savings. For a multiroom audio system that’s built around streaming media, Russound’s Collage is awe inspiring in its promise and its performance. It does what it’s supposed to do, and it does it fabulously. Take heart, all you owners of homes with walls. Easy multiroom audio is finally here.

(800) 638-8055