Multiroom audio

Multiroom Audio Couple Dancing

In the past most of us have had a good stereo system in our home. The benefits of being able to play the music from this system all around the house are obvious and appealing. Multiroom Audio is a vital tool for those who like to entertain and also create an ambience throughout their house.

Let's face it... No-one wants to have lots of separate sound systems located all around the house, and separate media all around the house to feed them. We all want one CD player, radio, iPod, or Digital Music Library that can be shared and listened to all around the house.

The hardest part about achieving this goal is burrowing through all the sales guff and opinions and finding the system that will suit you best. If you have some idea of how Multiroom Audio works, the types of system available, and who the best people are to help; you will be well on your way. And that's exactly what this site is here for, to educate you.


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What Parts Make Up a Multiroom Audio System

Zones are the simply the rooms, or areas of your home, that the music will be distributed to. Therefore if you wish to have music in the Kitchen, it will become a 'zone'. Most Multiroom systems are defined by the amount of zones they are capable of running. For example, many manufacturers make a '4 zone' system and a '6 zone' system. Of course most systems are stackable so that you can have 2 x 6 zone systems to create 12 zones or rooms.

Most commonly a zone will have 1 pair of speakers, an amplifier, and share the source components that are available for all rooms. Some rooms or areas that are quite large may need more than 1 pair of speakers to fill the space and maintain an even sound throughout.

Sources are the devices that actually play the music. Traditionally these would be CD players and AM/FM Tuners, however these days its more common to see Digital audio devices such as a PC containing a Digital Music Library and player, iPods, Online Music Libraries, DAB Digital Radio, and internet radio.

Control is quite simply the window between you and your Multiroom Audio System. This is how you turn your system on, select something to listen to, and adjust the volume, for one zone or many. This can be done by an in-wall keypad, a local remote control, or a whole house control system. Also iPhones and iPads are fast becoming a common way to control a Multiroom Audio System

This part of the system is often the most important. Because quite simply, if the system is easy to operate, you will use it more and enjoy it more. I can't stress this enough, a well-designed system that is easy to operate for everyone in the family, will be a far better investment due to the amount of use and enjoyment it will get.

The Amplifier is a critical but usually unseen element of a Multiroom Audio System. These are electronic devices that drive the speakers in each zone and is ultimately responsible for the volume setting. All sound systems, stereos, surround sound systems, and portable audio devices have one or more amplifiers built in.

In a typical Multiroom Audio System, each zone will have an independent stereo amplifier. Depending on the style or brand of the system, the zone amplifiers will either be all in one black box, or separate and located in the 'field' or zone.

The amplifier is mostly responsible for the amount of volume (or total loudness) a system has, plus, it has a large say over the sound quality as well. In fact, one of the main differences between an inexpensive and expensive but similarly featured system, will be the amplifier quality.

Speakers are the magical part of the chain that turn electrical pulses into sound our ears can hear. Out of all of the parts of a Multiroom Music System, the speakers will have the most say over the relative sound quality. Therefore if more of your budget is spent on speakers, the better the system will sound.

It’s worth noting that if sound quality is important to you then you may wish to invest in high quality speakers for your Primary Listening System, but somewhat compromise the sound quality for the Multiroom Audio System (Secondary Listening System) for the sake of aesthetics or features. For example, your Primary Listening System may have large floor standing speakers that cost thousands of dollars. It is not likely that you (or your partner) would find it acceptable or economical to have 6 pairs of these large speakers all around your house! Especially if the pair on the Patio is there for background music while you enjoy dinner and conversation with friends.

Flush speakers are the most common style of speaker in a Multiroom Audio System and get their name by being ‘flush’ in the wall or in the ceiling (they usually protrude slightly but are far more aesthetically pleasing than a pair of floor standing speakers or wall mounted box speakers). Currently, there is nearly as large a range of flush speakers as there are box speakers. Recent developments also allow flush speakers to range from adequate and inexpensive, to very high quality and very expensive. Therefore quality doesn’t have to be completely compromised to obtain good sound performance in a discrete Multiroom Audio System.


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Types of Multiroom Audio Systems

One of the main categories of systems that you will see on the market is what I call a ‘Traditional System’.

First of all I should establish that by calling this style ‘Traditional’, I don’t mean that it’s old fashioned. It just means that the ‘architecture’ of a Traditional System has been around for a while and is well established. In fact most systems of this type that are available have very recent technology and push the technological boundaries nearly as much as the other main category, ‘Digital Systems’.

Who might buy a Traditional System..?

  • A person/family with limited computer skills
  • A person/family without a PC that’s on 24/7
  • A person/family with a large library of music on CD
  • A person/family looking for a system on a budget
  • A builder/developer providing a system as part of a home package
  • A builder/developer/person providing a system for a home that is hired or rented out
  • A person/family looking for very high audio performance
  • A person/family who wants Music Distribution to work in conjunction with Video Distribution
  • The other main category of system is Digital

    A “Digital” Multiroom Audio System is what I refer to as a system where all the audio is digitized, sent across a LAN to single amplifiers attached to a pair of speakers. The differences to a Traditional system are:

    o Amplifiers are usually separate per listening zone rather than all in one black box

    o Audio is digital rather than analog

    o The main source is usually a built-in Digital Music Library

    o Amplifiers are often in the field rather than in the central equipment location

    The complete system is very “network” based rather than stand-alone and independent. This type of system is rapidly growing market share and will typically be the choice for younger customers.

    Who might buy a Digital System..?

  • A person/family who are technologically savvy
  • A person/family who has a library of Digital Music such as iTunes
  • A person/family that wants a system scaled to their exact requirements
  • A person/family that already has a wired and/or wireless LAN
  • A person/family that wants online music libraries and internet radio easily available
  • A person/family that wants Music Distribution without Video Distribution
  • I suspect though, that if you are unfamiliar with Digital Music Libraries, then perhaps a Traditional System is more suitable to you.


    Learn more about the types of Multiroom Audio Systems



    The best resource for understanding Multiroom Audio is the eBook available here...

    CEDIA – This is the industry association for training and information regarding all things ‘Multiroom Audio’. For the consumer, there is information ragarding the manufacturers and distributors of Multiroom Audio equipment, but far more valuable that that, there is information regarding contractors that can design, supply, cable, and install a system for you. Using a CEDIA member will ensure they have the most up to date training and knowledge.