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.

Introduction: smart home tips for beginners

A few more things clients usually realise only in retrospect

  • many devices run on 12V instead of 220V. This means that you will need to use a power transformer. But transformers emit some noise, so you must think through where to hide your transformer and whether the noise there will bother you. Less noisy transformers are more expensive.

  • sensors are typically low voltage devices. You can have the sensors set up in a bus system or in a star network. The difference between the two is that in a bus topology, switches and sensors are, theoretically, connected to “one” wire. In a star topology, every switch and sensor (the typical inputs) has its own wire. From this description, the bus system may seem preferable because it needs fewer cables. This is not necessarily true. You should choose between the two topologies considering your needs and the size of your wallet. But star networks certainly require a lot of cables that must be run through the house. All of that wiring requires a lot of space. In today’s modern homes it is particularly challenging to ensure airtightness while running your wires through the house. What’s good for one is surely bad for the other. It’s physically impossible to have airtight sealing for a bunch of round cables running together. There are actually some solutions, but you must pay attention to the problem.

  • always get extra cables everywhere. Some things will be missing even with the most thorough planning.

  • wireless systems are all the rage now. But if your internal walls are light-weight drywalls attached to a metal framing, your home will not be particularly wireless friendly. The enclosed metal cage shields invisible waves. Reinforced concrete ceilings have the same effect. Make sure that you have cables fed through these walls and ceilings to avoid having to drill holes later.


Non-technical home-owners typically distinguish between three basic types of switches:

  • traditional switch: you can tell by looking at it that it is in the ON position. Its main disadvantage is that it’s not compatible with automatic operation. After all, the smart home can’t get up and walk over to flip the switch to the on/off position.

  • blind switch: I just call it the mouse in the wall. You hear a click when you press it, and when it’s released, it flips back to its original position. It has the advantage of allowing you to program a double click function as well (depending on your home’s system). This means that, for example, a simple dual switch can be used to produce four different scenarios.
  • multiple-switch switch: there are many different types; some even come with a built-in display. It gives you an opportunity to put even more buttons on the wall that only you will be able to use. Honestly speaking, I have yet to find one that’s really usable. Wherever we needed more buttons, we just placed several blind switches under one another.

Mounting height for switches:

  • about 120 centimeters: this is the classic height, but I have yet to figure out its benefit

  • 90 centimeters: this is where we placed the switches in our home. At this height, children can also reach the switches and get used to using them. A further advantage is that adults don’t need to raise their hand to operate the switch; you can simply hit it as you walk by.

PS for the switches: to mark the function of the switches, we bought some plain, solid-colour self-adhesive wallpaper and used craft punches. I needed the craft punch to make the shapes look nice. The buttons were given one or two moons, or one or two suns in accordance with the light intensity. Even kids understand that the two suns mean more light.

Things to know about networks

  • it makes sense to set up a gigabit network access point in every room of the house (maybe not in the restroom). Smart appliances are now appearing even for the kitchen. If they have a LAN port, always use a wired connection and not Wi-Fi. This will reduce electrosmog.

  • windows and drywalls vs Wi-Fi: you don’t really hear about this, but drywalls use metal studs, which really shield the Wi-Fi signal. The same is true for metal-framed windows. You either need to use a high-quality Wi-Fi router or be prepared to boost your Wi-Fi signal several times.

  • use static IP addresses for your devices. In larger households as many as 30-50 devices may connect to the internet. Make a list of your IP addresses for example in Google Docs to make it easy to find and update.

Coming up next: case studies by the room