Whole House Audio on a Budget


If you fancy the idea of Whole House Audio but can't afford the "mega bucks" commercial systems there is a much cheaper alternative which gives very pleasing results.

The basic requirements for whole house audio are:-

  • Source(s) e.g. CD, Tape, Tuner.
  • Amplifier
  • Speakers
  • Remote Control
  • Distribution throughout the house

SOURCE
You (should) already have a suitable source for Whole House Audio in the form of your existing Hi-Fi system. You may even have redundant components from when you last upgraded. If not, take a look round a few "Car Boot" Sales or local secondhand shops. These are quite often a great source of older looking Hi-Fi gear e.g. Brushed Aluminium finish which whilst still perfectly servicable doesn't fit in with todays Matt Black/Dark Greyish equipment.

AMPLIFIER
You could use your existing amplifier by connecting additional speakers via a switch box but this method is not my favourite for a number of reasons

  1. All speakers are controlled by the same volume control.
    If you want it louder in the kitchen, it also gets louder in the lounge!
  2. You have to be extremely careful with the switching of the speakers to avoid overloading the amplifier.
  3. Car Boot/Secondhand amplifiers are available cheaply usually because the older style amplfiers typically had only 3 or 4 inputs.
    • Phono (not much use these days)
    • Tape
    • Tuner
    • Aux
    Whilst not much good for todays Multi AV Source systems these are ideal for Whole House Audio. The distributed source is simply fed into one input of the amp which is located in the listening room. The "spare" inputs can be used for a Local CD, Tuner, Video or TV/Satellite as required.
  4. Many different High Quality Amplifier IC's are available these days which makes it extremely easy to built superb amplifiers at low cost.
My preferred choice is for option 4.
I have built a Video Switcher which will handle upto 16 different AV sources and distribute them to as many output channels (rooms) as desired. The current design is limited to 243 channels due to the control method employed but unless you live in Buckingham Palace I am sure the design would work for you!
The next enhancement will be the add-on amplifier cards which will feature digital volume control and either a 10, 25 or 50 watt amplifier built in, or a line level output via phono or CAT5 to feed a larger or remotely located amplifier.

SPEAKERS
Once again a trip to the Car Boot/Secondhand Shop yeilds some interesting results. Numerous "Music Centres" are always on sale and whilst the actual music centre probably isn't much good the speakers are definately worth a second look. Avoid cheap black plastic cabinets with Amstrad, Bush, Fidelity, Goodmans or any Japanese sounding but unheard of name on the badge. Look instead for chipboard, plywood or MDF cabinets usually in a woodgrain finish. Many of these types of speaker cabinets are suprisingly good quality and quite powerful. A fiver spent on a pair or two of these will allow you to fill your house with sound until such time as you purchase your ideal Hi-Fi speakers. One other thing to consider is that Music Centres are usually rated at less than 20 watts per channel and consequently have Very efficient speakers with the result that a 10 watt amplifier may well be all you need.

REMOTE CONTROL
Many Remote Control extenders are available for under £100. These range from Wired systems which employ a receiver to pick up the Infra Red signals in the bedroom, send them down a cable and transmit them in the lounge to the Hi-Fi, Video, Satellite. The other type is the Radio Remote extender which uses a Universal Remote Control and sends radio signals to a reciever located near the equipment to be controlled. This then transmits the Infra Red signals required by the equipment.

DISTRIBUTION
There are several ways of distributing Whole House Audio.

  1. Radio Signals.
    Illegal in the UK and Expensive.
    Requires a receiver at each location.
  2. Line Level (Unbalanced Phono).
    Prone to noise pick-up and earth loops.
    Requires screened cable.
  3. Line Level (Balanced XLR or CAT5).
    Largly immune to hum pick up & earth loops.
    Can use unscreened cable but MUST be twisted pair.
  4. Speaker Level.
    Uses twin core cable but is subject to power loss.
    Use thick cable to minimise loss.
  5. 100 Volt Line.
    Used in commercial application but requires transformers at both speaker and amplifier. Expensive, Poorer quality, Some amplifiers dislike driving transformers.

Just a few ideas to get you thinking. More to follow as the projects develop. At the moment the biggest problem I have is lots of ideas and very little time in which to develop them.


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This page last updated : 5th October 2000