Looking for inexpensive 4-zone amplifier that can be controlled by IR (Harmony) - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 14 Old 06-04-2020, 11:51 AM - Thread Starter
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Looking for inexpensive 4-zone amplifier that can be controlled by IR (Harmony)

I am looking for an inexpensive (used) 4-zone amplifier that can be controlled by an IR remote -- specifically a Harmony Ultimate/Hub. I've searched AVS and google, and it seems almost none of the zone amps, if any, can be controlled by a IR remote. Besides IR, my requirements are very basic -- 1) Switch zones (via IR) from 3 or 4 inputs; 2) independent volume control (via IR) for each zone; 3) power output of amp doesn't really matter (15wpc would be fine). If you have specific brands and models of zone amps to recommend, I would really appreciate it.

Back Story: The reason I need it it is to replace replace a Control 4 zone amp/system. There is nothing wrong with the Control 4 equipment, but the inability to program Control 4 without an installer has been a logistical dead-end. I just want to rip it all out and put in a Harmony hub/Elite and move on with my life.

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post #2 of 14 Old 06-04-2020, 01:44 PM
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You may be able to find a few components to do what you wish, but dont think you will find an all in one system.

Here is 1 piece of the puzzle.

Speaker Selector that can be controlled by IR.

https://www.osdaudio.com/products/sp...ote/atm-7.html
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post #3 of 14 Old 06-05-2020, 07:43 AM
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If you are ripping out a control4 system, I'm not sure why you want to try and mimic it in a new solution. Having the amp also control volume that sources control is going to lead to some frustration. And sources are now cheap enough that you can save yourself a lot of confusion in your family and go to a model where you have one source per zone, and allow the sources to merge zones together for group playback.

If you take chromecast audio's or apple airplay devices (if you are an all apple type of family) and feed each zone separately, you'll end up with a system that very flexible, inexpensive, no fighting over which component is setting the volume, and avoid switching zones entirely.

I have 20 zones in a new house all built this way, and it's very easy to use, and the family has no problems controlling it. No remotes, no keypads, everything controlled from your phone. I thinjk it's hard to compete with Google/Apple/Amazon in the consumer space, and you can get very nice voice control integration as well. In my set up, a google hub in a room hears my command, and starts music playback for the speaker zone mapped to that room. A lot of times I don't even need to pull my phone out at all. And you get to use the system as an intercom as well.

If you are leaving the custom integrator world, don't just settle for what the old system could do - you can do far more in the modern software driven WHA world.

Mike
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post #4 of 14 Old 06-05-2020, 08:36 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MikeSM View Post
If you are ripping out a control4 system, I'm not sure why you want to try and mimic it in a new solution. Having the amp also control volume that sources control is going to lead to some frustration. And sources are now cheap enough that you can save yourself a lot of confusion in your family and go to a model where you have one source per zone, and allow the sources to merge zones together for group playback.

If you take chromecast audio's or apple airplay devices (if you are an all apple type of family) and feed each zone separately, you'll end up with a system that very flexible, inexpensive, no fighting over which component is setting the volume, and avoid switching zones entirely.

I have 20 zones in a new house all built this way, and it's very easy to use, and the family has no problems controlling it. No remotes, no keypads, everything controlled from your phone. I thinjk it's hard to compete with Google/Apple/Amazon in the consumer space, and you can get very nice voice control integration as well. In my set up, a google hub in a room hears my command, and starts music playback for the speaker zone mapped to that room. A lot of times I don't even need to pull my phone out at all. And you get to use the system as an intercom as well.

If you are leaving the custom integrator world, don't just settle for what the old system could do - you can do far more in the modern software driven WHA world.

Mike
Thanks Mike -- this is definitely an interesting approach. So basically I think you are suggesting using an 8-channel amp driven by 4 CCA's or AirPlay devices that could be controlled separately or grouped. Seems like a good idea.

I've done this with CCA in a different house where I have 3 CCA's that I control individually or as a "whole house" group. I haven't really experimented with using the same phone to, for example, kick off Spotify on one CCA, Pandora on another, etc. I don't have any experience with AirPlay streamers. I'd prefer that the system be able to work with Android also, even though it is primarily an Apple environment.

