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Custom-Install Amplifiers Go Digital, Add Channels

Custom suppliers are turning increasingly to 12- and 16-channel amplifiers to drive down the cost and complexity of routing music throughout a house.

In more and more cases, the amps incorporate high-efficiency, space-saving digital technology, suppliers said. Multichannel amps eliminate the complexity of wiring up multiple two-channel amps, save space by reducing the number of components that must be placed in cabinets, and drive down consumers’ amplifier costs by as much as a third over multiple two-channel models, according to suppliers.

As suppliers pack more channels into their multichannel amps, it makes sense to adopt high-efficiency, cool-running digital amplifier technology to make the products as compact as possible, in some cases shaving height by more than 40 percent over a multichannel analog amp of equivalent output, Sonance marketing director Petro Shimonishi said. Smaller components “are a huge consideration in custom as more components, such as multiple DVD players, go into racks,” she explained.

Sonance’s new 16×50-watt (into 8 ohms) amp is only 5.25 inches tall, but would have been at least 9 inches if it were analog, Shimonishi noted. “We had to make it digital to deliver all of the power we wanted and fit it in a rack.”

Because digital amps are up to 90 percent or more efficient, they can be placed in enclosed custom cabinetry without installing cooling fans, suppliers also noted. “Long-term reliability is improved,” added NuVo president David Rodarte, “because there’s less heat to degrade components.”

Some of the newest digital amps are multichannel models with 12 or more channels, reflecting a growing number of distributed-audio installations with six or more zones (12 or more channels). “Most of our installers do eight-zone systems,” said Sonance’s Shimonishi, explaining the need for 16-channel amps. Some installers use a 12-channel or 16-channel amp to power both a home theater system and a distributed-audio system, she noted.

SpeakerCraft and Sonance recently launched their first 16-channel amps, joining Crestron in this market. Elan and Phoenix Gold recently introduced their first 12-channel models, and Audio Design Associates (ADA) announced what is probably the industry’s first 32-channel amp.

SpeakerCraft is using digital technology in its new 12- and 16-channel models, as is Elan in a new 12-channel model and Sonance in its 16-channel model.

Digital amps are also turning up in a new distributed-audio systems from NetStreams and in Oxmoor’s recently upgraded Zon system, both of which use local in-wall amplification that requires a small cool-running chassis (see story, right). In its three-system lineup, NuVo said it’s converting to digital amplification.

Here’s what installers will find in the coming months:

Audio Design Associates: The 32-channel, 16-zone amp, the PTM-3245, is rated at 45 watts per channel into 8 ohms and 85 watts into 4 ohms, but its 2-ohm-stability allows for connection of up to 128 speakers. Price wasn’t available.

Elan: The $1,995-suggested D1200 is rated at 12×100-watts into 4 ohms (all channels driven simultaneously). It drives six stereo pairs of speakers or 12 mono speakers or a combination of mono and stereo speakers. Twelve inputs can be configured for mono, stereo, bussed mono, or bussed stereo. The latter two inputs eliminate the need for extra patch cables and y-cords. It’s available.

Phoenix Gold: The $1,199-suggested MX1230 and $1,699 MX1260 are rated at 12×30 and 12×60 watts, respectively, into 8-ohm loads. The amps, both analog, are bridgeable. Summed mono can be assigned to specific zones while other zones run in stereo. The amps also feature signal-sensing and 12-volt-trigger turn-on as well as 12-volt output triggers.

Sonance: The company’s first 16-channel amp, the $3,000-suggested Sonamp 1650, is a digital 16×50-watt model (rated conservatively into 8 ohms, all channels driven simultaneously). Custom-oriented features include a 37-pin D-Sub connector with adapter to connect eight stereo RCA plugs, an RJ-45 for RS485 communication, and a 9-pin D-Sub for RS232 communication.

Twelve-channel amplification is incorporated in a multizone/multichannel AM/FM receiver packaged under the Architectural Audio brand with keypads to deliver all components of a distributed-audio system, except for speakers and other audio sources (see TWICE, Sept. 15, p. 23).

SpeakerCraft: The company’s first two digital amps, due in the first quarter, are the 12×100-watt DBB1200 at an expected $2,299 and the 16×100-watt DBB 16100 at an expected $2,999. The latter is the company’s first 16-channel amp.

Sixteen-channel amplification is a feature of one of the company’s first two multizone receivers, both packaged with in-wall keypads (see TWICE, Sept. 15, p. 23).