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#368571 - 05/04/2017 18:48 Whole home audio
Dignan
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/03/2000
Posts: 11917
Loc: Sterling, VA
What would you folks install for a whole-home audio system these days? I'm using Chromecast/Chromecast Audio but that's because all my walls are closed up and I'm cheap. What would you recommend for new construction? I've seen a few systems with wall-mounted keypads, but they all seem pretty out of date, only allow for volume control from the keypad, and have limited playback controls.

A while back, I set my mother up with a Sonos system. She has speakers in four rooms of her house, so I used a Connect:Amp to drive all of them for a single zone. That's because those things are super expensive. It seems silly to install speakers all over a house, then hook up four Connect:Amps in the network closet, sitting on top of each other. What's the better solution, particularly with streaming audio services?
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#368574 - 06/04/2017 03:03 Re: Whole home audio [Re: Dignan]
Dignan
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/03/2000
Posts: 11917
Loc: Sterling, VA
I've been researching this all afternoon, and so far I've concluded that these are the options (for a six-zone system, for example):

1- High-end system from a company like Legrand, NuVo, Control4 (through an installer), etc. These are pricey and not user friendly.

2- Monoprice has a very inexpensive system here. 6 zones, supposedly good sound. But actually controlling anything you'd want to play seems annoying to me.

3- Sonos Connect:Amps for each zone. Very user friendly but super expensive. 6 zones would cost $3K.

4- Six Chromecast Audios plugged into six stereo amps. This looks ridiculous in my head, but in practice it should be one of the easier systems to use, and probably the cheapest. It would just look like crap in the closet.

The systems I keep coming across for options 1 or 2 all look so antiquated. They feel like they were designed to control little more than a CD player. I'm amazed that none of these systems have been brought into the 2010's with updated electronics. I could see something like that Monoprice unit being really impressive with the right software, and if I could control playback for streaming services from the wall controls.
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#368576 - 06/04/2017 04:09 Re: Whole home audio [Re: Dignan]
K447
addict

Registered: 29/05/2002
Posts: 607
Loc: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Why put all the gear in a closet? Is it a requirement that the speakers be inside the walls or ceilings?

If powered speakers in each room (meaning not in the walls) is acceptable then the closet doesn't need to exist, for the audio stuff anyways.

My own audio gear per room has become simplified to (decent quality) powered speakers with a compact WiFi audio or Bluetooth box tucked behind or on top. Only thing going to the wall is a power cord. Very easy to move as the room gets redecorated and furniture changes or the room usage shifts.

I can imagine using an integrated amplified sound bar even when there is no TV in the room, if the sound bar fits with the decor demands.

I have reached the point where the only thing I run inside walls is ethernet cabling, to every room. And more than one per room. Cables can fail so some are for redundancy. Sometimes room functions change over time making it useful to have 'spare' network cables going to 'unallocated' walls and rooms.

Even with current mesh WiFi gear there are times where the better method is a wired connection. CAT5e (CAT6 now) can also carry HDMI or USB if needed.

My current house had in wall 'speaker' wiring running to multiple rooms along with in-wall 'volume controls'. And a centralized amplifier location. All of it has been abandoned/retired now.


Edited by K447 (06/04/2017 04:16)

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#368577 - 06/04/2017 04:37 Re: Whole home audio [Re: K447]
K447
addict

Registered: 29/05/2002
Posts: 607
Loc: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Tip for hiding compact electronic gear 'in' a room yet have it be effectively invisible.

Install a return air ventilation grill, but behind the grill is a hollow wall cavity. The grill is sized to match the cavity wall opening. Frame the cavity within the wall structure as needed and run speaker/input/control wires to wherever needed.

Creative AC outlet locating (per local codes) and you have the electronics equipment hidden in the wall but fully accessible from the room via the grill panel.

Use screws as per normal to attach the vent grill over the equipment cavity or install vent with a hinge. The vent grill provides plenty of ventilation for the equipment yet can be painted to match the wall color, melding it into the wall visually.

Essentially a small equipment closet right in the room.


