all multi-room audio?
In-wall Multi-room Music Systems
Imagine walking into a room filled with music. You look for audio gear and speakers, but there are none in sight — just the room's warm, inviting décor. That's because you're hearing an integrated, in-wall multi-room music system. The cables, speakers, and even controllers are installed in your walls and ceiling for a clean, seamless look.
In this article, we'll cover your two main options for an in-wall multi-room system. Then we'll walk you through the questions you should ask yourself when choosing this kind of multi-room system. Also, keep in mind that you can always call our Audio/Video Design Group for help — they'll take info you supply about your specific home and create custom recommendations. You'll find more system ideas in our article on wireless multi-room music systems.
Two types of in-wall multi-room systems
A lot of today's home theater receivers can also power speakers in more than one room, making them a great foundation for a conventional multi-room system. In-wall volume controls give you convenient control in your remote rooms. (Niles VCS100K and Denon AVR-4311CI pictured)
Conventional multi-room system — This is probably the more popular option. Conventional multi-room systems are sometimes more cost-efficient than pre-matched systems (below), in part because you may be able to use more gear that you already own. In a conventional multi-room system, you'll connect your music sources to a multi-room-capable receiver or a multi-room amplifier that can power speakers in multiple different rooms. A lot of today's home theater receivers fit the bill — multi-room capability, plus plenty of inputs for music sources like DVD/CD changers, satellite radio tuners, and more. See our article on powering a multi-room system for more info.
To get a conventional multi-room system up and running, you'll also need to run speaker cable between your receiver or amp and the speakers in each of your listening areas. Most folks opt to hide the system's speaker cable inside their walls — see our in-wall wiring guide for installation and safety tips. In-wall volume controls and in-wall and in-ceiling speakers are also popular in these systems, since they give you a sleek, custom look.
Pre-matched, brand-specific multi-room systems are designed to work together seamlessly. You can choose from bundles that are already put together, or customize your own system. (Niles MultiZone ZR-4 bundle pictured)
Pre-matched multi-room system — Brand-specific systems with components that are all designed to work together. With a pre-matched system, you can connect all the same sources you can connect to a conventional system. But you won't be able to mix and match pieces from different pre-matched systems. That is, you can choose whatever brand of gear you want for music sources, speakers, and cable. But when it comes to items like controllers, switching hubs, and amplifiers, you won't be able to mix and match pieces from different brands — you'll need to pick one and stick to it.
Pre-matched systems often include some of the most sophisticated features, including smart, powerful controls and lots of expandability. Like conventional systems (above), folks typically hide the necessary cabling inside their walls. Keep in mind that, while components like amplifiers and controllers might be included in a pre-matched system bundle, you'll likely still need to purchase things like speakers and cables.
Choosing the right system
Answering the questions below will help you figure out which system might be a good fit for you.
Will you use existing in-wall wiring, or install new wiring?
More and more homes these days are pre-wired with multi-room systems in mind. For example, some offer multiple runs of CAT-5 cable, to accommodate both your computer network and a multi-room system. Some homes also include runs of speaker wire to power multi-room speakers. Depending on the multi-room music system you choose, you'll likely use one or both types of cable to distribute and control your music.
If your home doesn't have the right in-wall cabling, or doesn't have it installed in the right locations, you'll need to install new wire. This is something often done in homes still under construction, or under heavy renovation, since it's easier to install in-wall wire before the drywall and insulation are up. See our in-wall wiring guide for info on routing wire in new and finished homes. And if you'd rather go wireless, check out our article about wireless music options.
How many rooms do you want music in?
Some multi-room systems send music to just two or three rooms total, while others expand to accommodate 12 or more, depending on how you configure your system. As you shop, think about how many listening rooms you'd like, and also how you'll listen in each room. For example, you might choose different components for background listening in your kitchen then you would for dedicated music listening in your den.
How much control do you want in your remote rooms?
You'll have a range of control options from most pre-matched and conventional systems — everything from simply controlling the volume, to switching sources and songs. Most pre-matched systems include a controller in each room where you have music. But if you're creating your own conventional system, you'll need to be sure to include that in your plans. See our articles on powering your multi-room system and remote controls for multi-room systems for more info.
|Pre-matched systems typically give you a lot of control in your remote rooms (left). Many folks use simple in-wall volume controls in conventional systems (right), though you can enjoy greater levels of control by adding a remote control extender system. (Niles MultiZone Solo®-6 MD Keypad and Niles SVC100R pictured)|
Which music sources do you want to listen to?
Most in-wall multi-room systems work well with traditional audio gear, such as DVD/CD changers and radio tuners. Some systems also let you listen to your digital music collection. For example, Niles systems let you connect an iPod to the main hub, then play and control your music in each listening room.
On-Q systems offer cool expansion options, such as their intercom kits.
Do you want to be able to add extra features?
A few multi-room music systems offer cool expansion capabilities, especially pre-matched systems. For example, you could combine On-Q's multi-room music system with their intercom system for easy communication around the home. Or you could add on their standard-definition video distribution system to so you can watch movies and TV shows in more rooms in your home.