You’re kicking off the summer with a BBQ and have carefully thought through every detail — including the playlist. There’s just one problem: Guests can enjoy the music in the living room, but that’s where the experience ends.
Enter the whole house audio system. It’s the perfect way to create a seamless experience for your guests, as their favorite songs travel with them from room to room — and even outside.
This same freedom can also bring greater enjoyment to your everyday life.
Listen to a playlist upstairs while you get ready for work and have it continue to play downstairs in the kitchen while you make a cappuccino. It can even adapt to your listening style, connecting to your favorite streaming music service or beloved turntable. You can also decide whether you want to play the same music throughout your home or customize it from room to room.
Ready to fill your home with vibrant sound? Plan your whole house audio system with this handy checklist.
Choose Your Rooms
The first step to planning your whole house audio system is determining which rooms you’d like to play music in — both on a daily basis and on special occasions. Also, consider the other people living in your household and where they like to listen to music, too. That will give you a general idea of the rooms or “zones” that you might want to incorporate into your whole house audio system.
The purpose of the room, along with its layout, will help to determine the right products for each space. Let’s say you have an open floor plan, for example, and want to integrate your kitchen, dining area and living room into your whole house audio system. In that case, we might recommend using ceiling or wireless speakers throughout the zone.
Keep in mind: the more rooms you plan to include, the more equipment you’ll likely need. If you’re on a tight budget, you might consider starting with the zones that have the most foot traffic and building onto it over time.
Select Your Source
What’s a source? (We’re glad you asked.) It’s the vehicle through which your music is played.
Some examples of sources include:
- Cable TV
- Streaming media services (e.g. Netflix)
- DVD player
- Streaming music services (e.g. TIDAL)
- Computer audio
It’s important to consider any dependencies your music source might have in order to work properly. For example, computer audio is a good option for many home audio systems, but it requires your device to be turned “on.” As a result, we typically recommend a high-capacity network drive, which is always on. Some music streaming services, such as Spotify, also require you to be a paid subscriber in order to listen ad-free and offline.
Luckily, you have the option to choose between a single-source system or a multiple-source system. In a single-source system, individual rooms or zones each have their own volume controls, but the same music is played on all of the speakers. This type of system can be a bit limiting, but if your objective is simply to play background music throughout your home, it does the job. Multiple-source systems allow you to play different music in each room or zone, based on the mood you’re trying to create or the preferences of the listener. For larger households, a multiple-source system is ideal. It allows your spouse to jam out to Jimi Hendrix on the deck, while your daughter watches Disney’s “Moana” for the 20th time in the living room.
To support multiple sources and zones, you’ll need the right receiver. If it can’t supply enough power to all of the speakers safely, it may be time for an upgrade.
Wireless or Wired
There are three ways to connect your whole house audio system:
- A hardwired network
- Wireless network
- Hybrid system
Wired systems typically offer the best sound quality. They also allow you to customize the sound quality based on what will work best for the room (e.g. home theater vs. open space). Additionally, there are fewer factors that can hinder performance. When you have a wire running from one point to another, the only barriers that can slow down the connection are a cut wire, poor quality cable or switch issues. All of these potential problems can be avoided if your whole house audio system is well designed and properly installed.
For wired networks, Linn’s whole home audio systems are one of our favorite options. Their systems work with the devices you already own — and can even be adapted to the devices you might buy in the future. You just plug in, stream, and control your music, using the home broadband network you already have set up.
Wireless systems, on the other hand, offer greater flexibility. You can start with one room or zone and easily add onto it later. From an installation perspective, it’s also less time intensive, allowing you to enjoy a solid entry-level system in a reasonable amount of time.
Sonos’ wireless home sound system is one of the easiest to use. Their smart speakers connect through Wi-Fi, allowing you to play the songs you love in any room or every room.
For the best of both worlds, you might also consider a hybrid system, which is made up of wireless components that feed into the in-wall or in-ceiling speakers.
Once you have an idea of how you’ll connect your equipment, it’s time to choose your speakers.
There are four main types of speakers to consider:
- In-wall or in-ceiling speakers
- Bookshelf speakers
- Floor-standing speakers
- Outdoor speakers
If you’re just looking for background music, consider in-wall or in-ceiling speakers. The speaker wires are hidden within the ceiling and walls. To make the speakers blend in even further, you can also paint the speaker grills the same color as the ceiling.
Bookshelf speakers offer greater sound quality than in-wall or in-ceiling speakers and they’re easier to move. Space isn’t an issue either, as they can sit on a shelf right next to your favorite literary works.
Are you willing to sacrifice space for top-of-the-line sound quality? If so, then, floor-standing speakers are your best bet. In an optimized space, floor-standing speakers can make you feel like you’re front-and-center at a concert.
For those that truly want a whole house audio system, you can’t forget your outdoor living space. A great set of outdoor speakers will be able to withstand the elements and blend in with the landscape. From speakers that look like rocks to ceiling speakers, the options are endless.
A whole house audio sound system without user-friendly controls is basically an expensive set of paperweights. They’ll rarely get used, because it’s just too much work.
To get the most from your whole house audio system, it needs to be intuitive.
Three easy ways to control your system include:
- A remote
- Touch screen
- Voice command
Which route is best? It’s really a matter of personal preference.
Control4 allows you to control all of your entertainment sources with a single remote, touchscreen or tablet. That includes your own music library and streaming audio, as well as your Blu-ray player, satellite, and streaming video services. That’s a huge draw for people who loathe having to use three separate remotes just to watch a movie on Netflix.
Crestron also offers all three options (remote, touchscreen or tablet). The Crestron TSWs can even run the full Sonos app and interface right on the touchscreen, as part of an integrated whole house audio system.
If you prefer to talk to your technology, use voice commands through Amazon Alexa. Getting ready for an evening run? Stay motivated by asking, “Alexa, play ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ in the living room.” Then, you’ll be pumped to hit the trails instead of tempted to hit the couch.
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