The inside guide to multiroom audio

Planning to kit out your house with the latest that technology has to offer?

Chances are that near the top of your shopping list will be the ability to listen to music throughout the house.

In nearly all custom installations, multiroom audio plays a significant part, though the type of system you plump for will depend on your budget, the music sources and the amount of control you require.

For around £500 you could have a basic wired or wireless two zone audio setup, while a budget of around £5,000 will get you a multizone audio system in several rooms that will allow you to listen to different sources.

Even better are systems costing around £10,000, which boast interactive colour keypads so you can pause CDs and change between radio stations from a wall switch.

Wireless multiroom

Increasingly custom installers and tech-savvy enthusiasts are turning to wireless technology to provide simple and effective multiroom audio.

This is usually done from a main PC/Mac which distributes digitally encoded music tracks to hi-fi components throughout the house via inexpensive digital media adapters.

Several music-oriented adapters are on the market including Slim Devices' Squeezebox (www.slimdevices.com) and Netgear's MP101 (www.netgear.com). Alternatively, you can use a product like Apple's AirPort Express (www.apple.com/uk/airport), which can send music from your Mac to your hi-fi.

The advantage of these kinds of devices is that they are relatively easy to set up. However, they don't offer you the flexibility of more expensive multiroom devices. They are also based around the PC, which is not the highest quality audio platform around.

Wi-Fi hi-fi

For those who want the simplicity of wireless technology without the unpredictability of having to use the PC, another solution is to get a more hi-fi oriented multiroom system, such as the Yamaha MusicCAST (www.yamaha.com).

This uses 802.11 wireless technology to distribute digital music to terminals and speakers in up to five rooms.

Another product worth considering is the Imerge Sound Server. Available with different sized hard drives and outputs (see www.imerge.co.uk), this can be partnered with one of the company's NP200 network players to provide audio in additional rooms.

Up to six network players can be attached to each sound server with each one capable of playing FM/AM and internet radio stations.

Hidden speakers

So far we have discussed only wireless-based systems requiring additional hardware for listening to music in additional rooms. However, a far better solution - if budget permits - is to buy a system that can be more discreetly integrated into the home using in-ceiling speakers and in-wall keypads.

The main downside to this is that it's a much more expensive and messy process. Not only will you almost certainly have to enlist the help of a custom installer, you will also have to put up with holes in the ceiling while the necessary speakers and cabling are added.

This is one of the many reasons why custom installs are generally carried out as part of an overall house refurbishment.

Several different types of in-ceiling speakers are available from manufacturers such as Sonance (www.sonance.com) B&W (www.bwspeakers.com), KEF (www.kef.com) and Speakercraft (www.speakercraft.com).

Not only do they vary in their diameter, they also vary in their shape and their capabilities. Some, for example, boast one main bass driver and two directional tweeters in a single speaker unit.

These are particularly effective in small rooms where there isn't enough room to put two speakers in the ceiling. Others include surround sound oriented designs where you can angle the entire speaker.