Apple whole house audio distribution - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 01-03-2009, 12:43 AM - Thread Starter
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Is it viable to create a 3-4 source home audio distribution system if you have more then one zone? I don't own any apple products but am thinking about getting an iphone. Could I use the iphone to control different zones or would I require iannndividual iphone/itouch for each zone? So, for example, if I'm in the bedroom listening to internet radio and then wander into the living room and want to listen to another source can it be done without impacting what's playing in the bedroom. I'd like to have two or three itouch/Iphones in the house that could control any zone at ny given time.
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post #2 of 9 Old 01-03-2009, 06:03 AM
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Most definitely. Multi-source, multi-zone setups--when you can listen to X in the bedroom while someone else listens to Y in the den--are the way most people go. Just understand that your system cost will go up very quickly based on the number of sources/zones supported.

Using an iPhone or iPod Touch to control a given zone--using Apple's free Remote application--is quite easy. What you won't get from this setup is the ability to change sources within a zone--that will require walking over to the keypad to press a button or touch a screen.

In my pretty basic setup, I have a 4 source, 8 zone A-BUS system. Just so we're all on the same page, A-BUS is a type of whole house audio distribution system where you run Cat5e wire from a central "hub" to each zone's keypad, then speaker wire from each keypad to the zone speakers...each keypad acts as an amplifier, vs. more expensive options where you have a central amplifier, with speaker wire homerun to each zone's speakers, in addition to the Cat5e to the keypads.

So, in any given zone (room), I can listen to one of 4 sources: AppleTV 1, AppleTV 2, DirectTV STB or CD/DVD player. To change the volume or switch sources in a given zone, I have to walk over to the zone keypad (technically, I can change the volume of the AppleTVs using Remote, but I find it dodgy). I have AppleTV 1 synched to my iTunes library for jazz/classical only; AppleTV 2 synchs everything else. This way, if I'm in a mellow mood, I just press input 1 (AppleTV 1) on a keypad and sit back; I use Remote mainly to control input 2 (AppleTV 2).

If your budget is somewhat limited, I would offer up that while it's "neat" to have multi-source, I find that we (wife and I) very rarely take advantage of it. In truth, we could very easily--and happily--live with a single source, multi-zone setup. If I had to choose between a 4 source, 4 zone system or a 1 source, 8 zone system, I would *easily* choose the latter. YMMV.

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post #3 of 9 Old 01-03-2009, 10:22 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks Amillians. I was hoping to avoid having any type of keypads ... perhaps in the near future the iphone will also be able to control source selection and volume control ala a Sonos controller. The appeal of going with the Iphone/itouch route is to reduce techno clutter for my family. I think I could live with one source but could see times where my wife wanted to listen to internet radio in the bathroom while I listen to a song off of itunes in the living room. What apple equipment do you run into your A-Bus system? Any idea if itunes can support simultaneous songs being played back at once? Sorry, if these are basic questions but I've never owned an apple product although I'm looking at buying my first one in the form of a macbook.

Cheers!
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post #4 of 9 Old 01-03-2009, 12:26 PM
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Outside of 3rd party integration apps that can run on iPhone (like Crestron's Control App for iPhone) that tend to be tied to expensive back-end systems that can do your dishes and compose symphonies, the free Apple Remote app lets you play/pause, select by playlist/song/genre/etc., randomize, etc. It's basically a remote control app for AppleTV/iTunes, as it's name implies. In fact, I can sit at my iMac and control iTunes using my iPhone, without touching the mouse or the keyboard--why I'd want to do that, I have no idea, though.

I use AppleTVs in my system--they are the red-headed stepchild in the Apple family. I like them because they are relatively cheap, they do cool photo slideshows (I run photos from each of my AppleTVs into dedicated plasmas for "active art") and they create a relatively nice whole house audio solution, as they synch media, as well as stream from a local Mac. I only do synched music, though--streaming tends to hiccup in my house over my Wi-Fi network. Before the Remote app came along, to control my music, I would have to use the correct AppleTV physical remote, using the correct plasma screen for navigation--Remote changed all that, in a great way (no longer have to be standing in front of a plasma to change a song!).

