If you are a home owner who loves listening to music then you might want to consider installing a so-called “whole home audio” system which would allow you to listen to music throughout your home. In the marketplace today, there two main types of whole home audio systems: professionally installed hardwired systems and do-it-yourself (DIY) wireless system which work with your computer and home WiFi network.
Both are excellent choices and the decision on which type of system to install is typically determined by your budget and whether you wish to install the whole home audio system in a new or existing home.
The New Home or Rebuild Professional Option
If you’re in the market for a new home or in the process of performing extensive renovations on an existing house then I recommend having a professionally installed whole home audio system from the likes of Creston, Nexus Audio Systems, Russound, Sonance or NuVo Technologies. These hardwired systems are best installed when a home is first being built because they require speakers, receptacles, and hundreds of feet of cable and speaker wire to be installed and fished through the walls of your home.
Hardwired systems work by plugging multiple music sources, such as radio, satellite receiver, CD player or computer, into a central controller and amplifier which then distributes the music to speakers in multiple zones throughout the home. Each zone (such installs often have between four and 12 zones) typically has a keypad, often embedded in the wall like a light switch, which enables listeners to select a music source and adjust the volume. A remote control or similar device may also be available so the source and the volume can be adjusted without leaving the couch.
While expensive to install, these elegant solutions provide a homeowner with a multi-source multi zone sound system which is unobtrusive, easy to operate and beautiful to listen to.
The Whole Home Do-it-Yourself (DIY) Solution
The good news for those of us who live in a finished home or who have a more limited budgets is there are now several lower cost do-it-yourself home whole audio solutions which work with your personal computer and home WiFi network to provide the same functionality found in hardwired whole home audio systems.
Over the last five years, I have spent a considerable amount of time researching and testing wireless home audio systems and often find myself recommending wireless music system systems from Sonos or Apple. The Sonos system uses its own hardware and only needs a personal computer for the initial setup. The Apple solution uses iTunes software on your computer and your existing home WiFi network to deliver music from your computer to various Apple Airplay receivers such as the Airport Express or Apple TV.
For music lovers on a strict budget or for those who simply wish to stream their music library to their stereo, I recommend using Apple devices. For consumers prepared to pay more I recommend the Sonos system because it offers more features and greater ease of use.
Some of the primary reasons why you might select one system over the other?
Sonos lets you direct multiple music sources to multiple zones in your home; a superior remote as well as iPad, iPhone and Android apps to select and control your music; stream Sirius satellite radio; stream unlimited subscription music services such as Rdio; control all zones in your systems at once from a central controller; Sonos Mesh network reduces the load on your existing WiFi network; the availability of amplified devices such as the Play 5 mean you don't have to have a separate amplifier for each zone; can store music on a Networked Attached Storage device so your computer does not always need to be on.
The iTunes/Apple advantage is that for once the Apple devices low cost. If you have an existing personal computer and a Wifi network then the only thing you’ll need to buy is an Apple Airport Express ($99) or Apple TV ($119) in order to stream music from your computer to your home stereo.
Because I wanted the ability to distribute multiple sources of music, including the Rdio music subscription service and Sirius Satellite Radio, to multiple zones in my home simultaneously, I chose to install the Sonos Music system.
I wanted to have the ability to control music in three zones of my home therefore I purchased three Sonos devices: the ZP 90, ZP 120 and the Play 5 for $1,450. (Check out the Sonos site for the specifications of each device). To cut down on costs, I avoided the $399 Sonos dedicated controller and installed the excellent free Android, iPhone and iPad apps which turns my smartphone or tablet into a Sonos Controller.
In my house, the ZP90 delivers music to an A/V Receiver which then powers six speakers in our family room dining room and kitchen. The ZP120, which includes its own built-in 55W stereo amplifier, is connected directly to a set of speakers in our basement rec room, while the Play 5 which has five speakers and amplifier built into a single box is discretely place in our living room.
Installation of the Sonos system was easy and any digital DIY’er who follows the instructions should have their system up and running in less than an hour. Once I had the system up and running, I handed my iPad, which was running the Sonos controller app, to my wife and kids and let them play. Within minutes they had figured out how to play music from our computer in every zone of the house as well as play music from our AM/FM Receiver, Internet Radio, the Rdio music streaming service and from Sirius satellite radio.
Traditional hardwired Whole Home Audio systems are a wonderful, albeit expensive, addition to consider if you are building a new home or extensively renovating. For the rest of us, Sonos just one of a number of wireless whole home audio systems in the marketplace today, many of which can fill the needs of most homeowners at a decent price.