Ok, so I've been thinking about this for a long time, and now I am forced to act. It's time for an audio distribution upgrade. The situation:
- We have a large, 10-year old home, with 24 audio zones controlled by 14 keypads.
- Our old Arrakis DC-6 music server (which was never any good) died again. Don't want to repair it, as its functionality is limited and it will just die again. It might have been a good system for a radio station in its time, but it's not right for residential use. (We don't play music on a regular schedule, for example.)
- Our system is controlled by a Crestron Pro 2 controller. Our touch panels are Crestron CT-1000s, and are just about usable, but clearly don't provide a great UI (no cover art, limited text area, etc.).
- It is not possible ($$$) to replace the wiring to the CT1000s, which I gather are connected/wired with Cresnet, not CAT-5/ethernet.
- We are an Apple-centric household with iMacs, iPhones and iPads and an Apple TV.
- Our music is on iTunes (my account is separate from my wife's), on two different Macs and iCloud accounts. We also have one Sonos ZP90 Zone Player, and subscribe to Sirius XM for internet access. We also have 1000+ CDs, most of which have never been burned to iTunes.
- The video distribution and home theater controls are completely separate from this Crestron system (and are controlled by an RTI system). Likewise, the lighting/HVAC is completely separate, and is controlled by a Vantage Q-Link system, which is about to be upgraded to an Infusion system. So, we're talking audio only.
- There is WiFi throughout the house, but with multiple routers/access points. Not all areas have convenient ethernet connections to the LAN.
- We have two Apple Airport Express routers. The Sonos is currently connected to one, which then outputs audio to the Crestron.
- We'd like a user-friendly interface on the keypads, with good search functionality.
- Using (multiple) iPad minis is an ok idea, but may be expensive. Portable devices like that might not be where you want them, and WiFi might not work well? We do like the simplicity and usability of iOS though.
- We don't want/need more keypads, so each keypad must be able to control more than one zone.
- We'd like to keep our current ability to turn on/off the "Whole House" from any keypad, and to be able to limit which zones any given keypad can control. Some rooms should control only their own zone, and others should be able to control multiple zones. So, the system needs some (considerable?) customizability for this reason and our preferences.
- We'd like to be able to play different sources in different rooms at the same time (naturally).
- I'd consider getting a second Sonos ZP90, but not a second SiriusXM subscription or Sirius receiver.
- It would be nice if the upgrade were reasonably price-friendly.
- It would be nice if I could program the controller and the UI myself (as I can with the RTI and Vantage), but doing so with Crestron seems out of the question.
- Bonus: some how keep/restore all the music currently on the Arrakis.
So ... what to do?
Obviously, the Crestron controller is still functional as are the amps and speakers so it doesn't make sense to replace them. We're talking really about upgrading the keypads first of all, and secondly whether to replace the Arrakis or just use our iDevices as the source for music.
Your advice and suggestions and warnings (!) are very much appreciated!
If the Arrakis isn't doing it for you, take a look at the Autonomic Controls Mirage Media Server. I would say that's currently the best Music Server. It can be integrated well with most control systems, unlike Sonos.
But, a standalone Sonos system might be a consideration, too.
I'm a big fan of in-wall keypads for control (and metadata). They don't walk away, unlike iPods and iPads.
Your choice of network hardware will depend much on your choice of control system, and who's installing it. I'd leave that choice to the integrator.