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Linksys Wireless Home Audio System

At a Glance
Product Linksys by Cisco Wireless Home Audio (KWHA700)
Summary Whole-house wireless audio system
Pros • Nice integration with Rhapsody service
• Follows DLNA Standard
• Touch Screen Color LCD Remote
• Color LCD on basestation
Cons • Finicky remote with limited touch integration
• Looonngg set up process
• Windows setup support only

When I reviewed the Sonos multi-room audio system a few years back, I really liked its easy setup, color LCD controller and overall polish. Since that review, I've played with a number of other systems and nothing I've seen really compares to Sonos when you want to easily pipe music around your house.

But now there's a new competitor from Linksys that aims to take on Sonos in this space. In this review, I'll check out Cisco's Linksys Wireless Home Audio system (WHA). The WHA comes in a few different configurations. But I'll be reviewing the Premier combo (WHA700) that includes three main pieces: the Director, a wireless music player with an integrated amplifier and a 3.5 inch LCD Color Screen; the Controller a wireless touch-screen remote with a 4.3- inch color LCD; and the Player, a wireless music extender.

The Components

As I unpacked the boxes for the Premier unit, I realized that there were a lot of pieces that needed to be configured. So if you're going to be setting one of these systems up, prepare to spend some time getting everything going.

The first component I tackled was the Director (DMC250) unit. Figure 1, from the Linksys manual, shows the back panel of the Director.

Back Panel

Figure 1: Back Panel

The Director has quite a few connection options. For output, you can directly drive a sub-woofer and right/left speakers with its integrated 50 Watt amplifier or you can connect it up to an existing stereo system using either the standard RCA jacks or an optical S/PDIF connector.

For input, there's a connector for an optional iPod dock plus RCA connections for analog input that will allow you to connect other devicea such as a CD player, MP3 player, etc. I plugged the output of my Apple Airport Express into the Director's analog input so I could pipe my iTunes library (including DRM restricted files) throughout my house.

If you have a library of music on an external USB drive, there's a USB connector for that, too. The Ethernet connector allows you to use a 10/100 wired connection. But wireless draft 802.11n connectivity is available as well. Figure 2 shows the front of the Director.

Linksys Director

Figure 2: Linksys Director

The most striking feature of the Director is a 3.5-inch 320x240 LCD display. For direct control, the unit features four soft buttons around the screen along with the round on/off switch in the center. For controlling the unit across the room, Linksys includes an IR remote. For control of the system anywhere in your house, the Premier bundle includes a Controller - Wireless-N Touchscreen Remote Remote (Figure 3) with 480x272 color LCD screen (DMRW1000).

Wireless touch-screen Controller

Figure 3: Wireless touch-screen Controller

Along with the touch-screen capabilities, the Remote has a "Home", volume and four-direction navigation buttons. The Remote has connectors on the bottom for recharging cradle connection. But as delivered, you'll need to recharge the removable battery using the included mini-USB cord. Size-wise, the Remote feels a little big at roughly 6.5" x 3.5" x 1", or just a bit smaller than a videotape (remember those?).

For whole-house coverage, you'll probably need to set up one more component. Figure 4 shows the Player Wireless-N Music Extender (DMP100) that's designed to be placed away from the main Director unit.

Player wireless music extender

Figure 4: Player wireless music extender

This unit doesn't include an amplifier, so you won't find direct speaker connections. But it does have optical out, RCA in/out as well as a headphone jack. Like the Director, the Extender connects via Ethernet or draft 11n. This unit also includes the same IR remote as the Director. But since it has no display, you'll be driving blind when you hit the "Home" button or the directional arrows.

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