Trying to find the right WHA system is harder than it looks - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 14 Old 04-19-2013, 12:16 AM - Thread Starter
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Hey all - I'm in the process of retrofitting an existing lackluster A/V installation, and part of that process is replacing the existing "audio distribution system" (1x5 manual switch) with a complete whole-house audio solution. This is a fairly large installation, and I'm having trouble finding a setup that will meet my needs without getting too expensive.

In brief, I'd like to have a centralized audio matrix and control system that can handle inputs from at least eight sources (preferably more) and route those to any of nine different zones, with the possibility of future expansion. Control panels for each zone are also necessary, or there needs to be some other convenient, device-agnostic (iPhone, Android, PC, automation system) way of monitoring and controlling each room.

The sources would consist of three central sources (media center PC, Xbox, TiVo) and a remote input from select zones (which doesn't necessarily have to be "remote", wires can run back to the central location if necessary) - the key is that any source should be usable in any zone, i.e. a simple "local override" won't work. These remote inputs would likely be set up as auto-switching between an AirPlay receiver and a local hard-wired input/dock via one of these, but for the purposes of this exercise it shouldn't necessarily matter how each one is configured, just that local audio input can be routed throughout the house.

The zones themselves are a combination of overriding the surround speakers of 5.1/7.1 systems and existing stereo zones - there are four surround sound setups to interface with and five sets of speakers in various locations (master bedroom, study, foyer, patio, pool). Again, the ability to expand to further zones would also be nice.

As far as control methods go, the existing zones have an analog volume control wired up in-wall already, which I would like to replace with an actual control interface (source select, volume control, track data display). The house also has an existing HAI OmniPro II system installed which needs to be able to control whichever solution, and in fact could potentially serve as the primary control method given the appropriate interfaces.

All of the solutions I've looked at seem to get about 90% of what I need, and then fall short on some critical component. Nuvo's Grand Concerto has a beautiful interface and integrates well with HAI, but only has six source inputs. HTD Lync 12 has the sources and zones I need (and more), but the control interface looks chintzy as hell (although maybe I'm being too harsh, reviews anyone?). I could get the matrix and amplification done through something from Audio Authority, but then I don't have a way to control it from each zone. HAI's own HiFi2 just looks like a failure (not rackmountable, featureless in-zone controls, proprietary input modules) - don't even want to touch that. Russound's MCA-C5 seems to be the closest to what I'm looking for, but I would already be topping out its sources, and need two C5's to cover all zones - I figure it would probably run about $6K for just the equipment. Not an unreasonable cost for a large install, but I figured I should get a second opinion and see if I have any other options out there that I've overlooked.

Wall of text, sorry... let me know there's anything else I should look at (or any system design changes to make!)
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post #2 of 14 Old 04-19-2013, 04:19 AM
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You're mixing up distributed audio and distributed video. A little easier and cheaper to keep them separate. Speakers are shared in the AV zones, between the 2 systems.

Nuvo GC offers an Expander to increase the zones to 16 (12 powered).

You could use a matrix switch for HDMI distribution, if you think you still need one after more research.

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post #3 of 14 Old 04-19-2013, 08:06 AM
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+1. Separate your video zones from the audio-only zones first. There can be zones with both, but video and WHA can be treated separately. A lot of my rooms have distributed video plus WHA speakers, and I can listen to the shared video source's audio through the system as well.

If you want to share speakers between a WHA and a surround system or a local source, there are several ways to accomplish that.

A diagram would help, and what are all these sources?

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post #4 of 14 Old 04-19-2013, 10:52 AM - Thread Starter
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Sorry, I could have been more clear - I've planned a separate video distribution system with a HDMI matrix, but those sources should also be connected to the WHA, so you can e.g. bring up media server on the TV, set up your playlist, and then turn on the music throughout the house. I was speaking solely about the WHA side of things in my post (strangely enough, I felt like the video stuff was easier to figure out).

I've attached a diagram (pardon the hand-drawn-ness of it) showing the signalling path for all the sources, let me know if this makes sense to y'all.

I know I'll probably need additional amplifiers for the WHA setup, but I didn't include them for right now because the "Audio Matrix" part of the diagram is basically a black box... that's what I'm trying to figure out!

Edit: And if you've seen my A/V cooling thread, I decided to just bin the existing amps for WHA and replace the whole system, so disregard that information.

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post #5 of 14 Old 04-19-2013, 12:16 PM
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Why do you have all those AirPlay devices on the matrix? You only need as many instances as you expect to use simultaneously. Do you really expect to use 5 different Airplay streams at once? And since you've labeled them as "family room" and so forth, except for one labeled WHA, you'd be better off moving those sources (Airport Express?) to their respective room and keep the off the matrix.