Edited by K447 (06/04/2017 04:39)

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#368578 - 06/04/2017 05:33 Re: Whole home audio [Re: K447]
drakino
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/06/1999
Posts: 7867
Loc: Seattle, WA
Originally Posted By: K447
I can imagine using an integrated amplified sound bar even when there is no TV in the room, if the sound bar fits with the decor demands.

Just ordered this for delivery on Monday : Playbase.

I'm sold on Sonos at this point. Getting a tour of their business eroded the last of my resistance. To me the cost is well justified, and will likely keep my lifetime audio TCO lower. Wireless helps keep it flexible in my apartment living situations, and would work well if I settle into a house again. Having the speaker + system as one unit is nice too, since the Sonos speakers are really good quality.

The Wirecutter does have a good what's coming up section for possibilities from other vendors. For me, I have enough confidence Sonos will survive or be acquired by someone like Apple preserving my investment.
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#368583 - 06/04/2017 14:24 Re: Whole home audio [Re: drakino]
BartDG
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/05/2001
Posts: 2530
Loc: Bruges, Belgium
I've always used Sonos (for more than 10 years now) and I agree they have a very good product, albeit pretty expensive. I even kept Sonos in mind when I built my house and had ethernet and speaker cable connections in every room (and room to hide away the connect:amp, mostly in closets), just to be sure it's mesh network would work optimally. Of course, now we have smart phones and wifi and so all my Connect:Amps ended up on top of each other on a shelf in my tech room. I agree with Matt this looks silly.
I would much rather have it that Sonos would release a rack-mountable solution that would harbor 4 or 8 zones. Kind of like Denon does with their Heos series.

Another department where Sonos fails miserably (and it's by choice), is its virtually non-existent way to integrate it with a home automation system. Sure, there are ways, but they have always been achieved by reverse engineering and never get any support from Sonos.
Sonos also doesn't support Airplay. And never will because it's hardware design is too old, trapping them somewhat because upgrading their hardware would make the new hardware incompatible with their older systems. Of course that would not be a good thing for them. For this same reason the maximum number of tracks on a Sonos system is 32768. This cannot be upgraded for the same compatibility reason I mentioned earlier.

It's for all these reasons combined I've started to look out for alternatives. Like eg. the aforementioned Denon Heos system, or CasaTunes. Because there are other systems. It's just that Sonos has a helluva good advertising department and these days they've somewhat completely swamped the market. But they do have nice products which function extremely well, be it with some flaws.
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#368584 - 06/04/2017 14:35 Re: Whole home audio [Re: Dignan]
DWallach
carpal tunnel

Registered: 30/04/2000
Posts: 3682
I went digging and found a reasonable review for Chromecast Audio in a multiroom setup. Reading it through, it's easy to see how you can do a lot. Pair it with an amp and speakers. Pair it with a cheap (or not so cheap) pair of powered speakers. There are even a few vendors selling powered speakers with Chromecast Audio support built in (not reviewed in that article, but still there). Here's a second review that points to some hiccups, but also notes that Apple's Airplay also isn't working so well these days.

The biggest downside to Chromecast Audio, and it's quite a bummer, is that you can't do the multiroom audio thing through a video Chromecast stick. That's annoying because you might want to use an existing television as a audio streaming source. Presumably, it's just a matter of software for them to do this, making it inexplicable that they're not doing it. Maybe, maybe, it's something weird with the way licensing works for HDMI.

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#368588 - 07/04/2017 03:22 Re: Whole home audio [Re: DWallach]
Dignan
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/03/2000
Posts: 11917
Loc: Sterling, VA
Originally Posted By: K447
Why put all the gear in a closet? Is it a requirement that the speakers be inside the walls or ceilings?

There has to be a network closet anyway, and yes, many people prefer in-wall/ceiling speakers which often have better audio quality, don't have cords running around, don't need to be placed on anything, etc.

Originally Posted By: K447
My current house had in wall 'speaker' wiring running to multiple rooms along with in-wall 'volume controls'. And a centralized amplifier location. All of it has been abandoned/retired now.

I get it, but there's no reason to retire all of it. The volume controls could be bypassed and blank plates put over them, giving you all the control inside the closet where you could use a streaming device of some sort to handle everything. I'd love to have speakers built into every room of my home.

