Sonance DAB1 Distributed Audio System

Fill your home with music.

Wholehouse music distribution systems are rapidly gaining in popularity. Homes are increasing in size and number of rooms, and, for many homeowners, a wholehouse music system adds to the value and enjoyment of their homes. There is also no shortage of options for music distribution systems. A simple solution is a multiroom, single-source system: Each room has its own pair of stereo speakers that are connected to a receiver, and a multiple-speaker selector is installed in a central location. This is a good option if you want to listen to the same music in every room, but it is likely that each member of the household would prefer his or her choice of music. More elaborate systems provide multisource, multiroom capability, allowing different users to listen to their individual choices of entertainment in different rooms. Sonance's DAB1 Distributed Audio System may be the best choice if you're looking for ease of use and flexibility in a multiroom, multisource audio distribution system.


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Sonance offers the DAB1 Distributed Audio System as part of their line of architectural audio products, which includes a wide variety of in-wall loudspeakers, custom electronics, and accessories. The DAB1 is a receiver-sized component with plenty of useful features and very good audio performance. In fact, think of the DAB1 as a six-amplifier, multisource audio receiver.

The DAB1 is a four-source, six-room (zone) audio distribution and control system with a built-in AM/FM tuner and six 30-watt stereo amplifiers, for a total of 12 channels of amplification. The basic DAB1 system consists of the central controller, one remote control, and various cables and accessories. Interconnecting three additional DAB1 controllers can expand the system for larger homes with up to 24 zones. The DAB1 is designed to work with any Sonance control keypad, including the standard DAB1 keypad, as well as the Navigator K1 and Navigator K2 keypads. The lighted keypads connect to the DAB1 via Cat-5 cable.

The DAB1 is programmable via Sonance's Program Manager software, which you can download from the Sonance Website. The Program Manager requires a PC connected to the DAB1 with a USB cable (included). The software offers extensive features that let you customize the DAB1 for each installation. For example, you can program the 12 tuner presets to your favorite stations, set default volumes so the system turns on at a preset level, and integrate all of your sources (CD changers, satellite receivers, TiVo, etc.) into the system for seamless operation. Also, you can create macro commands, which allow one-touch activation of the system and source components. In addition to controlling and distributing audio, you can integrate the DAB1 with lighting, home-automation, and security systems via RS-232 connections, which provide two-way communication between the DAB1 and other devices. For instance, a homeowner might want to walk into a room, press a single button to activate a certain lighting scene, turn on music in that zone, and select a preferred tuner preset. Or, you could activate certain zones when an alarm system is turned off. There are additional options, including wholehouse paging, which is programmable via the Program Manager software. In other words, the Program Manager maximizes the DAB1 system's flexibility.

The DAB1 has a built-in AM/FM tuner, and you can connect three additional audio source components through the analog audio inputs. Or you can bypass the DAB1 tuner and connect four external sources. I integrated the DAB1 into my system, which consists of a Yamaha RX-V3300 A/V receiver and a Yamaha DVD-S2300 universal disc player. I connected the receiver to the DAB1 through the analog "record output" jacks on the receiver. If I had connected additional source components to the receiver, they would have sent their signals to the DAB1, and I would have been able to control them through the DAB1's IR outputs. You could connect your outboard sources (CD player, DVD player, etc.) directly to the DAB1; however, one advantage of using the receiver as a source is the additional tuner. So you can listen to your favorite station while another family member listens to his or her favorite station in another zone at the same time.

I set up my DAB1 as a three-zone system, using all three Sonance keypad models: the DAB1 keypad and the Navigator K1 and Navigator K2. Six AM/FM tuner presets were preprogrammed into my review sample prior to installation. The Navigator K2 keypad has an LCD window that displays the radio station call letters and frequency.

Operation and Use
Operation of the DAB1 is straightforward and mostly intuitive, although the front-panel controls have minimal labeling, which caused some initial confusion. A brief study of the owner's manual and a bit of practice revealed operator error, not a design problem. (I was confusing source controls for zone controls.) After a few minutes of practice, the operation of the DAB1 is very logical and simple. The owner's manual is also well written, with clear instructions. Sonance has programmed the DAB1 by default for the following functions: 1) Press any source button on a keypad to activate the local zone with the selected source; 2) Press and hold any source button to activate the Party Mode (all zones turn on to the same source); and 3) Double press source button number one to switch to the next tuner preset if the tuner is selected as source number one. You can assign other programming options to the DAB1's press-and-hold and double-press functions using the Program Manager software. With the default modes, however, you can install and use the DAB1 without any advance programming, although, as I mentioned, you can program the DAB1 for customized preferences.

Sound Quality
The 30-watt-rated stereo amplifiers in the DAB1 sound very good. Although most users will probably connect the DAB1 to in-wall or bookshelf speakers in each zone, I connected my sample to my Paradigm Reference 100 floorstanding speakers, likely a more difficult test for the amplifiers. The modestly powered amplifiers performed with ease, producing tight bass, clean midrange, and detailed high-frequency response. Although the Paradigm speakers are moderately sensitive at 91 decibels, the sound quality of the DAB1's amps exceeded my expectations, even at medium volume levels with multiple zones playing simultaneously. Actually, it's no surprise—a closer inspection inside of the DAB1 revealed two large toroidal power supplies. If you need more than 30 watts, the DAB1 includes six fixed or variable line-level outputs for connection to external amplifiers. But rest assured that this component is capable of powering most any typical choice of speakers in your wholehouse audio system.

Tuner Performance
The AM/FM tuner performed adequately, as well. Using the supplied AM loop antenna and FM antenna, the tuner received all of my favorite stations with clarity.

Fill Your Home With Music
If you're building a new home or remodeling an existing one and are considering a wholehouse audio system, put the DAB1 on your short list. The DAB1 is a well-built component that sounds very good and is easy to use. It's a great choice for a six-zone system, and you can expand it with additional DAB1 controllers and program it to accommodate large homes with as many as 24 zones. Its operation is logical and intuitive, and it takes just minutes to become familiar with its functions.

Because of its broad flexibility, the DAB1 is probably not a product for the DIY homeowner, unless you already have Cat-5 network wiring and speaker wires installed throughout your home and are adept at using a PC to program the DAB1's functions. To get the most value out of the DAB1, a professional should install and program it.

As distributed audio systems continue to grow in popularity, it's a solid bet that sales of the Sonance DAB1 will grow, as well. If you want to fill your home with music, check out the DAB1.

The Sonance DAB1 sounds good, is well built, and is easy to use. It is definitely worth serious consideration if you are looking into a wholehouse audio system.

• Allows users to play different audio material in different rooms
• Programming options make the DAB1 very flexible
• Expandable with additional units

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