Home Technology Blog

Whole-House Audio Systems: The Basics

June 18, 2012 | Comments

Whole house audio touchscreen interface

Audio One, Miami

Nearly everyone loves music, but audio is frequently limited to just a single room or location in the home. Why confine your enjoyment? With a whole-house audio system, you can enjoy your favorite music in every room. And with a multi-room audio system, you can enjoy your tunes while other members of the family enjoy theirs!

But what is home audio? Here are the top five things you need to know:


The term "source" refers to what you listen to. Common sources include FM radio, cable TV, CD players, satellite radio and iPods. Newer whole-house audio systems incorporate streaming audio, pulling music across the home's network from a hard drive in the home or from a cloud-based service such as Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify or thousands of free Internet radio stations.


In a multi-room audio system, the home is divided into areas called "zones." A zone can be one room, such as the master bedroom, or can cover several rooms, such as the kitchen, dining room and breakfast nook. All rooms within a zone play the same source, but can do so at a different volume level. Six zones is a common number for multi-room systems. Most systems feature a way to turn every zone on to the same source by pressing a single button - great when you are having a party!


Every room that has audio will have speakers. Speakers are generally installed in pairs (left and right), but some models can play both left and right signals from a single speaker. Larger speakers can typically play louder and produce more bass. There are a large number of home speaker brands, and chances are your favorite manufacturer makes a model designed for multi-room use. While almost any speaker can be used, the most popular speakers for whole-house audio are in-ceiling (round) and in-wall (rectangle) models that install flush into the wall. They all come white, but can be painted to match the room's décor. Outdoor, weather-resistant speakers generally have an enclosed cabinet to better withstand the elements.


The most basic level of control is simply a volume knob. This is the least expensive, but offers the least amount of control. More advanced systems employ keypads that allow you to turn the system on and off, select different source or skip songs. Even more advanced are touchscreen controls that provide full metadata feedback. Metadata includes information like the artist, album and song title and is crucial for browsing things like the music on your iPod or networked computer. Some whole-house systems allow you to use your mobile device as a system controller.


While there are some popular wireless solutions on the market, the majority of whole-house audio systems require both speaker and control wiring. Speaker wiring is commonly called 16/2 or 16/4 (referring to the size or gauge of the wire - 16 - and the number of conductors - 2 or 4). The control wiring is typically Cat5 (Category 5) data cable and it runs to the controllers in each zone.

Learn more about having a whole-house audio system designed and installed in your home, search for a local qualified CEDIA member home technology professional near you.