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Overview of Multiroom & Whole House Music Systems

Wired and Wireless Music Systems

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Whole house music and multiroom systems are very popular in homes and condos of all sizes. There are many ways to send music throughout a home including wired and wireless systems that enable control from anywhere in the home. You can use an existing receiver as the center of a multiroom system or install a dedicated whole house music system. The types of systems range from adding a speaker switch to a receiver, do-it-yourself wireless systems, all the way to sophisticated systems that require professional installation. This article is an overview of the types available with pros & cons and links to other resources.

1. Building a Simple Multiroom Music System with a Receiver

PriceGrabber

The simplest multiroom music system uses the Speaker B switch built into a stereo or home theater receiver. The Speaker B output can be used to power an additional pair of speakers by running speaker wires from the receiver's Speaker B to a pair of speakers in another room. Additional speakers can be added with a separate speaker selection switch.

Pros

  • Easiest two-room installation
  • Just add speakers and run wires
  • Use a switcher for more rooms

Cons

  • Single source only
  • Requires running speaker wires to other rooms

Learn more about using a receiver for a multiroom system.

2. Multiroom & Multisource Systems Using a Receiver

Gary Altunian

Many home theater receivers have built-in multizone and multi-source features, which means each room or zone can listen to a different source (radio, CD, mp3, etc.). Some receivers have powered multiroom outputs for stereo music (and sometimes video) in as many as three zones and some models have line level (non-powered) outputs requiring a stereo amp in each zone.

Pros

  • Multisource: Different sources in each room
  • Independent control from each zone

Cons

  • Must run speaker wires and IR control wires between rooms

Learn more about multiroom receivers

3. Music Over a Wired Home Network

If you own a home with computer network wiring installed, you have a huge advantage. Running wires through existing walls is one of the most difficult and expensive parts of installing whole house music systems. Network wiring with CAT-5e or CAT-6 cable used to interconnect a computer network can distribute line level analog and digital audio to remote zones via multizone audio systems available from several manufacturers.

Pros

  • Uses existing network wiring
  • Many system options available

Cons

  • Requires dedicated CAT-5 or CAT-6 wiring
  • May require professional installation

Learn more about multiroom audio using CAT-5.

4. Music Over a Wireless Home Network

If you don't have a pre-wired network home and retrofit wiring is too much to consider, there is another solution - go wireless. As wireless technology has improved, so have the options for wireless distribution of music. It's a great way to enjoy your iTunes music library and other audio sources throughout your home. The most common wireless technology is Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity). No doubt you have heard the term used for the wireless networking of computers. The same technology is now finding its way into multiroom audio systems.

Pros

  • Good sound quality
  • No room-to-room wiring

Cons

  • Generally simple setup, but may require some computer networking skills

Learn more about music over a wireless network.

5. Simple and Affordable Wireless Audio Solutions

The simplest and most affordable way to send iTunes music and other audio content wirelessly from one room to another is with a so-called digital media adapter, available from several manufacturers. These adapters send audio signals wirelessly between two or more components, such as between a PC and a stereo receiver, or a receiver and a tabletop system - almost anywhere you want to send music wirelessly. You can even connect a subwoofer wirelessly. Additional adapters can be purchased to expand the system and add more rooms.

Pros

  • Simple setup
  • Inexpensive and expandable

Cons

  • Adapter required for each zone
  • Single source
  • Reception quality depends on distance

Learn more here

6. Music Over Existing Home Wiring: Powerline Carrier Technology

IO Gear

Powerline Carrier Technology, also known by the name HomePlug, sends stereo music and control signals throughout your home via your home's existing electrical wiring. PLC products are a great choice for retrofitting a whole house music system because no new wiring is required. Full systems and components are available or in development in a wide range of prices and features.

Pros

  • No new wiring needed, uses existing electrical wires
  • Great choice for retrofit installations
  • Some systems are DIY, others require installation

Cons

  • AC line noise might affect radio reception, usually cured with a line filter
  • Some systems require installation of in-wall control keypads

Learn more about Powerline Carrier systems

7. Whole House Music Distribution Systems

Audio Design Associates

Whole house music systems have a central component that sends music from selected sources (CD, radio, etc.) to each zone. It can send either line-level signals to amplifiers in each room, or have built-in amplifiers and tuners. All of these systems allow you to listen to any source in any zone and can be expanded from four to eight or more zones.

Pros

  • Best choice for performance and flexibility
  • Built-in stereo amps for each zone
  • Multisource - listen to any source in any room
  • Expandable for more zones

Cons

  • Requires professional installation and wiring of system and speakers
  • Most costly option, depending on size of system and installation costs

Learn more about Whole House Systems

8. In-Wall & In-Ceiling Speakers for Whole House Systems

Triad Speakers

In-wall speakers are a great idea for whole house music systems. They offer good to excellent sound quality without speaker cabinets on the floor or a shelf and the grilles can be painted to match the room décor so they virtually disappear. Read in-wall & in-ceiling speaker reviews.

In-wall speakers involve more work because the wall must be cut for the speakers and speaker wires must be run through the walls. Depending on the difficulty of the job, the number of speakers and your skills, installing in-wall speakers can be a do-it-yourself project or you may want to hire a custom installer or electrician. 

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