The system needs to be able to handle Apple Music. I know in the past, CCA didn't support Apple Music, but I think I saw something about Apple Music now being able to cast. Another concern is that CCA is no longer supported by Google -- I'm still using them a lot, but not sure if I want to find 4 more CCA's and build a system around something that might stop working at some point. Are there other inexpensive devices like CCA?
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post #5 of 14 Old 06-05-2020, 10:48 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pjp View Post
Thanks Mike -- this is definitely an interesting approach. So basically I think you are suggesting using an 8-channel amp driven by 4 CCA's or AirPlay devices that could be controlled separately or grouped. Seems like a good idea.

I've done this with CCA in a different house where I have 3 CCA's that I control individually or as a "whole house" group. I haven't really experimented with using the same phone to, for example, kick off Spotify on one CCA, Pandora on another, etc. I don't have any experience with AirPlay streamers. I'd prefer that the system be able to work with Android also, even though it is primarily an Apple environment.

The system needs to be able to handle Apple Music. I know in the past, CCA didn't support Apple Music, but I think I saw something about Apple Music now being able to cast. Another concern is that CCA is no longer supported by Google -- I'm still using them a lot, but not sure if I want to find 4 more CCA's and build a system around something that might stop working at some point. Are there other inexpensive devices like CCA?

I'm pretty sure that Google will continue to support CCA - its the same chipset used in normal chromecasts I think, and you could use regular chromecasts and an HDMI audio extractor in a pinch. They work very well in our house.

Not sure about apple music support, but you are right the airplay solutions are somewhat lacking compared to cast support, and cast actually seems to work really well in iOS apps in my experience.

This approach is simpler, cheaper, and I think more future proof than c4 etc... I don't think those solutions do well in terms of voice integration, and keypads etc... are so 90s...

Good luck!

Mike
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post #6 of 14 Old 06-05-2020, 11:37 AM
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Some other devices to consider if your audio sources can all be internet streams of Spotify or Pandora or something else from your phone:

Essentially you'd make a whole-house audio system, with Sonos-like functionality. You may be able to use your existing Control 4 equipment as a 4-zone amp if it has auto on/off capability, or you don't mind doing that manually. You can also get a remote controlled power socket.
If not, you can either replace it with a different multichannel amp, or get an amp for each zone, which is actually cheaper for a small number of zones.

If using an amplifier, the Phorus PR5 is probably the cheapest, most flexible way to add an input and have grouping capabilities like Sonos or Airplay 2.
It will make your house a Play-Fi system. The one drawback that I see is that it's wifi only (so potential dropouts), but it can add an ethernet jack via USB port.

If not, at partsexpress, Dayton Audio has a similar system using their Hi-Fly app (Linkplay ecosystem?). They have a WBA31 streamer, very similar to the PR5, but it has a couple of extra features (ethernet jack, SPDIF output), and it costs a little more. They also have the WB40A, which is a streamer with integrated 20W/ch amplifier. If that's enough power for you, that's the lowest cost per zone available. You could add WBA31s to any existing amplifier or amplified device to bring it into the system.

Both the Phorus and Dayton options include Bluetooth as well.

I haven't had a chance to look at it much yet, but Arylic.com seems to offer similar functionality, potentially at good pricing per zone. The A50 in particular is like the Dayton WB40A, with a more powerful integrated amplifier.

Quote:
Originally Posted by pjp View Post
I am looking for an inexpensive (used) 4-zone amplifier that can be controlled by an IR remote -- specifically a Harmony Ultimate/Hub.

I've searched AVS and google, and it seems almost none of the zone amps, if any, can be controlled by a IR remote.
1) Switch zones (via IR) from 3 or 4 inputs; 2) independent volume control (via IR) for each zone; 3) power output of amp doesn't really matter (15wpc would be fine). If you have specific brands and models of zone amps to recommend, I would really appreciate it.

Back Story: The reason I need it it is to replace replace a Control 4 zone amp/system. There is nothing wrong with the Control 4 equipment, but the inability to program Control 4 without an installer has been a logistical dead-end. I just want to rip it all out and put in a Harmony hub/Elite and move on with my life.
Quote:
Originally Posted by MikeSM View Post
If you are ripping out a control4 system, I'm not sure why you want to try and mimic it in a new solution. Having the amp also control volume that sources control is going to lead to some frustration. And sources are now cheap enough that you can save yourself a lot of confusion in your family and go to a model where you have one source per zone, and allow the sources to merge zones together for group playback.
Quote:
Originally Posted by pjp View Post
Thanks Mike -- this is definitely an interesting approach. So basically I think you are suggesting using an 8-channel amp driven by 4 CCA's or AirPlay devices that could be controlled separately or grouped. Seems like a good idea.
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post #7 of 14 Old 06-05-2020, 11:58 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by philpoe View Post
Some other devices to consider if your audio sources can all be internet streams of Spotify or Pandora or something else from your phone:

Essentially you'd make a whole-house audio system, with Sonos-like functionality. You may be able to use your existing Control 4 equipment as a 4-zone amp if it has auto on/off capability, or you don't mind doing that manually. You can also get a remote controlled power socket.
If not, you can either replace it with a different multichannel amp, or get an amp for each zone, which is actually cheaper for a small number of zones.

