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Multiroom Audio Compared | Sonos Airfoil MultiRoom Amp

smart-multi-room-audio

Introduction

There are several ways to automate your music at home.  There are several purposes for this:

  1. You wake up in the morning and want the local radio station to play while you’re getting ready.
  2. You want weather news/radio while getting dressed.
  3. You want new spotify workout music play when you enter the gym at 730pm
  4. You want the music to lower volume (or turn off) when your wife enters the room.
  5. You want a scene for a dance party to play all over your house.
  6. You only want your living room and basement playing music.

Your Options

There are many options to do it.  They are:

  1. Sonos
  2. Control4, Crestron
  3. Airfoil
  4. Moxivo
  5. Multi-room Receiver with amps built-in
  6. XBMC and Airplay
  7. Bluetooth Receivers to Speakers

Each provide unique advantages and ease of use along with different levels of quality.  It goes without saying that using WiFi to sync audio around your house is pretty much a bad idea.  WiFi can be spotty at times, routers can get slow and things aren’t reliable.  Always aim for a wired solution.

Option 1: Sonos with their speakers

Sonos Family

Cost

For comparison of all the products we will use an example of 6 rooms.

You need:  1 Sonos Bridge and 6 ZonePlayers like the Play:1 (At least)   I would have at least 1-3 speaker per room.  The Sonos system also lets you add more than one in a room for stereo sound.

Calculation: (219 (speakers) X6 +50 (bridge))=$1364  (depending on source)

Advantages:

  • Sonos is the easy way.  Plug them in and download the app and begin.
  • You can easily integrate Sonos with most automation systems very easily.
  •  They have several options for integrating your system with the major hubs.  There are plugins available.
  • This one works well with Tasker: Macronos for Sonos
  • Easy to plug into Connect, Play:5 and Connect AMP to listen to another source

Disadvantages

  • A lot more expensive than Airfoil, Moxivo and on par with some Multiroom (craigslist) amp solutions
  • Can’t be in the wall (not a clean install)
  • Not really easy to expand VS using a CPU with airfoil or XMBC to locally play video files to the same speakers

Option 2: Control4 and Crestron

These solutions are by far the most expensive and are very hard to really compare to these others.  A 6 room system will definitely cost you $XXXX.00.  You will not have to think about the technical aspects of it.  You get get a Rep to come in and do it for you.

Advantages

  • It gets done for you.
  • The sound is great and integrated perfectly the way YOU want it right from the install.
  • If you have a problem you call someone in to fix it (also a disadvantage).

Disadvantages

  • The huge downside to this is integration with other products you want to add to your system you can’t unless you get one of their reps to do it.
  • The three people I know with these systems are extremely happy with the results but they all don’t want to call a rep back in for extra work.  This is for the automator with cash.
  • From my knowledge there is no GET API to integrate third party products.  To me this is a deal breaker but I already thought that by the price.

Airfoil | A great AirPlay app for every platform

What is it?

airfoil_speakersAirfoil is an app you can install on your PC or Mac and have it transmit any audio source from your PC to any AirPlay or Airfoil Speakers.  You can install Airfoil speakers on almost every platform.  Therefore you can have an instant multiroom audio setup almost instantly if you have tablets, phones and PC’s already in each room.

Cost?

  • This is where it gets tricky.  You need a license for your Windows and Macs.  Once you purchase those you can download the free airfoil speakers apps and begin.
  • Approximately 50-80 dollars in apps/licenses + Your cost in purchasing other tablets, PC’s etc.

Advantages

  • Depending on the type of AirPlay device there is latency time that can make or break the audio experience.  Using Airfoil and Airfoil Speakers keeps that in check.
  • Great support
  • Very easy
  • Easy to select different sources on the PC (spotify)
  • Has an API to create scene based selectors for certain airplay devices
  • Cheap
  • Can also then send audio TO any speaker easily using an iPhone since they are all airplay speakers.
  • If you could hardwire all your PC’s and MAC’s to and use Airfoil Speakers then it could be slick.

Disadvantages

  • If you have a busy wifi network and are using wifi only with this you will not be happy
  • Different AirPlay speakers have different timing to output and you can hear it

Option 4: Moxivo | MultiRoom Audio through your Phone System


What is it?

It’s a cable to use your regular old school phone jack as an audio network throughout your house.  You plug your source into the wall using the RCA or HEADPHONE to rj-45 and then plug in any powered speakers throughout the house anywhere there is a phone plug.  Most houses have them in everyroom which makes this a really easy solution.

How would we make this smart?

