What’s Multi-room Audio & Should I Care?: Part I
Multi-room audio, also called distributed audio, is music that can be accessed and controlled at several locations throughout the home. Multi-room audio can be as simple as a second zone output found on contemporary surround sound receivers or as complex as 36+ independent audio zones with local and remote controls and even local sources in the zones.
Curious about what we're talking about when we use the word "zone"?
In distributed audio systems parlance, we don’t talk about rooms, we talk about zones. A zone certainly can be a single room, but it can also be a larger area, like a kitchen / dining room, for example, or a master suite with a bathroom and dressing area.
Multi-room audio has grown dramatically in popularity over the past several years and there are lots of different ways to get it in your home like:
- The second zone output of your surround sound receivermentioned above. You would normally have to run at least the speaker wires from the receiver to the speakers in the second zone. If you want to have control over the speakers from that zone you’d need IR [Infrared] remote control wires run unless you have an RF [radio-frequency] remote system for the receiver. This would be the most limited type of multi-room audio; but, depending on your need, might just fill the bill for you. Some surround receivers will let you choose a second source for the zone output so you could be listening to one source in the main room and a different source in the second zone.
- Wireless distribution systems like Sonos. This flexible and affordable system lets you have music wherever you want it in your house without having to run wires everywhere. It’s also a streaming system, and it gives you access to Internet radio and other sources like your computer, smart-device, or MP3 player. There are multiple control interface options as well. Very cost effective and great “bang for the buck”.
- Many of these are hard-wired systems. That means it’s easiest to install them during new construction or renovation, when the walls are open. But these also offer options for retro-fit systems that can be installed in finished homes. Depending upon the layout of the home, running wires through the basement and the attic can get distributed audio to several zones in the home without tearing into the walls. There are also a few wireless multi-room audio systems available which can make for fairly easy installation without the expense of running wires.