Speaker Wiring
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I'm wiring my place for sound. Used stereo equipment is cheap on Craigslist, so you can get a pretty rocking sound setup for a few hundred bucks, so I figured why not run the wires in the walls and go all out? If I want to upgrade the speakers or receiver later, I can, but for now, it's a very nice upgrade over just using the TV speakers for sound. The wire and plates are reasonably inexpensive, and basic in-ceiling or outdoor speakers to get tunes to any particular room or space are quite cheap. You don't need to spend a fortune to get reasonable tunes. The secret is realizing that you won't be blasting the whole-house audio at full volume; it's background noise for other stuff, and that means you don't need perfect sound quality or huge dB levels, which means you can use lower cost components and still have a very nice setup.


Wiring Conventions

I'll be carrying these conventions throughout the entire speaker wiring project to keep myself sane should I ever need to take this apart and change/repair it later in life. It will also be helpful to whoever is lucky enough to purchase the house from me in the future.

  •  In any speaker wiring plate with both speakers in it, I'm using the top one as Left and the bottom one as Right.
  •  Red or white will be the + speaker wire and black or green as the - speaker wire.
  •  The A/B switches are always wired so that the rear speakers have two possible inputs on the wall.
    • A is intended to be the surround sound speaker input.
    • B is intended to be the "B" speaker input.
    • The 8 wire input plate is wired so that A is on top and B is on the bottom.
  •  All of the wall plates will be photographed, labeled, and documented before this project is finished.

My wife has a little label printer, and I'm using that to print out labels and attach them to the wires in the walls, and to the label the front of the wall plates.


Living Room

These are the connections in the living room. From left to right, each section is as follows:

  •  Speaker level outputs to the den (top) and back yard (bottom).
  •  Feeds to the rear speakers in the living room that go to the A/B switch. Note that this plate is currently upside down from the notes above and the B connection is on top and the A connection is on the bottom. :-/
  •  A/B switch for the rear speakers in the living room.
  •  Subwoofer feeds to the plate on the half wall. The top are the speaker level feeds and the bottom is the line level feeds. I'm currently running a mono sub via the line level feeds on the "right" channel in the wiring.
  •  Speaker level outputs to the garage, plus cable TV and network jacks for the living room.

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Same as above, just from the back side. The details above are the same, just read from right to left to get things in the same order as the list above. Note that the subwoofer speaker level feeds are solder type jacks. These were a royal pain to get the wires soldered on to them, but at the time I did this, Monoprice.com only offered banana jacks in individual keystone plates as solder on jacks. Oh well. Also note the RCA jack connections to the subwoofer are tie-wrapped to the wall plate to keep them from falling into the hole in the wall in the future and to serve as a strain relief so the cable was not pulling down on the back of the keystone jacks. The A/B switch is clearly shown as well, though the wiring could be clearer - I don't show which colors go to left and right. The 14/4 white wire is connected to the outputs from the A/B switch and runs into the crawlspace. Somewhere under my front entryway the ends of the wires in the 14/4 cable are soldered to the individual wires in two different 14/2 cables that run up to the left and right rear speaker plates. The connection is well sealed and shrink-wrapped to keep it safe and dry and together for a long time.

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The right rear speaker plate, speaker mount, and speaker. Yes, the speaker plate got something dripped onto them while sitting in my garage waiting to be installed, and I need to clean them.

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The left rear speaker plate, speaker mount, and speaker. It's purposefully very tight into the corner, and you can't really see the speaker plate unless you look directly up the wall at it. Nice and neat and tucked away was the goal. Yes, this speaker plate needs cleaning too. The same crud dripped onto this one as the other one.

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This is the final touch - RCA, optical, and HDMI from the living room to the garage and the den. After giving it some thought, I decided it was cheap enough (Monoprice.com rocks!) and it was now or never.

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The back side of the wall for the living room. Insulating this is going to be fun... :-)

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Living Room Subwoofer

This is the wiring plate for the subwoofer in the living room; it's on the half-wall by the front door and ends up behind the couch in my current living room furniture arrangement. I ran both speaker level and line level outputs back here, just in case my needs change later on. For now, I'm actually using a single mono sub with a line level input. The important point here is that it shows the color code on the 4-wire cable I'm using - Left + is Red, Left - is black, Right + is white, and Right - is green.

You can also see the "oops" hole we cut to the left of the final hole that ended up being right over a piece of structure in the half wall. Apparently our "check for studs in the wall" step was not entirely accurate, and I now have another drywall repair to perform when I get time. :-/ For now, the couch hides it, so I'm not too worried.

