Whole House Audio & Multi-Room Music Systems

A closer look at whole house audio music systems

Whole-house music and multi-room systems are popular in homes and living spaces of all shapes and sizes. There are many ways to send music throughout a home, including wired and wireless connections that enable control from anywhere. You can use an existing receiver as the center hub, or you can install a dedicated whole-house music system. The amount of effort involved can range from adding a speaker switch to a receiver, do-it-yourself networking, or professional-level installations.

Build a Simple Multi-Room Music System Using a Receiver

What We Like
  • Easiest two-room installation.

  • Just add speakers and run wires.

  • Can use a separate switch for more rooms.

What We Don't Like
  • Single source only.

  • Requires running speaker wires to other rooms.

The simplest multi-room music system uses the Speaker B switch built into a stereo or home theater receiver. The Speaker B output is capable of powering an additional pair of speakers, even if they're located in another room.

All you need to do is run lengths of speaker wire to connect it all together. People who might want to add more sets of speakers can do so ​with a separate speaker selector switch. And if you want easy access to adjustments, control plates can be added in conjunction with the switches.

AV receiver with remote Denon AVR-S710W 7.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Receiver with Bluetooth and WIFI

Photo from Amazon

Multi-Room & Multi-Source Systems Using a Receiver

What We Like
  • Multi-source can send separate audio sources to different rooms.

  • Independent control within each zone.

What We Don't Like
  • Must run additional wires between rooms.

  • May want to install IR control to adjust audio from anywhere in the house.

Many home theater receivers have built-in multi-zone and multi-source features, which means each room or zone can listen to a different audio source (such as a CD, DVD, streaming device, or turntable) at the same time.

Some receivers have powered multi-room outputs for stereo music (and sometimes video) in as many as three zones, and some models have line-level (non-powered) outputs, which require a separate stereo amp in each zone.

Back of amplifier or reciever with cords going to speakers

Gudella / Getty Images

Music Over a Wired Home Network

What We Like
  • Uses existing network wiring.

  • Many system options available.

What We Don't Like
  • Requires dedicated CAT-5 or CAT-6 wiring.

  • May require professional installation.

If you own a home with computer network wiring already installed, you have an advantage. Running wires through existing walls is one of the most difficult and expensive parts of installing whole-house music systems.

Network wiring with CAT-5e or CAT-6 cable used to interconnect a computer network can distribute line-level analog and digital audio to remote zones via multi-zone audio systems available from several manufacturers.

Ethernet cables in every color

Volker Pape / EyeEm / Getty Images 

Music Over a Wireless Home Network

What We Like
  • Good sound quality.

  • No room-to-room wiring.

What We Don't Like
  • Generally simple setup, but may require some computer networking skills and additional hardware.

If you don't have a pre-wired home network, and if retrofit wiring is too much to consider, there is another solution: wireless. As wireless technology has improved, so have the options for wireless audio distribution. It's a great way to enjoy your personal music library or other audio sources throughout your home.

The most common wireless technology is Wi-Fi. No doubt you have heard the term used for wireless networking of computers. That same technology has been finding its way into multi-room audio systems.

Broadband router Linksys Wi-Fi Wireless-G Broadband Router

Photo from Amazon

Simple and Affordable Wireless Audio Solutions

What We Like
  • Simple setup.

  • Inexpensive and expandable.

What We Don't Like
  • Adapter required for each zone.

  • Single source.

  • Reception quality depends on distance.

The simplest and most affordable way to send audio content wirelessly from one room to another is with a digital media or wireless adapter, available from a number of manufacturers. These adapters send audio signals wirelessly between two or more components, such as between a PC and a stereo receiver (or a subwoofer), or a receiver and a tabletop system.

You can enjoy wireless music almost anywhere, as long as you have a steady connection. You could also use Bluetooth to connect speakers (or even headphones) to audio sources, although it requires a few more steps to set up. But the good news is that additional adapters are relatively inexpensive and can quickly expand a system to include more rooms.

A basic media adapter made by Apple TV

Mike Panhu / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Music Over Existing Home Wiring: Power Line Carrier Technology

What We Like
  • No new wiring needed; uses existing electrical wires.

  • Great choice for retrofit installations.

  • Some systems are DIY, others require installation.

What We Don't Like
  • AC line noise might affect radio reception, usually cured with a line filter.

  • Some systems require installation of in-wall control keypads.

Power Line Carrier (PLC) technology, also known by the name HomePlug, sends stereo music and control signals throughout your home via your home's existing electrical wiring. PLC products can retrofit a whole-house music system without needing new wiring. Full systems and components are available or in development at a range of prices and features.

Powerline Audio System from IO Gear

Whole-House Music Distribution Systems

What We Like
  • Best choice for performance and flexibility.

  • Built-in stereo amps for each zone.

  • Multisource: listen to any source in any room.

  • Expandable for more zones.

What We Don't Like
  • Require professional installation and wiring of system and speakers.

  • Most costly option, depending on the size of the system and installation costs.

Whole-house music systems have a central component that sends music from selected sources (such as a CD, turntable, or radio) to each zone. It can send either line-level signals to amplifiers in each room or have built-in amplifiers and tuners. All of these systems allow you to listen to any source in any zone and can be expanded from four to eight or more zones.

The front panel of a stereo receiver showing knobs for volume and input

kyoshino / Getty Images

In-Wall & In-Ceiling Speakers for Whole-House Systems

What We Like
  • Excellent sound quality.

  • Saves floor and shelf space.

  • Can be made to visually blend with walls or living areas.

What We Don't Like
  • Involves more work, perhaps requiring professional installation and wiring.

In-wall speakers are a great idea for whole-house music systems. They offer good to excellent sound quality, don't take up any floor or shelf space like standard speakers, and can be painted to blend in with room decor and virtually disappear.

However, installing in-wall speakers involves more work. Walls must be carefully cut, and wires have to run through the walls to connect to components. Depending on the difficulty of the job, the number of speakers, and your skills, installing in-wall speakers can be a do-it-yourself project or may require the services of a custom installer or electrician.

Residential ceiling surround sound speaker
BanksPhotos / Getty Images
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