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Stretching your stereo.

IT MAY TAKE CRAWLING UNDER THE HOUSE, BUT YOU can turn your stereo into much more than a stack of gear and a couple of speakers cluttering up a corner of your living room. New products have come on the scene that can help you tap the potential in your existing components to send music to the far reaches of your house, and to control the system from those far reaches.

Last June, we introduced you to the idea of professionally installed, custom audio-video, with virtually invisible remote-controlled systems that can send audio and video signals to every corner of your house. The catch to the truly custom systems is their cost: most start around $5,000 and quickly shoot upward from there.

However, there are some inexpensive gizmos you can add to your existing stereo system on your own that will at least give you a taste of what custom audio can offer. Here, we describe four such do-it-yourself items: remote volume controls, infrared boosters, speaker distribution and protection systems, and in-wall speakers.


Let's say that you want to reclaim your living room by moving your receiver, turntable, cassette deck, and compact disc player (as well as all those tapes, records, and CDs) to a den or closet, leaving just your speakers in place. But you dread having to hike across the house every time you want to adjust the volume.

A remote "in-line" volume control can provide the cure for your separation anxiety. It lets you adjust the volume in the room where you listen to music, no matter how far your speakers are from your equipment stack. To install one, you just run speaker wire from an amplifier or receiver to the volume control, and then to the speakers (the control affects only that set of speakers).

Volume controls housed in unobtrusive, freestanding boxes cost about $120; in-wall controls cost about half that. The dial on the box will give you about a 30-decibel volume control (from, say, really loud to just below normal volume or from normal volume to pretty quiet) in 10 steps of 3 decibels each. The last step cuts the volume completely.

Some audiophiles may detect a slight reduction in sound quality when an in-line volume control is attached to a pair of high-end speakers. Most of us, however, will never hear the difference.


If you have a component that came with a remote control--most likely your CD player, although other new components also have remote capability--you can easily extend its sphere of influence to any room in the house. All you need is a pair of infrared "extenders," which come in the shape of pyramids, black boxes, or built-in wall plates.

You place a transmitter unit in any room where you listen to music, and a receiver unit within sight of your equipment stack. When you point your remote control at the transmitter, it converts the remote's infrared signal into a radio frequency signal (like a garage door opener) and transmits the command to the receiver, which turns the signal back into infrared and relays it to the component in the equipment stack.

Avoid placing transmitters where they would face windows, light bulbs, or fireplaces. These light and heat sources can give off enough infrared energy to block out the weaker signal from your remote control.

Infrared extenders vary in price, depending on the sophistication of the equipment. The pyramid-shaped transmitter shown on page 123 and a matching receiver cost $60 for the pair. You can buy additional transmitters for other rooms at $30 apiece.


A look at the back of your receiver will tell you exactly how many speaker pairs you can hook up to it. It's as many as there are pairs of speaker output connectors in the back usually two, labeled A and B. What if you want to add a third, fourth, or fifth pair?

If you piggyback more than one set of wires onto one speaker output, you run the risk of blowing up your receiver. Receivers and speakers are designed to operate at a certain impedance, usually 8 or 4 ohms. Piggybacking lowers the impedance, sending a dangerously imbalanced current through the speaker lines.

A speaker distribution system installed near your receiver will take the output for one set of speakers and split it into several lines, feeding sound to as many as 12 pairs of speakers, depending on the particular component. (The $190 system shown on page 123 can handle four pairs of 8-ohm speakers.) Protection circuits keep the line signals in and out of the receiver in balance at a safe level of resistance.

Systems come in a variety of configurations, including options of manual or automatic engagement of the protection circuits. (If you frequently use just one pair of speakers, the manually engaging circuitry is preferable, as the protection circuits cut the volume output slightly when engaged.) The box we show requires no AC power connection, but it does need to be installed with its ventilation holes clear.


Maybe you'd like to extend your stereo's range into another room but are reluctant to because freestanding speakers and controls would take up too much space or just not fit in with the room's decor. If you,re an adventurous sort, the answer might be to install in-wall components.

Unlike the in-wall speakers of old, which were best suited for public address or piped-in music, new high-fidelity speakers have been designed to handle the specific acoustical challenges posed by wall mountings. Their costs cover a vast range; the ones shown on page 123 cost $230 a pair. The in-wall volume control described on page 122 comes sized to fit into a standard electrical box (though you should never position a control in the same box with a 110-volt switch or outlet without consulting an electrician first). Keep in mind that a wall cavity is not necessarily an empty space; it can hide lots of surprises. Don't just start drilling. Try to open up a hole first to see what's in there. Be alert for plumbing pipes, sewer vent stacks, gas lines, electrical wire, and fire breaks.

To improve performance and reduce sound transfer through the wall to another room, you can pack fiberglass insulation behind in-wall speakers. Avoid placing the speakers right in a corner; the bass notes will distort and sound too boomy.


Although new components make it more convenient to move speakers away from the rest of your equipment, they haven't eliminated the need to connect them with wire. Running wire, especially through a cramped crawl space, is often the toughest step in extending your stereo's range.

We asked custom electronics designers and installers around the West for tips to make this work go more easily for you. Here's what they had to say:

* Take great care when wiring; make sure everything is

hooked up correctly. Draw yourself maps; write notes

about which color wire goes where. "One wire hooked up

in the wrong place could blow your speakers or receiver,"

one installer told us.

* Don't skimp on wire. Recommended thickness is 18gauge

for runs up to 50 feet, 16-gauge for runs from 50 to

100 feet, and 14-gauge for anything exceeding 100 feet

(the lower the gauge, the thicker the wire).

* Use wire in a sheathing rated at least CL-2. This designation,

which is a fire hazard reducing electrical code

standard, will be printed directly on the sheathing. Regular

speaker wire or lamp cord is flammable and can act like a

fuse. The four-conductor sheathed wire we show on pages

122 and 123 (about 58 cents a foot) lets you snake just one

line most of the way. You split off a pair of wires at a volume

control or near the first speaker, leaving the wires to

the other speaker in the sheathing.

* When running wire in a crawl space, get it off the

ground, as required by code. Hanging it from floor joists

protects it from water as well as from "little wire-munching

creatures that peel off the sheathing to make nests," as

another designer related.

* Don't run wire where you can walk on it; you could rub

away the insulation, which could cause a short and blow up

your system or start a fire.

* Give yourself slack on the wires so you can slide components

out of the stack when necessary.

* Keep speaker wire as far away from regular power lines

as possible. Sometimes a hum can be heard from the

speakers if wires pass within 10 inches of a 110-volt line. If

you must cross high-voltage lines, do so at a 90[degrees] angle.

Don't run wire parallel to the lines.


Think twice about adding to your current stereo if it already confuses you. However, if you want to do some of this and need help, call the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) at (800) 233-4230 for the names of designer-installers in your area.

If you can't find the pyramid pictured on page 123, call X10 (USA) Inc. at (201) 784-9700 for information on ordering. Call Sonance at (800) 582-7777 to find local retailers for all the other components pictured, including the wire.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Building Design Crafts; do-it yourself remote-controlled stereo system
Author:Crosby, Bill
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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