There are a variety of ways to pipe music around the twenty-first century home. You could get a massive boombox, crank it to 11, and stand in your foyer all John Cusack Say Anything style. You could snag a bunch of cheap clock radios on Amazon, carefully tune them all to the same station and volume, and then enjoy some sweet (and nostalgic!) FM as you move about the house. You could carefully scatter Bluetooth speakers in different rooms and then play a fun little technology game called “How far is 33 feet away?” Or you could go with a professionally designed and installed audio system carefully crafted to maximize the performance for each listening area.
If the last approach sounds like the way you like to roll, then read on to learn what kinds of primo audio experiences you can create in different areas of your home!
DEDICATED HOME THEATER
If you love movies—and I mean you really, really love movies—then a dedicated home theater should be on your radar. The benefits of a dedicated theater are numerous, but primarily it offers the perfect space to optimally recreate the commercial cinematic experience, i.e., getting you as close to what the director intended when he made the film.
From an audio standpoint, the current reference surround sound standard is 3D audio playback in the form of Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Auro-3D. These systems all use multiple speakers—up to a mind-numbing 48 channels—positioned in a circular configuration around the listeners with additional speakers placed overhead to create a true, hemispherical surround experience. With all of these speakers, audio designers can aurally “position” objects around the room with pinpoint accuracy, creating sounds like rain that is truly pelting down on you from overhead, or a helicopter swirling all around the room. The result is truly immersive sound that will have you ducking for cover when the bullets start flying or planes go ripping right past your head!
High-performance speakers are available in a variety of styles, from massive, freestanding towers to bookshelf speakers concealed inside fabric-wrapped columns, to invisible in-wall speakers hidden behind a projection screen. Coupled with a large, Ultra HD image, these theater systems can rival the experience of any movie theater…but with way better snacks!
Don’t have an area in the house you can commit to your own personal Cineplex but still want to enjoy terrific movie watching and music listening experience? Then a media room is right up your alley!
According to HGTV, the term media room “has evolved into a generic definition for a multipurpose space that is outfitted with a large, flat-screen television, surround sound, and cozy seating.” Translation: It’s the perfect space to watch the big game with friends, enjoy a cozy family movie night, chill out for a sweet gaming sesh, shame-watch the latest episode of Teen Mom 2, or just relax with a nice adult beverage and stream some great high-resolution audio.
Since media rooms are generally in family or living rooms, your decorating style is going to play the largest part in how it looks. If you want something sleek and modern, low-profile, svelte speakers bordering your large flat panel TV creates a chic and minimalist-cool look. If you have a large wall unit or built-ins flanking a fireplace, some nice bookshelf speakers can deliver big sound in a small form factor. As an added bonus, some speaker companies like Triad offer custom paint matching options to make sure your speakers are the perfect color. Can’t stand the idea of taking up any wall or floor space with speakers? Specially constructed in-ceiling speakers can direct the sound towards you instead of firing straight into the floor, giving you surround sound that is out of sight but definitely not out of mind.
TV SOUND OR “WHAT DID THEY SAY?!”
If you’ve purchased a flat-panel TV in the past five years, you’ve probably experienced “Sucky TV Audio” syndrome. First off, understand that no matter how good your TV is, you are almost always buying it for its picture performance and not for its audio quality. Yes, I know you paid a lot for your TV, and I know it is has a giant screen, but I’m sorry to tell you that your TV’s speakers suck. (There are some exceptions to this, such as some new LG OLED or Bang & Olufsen models.)
Further exacerbating the TV audio problem is that flat-panel designs continue to get even flatter, meaning there is no depth to install a speaker of any size. The final design straw was the goal of an all-screen, bezel-less design which literally eliminated the oneplace for a speaker to be installed. Now most TVs place the speaker behind the screen, literally firing away from you and into a wall! If this sounds like a recipe for producing terrible audio, give yourself two points!
Fortunately, a whole new product category has been born to address this issue: the soundbar.
Like any speaker, soundbars come in a range of price and performance levels, and you typically get what you pay for, i.e., don’t expect that $99 bar you saw at Walmart to sound much better than your TV’s speakers.
While a premium bar not only improves your ability to understand dialog while watching TV, it can use multiple drivers to create pseudo-surround that can turn a bedroom into a mini-theater, can incorporate with a wireless subwoofer to create real cinematic stomp, and also be terrific for music playback, letting you enjoy your favorite Pandora or Tidal station.
Soundbars can sit on a shelf, cabinet, or wall mount below the TV. Many also require only a single digital audio cable connection to the TV and can be controlled by your television’s remote control for totally simple, no-fuss operation.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Pool parties, grilling out, evening drinks by a fire pit, or simply hanging out on the patio. If you’ve watched any home design, flip, or remodel show recently, you know more and more living is taking place outside the house, with people transforming their backyards from ho-hum into Hot Dayum! entertaining oases!
Music plays an important part in creating the perfect atmosphere outdoors, letting you set the vibe with a favorite station or playlist, and the days of just slapping up a pair of speakers and calling it good are over.
Distributing audio outside can pose its own set of challenges, including creating balanced and even sound levels so a person sitting by a speaker isn’t deafened while someone on the other side of the pool can’t hear anything. Other difficulties include directing music towards listening areas so as not to disturb the neighbors, controlling the music without having to keep running into the house, and creating a look that blends in and complements the landscape design. Fortunately, technology is here to address all of these issues!
A well-designed outdoor audio system can be camouflaged into your landscaping to the point where it is nearly invisible. Subwoofers can even be buried in the ground, providing subterranean bass that delivers true, concert amphitheater-quality audio. Similar to lighting, by using multiple speakers at lower volumes you can focus audio to just the areas you want to hear it and enjoy smooth and even audio no matter how large your back yard is. And with an automation system controlling everything, you can adjust the volume and change from The Beatles to Beyoncé by just pulling out your smartphone!
Whether your home is under construction, just built, or has been around for thirty or more years, there are tons of options for filling it with music!
The most common type of speaker used for distributing audio inside a home is a recessed in-wall or in-ceiling model. While there is no hard and fast rule, typically round speakers go in the ceiling and square speakers in the wall. Many new architectural speakers feature a micro-thin bezel design that blends in beautifully with the wall or ceiling. To make it practically invisible, the speaker can be painted to match your room color!
Creating listening zones in the house and letting each family member personalize their own listening are key to getting the most out of your distributed audio system. With zoned audio, dad can enjoy some cerebral jazz in the study, mom can get her sweat on to some workout grunge in the exercise room, your tween can enjoy a wicked Taylor Swift/boyband mash-up in her room, and Bob Marley can make it all irie out by the pool.
With an audio system that taps into the power of streamed audio sources like Pandora, Rhapsody, TuneIn, or Deezer, you can have literally millions of songs right at your fingertips! And don’t think “streaming” means poor quality, as services like Tidal are starting to stream in better-than-CD quality, letting you enjoy every note.
Tying your audio system into your automation system makes it easy to switch from entertaining to relaxing. Imagine sitting at the dinner table and just saying, “Hey, Alexa, turn on dinner time,” and watch as lights automatically set to your perfect levels throughout the home and the music magically switches over to a dinner-suitable station or playlist. Or press a “Good Morning” button on a bedroom keypad and have the kitchen lights come on, the window shades raise, and the thermostat set to your preferred level, while some restful classical music starts playing until you’ve had your second cup of coffee.
A smart home gives you more control over all of your devices while letting you hide all the clutter. With the right design, your smart home takes all the hassle out of doing and lets you jump straight into enjoying. Automatic? More like automagic!