After living in four different “smart homes” that had complete multiroom audio systems, I moved to a small beach house. My finances wouldn’t allow smart home at the beach … or so I thought. But when my little portable Bluetooth speaker system failed, I deployed the newest A-BUS Bluetooth multiroom audio system made by Leisuretech Electronics to solve all my needs.
Bluetooth speakers have changed how we listen to music. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have at least one. Now homeowners can buy a Bluetooth speaker that isn’t much bigger than a soda bottle that has pretty good sound. I have a little version of the “big blue” speaker I take everywhere. When you spend as much time on the road as I do, a little music from an OK speaker is worth the hassle of carrying that little box everywhere.
But at home I now have a different attitude. At first my little portable Bluetooth speaker was sufficient. It covered the front porch, back porch, and any room there was music. All I had to do was pick up my little speaker. Until one night.
We had another couple over and that little speaker couldn’t be heard over the conversation. So, I purchased one of those portable Karaoke speakers that is the size of my regular luggage. Now I had real sound. That is until “it” happened.
Multiroom Audio Disaster at Party
We had a larger get-together, well some might say a party, and that big speaker was so loud that people next to it couldn’t talk and yet at the other end of the patio, no one could hear the music. Everything was OK … the people who didn’t want to talk gravitated closer to the speaker and the talkers like me moved away from it.
The party was going along just fine. Then the awkward moment happened … and the lyric “the day the music died” suddenly took on a whole new meaning for me.
The battery died in the speaker box. Nothing but awkward silence ensued for about an hour … well, it felt like an hour.
I am sure it was only about five seconds before the first person set his beverage down and headed for the door. By the time I found an extension cord, ran it through the kitchen, out the window and over the furniture to the speaker, the damage was done. Most everyone had left and my wife was giving me the evil eye as if I had planned for the battery to die so I could save money on beer. There had to be a better way.
Three of my four previous homes had those big-brand-name home audio and control systems the people on MTV Cribs wish they could have. I won’t pretend for a second that I didn’t want to pick up the phone and get one of those systems installed while my wife was glaring at me. They are awesome, but the mortgage on the beach house prevented any thought of installing those big name systems. It doesn’t matter which name, all of them were clearly out of reach.
My very first home had the most basic automation and whole house audio. My “media room” was a Denon receiver with a very early 50-inch DLP TV with five speakers. That was all so I could say I had “surround sound.”
The automation was X-10. For new integrators who may have never heard of X-10, it was the very first automation system for the masses. You could get light switches from X-10 or Heath-Zenith and an alarm clock that would turn those lights on when the alarm went off. You could hit a button on the clock when you went to bed, and all the lights in the house would turn off. It was awesome. In that time it was absolute magic.
That first house also had A-BUS for the whole-house audio. It was simple and reliable. There was a little box that went behind my Denon receiver, and the “Zone 2” output would connect to the box. Whatever was playing on “Zone 2” could play in four different rooms in the house.
That house was a 1920’s Craftsman “kit” house with limited attic space and wall cavities that were difficult to navigate. Using tools like the “Wet Noodle” I was able to run Cat 5 wire from the back of the stereo in the living room to four different walls in the house. Once inside those walls, I cut in and added some speaker wire and cut in some in-ceiling speakers.
Back then it was all I could afford and it met the basic need of music in more than one room. The house was small so if I wanted to select a different source, I would simply walk into the living room in the dead center of the house and change it. But today, my little beach house isn’t that well laid out.
Even considering the limitations of A-BUS, it had to be better than a dead battery in the middle of my wife's birthday party. (Oh, sorry did I forget to mention that detail?)
A-BUS Bluetooth Capabilities
As I started looking at A-BUS Bluetooth I discovered multiple things:
- A-BUS systems now have nearly twice the output of the system I added to my first home.
- Speakers have gotten better.
- The ability to transmit IR commands remotely, so no more running to the living room.
- The ability to select multiple sources is now right at the keypad.
That ability to select multiple sources is the one feature that convinced me to spend four times as much money on the four-room system in my second house as I did in my first house.
After finding a good price on a four-zone A-BUS kit from Channel Vision and some pretty good prices on in-ceiling speakers, I bought it. For the master bath and guest bath I selected stereo imaging speakers, sometimes labeled SSI. This is a single speaker that has two tweeters: one for the right channel and one for the left.
For the garage, I found a very efficient (94db) pair of 8-inch speakers. For our editing room, I picked up a mid-priced set of 6-inch speakers that are about 91db efficient. I’ll skip the math and simply say, the higher the db number, the more sound you get for the same output in watts from the receiver, or in the case of A-BUS, from the keypad.
Related: Finally, A-BUS Boosts Power
A-BUS works like a pro outdoor system. It transmits the signal and voltage over the Cat 5 or Cat 6 wires and then uses that voltage to amplify the signal at the keypad. It will never match the power output of a big terroidal coil amplifier, but for good sound you may not need that much power unless you live in a palace with 20-foot ceilings.
Most A-BUS systems have a peak power rating of 15 watts. While that may not seem like much, I can tell you that in a three-car garage, two 94db efficient 8-inch speakers rock the place. All of the other rooms are exactly what we wanted.
One other cool feature of the A-BUS system is the ability to daisy chain the base units. If I want to add four more zones I just need another kit and a Cat 5 jumper to connect them.
Speaking of Cat 5, the one question I know that you have is: “Should I use Cat 5 or Cat 6?”
Simply put the answer is Cat 6. The copper in the cable is thicker in Cat 6 so that means more of the signal and more of the voltage make it to the keypad, giving you more of the sound you want.
I used all Cat 6 for my little beach house. Does it make a big difference? I’ll never know because I didn’t use any Cat 5. The idea of trying to skimp on wire that is 30 percent more effective at carrying signal and 20 percent better at rejecting interference didn’t make sense.
As I write this, my dog and I are sitting on the front porch of my little beach house with the garage speakers at 80 percent and only one side door open. The sound is pretty good. In the garage it is rockin’ like my wife expected at her party a few months ago. Even though, the speakers I have will cover the entire house and yard, I plan to add a second A-BUS four-zone system. I never have to worry about any interference or connecting the Bluetooth or that dreaded dead battery.
Scott Bourquin is the host of Kühl Toys a web-based video series that looks for the best Kühl Toys out there. Additionally, he is a retired military instructor pilot and former owner of a THX-certified home theater design and installation business.