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.
AudioControl’s D3200 is a daunting beast of an amp, and isn’t for the faint of heart. And then I cracked the manual for the D3200, and saw said metaphor on the first page. Dag… They went with “Ferrari” and “car.”
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 16-channel amp.
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.
The AudioControl Model D3200 is a distributed audio amplifier with honest-to-gosh audiophile performance. 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).
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 expertise.
Power (All Channels Driven Single Zone)
• 8 ohm 20 Hz-20kHz 0.1% THD: 60 Watts/65 Watts
• 4 ohm 20 Hz-20kHz 0.1%THD: 80 Watts/ 125 Watts
• 2 ohm 20 Hz-20kHz 0.1% THD: not recommended/250 Watts
• 8 ohm 20 Hz-20kHz: 250 Watts
Minimum Speaker Load: 4 ohms (2 ohms limited zones)