Hooking Up Our (Sorta) Whole-House Audio System

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A few months ago, I realized that while we absolutely love our in-wall surround sound system in our main living room space, it was less than ideal music placement if we were, say, cooking in the kitchen or entertaining in our quickly progressing backyard. Schlepping a bluetooth speaker of some sort to wherever we were situated wasn’t delivering the quality I craved, and the spotty wifi signal on the first floor at the back of the house – kitchen and backyard included – made streaming connectivity a challenge. After some (read: too much) research here, I began the process of building a “sectional” whole-house audio system in hopes of killing two birds with one stone. With Kim not being the biggest fan of in-your-face speakers, I promised her that I’d keep things sleek and as invisible as possible.

The main goals of the project at this point were an expanded wifi signal to the rear of the house, audio for the kitchen (the photos above and below show the final kitchen speaker placement above the stove-wall cabinets; can you see them?), and the capability to eventually expand the system to include a pair of outdoor-rated speakers once the backyard started to come together. While this is all sounding very complicated at this point, I promise that if you can strip a few wires and connect some plugs, building a system like this is a snap.

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From a technical perspective, our system is comprised of all refurbished and second hand items by scouring eBay and Amazon, saving us upwards of 40% off the list price. Here’s what we used:

Speaking of the back patio, I tucked our our speakers under our deck to keep them as protected as possible and right around ear-level. All of the deck trim and supports will eventually be painted the same white as our front porch, so the speakers will be even less visible once we complete that task:

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As for where we keep all the stuff, well, we’re utilizing the formerly unutilized cabinet above our stove:

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With our setup, speaker “A” is for the kitchen, speaker “B” is for the backyard, and if you depress both buttons at the same time, both pairs of speakers play simultaneously. The amplifier also has an auto-off function, but I found that when it didn’t sense a strong audio signal volume it would cut the amplifier out between tracks or at particularly quiet moments of songs. I’ve remedied this glitch by switching the feature off on the back of the amp and we simply turn the unit on and off manually to save power.

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The Airport is connected to an RCA stereo input on the amplifier using a cable like this, and it picks up on a signal from your phone to stream Spotify, iTunes, Pandora or any other streaming app through the AirPlay function on your phone or the “Connected Devices” feature on your app. It’ll look something like this:

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Above, you’ll notice that there are four white cables that lead up and out of the cabinet. Two of them are for the kitchen speakers, and the other two make their way outside for the patio! For those, I drilled a pair of tiny holes through the wall behind the refrigerator, pulled the outdoor-rated speaker wire through, caulked the gaps inside and outside the house with liberal amounts of silicone caulk and tucked the wires neatly behind the siding and under the deck – out of sight and with minimal exposure to Chicago weather.

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While the speakers are (obviously) rated for outdoor use, I created a small drip loop to keep moisture from settling into the speaker connections. This was likely overkill, but it took an additional 30 seconds of cable-management work and provides some peace of mind.

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We couldn’t be happier with the system, and we’ve added Apple TV units to each of our televisions (Living Room and Stu Stu Studio as seen in the screenshot a few images up!) so that our music can continue to follow us in “zones” throughout the house. While the system isn’t “truly” whole house as it sits – only iTunes running from a computer or laptop has the capability to select multiple channels at once – we find it to be a convenient and great-sounding way to pump up the motivational jams in this music-appreciating household. Michael Jackson Radio on Spotify to get your day going, anyone?

Who else has tackled a system like this? We’d love to hear about (and see!) your audio adventures!

