Multiroom Audio Made Simple

Many people love the idea of a house-wide audio system, but they may not love the idea of paying to have one installed. Plus, the fancy features that come with dedicated multiroom audio systems — such as keypad controllers with metadata feedback, and the ability to divide a home into numerous listening zones — might be more than what many people actually need.

In fact, for the way many people actually live, two listening zones may be the perfect amount: a “main” zone linked to the TV/surround system and a secondary zone for playing music, radio, or something else in a different room. Think one person watching Oprah’s Life Lessons, while a second seeks refuge on the patio with ESPN radio and a beer. If a two-zone audio system sounds like it would fit your bill, chances are that you’ve actually got most of the components for it already on hand.

Surplus Power

To wit, do you have a surround sound system that’s rocking 5.1 channels? If you bought your receiver in the past few years, some extra amp channels and a little function called “multizone/multisource” might be packed in with its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feature set. Does it sport Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Iiz, or DTS-ES processing? Congratulations, you’ve got a 7-channel receiver! Instead of just abandoning those two extra amp channels, why not use them to add a second zone of audio to another area of your home? (And be honest: You probably even have an extra pair of speakers lying around somewhere, too.)

The Twilight Zone

Multizone/multisource, also known as “Zone 2,” certainly isn’t a new feature; the first AVR that I purchased back in 1996 had it. Problem is, it sucked ergonomically back then. Using Zone 2 meant connecting an external amplifier and stringing speaker wire across the fl oor of my apartment to a separate volume control unit and speakers in my bedroom. Did it work? Sure, but it was ungainly as hell, and turning the system on or changing sources meant walking to another room and fuddling through a clunky, cumbersome routine of button pushing and knob turning to access the Zone 2 source menu. After a few weeks, I dismantled the rig and packed it away.

For years, that’s how the multizone feature in most AVRs functioned: good in theory, lame in practice. But time and progress have reached the point where a low-cost multizone system is incredibly easy to implement and simple to use.

While the proliferation of surround back and front height processing has meant two extra amp channels in almost every recent receiver above base level, consumers haven’t bit, and those extra channels frequently go unused. Fortunately, AVR manufacturers — or their marketing departments — realized that it makes a ton of sense to repurpose, or “reassign,” the extra channels to drive another zone.

Taking Control

Beyond “free power,” recent developments in technology have finally solved what has always been multizone audio’s biggest problem: control. There was never a user-friendly way to get at multizone functions, which usually involved either an additional remote or awkward selector switches or buttons on the main one. But if your receiver is network-enabled, it’s probably one of the many that offers some kind of iOS, Android, or other control app, meaning there’s likely a ready-made control interface waiting. With a few swipes on your device, you can easily call up your receiver’s second zone, power it up, select your listening source, and adjust the volume. This means you can create — and control — a simple two-zone audio system with almost no additional investment.

Adding music to another area in your home no longer needs to be complicated or costly. With a receiver that you probably already own, a free control app, a pair of speakers, and some wire, you can extend your listening enjoyment. Now, what are you waiting for?