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Garage, Front Outside Speakers, and Side Outside Speakers

The garage has also been wired for sound - you gotta have tunes when you're working on a project, right? This is the wall plate where everything hooks up. I took multiple angles so you can see what wires go where. There are front + rear surround (or A and B) speakers in the garage ceiling, a pair of speakers out front for use in listening to tunes while working outside, and a speaker level feed from the living room that I can use to hook up whole-house audio into the garage. There is an A/B switch to control which set of inputs go the "rear" speakers in the garage - they can be switched between rear surround speakers and the "B" speakers from the stereo.

Since the main input is on the side of the garage, "rear" in this case is actually the side of the garage closest to the properly line and "front" is the side of the garage closest to the living room. "left" is the actual back of the garage and "right" is the actual front of the garage. It's all done assuming you are standing in the garage facing the hookups on the side wall closest to the living room. Why? Because that's where the receiver and a future TV for the "man cave" will go.

From left to right when looking at the wiring from the back, the four wall plates in the panel are as noted here. Reverse this when looking at the wall plate from the front of the wall.

  •  Input from living room
  •  A/B switch for "rear" garage ceiling speakers - outputs to the speakers connect here
  •  Inputs to the A/B switch - top is A (surround speakers) and bottom is B ("B" speakers)
  •  Front inside and outside speakers - top is front inside and bottom is outside

Note that the green/white wire pairs for the garage ceiling speakers are the front or "A" speakers in the in-ceiling wiring. This is because I used 14/4 cable (red + black + white + green) to go to each of the "front" speaker locations and then a 14/2 cable (red + white) to jumper to the "rear" speakers. I deemed it simpler to have the red + black get connected together inside the front speaker boxes in the ceiling, so they're the wires for the rear speakers and the white + green wires are for the "front" speakers.

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Since the pictures above were taken, I've had a chance to use the system a bit even though the wall plate is jury rigged for now - it works and is hooked up. I upgraded my plans to add a second set of outside speakers in my side yard (where I work on stuff sometimes and want tunes while I work), and to allow for the garage setup to drive the rear outside speakers (so I can have all outside speakers playing the same tunes when I do a day of yard work all around the house). I also realized that basic used receivers are dirt cheap on Craigslist, they are very functional (lots of inputs, often have a remote, and have dual speaker outputs), and are way more powerful than a small dedicated amplifier for each pair of the outside speakers. They're also cheaper than the dedicated amps are - I've seen a lot of decent receivers go for $20 to $30 on Craigslist. At that price, I decided to just buy a second basic receiver for the garage and use it to drive the front and side yard outside speakers via the A/B speaker pairs on the receiver. I'll hook it up to the main receiver by hooking the tape monitor inputs on the second receiver to the tape monitor outputs on the main receiver, that way I get line level output that I can play to the outside speakers at the volume I desire. I can also use the tape outputs on the second receiver and connect them into the den, where a similar two-receiver setup will be eventually in use, and that second receiver can get the tape monitor outputs form the garage second receiver as on of it's inputs and then drive the rear outside speakers with that. A bit complicated, but it should work, and it's very cheap and ultimately it will be very flexible. The wiring is going to cost more than the receivers, which is a bit odd.

Here's the wiring from the living room to the garage - the two connection points are just a stud bay away from each other, which made this relatively easy to wire up. Drilling a huge hole through the stack of four studs between them was fun, though...

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The final wiring in the garage. Note that I have added RCA, optical, and HDMI connections from the living room to the garage, plus RCA and optical connections from the garage to the den. I don't care to use the garage as a video feed to anywhere else,  but I do want to be able to send audio from the garage to the den, and then on to the back yard speakers. I also want to be able to send video and audio from the living room into the garage. That way I can watch a show in both places at once if I'm wandering about doing work on stuff. Also, this lets me send audio from the living room to the garage via speaker level, RCA, optical, or HDMI to then be played in the garage and the front and side yard. The optical works quite nicely in the garage to send audio.

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The final wiring, with the sheetrock installed in that section, painted, and the wall plates installed.

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I even swiped the wife's label maker and labeled everything. Careful readers will note that I screwed up the Left/Right wiring on the side yard speaker hookups and the Left speaker is on the bottom and not the top in that pair. Meh. It's labeled and I'm not motivated enough to pull the plate off to re-do it.

