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n_maher

Home Audio Help (for a friend)

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So a friend just built a new house, had the contractor wire up multiple rooms for whole-house audio and unfortunately the guy (electrician) walked off the job right at the end, leaving him with somewhat of a turd to deal with.  I'm trying to help him take the lemons and turn them into a palatable drink and thankfully this guy isn't an audio nut.  I'd be losing my goddamn mind right now if it was me.

The situation - the front end lives in one room and the only thing that exits is speaker wire.  The worst part, the electrician only ran one pair of wires to each of the seven rooms that are to get distribution from the hub.  Yes, you heard that right, it's wired for mono.  FML point one. Two, it seems like there's a short somewhere.  I'm confident that it's at a termination point as the system sort of runs but is tripping amps into protect mode.  This happened to me once before and it was just one strand from one pair that had crossed/shorted the system and wasn't always an issue.  There's another possibility and I'll get to that now.  In each of the seven rooms the single pair of wires goes to an in-wall mounted autoformer volume control.  This is supposed to allow for not only localized volume control but also impedance matching in the system.  The module has a selectable impedance switch on it which sounds good, till you realize that on the input side there's only one channel and on the output there's two (a pair of speakers in each room).  So with these speakers in parallel the impedance is halved, which to my mind is not great but I don't think there's anything to be done about that.  But that's one reason to bring this to people much smarter than myself.  Lastly, the system was installed with a single 150w/ch stereo amp driving the whole business with a passive signal splitting device sitting on the output of the amp.  That seems insane to me.

My suggestion is to replace the stereo amp with an HT front end (amp or preamp will do) and tell the unit to only use the center channel, thereby at least capturing the entire stereo input and simulating stereo on the output.  Run the line-level signal through the multi-channel splitting device (this is a maybe) and feed it to a stack of monoblocks with each one feeding one of the seven rooms.  We'd keep the autoformers in play and split the amplified signal there so that both speakers are used.  Yes, I admit, it's a bastardized far less than ideal setup but I think it'll accomplish my friends ultimate goal (sound in many rooms for ambient purposes) and be far better than just replacing the undersized single amp with a larger, single amp that would only feed the left or right output to the rooms and for some recordings be missing a huge amount of information.  

Investment threshold is very low and I've thankfully found a solution on the amplification side that'll help but I'm open to suggestions if someone can think of something simple and elegant that'd allow us to get an actual stereo signal to the rooms.  I've thought on it a lot and can't see how.  Rewiring is a complete non-starter as the wiring is all in-wall and in-attic (complete with R60 insulation which isn't coming out).  

Apologies for the Larry-esque TLDR and thanks in advance for any help/suggestions offered.

  

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I would scrap the whole thing. It's a sunk cost at this point, and not worth throwing good money after bad. Use those existing speaker wires as a pull to feed optical cable and run digital to every room. Or, probably better, scrap it entirely and run the digital wirelessly.

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I also think having a future based system rather than one tied to mono because: reasons, is the way to go.

Nice of them to leave some pull throughs in place for you.

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5 hours ago, dsavitsk said:

Use those existing speaker wires as a pull to feed optical cable and run digital ...

This would be my recommendation, except maybe network instead.

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The existing wires would never work as pulls.  Anything run through the walls as an original installation is going to be secured in the wall.  Wireless is probably the way to go in the long run but there isn't budget at this point to scrap the whole thing and all the speakers are passive in-wall units so amplification would be required in every room even if we found a better way to get signal there.  

What would you suggest for a wireless solution, Doug?

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Me? I'm the worst person to ask about this. I don't think there is a viable wireless solution for whole house audio that is worth investing in. Everything I have looked at seems unworkable in one way or another. But on the other hand I also am not sure I understand the desire to have it - I find ambient noise stressful.

That said, someone content to use autoformers and mono will probably be thrilled by a Sonos system. Or an Alexa, or a Google Home.

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On 10/28/2017 at 2:51 PM, n_maher said:

My suggestion is to replace the stereo amp with an HT front end (amp or preamp will do) and tell the unit to only use the center channel, thereby at least capturing the entire stereo input and simulating stereo on the output. 

  

So how married is your friend to the idea of stereo?  Perhaps just run the center/summing channel and one speaker in each of the outboard rooms?  I know some amps come with a mono switch.

When I use speakers, I only ever hear stereo when I’m in the sweet spot.  When I’m in the next room or other end of the room, mono would be good enough.

The only other thing I can think of is, get rid of the autoformers and use the two leads for the hot part of stereo, implement a truly single ended solution and use the house ground for both channels’ return/ground.  Maybe you can use the autoformers to protect the inputs and prevent crosstalk.

One more silly idea — use a broadcast codec, but you’d need two per, one each side.

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I'm with Doug's first post.

Start with a clean slate and hire an AV contractor and do it right.

Trying to patch things together is a sure path to regrets in a new house.

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25 minutes ago, Dusty Chalk said:

So how married is your friend to the idea of stereo?  Perhaps just run the center/summing channel and one speaker in each of the outboard rooms?  I know some amps come with a mono switch.

He's not.  I just can't stand the idea of only getting the information from one channel to the rooms.  That's absurd.  

25 minutes ago, Dusty Chalk said:

When I use speakers, I only ever hear stereo when I’m in the sweet spot.  When I’m in the next room or other end of the room, mono would be good enough.

Agreed.  No issue with mono really.  I am totally comfortable listening to my UE Boom while cooking and activities like that.  

It's probably important to note that in addition to not being an audiophile this friend is also not a technophile.  No Raspberry Pi solutions or stuff like that, the minute something went wrong any benefit would be negated.  The solution needs to be as plug and play as possible.

And while the suggestions to scrap the entire thing are the best solution there isn't the budget to redo it all.  In the long run I expect that's what he'll do so this is about getting something "acceptable" up and running utilizing as much of what he's already got as possible. 

 

 

 

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How many rooms does he need sound in? A Sonos costs $200/room - that is surely cheaper than any solution involving wires, and in wall speakers, and a large HT receiver, etc.

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The wiring is done, the speakers are in, I've got an HT receiver that I'll donate to the cause, and the amplification side has been solved for around $400.  So yes, if he had to start over the Sonos would be cheaper but it'd be a whole lot more to switch over to that now.

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1 hour ago, n_maher said:

He's not.  I just can't stand the idea of only getting the information from one channel to the rooms.  That's absurd.  

Well, no, that's not what I meant, and I'm as quickly annoyed by that when I hear a channel drop, I usually pick up on it within seconds.  Try listening to the beginning of Fairies Wear Boots with only the left or right channel, it's a completely different song.  I know on my old Pioneer receivers, some of them have a mono button that just sums the two channels, and I know it's a rarity, but they still show up now and then.

But sounds like you already have most of it in place, so that was just to clarify.

Have you already sorted the short problem?  I presume you did.

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7 minutes ago, Dusty Chalk said:

Try listening to the beginning of Fairies Wear Boots with only the left or right channel, it's a completely different song. 

Try listening to the Ramones: you would be choosing between drums or guitars, on the earlier stuff!

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I think you're on the right track, Nate. In the near term. - and maybe forever - mono could be fine. If a "temporary" solution lasts long enough, maybe wireless possibilities might mature to the point of practicality.

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