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  • Staci @ My Friend Staci - September 15, 2016 - 11:16 AM

    Wow! This is impressive and I’m sure sounds great. Here I was patting myself for finally getting the TV on the wall ;)
    Sound equipment and all that is so baffling to me. We’re still trying to pick a new receiver for our Sony turntable. Which reminds me… any recommendations?ReplyCancel

    • Scott - September 15, 2016 - 1:03 PM

      Hi Staci! We’ve been really happy with our Yamaha rx-v377. The sound is great and it has a ton of features for the money. Newer models have 3D and 4K capabilities if that’s something that is necessary for your setup. For turntable connectivity, you’ll need a small pre-amp for power, though. Hope this helps!ReplyCancel

      • Staci - September 17, 2016 - 2:04 PM

        Thank you so much! Yamaha is what we were looking at and I’m very happy the brand has your endorsement.ReplyCancel

  • julie - September 15, 2016 - 1:22 PM

    Great way to get the home sound feel without having to wire the whole house (or have someone out to do it). Brilliant idea and execution to boot!ReplyCancel

  • Kathy - September 15, 2016 - 1:29 PM

    I saw a couple of years ago on Jenna Sue’s design blog that she had recessed speakers put in the ceilings. We rent right now but we are definitely going to do that when we buy a house. For a while, I was thinking about doing a whole house system with a dock for my phone or whatever but then I realized that you have to, you know, leave the phone there, which sounds obvious but yeah. The wireless system sounds like a much better idea!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - September 15, 2016 - 1:33 PM

      The living room is the one place in our home where we DO have ceiling speakers. When we first renovated that room, we had to tear down the WHOLE ceiling, so we made sure to incorporate it before everything was drywalled back up! More photos on that whole renovation craziness here: http://www.yellowbrickhome.com/our-sweet-home-chicago/house/ReplyCancel

  • spiffi - September 15, 2016 - 10:28 PM

    I’ve spent the last few years saving up my credit card cash back dividends, amazon gift cards from birthday gifts and any extra cash I could find, to buy Sonos speakers for my house.

    They aren’t built in – but I don’t mind that – but I have speakers both bedrooms, the office, kitchen and living room. The Sonos system lets me control everything from any computer, my tablet or phone. I can play music files from a hard drive attached to a computer, any streaming source (Pandora, Spotify and a ton of others), or using line in from my cd stereo system if I wanted.

    I can group different rooms together and play the same song everywhere, or separate the rooms and play different things.

    The next big feature will be working with Amazon’s Echo – voice control to play my music anywhere throughout the house – coming early next year!ReplyCancel

  • Sheila - September 16, 2016 - 1:59 AM

    I went with Sonos as well. My house had existing built-in speakers in the living room and family room and wiring in place for patio speakers so I started with just those 3 zones when I moved in 6 years ago. I’ve expanded the system when I could afford to pick up another speaker or 2 and now have the whole house covered. I love having music in the kitchen and my master bathroom! And the garage and….ReplyCancel

    • Kim - September 16, 2016 - 9:27 AM

      Nice! Having bluetooth music in the garage sounds like heaven. And the master bathroom! I’ll have to get Scott on those two areas next!ReplyCancel

      • Scott - September 16, 2016 - 10:22 AM

        Say no more. I’m on it!ReplyCancel

  • Meg D - September 17, 2016 - 10:08 PM

    I CANNOT get enough Jack photos; what a dignified gent he is.ReplyCancel

  • southern gal - February 1, 2017 - 3:19 PM

    Also went with Sonos after much research and other not so good solutions (i rent also). after getting the first one on PRIME DAY at a big discount was able to save up and get a few more during the big December 2016 month long sale. and then a client gifted me one… slowly slowly adding.

    i love them. I live in a railroad apartment (about 750-800 sf) with five little rooms … so a pair in one room wont be heard in any other one -so i have been saving and adding them as i can.

    And the addition of ECHO capibility will be the icing – the reason i finally took the plunge was when SONOS added PLEX as a service (i have a ton of music in my PLEX libraries)

    But definitely the ECHO capability will be the coolest – already have a couple of dots around too… (uh yea i work in IT and am a techie but also a musician – must have good speakers)

    outdoors is a problem as there is no outdoors sonos (yet).

    but company has new leadership recently and seem to be ready to push forward on a number of fronts… so there should be a solution soon, i have no doubt.

    btw LOVE your blog – started reading it from the beginning of the Purchase of this house… and am as far as this post.. almost caught up!

    y’all are so inspiring!ReplyCancel

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