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Crestron Electronics, Inc.

Crestron offers the only complete end-to-end solution with a complete line of hardware and software. Crestron not only connects and controls devices; we integrate and automate all the building systems to provide a connected experience. We deliver integrated solutions for audio, video, IP, lighting and climate control making wiring and installations easier and promoting system integrity.
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Speakers, Amps, and Streaming: Everything You Need to Know
Posted on Thursday, February 24, 2022
Speakers, Amps, and Streaming: Everything You Need to Know

Feb. 24, 2022 - As we've mentioned before, there's a lot of information to sift through when it comes to home audio. We've taken some of the most common questions we've heard from homeowners who are interested in exploring their distributed audio options and put them to our in-house expert, Crestron's Director of Product Management Audio Solutions, Ekin Binal.

What should I look for in a streaming amp — and what's the actual definition of this thing?

Streaming amps are different than generic amps because they have streaming or network sourced audio built right into them. You can stream music from the internet, from sources like Pandora, Spotify, and so on, and play them out directly through the amplifier without any additional audio equipment.

What about preamps?

The only difference between a streaming amp and preamp is that the preamp doesn't have an amplifier built-in — meaning you need to connect the output of the pre-amp into an amplifier or a set of powered speakers.

What are the primary differences in streaming services?

Audio streaming services come in all sorts of flavors. Pandora is great because it's a set-it-and-forget-it type of interface; you do have the option to “steer it” by liking or disliking songs, which customizes your playlist. I'm a fan of SiriusXM, too — like Pandora you have an endless playlist, but there is the added benefit of a DJ chiming in here and there with added color. Furthermore, there are dozens of shows that focus on a variety of subjects: news, arts, culture, you name it — and if you are used to SXM in your car this is a great way to bridge it into your Crestron Home system.

AirPlay is an excellent way to stream Apple Music via your DM NAX system, and AirPlay leverages the apps on your phone so you can play back the audio on your phone anywhere in your home. (Additionally, DM NAX features AirPlay 2, so now you can take advantage of multiroom audio right through Apple's AirPlay interface). Spotify Connect similarly leverages your mobile device's Spotify App to play back audio in any Spotify Connect-enabled zone — the difference here is that Spotify Connect moves the actual streaming from your mobile device to the DM NAX streaming amplifier. Crestron's also working on adding a number of additional streaming services, including Amazon Music, Deezer, Tidal, Qobuz – the difference with these is that they are focused on very high-quality, lossless audio.

How much power do I need? Is there a formula for power-per-speaker?

Speaker specifications define the amount of power that they can handle. Ideally, you want to provide 10-20% overhead above that rating. That means, for instance, if a speaker says it can handle 100 watts of power, you want to make sure your amplifier can easily drive up to 110-120W. In the case of Crestron's DM-NAX-8ZSA streaming amp we can drive up to 150W per channel so we can provide more than enough power to each speaker. (You will want to ensure that your default max levels are properly configured to ensure that the speaker is not overdriven, causing damage.)

How many speakers do I need in a distributed audio system? Is there a formula for a room's size? What about a media room setup?

Number of speakers? If you ask me, I would say as many as possible! Kidding aside, we need to take into consideration the aesthetics of the environment and practicality of peppering a ceiling or wall with loudspeakers.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the more speakers you have, the lower you can keep the volume because the space is blanketed by audio more uniformly. My rule of thumb is that in a large open space — such as a kitchen — you want to target no more than six feet from one speaker to the next for an optimally performing distributed audio configuration.

For media rooms — especially ones where movies are the primary content — we recommend a 5.1 configuration at a minimum. That's three speakers in the front, serving as the left, center (or “dialogue”), and right channels, and then two surround speakers, the “4 and 5” in this mix). Then the “.1” would be the subwoofer that can be placed in a discreet location. The Crestron Ultimate LCR speakers are a perfect fit for the three speakers up front because they're designed to flank a TV on the left, right, and below the screen. The Ultimate In-Ceiling speakers (see an example here) above the seating position in that room would be great fits for surround speakers — ideally you want these surround channels slightly above the listening position so they can create the optimal ambient immersive audio. And finally, our new Ultimate IWS82 subwoofer is a great option for these types of media rooms because they discreetly fit into any environment and provide rumbling lows for the most dynamic and exciting movie scenes.

What's the true difference between "two-channel" audio and surround sound?

Two-channel audio almost always implies left and right, stereo audio — this is music in its most distilled form, with the intention of reproducing audio as our ears interpret the sound. Surround sound is immersive audio, generally paired up with an audiovisual experience. Surround sound does not necessarily require more than two speakers — for instance, there are soundbars that employ built-in algorithms to emulate surround sound by using psychoacoustic effects to trick your brain into thinking that audio is coming from behind or above you.

How important is a subwoofer when it comes to movie or TV audio? Do I need a sub for music?

A subwoofer provides the “oomph” that you feel when listening to audio. Subwoofers are focused on generating the low frequency portion of audio: the rumble of an engine, the explosive thrust of a bomb in a movie, or the bass of a heart-thumping song. It also helps supplement the speakers by divvying up the output, allowing each of the components to reproduce the audio that each is best geared for — in short, subs make everything more balanced. As for movies, there's even a dedicated audio track for the subwoofer.

Do I need more than one sub?

That depends on the room size and desired output. Where applicable it can be great to have two or even more subwoofers. The most recent Dolby Atmos specifications supports up to four subwoofers in a media room application — this allows for a very balanced distribution of the low-end frequency.

What if I wanted to someday add channels to my media setup — how can I prep for later expansion?

In the grand scheme of things, speaker wire is one of the least expensive components of a media setup.  So it makes sense to pre-wire for the maximum configuration a room can support while you have the flexibility — especially if the walls are open and it's just a matter of laying out cable without any drywall to cut. 

For instance, I had prewired my media room for a Dolby Atmos configuration even though I only started with a 5.1 setup. Over time I've been adding height channels (immersive, overhead audio) and it's been relatively painless because the wire was pre-run — I just needed to mount the speakers, connect the additional channels to the amplifier, and configure accordingly. It makes sense to spend the extra time in advance when designing a room so that you'll have the option to upgrade over time.