If using an amplifier, the Phorus PR5 is probably the cheapest, most flexible way to add an input and have grouping capabilities like Sonos or Airplay 2.
It will make your house a Play-Fi system. The one drawback that I see is that it's wifi only (so potential dropouts), but it can add an ethernet jack via USB port.

If not, at partsexpress, Dayton Audio has a similar system using their Hi-Fly app (Linkplay ecosystem?). They have a WBA31 streamer, very similar to the PR5, but it has a couple of extra features (ethernet jack, SPDIF output), and it costs a little more. They also have the WB40A, which is a streamer with integrated 20W/ch amplifier. If that's enough power for you, that's the lowest cost per zone available. You could add WBA31s to any existing amplifier or amplified device to bring it into the system.

Both the Phorus and Dayton options include Bluetooth as well.

I haven't had a chance to look at it much yet, but Arylic.com seems to offer similar functionality, potentially at good pricing per zone. The A50 in particular is like the Dayton WB40A, with a more powerful integrated amplifier.
These are interesting devices, but specialized apps limit access to content and media and complicate controls. At least some of those products have airplay support, which allows you to use the model I was advocating if you are all iOS based.

Also, you have to be careful that the DAC's used are high quality, else you'll end up with less than optimum audio quality. My experience is that DAC in the CCA is actually pretty good, and I think the Apple airplays are also pretty good. But devices like the raspberry pi for example have terrible audio quality built in, do you want to add different devices if using that as a platform...

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post #8 of 14 Old 06-05-2020, 12:27 PM
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All of the options mentioned list Airplay support, but don't list the more useful Airplay 2. In theory, Play-Fi devices could get Airplay 2 according to statements from DTS, but that could be on a product-by-product basis. Even if not, Play-Fi in particular is a pretty large ecosystem with many vendors participating.
As far as DACs, agreed, and Phorus seems to make a big deal out of their DAC. OP will have to balance SQ, price, power and other features for background music
from the options presented.
Amazon prime or other easy return methods should help in making a decision.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MikeSM View Post
These are interesting devices, but specialized apps limit access to content and media and complicate controls. At least some of those products have airplay support, which allows you to use the model I was advocating if you are all iOS based.

Also, you have to be careful that the DAC's used are high quality, else you'll end up with less than optimum audio quality. My experience is that DAC in the CCA is actually pretty good, and I think the Apple airplays are also pretty good. But devices like the raspberry pi for example have terrible audio quality built in, do you want to add different devices if using that as a platform...

mike
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post #9 of 14 Old 06-05-2020, 12:50 PM - Thread Starter
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you could use regular chromecasts and an HDMI audio extractor in a pinch. They work very well in our house.
I don't think regular Chromecast can be used in place of CCA, even with an HDMI extractor -- or at least I haven't been able to figure out how to do it. Audio-only streams, like Spotify or Pandora initiated from an iPhone, will only cast to CCA devices (I don't see any of my regular video Chromecasts as castable in audio-only streaming). Same with video sources, like YouTube initiated from the iPhone, where I can cast the video to regular Chromecast but I don't think I can cast just the audio of a YouTube to CCA.

Google claimed they dumped the CCA because CCA's functionality was available in other Google devices, but unless I"m missing something (which would be great news! ), that was a lie on Google's part.

Last edited by pjp; 06-05-2020 at 01:05 PM.
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post #10 of 14 Old 06-05-2020, 03:47 PM
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I don't think regular Chromecast can be used in place of CCA, even with an HDMI extractor -- or at least I haven't been able to figure out how to do it. Audio-only streams, like Spotify or Pandora initiated from an iPhone, will only cast to CCA devices (I don't see any of my regular video Chromecasts as castable in audio-only streaming). Same with video sources, like YouTube initiated from the iPhone, where I can cast the video to regular Chromecast but I don't think I can cast just the audio of a YouTube to CCA.

