I want to be able to walk between rooms, listening to the same music. This means that there has to be some kind of way to distribute music between the rooms.
I looked into various ready-made wireless systems like Sonos, but these all made The System the central point. I don't want that. I want to be able to control the music in any way that I want to, which means from Emacs.
So I wanted (sort of) passive systems that would allow me to say "the volume in room X is Y", and that would allow me to pause and skip the music from any room, while still tying into my own Emacs-based playing system.
The first element is the sound card. I settled on a RME Multiface box. It's really a semiprofessional music routing card. It has a lot of inputs and a lot of outputs, and you can route any combinations of any inputs to any outputs, while controlling the volume. You see how this would work for me: I'd just play a flac file, while having each room be one stereo output, and I'd set the volume per output.
I now had all these outputs, but how would I get the music to the various rooms? I first tried a couple of wireless systems. They both had two problems: 1) There was a half-second latency, so if you heard sounds from different rooms, it sounded kinda psychadelic. 2) They didn't work. That is, they had frequent drop-outs, and made beastly noises while doing so. I know, I know -- nothing that's wireless actually works.
My second idea was to try a powerline audio thing. The bandwidth requirements for audio are pretty minuscule, so I thought there might be a chance that something like this would work. But, as with the wireless systems, it 1) had a beastly latency and 2) didn't work. The drop-outs were even more brutal.
So: Wires it is. I'd have to install wires between all the rooms to get music to them. But what kind of wires?
That's when I learned the magical word: balun. It means "balanced/unbalanced", or something like that. Basically, a balun is a device that takes an unbalanced signal (like RCA audio) and makes is balanced (or what we computer people call differential).
Doing research over the intertubes I found a few companies selling this stuff. The baluns are generally non-powered, and use cat5 cabling. Like these babies:
They are just perfect! You just hook them up to your audio outputs, string some cat5 to a different room, plug another one in there, and plug the audio output into whatever amplifier/speakers you have there.
The sound quality is totally fine, too. That is, I can't hear anything obviously bad. There's bass, and there's treble, and there's the middle part. Perfect!
The main problem is, of course, all the cabling. That means a lot of these:
And some stretches off wall that look like this:
|Cat5. Wouldn't bet on the e|
That's a lot of hammering and drilling, but it's totally worth it. It just works 100%. No drop-outs, no odd noises, no latency. And the fi is so hi.
Wired is the new black.