My A-BUS setup is very basic and low frills--my builder said take it or leave it, so I took it, with some after-the-fact upgrades. Basically, I have this kit, with additional keypads (and thus additional zones, since keypad = zone amplifier in the world of A-BUS). I'm not 100% thrilled with it, but it works for background music pretty well. I have zones for bedrooms, kitchen, den, TV room, deck, etc.

Again, I have 2 AppleTVs, each set to synch specific media from my iMac (grab photos from iPhoto, grab music from iTunes). iTunes itself *cannot* handle multiple *distinct* streams (you can stream iTunes to multiple Apple Airport Express modules, albeit each ones gets the same stream), so the synched AppleTVs offer an easy solution to this problem--each one pumps out it's own music, so no worries. There are numerous 3rd party products that can do multiple distinct streams, but they tend to cost more than doing multiple AppleTVs and offer less--not more--flexibility, so what's the point?

As noted, in theory, the Remote app supports volume control of sorts, but it's extremely wonky in my experience (it's a slider that doesn't seem to respond well to tactile input), it's only for streamed iTunes or streamed/synched AppleTV audio and, worst of all, it seems to want to revert to 100% volume each time the app starts (in other words, you'd probably blow your amp/speakers relying on it to handle volume).

So, if you want to go the iPhone/iTunes Remote route, you're going to need another way to change sources and handle volume--that's where zone keypads come in. If you only have one source (e.g., an AppleTV or streamed music from your iTunes library, perhaps using something like an Apple Airport Express since your Mac isn't likely going to be sitting next to the back-end hub/amp that drives your whole house audio system), you don't need to change sources, so you could get away with simple volume attenuators in each zone--think volume controls, with a central amp handling the power (i.e., you plug your music source into an amp, then run speaker wire to each volume control, then speaker wire from the volume control to the speakers for the zone).

I have set up 3 different whole house audio systems for friends/family in the past 6 months, each leveraging Apple gear. Two are bare bones (e.g., iTunes streaming wirelessly to Airport Express, Airport Express connected to a receiver, receiver connected to impedance-matching speaker selector for safety, speaker selector connected to zone volume attenuators, connected to zone speakers, all controlled by Apple Remote) and one is like my system (A-BUS, multiple AppleTVs as sources).

I'm sure people can/will chime in that you can do the same--or better--with a Windows or Linux solution. I just find Apple "easy" in this regard, and as noted, I find AppleTVs to be cheap music (and photo and video) servers. The addition of the Remote app seals the deal for me--that level of wireless control used to literally cost thousands of bucks, and now it's free.

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post #5 of 9 Old 01-03-2009, 12:33 PM
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Almost forgot to ask--is this for new construction? Or a remodel?

I ask because the hardest thing about whole house (or even half house) audio is the wiring. If you're starting with an existing house, you're going to really need to sit back and think about how to do the wiring--busting holes in sheetrock to pull Cat5e and speaker wire, not to mention cutting holes in walls/ceiling to install speakers, tends to get messy. I seriously doubt my wife would have let me do my little system after-the-fact of our house being built!

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post #6 of 9 Old 02-14-2009, 05:48 AM
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Amillians,

Would you mind helping me a bit? I am a complete noobie with a new home under construction (approx. 6 weeks from completion). I pre-wired for speakers and volume controls in several locations.

I have received to high-dollar quotes from A/V contractors - one for Elan and one for Control4.

The AppleTV, iPhone, MacMini approach is intriguing b/c of the price point.

How do I set this up? All my wiring goes to a closet off the family room. I want the ability to listen to my iTunes in the various locations where I have run speakers.
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post #7 of 9 Old 02-15-2009, 06:09 AM
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fatwtfh,

When you say pre-wire, can you describe it a bit more? What wire is run will help define your options.

