Wading into the Wholehouse Audio Pool Page 2

Niles Audio
Niles Audio was one of the original companies in the multizone/multisource mix, and they are still going strong with the release of their new ZR-8630AV receiver ($2,995). Dubbed Bob, the ZR-8630AV joins Niles' $2,220 ZR-4630 (aka Gloria) as one of the most fully featured multizone receivers on the market. Both units offer independent access to multiple source inputs (eight on Bob, four on Gloria) from six zones.

Both of the Niles receivers have expectedly ample connections. In terms of source inputs, Bob has eight analog stereo (RCA) pairs, and Gloria has four. The speaker outputs for the six zones are in the form of clip-binding posts on both models. Naturally, you must run speaker wire from the receiver to each listening zone. There are variable- and fixed-output positions for all six zones. Both Bob and Gloria also provide preamp outputs for three of their six output zones, in case you want to use separate amplifiers. Both models supply 30 watts per channel into 8-ohm loads from their internal amplifiers, which may not sound like a lot, but it's more than enough to get the job done for most applications. Both receivers communicate with the local keypads in each zone via twisted-pair cabling that terminates in a standard RJ-45 connector (it looks like an Ethernet connector for a computer). Both units offer 12-volt inputs and outputs that you can use as triggers to power up (or power down) connected equipment for one-button control. Bob and Gloria both offer internal AM/FM tuner capability, which isn't yet common on multizone receivers/integrated amplifiers. Bob offers two independent AM/FM tuners with up to 40 presets, while Gloria provides a single tuner with 10 presets. Bob also adds video routing, which is typically more common in high-end multizone/multisource systems. Bob has six composite video inputs and six zone outputs. Both units also have paging inputs that you can use for system-wide voice announcements.

Niles offers a range of keypad options for local zone control. Their Solo and Select models of the IntelliPad Ci unit come in either a standard or an IR-ready version with a built-in receptor. The Ci Select retails for $129, while the Ci Select IR rings in at $199. The Select unit has eight backlit master source buttons, local mute and volume control, and a dual-function power button that can either function locally or power down the entire system with a press and hold. You can also program the source buttons for a wide variety of automated functions, including macro controls. Rather than programming each keypad individually, you can program a Niles system from the receiver, which greatly simplifies the process. Niles' R-4 and R-8 handheld remote controls are compatible with the IR-ready keypads. Both Bob and Gloria ship with one controller (the R-8 for Bob, the R-4 for Gloria), and you can purchase additional controller units for $40 each.

Yet another one of the pioneering companies in the multizone/multisource segment, Russound has also been busy lately with one-box solutions, having just released their new CAV6.6. The CAV6.6 replaces the CA-6.4i as the flagship in Russound's multizone/multisource receiver line. Both the CA-6.4i and the CA-4.4i are still going strong, though. These are less-expensive options that distribute four sources to six and four zones, respectively, at 20 watts per channel, and they offer some of the same features as the new CAV6.6.

The CAV6.6 ($2,199) accommodates six input sources with analog stereo (RCA) inputs and composite video inputs. Power is on board for six stereo output zones for a total of 12 amp channels at 20 watts per channel. The CAV6.6 directly supports up to four A-BUS subzones (using Russound's A-KPs amplified keypad) and, with some additional expansion components, can be the centerpiece of a system with 36 zones and 24 subzones.

As you might expect from a flagship model, the CAV6.6 has some bonus tricks, some of which aren't altogether common in the multizone/multisource area. Buffered loop outputs and digital-input gain controls are aboard, as are preamplifier outputs for all six zones. The CAV6.6 offers variable- and fixed-output positions for all six zones, as well. You can use the variable output for applications that use external amplifiers and the fixed output for applications where the zone keypad won't control volume, such as with A-BUS subzones. The CAV6.6 also offers independent bass, treble, balance, and loudness controls for each zone. A serial RS-232 port allows you to connect the system to a larger, wholehouse automation system, program the CAV6.6 via a PC, and download software upgrades. There's also a conveniently located RS-232 port and an auxiliary A/V input with a flasher port on the CAV6.6's front panel. Complete doorbell and paging support is included, as well.

A multizone/multisource system is only as good as its keypads. Russound has released a new keypad model to complement the CAV6.6's launch, dubbed the UNO-S2 ($299). The UNO-S2's feature highlight is its LED display, which gives it a wider degree of functionality and allows for status display. Naturally, the CAV6.6 and UNO-S2 are highly programmable, with a range of macro functions and learning capabilities that, with the right programming, can make system integration seamless. The UNO-S2 also has hard-wired buttons that handle source controls, power, and other primary functions. It even accommodates IR signals, so you can use a handheld remote controller. As you might expect, the CAV6.6 also interfaces with other Russound keypads.

Never one to be left out of the mix, ELAN has entered into the entry-level multizone/multisource controller segment with the System6 ($1,770). The System6 distributes six audio sources (input via analog stereo RCA jacks) to six independent zones with 12 onboard amplifier channels at 40 watts per channel. You can add composite video distribution for $920 with the Z880 video controller, and another $960 gets you paging and communication features from the Z600 communications controller. Six sense-trigger inputs, six zone-trigger outputs, and two system-trigger outputs provide power management. The System6 also supplies six source-specific IR output ports and an IR-all output port for a wide range of control options. RJ-45 ports on the rear panel handle signals from the six zone keypads. The receiver also supplies preouts for all six zones.

You can control the System6 in a variety of ways. The most expensive but most user-friendly and functional way is with ELAN's highly regarded VIA! touchpanel ($1,695), a 6.4-inch full-color LCD touchscreen. You can mount the VIA! in several different ways, including wall mounting or in a real-wood tabletop valet. In addition to supplying a wide range of system controls and programming functions, the VIA! can double as a secondary video monitor. Of course, the number of macros and other programmed controls that the VIA! can perform is extensive. More affordable alternatives for System6 control include ELAN's Z-Pads, which start at around $350 (the Z-100 or Z-200). Z-Pads offer source selection and control, as well as LED user feedback for source selection, zone on/off, system on/off, mute, do not disturb, and shared source. You can add numeric keypads and other options, such as IR support. Z-Pads also support macro functions.

Clearly, receivers such as these are helping to pave the way for the wholehouse media explosion.

Note: A good place to start your search for multizone/multisource information is the Distributed Audio Alliance (www.multiroomaudio.org). This consortium of manufacturers, homebuilder interests, and other custom-industry representatives wants to raise awareness about connected homes and wholehouse audio. Their Website has some valuable FAQs and targeted information for consumers, homebuilders, and system designers and installers.