Originally Posted By: K447
Tip for hiding compact electronic gear 'in' a room yet have it be effectively invisible.

Install a return air ventilation grill, but behind the grill is a hollow wall cavity. The grill is sized to match the cavity wall opening. Frame the cavity within the wall structure as needed and run speaker/input/control wires to wherever needed.

I like your spy craft! I might have to think about this kind of setup for my basement, where everything comes into a Bell Atlantic box inset into the stud bay. It's a weird thing from 1999.

Originally Posted By: drakino
I'm sold on Sonos at this point.

I'm with you. Sonos is pricey but you get a great product for it. Well designed, sounds really good, and does the multi-room streaming better than anyone. The wireless aspect is perfect for post-construction or apartment dwellers.

I may consider Sonos in the future because of its Chromecast support, which is a huge deal since Sonos is so very terrible at podcasts.

Originally Posted By: Archeon
I would much rather have it that Sonos would release a rack-mountable solution that would harbor 4 or 8 zones. Kind of like Denon does with their Heos series.

This surprises me too, especially considering how many new construction homes I come across with a Sonos in it. I have several customers who opted for a Sonos system to be installed as an upgrade. A multi-zone controller makes so much sense. Even just a two-zone unit so you could get exactly the number you need while cutting down on a little bit of the silliness.

Originally Posted By: DWallach

It's a definite option, frankly. The main problem is that it looks even stupider than a stack of Sonos Connect:Amps. You'd have the row of amps, and a row of Chromecasts, and all the wires that go to power and connect all of them. It would be insanity, but I'd have to think it would just work, and work better than most of these systems that scream "1997." What inexpensive amp would you pair with such a system?

Quote:
The biggest downside to Chromecast Audio, and it's quite a bummer, is that you can't do the multiroom audio thing through a video Chromecast stick.

I've wondered about that too. I'm really not sure why you can't. The upside is that a Chromecast Audio is $35, so you could always add one to the unused "CD" input on your receiver laugh
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#368589 - 07/04/2017 03:27 Re: Whole home audio [Re: Dignan]
Dignan
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/03/2000
Posts: 11917
Loc: Sterling, VA
By the way, I should give an update about my Chromecast experiences.

A while back, I posted here about how miserable my Chromecast experience was. About how I would constantly get drops and other weird behavior. Well, as far as I can tell it looks like they've ironed out a lot of the kinks. I don't think I've had those problems lately at all (*knocks on wood*). Hopefully they're a thing of the past.

Since my last post, I've gotten a Google Home, which sits on my Kitchen windowsill. We play music on it almost every day, whether its the local classical radio station (played through TuneIn with "Hey Google, play WETA"), or a Raffi playlist for my toddler. We also have a Chromecast Audio plugged into speakers hidden above the cabinets on the opposite side of the kitchen. I have a Cast group called "Kitchen" that includes the Home and the Chromecast Audio, so "Hey Google, play Raffi in the Kitchen" surrounds us with pleasant Canadian kids' music. Or, we play "Don't Bring Me Down" because my son loves it smile
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#368590 - 07/04/2017 06:05 Re: Whole home audio [Re: Dignan]
Dignan
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/03/2000
Posts: 11917
Loc: Sterling, VA
This is what I'm talking about. Everything about this seems like an old fashioned device that's had stuff added on over the years in an attempt to bring it a little more up to date. It's...fine. But I'd still need to put either a Chromecast Audio or an Airport Express on one or more of those inputs.

But that's basically what I'm seeing in most of these products.

Casatunes does seem to be using streaming services for inputs, so that's something...


Edited by Dignan (07/04/2017 06:15)
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#368591 - 07/04/2017 08:06 Re: Whole home audio [Re: Dignan]
BartDG
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/05/2001
Posts: 2530
Loc: Bruges, Belgium
CasaTunes has now recently released their new MusicBox6 system. It's a bit like what you are referring too. Strangely enough they don't advertise about it on their main site, but rather made a separate site for it.