Assuming you're sharing the in-ceiling speakers for WHA and 5.1 in most of those video zones, I think you're going too far with that in the main rooms. Why leave off the AVR and the high-quality L/R speakers for WHA in those areas? Bedrooms I agree with, and do the same myself.

Also, if you're buying AVRs, just get ones with AirPlay built in...


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post #6 of 14 Old 04-19-2013, 02:43 PM - Thread Starter
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I've had the same thoughts myself, but believe it or not there are actually six people with multiple iDevices apiece in this house, so the possibility of five simultaneous airplay streams does exist. Airport Express is what I was planning to use, and they would be located in the zones - but the reason I'd like them to be accessible everywhere is so multiple people can airplay to multiple zones at the same time (e.g. airplay to "Family Room" is streamed to family room, patio, pool, at the same time airplay to "Study" is streamed to study and master bedroom, and a third airplay to "Pub Room" is streamed just to the pub). Another reason I'd like them all separate is because that way I can automatically trigger the WHA in that room based on Airplay activation - when the airplay stream to "Family Room" is activated, automatically activate the family room zone. Otherwise I would just name them all Airplay 1,2,3,4,5 or something like that, but giving each device a corresponding room name makes it a little more user friendly. Also all the airport expresses will make Wifi coverage awesome, so that's a plus as well haha.

I actually chose to override the surround speakers based on advice I saw elsewhere on AVS, to set it up so the TV can be on and set to something other than the WHA source. Probably an edge case at best, and my original plan was to just run pre-out stereo RCA to each AVR, but I figured that running speaker wire and using a A/B select is pretty much running the same amount of cable and costs $50 per zone for the speaker select device, so allowing that functionality is probably worth it. That also lets me install a mute switch for the WHA in each zone, which is a desirable feature (in the past, WHA has been accidentally left on in the bedroom, and people have been woken up at 2AM by a war on TV). My other thought was to run the RCA in, and set up the "surround" speakers as a Zone 2 on each receiver, then run the pre-outs from the main zone back in to the receiver and just switch between WHA and local via zone 2 source selection. But that seems inherently less reliable (and I'm not even sure if the AVRs can do it).

Unfortunately I'm not planning on getting any new AVRs - that would clearly be the best solution tongue.gif. The five existing ones are non-networkable no-Airplay, but high-end (Sony DA-X300ES series), so replacing them with equivalent models would cost at least ~$4K (assuming DA1800ES replacements), which is a hard sell for replacing working equipment. Easier to spend the $500 on additional Airplay receivers and just add that functionality as best I can.
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post #7 of 14 Old 04-19-2013, 03:16 PM
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I would dedicate an AE to the major AVR locations (Family room, game room, etc) and put two or perhaps three on the matrix, and go from there. Even with 5 family members, the odds of that many Airplay streams going at once - and would need to be in multiple or 'secondary' rooms, would, IMO, be pretty rare. I wouldn't blow out to a larger system unless you really truly need that. Same question for the xbox - what will that do that your media server, AE's and TiVo wouldn't?

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post #8 of 14 Old 04-19-2013, 04:44 PM - Thread Starter
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The Xbox is useful as a media center extender, so if someone happens to be watching TV on the media center the Xbox can provide the WHA source, and vice versa. It's not gonna be a new Xbox, there are already six (eek.gif!!) installed, so might as well get it involved in the system and have it available if necessary. The reason to have that Xbox at all is so the one TV without its own receiver can still watch TV whenever desired. I guess if I said "only the media center itself can provide WHA" that would be a partial solution and free up an input, but that just seems like an arbitrary restriction.

That still leaves the question of the wired local sources for each zone - the airplay was primarily for convenience, even if I cut it out entirely, I still need to be able to plug in an auxiliary device in the bedroom, and listen to it anywhere. Same for the study, the foyer, the family room, the pub room, and more if possible (end game would be an input from every room in the house if there was a system that could handle it). With local sources only available in the local zone, that gives no perceptible advantage (with regard to functionality) over e.g. a bedside clock radio with an AUX port, or a pair of computer speakers on my desk - and one of the problems with the current install is that to listen to something in the study and the bedroom (next to each other), I have to go connect and set it up in the family room (other side of the house), which I want to avoid if at all possible. So I'm not really getting the functionality I want without each source accessible in all zones, which again means I need at least eight inputs on whichever WHA system.

