In the realm of home automation, Crestron is well established as the leader in the space, with a brand name that well-heeled consumers associate with Sub-zero, Wolf, Miele and the like. In the past few years, Crestron has been making progress in expanding its business beyond the world of touchscreens, control systems, shades and lighting control and into products like media servers and now home theater components. The subject of this review is Crestron's PSPHD processor, which retails for $11,000 and is part of the PROCISE product line. Along with the processor, Crestron sent the PROAMP 7x250 amplifier ($7,000 - review pending); the two products are designed to work in concert with one another via an Ethernet connection, which is a unique detail in the world of AV preamps and multi-channel amps.
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I've had the opportunity to play around with a fully integrated whole-home Crestron solution at a friend's house in Orange County, California, and I can safely say that it is pretty awe-inspiring. Having that much control from a single touch-panel (or iPad) is astonishing. Beyond the stereotypical shades-up/shades-down, lighting control and multi-room audio control, today's home automation systems can control HVAC and pool temperatures, manage wine collections and do pretty much anything else that you can dream about. There are certainly haters in the world of home automation, and most of them either object to the price and or have encountered a less-than-excellent programmer. Let's be really clear about the success of any home automation system: it's as good as the person programming it. With that said, the reason why consumers and custom installers alike love Crestron is not just the system's functionality but, more importantly, its reliability. Crestron products are rock solid, and that counts for a lot when you are making a five- to six-figure investment in home automation or, in this case, shopping for a top-performing high-end AV preamp.
While Crestron is fairly new to the home theater processor game, the company has clearly done its homework and produced a high-end gem that, at least in terms of control, trumps just about anything on the market. The PSPHD is a 7.3-channel processor that allows for three independently controlled subwoofer outputs. This is a welcome feature, as multi-subwoofer home theaters are becoming increasingly popular with enthusiasts who want the deepest, most even bass. There's no denying that multiple subs can make movies and music more visceral, but (arguably) more important is the fact is that they even out the bass in a listening room, especially in a larger space. The Crestron PSPHD measures 5.75 inches high by 17.28 inches wide by 14.75 inches deep and weighs a manageable 12 pounds. In terms of features, it includes decoding of all lossless audio codecs, Audyssey MultiEQ XT room correction (along with Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ), XLR inputs/outputs, three floating-point DSPs and six HDMI inputs, all of which I used. It has no shortage of inputs across the board, with a whopping 30 total, leaving none of your components, legacy or no, sitting in the dark.
Those are the hardware highlights, but I'd be remiss in not mentioning the software side of things, which is where you truly get a sense of what went into the research and development of the processor. Crestron's PROCISE Tools software (PC only) allows for more control of your system than I've ever experienced with a processor - by far. If you're into tailoring your system to the nth degree, then you are barking up the right tree with this product. Not only does the Crestron software allow for endless audio tweaking, but it also provides you with a wealth of real-time information, such as signal type, decoding mode, sample rate, etc. Through PROCISE Tools you can control gain, delay, crossover frequency, etc., and it's infinitely simpler and more intuitive than trying to do it through a processor's onscreen display or, worse, the tiny front-panel display. The software also allows you to monitor the audio level of each speaker, adjust the EQs, control input compensation level and much more. It's truly astonishing what you can monitor and control through PROCISE Tools.
To drive the PSPHD processor, Crestron sent me the company's PROAMP seven-channel amplifier, which uses Class D amplification to supply a generous 250 watts per channel. One of the amp's more notable features is the fact that you connect it to the PSPHD processor with one Ethernet cable. Why is this notable? Mainly because this pairing gives the end user and/or Crestron tech the ability to monitor the amp's power and temperature, receive fault alerts and more. All of this control can be handled through a Crestron control panel, smart phone or computer. Very cutting-edge indeed and not something you're going to find with most other processor/amp combinations outside of, say, Classe's CT-M600 monoblock amps and SSP-800 AV preamp.
I can't really speak to the products' packaging, as they showed up sans boxes in the back of the Crestron tech's Mini Cooper, but I can attest to the excellent design of the processor, which has an edgy prosumer look. I mean this in the best way, as the processor would blend seamlessly in both a professional sound room and a high-end home theater. In terms of getting everything connected, things are more complex, as you might expect from a Crestron product. My listening room is in a converted garage, which is not attached to my house. This was problematic, because these pieces demand a dedicated Ethernet connection to your router; there's no WiFi option. After the tech and I spent a few minutes working the problem out, we came up with two possible solutions: the low-tech solution involved running roughly 100 feet of Ethernet cabling from my garage to the router in my wife's office; the high-tech approach involved me driving to Best Buy to pick up a $60 wireless bridge. John the programmer drove to Crestron to get Ethernet cabling, and I went to Best Buy. Luckily, the wireless bridge did the trick, so we did not have to run the Ethernet cable.
We were now off and running ... sort of. You see, Crestron programs in .NET and, as such, the PROCISE gear is not Mac-friendly. This required dusting off my severely underpowered Dell Mini 9. It's worth noting that Mac users do have the option to run parallel operating systems, a decent solution if they twitch and sweat at the thought of using a PC. While John connected the XLR cables, Ethernet cabling, etc., I took care of the speaker connections to my 7.1 system, which consists of Focal 836Ws for the front left/right channels, Episode 700 Series in-walls for the center and surrounds, and the beastly SVS SB13-Ultra subwoofer. This took a bit of time, as the Crestron PROAMP uses "Phoenix"-style speaker connects, which didn't accommodate my banana clips. We then finished the connections to my reference system, which consists of an Optoma HD33 projector, an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player, a Cambridge Audio DacMagic, a MacBook Pro and a Music Fidelity V-Link USB to S/PDIF converter. Then John installed the PROCISE Tools software on my PC and downloaded the dedicated Crestron app to my iPad, thereby negating the need for a dedicated Crestron control panel (a good way to save some cash). Lastly, he went through the Audyssey MultiEQ XT room-correction process, gave me a quick tutorial and left me to my own devices.
Needless to say, it was a fairly involved install, but I think it's also safe to say that the average Crestron consumer would be unaware of these issues, which would mostly be handled by the installers. That's the beauty of Crestron: you're surrounded by professionals during and after the installation, which allows you to simply enjoy the system. After a good 24 hours of break-in, I let the critical listening begin.
Read about the performance of the PROCISE PSPHD preamp on Page 2.