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ZON total home sound solution

by David Ross on 10 January 2006, 02:54

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Sound all around the home

I love digital home. I love the concept and the extra functionality it gives me. However, I now want my home to be at the next level. I want to start to have things automated and my digital home experience made even better.

I have been hunting around for an easy way to route music around my home - I have had enough of having music on a server, or the radio on and only having the option to turn up the audio to hear it in other rooms. The worst thing is that my office is on the same floor as my bathroom, so if I want to have music on in the bathroom, I have to turn up the audio in the office, which ends up flooding the entire house with sound. I worked on a concept which would split each room into zones, with speakers and amplifier in each. However, this didn't solve the problem of how could I switch between them or, indeed, route music from my Media Centre upstairs to the kitchen (say if I am in the middle of listening to a song.)

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While walking around CES we managed to spend some time in the home audio section, where, more by luck more than judgement, we found a solution which appears to do exactly what I am trying to achieve. The ZON system, from Oxmoor Corporation, involves four key components - audio sources, speakers, some network cable and the ZON hardware itself. Together they let you pipe sound all through your house, from any input you choose.

The ZON all-digital hardware consists of a router, controller/amplifier boxes, audio input modules and a whole host of other optional accessories. The basic concept is that you buy the parts you need to make it work in your house, customizing it for each room as you see fit. The routing box handles up to nine audio inputs, four “zones” (rooms) and has web-page setup. This system does involve running CAT5e (or CAT6) cable from the router to each room that's being networked, so it might not appeal to everyone, but to those looking long term and perhaps doing a bit of decorating anyway, routing some network cable is no big deal.

Instead of having to go to a room or a web page to switch the audio, you can use the controllers in each room to call the music you want from the source you want. Controllers come in two flavours, one with an intercom, and one without (the one with is 60W and the other is 30W).

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To install, you need to wire them in to the mains for power and run cables from them to the speakers in the room - so there's no need for a separate amplifier in each room. The only connection between controllers and the router is the CAT5e/6 cabling. To change the audio source or volume, you can use the wheel and button on the controller or the remote handset that ships with it.

To get sound into the system, there has to be an input module for each sound device. This can be a wiz-bang A/V system, a DVD or CD player or even an MP3 player such as an iPod - pretty much anything you fancy really. The input module has digital and analogue sockets and the system does the digitising of analogue sources automatically. You can have different devices hooked up in different rooms and then use the controllers to select which device you want to listen to where ever you are in the house.

Optional boards for the router
Since the system is modular you can add to it what you need to (or as your budget allows). There are advanced IR-control and RS232 boards which even allow the controlling of your home cinema system – from another room via the controllers – so you can change the music on your DVD or CD player downstairs if you want from upstairs using a remote.

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The company also has a doorbell module, which allows different audio for five different bells around the house. You can have custom door chimes using an SD card carrying files in MP3 audio format.

On the long list of accessories there's a weatherproof enclosure for the controller so, presumably, you can even have audio out in the garden - though quite how that side of things hangs together wasn't clear to us.

The big drawback of the system is the cost. The router comes in at US$1,200 and the modules for each room (the controllers) are around US$350 a piece. This quickly adds up to something like US$2,200 for a simple setup. While a full system is expensive, the modular approach makes sense, since you can pick and choose what you need (or can currently afford) and add more later. Some people will be happier with their own homebrewed solution but for a turnkey solution, ZON looks great to us.

So, ZON lets me do audio but when will there be a system which gives me access to all my media - video and stills included - and all my computer functionality all around the home, with screens, too? I guess currently the only option is to have a networked MCE based system in every room. Ahh, we can all dream.

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While the ZON system doesn't look to be ultra simple to install and integrate, it does appear to be a solution that works and works well. Pair it up with X10 home automation and you have an almost fully digital home. Hell, hide my credit card, I want one now! But why, oh why doesn't the system's worldwide distributor, Klipsch, appears to have any ZON resellers in UK when it's got them in many other EU countries?

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