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Old 11-29-12, 01:52 PM   #1
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One for all the A/V geniuses out there

I have a question for all you (and that's pretty much everyone) who knows more about speaker systems and the like than I do.

I'm in the process of buying a new house (yay). If all goes well, we should close in 2 weeks.

This will be my first ever house after living in apartments since leaving my folk's house and going to college many years ago. We still have an old CRT TV and I figured this would be a good time to get myself an actual honest to goodness home theater system (well a cheap one). Up till now, I've just had a stereo in a box kind of thing and ran the tv sound on the tv's speakers. Our dvd player died about a month ago, and I don't want to move this monstrosity of a tv (even though it's only 27", it weighs roughly a metric ton. Also, currently, our living room is also our office so we watch streaming stuff by running composite video and audio along the floor to the front of the TV from our computer which my wife thinks is a crazy ugly setup and she hates. So it seems things are perfectly set up for me to try out getting something much nicer (plus electronics are cheap this time of year).

My plan was this: get a nice blu-ray player with built in wifi to use as my streaming device (already on its way), get a cheap dump HDTV of appropriate size (will be mounted on a wall, so I need to get into the house again to measure the appropriate size) with good picture where I don't care about smart features as I'll stream through the above blu-ray player and I don't care about sound because I'll use something else to handle my sound, and then get a moderate quality receiver and some decent but inexpensive speakers to handle sound and music and all that. Sound reasonable?

So here's my main query. Two other rooms in the house, (master bedroom and another second floor bedroom currently set up as an office) have speakers and volume controls built into the walls/ceiling and are run from the main stereo in the living room. So, if I want to use them, I need to get a receiver that has zone 2/3 capability. Sounds good. But is there a way to tell if there's an amp hooked to the speakers or not? Does the volume control imply that there is?

I see a lot of cheaper receivers that have zones 2 and 3 only have at most one of them powered or they both might just be line out whereas more expensive ones can do either powered or line out for the other zones. Because we have other expenses and I'm trying to do this as inexpensively as possible to keep my wife on board with the project (she'd prefer a new dining room table or guest bed as higher priorities), if I can get away with the cheaper receiver that doesn't need to power the other zones, I'd prefer to do that (assuming minimal loss in other features/quality).

tl/dr:how can I tell (if it's not easily visible) if speakers in other rooms for a central stereo receiver are hooked up to their own amps or not?
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Old 11-29-12, 02:09 PM   #2
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Volume control doesn't necessarily point to the presence of an amplifier. It could simply act as a signal reducer; basically it's just a potentiometer in the wall.
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Old 11-29-12, 02:11 PM   #3
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Volume control doesn't necessarily point to the presence of an amplifier. It could simply act as a signal reducer; basically it's just a potentiometer in the wall.
Makes sense, is there an easy way for a non-expert such as myself to tell if there is one if it's not easily visible (or should it be easy to find if it does exist)?
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Old 11-29-12, 02:18 PM   #4
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Whatever you do, make sure the controls go to 11.
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Old 11-29-12, 02:44 PM   #5
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Whatever you do, make sure they controls go to 11.
I wouldn't have it any other way.
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Old 11-29-12, 03:43 PM   #6
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Volume control doesn't necessarily point to the presence of an amplifier. It could simply act as a signal reducer; basically it's just a potentiometer in the wall.
That's the way it is in my house.
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Old 11-29-12, 03:43 PM   #7
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Two other rooms in the house, (master bedroom and another second floor bedroom currently set up as an office) have speakers and volume controls built into the walls/ceiling and are run from the main stereo in the living room.
Are you saying there's an existing stereo system in the Living Room?
Or did you just mean that those speakers & volume controls in the two bedrooms are run from a location in the Living Room?
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Old 11-29-12, 03:51 PM   #8
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Makes sense, is there an easy way for a non-expert such as myself to tell if there is one if it's not easily visible (or should it be easy to find if it does exist)?
Well, there would have to be a power source for the amplifier, if it does exist. I guess there's the possibility of tracing that. Are you able to open a panel or anything and reveal the innards of the volume controls in the room? Pictures?
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Old 11-29-12, 03:55 PM   #9
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Hold off on the tv purchase until the NFL Playoffs- Super Bowl Sunday. That's usually the sweet spot when buying new televisions. Most of the older models were disposed of during Xmas sales, not to mention most people have an idea of what their tax refund (if any) will be and seems most Americans typically spend that than save...
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Old 11-29-12, 05:02 PM   #10
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Hold off on *ANY* credit card purchases until after your closing. Mortgage companies can pull a credit report right before closing to see if you still qualify for the mortgage. Good luck w/ new home.
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Old 11-29-12, 05:14 PM   #11
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Hold off on *ANY* credit card purchases until after your closing. Mortgage companies can pull a credit report right before closing to see if you still qualify for the mortgage. Good luck w/ new home.
This is good advice.

