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Audio system taps Linux, 802.11n

Jan 13, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 12 views

Cisco's Linksys division is shipping a networked home audio distribution system that runs Linux and uses 802.11n WiFi. The Cisco Wireless Home Audio system supports Internet radio and DLNA discovery, and includes a variety of receivers, speakers, players, iPOD docks, and a tablet-like touchscreen remote.

(Click for larger view of Cisco Wireless Home Audio System)

Designed as a complement to the new Cisco Media Hub networked-attached storage (NAS) server, which also runs Linux and supports DLNA 1.5, the Wireless Home Audio system starts with either a Director or Conductor stereo receiver system. The Director offers a more powerful amplifier than the all-in-one Conductor, which includes built-in speakers and displays, and appears to be targeted at apartments and single-room playback. The Director can be extended with “Player” wireless speaker devices located throughout the house, says Cisco. The devices are all controlled with IR controllers or touchscreen Wireless-N Controllers, and accessories include an iPOD docking station, says the company.

The “Director” (l) and “Conductor” (r)

Cisco's Wireless Home Audio system competes with a growing list of Linux-ready whole-house digital audio systems, including the Logitech SqueezeBox Duet, the Cirgon Encore, the Fiire system, and the Sonos ZonePlayer audio system. Like the latest Sonos system, the Cisco product offers built-in 802.11n (Wireless-N) networking, which provides advanced MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) WiFi radios. Although the 802.11n standard is still in draft mode, the technology is being incorporated in a variety of networking equipment, offering higher bandwidth and longer range than 802.11g. Cisco did not make any claims for bandwidth or range, but Sonos says that its Wireless-N system offers twice the range “in some homes,” compared to 802.11g.

The Conductor and Director receivers lack storage of their own, instead indexing and streaming music stored on networked PCs, Cisco Media Hubs, or another NAS or media server device, says Cisco. All the devices in the system support the DLNA home media network streaming and discovery standard for locating media around a home. The system can also play music directly from Internet radio sites, and it offers specific support for services such as Rhapsody, audiolounge, and RadioTime. A 30-day free trial is offered for Rhapsody.

Like the Sonos system, the Cisco Wireless Home Audio system can distribute different music to customized “zones,” as well as play the same music all over the house. Audio programming can be controlled via LCD displays on the Director/Conductor, via the handheld Controller, or via software running on a networked PC. These software interfaces provide for searching music tracks and artists, and the creation of playlists customized for each room.

Each Wireless Home Audio device uses distributed decoding technology, enabling devices to receive unmodified audio source material without transcoding or compression, says Cisco. The audio is then reproduced and synchronized to within microseconds, thereby “virtually eliminating” echo artifacts, claims the company.

Major components of the Wireless Home Audio system include:

(Click to enlarge)
  • Director (DMC250) — This stereo receiver offers a 50-watt per channel amplifier, and offers wired attachments to speakers, including an optional Stereo Speaker Kit (DSPK50). Measuring 6.3 x 5.8 x 6.9 inches, the Director provides a 3.5-inch, 320×240-pixel LCD display that can be controlled from the IR controller or the optional touchscreen Controller. In addition to offering built-in Wireless-N, the device is equipped with Ethernet and USB 2.0 ports, as well as extensive audio I/O and a connector for the optional iPOD docking station (see the spec list farther below).
  • The Conductor — This all-in-one version of the Director provides a larger, 7-inch LCD touchscreen, as well as an integrated CD player. The Conductor's amplifier drives its built-in speakers, and although designed primarily for standalone use, it can also distribute music throughout a house using the Player extender speakers. Full specs are not yet available, as unlike the other components, the Conductor has yet to ship.
  • Player (DMP100) — These Wireless-N extension speakers receive music feeds from the Director, Conductor, or other home theater receivers or stereo systems. The 5.4 x 2.4 x 5.5-inch, 1.3-lb speakers also offer Ethernet connections, as well basic audio I/O.
  • Controller (DMWR1000) — The Controller can control the above devices via its Wireless-N radio, without requiring line of sight. The tablet-like device is equipped with a 4.3-inch, 480 x 272-resolution color touchscreen and five-way thumbwheel navigation control. The 3.4 x 1.0 x 6.9-inch device comes with a 3000 mAH Li-Polymer battery pack with 100-240 VAC input, and can recharge via a Mini-USB port, says Cisco.


The Director (DMC250) is listed with the following specs:

  • Amplifier — 50W RMS (50W per channel into 4 Ohm load)
  • Display — 3.5 inch LCD color (320×240)
  • Audio outputs — S/PDIF (Tos-Link), RCA L/R; 3.5mm headphone; 2×2/L-R speaker wire; sub-woofer
  • Audio inputs — RCA L/R analog
  • WiFi — 802.11.n (Draft-N) Wireless-N (backward compatible to 802.11b/g)
  • Networking — RJ-45 Ethernet port
  • USB — USB 2.0 A-Connector
  • Other I/O — iPod Astron connector
  • Buttons — power; volume; WiFi setup; four soft-button LCD interface
  • LEDs — on, standby, network function
  • Audio formats uncompressed — AIFF, WAV, PCM
  • Audio formats compressed — MP3, AAC, AAC+, Ogg Vorbis, MP2, Real, WMA
  • Networking standards — DLNA 1.5; UPnP
  • Power supply — 16W/105W internal
  • Cables — Ethernet; 6-foot RCA stereo audio cables; AC region cable
  • Dimensions — 6.3 x 5.8 x 6.9 inches (161 x 146 x 176 mm)
  • Weight — 3.4 lbs (1.55 kg)
  • Operating temperature — 32 to 104 deg. F (0 to 40 deg. C)
  • Operating system — embedded Linux; Windows XP or Vista required to use PC software


The Cisco Wireless Home Audio products are available now in the U.S., and should be available in Denmark and The Netherlands later in the first quarter, says Cisco. The Conductor will be available later in the first quarter. Pricing is as follows: Conductor (pricing not yet set), Director ($450), Player ($230), Controller ($350), Stereo Speaker Kit ($150), iPod Dock ($80), IR Remote ($30). Cisco also sells the equipment in kit configurations including Premier, Trio, and Executive kits.

More information on Cisco Wireless Home Audio may be found here.

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