Basically, all CasaTunes' stuff is just rebranded Dayton Audio material, but with their smart software on it (which makes all the difference).
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#368592 - 07/04/2017 11:48 Re: Whole home audio [Re: Dignan]
mlord
carpal tunnel

Registered: 29/08/2000
Posts: 13586
Loc: Canada
Exposed wiring an issue? Nah.. wink
One corner of my home office, with the "sound system".


Attachments
office.jpg

Description: Amp near centre of photo.



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#368593 - 07/04/2017 12:38 Re: Whole home audio [Re: mlord]
K447
addict

Registered: 29/05/2002
Posts: 607
Loc: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Wall mounting small electronics stuff really does make a difference.

If I can avoid stacking electronic stuff on a shelf, or not even have a shelf, so much the better. Especially for gear that is not going to change in configuration very often.

I have been known to just poke screws straight into the drywall for equipment mounting, with nary a plastic plug, but a section of wall mounted plywood makes it easier to rejigger locations as needs evolve. I sometimes paint the board wall colour, if the opportunity arises.

Tucking the equipment inside a closet (perhaps with modest ventilatation), I will install an LED lighting strip so I can see what I am looking at when working in there. Which hopefully is not often.

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#368594 - 07/04/2017 13:04 Re: Whole home audio [Re: K447]
Roger
carpal tunnel

Registered: 18/01/2000
Posts: 5545
Loc: London, UK
Originally Posted By: K447
I have been known to just poke screws straight into the drywall for equipment mounting, with nary a plastic plug, but a section of wall mounted plywood makes it easier to rejigger locations as needs evolve. I sometimes paint the board wall colour, if the opportunity arises.


I vertically mounted a bunch of fibreboard to the shelving rails in my study.
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#368595 - 07/04/2017 14:00 Re: Whole home audio [Re: BartDG]
Dignan
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/03/2000
Posts: 11917
Loc: Sterling, VA
Originally Posted By: Archeon
CasaTunes has now recently released their new MusicBox6 system. It's a bit like what you are referring too. Strangely enough they don't advertise about it on their main site, but rather made a separate site for it.

Hey now, that's getting awfully close to what I'm looking for. If I'm understanding this thing correctly, it'll offer four streaming inputs, including Airplay from multiple people in the house? That's pretty fantastic... This might be a winner here.

Quote:
Basically, all CasaTunes' stuff is just rebranded Dayton Audio material, but with their smart software on it (which makes all the difference).

I like both parts of that. I hear good things about Dayton Audio's speakers too (I assume it's the same company). And if the software is good I'm fine with someone putting their own stuff on a rebranded product. I have more confidence in that than I do when a hardware company starts trying their hand at software.
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#368596 - 07/04/2017 15:28 Re: Whole home audio [Re: K447]
mlord
carpal tunnel

Registered: 29/08/2000
Posts: 13586
Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: K447
I have been known to just poke screws straight into the drywall for equipment mounting, with nary a plastic plug, but a section of wall mounted plywood makes it easier to rejigger locations as needs evolve.


I have that strip of pine running 11' across the wall above the tables, with a small shelf affixed to the top of it for mice, keyboards, lens cloths, etc. The entire assembly uses just four screws into the studs, so fewer holes to patch next time the space is rearranged.

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#368597 - 07/04/2017 19:48 Re: Whole home audio [Re: BartDG]
DWallach
carpal tunnel

Registered: 30/04/2000
Posts: 3682
Originally Posted By: Archeon
Basically, all CasaTunes' stuff is just rebranded Dayton Audio material, but with their smart software on it (which makes all the difference).

If I was building an in-wall multiroom system where all the speaker wires came to a central location, I'd be tempted to get a "dumb" multizone amplifier (Dayton seems to make several of these) and then hook up an array of Chromecast Audio dongles.

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#368598 - 07/04/2017 22:09 Re: Whole home audio [Re: Dignan]
sein
old hand

Registered: 07/01/2005
Posts: 889
Loc: Sector ZZ9pZa
I do quite a lot of residential projects, working on everything from a couple of Connect:amps to huge Control4 systems.

There are rack mount solutions for SONOS products that work well, you can see some of these on this Instagram account: https://instagram.com/ssavprojects

A similar albeit higher end alternative is Bluesound. While it may look like a me too product, the proof really is in the sound quality.

