Hands On Review: CasaTunes CT4+ Music System Fine Tunes New, Existing Audio Systems
The CasaTunes CT-4+ system includes 1TB storage and support for popular music services to distribute among five independent audio streams.
This past winter, research firm Nielsen announced its annual music industry statistics and there was one glaring nugget: on demand streaming increased 54 percent to more than 164 billion streams in 2014. The company also reports that other than vinyl’s continued resurgence, physical media sales are slumping and there is no end in sight for this trend.
It’s important for dealers to cater to these trends, and when it comes to streaming media, thankfully there are an increasing amount of solutions that address various consumer requests and installation criteria. A good example of a custom company offering streaming media flexibility is CasaTunes, whose products allow dealers to install state-of-the-art, whole-house systems into new and existing home environments, without the tethers of using traditional bundled solutions that include proprietary amps, servers and other devices.
The retrofit market is the primary target CasaTunes. The units allow dealers to upgrade existing multiroom audio systems at an affordable price. The company calls its media server solution the “Swiss Army knife of home audio.” All the switching is done via software. The system can handle three to 24 zones of audio with an AirPlay solution built in that can handle up to 10 wireless zones and five AirPlay devices.
CasaTunes also offers full software-driven matrix switching that draws low heat and low power. In addition to the RTI/ Pro Control and Control4 integration, the system can integrate with Channel Vision, NuVo, Leviton, SpeakerCraft, Wyrestorm and Audio Authority.
Features and Setup
CasaTunes’ CT-4+ media system offers five independent streams of music, iTunes compatibility, app-based control, a terabyte of storage and Apple AirPlay wireless streaming. Setting up the CT-4+ is no different than other whole-house, multimedia products with a rear panel that includes outputs for each independent zones, USB options for keyboard and mouse connectivity, an Ethernet port and an IEC power connector. Using the CT-4+ in my home, I set up zone one by running an AudioQuest mini-pin (3.5mm)-to-RCA cable from the rear panel of the product to the back of my Bryston preamp.
A nice feature of the CT-4+ is the color-coded outputs that delineate each zone. Using a second minipin-to-RCA, I connected the server to the rear panel of my outdoor zone amplifier. I then plugged it into my Richard Gray’s power conditioner and ran an Ethernet cable from my Luxul network switch to the server’s Ethernet port. After downloading the iOS app onto my iPad 2 and iPhone 6, I used the iPad to finish the configuration starting with putting the CT-4+ onto my network. Using the pre-configured IP address proved problematic.
Then I realized that I had a device that had already taken that address. Reassigning a new address remedied the situation and from there within the app I was able to select the correct address and place the server on my network. I finished the setup by inputting my sources on the music services page; I also labeled the “stereo” and “outdoor” zones and saved the changes.
One final item I set was for the lack of a better term, the unit’s “master volume”— to do this I cranked up the volume to “100” to allow my equipment to have full control over each zone’s respective volume levels.
One of the things I appreciated most about the CT-4+ was how easy I found the navigation of sources within the zones. Sources such as iTunes, Windows Music, Internet Radio are listed with their own headings, and under each are the applicable streaming services or other digital music collections. From there it is just a matter of selecting what you want to listen to and in which zone. I did the majority of my listening in my “stereo” zone to get through a long Boston winter and cold spring, but managed to fire up the outdoor zone as well.
To be frank, I was surprised how good the iTunes content sounded. Serving up a playlist that included various artists and genres, with files of differing bitrates, I found the music through the CT-4+ system to sound full, airy and well defined. Content from services such as Pandora did not sound as robust or detailed, nor did it have the same wide soundstage, as the iTunes content. However, that can also be attributed to the differences in bitrates from AIFF, WAV and ALAC compared to the low levels delivered by most streaming services.
However, I will say that listening to TuneIn, which lets you access local radio stations among the thousands of streams, offered a much improved experience for listening to Boston sports radio than I am accustomed to on a daily basis. When I was able to get outside and test that zone, I did find the iPad app a little confusing in switching zones. On the bottom left corner the sources are available, but clicking what I thought would be played via the outdoor zone produced no music. Turns out, there was an additional layer of labels in the top left corner — I selected “media room,” which opened up access to my outdoor zone. From there I was able to select the source of my choice and had outdoor music at my fingertips. After figuring out the navigation of the app, I was able to freely navigate between zones and sources without any issues.
The CT-4+ is a really good multizone audio server that offers everything needed to jump into today’s era of audio without a huge system investment. Overall the app is easy enough to navigate, and the server provides plenty of streaming media and other options. My only recommendation with the CT-4+ would be for integrators to put a battery backup on the unit in the event of a power failure. Like most servers, the CT- 4+ is a sensitive electronics device that does not react well to power issues (a frequent problem where I live), and a UPS is an easy and cheap means of protection.
Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at [email protected]
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