SWAMP-24X8 Sonnex Multiroom Audio System
My first exposure to Crestron’s new Sonnex multi-zone audio distribution system was an advertisement in Residential Systems magazine. The ad showed two AV racks; one was packed with gear with tons of speaker and interconnect wiring spooling out in a thick, ropey bundle, and the other just two, solitary components and a few cables. It definitely grabbed my attention and made me want to learn more.
As an audio distribution platform, the SWAMP-24X8 doesn’t really have any stumbles.
Any installer who has worked on large distributed audio systems knows the copious amounts of cabling required, especially as the number of zones increases. And generally there are a limited number of source inputs, with most systems allowing 6, 8, or 12, and rarely offering any digital inputs. Crestron’s new SWAMP-24X8 ($6,200) smashes these limitations, offering unprecedented out-of-the-box support for up to 24 sources in an incredible array of 12 unbalanced, four balanced/ unbalanced, and eight SPDIF coax digital inputs, as well as expandability to 74 listening zones. While there’s undoubtedly some billionaire out there with a 50,000-square-foot house balking at that limitation, the SWAMP will far exceed the needs of the other 99.99 percent of the population.
Crestron sent two techs to handle my installation–one to make the hardware connections and another solely for programming. If you have any experience with Crestron installations, you’ll appreciate that the hardware was installed in under an hour while the programming took nearly six. They tied into my home’s existing audio distribution speakers as well as a pair of bookshelf speakers, along with my Sooloos music server and cable box. For an additional audio source, Crestron supplied its CEN-IDOCV iPod docking station ($700). Living–and being controlled–in the Creston ecosystem requires a system processor, and Crestron supplied the MC3, a new 3-series controller ($1,600) to fill this role. Additionally, I installed the Crestron Mobile Pro G app ($99.99) for my iPad, and they created an X-Panel interface for control via my PC. While this review is focused on the SWAMP, it is worth noting that it features Crestron DNA through-and-through and lives in a Crestron world; it is capable of providing feedback to Crestron interfaces, such as volume levels, operating temperature, over/under voltage, channel clipping, etc.
Watching the tech struggle to carry the SWAMP into my home, it was obvious this was a serious piece of gear. And at 62 pounds, it is the second heaviest distribution amp that I’ve yet encountered. (For the record, the reigning champ is the 70-pound, 16-channel ReQuest iQ IMA.) The SWAMP’s front panel is festooned with buttons–a total of 41 of them along with a volume knob, USB port for programming connection, and a power rocker. A dual-line LCD displays information like last zone and source selected, or current zone volume level. While most installation locations will likely never take advantage of it, I found the ability to walk up and easily adjust volume or select what music to play–or turn off–in each area especially handy.
Shots from the installation configuration screen for Crestron’s SWAMP-24X8.
Before describing performance, I want to detail what makes this system so compelling for large installs. Normally gear is racked together, with wiring home run back to that point. Then stacks of amplifiers are connected to the main system by looping runs of analog in/out cabling. Not only does this create added cabling costs, but also labor costs to dress and label the wiring. Further, there might be several significantly long speaker runs due to the remote distance of some speakers from the home run. With Sonnex Link a single run of Cat5e (up to 200 feet) carries the information from ALL 24 sources between components. Not only is that: amazingly cool, but it translates into actual, real labor and material cost savings. This allows you to add either four-zone (SWAMPE-4, $3,800) or eight-zone (SWAMPE-8, $5,200) expanders in locations closer to other speakers, keeping speakerwire runs shorter and more efficient.
Once installed, it was apparent that the SWAMP wasn’t just a really heavy box; it was an audio powerhouse. With a rated 140 watts/channel into eight ohms, the system easily drove all of my speakers. Sound had detail and bass had weight and punch and real depth. My swimming pool speakers serve as the litmus test for an amplifier’s chutzpah, and the SWAMP put out so much audio–and still with plenty of room to spare on the -80 to +20 dB volume range–that I was actually concerned about bothering the neighbors. For large areas or difficult speakers or powering a passive sub, channels can be bridged to deliver a massive 400 watts/channel. Audio quality was definitely not an afterthought here, and the performance is clearly audible. Beyond simple bass, treble, and loudness, a suite of audio adjustment tools allows installers to tailor sound per zone, including a five-band graphic or parametric EQ. Also, Crestron’s Dynamic Range Control helps level volume swings in desired zones.
As an audio distribution platform, the SWAMP doesn’t really have any stumbles. With terrific amplification and huge source capability, it is should satisfy the needs of any music-loving client regardless of home size. And with its Sonnex Link capabilities for remote location, it is an installation game changer on large projects.
Amazing amount of inputs, massive amplifier power, and expandability to easily handle massive installs; incredible wiring reduction on large projects.
Having to carry this up several flights of stairs.
■ 24-source/8-zone audio system expandable to 74 listening zones
■ 140/240 Watts/Ch. (8/4 Ohms) bridgeable to 400 Watts/Ch.
■ 12 unbalanced, 4 balanced/unbalanced, and 8 SPDI F coax digital inputs
■ Installer adjustable 5-band graphic or parametric EQ per zone
■ Sonnex Link allows one Cat5e wire to carry audio signals up to 200 feet
■ Dimensions: 17.29 x 7.51 x 18.47 in (WxHxD); 62 pounds