Chesapeake Home Theatre & Hi-Fi

Larry Dent is the owner of Chesapeake Home Theatre & Hi-Fi.

These articles were written for the Islander Weekly.

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Larry's Tech Talk

A Boom Box in Every Room?

If you’re renovating or building a new home anytime soon you should consider wiring for a “whole house” audio system. So, what is a whole house audio system, and why don’t I just put a boom box in every room?

New construction has changed a little in the last few years and audio and video are a part of that change. Most people think to have telephone and cable TV wires installed during the construction phase, but how about internet and speakers throughout the house? Sure you can probably connect to the internet via your wireless router, but there’s nothing better than a wired connection. And forget about wireless speakers, I will explain why in a future article. Don’t forget about high definition video and surround sound. A few years ago we had “cable ready” TVs. But if you want hi-definition, that single co-ax cable connected to your TV isn’t going work.

There are many choices of entertainment content these days. First you have your good ole CD collection and FM radio. Then we have satellite radio, digital music from your cable or satellite TV provider, or maybe your IPod or similar portable music player. What did I miss? Maybe internet radio? Some people even have large hard drives that store all of their movies, music, photos that are known as media servers. OK, so let’s make a name for all this media that brings us entertainment. How about “sources”? A source could be a CD player, or maybe Sirius XM radio or whatever you connect to your system. So a “source” is really an input signal that originates from a device, computer or player or even the internet.

Whole house audio systems range from small systems that accept 1 or 2 sources and output to a few rooms with speakers. Larger systems can accept up to 8 sources and output to an almost unlimited number of rooms with speakers. Alright electronics guy, but what if I am on one side of the house and want to change the volume or XM station I have playing? Great question! What is being asked is how do we locally control a central system that might reside in a closet or basement somewhere else in the house? The more sophisticated systems utilize keypads installed in each room. The keypad is wired back to a central controller allowing local control for volume, song selection and source selection. And if you want to really show off, your IPhone or IPad can be also be used as a wireless keypad. The really hi-end systems will allow control of lighting, thermostat, and even display who is standing at your front door. But let’s focus on entertainment for now.

Sounds pretty nice, but when I am sitting by the pool, I don’t want to hear what my teenager is playing in her room. That is a huge point, and most whole house systems allow each room to be independent from each other. So you might listen to FM by the pool, your daughter can listen to her IPod in her bedroom and someone else might listen to NASCAR in another room via XM radio. Companies like Sonos, Nuvo, Russound, Niles and Crestron are a few of the manufacturers competing in the whole house system arena.

So you can listen to any CD you want, wherever you want , without carrying it from room to room. Yeah but LD, I don’t plan to be doing any new construction now and I really don’t want to tear up my walls and ceilings running new wires. No worries, there are systems that can be installed in existing homes with minimal drywall damage. There are even a few systems that utilize your home’s existing electric wires to distribute internet and entertainment. I like to refer to these systems as “retro-fit” systems.

OK, so what does one of these systems cost? Well, the more basic whole house systems might be less expensive than you think. If you want to go to the high middle range with 8 rooms and 8 sources, you’re in the $10k to $15k range. But remember, since this is a system in your house you could almost look at it as an investment versus an expense. A house with an audio system will be more desirable than one without. If you have a new construction project coming up, consider at least getting the wiring in place. The system can be added later.

Or you could carry your CD collection around and play them in one your boom boxes!