If you do really like Chromecast Audio, take a look at the NAD CI 980 and CI 940. With one of each and six Chromecasts you would be done.
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#368599 - 08/04/2017 15:39 Re: Whole home audio [Re: sein]
BartDG
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/05/2001
Posts: 2530
Loc: Bruges, Belgium
Originally Posted By: sein

There are rack mount solutions for SONOS products that work well, you can see some of these on this Instagram account: https://instagram.com/ssavprojects[/url]

I'm sorry, but I wouldn't call that a rack mount solution. It's more like multiple Sonos units on a rack. smile

Originally Posted By: sein

If you do really like Chromecast Audio, take a look at the NAD CI 980 and CI 940. With one of each and six Chromecasts you would be done.

Then you could just as well buy a Dayton Audio MA1260 and be done with it in one unit and half the price. wink
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#368600 - 08/04/2017 15:56 Re: Whole home audio [Re: sein]
K447
addict

Registered: 29/05/2002
Posts: 607
Loc: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Originally Posted By: sein
I do quite a lot of residential projects, working on everything from a couple of Connect:amps to huge Control4 systems.

...
Is there such a thing as an in-wall speaker with integrated amplifier?

I would love to have in-wall speakers where the only wired connection is to AC power. The rest would be digital wireless, including speaker pairing for stereo, room coverage, etc. All configurable by an app.

AC power is generally available somewhere within ceilings and walls, sometimes with minimal distance cable run required. No need for home run speaker wiring if the speakers are wireless and have amplification. Sure would change the game for retro-fitting in-wall speakers.

There are electrical standards to be met, of course, but a well designed speaker enclosure could provide the necessary safeguards.

This sort of thing punts on the AC power aspect, forcing use of a visible outlet near the speaker or routing DC power wires to elsewhere in the house. What I am imagining would install like a pot lamp, entirely wired within the ceiling at that location. Not even a wall switch or wall plate control/amp module.


Edited by K447 (08/04/2017 16:09)

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#368601 - 08/04/2017 22:37 Re: Whole home audio [Re: BartDG]
sein
old hand

Registered: 07/01/2005
Posts: 889
Loc: Sector ZZ9pZa
Originally Posted By: Archeon
Originally Posted By: sein

There are rack mount solutions for SONOS products that work well, you can see some of these on this Instagram account: https://instagram.com/ssavprojects

I'm sorry, but I wouldn't call that a rack mount solution. It's more like multiple Sonos units on a rack. smile

There are some freestyle solutions in there for specific locations, but if you keep scrolling you'll find some actual 19 inch rack solutions too.







Originally Posted By: Archeon
Originally Posted By: sein

If you do really like Chromecast Audio, take a look at the NAD CI 980 and CI 940. With one of each and six Chromecasts you would be done.

Then you could just as well buy a Dayton Audio MA1260 and be done with it in one unit and half the price. wink

Sure you can. There is audio gear for every price point.


Attachments
DSC_0004.JPG (136 downloads)
DSC_0791.JPG (134 downloads)
DSC_0892.JPG (145 downloads)

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#368602 - 08/04/2017 22:41 Re: Whole home audio [Re: sein]
BartDG
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/05/2001
Posts: 2530
Loc: Bruges, Belgium
Ah, didn't see those pics, thanks for that! However, I still don't think that's a true rack based solution, but I do agree it's nicely done. Probably the best somebody may expect with the limited options there are.

Originally Posted By: sein
Originally Posted By: Archeon
Originally Posted By: sein

If you do really like Chromecast Audio, take a look at the NAD CI 980 and CI 940. With one of each and six Chromecasts you would be done.

Then you could just as well buy a Dayton Audio MA1260 and be done with it in one unit and half the price. wink

Sure you can. There is audio gear for every price point.


