GXR2 IntelliControl ICS
Niles Audio’s GXR2 main chassis features the common six-zone/six-source design, however it requires installation of Integration or Tuner Module cards before playing any music. The company’s latest addition is the IM-NET, Network Audio Integration Module that enables playback of all of the music on your networked computer and Internet Radio.
Housewide audio distribution has been the custom installation industry’s rocket fuel for years. And as new sources appeared–XM, Sirius, iPod, streaming media– audio systems adapted and evolved to keep pace. Today, if a music distribution system can’t interface with iPod, display metadata feedback, and reach out into the World Wide Web for listening options, it’s so 2000.
The Niles IntelliControl Integrated Control Solutions (ICS) system appeared in 2006 and has been steadily improving ever since. The system’s brilliance lies in its modular, card-based source component architecture allowing users to kit out the system with just the sources they desire. Need five iPod docks or three channels of Sirius and three of XM? No problem. Even better, this architecture means that Niles can modify and improve the system; adding features by developing new cards. The company’s latest addition is the IM-NET, Network Audio Integration Module that enables playback of all of the music on your networked computer and Internet Radio.
The GXR2 main chassis ($2,800) features the common six-zone/six-source design, however it requires installation of Integration or Tuner Module cards before playing any music. Card options include the iPod integration IM-ICARD 2 ($250), the IM-AUDIO ($170) for line-level analog sources, the TM-XM ($500), TM-SIRIUS ($600), TM-AM/FM ($250) and TM-HD/R ($400) radio tuner modules, and the new IM-NET ($500). The chassis supports any combination up to six cards and is expandable to 30 separate music zones by connecting additional GXR2s.
The first thing I noticed about the GXR2 was its weight. With many all-in-one audio systems weighing around 25 pounds, the GXR2’s 54 pound heft is immediately apparent and an early indication of the terrific amplifier section. I installed two IMNET audio cards and connected a CONTACTTT ($900) tabletop touchscreen controller and DISPLAY ($400) wall-mount keypad controller. I love that Niles includes a handy “User Guide” with each controller; a perfect client resource in case they forget something. Controllers connect via Cat-5 wiring, and speakers wire into the beefy spring-clips. Each IM-NET card requires its own Ethernet connection to the home’s network.
Once everything is connected, configuration is performed using a computer and Niles’ IntelliFile3 “Capture Station.” This programmer/learner sits between a laptop and the GXR2 and connects via USB not serial, which is nice since finding a laptop with a serial connection is almost impossible. I liked that the RCA pre-outs were configurable as fixed or variable, allowing some options if setting up sub-zones in a system. Assuming no IR codes need be learned, programming can be completed in under an hour.
Niles recommends installing their particular flavor of Twonky’s media server software for music streaming, and the necessary license for download is included. Currently the IM-NET is a bit limited in listening options, offering only Internet Radio and network content. It does support a large range of file types including AAC, MP3, WMA, WMA Lossless, AIFF, WAV and FLAC, including 24-bit/96kHz files. Streaming high-res FLAC files is awesome but I discovered a bug in the FLAC decoding keeping a number of files from playing. I reported this to Niles and they have are working to resolve this issue. Also cool is that Niles is getting ready to release Pandora, Rhapsody, XM, and Sirius Internet streaming capabilities. This will significantly increase the listening options and add a ton of user value to the IM-NET card.
I have nearly 9,000 songs in my library and navigating to the T’s can be a button-pressing marathon with many audio systems. And if accessing music is cumbersome or unpleasant, it might as well not be there. Thankfully Niles has greatly improved this by providing the ability to search your library. For instance typing in “T-A-L” immediately jumps to my Talking Heads albums. That is a huge ergonomic benefit!
Operationally, the keypads are a breeze to use, offering “one touch to music;” a single button press starts that source’s music playing. I also loved that you can control any music zone from any keypad, letting a centrally installed pad function for multiple areas. Notably missing is any iPhone/Pad or webbased control. In lieu of this, Niles offers its excellent IREMOTE ($800) for mobile operation.
As expected from the seriously heavy power supplies, sound quality was excellent. The GXR2’s amp is one of the strongest I’ve heard in an integrated audio distribution system and its 60 watts per channel is capable of driving even the surliest speakers. Beyond just volume, audio from my bookshelf and in-ceiling speakers was detailed with tight, controlled bass, and depth. The amp certainly has the ability to easily drive a large outdoor area.
The ICS system is big on features and performance without a proposal-breaking sticker and the new IM-NET Card opens a whole new world to music listening. Being able to cherry-pick the perfect sources for a job also means tailor-fitting the system to each project. Installers should love that new cards will work with any existing ICS system, offering a compelling opportunity to go back and revisit existing clients.
Modular design allows terrific customization of just the sources your client needs with an amplifier that muscles out great sounding audio; IM -NET architecture allows for future, expanded listening options.
No “i-app” or web-based control options; six sources might be limiting in larger projects.
■ Six-source/six-zone audio system expandable to 30 listening zones
■ 60-watt x 12 power amplifier
■ Modular, card-based architecture allows for adding XM, Sirius, AM /FM, iPod, analog, and network audio sources
■ Dimensions: 17.4 x 5.8 x 18 in (WxHxD); 54 pounds