Multi-Room Audio Streaming with Alexa and Spotify (Updated)
This post is an updated version after using our system for almost two years.
When we purchased our home it did not have walls and from the moment we stepped inside we began to think (panic) about audio. We are far from audiophiles but we enjoy music… and what a better time to plan an audio system than when the house is gutted?
I started doing some research and had an extremely hard time finding a solution that seemed reasonable. When you search for "Multi-Room Audio" or "Whole Home Audio" articles typically come in two flavors:
1. The traditional audio system: A system that is housed in the basement due to the large amount of cables, very expensive equipment, and miles of cat5 cable. The cat5 cable powers and transfers data between the system and LCD panels mounted on the wall of multiple rooms. The LCD panel is the primary method for selecting and changing music.
2. Sonos: This is the other most common solution and seems to get great reviews. Sonos has stand alone speakers that jump on your network. They also have an amp that connect to a pair of speakers you already own.
I have some major issues with these solutions: I have wifi so I am not running cat5. I am not getting up to change the song on an LCD panel. I am not paying thousands of dollars for amps alone (In my system I would need $3,500 worth of Sonos Amps.)
Must haves: Affordable solution that works across my network. Reasonable power. The ability to control everything from my phone (specifically Spotify.)
BTW... when you ask friends if they have any suggestions they 1. most certainly have never done this before or 2. They suggest Bluetooth solutions. Have you ever walked around a house with your phone connected to bluetooth? Insert eye roll emoji.
WHERE DO WE WANT SPEAKERS?
The first thing we did was think about where we want speakers. This is crucial in determining what kind of equipment you will need. We decided that the majority of speakers will be on the first floor as our primary use of the sound system will be for entertaining. For casual use we are more likely to use our Alexa. We also decided not to put more than 2 speakers per room. Crossing our fingers the entire time that it is enough sound for a party. Update: It’s more than enough power.
First Floor: 8 Speakers, 2 in each of the primary rooms, none in common spaces/halls/landing
Second Floor: 6 Speakers, 2 each on the landing, master bedroom, and master bathroom
Basement: 2 Speakers for working mode
Outside: 2 Speakers for the future back yard patio
Front Porch: Stand alone speaker for casual listening
WHAT COMBINATION OF SPEAKERS WILL WE WANT TO LISTEN TO AT ONCE?
This is another aspect to consider. I think when in party mode we will want all of the speakers going at once. I can think of plenty of scenarios when this would not be true. These are the combinations that we determined:
Whole House: All of the in ceiling speakers. Party Mode
First Floor Only: Seems like an obvious one
Upstairs: Master Bedroom Only, Master Bathroom Only
Back Yard, Porch, Basement
THE LEARNING CURVE…
This is where things got hard for me. I have no idea how amp power is measured, and more importantly, how it relates to speakers. If you asked me this question I would have a same face as my grandmother if you asked her the amount of RAM she would need to play Facebook. Not amused.
I started watching Youtube videos about how Ohms and Frequency Response are related and how the number of speakers yada yada. The issue with most of these videos is that they often make an assumption about what you already know so I was lost OR they kept it so basic that it was not practical.
I decided take what I had learned and fly by the seat of my pants. This is how I generally work.
Update: Everything worked out great
POWERING THE SYSTEM.
I decided that overthinking this was going to cause a panic attack and that it will likely turn out just fine. I started looking for amplifiers and landed on a 12 channel (meaning 12 speakers or 6 pairs) system. The best option I came across was the Dayton Audio MA1240a Multi-Zone 12 Channel Amplifier. This bad boy only costs $500 and has decent reviews. Turns out that I first came across the same hardware with a different brand name (AudioSource) for $160 more. Thank you Amazon comments.
1200 Amps (ok, seems like a large enough number)
12 Channels (6 speaker pairs)
Each speaker pair can get its input from one of 3 sources: Bus (Input) A, Bus B, or Channel Specific Input. (each channel has a little switch that allows you to select the source)
Downfall: The Amp only allows for RCA input and does not have an optical input. I think I will live without it.
When choosing speakers I decided to look at Crutchfield. I have used Crutchfield in the past along with Monoprice when looking at speakers/amps and have had pretty good luck. Crutchfield pushed Polk speakers to the top of its list and features them as most popular.
When looking at the various options for in ceiling speakers I considered price and size. The larger speakers (8" vs 6.5"woofer for instance) have better bass due to the size of the cone. It looks like the tweeter also jumps from 3/4" to 1".
I decided to go with the Polk Audio RC80i which are 8" white in ceiling speakers sold in a pair for $150. They are moisture resistant and should be safe in the bathroom. They have 190 reviews and 5 stars with a Lifetime Warranty. The tweeter can be rotated to point to the middle of the room which is pretty neat and you can paint the grills which blows my mind.
I did a Google search for what type of speaker wire should be used. Speaker wire is most commonly 12, 14, or 16 gauge. The smaller the number the thicker the wire. As it turns out for runs >50 ft its recommended to use 12 or 14 gauge. For <50 ft or for 8ohm speakers (which is what I purchased) use 16 gauge wire. I have decided to cut the difference and go with 14 gauge.
This wire by InstallGear was affordable at $30/100 feet and is rated for in wall installation. I am not sure if it is required by code but willing to pay the extra $10 to not risk it.
Update: I ran out of wire early and ended up buying more at HomeDepot. The HomeDepot wire I liked a LOT MORE.
STREAMING AUDIO TO THE AMPLIFIER.
Update: The previous version of this post I planned on using chrome cast pucks… that turned out to be a bust as they did not stay in sync as easily as I hoped. Also controlling volume from my phone was more difficult.
The amplifier has multiple options for inputs as discussed above. So I planned the following
Bus (Input A): Use for my largest group… Channels 1-4 (kitchen, living room, dining room, parlor)
Bus (Input B): Use for my record player and switch a channel manually if I wanted to listen to it instead of audio from Alexa.
Channel 5/6: Will soon have their own Alexas specifically for music outside or in the basement.
In the Alexa App I can group Alexas together to play across multiple devices (therefor channels). I can also group independent Alexas for more coverage.
Volume. The phone/device volume will control the music volume via Spotify. The amp also allows for volume control to each individual channel. I plan on setting the Amp volume to the maximum volume that I would like while the Spotify app is at 100%. Update: Turns out I only need to set the Amp at 50%, even during a party.
All of the arrangements you create on setup will show up in your Spotify app. IT IS BRILLIANT.