We recently re-financed and the doofus mortgage company checked our credit score so often they drove it down nearly 20 points.

And then they wanted an explanation for the drop!
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Old 11-29-12, 05:23 PM   #12
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My home came wired with in ceiling speakers. There is no amp in the system merely the rheostats that 20grit mentioned. There is a "structured wiring" box that allows allocation of cabling.

IIRC I hooked up a receiver/tuner to the house speakers right next to the coax output for our living room TV. I forget what the connection looked like but I did it myself and I'm probably far A/V stupider than you. For running the cable to the internet modem the cable guy had a tone deal that he used to make the proper path from the cable demark to the cable modem and the TV signal to the room outlets.
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Old 11-29-12, 08:08 PM   #13
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Are you saying there's an existing stereo system in the Living Room?
Or did you just mean that those speakers & volume controls in the two bedrooms are run from a location in the Living Room?
The current owner has a receiver in the living room that runs them. The receiver won't be staying, so I guess, yeah, the speaker wires have a terminus at a spot in the living room. We don't like the seller as he's a major feminine hygiene product, so I can't easily ask him.
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Old 11-29-12, 08:10 PM   #14
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Well, there would have to be a power source for the amplifier, if it does exist. I guess there's the possibility of tracing that. Are you able to open a panel or anything and reveal the innards of the volume controls in the room? Pictures?
Didn't look that closely at it during my two visits, but the volume dial is just a dial in a wall plate like a dimmer switch for a light. I guess that probably means it's just the potentiometer as you mentioned above.
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Old 11-29-12, 08:12 PM   #15
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Hold off on *ANY* credit card purchases until after your closing. Mortgage companies can pull a credit report right before closing to see if you still qualify for the mortgage. Good luck w/ new home.
Yeah, of course. Not going to buy anything until we close, but I just didn't know if there was an easy way for me to identify the issue once we've closed and moved in.
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Old 11-29-12, 08:14 PM   #16
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This is good advice.

We recently re-financed and the doofus mortgage company checked our credit score so often they drove it down nearly 20 points.

And then they wanted an explanation for the drop!
Yeah, I had that issue too. We tried getting rates and pre-approved at several different companies and that dropped our score a fair bit.
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Old 11-29-12, 10:36 PM   #17
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I would ask you agent to ask the sellers agent to request the buyer to leave the WIRING in place. Not the equipment, but the wiring. Maybe send them a bottle of wine as a thank you. Then, look at the wiring at the amp location. Is it all speaker wire going into the wall to feed the remote locations or is it RCA cable (Red and black or red and white). If it's all speaker wire, I'm 99% certain the receiver powered the speakers. Some car amps took speaker level inputs and amplified it, but I've only heard of that in car stereo systems. If the wiring is cut, pull one of the volume controls out of the wall and inspect the wiring. If it's speaker wire coming into it, then again, I'm 99% certain the receiver powers the entire system.

I agree that Superbowl is the time to buy TV's. That is known as the time the best deals can be had.

Can you easily run rear speakers in the room with the TV? If so, go 5.1 surround. It doesn't have to be expensive, but you'll love it. My old house had it, my new house isn't set up in such a way to allow me to do it easily. I'll do it, but have to be ready to do drywall repair and paint, which I'm not ready to do yet.

Good luck...and enjoy!
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Old 11-29-12, 11:06 PM   #18
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Pretty much any receiver should be able to handle it. My parents just bought a lake house with built in speakers and I hooked up my dad's 1970's Marantz 30 watt receiver to them, and it sounds great. They will most likely leave the wiring in place. Just read lots of reviews. Crutchfield is a pretty good site for all things audio.
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Old 11-29-12, 11:38 PM   #19
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Take your time and figure out exactly what you have after moving in. As 20grit mentioned, most likely the speakers are fed with the existing receiver but you need to get the right receiver paired with the amount and combination of speakers you have. If the original installation was done by an AV contractor they would have done this in the first place.

If there are separate amps somewhere, it may be part of a 70-volt system but I doubt it would be the case here.

And congratulations on your house.

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Old 11-30-12, 05:39 AM   #20
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Thanks for the advice all. Yeah, I really need to wait until I get there to see exactly what I have, but I'm just trying to narrow down the options of what I need to research. The main room where the receiver will be isn't wired, so I'd just have to run wires along the ceiling at the edges of the room if I want to go 5.1 or 7.1 (probably will eventually) as I don't really have the patching/plastering skills to go above the ceiling and don't have access from above (and am too cheap for wireless speakers). I hadn't known about super bowl Sunday being the time to buy tvs. I'd always heard right before Christmas was usually when you got the best deals on electronics (better than black friday) as all the sellers dropped the prices on their excess inventory to try and get it cleared out by the Christmas buyers before they had to sit on it through the new year (and potentially eat the taxes on their inventory), so that was when I was planning to buy. Hmmm, maybe the heavy CRT will go down with me for the first month or two.
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Old 11-30-12, 06:24 AM   #21
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Glad to hear the living room didn't have ceiling built-ins. It limits placement soo much. Plus, acousticly it is better to have speakers at ear level.

