Planning a whole house or multiroom music system includes a list of features wanted, an assessment of the installation and deciding which type of system you want. This checklist will help assess needs and determine the best type of system for your home.
How Many Zones or Rooms in the System?
To plan a whole house audio or multiroom music system, first consider the number of rooms or zones. A simple two-room system can be installed using the Speaker B switch on your receiver and an additional pair of speakers. Some AV receivers have multiroom features to control as many as four zones. Larger systems require additional hardware, speakers, planning and labor. The most challenging part of installing a multiroom system is running wires from one zone to another and often requires a professional installer. Learn more about using a multiroom receiver and the Speaker B switch.
How Many Sources?
This is a key question. Do you want to listen to the same source in each zone (example: CD) or would you prefer different sources in each zone (example: CD in the den and FM radio in a bedroom). A multisource system is usually preferred because it allows each person to listen to the music of his or her choice in each zone.
Make a list of the sources you want to include, such as CD, AM/FM tuner, Satellite Radio, computer audio or music server, tape, etc. Additional sources add to the complexity and cost of the system.
A Wired or Wireless System?
Wireless multiroom music systems are quickly catching up to wired systems in terms of sound quality, control and flexibility and installation is considerably easier because no additional wiring is required between rooms. However, if you're starting installation with new construction, a wired system may be the best solution because audio, video and network wiring can be installed easily before the walls are in place.
Do You Have a Computer Network Already Installed?
A computer network wired with CAT-5 wiring can be used to distribute line-level (unamplified) signals to multiple rooms in a home. Each zone or room requires an amplifier or amplified keypad to control the system and a pair of speakers. There is one glitch: a CAT-5 network cannot be used for computer networking and audio at the same time – a separate network is required for each.
In-Wall or Bookshelf Speakers?
In-wall and in-ceiling speakers are often preferred because they virtually disappear in the wall, especially when the grilles are painted to match the room décor. They do require more installation than a bookshelf speaker and careful consideration should be given to placement and running speaker wires behind the walls.
The advantage of bookshelf speakers is flexibility of placement and speakers can be replaced or upgraded easily. They also take space in a room.
DIY or do You Need a Contractor?
Some of the installation tasks, such as running speaker wires between two rooms can be done by homeowners. Others, such as programming a system for easy operation and installing keypad controls in each room are jobs probably best left to a system integrator or installation professional with the right tools and knowledge. . CEDIA, the Custom Electronics Design & Installation Association, an industry trade group, offers a referral service to find qualified installers/system integrators in your area.
For more information, check out my overview of the types of multiroom music systems with pros and cons of each type of installation.