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Multi-room audio systems have become much more accessible to residential customers than ever before. Not only has the advance in technology (especially wireless) made it easier to implement these systems, but customers are increasingly becoming interested in having multi-room audio systems in their homes.
We are in an era where people want to spend more leisure time at home, and any product or service that can increase the comfort of their home or elevate and improve their home entertainment options is in demand.
What is multi-room audio?
Multi-room audio is essentially a network of devices — including AV receivers, speakers, amps and soundbars — that allows you to play music, audio books, podcasts, local radio stations and other listening content from a central device, most likely a smartphone or tablet. Most multi-room audio systems, even high-end setups, now tend to be wireless. This makes these systems more dynamic and easier to manage in terms of adding more rooms or shifting the placement of speakers.
Depending on the setup you choose to configure for your customers, with a multi-room audio system, a user can play different songs in different rooms at the same time, play the same music in all rooms, or play audio in only certain rooms at the same time.
The music played across a multi-room audio system can originate from the customer's own personal music collection, a music server or network attached storage (NAS) drive, a USB device, a computer, or from a streaming service through the user's phone or tablet.
How do multi-room audio systems work?
Multi-room audio systems work in one of two primary ways. They either create their own internal mesh network or use the customer's existing Wi-Fi.
1. Systems that create their own closed network. A multi-room audio system that creates its own mesh network will initially connect to the user's home Wi-Fi, but then it will create its own closed network — this way it doesn't use the customer's Wi-Fi when the system is in use. This method also tends to make the system more reliable.
2. Systems that use existing Wi-Fi. Multi-room audio systems that connect to the customer's home Wi-Fi network rely on the strength and stability of the customer's network, so keep in mind that this may have a direct impact on their network bandwidth.
Although most systems rely on Wi-Fi alone, some offer additional connectivity options like Bluetooth. Different systems work with different platforms. These platforms determine the user experience and how each multi-room system works. They also dictate which speakers and systems work together and which don't.
What products do you need?
For wireless multi-room audio systems, strong and reliable Wi-Fi broadband is essential. This ensures quality sound and a strong continuous connection between products. A user also needs a tablet or mobile device, either Android or iOS, to use a proprietary platform such as AirPlay or Google Chromecast. Alternatively, the user can install the app for a specific brand's platform to control playback through the devices.
Products and network-ready devices that make up a multi-room audio system include:
Depending on how simple or complex a particular system is configured, a combination of just a few of these products or all of them can be used.
Multi-room system open platforms
Many multi-room audio systems require a single brand's ecosystem, so you are not able to mix and match different brands of speakers. However, with open platforms such as DTS Play-Fi and Apple AirPlay, users can mix and match brands and products relatively easily.
Instead of brands creating their own app, they can sign up to use DTS Play-Fi's app. The DTS Play-Fi app lets music lovers stream music across products from different manufacturers. The app allows for streaming of hi-res audio and users can mix-and-match as many brands as they want. However, DTS recommends a maximum of 32 connected devices. Any more than that, and performance begins to suffer.
AirPlay 2 is a streaming protocol from Apple. It allows the user to stream music from an iOS device such as an iPhone or an iPad. The device itself serves as the controller so there is no separate app to download with this platform. It is also compatible with a wide variety of streaming products and brands.
Another open platform is Google's Chromecast. It allows for streaming music across multiple products from various manufacturers. It's supported by a wide range of products, including name-brand TVs, soundbars and wireless speakers. This platform also utilizes a Chromecast Audio dongle that when plugged into speakers can turn them into Wi-Fi-enabled multi-room speakers.
The benefits to wireless multi-room audio systems make them easily attractive to customers. These systems can be installed almost anywhere and become incorporated into a home theater system. Because there are no wires, speakers can be placed or mounted just about anywhere the customer would like. The possibilities are almost endless. And these systems are modular, so expanding from just a few speakers to many throughout the home — or from just two rooms to every room — is relatively easy.
As a professional AV installer or integrator, you can provide the expertise to customize, set up, mount and place multi-room audio products in the best way possible to delight your customers, providing them with rich, enveloping sound throughout their home.