Elements of a Multi-Room Audio System
Some higher-end products, such as the NuVo Essentia Audio Distribution System, can control audio as well as home systems.
With multi-room audio, you can finally have a personal soundtrack. Learn how to assemble your own system.
Imagine music that follows you from room to room in your house, playing the soundtrack of your home life. Using an unobtrusive system of amplifiers, in-wall speakers, and control devices, you can enjoy your music anywhere in the home. All this is possible with multi-room audio, allowing you to play and control music from a centralized system. You can listen to the radio in the bedroom while someone else listens to the CD player in another part of the house.
Let’s take a look at the devices that make a multi-room audio system sing:
The multi-room audio system begins with the source that either sits in your home theater room or in a rack in your audio/video (A/V) closet. Traditionally, the source can be a CD player, a DVD player, a stereo tuner or your entire home theater stack. You can also use your computer as a multimedia server that stores your entire music collection.
You will need a receiver to amplify the signal of your source in order to power the speakers in multiple rooms. Typically, the receiver will be a part of your A/V system. A plethora of receivers are available to satisfy your needs. If you want to have access to multiple sources (e.g. a CD player and the radio) in every room in the house, you need a receiver that supports multiple sources and zones.
Speakers come in many shapes, sizes and designs from free standing to cabinet speakers. Many people prefer inconspicuous in-wall and in-ceiling speakers that do not intrude on the decor of the room. For example, the Bose 191 Virtually Invisible Speakers are designed for flush-mount wall and ceiling placement and will blend into any space.
Once you have audio piped into all the rooms in your home, you need a way to control the source. While some systems allow only volume control from the source, many multi-room audio systems offer volume control in each room near the speakers they will control. Control pads allow you to adjust the volume independently from other rooms in the house, so you can crank the music in the living room while someone enjoys soft music in the den. If you are running more than one pair of speakers from the same amplifier speaker outputs, you will want an amplified volume controller with impedance matching to compensate for the impedance drop and loss of signal strength that occurs when you use multiple sets of speakers in parallel.
A volume controller with an integrated infrared (IR) receiver offers you full control of the source device through an IR remote. For a complete wireless solution, an RF remote control can control the source from anywhere in the house as long as there is a RF base station in each room.
A/V Cables and Wires
For most multi-room audio systems, you will need a combination of speaker cables and Cat 5 cable for carrying audio, IR and data signals. For volume-only control, you can run speaker wire from the source to the various volume controls.
Below we take a look at a few systems that will distribute audio throughout your house.
Basic System: Volume Control Only
The 4 Pair Speaker Selector and Volume Controller allows you to control four speaker pairs and two inputs. Simply run speaker cables from your receiver to the speaker selector and then to the speakers and you’re done. While this system only offers volume control locally at the speaker selector, you can get volume controllers that independently adjust volume in each zone.
Mid-Range System: Volume Control With IR Receiver
For full control of your audio source, the A-BUS Complete 4-Zone Kit comes with amplified keypads, an IR receiver for control of external equipment and a universal remote control. All you need are speaker and Cat 5 cables. While you will still need to run speaker and Cat 5 cables to the speakers, once installed, this kit transmits audio, infrared, and power over a single Cat 5 cable to each room.
With integrated IR receivers in the keypads, you can change the volume and switch sources with the universal remote. Now you can enjoy and control your music anywhere in the house. Another option in this category is the Greyfox Cat 5 Audio 1-Source, 4-Zone Kit.
Advanced System: Whole Home Control
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The NuVo Essentia Audio Distribution System offers control of both your audio system and your entire home. With support for six sources and six zones, you can listen to multiple sound sources in six different zones simultaneously. Similar to the A-BUS system, the NuVo uses both speaker and Cat 5 cables to carry audio, power and IR signals to your multi-room audio system. The standout feature of the NuVo is its ability to connect to your home automation system via a serial port, giving you control not only of your audio system but also your home automation system, including lights, climate, security and more.