Remote Speakers DIY

January 10, 2013

This is a project I've wanted to do since we moved in. With just a few simple parts, I installed independent remote speakers into our dining room. What I wanted was a system that was simple, controllable from an iPhone via AirPlay, and that didn't require going to another room and turning something on before we could listen to music.

Here are the parts that will do the job:

The AirPort Express shows up as remote speakers in iTunes and in many iOS apps including Spotify and Music, so we end up "beaming" music to it through the home network. The AirPort Express has an audio Line-Out jack that is connected to one of the inputs on the amplifier. The speakers are connected to the amplifier. The amp has a volume knob, but we just set it to a loud setting and use the volume control on the iTunes/iPhone to make it quieter.

Despite being inexpensive, the amp has some nice specs and feels like it's built very well. It's heavy and the switches and dials feel way nicer than any consumer electronics gear I've owned. One essential feature is that it has auto-standby ... so it's not a power hog unless it's getting an input signal. It also has two sets of inputs -- A and B. If there is a signal on input A, it will switch from B to play the signal from input A. Once there is no signal on input A it will switch back to B. This has the side effect of switching from A to B in between songs if the AirPort is connected to input A. PROTIP: Connect the AirPort to input B to avoid this annoying problem!

The speakers were super easy to install. Just measure and cut a hole in the drywall in between studs. Drill a tiny hole where you think the center should be and use some stiff wire to fish around in the space to ensure there are no hidden obstructions.

The speakers sit flush with the wall and really blend in.

The only pain was running the speaker wire in the attic. Since the speakers were on an exterior wall, I had to get "intimate" with the rafters and ceiling insulation to fish the wire out. A 15-degree roof slope meant i was on my belly, balancing on the narrow edge of a 2x4 rafter, wedged all the way as far as I slither to reach the wires. Once I got the wires fished up into the attic then down to where the amplifier is, it was all smooth sailing.

Each speaker has 6 screw/clips that are designed so that as soon as you tighten the screw a small amount, a clip swings out to behind the drywall. Tightening the screw sandwiches the drywall between the speaker bezel and the clips. The speakers are held to the wall very firmly. There was already ample insulation in the walls behind the speakers, which is a good thing for sound quality.

I terminated the wires with a 4-post speaker wall plate and used banana plugs and some short lengths of speaker wire to go from the plate to the amp.

It all worked right out of the gate. The biggest endorsement came from Arti via text message to me today. She wrote to me "Streaming spotify thru kitchen speakers... love it!"

The AirPort/Amp/Speaker combination could go into any room where we wanted music. All of them can play independently or in unison, which would be great for a party. Next up -- garage and back yard...