You know, maybe I should have called the topic "Trying to find the right system is WHAy harder than it looks" tongue.gif

(As an aside: actually seven family members, six with iDevices, one without.)
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post #9 of 14 Old 04-19-2013, 05:27 PM
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Originally Posted by SnarkyNinja View Post

That still leaves the question of the wired local sources for each zone - the airplay was primarily for convenience, even if I cut it out entirely, I still need to be able to plug in an auxiliary device in the bedroom, and listen to it anywhere. Same for the study, the foyer, the family room, the pub room, and more if possible (end game would be an input from every room in the house if there was a system that could handle it).

Why? This is what the centralized sources are for - so you can control the source from anywhere in the house. You can certainly wire an iPod dock or other local source back to the WHA system, but I'm not following what functionality that gives you that isn't already covered with an AE as a source. Same for any Internet streaming source, as you can do that from a server or other centralized source as well.
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With local sources only available in the local zone, that gives no perceptible advantage (with regard to functionality) over e.g. a bedside clock radio with an AUX port, or a pair of computer speakers on my desk - and one of the problems with the current install is that to listen to something in the study and the bedroom (next to each other), I have to go connect and set it up in the family room (other side of the house), which I want to avoid if at all possible. So I'm not really getting the functionality I want without each source accessible in all zones, which again means I need at least eight inputs on whichever WHA system.

confused.gif

I see now you really don't have a WHA music server shown as a source. You should look at the one 'matching' your choice of WHA system. The NuVo MPS4/E, the Autonomic Mirage line, etc. Those provide access to a library, as well as a lot of Internet streaming sources.

What are you expecting to use as a local source in all these rooms that you'd want to move to another room to hear? Whatever those are, there's likely a centralized solution for that which will work better anyway.
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You know, maybe I should have called the topic "Trying to find the right system is WHAy harder than it looks" tongue.gif

I suspect you're trying to apply some use cases to a collection of parts before understanding the capabilities of the WHA systems, especially with regard to the streaming/server products.

Jeff

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post #10 of 14 Old 04-19-2013, 08:43 PM - Thread Starter
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Ok, I may be approaching this from the wrong way... let me revise: Which WHA system out there today is the most user-friendly (i.e. best/most intuitive control panels), and still leaves me room for expansion in the future? And have there been any newer or "cutting-edge" products released recently or anything like that? Nothing wrong with the GC or the MCA series, but it does seem like they've been around for a fair number of years...
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post #11 of 14 Old 04-28-2013, 09:39 PM
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Originally Posted by SnarkyNinja View Post

Ok, I may be approaching this from the wrong way... let me revise: Which WHA system out there today is the most user-friendly (i.e. best/most intuitive control panels), and still leaves me room for expansion in the future? And have there been any newer or "cutting-edge" products released recently or anything like that? Nothing wrong with the GC or the MCA series, but it does seem like they've been around for a fair number of years...

I'd say any of the systems that integrate the source / volume controls and music browsing / selection from "enough" sources (streaming services, digital library) into a single interface would qualify as "easy to use". Now, whether that user interface is a keypad-based one, an integrated app, or both, is where the major product selection comes into play.

The newest products in the category are the Sonos systems and the new NuVo wireless - the P3100 being the closest thing to a "new" WHA system in that it's made for centralization and in-wall speakers/wiring specifically. Autonomic has also brought out their own system, using their Mirage server/streamer as the primary source, and relying on wall-mounted mobile devices for keypads (and app-based control, too).

The GC and MCA series have been on the market for several years, but remember that these products do not cycle like consumer electronics - the upgrade cycle for these is mostly driven by new construction or major remodeling / new owners. The product volume is also much, much lower, so they're meant to last a long time in the market, and will only get replaced when there's a real need (technology or otherwise).

NuVo indicated to me at the last CEDIA that a replacement for the GC is "a few years away". I've pleaded with their folks a number of times to just make a NuVoNet adapter for the P3100 - as that combination (using the P3100 as the streamer/server to the GC, instead of the MPS4), would be best-in-class by far, IMO. They could upgrade their color touchscreen keypads fairly independently, but the core GC system could remain and be a "modern" product for many, many more years.

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post #12 of 14 Old 04-28-2013, 10:34 PM - Thread Starter
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I've actually had similar thoughts - it's not like matrix switching and audio amplification are about to be obsolete. The comment I got when pitching the GC system (after demoing it at a friend's house) was "it must be at least five years old by now"... my response was along the lines of "so is your car, but that doesn't mean it's suddenly crap." cool.gif

To me at least the GC's interface is super slick - nice crisp OLEDs, easy to understand buttons, and almost everything in each zone and on the screen can be controlled via RS232. My only concern is if I hook up a GC system with keypads in each zone and then two years from now the latest and greatest GC++ comes out, and to upgrade I have to replace the core system and all of the kepyads. Any new source hardware will probably be NuvoNet compatible though, so I suppose the GC is pretty future-proof.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that the brand-new Mirage system is probably gonna be into the five-figure range for media server + amplifier + eight iPods eek.gif. The GC kit I can probably find for a quarter of that, so I'm thinking that's the way to go. In terms of sources, the MPS4E sounds like what I need for the NAS capability, but one caveat: the NAS I've got is serving an iSCSI virtual disk (thanks, original system installers!) - can the Musicport mount and read music from an iSCSI share? Or do you think it's worth it to wipe the NAS and set it up in a more traditional manner, i.e. NFS or SMB?

