Audio in the house – multi-room systems

Let’s start at the beginning: what’s the point of a multi-room audio system, such as Sonos?

Let’s start at the beginning: what’s the point of a multi-room audio system, such as Sonos? Although the home is divided into living spaces, it’s still used as a unit. Way back when, if you turned the volume of the living room radio high enough, you could hear it all over your apartment (and also next door, whether your neighbor wanted it or not). This was a simple solution to a problem you still have today: you want to listen to music while going about your business in your home. There are two distinct ways to listen to music in your home:

  • you want to hear the same music at the same volume regardless of which room you happen to be in
  • you want to listen to different music in different rooms

Music source

Online music subscriptions

Online streaming services have completely taken over as the source of music in recent years. Earlier multi-room systems focused on locally stored music. Today, the main goal is to integrate and easily manage online music subscription services (Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer).

Back in the day, when choosing what music to listen to, I used to just think about the music selection I’d collected. This changed a few years ago. Then if I heard a song I liked, I looked up the performer on Spotify, and checked out his/her songs online. More recently. I’ve started relying on online playlists created by others (such as Top ten lists). And the latest trend for me is to choose “moods” when listening to music. For example, if I want to listen to jazz when going to bed, I just start the playlist “Jazz at Night”.

Playing stored music

The storage drive is either directly connected to the multi-room system or it is linked to the network via a separate device. If you use a dedicated device, it should be DLNA-compatible, so the multiroom system can play music directly from it.

Audio via Aux input

This can be particularly practical if the Aux plug is in an easily accessible place. This connection method is typically used when the multi-room system gets the music from a guest’s cell phone.

Connecting via other wireless systems such as Bluetooth/Airplay

These methods help send the music playing on your phone to your multi-room audio system.

Where will the sound come from?

In some multi-room systems, the speaker and the receiver are built in one unit. Such devices typically cannot be built into your walls. If you have built-in ceiling speakers, they have a separate receiver and speaker output.

Before buying, you should consider the following:

  • is there room for floor standing speakers? should the speakers be standing towers, or should they be mounted on the wall or built into the wall/ceiling?
  • do you have a power source in the area where you want to put the audio system?
  • do you have a network connection or Wi-Fi signal in the area where you want to place the multi-room unit?
  • how humid is the environment? (bathroom, sauna)

Is it possible to link your multi-room system to your home theatre?

Yes, and the way to do it is to have the multi-room system set up as an audio input on the home theatre system. If you have an open concept kitchen-living room space, this setup allows you to listen to music using the multi-room system’s speakers in your kitchen and the home theatre in the living room.

How can you listen to the radio in the multi-room system?

Many multi-room systems allow you to listen to online radio stations. If yours does not, you can use your home theatre’s radio as an audio input. Unfortunately, in this case you won’t be able to change the channel with the app.

A few useful remarks from my personal experience

Now that we can control the multi-room system’s comfort functions with a simple cell phone app used much as a remote control, we’ve noticed that we listen to music much more than before. Household chores are less of a drag if you can listen to music while doing them.

PS: a low-cost multi-room system from the 1990s

Although it’s not available in my country, you can order from abroad radio transmitters strong enough to cover a 100 m diameter circle. Using this, you can provide music on a particular wave length available at every point in your home. In other words, you set up your own radio station, which can be heard by everyone around your home. This simple solution allows every musical device in your home to play the same music via this private radio station. It’s not that convenient but the outcome is just as good as it’d be with an up-to-date multi-room system.

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