I agree that NAD is a very good brand and very likely the better compared to Dayton Audio. On the other hand, what the amp needs to do here is to amplify chromecasts (so wireless signal for compressed audio) for in-wall speakers. I doubt you'll hear a difference in this user case.
But in any other HiFi use case, with some serious speakers being used, I would agree whole heartedly to go for the NAD.
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#368603 - 09/04/2017 03:39 Re: Whole home audio [Re: BartDG]
Dignan
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/03/2000
Posts: 11917
Loc: Sterling, VA
Thanks, Hussein! That's some great stuff you're working with there. I've worked with a colleague on a Control4 install and it's some impressive stuff. I don't like their UI or remote much, but I know the capabilities are impressive.

I've also seen those rack mount solutions before. Do they basically make those plates for all common kinds of components? I've seen ones for the odd shapes of the XBoxes and Playstations. The way they sit in there has always reminded me of trophies. Like someone shot and killed an XBox and have mounted its head in a rack laugh


Originally Posted By: Archeon
Originally Posted By: sein

If you do really like Chromecast Audio, take a look at the NAD CI 980 and CI 940. With one of each and six Chromecasts you would be done.

Then you could just as well buy a Dayton Audio MA1260 and be done with it in one unit and half the price. wink

Ooo, now you definitely have me thinking about my own home audio situation. I'd love to have one of these and run speaker wire to a bunch of zones in my home. For me, Chromecast Audios would be sufficient. For most people, though, they'll need something that supports Airplay. I guess I could do the same thing with a bunch of Airport Express units, but you'd loose that synchronized playback.

Looks like Google is the way to go for the cheapest solution, but CasaTunes would be the winner for least expensive Airplay option. Interesting.
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#368632 - 15/04/2017 22:44 Re: Whole home audio [Re: Dignan]
Waterman981
old hand

Registered: 14/02/2002
Posts: 804
Loc: Salt Lake City, UT
Very interesting thread, and I'm making notes of some of these.

I bought my house with 8 zones already installed. It was all done very simply, and currently everything gets the Zone 2 output from my receiver. I only have the speaker wires running to the volume controls, and nothing else (but wouldn't have too hard of at time running cat6). All the wire centralizes already in my utility room where I have my server rack, and network run to. I've just finished my basement, adding 4 more zones but I did include the network cable to those runs for the future.

(Side thought, if you have wall plates and the amp/source each with 4 separate wires coming in (a pair for each channel) wouldn't it be possible to add a data layer on top... I'm no EE though, perhaps the noise is too great. Just part of my dream system.)

My dream would be independent control of each (of my 12) zone, including each being able to play different music from my server simultaneously (via the Plex library would be awesome for me). Being able to ask my Echo's to play something in the room, using the in ceiling speakers would be the icing on the cake.

While things are getting better, it still doesn't feel like there are products out there that are close to the capabilities that are possible today from other industries. Especially in the DIY arena.
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#368636 - 16/04/2017 01:14 Re: Whole home audio [Re: drakino]
drakino
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/06/1999
Posts: 7867
Loc: Seattle, WA
First impressions of the Playbase and the Play 1 in another room, overall good. The music aspect works perfectly as expected, and it's pretty cool to have whole apartment audio again. Last had a setup like this working via AirPort Expresses and iTunes.

Their audio tuning via the iPhone was great. You sit in the sweet spot on your couch, and it takes care of all the left/right balance issues and figures out the dynamics of the room. A second setup has you wander around the room with the phone to set it up for the best quality music playback for anywhere in the space.

Only quirk I need to work out now is the lipsync issue if I feed a 5.1 signal into the Sonos. My TV is properly passing it though to to the optical connection to the Sonos, but then the audio seems to be behind the video. The Sonos side only allows audio delay to be added, and things sync properly when it's fed a stereo signal. Going to give Sonos support a call to see how that experience goes, and hope it's not a quirk of my particular TV.

It is the one downside of Sonos being behind tech wise a little. Other soundbars address this by being part of the HDMI side of the connection instead of optical. And all of this is reminding me why home theater setups still aren't that common. When a TV and audio system can't be trusted to be in sync without a lot of fiddling, it kinda takes the relaxing side out of watching TV/Movies.

Though thankfully it looks like the Playbase is their last product out the door on their older platform. Whatever is coming next should have some new tech in it, and possibly microphones for those wanting voice control. For now I have Siri control by piping in audio via Airplay to the Sonos system.
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