Cisco Linksys' Wireless Home Audio system is a direct competitor to Sonos in the land of room-to-room streaming music. But WHA is more ambitious, with promises of iPod compatibility, touchscreen remotes and 802.11n support.
Price: $US1000 (as tested)
The Verdict: Despite having some great ideas, the WHA system lacks any semblance of reliable quality and performance. It felt rushed and unpolished, whether it was the cheap feel of the products—a collection of wireless players and a controller, all which you'd buy a la carte to suit your household needs—or the glitchiness of system software. When it was working, the ability to push and share content from one zone to another, connect to internet music services and connect your own devices directly were all very nice. But getting there was a headache, and the system was unreliable—to say the least—even when running.
While it is nice that the Linksys 802.11n streaming means you don't need every component tethered via Ethernet—or, as in Sonos' case, a whole separate wireless network dedicated to music and music only—it also increases the complexity of setup tenfold. Each component must be plugged into the router via Ethernet (or in the case of the Remote, your PC's USB), and you have to use Windows software to detect and configure each and every device in a multi-step wizard. In the case of the Director, a screen-equipped WHA music player, I tried to connect to the network without the PC, and it did work, but when I entered my network password incorrectly once, the only way to backtrack and reenter the password was to reboot the system.
Also, in a separate test we ran using a Time Capsule as the main wireless router, we had too many troubles to list. We're still unclear whether or not it was a problem with the Apple router or a faulty component from Linksys, but either way, if you use non-Linksys routers, be forewarned you may experience added difficulty.
Once I actually got the system working, it wasn't long before a torrent of random problems started to kick in. Plugging a FAT32-formatted HDD into the Director's USB port would cause the system to freeze. Rhapsody would sputter and spew after a few minutes before ultimately dropping the connection. The response between the remote and the device in question would lag. Despite selecting a playlist from my iPod, only one track at a time would play. Sometimes the Director iPod wouldn't detect the iPod at all.
The touchscreen remote actually performed admirably, but its use of a cheaply built resistive touchpanel for a finger UI meant that it wasn't very responsive. (Calibration did help, but it was still annoying.) Essentially, you spend more time worrying about WHA breaking down than you do enjoying your music.
Despite being the most versatile streaming audio player we've seen to date, the lack of quality control really makes the Cisco Linksys Wireless Home Audio system a product line to avoid. (Note: To ensure that our negative result wasn't a fluke, we tested two separate sets of brand-new Linksys components in two distinct households, and we experienced severe problems in both instances.) For roughly the same price you can pick up Sonos' two comparable Zone Players and an 8-gig iPod touch to run Sonos free software, giving you a much more polished, easier to use package. [WHA on Giz]