Clever Home Automation - Frequently Asked Questions.
What multi-room audio hi-fi features do I need?
 

When you are building or renovating, you may have only one chance to get your multi-room audio system right, as it is often impractical to change your multi-room audio system cabling after plaster goes on.
     To get your multi-room audio right the first (and only) time consult with a qualified engineer - someone who is trained in the audio and control aspects of modern multi-room audio systems. A store salesman or an electrician is simply unable to meet your needs properly, given that home multi-room audio systems now straddle audio and home automation fields.
     Start considering your multi-room audio requirements by reviewing which of the below multi-room audio features are most important for you and your family.

 

What essential features do I need in my new home multi-room audio hi-fi system?
 
  • Enjoyable sound reproduction.
    The most important thing about any audio system is how much you enjoy listening to it. If your audio system is unpleasant to listen to, then nothing else makes up for this - not the manufacturers big brand name, snazzy displays, futuristic controls, swish cabinets, trendy small speakers, or how many songs you can store on it. Sound quality should be your most important consideration.
  • Use quality local room amplifiers and short heavy duty speaker cables.
    Ensure that your multi-room audio hi-fi uses distributed room amplifiers, such as C-Bus room amps located close to quality speakers (such as Krix speakers) in each room to minimise speaker cable lengths. By minimising the impedance between each hi-fi room amplifier and your room speakers in this way, each room amplifier better controls its speakers to produce better quality sound.
         Relatively large currents flow through speaker cables, so that even small increases in speaker cable resistance or impedance adversely affect reproduction quality. If you mistakenly use one centrally located multi-channel audio amplifier with long speaker cables radiating out to all your remote room speakers, you will usually increase speaker cable impedance and substantially reduce the quality of sound from your multi-room speakers.
         For the same reasons, you should use the thickest heavy duty speaker cables that may be terminated easily at your room amplifier and speaker terminals. While electricians are used to selecting power cable sizes based upon how much current they have to handle, if you let your electrician apply this approach to your multi-room audio speaker cables, then you may spend years wondering what is wrong with your audio system. (Many electricians consider that speaker cables should be thiner and lighter, until they hear the difference that using a heavier speaker cables makes to the sound quality.)
         Speaker cables also act like antennas, picking up unwanted EMI and noise and injecting it into your multi-room audio hi-fi system. This unwanted noise audibly degrades sound quality further. The shorter you keep your speaker cables, and the further you keep them from sources of electromagnetic noise, the better your multi-room system will sound.
  • Use pre-power-amp volume controls.
    Every volume control in your multi-room audio hi-fi system should be implemented before the multi-room audio amplifiers, and definitely not after your multi-room amps along the speaker cables. Any self-respecting audio system implements volume control between the preamp and poweramp where currents are very low, and multi-room audio hi-fi systems should be no different.
         Many poorly designed multi-room audio systems take the low-cost approach of installing inefficient analog rheostats/potentiometers (those round volume knobs) on wall plates inside each remote room, to reduce the volume reaching the speakers through the speaker cables. This inserts a large impedance (that of the wall volume control) between the amplifier and the speaker, making it impossible for the amplifier to accurately control and drive the speaker. In other words, it makes your multi-room system sound awful.
         Using pre-power-amplifier volume controls requires that:
    (a) The room amplifier be accessible inside the room and have a volume control on its front panel, or
    (b) A special wall mounted wired remote control panel or home automation touch screens, wall switches, or Internet user interfaces, should be installed and wired to a hidden multi-room room amplifier. Even though the multi-room control panel or home automation interface device may itself seem to be the whole volume control, allowing you to see and change the volume level, it actually controls the pre-power-amp volume control located inside the room amplifier.
  • Install quality loudspeakers.
    Speakers vary widely in the quality of the sound they can reproduce. It follows that you should select the highest quality speakers that are appropriate for the room and the application. This remains true in a multi-room audio hi-fi system. Examples of "quality loudspeakers" include Krix speakers.
  • Use the best sounding speaker type appropriate for each room.
    Loudspeaker types include free-standing floor speakers, bookshelf speakers, on-wall, in-wall, or in ceiling loudspeakers. Loudspeakers depend heavily upon the quality of their cabinets to perform well. A free-standing floor speaker's ability to produce enjoyable music depends more on the quality of its own cabinet and less upon the acoustic properties of the room in which it is placed, because of its relative isolation from the floor, walls and ceiling. In contrast, the performance of in-wall or in-ceiling speakers is affected by the construction of the immediate wall cavity (that often forms the in-wall speaker's speaker box), and also how well the plaster is braced around the speaker.