Do you have speaker wire running to a junction box/waiting spot (for a volume control) in each room, then up to the speaker(s) in that room?

Or do you have that, plus something like Cat5e (network) cable run to where each volume control would be?

In my house, the only wiring option given to me was Cat5e wire to each volume control location, then speaker wire from there to the speakers for the room/zone--that's a standard A-BUS setup, where the keypad acts as a control point (volume up/down, mute, on/off, source selection) *and* as the amp (albeit a tiny 7W one) for the room/zone. A-BUS is a distributed amplified system, vs. the more typical centrally amplified system (i.e., you have a single receiver or multi-zone amp in one spot).

My guess is that if you've been quoted for Elan and Control4, you have speaker wire run out to each speaker location (probably "looped" where the keypad/volume control would go), plus Cat5e (or similar) run to where each keypad/volume control would be in each room. If so, you have lots of options, from the inexpensive to the ridiculously expensive.

Regardless of wiring setup, you also have to think about how to "get" your music from your Mac/PC iTunes library to the closet off the family room. You could put your Mac/PC in the closet (kind of dumb), you could go with an Apple AirPort Express solution to wireless transmit your Mac/PC iTunes library to a power outlet in the closet or you could look into using an AppleTV to serve up your synched music.

Even if you have speaker wire and Cat5e run everywhere, your most affordable option is probably going to be to use an AirPort Express ($99) connected to a basic stereo receiver (say $100-300) connected to an impedance matching speaker selector (say $30-60) branched out to a volume attenuator in each room (say $30-60 per) run to the speaker(s) for each room (prices vary widely). So, whatever is playing on iTunes on your Mac/PC will be wireless transmitted across your wireless network (you'll need one!) to the AirPort Express; you can use an iPhone/iPod Touch with the Remote application to wirelessly control what's playing on your Mac/PC. The only downside to this type of setup is that it's one source only (the same music goes to all rooms) and you have to have your Mac/PC on.

I guess the next step up would be to replace the AirPort Express in the closet with an AppleTV (starting at $229), which would mean your Mac/PC wouldn't be the control point--the Remote application would control the AppleTV, which quietly synch itself to whatever music you want from iTunes.

If you want more sources (e.g., AppleTV *and* satellite radio, 2 AppleTVs, etc.) so that you can listen to Bach in the bedroom while your significant other listens to Hoodoo Gurus in the kitchen, you'll need one of the more advanced wiring setups, and more money.

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post #8 of 9 Old 02-15-2009, 02:01 PM
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I am using iTunes on my HTPC and controlling it with the ipod touch. I have a 3 zone Onkyo Processor. Zone 1 is the home theater and Zone 2 hooked up to a QSC 2 channel amp that powers my in-ceiling speakers though out my house with V/C's in each room. With the iPod Touch I can walk any where in my house and control iTunes. It's a perfect setup for me and my wife. My only problem right now is I can't control the Onkyo piece from the Touch. So if I am in my bedroom I have to walk down stairs to tuner on the 2 second zone.
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post #9 of 9 Old 08-20-2012, 06:09 PM
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My house is wired as follows:
- 5 pair of speaker wires in living room
- 8 pair of speaker wires in rest of house
- 4 cat5e cables run to rest of house (each room where pair of speaker wires runs)

All cables go to a 'hub' in the living room.

From what I have read, A-BUS systems require speaker wires to be run from the wall plates in each zone to each pair of speakers. Is it possible to run everything (speaker wires + cat5e) to an A-BUS distribution to work with my setup?

I am looking at an Onkyo TX-NR515 to power the 5 speakers in the living room, and running the zone2 out to an A-BUS distribution if this configuration works. I like the 515 as it has a spotify player implemented, and allows iphone/ipad control. I'd like to do the same with the rest of the speakers in the house. What do you recommend?

Nick
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