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Getting Started with Multi-Room Audio Print E-mail
Monday, 01 November 2010
Article Index
Getting Started with Multi-Room Audio
PowerLine Sonos and More

If you're retrofitting your home with multi-room audio, you can still go with a wired solution, but you're probably going to be seeing quite a bit of drywall work in the near future.  Luckily, new technologies allow you to avoid this altogether.  The new kid on the block at the moment is power line audio.  Though it's still gaining ground as a networking technology, Russound, NuVo and others have introduced whole-home audio systems that run on the new tech.

Iogear Powerline
Power line is exactly what it sounds like.  Rather than installing new wires in your home, the data will travel over the wires you already have.  The hub in this case will plug in to a traditional outlet – there's no special installation needed.  Power line systems can be incredibly simple.  IOGear's GHPAKIT power line system, for example, is limited in functionality, but allows you to get audio from any electrical outlet in your house with the use of a stereo audio adapter.  Plug the adapter in, attach speakers, and you're done.  It's not the prettiest solution by any means.  Unlike higher end in-wall setups, the IOGear kit uses external adapters which don't contribute much to the look of a room.  Another big downside is that it only allows you to listen to a single device.

Russound CollageSomething like the Russound Collage gets more complicated, but far more robust.  Instead of plugging in to an existing outlet, keypads will be installed into your wall above your light switches.  It's something you'll need a professional for, of course.  Your sound may be travelling differently, but a power line audio solution is otherwise very similar to more traditional options.  It looks the same, and it works in essentially the same way as well.  The only real difference is the wires you're using.  If you've got an older home and your electrical wiring isn't quite up to snuff then Power line may not be for you.   It also presents some complications when used in an environment with multiple electrical panels.

Another thing that's important to think about when considering multi-room audio is your source.  If you want a variety of sources including CD players, tuners and other more traditional audio devices you'll have to go with one of the wired setups we've already detailed.  If your audio collection is digital, a wide variety of new options opens itself up to you.

Sonos system
The most prevalent and oft talked about of these purely digital audio solutions is the Sonos Multi-Room Music System.  That's not without good reason.  The Sonos system is an incredibly smart adaptation of wireless technology.  Instead of relying on a traditional wireless network, the Sonos creates its own mesh network.  That means that instead of one source for the wireless signal, each Sonos device acts as a repeater, carrying the signal further than would otherwise be possible. While the Sonos and other digital systems may be perfect for those with large music collections on their PC or Mac, the solution is less than optimal if you're looking something more than just streaming from iTunes.

Klipsch lightbulb speakerOne very new entry to the multi-room audio scene is the light bulb speaker.  We've only really started to see this solution show up recently, but it's got the potential to take off in the near future.  Take the Klipsch LightSpeaker system for example.  While the basic concept is the same as any wireless solution, the system forgoes traditional speakers for LED bulbs with speakers built in.  Using the included remote you can switch sources, adjust volume and, of course, adjust lighting.

It seems only natural that the idea of a light bulb speaker be combined with power line at some point in the future.  For now only wireless options are available, but it should be interesting to see what develops over the next few years. Multi-room or whole home audio is just like anything else in home theater.  There's no single solution that's going to work for everybody.  You've got to consider the aesthetics, your audio needs and even your home before jumping into your first multi-room audio solution.

What does your perfect multi-room audio setup look like?

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