Equipment Review No. 2   January 2002

Speakercraft Eazy6 Multi-Room/Source Preamplifier
$700
        
Speakercraft
1650 Seventh St.
Riverside, CA 92507-4492
http://www.speakercraft.com/
(800) 448-0976 voice
(909) 787-8747 fax
    


Basic Description

6-zone, 6-source audio preamplifier with infrared control of input and volume for each zone; level trims for input and output; 1 learning remote; 6 IR outs; "status" indicator for keypads or IR sensors; 12 V output; "all off" capability; pass-thru outputs for connecting multiple units and/or connection to a receiver or main zone component; approximate dimensions- 8" H x 13.5 W x 2.5 D inches; 2 year parts and labor warranty.

 

Equipment

Rotel RCC-955 CD changer; Nakamichi MB-8 CD changer; Paradigm Monitor 9 version 2 speakers; Paradigm Titan version 2 speakers; Rotel RB-976 6-channel amplifier; Niles MS-2 IR receiver; Niles IRC-2 IR mini flasher; and included for use with review: 2 Speakercraft EazyR remote controls (1 included, $50 ea additional), 4 SpeakerCraft SmartPath (Xantech) IR Emitters SP283-00 ($15 ea), and 2 Speakercraft SmartPath (Xantech) SP291-10 Shelf Top Infrared Receivers ($70 ea).

 

Explanation of Functions and Operation

The Eazy6 would be an excellent companion piece to go along with the Speakercraft BB1265 12-channel amplifier reviewed last month. What the Eazy6 does is allow listening to any of six sources in six different rooms at different volume levels and give infrared (IR) control of those six components from the six different rooms. It is also possible to get more than six rooms of sound if you want to use multiple speakers/ amplifiers/ rooms from a single zone on the Eazy6. Volume control for the extra areas could then be passive (via a wall mount volume control), or be at a fixed level for those areas (see example below.)

The Eazy6 has a pass-through for local zone components or connection of a second Eazy6 if electronic volume were needed for more than six zones. For example, say you have a home theater system in your living room and two bedrooms. In addition to these areas, you would like to have sound in two bathrooms, a dining room, outside, the kitchen, a breakfast nook, an office, and a game room. One system could be as follows:

1 The living room has dedicated separate surround system and one of the inputs of the surround preamplifier takes a digital feed from the CD player (source 1) an analog feed from tuner (source 2) via the Expansion output from the Eazy6. Note: equipment is in the same location (a closet) so connection is simplified.

2 The master bedroom has a surround receiver with a feed from the first set of channels from the BB1265 bus output coming from the zone #1 output from the Eazy6. The level is set to unity gain on the Eazy6 and a passive control is used in the master bathroom where a single speaker is connected to the BB1265. One infrared keypad is used in the bathroom, and the remote in the master bedroom is programmed to control a mini sensor in the equipment rack.

3 Bedroom #2 is independent and doesn't require a feed from the main system.

4 Bathroom #2 will be zone #2 with a keypad.

5 The dining room and kitchen are close and can share the same source, so they will be zone #3. There will be a keypad in both the kitchen and dining room. There will also be passive volume controls in these areas.

6 Zone #4 will be outside with a keypad and a weatherized cover.

7 Zone #5 will be the office with a sensor on the wall.

8 Zone #6 is the game room that will also have a keypad on the wall.

9 Source 3 will be a tape deck. Source 4 will be a feed FROM the master bedroom. Source 5 will be a second 200 disc CD player. Source 6 will be a dedicated satellite receiver for satellite radio.

10 Since both bathrooms are using single speakers that are operating from both channels via a switch on the BB1265, all 12 channels are used. In both bedrooms and the living room, there is dedicated equipment, so amplification is covered.

As you can see, you can design a fairly elaborate system with only one multi-channel amplifier and the Eazy6 (including IR parts, volume controls, source equipment, and speakers.) Your local Speakercraft dealer could help you design a custom system of any size.

If elimination of all passive controls were desired, then a second Eazy6 would be needed. To do this you would need to run 6 pairs of RCA cables from the first unit to the next, as well as a data cable-a CAT5 patchcord with RJ-45 connectors at both ends. An expansion unit gives you 6 more zones, but it does not give you 6 more source inputs. You could always have a few separate or a few shared sources, if you wanted.

 

Setup

The Eazy6 has two side brackets that allow easy mounting on a wall. Alternatively, the Eazy6 could be positioned upright with the connections going down into it. I sat it on a shelf and tried a few different connection options. The extra parts I was sent are necessary to make the Eazy6 work in a typical system. You will have to price out how many rooms and what type of control you'd like in each room to figure out total system cost. I was told that most people use IR wall mount sensors ($70-100) and keypads ($350+).

The manual is well laid out and it would be worth the time spent reading through all the information it contains. There are only about 6 pages of material, so it doesn't take too long to read through. There are several diagrams with explanations on the side to help assist in hookup.

