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.
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:
- an Apple Airport Express
- an Audiosource Amp-100 Amplifier
- a pair of Definititve Technology ProMonitor 800’s for the kitchen with these speaker wall-mounts
- and a pair of Definitive Technology AW 5500 Outdoor Speakers for the back patio (the wall-mounts are included with these speakers)
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:
As for where we keep all the stuff, well, we’re utilizing the formerly unutilized cabinet above our stove:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!