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DIY Whole House Music: Podcast #386

We talked last week about 7 tips for creating an entertaining whole-house audio system.  We talk this week about all the tools and technology you need to build your own.  Of course wireless is the easiest way to get there, we've got all the particulars to get you up and running.

Download this Episode.

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Today's Show:


Whole House Audio

We talked last week about 7 tips for creating an entertaining whole-house audio system. We talk this week about all the tools and technology you need to build your own. Of course wireless is the easiest way to get there, we've got all the particulars to get you up and running.

  • Although this representation is done with Macs it can also be done with PCs. Airport Express works with iTunes on the PC. You don't even have to use an Airport Extreme Router.
  • Everything is hardwired except the iMacs in the Bathrooms. They work well but every once in a while there is an audio drop out. The Airport Expresses are connected to the network via a powerline network adapter. They also work well and have minimal detectable drop outs.
  • iTunes has a feature where it can send synchronized audio to remote speakers. The remote speakers are the Airport Expresses. This works great but it limits the number of zones because you can not use other computers on your network as a zone. You can use an application made by Rogue Amoeba called Airfoil. This will allow you to “Hijack” the speakers of the computers on your network and play audio through them. In this case from one computer you can send audio to every Airport Express and Mac/PC on your network. In my case that’s 10 zones. All Zones are completely synchronized.
  • Airfoil lets you route audio from any application to your zones. So if you like listening to Pandora or your favorite radio station on the web you can do so in every zone in your house.
  • The Audio Engine Speakers sound great and have plenty of power. All but the Bathroom iMacs are connected to Audio Engine Speakers. The Family Room and Media Room Macs are connected to Home Theater Systems which have Klipsch and Aperion speakers. Those rooms can really rock if I want them to.
  • To have different music playing in different zones you need multiple instances of iTunes running on your network. The one flaw with iTunes is that you can’t send different songs to different zones.
  • Component Cost - Airport Express $99, Audio Engine A2 $199, iPod Touch for remote control (optional) $215
  • If you already are using iTunes on your PC or Mac you can have multi room music for $300 a zone. If you already have an iPod Touch or iPhone you already have a slick remote control that ties the whole system together. If you don't have the iPod Touch it will run you $215 for the entry model that will work perfectly as a remote control.

Download Episode #386

Reader Comments (29)

I remember sending Ara and Braden an email regarding broken Blu Rays. Ara pretty much repeated exactly what Netflix customer service told me. I also thought it was ridiculous that Netflix requested I call the post office, yet they had the nerve to bump up the price on Blu Ray. We are not the ones cracking them, charge the post office or use some of subscription premium towards better packaging. Sorry to hear the caller receiving broken disc, sounds exactly to what I was experiencing.

August 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRick

Yeah, no doubt receiving broken discs would suck. It hasn't happened to me, but it's got to be just as frustrating as not getting the movies you want at all. So I can certainly sympathize. I wish there was something we could do about either problem.

...if we could just download the movie...I could personally do without the extra features and BD-Live stuff for a high quality, high def download. But I'm a dreamer.

August 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBraden

Just wanted to chime in on the whole house audio thing. I use a similar setup to what Ara has. I have an AirPort Extreme base station and 2 Airport Expresses. The Expresses are connected to my home stereo and a stereo out in the garage (that also feeds backyard speakers). I love the setup. It just works. I'm a little disappointed with the Remote app for the iPhone/iPod ... while it works OK it takes a few seconds to crank back up when you turn your device back on. That's a little annoying, but for "free" what can I expect?

August 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChillin' in Colorado

On the MLB.TV its $34.95 for the rest of the year (D* $139.95). Only one problem is if you have two Roku's like me you can only use one at time. MLB.TV won't let you use two Roku's at the same time . If you want to use a different Roku you have to relink go to computer and put new code in (reactivate) so thats not to swift. But picture is very acceptable and $105 cheaper.

August 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermark h

You can use iTunes along with a Whole Home Audio amp in the same kinda way. I have iTunes feeding my Russound across the house via an Airport. I use a iPod Touch to control the music and the 6 zones of audio. Very slick and you only need 1 amp and the speakers are all hidden in the ceiling.

August 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJiles

If you're having trouble with Netflix, Blockbuster is an option. I gave them a try after I got fed up with the long time it was taking to get blu-ray movies from Netflix. Not only has Blockbuster been much faster, they haven't raised their prices so they're cheaper than Netflix. After about four months and at least one movie a week, I've had no disks with any problems.

August 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFredT

On the survey, you missed Alan Rickman's absolute best character: Marvin from "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"!

