Few things in this world irk me more than watching a perfectly good “lede”
sentence for a product review slip through my fingers. After spending some
time with AudioControl’s Model D3200 sixteen channel power amplifier
with digital signal processing, though, I thought I had hit upon a decent
enough opening for this review. It would go something like this: “Calling
this a multi-room amp would be like calling a [NOUN] merely a [NOUN],”
kind of thing.
And then I cracked the manual
for the D3200, and saw said
metaphor on the first page. Dag...
They went with “Ferrari” and
|AudioControl’s D3200 is a daunting beast of an amp, and isn’t for the faint of heart.
Well enough, I suppose. But
the thing is, a Ferrari is just a car.
A beast of a car, mind you. A
performance powerhouse, for sure.
An aspirational fetish for many
auto enthusiasts, of course. But
it’s still a car, whereas the D3200
is so much more than merely a
The first clue to that is the
ethernet port on the back. You’ll
definitely need that port–as
well as a computer, and a bit of
networking and audio tweaking knowhow–to get
the most out of the D3200, but once you get the
hang of it, you start to realize that it’s so unlike
anything else on the market that any attempt at
metaphorical comparison (automotive or not) falls
apart soon enough.
Via a web browser, you can tap into all sorts of
tweakable variables on the D3200, like muting and
un-muting zones, changing bus and local sources,
trimming volume levels, renaming zones, setting
up logging and email notification, and–this is the
wicked-cool part–tapping into per-zone parametric
and graphic equalization, setting bass high pass
and tweeter-protection low-pass points, storing up
to three preset EQ memories, and even enabling a
crossover function that turns zone one into a low frequency
out and zone two into a high frequency
output (which doesn’t affect the operation of the
other 12 channels/six zones).
Add to that the fact that you can control the
Model D3200 via telnet commands, if your home
automation system supports it, and there’s no
denying that this is one of the most technologically
advanced, tweaky hot rot amplifiers on the market.
For all that gee-whizness, though, it also boasts
a lot of traditional practicality–little things that
point to its designers giving a lot of thought as to
how the D3200 would be used in the real world.
There’s a ground lift switch, for example, with
three settings to allow you to nip AC hum in the
bud without resorting to a cheater plug. There are
handy “Mono” buttons to easily facilitate bridging
channels for more oomph. You can also, on the
back of the amp, toggle a switch on each channel to
set it specifically for Bus 2 or local input, if you so
choose (although doing so will disable
the ability to change the audio source
for that zone via the network).
|The AudioControl Model D3200 is a distributed audio amplifier with honest-to-gosh audiophile performance.
If you haven’t figured it out
already, the D3200 is a daunting
beast of an amp, and isn’t for the
faint of heart. Thankfully, though,
the manual is among the best I’ve
ever seen, and I mean that in more
ways than one. On the one hand,
it’s incredibly thorough, and anyone
with a working knowledge of audio
and networking should be able to find the answer
to just about any problem within. (It also includes
a really neat primer on room acoustics that is
surprisingly “not-dumbed-down” given its brevity.)
But despite the fact that it’s densely packed with
information and instructions that may seem esoteric
to some, it’s also one of the most fun manuals I’ve
held in my hands in ages. And you may be saying,
“So what? Who cares if the manual is fun to read?”
Well, I care, because it’s indicative of a company
whose employees love what they do, and haven’t
lost sight of the fact that, for all the headaches
that sometimes come with custom installation,
we’re in the business of entertainment! This stuff
should be fun. So in the midst of a discussion on
room acoustics, you’ll come across sentences like,
“Tiny treble waves can be caught and neutralized
by draperies, carpeting, upholstered furniture and
gangs of indolent Persian cats... while gigantic bass
waves simply slosh back and forth in the room.”
I snorted. I truly did.
All that said, what surprises me most about
the Model D3200 is how nice it sounds. It is a
distributed audio amplifier with honest-to-gosh
audiophile performance, and yet it
boasts the sort of connectivity and
advanced computer compatibility
that most audiophiles probably don’t
care much about. Plus, it’s incredibly
energy efficient in a way that many of
us computer tweaky-geeky guys aren’t
really concerned with. Furthermore,
for all that, you can bypass all of
the networking stuff and use it as a
traditional multi-zone audio amp (in
case of emergency, the manual says).
It’s like a Ferrari you can use to pick
up the kids from school with, then
swing by the store for groceries on the way home.
So, boiled down to its essence, the Model D3200
is a green audiophile computer-controlled multiroom
distributed amp with easily accessible features
that can do more harm than good if you don’t know
what you’re doing. I mean, who even knew there
was a market for such a thing?
That’s the thing, though: I don’t think the guys
at AudioControl are trying to please everyone.
They’re building the kind of products that they
want to play with, and in that, they’ve earned at
least one new fan: Me.
The D3200 delivers amazing
flexibility in terms of tweakability
and control, all while
sounding amazing and being
incredibly energy efficient.
It’s almost magical, really.
This isn’t an amp for the
faint of heart. Getting the
most out of the D3200
requires some serious
audio know-how and no
small amount of networking
Power (All Channels Driven
• 8 ohm 20 Hz-20kHz 0.1%
THD: 60 Watts/65 Watts
• 4 ohm 20 Hz-20kHz
0.1%THD: 80 Watts/ 125
• 2 ohm 20 Hz-20kHz
0.1% THD: not
• 8 ohm 20 Hz-20kHz: 250
Minimum Speaker Load: 4
ohms (2 ohms limited zones)