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In the garage I have a couple of server racks I picked up cheap years ago. One of them has been empty doing nothing, so I decided to use it to house the garage stereo equipment. It solves a space problem (I would have had to build a shelf or dedicate other space to house the equipment), makes the equipment easy to move around (the racks are on wheels), and allows for easy access to the rear of the equipment (roll the rack out and open the rear door). I do have to open the rack to manually adjust the stereo settings, but that's no big deal. I usually turn on the stereo, set the volume, and leave it on for a few hours - or even all day.

The second picture shows the rack after some cleanup and after wiring the speakers in the garage ceiling - no more speakers sitting sideways in the rack pumping out muffled and muddy sound. I also installed some sturdier shelving for the receivers and the CD/DVD player. I purposely left space above them for a future UPS and a possible future balanced power supply project. This also has the added advantage of putting the stereo components at a more normal height - much easier to see and use them.

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For the ceiling speakers in the garage, I decided to build boxes around them to keep insulation off them and to improve the bass response. They are constructed out of 2x4's with one set boxing in between two of the rafters, and then another layer of 2x4 on top of that to ensure sufficient depth for the speakers. The top is plywood. Everything is glued, screwed, caulked, and foamed to ensure it's as airtight and secure as possible. They are sixed to be way larger than needed to allow for the speakers to easily be positioned inside the box after the ceiling sheetrock is up. I also positioned and sized them so the speakers will be equally placed in the garage relative to the front and side walls for each corner. This should help avoid any overtly lopsided acoustical properties due to speaker placement.

This is the front west side box on the side closest to the pond. Notice that the speaker cabling for both front speaker boxes comes to this box - four wires in a single cable come from the wall wiring plate, then two go out in a separate cable to the other front speaker box.

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This is the rear west side box near the entrance to the house and the furnace. I had to make sure that all previously run air lines and venting left this space clear for the speaker box. It all fit with some planning, but barely... The air intake for the furnace is just inches away from one corner of the box...

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These are the front outside speakers. Note the angled block under the left one to help direct the sound towards the main part of the driveway and yard. They are tucked up under the eaves to keep them as out of sight as possible, and to keep them out of the weather. All of the outside speakers are by Dual and are decent for the price. At the time I bought them, Amazon was selling a pair for ~$30 with free shipping. For basic tunes, that's perfect. At that price, I got all three sets of outside speakers at the same time. They had decent reviews and sound fine for what I'm using them for.

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These are the side yard speakers. The side yard is fairly narrow, so these are pointed almost straight down to keep the sound in the yard and not annoy the neighbors any more than needed.

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Here's three of the four in-ceiling speakers in the garage for their initial install and wiring check. I didn't have a piece of drywall up so where the fourth one installs at at this time, so I couldn't install that one yet. In order, they are the rear west side (left front on stereo), front west side (right front on stereo), and the rear east side (left rear on stereo). Not shown is the front east side (right rear on stereo). These will all be removed when it comes time to finish that section of the garage ceiling and re-installed after the final painting is done.

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Den, and Rear Outside Speakers

I'm planning to run dual receivers like I am in the garage, and have the two pairs of speaker level outputs from the living room connected into here. I'll have speaker level, RCA (line level), optical, and HDMI coming form the living room, plus speaker level, RCA (line level), and optical coming from the garage. Of those sets of inputs, one will go into the main receiver, and when I tune to that input, the den speakers will play the audio source from the living room. The other set will go into the second receiver and will power the rear outside speakers. There will also be a line level input from the garage that I can tune to, so that I can select the input for the outside speakers from three sources - the local den sounds (TV, receiver, etc.), the living room audio, or the garage audio. It'll be very flexible, and pretty cheap. It will definitely need labeling to keep it straight in the future...

For now, the wiring is all up in the attic and ready to be brought down into the den when I remodel it.

The rear outside speakers are mounted up under the eaves on each side of the deck, wired into the bundle of wires above the den. I've temporarily connected the living room speaker level outputs to the rear speaker wires up in the attic (aka, at the large wire bundle) with wire nuts so I can drive the rear outside speakers from the living room. It's enough for now, though it would be nice to be able to drive them from the garage, but I guess that will have to wait for the den remodel.

