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Option 4: Multi-Source Preamplifier and Distribution Amplifier

The Niles MultiZone Receiver I mentioned in the preceding section bridges another type of whole-house solution, the multi-source preamplifier and distribution amplifier. This two-piece solution offers tremendous versatility—but at a price. These are expensive systems, designed for custom installations.

The first component in this system is the multi-source preamplifier, a sophisticated switching device that can send a half-dozen or more source signals to six or more different zones. Connect your CD jukebox, satellite receiver, AM/FM tuner, and so on, and then feed the signals to whichever zone you want.

The individual zone signals from the preamplifier are fed into a distribution amplifier, which is simply an amplifier with enough channels to feed all the various zones in your house. A 12-channel amplifier can feed six zones (two speakers per room). You run speaker cables from the distribution amplifier to the speakers you install in each of your auxiliary rooms.

You control this entire system through the preamplifier, which switches and sends sources to each zone; it also controls the volume level for each zone. The distribution amplifier has no controls at all, except for a master on/off switch.

This type of system gets really fancy when you install custom controllers in each room of the system. In fact, the controllers are likely to be the biggest expense in this system; many custom installers program custom interfaces into touchscreen controllers installed in each room.

A preamp/distribution amp system is the most versatile way to create whole-house audio, offering these advantages:

  • Total source control. You determine the source in each room.

  • No compromises in power or sound quality. Full power is sent to the speakers in each zone.

  • Audio and video. Most systems let you control both audio and video sources.

These are the disadvantages:

  • High cost. You can easily spend tens of thousands of dollars on this type of system.

  • Complex installation and maintenance. Because you're dealing with custom controllers, this system is very complex both to set up and maintain. You probably don't want to tackle this type of project yourself. This is the type of system that requires the use of a professional installation firm.

In short, this is a high-end solution reserved for custom installations.

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