Power to all the components in the system is supplied not via Cat-5, but by separate, low-power cable runs from the PowerLinX PL750 power supply ($1,150, not shown). Once everything was live, the system was configured by connecting a laptop to the SwitchLinX. Programming - something that can take days and add thousands of dollars to the price of other whole-house installs - was quick and painless. My entire installation took about 3 hours.
PERFORMANCE One of the hurdles to distributing audio over IP has been synchronization. Cardenas used this analogy: An e-mail sent simultaneously to 10 people would arrive at each location at a slightly different time - no big deal. However, if that e-mail was an audio signal and those people were rooms adjacent to each other, music even milliseconds apart would result in a cacophony of echoes. NetStreams has solved this problem - their system exhibits zero delay. As I write this, I'm watching the final round of the Masters Tournament, using the AP300 to stream audio from my cable box. Every ball strike and crowd "Oooh!" perfectly matches the onscreen action.
Though they're not much larger than a couple of decks of playing cards, don't judge the diminutive SpeakerLinX amps by their size. Both models feature high-end digital-to-analog converters for top quality audio (24-bit Burr-Brown 192 kHz D/A converters, for those in the know). While the 20-watt SL220 provided plenty of power to drive my bedroom speakers, at only $200 more, the SL250 is the way to go. Beyond offering more power and features (user-adjustable equalization, for example), it features higher quality components for better performance.
With the SL250 connected to my full-range towers, I listened to a variety of familiar CDs. The amp delivered clean sound with tons of output, playing loud enough to satisfy those Risky Business moments. But at the highest end of the volume range it grew harsh and became fatiguing for long listening sessions. Compared to my reference amp (a Denon AVR-4802 receiver), the SL250 was definitely more forward and brighter, which is consistent with my previous experiences with digital amplifiers. Cymbal crashes had more sizzle, and female vocals were always more "present" - Diana Krall's Live in Paris, for example, placed Diana in my face instead of up on stage.
The opening of Fiona Apple's "Sleep to Dream" has lots of low end, and while the SL250 reproduced most of it, it couldn't match the Denon's output. CDs with male vocals, like John Mayer's Heavier Things, lacked a layer of depth and fullness that the Denon delivered.
Don't mistake me - the system performed righteously. Though I favor the sound of my $2,500 receiver, this was outstanding compared with other distributed audio systems, capable of transforming every room in the house from background music into serious listening. Still, demanding listeners might prefer integrating a traditional amplifier or subwoofer via the versatile AP300's line level outputs. They'll also want to hide the system's PowerLinx power supply in an appropriate equipment room - it has a noisy fan that runs all the time and would be a distraction in any listening space.
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