I speak from first-hand experience when I say that a multi room audio is awesome. It wasn’t until I ( under slight pressure from my better half) ended up with a 4 zone multi-room audio system in our own house that I actually got to appreciate it. But just like I did, a lot of people still consider it a luxury. I tell you: it is not! Some things are a waste of money, some things you only appreciate once you get to experience them. This is one of those.
Say ‘multi room audio system’ and people think ‘Sonos’. And while that is definitely a valid and popular option, there is so much more to the topic. See, a multi room audio system can be, but doesn’t have to be wireless to start with. Multi room audio systems are quite a wide topic that can be completely tailored to your own wishes, needs and budget. It can be as sophisticated or as simple as you want it to be.
So how do you go about creating a multi-room audio system?
As with many other things in life, ‘planning’ is the word. And before anything else, you want to find out exactly what it is that you want from a system.
How Many Rooms (or Zones) in the System?
The first thing you should consider is how many rooms or zones to include in the whole home system. This will quickly let you know what equipment you might need as well as give you an idea about the scope of installation.
Take stock of any AV gear you already have and that you can/want to re-use. Maybe you only want two zones and you have an AV receiver that allows for an extra room with the zone B switch, so all you might need is an extra pair of speakers.
Or your solution could be a s simple as introducing a speaker selector. A speaker selector allows you to connect multiple speakers throughout the house to your stereo system. With a simple touch of a button you turn certain speakers on or off. Some speaker selectors even come with a volume button.
Make sure to pay attention to instructions on speaker impedance that come with the speaker selector. Also make sure your amplifier is powerful enough to drive the amount of speakers you have in mind. If that’s not the case, it might be time for an upgrade. If you feel unsure about this, talk to the guys from Rapallo to put you in the right direction.
But then again, you may have a few more zones than that or you may have a slightly more complicated set-up in mind. Take a look at how many zones you have on your wish list. Remember that an outdoor area is a zone too.
How Many Sources?
The number of audio sources is also a key question to answer. Do you want to listen to the same source in all zones? Or would you prefer the option to simultaneously stream different sources to separate zones? Most AV receivers offer multi-zone features, but not all receivers are designed to support more than one source at a time.
If you live in a household where multiple individuals may want to use speakers at the same time (e.g. someone may want to enjoy music in a back bedroom while you watch a Blu-ray in the living room), then a multi-source system will ease tensions over who gets control of the audio.
How many sources you need is all up to you. Make a list of what you would like to have included, such as:
- Cable TV
- Streaming media devices
- Blu-ray/DVD player
- Turntable/CD player
- Streaming music services
- AM/FM tuner
It will come as no surprise that the more sources you involve in your set-up, the more complicated (and costly) your solution will be.
A Wired or Wireless System? Or Both?
And then there is the whole wireless or wired dilemma. Wireless multi-room music systems are certainly gaining a lot of attention in the media. One of the primary benefits of using wireless speakers and/or equipment is the ease of set-up. If you decide you want to rearrange a room or relocate speakers, you don’t have to worry about the work involved with installing and disguising all the speaker wires. This can be particularly handy when you’re not dealing with a newly- built home or if you haven’t got a renovation on your list of things to do for the future.
There are a lot of wireless speakers available, and newer models are always being released. Keep in mind that there is more to wireless than just Sonos. At Rapallo we use Yamaha MusicCast. The great thing about Yamaha MusicCast is that it supports Hi-Res audio, that the MusicCast range also includes a whole selection of AV receivers as well as anything from wireless speakers, powered speakers, Hi-Fi receivers, streaming devices, soundbars, even a wireless turntable (announced) and CD player, so it’s really easy to incorporate whatever you have on your mind. Yamaha MusicCast just released some new wireless speakers (MusicCast 20 (announced) and MusicCast 50), all ready for home theatre surround sound. It also helps that the new speakers are rather easy on the eye. MusicCast devices are Alexa-enabled for future proofing too. (Note: wireless speakers still need a 230V powerpoint to power them)
If you are going to embark on building or renovating a house then a wired system can suit you perfectly well. The big advantage is that you can almost always depend on the quality and consistency of wired audio. Our experience is that to this day it is still more stable than wireless and depending on your system choice you’re not locked into a system the same way you are with a wireless multi-room system (although with DTS Play-fi that might change in the future).
So what are the options here? MusicCast is still the option of choice with that difference that the control of the amplifier is wireless, but say the in-ceiling speakers are wired. Including a full blown home theatre in the set-up? No problemo.
In our experience, for domestic solutions, it’s the most popular choice. And for good reason. It’s a very economical solution that offers a lot of flexibility, set-up is a breeze and the app is a pleasure to work with. Still want to include some wireless speakers and make the system ‘hybrid’? Also an option. As we said, flexibility galore.
The only downside of working with MusicCast is that you are restricted in what you can play in which room. For instance, if you’re listening to a Spotify playlist in room 1, you can’t stream another playlist in room 2 or 3 that is powered by the same receiver. The other downside is that for large set-ups with a lot of rooms, you end up with a tower of 2, 3 or even 4 receivers if you want wired speakers in all those rooms.
For large homes, commercial solutions and complicated set-ups there is the option of going completely wired with Axium. It’s a strictly audio solution, but on the other hand, room 1 and room 2 are completely independent from each other. No need to share Spotify playlists with your teenage daughter. Set-up and programming is fairly complicated and requires the help of a registered installer. You control the rooms with an in-wall keypad. There is the option of using an app, but it’s very different compared to what you can do with MusicCast (the installer can make it look exactly how you want). The downside is that because of its complexity, it tends to end up more expensive than a (semi-wired) system using MusicCast. At Rapallo we install Axium multi-room wired systems. Axium is a Kiwi company with local support, which is an excellent thing in our book. An Axium multi-room system can also be integrated with Control4 home automation.
Other brands that can be used are Russound and Speakercraft, their amplifiers and wall control panels may be similar to Axium, but Axium’s flexibility for programming and designing the app are second to none.
In-Wall, Bookshelf, or Floor-Standing Speakers?
With all the above sorted, the only thing that remains to be done is deciding on speakers. In a wireless set-up you are restricted to the options offered by Yamaha MusicCast, pretty much as is the case with Sonos. Go wired and a whole world of options opens up.
As always, size, style, and location matters, especially since those aspects go hand-in-hand with output.
For background music,in-ceiling speakers are often preferred because they virtually disappear into the room, especially when grilles can be painted to match room decor. These types of speakers do require a little more consideration as far as placement is concerned, but a good installer will be able to advise you on this.
In a home theatre, your options are as wide as the ocean is deep: a simple soundbar, a wireless speaker surround set-up, or a wired 7.1.4 set-up with all the bells and whistles. You name it.
Including a wireless desk-top set-up for your teens or the office? Outdoor speakers? A wireless speaker for the kitchen area? Including a CD player or a turntable in the set-up? It’s all possible. All that’s needed is for you to decide on what works for you.
Ready for DIY or Do You Need a Contractor?
Some tasks, such as a wireless set-up, speaker placement and even running AV wires (not electrical) between separate rooms, can be done by homeowners, as we explained in our pre-wiring blog. It very much depends on your own capability to handle these things. If you’re not sure, we say leave the pulling wires to a professional. Other more complicated installations, such as customized in-wall/-ceiling speaker installation, installing and programming an Axium system are probably best left to a certified installer like Rapallo.
So talk to us about your ideas on multi-room audio set-up. We’ll happily provide you with some professional advice and a budgetary estimation and put you on your way .
Photo from Yamaha