As an aside, can the GC control pads survive outdoors? One of the zones (pool) is in an outdoor pavillion, and while it's covered and shaded most of the time I'm sure you know as well as I that doesn't really mean anything in Houston biggrin.gif.
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post #13 of 14 Old 04-28-2013, 10:56 PM
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To me at least the GC's interface is super slick - nice crisp OLEDs, easy to understand buttons, and almost everything in each zone and on the screen can be controlled via RS232.

And from the MPS4 / MPS4E - IP control as well...
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My only concern is if I hook up a GC system with keypads in each zone and then two years from now the latest and greatest GC++ comes out, and to upgrade I have to replace the core system and all of the kepyads. Any new source hardware will probably be NuvoNet compatible though, so I suppose the GC is pretty future-proof.

Well, the future is up to NuVo, but since the keypads are cat5e-connected, I've dreamed up a couple of ways they could provide an upgrade path to a new keypad system with backwards-compatibility... The good news is that these systems, and the keypads in particular, have good resale value and given the relatively high volume NuVo sells, will probably have that for some time after any replacement comes out.

I'm hoping that new keypads, probably Android-based, would be brought out that would work with the GC - either with NuVoNet or repurposing the cat5e as Ethernet and PoE.
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I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that the brand-new Mirage system is probably gonna be into the five-figure range for media server + amplifier + eight iPods eek.gif.

IIRC the Mirage Audio system plus the MMS5 was in the same MSRP ballpark as a Nuvo GC + MPS4E.
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In terms of sources, the MPS4E sounds like what I need for the NAS capability, but one caveat: the NAS I've got is serving an iSCSI virtual disk (thanks, original system installers!) - can the Musicport mount and read music from an iSCSI share? Or do you think it's worth it to wipe the NAS and set it up in a more traditional manner, i.e. NFS or SMB?

Uh, no. Wow, who installed that and for what purpose did they do an iSCSI implementation instead of a simple SMB / Samba share?

Even though the MPS4 doesn't support a NAS, you might consider it as well. I'm wondering the same for my own system (though for the money I will continue living with the limitations of the original Music Port hoping a P3100-like source comes in the next 12-18 months). Since navigating a very large, lossless library can be daunting on the keypads, or from any app, the "limited" internal disk space (no NAS support) of the MPS4 might be a blessing. Make a decent, but compressed copy of your library, a subset (if needed) that you'd actually use for WHA purposes, and sync that with the server. Easier to navigate a somewhat smaller collection, but containing only the "party / background" music. For that matter, 90% of the time I use the streaming sources these days for WHA anyway. Just easier and I like hearing new stuff anyway. Worth a thought for the difference in $$ for the Elite.
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As an aside, can the GC control pads survive outdoors? One of the zones (pool) is in an outdoor pavillion, and while it's covered and shaded most of the time I'm sure you know as well as I that doesn't really mean anything in Houston biggrin.gif.

I have one outdoors (covered patio) that's been there exactly four years now, in Houston. No issue. And worse case, I replace it with an eBay keypad for <$150... If it were exposed to sunlight or otherwise uncovered to the elements, I'd be concerned, though...


Jeff

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post #14 of 14 Old 04-28-2013, 11:48 PM - Thread Starter
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...new keypads, probably Android-based...
Ahh man that would be slick.
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Wow, who installed that and for what purpose did they do an iSCSI implementation instead of a simple SMB / Samba share?
I have no freakin' clue - there's a reason I'm re-doing this whole system, and iSCSI vs. SMB is just the tip of the iceberg. Don't want to name any names, but the company's initials are HEI, their name is an anagram of Mini Otter Enhancement, and I would never recommend them to anybody in a million years unless you like getting hustled.

Good to know the keypad will be all right outdoors, and the eBay market is thriving. You make a good point with the MPS4, and the entire music collection will still be accessible through the Windows Media Center interface on the TVs anyway, so that's a workable solution. So now I'm thinking:
  • Nuvo Grand Concerto
  • 2x additional GC Keypads
  • Nuvo Music Port MPS4

... it all seems much simpler when in the rearview!
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