Usually AirPlay is a one-to-one relationship; you choose a speaker or receiver and broadcast to that device. But the unique thing about CasaTunes’ AirPlay implementation is that you can broadcast to multiple rooms/speakers at once. It also allows you to stream the entire music library stored on the XLi’s hard drive to wired or wireless zones. Of course, it opens up the huge world of music services that are supported by iOS devices. For instance, I loved being able to select my Living Room group and hear the perfect Songza playlist for dinner, or to broadcast from that app to whatever listening zone I happened to be in.
Oddly — and disappointingly — you can’t just connect a USB drive to the system and play music contained on it. It must first be scanned in, a process that requires a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. The XLi treats iPods like disc drives. The cool part of this is that it can pull multiple streams — up to five — from a single iPod. However, for an iPod to work, its “enable disc drive” feature must be turned on. It apparently wasn’t on the three iPods I tried, so none of them would work until I connected them to my PC and enabled the feature in iTunes. I could see how this might suck if guests come over who want to share some tunes.
Sonically, the XLi didn’t raise any quibbles, and it will play up to 192/24 high-rez FLAC or WAV files — provided that its AirPlay output is disabled. (I used a program to convert FLAC files to WAV format.) “When AirPlay output is enabled,” CasaTunes stated, “all music is converted to 44.1 kHz, 16-bit (CD quality) so that we can synchronize the hard-wired rooms with the wireless rooms.”
The CasaTunes XLi does a beautiful job of bridging the worlds of wired and wireless audio distribution. While I uncovered some niggling issues and quirks during my review period, my experience with the CasaTunes support staff indicated that they were really interested in making a great product and continuing to improve and develop the product line and push it forward.
At the end of any review, I ultimately ask myself two questions: 1) Did this product make my life more enjoyable?, and 2) Would I like to keep it in my system? With the XLi, the answer to both of those questions was a definite yes.
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