Linksys by Cisco Wireless Home Audio - First Look

The Linksys by Cisco Wireless Home Audio system is a cross between the Sonos music system and the Philips Streamium range. But can the company famed for routers and those phones at CTU in 24 crack the home audio market? We were shown the company's new audio system in action at a private briefing in the Venetian Hotel and Casino at CES in Las Vegas.

Using a range of technologies to connect it and you together, the Wireless Home Audio system utilises DLNA, wireless-N technology and even standard Ethernet to get your music around the house.

Like the Sonos music system, users can use the system to listen to the same song throughout the entire home, or send different music to customised zones.

Linksys (or Cisco or Linksys by Cisco) depending on how you want to refer to the company will offer three main methods of getting your music around the house. When they say it's an open system, they mean it.

Accessing music is simple. Everything is stored on a central drive, either in the main media hub called the Conductor DMC350 Wireless-N Digital Music Center, your PC or a random drive you've got connected. If your collection isn't up to scratch you can stream music from the Internet. Rhapsody in the US, AudioLounge in Europe.

The Conductor DMC350 Wireless-N Digital Music Center features a 7-inch LCD touchscreen, an integrated CD player and an IR Remote. It is a complete, portable, self-contained, wireless music system with integrated speakers that works well.

The Director DMC250 Wireless-N Music Player with Integrated Amplifier features a 50-watt per channel integrated amplifier, a line in and out to connect to speakers - so designed for a bedroom or kitchen - while the Player DMP100 Wireless-N Music Extender allows you to access digital music from existing stereo or surround sound systems in the home.

All of these, including certain devices like the iPod, can be controlled via a wireless touchscreen remote very similar to the Sonos setup.

Those not ready to embrace remote controls have full access over the system either from the PC - although it's not necessary - or via one of the media hubs listed above. The menu system revolves (literally) through a series of icons and you simply access the feature you want.

That menu system is replicated on the wireless remote (which doesn't need line of sight) and like the Sonos system you can create different zones to play different music in. So at your annual summer party you can create a single zone and blast your guests with your favourite tune, or set-up different rooms with different music.

Press a button and the system springs into life - it's that simple. What doesn't appear to be simple though is the design. With about as much sexiness as the "Go Ugly Early" option, this isn't one for the fashion/style conscious amongst you. You might want to hide the Sonos system, but if you don't it's not the end of the world - here you'll be upset if you can't. Let’s just say the Linksys by Cisco Wireless Home Audio system makes the Philips Streamium look like something designed by Phillipe Starck.

In our brief play the system sounded good, whizzing tracks around a small hotel suite setup nicely. We especially liked the ability to plug in an iPod and to then have full control over the iPod via the wireless remote. In our demo, our Cisco man slammed in a Dutch iPod, so the menu that showed on the remote was all in Dutch. It had taken the settings, the language, everything. We could then change tracks as we wished.

Verdict

Basing the system on such an open network offering is the strength here as you'll be able to add more devices easily when you bring them home - be it your new internet-enabled television, DLNA mobile phone or just more kit from Linksys.

Unfortunately while the system is easy to set-up, the design in our mind needs a drastic overhaul if it is to be accepted by consumers. Linksys might have made it easy to connect and network all these different devices together to stream music around your house, but if they look like a prop from the IT department, chances are that's what most people are going to think they are.

From what we've seen in Cisco's hotel room - it had a lounge and dining room and a great view - the Linksys by Cisco Wireless Home Audio looks promising, if the company can improve the looks.

The Wireless Home Audio products - separately and in various bundled kit forms - will be available in the United States first with availability planned for Denmark and The Netherlands during the first quarter of 2009. There are no plans to launch the system in the UK, however a spokesperson told Pocket-lint that the company wouldn't be wasting our time if there were no plans at all.

The Director will cost $449.99/449.99 euros, the Player will be $299.99/299.99 euros, the Stereo Speaker Kit will cost $149.99/149.99 euros, the Controller will be $349.99/349.99 euros and the iPod dock will cost $79.99/79.99 euros.


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