In terms of wiring:
1. Ask the current owner to label which wires go where as he dismantles his current system. Also, a diagram or description of the install.
2. For the living room...Wall mounted TV... can be a clean install by cutting 2 holes in the drywall - one behind the TV abd the other hidden by furniture below - and fishing through. Typically only 2 wires to TV, power cord and HDMI as everything else is handled by and input to the receiver with HDMI out to the TV. Also, look for a receiver with HDMI passthrough feature so you can watch regular TV with cable/satelite box signal passed through and not have to fire up the entire HT system.
3. For the living room...wiring...You may be able to hide the wiring without drywall work. Remove the baseboards. There is a gap between the drywall and the floor that can accomodate wires, then be covered up by replacing the baseboards. While you can go up and over doors, open walkways can create an issue, so may require some planning. Closets on the other side of the wall make excellent punch through without internal wall fishing if you need to go to the attic. If you want to get fancy and make it really clean, rather than having terminal wires coming out the baseboard, put a wiring terminal box in the drywall at the appropriate locations and wiring enters the drywall avover the 2x4 framing but within the space covered by the baseboard.This only requires cutting a box in the drywall, inserting the box to receive the wire which is then covered over by the faceplate that has the appropriate terminals.

Oh, another hint....
Buy a couple extra HDMI cables. You don't need Monster or Foo Foo brands and can find them relatively cheap through some online sources like Parts Express and some wiring specific online companies. Connect 1 to an unused input on the wall mounted TV and roll it up behind the TV, the other to an unused input on the receiver stowed for easy access. That way, whenever you want to hook up an accessory that may not permanently be there (like Apple TV ot some game unit) you don't have to hunt behind the wall mounted TV to plug in a cable (or pull out the receiver if using the HT speakers) - just unroll the hidden/stored cable. Also, while shopping for wires, for speaker wires when sending through walls or attic installs, look for 'plenum rated' wires which may be required by code. Not that there is any difference in the wires, rather the insulation covering a little slicker for pass through pulls and stronger to handle free drops.

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Old 11-30-12, 04:16 PM   #22
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Thanks for the advice all. Turns out that it won't matter immediately as the moving is looking like it's going to cost about $5k more than we'd originally been led to believe so it looks like other optional purchases are going to have to be delayed a bit.
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Old 11-30-12, 04:18 PM   #23
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Thanks for the advice all. Turns out that it won't matter immediately as the moving is looking like it's going to cost about $5k more than we'd originally been led to believe so it looks like other optional purchases are going to have to be delayed a bit.
Sorry to hear that. In time though, the entertainment system will be awesome.
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Old 11-30-12, 04:31 PM   #24
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I worked installing such, so if you run into anything that you can't understand shoot me a message.

It is likely that the current owner will disconnect and leave everything hanging. Most often the wiring used for ceiling speakers (and the like) will be inside a jacket with color coded wiring, so that part will be easy. The possibly "difficult" part is whether everything is labeled as to location/speaker. The easiest way to find out, if they aren't, is to use a bit of help from an assistant and a 9V battery (short of costly equipment). Turn up all the volume controls all the way. Take each wire and "bump" the connections of the battery. The speaker will "thump" in response. If you plan ahead, you can buy wire labels at Home Depot (etc) or use a sharpie marker and write on the jacket of each wire.

If you plan on listening to various music sources at the same time then you will need a zoned amplifier/receiver. If not, then you can buy a switched (A/B) amp to use, or buy a switcher and use it. The thing will be to match impedance for the speaker load so as to be sure not to overload the amp and cut it's life short. If you are going to listen to the same thing in each room then you can wire it all in parallel or series (match impedance) and turn down the volume controls in the rooms you aren't using as a cheaper alternative.

Be aware that most receivers on the market will not play digital sources to analog, or vice versa. IE, if you hook up your DVD player to the receiver through HDMI and then use a component cable to hook to the TV you may not get sound or video (or both). The bottom line is that IF you go digital, I suggest going all digital. If not, just do analog...most folks can't tell the difference in most situations. The plus side of digital is that for a theater environment the receiver will automatically encode your surround sound from a digital source. From most analog sources it will be "converted" and not sound as good.

Just FYI, Playstation3 works great as a DVD player and media streaming device, as well as Netflix....
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Old 11-30-12, 05:36 PM   #25
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Thanks for the advice all. Turns out that it won't matter immediately as the moving is looking like it's going to cost about $5k more than we'd originally been led to believe so it looks like other optional purchases are going to have to be delayed a bit.
I thought your new employer was kicking in for the relocation expenses...
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