Choosing the right audio system is a personal decision like choosing a car, but with cars, the difference between choices is more subtle. They have more to do with minor design elements like cabin space, engine makeup and fuel type. All cars follow a similar basic design, so these are somewhat subtle distinctions when compared to the audio realm, where choices can differ wildly from each other and the key is to tailor the decisions exactly for the intended use.
Today, I’m going to present an example of a whole house outfitted for music, how you’d go about that and my recommendation for gear.
Sonos clearly led the way with multi-room sound systems, and their setups in years past came with an integrated, Sonos-designed remote for master control. But newer offerings in the whole-home-audio field promise higher resolution and better sound. My personal choice, from the company Bluesound, is typical of the state of the art in that they developed their own powerful remote control app that works on a phone, tablet or other connected device to control the audio around the house.
With whole-house audio, instant accessibility is key.
We’ll set up one room with a two-channel music system, which will also be connected to the TV. Another room — the kitchen — will have two speakers in the ceiling. Think of this as the “add-on” room that can be one room or five rooms — whatever the home audio budget will handle. A third “zone” is outside, featuring outdoor speakers.
For this setup, we will need three (or more) Bluesound PowerNodes, which are essentially WiFi-connected all-in-one streaming audio sources with amplifiers built in. They can develop a network together and all be accessible from the same device.
In room one, we want to present the highest quality of sound for movies, TV, music or games. Picture the speakers on either side of the TV, on stands, aiming at the couch.
Since the PowerNode has a built-in amp, we’ll want what’s known as “passive” speakers. My choice for this room are the KEF LS50 bookshelf speakers that have lit up the audio press for years.
The kitchen zone will be powered by its own PowerNode, and a company called Definitive Technology makes the best in-ceiling speakers in my opinion. Their model UIW RCS II speakers will make the sound appear to be coming from in front or behind you, rather than above. It’s a nice touch, and the excellent design is rounded out with passive radiators for some bass punch.
While you would want a subwoofer in the first room, a kitchen sub might be a bit of a stretch. The Definitive speakers will provide a great step up in quality from standard in-ceiling speakers.
Outside, we need something that can withstand the elements, and in Colorado, that’s no small feat. For weather durability outdoors and good customer support, I go with the well-known JBL Control 25.
Tuck that third Bluesound PowerNode just inside the door and run your speaker cables outside — and make sure to get cables that can withstand abuse as well.
Audiophile album rec of the week: “Wise One,” by Bobby Hutcherson (Kind of Blue, 2009)