By launching a full line of music-streaming products, including the Director DMC250 reviewed here, Cisco clearly has the Sonos Digital Music System in its sights; unfortunately, it’s fallen well short of the target.
Our biggest complaint has to do with the convoluted setup process, which includes installing Cisco’s LELA (Linksys EasyLink Advisor) on at least one PC. LELA isn’t a bad utility—if you’re completely terrified by the prospect of setting up a home network. If you’re an old hand, it’s a waste of computer resources.
The default installation also forces you to set up a user account on Cisco’s website. A spokesperson tells us this is because Cisco needs to act as an intermediary between you and Rhapsody. Really? What if you already have an account with Rhapsody? What if you decide you don’t want anything to do with it? There’s apparently some way of installing the Cisco media server software without LELA or divulging your email address to Cisco, but the documentation doesn’t mention it.
Our second biggest complaint is that it takes the Director a mind-blowing 74 seconds to start up from the time you push its power button to the time it’s ready to play a note. That’s a full minute and 14 seconds. We’ve listened to songs that were shorter than a minute and 14 seconds. When we asked the product manager if our experience was typical, he sheepishly replied, “Yeah, we’re working on that.”
The Linksys Director comes with a good remote control, but you can also navigate its menus using the buttons arrayed around its display.
The Director has a luscious 3.5-inch display, so it’s too bad it won’t consistently display album art. Cisco’s media server insists on pulling album art from the AMG online database instead of simply looking in the album folder or parsing the track’s existing metadata. If your track’s metadata isn’t mapped exactly the way it is in AMG’s database, you’ll get placeholder art.
You can connect the Director to your network with or without an Ethernet cable (the device is outfitted with a dual-band 2.4/5.0GHz 802.11n radio but can fall back to 802.11b/g mode). There’s an integrated amp that puts 50 watts per channel into a four-ohm load or 40 watts per channel into an eight-ohm load. Cisco uses spring-loaded binding posts, so forget about using banana plugs.
We auditioned the amp playing Paul Thorn’s “Lucky Seven Ranch” through a pair of TBI Audio’s Majestic Diamond IR monitors and were not at all impressed. Low and midrange frequencies sounded as though they were passing through a wall of mud while the highs sounded paradoxically shrill. Very odd. We had a better experience when we used the Director’s line-level outputs to connect the player to TBI’s Millennia amp.
As with the Sonos system, you can also plug an analog source (a cassette deck or a turntable with an integrated pre-amp, for instance) into the Director and stream its audio over your network. You can also stream music from a host of free Internet radio stations (but not from LastFM, Pandora, or Slacker). Cisco does top Sonos in device connectivity: The Director is capable of hosting both a USB storage device and an iPod (using an optional dock).