Most good multi-zone amps have similar features in terms of zones and sources but the Concerto has a slight edge due to its Vacuum Fluorescent Display room controllers. Most systems use poor contrast LCD keypads with LED backlighting which are harder to read than VFD or LED matrix displays. In any system that uses a keypad type display weather it be whole-house audio, thermostat, security keypad, or whatever, the ones that have VFD or LED displays will always be easier to use than those using cheaper LCD display technology. The concerto is also specifically designed for easy RS-232 integration into HA systems.
2---Russound CAV 6.6
One of the most widely supported whole-house systems. If your automation system only supports one product for audio distribution, chances are it is Russound. The RNET protocol also allows Russound to display more detailed information at the keypads than most other systems.
3---Home Theater Direct MC-86
Most of the features of the top 2 at a price that is more reasonable for the DIY market. Has a nice “all page” feature with a page button and microphone built into each keypad. Unfortunately it lacks the RS-232 port required for true HA integration.
Kind of pricey but good if you want to include video distribution in your system. Can expand from 8 to 16 zones (if you can afford it). Xantech also has a wider variety of accessories and gizmos to customize your system than most companies.
5---Channel Plus MDS-6A
A good solid system at a reasonable price point for the DIY market but not much provision for HA integration.
Popular because they include an AM/FM tuner in the distribution amp. Not sure it is priced to save you any money compared to another system with a separate tuner. Can be expanded to 12 or 18 zones. Says it supports PC programming but I don’t see a serial port.
7---Channel Vision Aria
A reasonably priced A-BUS system. Nice looking keypads. Automation integration would be limited to IR control.
A very expensive system similiar to A-Bus in architecture but with more features. It has a nice “all page” feature with microphones in every keypad. It also uses a unique jog dial keypad design and the system can be expanded to as many zones as you want. The keypad amplifiers are a surprisingly robust 60 Watts. They have been promising a sub-zone keypad since 2004 that is still not available.
Unique wireless streaming approach to whole-house audio. Will stream analog sources from different locations into the main network for shared use. Depends on a large PDA-like remote for system control. People tend to either love or hate the remote. (I don’t love it) Free plugin available to permit HA announcements from Homeseer.
10---Slim Devices Squeezebox
Designed to be an audiophile hi-fi component but has features that allow it to be used for whole house audio distribution. Has a command line interface and xPL interface for elaborate HA integration. Room player/displays can show text messages sent from HA systems. Players are connected via Ethernet (wired or wireless) to a Slim Devices server (server software is free) and can play independently or “in-sync” in any combination. In other words you can redefine your zones at any time through software. Down side is they just play stored music and Internet radio. There is no provision for streaming local sources like tuners or CD players.
Speaker Level Distribution
This includes a whole range of products and combinations of products that do speaker impedance matching and/or speaker switching. Commonly used products include the HACS AB8SS speaker switch, the Leviton Digital Chopin volume control, 70V PA amps, etc. Speaker level switching is very versatile because it can be used with most existing equipment. It is easy for example to have some relays briefly switch your surround speakers over to a PA feed for a Home Automation alert or intercom page. No need to install a dedicated announcement speaker and no risk of dangerous loud switching noises damaging your speakers as can happen with line level switching devices. You also have the option of using dirt cheap relays for a home brew setup or a fancy serial control such as the AB8SS for superior HA integration flexibility.
Dual built-in tuners similar to Niles. RS-485 based keypad protocol. Not clear if it can be integrated into HA systems.
Cheap copycat of Squeezebox without the HA integration interfaces. Interestingly it can only support synchronized playback amongst its players if it abandons its native mode and instead uses a Slimserver and emulates a Squeezebox.
PC Sound Card Based
Varies dramatically by implementation. As a rule, PC sound cards are not considered hi-fi music sources and would not give good results if attached to a distribution amp for whole house audio.
Multi-room Stereo Receivers
Generally very expensive and closed systems with limited options for HA integration.
Edited by upstatemike, 25 May 2006 - 12:43 PM.