August 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFredT

Great show on whole house audio. I am lucky and my house was built with speakers in the wall using russound. The unlucky part was my receiver does not allow Digital music to be played on Zone 2 and Zone 3. Finally after a year, yes I know I am slow, it dawned on me to use the Airport express for this. So now my mac mini handles digital to the receiver and the Express handles analog to the receiver. I am waiting on the new iTouch to use for a remote. Another month and I will have the complete package. Great show.

August 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjkevinh

iMacs in the bathrooms? Really? wow I'm impressed. Hope to have a mac based system like yours someday. the macmini is there already. Think I need to replace it for an iMac to have the mini free as a server...

August 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeinrich

Hi Heinrich,

I have been toying with the idea of making a video of my system. I think once you see the system in action it will make this episode a bit easier to follow. Let's see how industrious I get in the next few weeks.


August 16, 2009 | Registered CommenterHT Guys

I wanted to make a clarification on my email. There was one point that I made that was overlooked. I'm well aware that the LPCM output of the PS3 (or any other player that decodes TrueHD or MasterAudio) is supposed to be identical to the undecoded bitstream output. I do believe that (in this case at least) there is a difference in how the Onkyo AVR handles the two streatms.
I think that the AVR applies the Audessey signal processing differently to the LPCM stream than than the bitstreams. Why this would be I have no idea, just the ouutput (at least to my ears) appears significantly different. The difference is very noticible in the LFE area: for example in the beginning of Transformers Optimus Prime's voice has more noticible undertones when the AVR is receiving the TrueHD bitstream vice the decoded LPCM.

With some more experience I do miss some of the PS3's power in the video processing area. When a menu comes up (especially one that is BDJ heavy) the Samsung gets bogged down. It is a bit of a shame that the PS3 has the shortcomings that it does. With three minor changes, the PS3 could still be the king of all BluRay players:
1) Bitstream output for advanced audio codecs. I don't understand why this wasn't included from the start. You have mentioned on the podcast (and I've seen elsewhere) that this is a hardware limitation: no firmware upgrades can fix it.
2) Native IR support. This would have been a cheap thing to include.
3) The PS3 does support an alternate OS. Sony could write a "BluRay disc only mode", that would make the PS3 act like a HT BluRay player. A rather loud and power hungry one, but one nontheless.
There is the possibility that the redesigned PS3 may have some of these features, but I strongly doubt it. This train has left the station: the newest generation of BluRay players (according to reviews) can match the PS3's load times and ability to handle complicated menus. I don't see Sony adding cost to the PS3 in order to cannibalize their own market for dedicated BluRay players.

August 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWard

Is Braden going to do a write-up on his whole house setup? it seemed a little less complicated than Ara's ...

PS- No love for Alan Rickman's delightfully evil Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves? He knocked that one out of the park :)


August 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKen O

The solution to broken Blu-Ray disks is to call your Congressman. This past February and March I received a total of 10 broken Blu-Ray disks. This was after having received over 150 undamaged Blu-Ray disks the previous year and a half. The disks did not just have minor cracks but were completely shattered. I called NetFlix and both the local and regional post offices but the problem continued. I finally decided to call my local Congressman and the problem stopped almost immediately. I have not had any issues since that time.

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

I'm surprised nobody commented yet about the Comcast digital transition that was briefly mentioned in this podcast. The San Francisco Bay Area is already going through this transition. In this area, Comcast has been duplicating the Expanded Basic channels in digital form for many months if not years. The big news is that they're actually turning off the analog channels in the RF range approximately channels 35-82. The Limited Basic channels 34 and below will continue in analog for quite some time. The low numbered channels are mostly the OTA rebroadcast and public/government access channels.

Comcast is providing up to two DTA (Digital Transport Adapter) boxes per Expanded Basic or higher subscriber for no charge. These boxes are SD only and only have coax RF output. They will only tune the non-encrypted Limited Basic and Expanded Basic channels but they do provide an IR remote and they do the proper channel mapping. Proper Digital Cable boxes can decrypt the higher numbered "Digital Cable" and premium channels and are addressable so that Comcast can provision the specific channels that you subscribe to. The full function boxes can also receive Video on Demand. The DTA is useless for an HDTV because you have to connect it to the cable RF input of your TV. If you do this on your HDTV that has only one coax RF input, you will be unable to tune the network OTA rebroadcast HD channels like NBC, ABC, FOX, etc. that you would otherwise be able to receive on your QAM capable HDTV. So, just like the Coupon Eligible boxes for OTA, the DTA's are designed to be used only on older NTSC-only TVs.

Limited Basic subscribers that typically pay less than $20/month can probably tune the digital Expaned Basic channels with their clear QAM enabled TVs, but eventually Comcast will move the digital versions of the Expanded Basic channels into the RF range currently blocked by the traps (notch filters) historically used to prevent these subscribers from seeing the analog Expanded Basic channels.