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After doing some more work around the house, it dawned on me that I might eventually want a second set of rear speakers on the deck, and that if I didn't at least run a wire in the wall for them soon, I'd never be able to get it done. So, I bought 100' of in-wall 14/4 speaker cable from Monoprice.com, along with a wall plate and mounting bracket, and ran the wire down into the crawlspace for a possible future extension out under the deck - maybe to some nice speakers near a hot-tub in the future? At least the wires are there and ready if needed. The wall plate was installed up high behind the server/stereo cabinet so the wires are easy to run from there into the cabinet later.

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The wiring follows my standards noted above - red/black is the left speaker and white/green is the right speaker, and they are in the bottom two pairs of jacks on the wall plate, with the right speaker wiring being bottom most. This will eventually be the "B" speakers in the rear, so it works out fine.

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I also made sure I can run the second set of rear speakers here if needed - that's what the extra set of speaker jacks in the wall plate are for. Some of the attic wiring still needs to be completed (the den stuff was basically just stubbed out and left hanging in the attic before) and the first set of rear speakers (on the rear wall of the house) were temporarily connected to the living room speaker feeds so I could use them. In addition, the plans around the den and rear and garage receivers have changed over time, see below.


Updates in "The Plan"...

Originally, the thinking was to use the living room as the "hub" of the system, with feeds to the den, backyard, and garage. The garage is a mini-hub for the front and side yard, and possible the back yard, with some clever cross-connects. After figuring out that I could set up a central Media Center PC in the rack (and use it as the garage PC as well) with four tuners, and that I could use the Xbox 360 I already have in the living room as a Media Center Extender, plans changed a lot. The garage now became the hub, and everything else was a spoke/endpoint from it in some way, shape, or form. If I want full recorded TV in a room, stick an Xbox 360 in there and a network jack, and I'm done.

Based on that, the revised plan in the garage is to put three receivers in the stereo rack and use that as the main hub for all things "outside".

  •  One receiver for the two pairs of in-garage speakers (already there)
  •  One receiver for the front and side yard speakers (already there)
  •  One receiver for the two pairs of rear speakers (reuse one from elsewhere or get a new one)

The idea is that I'll have a big media center PC in the garage, and use it to drive the local "monitor" (er, I mean TV...) for the man-cave, as well as be able to send sound to the other receivers to hear it outside. The living room will use an Xbox 360 (or whatever it's successor is) as a Media Center Extender so we can watch our recorded TV shows in there, plus stream in stuff like Netflix and what not directly to that TV. All of the large tuners and hard drives go into the server rack in the garage - that makes for less equipment/fan noise in the living room, and less stuff there too. All that would be left in the living room would be the TV, the Xbox, and the receiver. Oh, and the Wii too, since we like playing that at times.

The other piece of this plan change, and why there is is second gang in the wall plate I added for the rear speakers behind the stereo rack, is that I am adding the ability to control the receivers and Media center in the garage from outside the house. How? I found out that for not much cash, you can get an IR repeater system that connects over cheap Cat5e network cable and use them to drive just the equipment you want to via a remote control. I'll have some network jacks in that second gang of this box that are hooked up for the IR repeater system. I've been using a Logitech Harmony 700 remote in the living room, and it rocks - it replaced 4 different remotes quite easily. When I do all this work, I plan to get another one and use it's excellent programmability to make this all work together happily. It's relatively inexpensive, and so far, is working quite well for me in the living room. It can control the media center, which is a very big deal - many universal remotes can't do that.

To make this work form a wiring perspective, you put IR receivers boxes outside the house, and connect them (via the repeater box) to IR emitters inside the stereo cabinet. Since the equipment in the garage is in a cabinet, I'll need an IR repeater there also. That one will have an IR receiver in the garage (near the TV, most likely) with emitters on the garage receiver and the media center so a remote being used in the garage only runs them. The rear IR receiver is hooked to emitters on the media center ad the rear receiver, and then you have receivers in the front and side yard that control emitters on the media center and the front/side receiver. That way using the remote in each location controls the media center and the volume on the receiver for that area. As long as the emitters are not letting signal "spill over" to the other receivers, it should all work fine, and even be possible to use the same remote in all places, as long as the receivers are all the same brand/use the same IR codes. The remote is still running the same style of receiver (volume, basically) regardless of location, but the IR repeater system ensures that the IR signal for each location goes to the right receiver and that it always goes to the media center. The only odd point in this is that someone with a media center remote could run the system from outside the house, but if that's something I care about, I can rig up an easy way to turn off the two outside IR repeaters unless I'm out there using them. Maybe a simply rack-mounted power strip and switch would do the trick there, especially since I have a couple of them already...



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Page last updated 01/15/2012 03:42:32 PM