by Jeff Fisher
From giving your home theater system a boost to providing background music for your next dinner party, a whole-house audio system will definitely enhance your living experience. Here are a few keys to help ensure you design the best system to fit your needs.
1. Choose the Best System Type for Your Lifestyle
There are 2 basic system types: single-source and multi-source. A single-source system allows all zones, or rooms, to hear the same audio source (i.e., radio, CD, TV, etc.). Each zone can be set to a different volume level or be turned off. A multi-source system allows each zone to independently select and play an audio source.
There are also 2 basic wiring schemes. In traditional systems, amplifiers are located at the headend with speaker wires running to each zone. In Crescendo or A-Bus Cat-5 systems, the amplifiers are built into each keypad, and Cat-5 wire runs to each zone. Your choice of system can affect your method of wiring.
2. Determine Your Zones Beforehand
Start with a floor plan of your home. Where do you want music? For single-source systems, each pair of speakers should have a separate volume control.
For multi-source systems, determine each zone by thinking in terms of what constitutes a "listening area." A listening area is typically a single room like a bedroom, kitchen or living room. 2 rooms joined by a large door-less entry can be considered 1 zone because multiple audio sources playing in the area would compete. A typical multi-source system has 6 or fewer zones. If you have 7 to 12 zones, you'll need additional equipment.
3. Plan Your Sources and Headend Location
Choosing the audio media that you want to listen to is definitely important. You might want to consider dedicating certain components, like a CD jukebox, to your whole-house audio system. Other audio sources, such as a DVD player or satellite receiver, may be shared with your home theater system.
Your choice of audio sources will affect the location of your whole-house audio headend. Since line-level audio is one of the more difficult signals to send from room to room, you'll want your whole-house audio headend near the majority of your sources. This usually results in placing the headend with the home theater equipment.
For single-source systems, your choice of the tuner/amplifier that will be driving all zones is important. This device will provide the radio for your whole-house system, switch the whole-house system between other audio sources and amplify the signal for distribution. It should have the following features: infrared remote control, scannable preset stations with "Up" and "Down" buttons and direct preset station selection. For more information on selecting a single-source whole-house audio tuner/amplifier, including a rule of thumb for power requirements, visit our How To Wire Whole-House Audio. Do not try to use the "B" output of your home theater amplifier for your whole-house system.
For multi-source systems, you'll just need to limit the audio sources to the maximum capacity that the equipment can handle. Don't forget to add 1 or more tuners as sources.
4. Strive for a Dedicated Equipment Room or Area
With a little thought and creativity, building an efficient equipment area can eliminate the pain and aggravation of squeezing behind a shelf and trying to connect hundreds of tiny wires to hidden ports in the back of headend equipment. Try to incorporate the idea of a backless equipment rack or a design that allows rear access to the headend equipment R11; it'll make maintenance of your system extremely convenient.
5. Select Speaker Types and Locations
For the best sound, consider in-wall rectangular speakers. When properly installed, the sound quality rivals that of high-end freestanding speaker systems. In-ceiling round speakers are nearly as good. These speakers are designed to blend into your home's décor R11; leaving your living space free of clutter.
6. Pre-wire and Rough-In Before Sheet-rocking
For more information on pre-wiring, consult the headend equipment manual or our on-line How To Wire Whole-House Audio. You'll want to get this part exactly right since it is much more difficult to run wires after the sheet-rock is up.
If you have selected the exact model of speakers you'll be using (see Power and Style below), you can install rough-in brackets at this point. This will simplify speaker installation later.
7. Connect Equipment and Install Speakers After Sheet-rocking
Simply connect all equipment and install speakers per instructions.
A whole-house audio system should be a source of enjoyment, and following these simple keys will help ensure that your system is perfect for your lifestyle.
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