First, I connected two sources to audio inputs 1 and 2-a Rotel and Nakamichi CD changer. There are input levels underneath a panel that can be unscrewed, but I did not adjust them. There are six sets of zone outputs that I connected to two separate inputs on a Rotel RB-976. The Speakercraft BB1265 was in use in another location, so I did not use it for the test. As far as matching goes, there would be no reason why you wouldn't want to use it along with the Eazy6 as it proved to be a good performer with incredible flexibility. The zone output levels come preset at an acceptable setting, so although I played a little with them later, it was not necessary. Having individual output level adjust for each zone is a nice feature as it allows adjustment to compensate for possible level imbalances in the final installation due to room or placement difficulties OR to limit the maximum output which could prevent damage to amplifiers or speakers if the system is turned up too loud.

Next, I connected the supplied infrared tabletop receiver. The receiver plugs into a small interface called an SPCB12. (Anyone who has worked with other Xantech products knows how many part numbers you have to remember!) I used a small length of infrared cable and connected it from the connecting block to the Eazy6 receiver input. I plugged in the power supply and the Eazy6 lit up. I selected the appropriate source on the remote and tried to turn the volume up. The remote was lighting up, but I wasn't getting any sound. There is a row of lights underneath the IR receiver inputs on the Eazy6 and they weren't lighting up either. I went back and checked the IR hookup manual that came with the tabletop receiver. Unfortunately it looked like I needed a model SP781C-00 power supply. Uh oh. Well luckily I had a Niles MS-2 mini IR sensor that I was able to connect directly to the Eazy6 instead. This time I saw a confirmation light on the MS-2 and on the Eazy6 to indicate that I was receiving infrared commands. The remote requires you to push the SELECT button and then the source (ie Tuner, CD, Sat, VCR, DVD, or TV) on the remote. The back of the manual lists the input number that corresponds with the labels on the remote (ie Input 1 -> Tuner, Input 2 -> CD, etc). Immediately I was rewarded with sound. Volume worked with no trouble and has a nice range of adjustment. A maximum of ten IR receivers can be used per zone. (See the above system for an example of why you'd want to have more than one IR receiver per zone.)

At this point, I decided to try the IR component control. (See the EazyR Remote Control section for specific information about programming and operation of the remote control.) It should have been amazingly easy. Just plug in the SP283-00 and stick it on the front of the CD player. I thought I'd just use the Rotel remote to make sure everything was working before programming the EazyR. Unfortunately nothing was working. I tried a second SP283-00, but nothing. I have no idea what the problem could have been (and neither did the manufacturer's rep that I spoke with.) I happened to have a Niles IRC-2P plug-in emitter, and it worked fine. Each IR output is associated with each source, so it is possible to have two identical source components (or more) without worrying about interfering remote commands affecting multiple units.

Lastly, I switched the IR control to zone #2 and had two different CD's playing at different levels in different rooms, and all controllable via the EazyR. Neat!

 

EazyR Remote Control

A single EazyR remote is included with the Eazy6 and for $50 you can purchase extras for other rooms. Two AA batteries are needed for it, but are not included. The manual for the EazyR remote control is a single page. The remote control is learning and it took about a minute or two to program PLAY, STOP, SKIP, and PAUSE functions from the Rotel CD player remote. The remote is easy to use and is sensibly laid out. There is an ALL OFF key, but I also wish there were an ALL ON key. If you had a party you might want to turn on all the zones, and switch to a single source, etc. One way around this would be an IR receiver/ keypad that is wired to all the receiver inputs on the Eazy6 (maybe even adjacent to the Eazy6 unit itself.) The Eazy6 has no user controls on it (like some similar components do,) so it would be nice to have complete control of it, and a separate IR keypad/ receiver would make this possible.

 

Listening

For a little critical listening I put on track six, "Round Midnight" by Nakagawa on the JVC XRCD Sampler 0001-2. Everything sounded clean and tonally accurate. I was listening for added noise, hiss, grunge, harshness, edge, dynamic limiting, and other characteristics that might have degraded the sound. I did not hear them.

I played with the volume and inputs and started listening to track one, "Canon" by Pachelbel from Mad About Movies (Deutsche Grammophon 439 514-2.) Again I listened for any anomalies or obvious signs of alteration to the sound, but was pleasantly surprised at how good the Eazy6 sounded.

Normally, this section would be twice as long as some of the other sections in the review. Even though I spent hours listening to music with the Eazy6, I didn't feel it necessary to take copious notes as usual. The sound was very good, and would be acceptable to almost anyone I know looking for a good quality multi-room preamplifier. I didn't have any similar units for comparison, so the best I could say is that it wasn't significantly worse than the sound from the CD player connected directly into the amplifier.

 

Conclusion

I listened to many different genres of music over the couple months that I had the Eazy6 and felt that it did justice to the music. There are other more expensive (or very expensive) alternatives to the Eazy6, but I have not had the chance to listen to them. I felt that it would be at least the equal of a $500 remote stereo preamplifier. The thing isit is so much more! I'm told that the problems I had with the IR components are atypical, and the unit itself functioned beautifully with the Niles pieces, so I can only assume that I was doing something wrong during testing of the IR outputs. Until now, the only other multi-room/ multi-source preamplifier that handled 6 sources and 6 zones cost at least $2000! The Speakercraft Eazy6 not only breaks the price barrier, but also offers surprisingly good performance. Highly recommended!

- Brian Bloom            big_brian_b@hotmail.com

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