Ask LH: How Do I Make My Home Theatre Smarter?

Dear LH, I have a Denon amp/receiver which has just blown up and needs replacing (15 years old). It was connected to my TV, DVD player and Foxtel box with a 5.1 channel speaker system -- I want to be able to maintain all of this, and reuse the existing speakers. In addition, I want to be able to bring the unit into the 21st century with wireless and music streaming. I would like to be able to add wireless speakers around the house and be able to control them via iPhone. Any advice would be welcome! Cheers, Glenn.

Home theatre image via Shutterstock

Hey Glenn,

You're in the enviable position of being able to upgrade to a brand new receiver, and there are some amazingly high-tech ones available that fit your criteria. Your idea of adding wireless speakers is a bit more complicated, but with that out of the question for the moment, you would be pretty well served by a modern network-connected A/V receiver like Sony's STR-DN1060 or Onkyo's TX-NR545. The main appeal of an amp like this would be the fact that it can function as a wireless audio streaming device through services like Spotify Connect and Apple AirPlay and Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

That would mean you'd be able to use your iPhone to cast music -- including any local or networked iTunes audio library sitting on a NAS or PC -- or other audio to your receiver, and play it through your 5.1-channel system. Having Bluetooth built in makes it hugely easy to add a device like a tablet temporarily to play audio off. In terms of wireless speakers around your house, you can buy specialised kits that let build a wireless link between an external speaker zone and your existing (or new) receiver, but they usually come at a significantly increased price.

To be honest, the easiest solution is to buy a receiver that supports a secondary zone or zones, and run appropriate gauge audio wiring through your ceiling into those other room(s) where you want to install secondary speakers. Of course, that means you'll have to own the house or apartment that you're installing the cabling in (also, ask an electrician!) -- an alternative for a more temporary install is to run it along your wall or ceiling with a cover strip over the top. Wireless systems are convenient, but can cause minute additional latency -- especially as a retrofit, third-party system -- that might rob you of some of the enjoyment of an entire house full of sound.

If you want your receiver to access media from your network, you'll need one that supports DLNA. While retailers are always keen on pushing you into a package deal that they can make a healthy chunk of commission off, there's no substitute for actually getting into a store and trying one or three or five different receivers for yourself and seeing what sticks. Different interfaces and remote controls and complementary apps are always a deeply personal choice -- that's why I love my Oppo BDP-103, which has a great Android app -- and you might find that one particular brand just feels right when you try it.

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    The Yamaha receivers have a great iOS app, and support airplay etc. have automated setup (it comes with a mic) and are all round great units. I agree that wired Zone 2 function is the best, wiring is a pain, but just works better. Otherwise, just get some bluetooth speakers for the other rooms I guess.

    Good article. I have a Sony Mu.Te.Ki thats around 6 years old, and one of the speakers has unfortunately died on me. No biggie ('cept its a tower), I can replace it easily enough (and its partner for symmetry), but it got me to wondering whether I should update the amp itself at the same time. So this gives two good 7.2 options that I can consider.

    You also need to think through the little surprises like units which might once have been region-free are now not so, without hardware modifications e.g.

    I've been frustrated several times in recent years when replacing media units, that the BluRay is region-free but not the DVD playback or vice-versa.

    If you just want music streaming then get a regular receiver and attach a Sonos-type bridge unit.

    While it would be possible to set up a "traditional" AV receiver to drive wired speakers in one room and wireless ones in multiple other rooms, it's likely to be expensive and complicated.

    For what you're after, I'd suggest getting an all-in-one dedicated wireless setup such as those available from SONOS or Bose. These run on WiFi and can stream from a portable device, NAS and/or the internet to any room(s) you like.

    All come with smartphone apps allowing you to control the whole system from anywhere in the house. And most of these speakers will have a built-in battery allowing you to extend the system into your garden or yard whenever you like.

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