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Create A Common Source Multi-Zone Audio System


by Jeff Fisher

This wiki offers many tutorials that have covered the basics of whole house audio wiring, & some design tips.

This article will focus on what we call a multi-room, common source system. This means, I want the all rooms to play the same music. This type of system is for people who share the same tastes in music or home owners that do not have the budget for a multi-zone multi-source system.

Regardless of what system you choose to integrate into you home, the pre-wire for this or any other system remains the same. Run wires for Whole House Audio as described in step 3 of What Wire To Put In When Building A House.

Image

You may think that all you need is a speaker selector switch and an amplifier. But there are problems with this type of system. The speaker selector switch does provide three important things:

  • a way of turning each zone on and off,
  • speaker impedance matching (amplifier protection),
  • and a physical junction (a way to connect multiple speaker wires).


You need all of these to occur, but this arrangement has several shortcomings:

  • You can't turn the sound on and off from each room. It may not seem like much, but running back and forth to the amp to turn speakers on and off can be a drag. Imagine cranking up the whole-house audio then having someone yell at you from a bedroom that they were trying to sleep and can't even turn the sound off!
  • You can't control volume independently in each room. You may not see this as a problem, but differences in room size, room acoustics (which can be affected by everything, up to and including furnishings), and speaker efficiencies, can easily make the apparent sound level vastly different in each room. You would have to turn down the master volume to a level based on the loudest room. All other rooms would have a lower-than-desired audio level.


Let us suggest an arrangement that solves these problems; local volume controls in each room, and a wiring block to tie everything together. If you wired the way we suggested in step 3 of What Wire To Put In When Building A House, it won't take any more work and will provide much greater functionality.

Image

The recommended parts are:

  • JB1 or JB2. This device provides the physical junction to split the one output from the main amp into six outputs to go to the volume controls. The JB1 is for people who are splitting the cables in a closet or the back of a cabinet where it will not be exposed or out in the open. The JB2 is a nicer wall plate form factor for people who ran their cables in the wall to a home theater location. Note: the JB2 is not a decora format, (it cannot be ganged together with other decora devices).
  • Image A Volume Control. Use impedance matching volume controls. They offer several setting to protect your amplifier when running multiple sets of speakers. Turing the volume control all the way to the left turns off the associated speakers.
  • A Stereo Amplifier. We recommend a high current amplifier such as Onkyo, Denon or Yamaha. These amps are better suited for running many pairs of speakers at the same time. They are also stable at 4 to 6 Ohms.
  • We recommend that you buy a separate amplifier to power your whole-house audio system. See Why You Should Not Use Your Home Theater Amp For Whole-House Audio for our reasoning.

To set up the whole-house amp, simply split each audio source you want to be able to play on the whole house system with two audio "Y" cables. Run one L+R audio to the home theater and the other L+R audio to the whole-house amp.

To adjust the master volume (the one one the amplifier), go to the room with the lowest apparent sound (large room, heavy carpeting, drapes, etc.) and turn the local volume control all the way up. Put on some music and adjust the master volume until the music in the test room is as loud as you would ever want it to be. Then tape the master volume control down, or mark this "standard" position in some way. Now each room should be able to turn the sound up as loud as they desire.

Jeff(external link)

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