Since the Expaned Basic channels are no longer encrypted for compatibility with the DTA boxes, they are available to all QAM tuners. This is particularly useful to HDHomerun and other HTPC tuner users since the PC software provides a way to map the oddball RF channel numbers and subchannels to the normal channels ids and numbers. On you QAM-capable TV, you would have to input something like 84-8 to get ESPN. ESPN-HD is encrypted, so you would need a CableCARD or Comcast HD box to receive it.

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike

So many things to comment on in this episdoe. First, Marvin, definitely Marvin.

Second, Heavy Duty certainly wasn't made up for the movie. Better than hearing some loser try to rhyme the entire movie.

Third, I've got multiple AirPort Expresses around the house, but only for place where I couldn't run wire. If you can run Cat 5, why not hook them up to a zone of your receiver? My 3br house doesn't justify that many zones.

August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher

I think Ara said he can only serve up one stream using his setup through iTunes. Any good solutions you can recommend to serve multiple separate streams without needing to run multiple iTunes?

August 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBryan

A low tech, but quite satisfying approach to whole house audio is an FM transmitter kit! Since most folks are simply looking for a way to hear the same music throughout the house for a party, and aren't, in this situation, looking for perfect CD quality sound, an FM transmitter kit can give you music everywhere for literally TENS of dollars, not THOUSANDS.

Check out (I've never bought here, it's just an example). Poke around there for ideas. Basic kits start at $55, and slick digital ones with LCD readouts and greater range are $300. A friend of mine had a simple and cheap analog one years ago that would easily cover the average suburban property, and you could use any frequency on the FM dial.

So imagine, you simply turn on your transmitter, and take the output from any audio device (PC, iPod, cassette deck, whatever), and now you can hear it via ANY ol' FM radio around the house. Put a jam box from the 80's out on the patio, turn on a clock radio in the bathroom, crank up an under-the-counter radio in the kitchen, blast your Panasonic rack system, crank your car stereo in the carport... endless possibilities. Of course, there's no remote control capabilities, unless your source is remotely controllable. You could get an RF remote of your choice for your main system, and use a line out as your source. It's not as badass as a Sonos, but it's cheap, and it's really all most folks are looking for when they say they want whole house audio.

August 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLee O.

Does anyone know how you could get your Sat/Cbl audio to these speakers that are plugged into the airport express? I am going to put a zone in the master bath and would like to have the master bedroom tv's audio come out of the the speakers also.

August 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCole

Liked the piece on whole house audio, have the same thing and love it. I'm sure Audioengine A2 speakers are great at $199. A cheaper under-the-radar speaker I've really been impressed by for this purpose is the Bose Companion2 speaker, available for $69 at Sam's Club or more elsewhere. Not the other Bose models, especially not ones with a sub, but these are as good as anything you'll find under $100 for whole-house audio background music. Drops each room cost from $300 down to $170 too.

August 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEgon

Cole- Sat/Cable audio to the speakers would require an intermediate computer. Run red/white analog audio from your cable box or reciever, into microphone jack of computer, hijack that stream with Airfoil program (google it), and distribute accordingly. Will have 3-second delay associated with all Airtunes use, so audio won't match video (lip sync issue).

August 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEgon

Egon ,

Thank you for your help! Your salutation will work just fine. The delay will not bother me. We just want to be able to hear the TV broadcast without having to run the speakers up to 11. Great speaker suggestion too. I spent a couple hours yesterday trying to find some cheaper decent quality powered speakers. Thanks again

August 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCole

here is another whole home audio system utilizing windows media center and a computer. Sounds very simple and straight forward. I think it would fit well into the whole home discussions though in the future.

August 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbrad

doh forgot the link

August 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbrad

You can't afford to provide games? Being such netflix guys i'm surprised you don't subscribe to gamefly...

August 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

The broken Netflix Blu-ray disc issue....I'm having it big time. Out of the last 20 discs I've received, 18 of them have had the hairline fracture on the edge of the disc. I called Netflix and they acknowledged the issue just as described in the podcast. They told me to contact the post office as well to get them to handle the discs better. Ultimately, I had to switch my shipping address to my work address and so far everything has been fine.

As far as discs that play fine with the hairline fracture on the edge.....yes, they work fine until you get to the end of the movie. I've been able to get several of the cracked discs to play, but as you get to the end of the movie, (where the cracked content is), the disc stops playing.

Netflix has been pretty good about it. They send me a bunch of extra movies due to the issue. I do think they are passing the buck here though. Just fix the packaging already.

August 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSean

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