The latest in a crop of wireless digital audio receivers (DARs) that connect computers to home audio systems, Cd3o's c300 is the first we've tested that employs 802.11b wireless networking to interface with the server PC through a wireless access point or router (or via wired Ethernet). The c300 isn't perfect, but it sounds incredible, won't clutter your home with more wires, and includes a unique voice-based navigation system. Available for $249, it establishes start-up Cd30 as a serious contender in the DAR arena. At 1 by 5 by 6.5 inches (HWD), the c300's black-and-white-plastic main unit blends into any audio setup discreetly. As it's without a text display and hardware controls, the front panel contains only three status LEDs. The sturdy, midsized remote control doesn't have backlit buttons, but the layout is intuitive.
Setting up the c300 was easy. After unpacking the unit, we installed the software CD on our PC, temporarily connected the c300 to our wired Ethernet router, and followed onscreen configuration prompts. Once software setup was complete, we unplugged the Ethernet cable and rebooted our PC; the c300's LEDs indicated that a wireless connection had successfully been established with our wireless access point (WAP). Then we ran the Cd30 Control Center software, which scanned our selected PC directories for MP3s, WMAs, and WAVs with which to build the c300's music library.
You can operate the c300 using the PC or the remote control. The streamlined software has tabs for genre, artist, album, and playlist, making navigation a cinch. The remote's buttons correspond to those tabs, while directional and alphanumeric keys make navigation fairly straightforward. The Favorite key on the remote accesses programmable presets that put your current top 10 songs, albums, and playlists within easy reach.
You'd expect the c300's lack of a display to be a major stumbling point, as it is with RCA's less expensive Lyra Wireless RD900W, but the voice-based navigation system is surprisingly effective.
Unlike most DAR software, the c300's Control Center cannot play audio through a PC sound card. But it supports the common M3U playlist format, allowing interapplication sharing and use of existing playlists. The c300 can play MP3, WMA, and WAV files but can't play audio directly from a CD in your computer's drive or Internet radio. However, Cd3o might add those features to the software later; there's no reason the system can't handle both tasks.
Connectivity, on the other hand, is one of this DAR's strongest suits. Besides the ultracool 802.11b wireless connection, it has more audio outputs than the vast majority of DARs: one stereo RCA line output, one optical digital output, and one coaxial digital output. No matter what input your sound system has, the c300 can connect to it. And the Ethernet port is a nice touch, as it enables using the device on a wired network, if you have yet to upgrade to wireless 802.11b.
Employing text-to-speech technology, the c300's CDDJ voice announces information over your sound system, such as current song, directory, artist, and playback status. To fire up Outkast's Aquemini album, we pressed the remote's Album button, and the c300 announced, "Album." Then, we pressed a, q, u, and e on the remote. After a chime alerted us of a match, the c300 announced, "Aquemini," and we pressed Play to start the album--an innovative workaround for a device that lacks a display.
Occasionally, the robotic announcements aren't fully intelligible, but Cd3o plans to offer upgrades to a selection of alternate voices within the year. While the voice-based navigation system does enable finding tracks whenever you're in earshot, the ideal DAR would also have a TV output for total convenience. Another foible: The Control Center software's music library screens don't update when the remote control is used to navigate to a new tab. That aspect of the design nagged us, but Cd3o says it's a benefit if you have multiple c300 units on a network accessing the same computer.
Most DARs sound respectable, but the c300's analog audio outputs deliver sonic clarity superior to that of just about anything we've seen to date (thanks to a 24-bit, 96kHz DAC and a mind-blowing 102dB signal-to-noise ratio). Through our Event 20/20 studio monitors, a 256K MP3 of Zeppelin's "Tangerine" was very clear, with the acoustic guitar wafting smoothly and sounding quite multidimensional. In our setup, in which the c300 was about 40 feet away from the wireless access point, we didn't notice any dropouts. Cd3o says the transmission range is typically 100 to 300 feet, but the range is basically whatever's covered by your 802.11b network.