Logitech computer speakers once plugged and powered on (with the button) in will stay on as long as there is power.  The goal would be to power off the speaker that you are not using a AC Z-wave Switch.  That way you could easily create scenes which control the rooms just by turning power on and off to each ‘speaker’.

Cost of 6 rooms

  • 7 cables (40 bucks)
  • CPU (you probably have one that you already control your music with)
  • Logitech speakers (30 each on craigslist for decent 2.1 sound)
  • Z-Wave AC 6 pack (100)
  • Total: $320

Advantages

  • Cheap
  • Using already there phone system
  • Easy to create audio scenes as you just control the power to the speakers in your automation hub
  • Use your existing app to control the CPU music
  • You could get premium speakers and also double up them for other uses in each room.

Disadvantages

  • No automatic control of audio sound level as you have to manually change it by the physical dial in each room.  It’s either ON or OFF.
  • If there is noise on your phone line network it’s going to come through on your speakers.
  • Not digital sound straight to the speakers (digital to analog).

Option 5: Multi-Room Amplifiers with 6 zones and Remote Control of them

russsound

Cost

A sample can be found on craigslist to control 6 zones.  This one is $800 and then you’ll need to buy speakers.  Since you do not need an amplifier you can just get any speakers you want to use and thus the sound will be of much higher quality and also has the potential to be a cleaner finish than say having stereos (with amps everywhere).  MonoPrice.com in ceiling speakers can run around $50 each for the pair so you’re looking at $300+800+60(for cable)=$1160.

multi-room_amp-craigslist

Advantages

  • Potential to have the best sound VS the Sonos, Airfoil and Moxivo
  • Cleaner in-wall finish if you choose to go this route
  • There are more expensive models but this one is a reasonable solution.
  • New builds should go this route
  • Can be controlled with an app, or IR tablet

Disadvantages

  • More expensive
  • Need to run the speaker cable everywhere where you want speakers from the source.
  • Not really a retrofit solution.

Option 6: XBMC/KODI with Airplay

XBMC (Or Kodi) is an amazing open sourced media solution.  It allows you to share the same media source throughout the home.  It also has an Airplay feature so you can turn any XBMC server into a speaker that can be selected.

Cost

The cost is all in the devices that you choose to run XBMC and if they have speakers you’ll need to get some.

  • 6 XBMC Amazon FireTV‘s will cost 600.  These will get you six locations around your home that you can then run a screen on and have a sound bar to.

Advantages

  • Can have one shared server with a shared database to combine your audio and video solution.  It will be seamless and it’s what I use for my video.
  • Your audio should be synced properly as long as all your devices are wired to a decent router.
  • Easy to setup the Airplay solution.
  • Can then stream any source form an iOS device to any room.  Could also use the video option this way.
  • This is my favourite solution since Tasker can be added to android boxes making this very easy to control.

Disadvantages

  • Might be expensive if you have to purchase 6 screens, 6 sound bars along with 6 android boxes

Option 7: Bluetooth Speakers

This option is very flexible and can retrofit any situation into a multiroom setup.  The basics are as follows:

  • Add Bluetooth receivers or Bluetooth speakers around where you want to have music
  • Pair them to your audio source (will need Bluetooth) and then select where you want the music to play

Advantages

  • Cheap
  • Retrofit any situation
  • Moving around speakers is easy
  • Doesn’t need a complicated API
  • Could easily integrate with Tasker to turn the bluetooth connection on at any moment
  • You could use a Bluetooth receiver and then plug in a more expensive audio system.

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Disadvantages

  • Most Bluetooth speakers don’t usually have good bass
  • Could not sync properly with all your rooms.  You are at the mercy of the devices Bluetooth transfer rate and timing.

Conclusion

There are a lot of options and I probably missed a few but those are the majority of the decently priced options.  There are always more expensive options with the multiroom receivers but based on the above my current solution is a combination of XBMC and AirFoil.  I need the ability to display any video in any room and having a screen in each room with a media center there is easy to interact with using all the apps Android has.  Airfoil gives me the ability to use iTunes as my server app and I can use AirFoil and scripts to select speakers when I walk into rooms (using iBeacons).  I have a friend who uses the amp route and his sounds far better than my current Airfoil setup.  It comes down to what your situation is and thinking about what you want to do with it.  If you are looking to extend into one or two extra rooms you might want to go with the bluetooth option and see if that works for you.

Either way, let us know what you think in our forums below and if you think there is a better solution.  Don’t forget to signup for our newsletter and Facebook page to get the latest updates and deals.

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