Multiroom Audio, Receivers, iPods and iPhone apps

I’m trying to help out my brother, who recently purchased a new home and is planning renovations. Included in his plans are wiring (or not) a variety of rooms for audio. I say “or not”, because perhaps a wireless solution would work better.

Ideally, he’d like to be able to just use an iPod as a source, plugged into a home theater 5.1 receiver with multi-zone support. The main reason for this is that it would avoid needing a computer (or NAS) running all the time to serve up music. Then there’s the fact that he’s got an old iPod with all his music sitting around, basically unused since he got an iPhone. There are plenty of receivers on the market with iPod docks, most of which also support controlling the iPod through the dock, but the issue lies in controlling the receiver. I have yet to find one which has an iPhone app that controls the receiver enough to also allow for iPod control. That’s the dream, because my brother and his wife both have iPhones, and they’d love to install an app that would allow them to control a receiver over their home network. The receiver itself could be wired or wireless, that’s fine, but it needs to have an iPod dock and ability to control the iPod through an iPhone app. Does such a component exist? My research has turned up nothing.

Then there’s pure wireless solutions as alternatives. He could go the Sonos, Squeezebox, or Airport Express/AirTunes route – all of which need a media serving device to run their software. He has an older Windows laptop he might be able to repurpose for this. He won’t like the Squeezebox choice, because he wants to put in in-wall speakers and not standalone boxes like the Squeezebox Wi-Fi Radio. The Sonos ZonePlayer 120 hooked up to his in-wall speakers would work, but is rather pricey at $599 a box. On the plus side, Sonos does have an iPhone app, and does something that an Airport Express solution can’t: stream different music to different zones. On the down side: price. And finally, there’s the Apple solution. The AirPort Express’s main pluses are that it would act as a range booster for his WiFi network, and that it’s inexpensive. But we’d need to get powered in-wall speakers, or some kind of power source/amplifier for the in-walls to which the AirPort Expresses could be attached. Do powered in-wall speakers exist at a reasonable price, or low-profile mini amps of some kind?

Finally, my brother does have a Sirius (US) account, which he got when he was living in the States, so it would be nice to have a solution that supports that, too, but it’s not a deal breaker.

So, I’m open to suggestions. I’m leaning towards an iTunes/AirPort Express/free Remote iPhone app solution right now. I figure that he can use the old laptop as a rudimentary HTPC (he doesn’t know he wants this, but I’ll convince him he does), and serve the same song to multiple zones with a few AirPort Expresses; if he wants to do different songs, then he can always serve them from his newer laptop. The issue is I don’t know what to do about speakers/amplifiers for the in-walls.


My advice? Don’t design the solution against today’s tech. Find something workable, but there will be constant evolution and better things coming out.

I would lean toward your solution also.

No chance he could run all his speaker wire back to a central wiring closet, is there? I’m no audiophile, so I’m not sure if that’s heresy or just a bad idea.

Take a look here for some items that might match your tastes. Bose also has a few items. Phone a couple of local electricians and find out what parts they would use, residential electricians specializing in high end homes. Give them a price range and they’ll tell you what parts are available to you, go out and buy them yourself or you might even be able to get them cheaper through the electrician if you give him a kickback for buying them using his wholesales licence. You can likely install them yourself, just don’t damage the wires by god. Get an actual low voltage stapler for $10 and do it right without pinching the wire.

What’s you’re price range?

What do you mean by powered in wall speakers? Wireless? They have an amp installed? Yes they exist, you’d be moving into the realm of commercial speakers used in things like banks though, they’re pricey and I’m not sure what an audiophile would think of them. You’d be much better off IMO getting nice recessed speakers with speaker wire running back to a home theatre system.

Edit: I’m not sure you’ll find all the items you want through the web, I’m noticing items that I’ve installed from Bose that aren’t listed on their website, or are hidden somewhere. Definitely contact some contractors to get ideas about products, just don’t tell them you’re not going to use them. They do this for a living and should be an encyclopedia of knowledge.

