Russound has recently introduced some interesting new products into the crowded field of streaming music systems. The X5 Controller Streamer is a solid home run in the category for a variety of reasons.
First off, the nuts and bolts of the device.
The unit is a Wi-Fi equipped box that features a class D 50 watt per channel amplifier. It’s 10.6″ wide by 2.4″ wide by 9.5″ wide. It has a hard wired Ethernet jack, as well as connections for one of three optional Russound keypads.
The unit features preamp or fixed output jacks for external amplification (you select in programming), as well as a subwoofer output. You’ll find a digital input (either toslink or spdif); more about that later. There’s a 12 volt trigger output to energize other devices, and an IR output jack that really makes the system shine when used with other devices.
You can plug in an external Bluetooth sensor, so that you can have the amplifier conveniently tucked away and not be out of range for the Bluetooth connection. The unit also supports Airplay, which is nice.
The unit is a streaming device. With no pain (I followed the quick start guide) I had the unit operating on my test bench using the Russound MDK-C6 keypad, listening to Pandora, Sirius/XM, TuneIn and Vtuner.
I was able to easily pull in WWOZ and KFAI, two fine quality community radio stations. After a couple of minutes of identifying the IP address (thank you, FING, a no cost application from the IOS Ap store), I was able to control the unit with my iPad using an application I downloaded from the App Store. It’s important to note that this app is the same one that can be configured to run the Russound MCA-C3 and C5 systems; the Russound app has a cost of $10.
If all I wanted out of life was a good sounding streaming device, I’d like this unit. What I loved about the unit, however, were some of the value added features that I’ve not seen on the market from other competitive streaming products.
The X5 will operate as a simple streamer all by itself with no additional effort on your part. It’s cool. But when you download the programming software SCS-C5 from Russound’s dealer portal, I was able to do more. I was able to program an input for the digital input, and once completed and tested, I had the ability to output remote control commands from the emitter port on the back of the unit to control my television.
I took the unit downstairs and set it up with my Panasonic plasma television set, connecting the toslink port on the TV set to the X5. My NHT Super Zero/Velodyne subwoofer combination was attached, and I powered up again. First I listened to Pandora, and I found it to be a very good sounding experience. Russound has focused on quality d/a conversion, and it shows. When I turned on the television, the unit automatically switched over so that I was listening to the television sound through the X5 rig.
To clarify, I did all of that with the Russound application. I didn’t have to switch pages on the iPad. I simply selected the source on the iPad, turned the power on, and sound was present at the preset turn on level I had programmed. I was able to scan up and down through channels, directly access channels, and raise and lower volume without having to leave the one app page.
Compare and contrast that to other streaming devices, which may require that you purchase another control system to operate other devices in the home. Granted, music and volume from the streaming source can be controlled with one app, but if I wanted to park a system in a Master bedroom and give my customer a nifty experience, Russound would be the choice because it’s so easy for the consumer.
Further, if I wanted to really make it easy, I could give my customer one of several keypad choices, either the single SLK-1, double MDK-C6, or deluxe double TS3 (color touchpad) to place in a logical spot. That way, I could take advantage of cool features portably, or when my phone was dead, still access music. All of those features were accessible off the keypad. If I wanted to control the system via IR, I’d need to do that through the Keypad IR target, using Russound IR codes.
Back to television watching; since the unit operates on a digital input platform, the unit can decode a signal coming off of my television that is encoded with Dolby digital and give me two channel stereo sound. And I don’t have the classic Godzilla lip synch potential issue, since I’m feeding digital into the unit. If I wanted to have a different audio component feed the unit, I could either find a component with a toslink or spdif fitting (many CD players offer that feature), or purchase an external A to D convertor from any number of vendors and be good to go.
Summarizing, the unit sounds good. If I need better sound, I can add an amp. It’s easy to operate. It’d be perfect as an audio system for all sorts of zones in the home. I ran the unit for several days, and never felt like I was dealing with a portable heater. It ran warm, but not hot.