Whole House Audio Buyer’s Guide

It used to be that the only way to get music to more than one room of your home was to hire a custom installer, punch holes in your drywall to run CAT5 cable from room to room, install in-wall or in-ceiling speakers, and purchase a complicated multi-zone receiver and a high-end remote control. While this is still a good way to go, however, and often offers the best quality possible for a whole-home solution, it can be costly and is unrealistic and intimidating for many a homeowner. If you fall into that group, take heart: There are many manufacturers that are now catering to folks like you who want a virtually plug-and-play whole-house audio solution. And at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, a few more manufacturers threw their hat into the ring.

For example, Cisco: The company entered the world of home audio at the expo, announcing their Linksys by Cisco Wireless Home Audio system, which uses your Wi-Fi network to stream music to its various components, which can be placed in multiple zones throughout your home. We won’t bore you with a list of the half-dozen models you can pick from to customize your system, but they range from speakers to controllers to digital music centers to players for each room. The system will allow you to play music from various sources such as your computer or the new Linksys by Cisco Media Hub. An LCD controller manages the whole shebang. A reasonably good option, the system will compete with other whole-home audio packages, such as Sonos’ popular offerings.

Linksys by Cisco Wireless Home Audio System

Linksys by Cisco Wireless Home Audio System

Speaking of Sonos, the company just introduced their latest ZonePlayer, the ZP120, which offers advances in power supply design, amplifier engineering, and design to make it the smallest multi-room amp in its power class, according to the manufacturer. It is significantly smaller (and cuter) than the previous iteration, ZP100. If you’re unfamiliar with the Sonos system, it was one of the first plug-and-play multi-room audio systems on the market, and came at a relatively cheap price point considering what was available before that: Complex systems that needed to be professionally installed.

Sonos ZonePlayer ZP120

Sonos ZonePlayer ZP120

Another great way to get music wafting through the walls of your home is through your electrical sockets. Arkados, a company that makes HomePlug-based technology, embeds its technology inside various audio components, allowing them to eschew traditional speaker wiring to connect music sources to speakers. Rather, these devices connect by sending signals through existing power lines in the home. Take Russound’s new Collage system, which offers users whole house audio (plus video surveillance and intercom functionality) with zero new wires being introduced into their home’s infrastructure. Pretty swell, especially for us design-conscious folk.

Nuvo RenoviaNuVo’s Renovia also uses HomePlug technology to get audio pumping to various zones of your home. It too uses A/C wiring to distribute music and metadata throughout the house. A central hub sends the music to several in-wall amplifiers in various zones of your home. It’s as simple as that. The HomePlug technology is so convenient, lighting company Checkolite has also partnered with Arkados to develop a system that combines lighting with multiroom audio – these products will be marketed under the iHome brand.

Of course, the iPod has been very influential in the multi-room audio industry as of late. Just take a look at the IntelliTouch EOS digital wireless whole-house audio speaker system designed for the ubiquitous device. The system uses Wi-Fi to connect the home base with up to four sets of wireless speakers in a range of up to 150 feet. Just plug in your iPod to the dock in the home base, and you can stream music to the various sets of speakers throughout your home.

IntelliTouch isn’t the only one specializing in wireless audio technologies. In fact, iSymphony won accolades as a CES Innovations Honoree this year for its wireless multi-room audio solution. The W2 Audio System ($300) comprises a wireless main unit and wireless stereo speakers. You can use the main unit to send music to patio, bedroom, or kitchen—provided they are outfitted with a set of speakers.

IntelliTouch EOS

IntelliTouch EOS

The problem with many plug-and-play wholehouse audio systems, however, is that the audio is often… questionable. When in doubt, look to Thiel, whose reputation in the audiophile world is enough to make its new zöet IP-based multiroom distribution system worth seeking out. Available in April, the system uses your existing sources to send audio to IP-addressable SCS4D powered speakers (a subwoofer is also available) that can be placed in various rooms throughout your home. The speakers connect to the zöet’s dB1 processor, and the rest is history.

As you can see, music lovers have plenty of choices when it comes to simple solutions for streaming audio or enjoying their favorite songs in any room of the house – a fact that should have any true audiophile humming a happy tune.