         Since quality loudspeaker boxes are built with better acoustic properties than the rooms in which they are placed, you may list loudspeaker types in order of sound quality as follows, from best sounding to worst:
    1. Floor standing speakers, sitting at least 1m from any wall (best sound quality).
    2. Bookshelf speakers, with care to leave sufficient space behind and around them and a rigid shelf.
    3. On-wall speakers, which have their own enclosure but are mounted with brackets on the wall surface.
    4. In-wall speakers, mounted at ear height with care taken to seal in-wall cavities and brace the plaster.
    5. In-ceiling speakers, which are worst of all because the dispersion pattern from the ceiling is usually least ideal, and ceilings are usually less rigid than walls.
         As sound quality decreases in the above order, so too does aesthetic impact, with in-ceiling speakers being the most inconspicuous. Tiny Krix Holographix downlight size speakers are even available for minimal aesthetic impact. Good multi-room audio hi-fi system design usually involves reaching a performance/aesthetic trade-off that is appropriate for each room.
  • Carefully consider loudspeaker locations.
    Loudspeakers also need to be carefully located to get the most from them. Location affects frequency response, stereo imaging (how well soundstage is recreated for you) and how evenly they disperse music throughout your room.
         Your Clever Home engineer will be able to advise you on the best speaker locations, while taking into account the other restrictions and priorities associated with you home, as part of your Clever Home automation project proposal.
  • Install a wired multi-room audio hi-fi system.
    Use hardwired connections between all audio components for higher quality and more reliable communications and audio transmission. Wireless is a great option to have when you cannot install any cabling, and you are prepared to accept audio drop-outs and reduced sound quality. However, unless you need mobile room speakers, a wired multi-room audio system is a much better option when access is available to install wiring. Marketing hype for wireless convenience tends to be at odds with practicality when it comes to multi-room audio hi-fi.
  • Make good use of your best sounding audio source.
    Your music can sound no better than it does as it comes from your audio source. Every amplifier, cable and speaker that follows cannot improve on the audio source. A defining feature of multi-room audio is that remote rooms may listen to a shared "main room" audio source, so this audio source sets the upper limit on how good your entire multi-room audio hi-fi system sounds.
        It makes sense to use the highest quality source in your home theatre (or listening room) also as the main room source for your multi-room audio, as it will usually sound better than the audio source included in most multi-room audio components.
  • Seek Engineering standard support.
    A home multi-room audio (hi-fi or not) is a significant long term investment. You deserve and require better advice and guidance than a shop salesperson or an electrician may be able to provide. It is up to you to seek out genuine engineering-standard support from a custom installer and home automation Systems Integrator with the knowledge and experience to help you.
  • Install a suitable multi-room audio user interface.
    A multi-room audio system should allow you to change the volume, and monitor and control shared main room audio sources from within each remote room. This means that you will require a multi-room audio user interface, with which to see and change the current radio stations or music track, or to stop, pause, or fast forward/rewind, for example.
         While using your Android or Apple Internet tablet or phone may initially seem to be a great solution, you should ask yourself:
    (a) How many of these tablets or phones will you need?
    (b) How do you plan to keep track of where they have been left?
    (c) What schedule to you plan to implement to keep their batteries recharged?
    (d) How many tablets or phones may be dropped and damaged while they are being picked up to make frequent audio adjustments?
         While a wireless controller is a great add-on for your home multi-room audio, it is no replacement for conveniently placed in-wall control interfaces. After you have been living in your home for a short period of time, you will discover how important it is to be able to operate your multi-room audio as easily as you operate your lights or any other home automation device. No one always has their Internet tablet or phone with them, especially in a steamy bathroom, for example.
         It remains essential for any well designed multi-room audio system that fixed wall mounted multi-room control panels or home automation touch screens or wall switches be installed in most remote rooms. These fixed interface devices may be audio-system-specific, or they may be part of an integrated home automation system.
         If your multi-room audio system supports monitoring and control over an IP browser interface, then any PC on your home wired or wireless network may also control your multi-room hi-fi. However, as with control by smart phone or Internet tablet, this is a nice feature to have, but it does not replace the need for fixed on-wall control of your home multi-room audio system.
  • Ensure your multi-room audio hi-fi is expandable.
    You should not only support the initially needed number of room amplifiers, multi-room audio speakers, shared and local audio sources. Plan further ahead and cater for the possible addition of extra rooms or sources, or upgrades to more powerful or higher quality power amplifiers or other audio equipment and methods of monitoring and control.
Krix speakers
Clipsal C-Bus multi-room audio hi-fi
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