Move audio around the house
If you’re a music lover, it’s easier than ever to make your home sing out with song. Some companies offer complete packages to bring audio to multiple spaces, while others use wireless technologies to make it easy to move music. You can set up a system that plays different music in each room, or that plays the same song throughout the house.
What's the best solution for you? Whatever fits your budget and listening habits.
With wireless powered speakers, you don’t need an audio-video receiver (AVR) to push the sound; all you need is a device that communicates with the speakers, like your smartphone or computer.
Bluetooth speakers offer the most straightforward approach to wireless sound. With units like Jawbone’s $200 Jambox and $300 Big Jambox, Creative’s $250 ZiiSound D5, or Logitech’s $150 Wireless Boombox, you pair your music source with the speaker and you’re ready to listen.
Bluetooth is easy, but it has limits: you can only send the sound to one speaker at a time (no multi-room playback), and your music source needs to be no more than 30 feet from the speakers. Also, audio purists may balk at the sound quality that Bluetooth streaming provides.
Speakers that incorporate Apple’s AirPlay technology, such as Bowers & Wilkins $600 Zeppelin Air, Klipsch’s $550 Gallery G-17 Air, or Logitech’s $400 UE Air, let you stream audio, over Wi-Fi or ethernet, from any AirPlay-enabled source such as an iOS device or a computer running iTunes. If you’re using iTunes as your AirPlay source, you can pick multiple speakers to send music to. However, iOS devices can only output to one AirPlay device at a time.
Some network-enabled speakers let you connect with more potential audio sources. Pioneer’s $299 A1 XW-SMA1-K has AirPlay and Bluetooth as well as Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi lets you connect DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) devices—like some hard drives—directly to it for playback. For Windows PCs, the built-in Windows Media Player can stream music over DLNA, too. Altec Lansing’s $500 inAir 5000 includes AirPlay, and it can also use Wi-Fi to link more than one speaker together to create a multi-room listening experience.
Another way to share music is to add music streamers in various rooms. These devices bring the wealth of digital music options with them wherever they are. Just add speakers.
Network music players such as Cambridge Audio’s $600 NP30 and Marantz’ $800 NA7004 connect to your network and pull in Internet radio, streaming services, and music files from computers or networked hard drives. Network music players need to be connected to your receiver or powered speakers.
You may already have a music streamer in the house without realizing it: Video streamers like Apple’s Apple TV, Roku’s Roku 2 XS, and Vizio’s upcoming $100 Co-star Google TV box (each of which costs $100) can also handle music. These devices include apps to stream music from services like Pandora Internet Radio. Most can also pull music from your computer or a networked hard drive. You just need to connect the player to your receiver or a pair of powered speakers. The downside is you’ll need a TV or other display to navigate to the music source; most streamers don’t have their own display.
If you already have a home theater system in your house, multizone audio-video receivers can extend your listening options. AVRs such as Denon’s $1200 AVR-3313CI, Yamaha’s $1100 RX-A1010, and Pioneer’s $600 VSX-1122-K include speakers outputs—usually stereo only—that can power speakers in other rooms. You can play the same source as your main speakers, or you can have the other zones play completely different music. The benefit of these systems is that you can build on what you have; on the other hand, you’ll need to run speaker wire to other rooms. Many of these AVRs also include network music player functions, with Internet radio built-in, and many offer a free app for controlling playback through your smatphone or tablet.
If you’re looking for a more complete music option, some systems bundle wireless speakers and music streamers together.
Logitech’s Squeezebox line focuses on music streaming—Internet radio, files shares over the network—but a few of the models incorporate speakers as well, like the $180 Squeezebox Radio.
Sony’s HomeShare line of wireless speakers connects to your Wi-Fi network and can stream music from the Internet or from your computer. You can link multiple speakers throughout the house, all playing the same music or each playing its own tune. You control playback through a remote, or you can download free iOS and Android apps. The SA-NS500 wireless speaker, which also includes AirPlay support, costs $400.
Sonos’ wireless music system is similar to Sony’s HomeShare, but with more options. The system lets you incorporate multiple speakers and send different streams to up to 32 speakers over your home network. Like Sony’s HomeShare, you control the music through an app or a hardware remote. Prices start at $348 for a wireless bridge and Play:3 speaker.
Do it yourself
You may not need to start from scratch to share music in your home. Add-on devices can convert an existing system into a wireless one.
Apple’s $99 AirPort Express Wi-Fi base station includes an audio output; connect your receiver or powered speakers and you have an AirPlay device. For an inexpensive option, a Bluetooth music receiver like Monoprice’s $20 model adds Bluetooth reception to any receiver or powered speakers.
For the tech-savvy and adventurous, you can try adding Wi-Fi to your powered speakers, but that’s not for the faint of heart.
Finding your musical nirvana
With an abundance of options, the question isn’t whether you can share music in every room in the house—it’s which way you want to do it.
- If you’re on a budget, Bluetooth speakers offer the most affordable route. Or add an Airport Express or Bluetooth music receiver to existing powered speakers or a receiver for instant wireless music.
- If you have an existing home theater system, upgrading the receiver to a multizone unit that includes AirPlay provides flexibility without starting over. If you already have good speakers connected to your AVR, this promises to be a good option for audiophiles.
- If you are starting from scratch, a whole-home system like Sonos makes integration simple, if a bit pricey.
- A combination approach makes sense for many people. You could add an Apple TV to an existing AVR to bring Internet music sources to it. As a bonus, Apple TV also includes AirPlay—add another AirPlay speaker in another room and a computer running iTunes and you can have multizone sound.