Sonance C4630 SE Home Audio Distribution System Page 3

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PERFORMANCE You know that Dyson vacuum-cleaner commercial where the guy says, "I just think things should work properly"? That fits Sonance to a T. It has a well-earned reputation among custom installers for building products that are nothing short of bulletproof - quality that was evident here as well.

Although the keypads are good-looking and functional, they offer nothing in the way of feedback from the controller or sources, such as album and track metadata or even a volume-level indicator. This complete lack of information reminded me of audio's medieval times, before the Renaissance of iPod and satellite radio. While keypad control is far superior to simple volume-only adjustments, once you've had a taste of artist and track information at your fingertips - as many new systems provide - it's difficult to go back.

Of the three keypad options, the Navigator K2 is by far the coolest-looking. Its double-gang size offers more real estate for button spacing, and the LCD touchscreen can be programmed to display a variety of graphics to be used as touchscreen button art, including TV station logos or component icons. Given its screen display, and the C4630's inherent ability to report status (now limited to its RS-232 connection), perhaps a future version will provide some feedback on the K2 keypad that would help justify its higher price.

For their prices, the C4630 Main and Numeric pads are great, offering all of the control that a system would require. A major peeve is that the pads' backlight can be changed only during installation, however, when you set it to Off, Dim, or Bright with jumpers on the back. There was little difference between Dim and Bright, and either would make for a distracting night-light in a bedroom. Finally, the only button that changes color is the "Off" button: green when the zone is on, red when it's off. It would be nice if the source buttons changed color to indicate which source was currently selected.

The Navigator K1 pad addresses my gripes about the C4630 Main and Numeric pads: You can program brightness and duration of the backlight and see what source is selected. And it throws in an IR receiver. But at three times the price of the C4630 Main, it's a tough recommendation.