Google claimed they dumped the CCA because CCA's functionality was available in other Google devices, but unless I"m missing something (which would be great news! ), that was a lie on Google's part.
You need to have a screen attached to chromecast to do setup, but it doesn't need a video sink after that to stream audio to as far as I can tell. But I haven't personally verified that as I use the audios. Audios are still available on ebay, so you can still go that route even for a new deployment.

mike
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post #11 of 14 Old 06-05-2020, 06:19 PM
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I don't think regular Chromecast can be used in place of CCA, even with an HDMI extractor -- or at least I haven't been able to figure out how to do it. Audio-only streams, like Spotify or Pandora initiated from an iPhone, will only cast to CCA devices (I don't see any of my regular video Chromecasts as castable in audio-only streaming). Same with video sources, like YouTube initiated from the iPhone, where I can cast the video to regular Chromecast but I don't think I can cast just the audio of a YouTube to CCA.

Google claimed they dumped the CCA because CCA's functionality was available in other Google devices, but unless I"m missing something (which would be great news! ), that was a lie on Google's part.

You can play Spotify on a regular Chromecast, at least my first gen one anywayClick image for larger version

Name:	Adjustments.jpg
Views:	14
Size:	306.7 KB
ID:	2737690

This is from an iPad by the way...


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post #12 of 14 Old 06-05-2020, 06:43 PM
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One suggestion I have is to use a whole house amp like this one https://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=10761 with Echo Dots as sources and local control. Echo Dots can control and playback music from a number of services such as Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, TuneIn and Sirius XM. Echo Dots have a 3.5mm output that you could run to the amp. You would name each Dot the name of the Zone you would be outputting to and control it with another Dot in that particular location. So you would ask the Dot in your living room to “play U2 in the living room “ and the Dot named living room physically connected to the amp would start playing music in that zone. The dots are very cheap at $35 or less and the audio quality is more than sufficient for background multi zone listening when outputting to an amp. Some apps like Spotify will allow you to control playback on a Dot via your phone if you don’t want to use your voice. You can also control volume via voice. My experience has been that it works great. I use it in my bathroom for shower tunes where I would never want to worry about using my phone or a remote to control the music.


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post #13 of 14 Old 06-05-2020, 09:17 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MikeSM View Post
You need to have a screen attached to chromecast to do setup, but it doesn't need a video sink after that to stream audio to as far as I can tell. But I haven't personally verified that as I use the audios. Audios are still available on ebay, so you can still go that route even for a new deployment.
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You can play Spotify on a regular Chromecast, at least my first gen one anywayAttachment 2737690

This is from an iPad by the way...
Thanks -- I stand corrected. You both are absolutely correct. I think the reason I never saw my regular Chromecast when I try to cast audio is because the TV where chromecast is connected is usually off and I forgot that I'm powering it by the USB power on back of the TV. Just tried it myself with the TV on and it did show up for audio cast. Good to know.

Google would need to add a 3.5mm jack (or preferably combined 3.5mm/optical jack like CCA) to regular Chromecast for it to be a CCA replacement. Extracting audio from HDMI is certainly doable, but it's a pain and a very clunky solution.
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post #14 of 14 Old 06-05-2020, 09:28 PM - Thread Starter
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One suggestion I have is to use a whole house amp like this one https://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=10761 with Echo Dots as sources and local control. Echo Dots can control and playback music from a number of services such as Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, TuneIn and Sirius XM. Echo Dots have a 3.5mm output that you could run to the amp. You would name each Dot the name of the Zone you would be outputting to and control it with another Dot in that particular location. So you would ask the Dot in your living room to “play U2 in the living room “ and the Dot named living room physically connected to the amp would start playing music in that zone. The dots are very cheap at $35 or less and the audio quality is more than sufficient for background multi zone listening when outputting to an amp. Some apps like Spotify will allow you to control playback on a Dot via your phone if you don’t want to use your voice. You can also control volume via voice. My experience has been that it works great. I use it in my bathroom for shower tunes where I would never want to worry about using my phone or a remote to control the music.
Sounds good, and I like the convenience of voice control a lot, but anything that listens is out (don't try to convince me, you need to convince my wife, which isn't possible*). If a device has a slider switch where I can permanently turn off the mic and control it by phone, then it would probably work.



* I don't want a listening device either -- even though I recognize the convenience -- but it's easier to blame my wife
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