Hands On: NuVo Wireless Audio System

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Multiroom audio setup in minutes


Feb. 11, 2013 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

I remember the first time I set up a multiroom music distribution system. Actually, I don’t. I wiped it from my memory because it was such a pain in the butt. Today I set up a three room music system that included multiple music services, a vast local library and an elegant touchpanel interface. The entire process took about 15 minutes, and half that time was me digging through boxes looking for spare speaker wire.

I’m talking about NuVo Technologies’ new Wireless Audio System (come on guys, give it a snazzier name than that). The NuVo Wireless consists of a Wi-Fi gateway (the GW100) and two Wi-Fi player/amps: the 60 watt x2 P200 and the 20 watt x2 P100. The gateway connects to your home network and lets each player receive streamed music independently. You just add your own speakers.

NuVo’s is the latest in a short list of new music systems designed to allow easy music access around the home without the tedium of installing wires, keypads and racks of gear. This category is mostly led by Sonos, who’s products are installed by homeowners and professional integrators alike. NuVo has a long history of selling professionally-installed music systems (see one reviewed here), but this is the first that, while offered through CE Pros, will also be available for consumers to install on their own.

Setup
When I said that this was easy, I’m not messing around. The units themselves actually come with no instructions. Well, that’s not exactly true. The in-box instructions direct you to download the app and do what it says. OK, so I downloaded the app. The app instructions didn’t go much beyond “plug it in, turn it on, press a button” or something like that. In 15 minutes I had three rooms set up, each one named appropriately on the iPhone app (I later added the Android app to my tablet).

A basic system requires two pieces, the gateway and one of the player/amps. The gateway connects directly to your broadband router with an Ethernet cable. It then sends music wirelessly via dual-band 802.11n to the various players around the house, similar to the way a Sonos Bridge works. The major difference is that a NuVo player won’t work wirelessly without the gateway (you can connect each player directly), but with a Sonos system any of the other components can act as a bridge if it’s close enough to your router for an Ethernet connection. 

The NuVo gateway also doubles as a 5-port gigabit Ethernet switch, which is something nice to have on your gear rack.

NuVo doesn’t offer any integrated speakers for the system, but you can select whatever speakers you want and connect them to the player that fits your room size. Both the P200 and P100 work essentially the same. I connected a set of large Canton floorstanding speakers to the P200 and smaller B & W speakers to the P100. The systems take banana plugs just fine, but high AWG bare wires won’t easily fit into the binding posts. Both players sounded great to me, and in fact for simple music distribution, the cheaper P100 paired with some decent bookshelf speakers is probably more than enough for most rooms. In my living room, the P100 and B & W speakers were able to get as loud as I could possibly need, and sounded very clear—clearer than I expected for internet-based digital music.

The more expensive P200 does two things the P100 doesn’t which may be important to you. First, it supports aptXTM Bluetooth allowing you to send music from your iPhone (or whatever Bluetooth device) to the system. Once connected, Bluetooth-delivered content becomes available to any other zone in the house, not just the zone that it’s directly connected to. Also, the P200 has a line-level output so you can hook it up to an audio system you already have, such as your home theater processor. Both players include Audessy’s Dynamic Volume. 

With the Bluetooth connection you can play tracks stored on your phone or tablet, plus any audio streaming app on the phone. It worked well for me, but if your phone strays too far away from the P200 it’s connected to then your music dies. In my house the P200 was in the basement theater. By the time I was halfway up the steps to the second floor the signal was gone.

On the other hand, Bluetooth aside, if you’ve got a big house, the NuVo system can probably fill it because it supports up to 16 individual zones, each with an independent music stream.

The NuVo system is very versatile and scalable, but it does fall short of its main competition, Sonos, in variety of content. While Sonos currently supports 19 different internet music services, NuVo supports four: Pandora, Tune In, SiriusXM and Rhapsody. Of course, how many music services does a person need? With those four there’s practically no song on the planet or internet radio station that you couldn’t find, but people have their favorite services, and the lack of things like Spotify or Slacker might be a deal breaker for some. NuVo tells me that more services are being added.

In addition to internet music, you can access music from a USB drive or networked from your own PC. I had minor trouble with both methods. The desktop software for connecting my PC music to the system required me to temporarily turn off Windows Firewall, but after that it worked fine.  I had to try three different USB drives before I found one that would talk to NuVo. 

Related: Why You Want a Wireless Audio System.

The NuVo app is easy to use, though it may take you a few tries until you remember the sequence of commands. In order to pick a zone/room you first have drag it to a start area and then select your music. At the bottom of your screen are the music choice categories (Library, Tune In, Pandora, Bluetooth etc.) If you’re looking at your own music library, you can navigate by artist, album, track and playlist—nothing unusual here, which means anyone can figure it out. Within each zone, the app allows a little bit of audio tweaking with bass, treble and balance controls and the option to turn Dynamic Volume on or off. When playing either local USB music or music streamed off my PC, the NuVo app supplied album art on my iPhone. Track and volume control was easy as well. 

Bottom Line
If you’ve got speakers, or plan to get separate speakers, most people with a little PC knowledge can get a multiroom system based on Nuvo up and running pretty quickly. A professional can integrate the system with Control4 (using an Extra Vegetables driver), hide your speaker wires in the walls and hide the components on a rack somewhere, so all you need to worry about is opening the app anytime you want to hear music.

This isn’t the least expensive way to pipe tunes around the house, but it’s certainly not the most expensive either, and the flexibility makes it very attractive for people who want a fairly high-fidelity system with fairly little hassle.

You can find NuVo Wireless Audio System at Smarthome and Parts Express. The P200 sells for $599, the P100 is $479, and the GW100 gateway goes for $199. The app is free.

Pros:
Simple basic setup
Choose your own speakers
Excellent sound quality

Cons:
Less music options than competition



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