Distributed Audio

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Audio means connected with sound and the recording and broadcasting of sound. It is sound within hearing range available to humans. Distributed audio refers to the availability of audio in various rooms or zones.

Distributed audio is a system that makes it possible to deliver high quality stereo audio to these various rooms or zones. The rooms or zones could be in your home, office building, fitness centre, restaurant, school, hospital, shopping mall and many other places. Each place or business relies on a specific kind of sound system to fulfil its requirement. These systems are referred to as ‘distributed audio systems’.

There are three basic types of distributed audio systems:

  • Background- the system used in office buildings which generally provides music in the background on low volume level and with the ability to page. (page is to call somebody over a public address system in order to locate the person and convey a message)
  • Foreground-the system used in restaurants, performance venues/halls which provides music in the foreground and has the ability to provide louder volume levels.
  • A combination of the two- the system used in a place such as a fitness centre; fitness centres have a number of areas/rooms and require a combination of loud and soft music facility. For example, the yoga room would require peaceful, ambient, soft background music, whereas the aerobics room would call for loud and peppy music. Besides this, health centres also need to be able to reach out to their trainers throughout the centre and thus require paging facility as well. Such a place requires a combination of background and foreground distributed audio system.

To be able to better understand the design, components and other nitty gritty of a distributed audio system we shall choose a zone to implement such a system. What could be better than your own home? So let’s begin…..

For many years, distributing sound in the house was done through speakers, either large or small, using sources such as the radio, vinyl records and audio cassettes, and it was good enough for many consumers at that time. But not anymore, because now there are many options with newer and better sound systems available for the consumers as per their specific requirements.

In the last few decades, things have changed dramatically due to advancement in technology. It is now possible to get high fidelity stereo systems according to an individual’s requirement and liking, in keeping with the cost factor of a system. One is not just restricted to using large speakers in every room to enjoy music. Music can be accessed from and managed by the application of smart devices. To put it simply, multiple audio devices can be accessed from multiple areas in the home according to requirement making it a more convenient option for the user.

This is accomplished via smartphones, tablets, in built wall keypads and a variety of speakers and amplifiers.

How does a distributed audio system work?

A distributed audio system has transformers built into the speakers and special amplifiers are used to power the speakers properly. The speaker’s inbuilt electronic components distribute the power from the amplifier in an even and safe manner. These speakers can be wired or wireless thus providing multiple options to the user. This enables many speakers to be linked together in parallel.

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The main components in distributed audio for a home are:

  1. Speakers:
    Speakers for fixed installations are of two types;

  • Surface-Mount Speakers (external)
  • Ceiling-Mount Speakers (internal)

Surface-Mount Speakers generally offer better/higher quality of sound and are easy to install. There are a variety of such speakers and they are built and designed to cater to various room sizes. Some of the in-room speakers are categorized as, Tower speakers, Bookshelf speakers, Centre speakers, and Surround speakers.

While Ceiling-Mount Speakers are tucked inside the ceilings and walls. They are categorized as, rectangle, square, round and enclosed in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. These speakers are more appealing to the aesthetically inclined but have structural limitations and would hence require proper planning prior to installation.

This is because varying construction materials such as concrete walls, false ceilings, and high rafters/beams affect the mounting and sonic characteristics of the space.

PSB speakers and REVEL, offer a wide range of speakers, for both, surface and ceiling mounted speakers.

  1. Amplifier/distributed amplifier:

With speakers chosen, an amplifier/distributed amplifier would be needed. An amplifier is an electronic device that increases the voltage, power or current of a signal. Amplifiers are used in wireless communications and broadcasting, and in all kinds of audio equipment.

The selection of an amplifier would depend on the number of speakers and the overall power requirements of those speakers.

For audio enthusiasts, we suggest, NAD D 3020 Hybrid Digital Amplifier with a five star rating. It is unlike all other amplifiers in its class.

  1. Audio source:

You have the speakers and amplifiers in place and need to decide on what audio/sound sources will be needed. The sources for music are more varied than ever. There could be multiple sound sources like satellite radio, MP3 player, iPod, CD player, DVD player etc.

Now we also have the option of downloadable music which can be played back on anything from a computer, to an iPod, or other portable device. But this downloadable music is not always of good quality. Which is why, we can look at other options, such as digital audio.

The trend of digital-audio storage and playback is growing. There are innumerable conveniences and features of digital-audio for music lovers.

Understanding Digital audio/sound and Analog audio/sound

Audio recordings are of two basic types, Analog and Digital.

Analog refers to audio recorded using methods that replicate the original sound wave. The sound is recorded to the vinyl record or to the tape as physical grooves or magnetic impulses. The drawbacks of Analog sound are sound degradation and lack of portability.

Digital audio is recorded by taking sampled sections of the original sound wave. Digital audio is technology that can be used to record, store, generate, manipulate and reproduce sound using audio signals encoded in digital form. As against Analog sound, there are many benefits to using digital sound, these include, portability, better sound quality, and durability.

  1. Mixer:

Sometimes, an installation requires mixing more than one of these audio sources which is why a mixer is needed. A mixer is an electronic device for combining, routing, and changing the level, timbre and/or dynamics of different audio signals. These mixers could be stand-alone distributed audio mixers or mixers that are integrated into the distributed amplifier in a single unit.

Now you know that a Distributed audio makes it possible to deliver high quality stereo audio to various rooms or zones. If you are planning on installing a system for your home or business it would be helpful to familiarize yourself with the process of matching speakers, amplifiers and other devices. Of course professional help must be considered for micro level details as this would help you find the right/best distributed music system of your choice.

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