Thanks for the links, Morberis. My brother has already had a consultation with his alarm installer who has branched into home automation/sound and we’re expecting a quote from him. I think he deals in either Crestron or Leviton, so that first link is excellent. The problem is, there’s no pricing at the Leviton site. I noted that on the Bose site, a pair of in ceiling speakers goes for $750. I consider that insane, but I actually don’t know what my brother’s budget for this is. I’ll find out, but I’ve been operating on the “do it as cheaply as possible” assumption. Would you happen to know how much a pair of Leviton’s cheapest in-ceiling speakers (the 6.5" ones, I assume) go for typically? US prices are fine.

The in-walls (or in-ceilings) don’t have to be wireless, but they will need to be powered, the idea that they would need to be attached to an AirPort Extreme in each room that they’re located.

Oh, as a final comment: my brother isn’t much of an audiophile. I am, but he is much more about the aesthetic and the convenience. If he were an audiophile, in-wall/ceiling would be rejected.

XPav, I wish there was a simpler solution today, and I’m sure what I’m envisioning (multi-zone receiver, iPod dock with control, iPhone app to control receiver and iPod dock) is coming soon, if it doesn’t already exist. The problem is that wiring decisions need to be made soon, and I’d hate for him to incur wiring costs that end up being unnecessary.

If you really need to get the wiring for it in now, here’s what we do for the high end houses I wire up. 1 speaker cable from each location down to, usually the utility room, but where you plan on having the home theatre system. Each room gets 1 voice control cable (cat5e) from where you want the volume control down to the home theatre system. Label everything. You might also want to run 1 cat 5e from the system to wherever the router is stored. Also sometimes we do 1 speaker wire to a convenient location in the room so that plug in speakers or headphones can be attached there.

I’m not sure why you’d have them attach to the airport extreme, the cost of the router is definitely going to be more than the price of the wiring if you do it yourself.

Also unfortunately a home theatre system that can handle many rooms does not come cheap… I’m not sure what the speakers cost, I don’t deal with the money, but a call down to a few electrical wholesalers will reveal that to you. Ask for the price available to you, if they will deal with you, and to a someone with a licence. I don’t know how it is with stuff like that but with tools it costs my almost 50% less to buy them under my bosses licence. Self amplified speakers are expensive though, mainly being sold to businesses and rich people with weird requirements. That $750 looks believable.

This is also a good time to install some piping in the wall to run from the dvd system to where the tv will be, the recessed plug you want is called an arlington 2 gang box. You will need to connect one half of it, the one with 1/2 holes, to the plug circuit so you can power the tv. What we use is a flexible ridged pipe called coreline, get the 1 inch variety so you can fit more cables through - it’ll also be easier to fish through. You’ll need a 1 inch connector for the arlington and you’ll need to expand the 3/4 hole to 1 inch to make it work. Avoid putting too many bends in the coreline, the more degrees it has the harder it’ll be, 360 degress is good rule of thumb for the practical limit on how much you can fish through, though 270 will still be a bitch. Where you want them wires to feed from, where you have the dvd player, you will want a 2 gang MPLS ring, the coreline will dump out either right above this or right beside it.

How are the speakers supposed to hook up to the Airport extreme? You want networked speakers? I don’t think I’ve heard of that before. Running a cat5e cable to where you want to stick some wireless extenders might be your best bet? I’ve done that before, office style.

Edit: Out of the two Levitron is usually cheaper than Crestron, though Crestron is “higher quality”. Also, as always get a second opinion from a second contractor. Each contractor usually has their preferred brands and models, which may not be to your preferences or needs.

Edit 2: This is also a good time to make sure that you have 18-6 (18 is the size of the wire, AWG, and the 6 is the number of conductors) running from the furnace to the Themostat. And maybe 4 satellite (coax) home runs from whereever looks like a good location on the roof to the utility room, or where ever the other low voltage (internet, tv) home runs go. That’ll leave enough for 2 HD set top boxes and will definitely improve the resale value of the house.