Shootout: Three Wireless Multiroom Music Systems Page 7

The Short Form
$3,450 as tested / MCX-2000: 17.1 x 3.8 x 16.1 IN / 14.6 LBS; MCX-A10: 8.3 x 9.3 x 3.1 IN / 4.4 LBS / / 800-492-6242
•Comprehensive control and operation •Excellent integration with PC •In-wall expansion options
•Client amplifiers underpowered •Pricey
Key Features
MCX-2000 Server: •160-GB hard drive •CD-R/RW drive, FM tuner, XM-ready •Rips PCM and MP3 (320/256/160 kbps) •Records CDs from hard drive (4x speed) •Streams MP3, WMA, WAV from PC to clients •Gracenote database for track information •Supports up to 15 clients, 5 wireless •Works with MCX-A10 standalone or MCX-C15/CA15 in-wall clients •Video out for onscreen user interface •Broadcast Play function plays same song on all clients •DiXiM Server Software (Windows XP) MCX-A10 Client: •Wireless or Ethernet receiver/player •Onboard speaker amplifier: 2 x 17 watts •Card-style compact remote control •Price: MCX-2000, $2,200; MCX-A10, $600; MCX-15/-CA15 bundle, $650; MCX-SP10 speakers, $120/pair
SETUP Setting up MusicCast can be easy or somewhat complicated. The simple version is all-wireless - the server and as many as five clients recognize each other upon being powered up, agree on IP addresses, and start talking. Yamaha puts the wireless range at about 100 feet. You could also connect the server directly to the Internet via a router. Finally, you'll connect your PC to the server by a direct Ethernet cable.

For my test, I linked my PC and an MCX-C15 client to the server via Ethernet and connected an MCX-A10 client via Wi-Fi. Total setup took less than 30 minutes and fairly painless. With the onscreen menu, it's easy to specify which wired and wireless clients the server will talk to; your screen displays a complete diagram of the system you have designated.

PERFORMANCE Once the MusicCAST system was set up, operation was very straightforward. The MCX-2000 allows CDs to be ripped to MP3 only at 160, 256, or 320 kbps, which provides good or transparent playback. The system can store a ripped song in either PCM (WAV) or MP3 format.

Recording from an external source to the drive was pretty cool - onscreen VU meters show levels, and you can easily adjust input levels using a submenu. The system even automatically inserts a track number when it detects a silence.

Since I had an XM Connect-and-Play antenna/receiver on hand, I plugged it in and was soon directing satellite radio to any client at will. The server's FM radio, external sources (such as an iPod), and PC files were also readily accessible, though you have to manually operate your external sources.

The system worked fine over 40 feet through several walls; sound quality was unaffected by the Wi-Fi or Ethernet links. The amplifier in the client had enough gas to drive speakers to reasonable levels but not much left over; to really light up the room, tap the client into an external music system.

BOTTOM LINE As the most sophisticated of these systems, MusicCAST sets a high standard for full-featured audio networking.