The Path To Whole House Audio: Parts 1 & 2

Part 1 – Death By Canine Misadventure

Perhaps I should title this series as “A Geeky, Mildly Unorthodox Approach To Whole House Audio.” I’m not kidding. That bit about the dog really happened…more or less.

This is Shadow our five-year-old purebred Labrador Retriever. He is responsible for very little around la maison du Espinosa-Graves, being the lesser quadruped of the group. Yet in January of 2006 he brought about the expiry of my older, much loved Carver stereo system. This set in motion a series of events that has me rethinking my understanding of whole house audio, home theater, networking and media.

The pivotal event occurred one day when I was planning to do some work in our garage. To make the effort more enjoyable I laid out a set of speaker leads from the home office to the garage. The office adjoins the garage and all the “guy stuff,” including the stereo, is in the office. I had previously installed some in-ceiling speakers above the workbench, but had yet to wire them over to where the stereo lived. So wire across the floor as necessary was the plan.

I’d been working happily with the music turned up enough to be enjoyable but not upset the neighbors. After a couple of hours the music simply stopped. “End of playlist” I thought to myself. So I went over to my desktop PC to load a new Squeezebox playlist, only to find it still going though music.

Dogs like to chew on plastic, at least our two do. I’ve yet to see a Frisbee last more than an hour in their possession. They also tend to eat them, which I’ll never understand. In the end its just roughage I guess.

I look across the office to the stereo and it’s silent, but the Squeeze box itself shows playback ongoing. Shadow is laying happily in the middle of the floor having chewed though the plastic insulation on the speaker leads. He’s managed to short out the wiring sending the Carver Receiver’s output stage into distress and then death. There was the faint smell of burnt PC board in that end of the room.

(note to whomever is working on the music score, roll “The Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”)

Carver 732 Reciver

The receiver, a Carver Model 742, was not extraordinarily high-end or expensive, but I’d had it ten years and really liked it lot. I new that Bob Carver had sold the company to some offshore group, and repairs may be possible but not easy. Besides, wasn’t it time for something new & better anyway? But what exactly?

Part 2 – Considering Replacement Options

In the newfound silence and in the company of a very happy dog I sat down and poked around on E-Bay looking for the Carver 742 receiver. I found used ones going for $130-175. It was likely to cost that much to repair this old beast. Neither option seemed like a step forward.

Then in my browsing I stumbled across a listing for some powered monitor speakers for what seemed like a really silly low price. I had paid more than that for the Carver receiver itself ten years previously, then another $700 CDN for a pair of Paradigm speakers. So I ordered a pair of Behringer 2031As on the spot for the truly unexpected price of only $299.

Behringer B2031A Powered Audio Monitors

In my day job I get to visit some of the finest broadcast and post-production facilities in North America. It occurred to me that in these places I never see the kind of playback equipment that stereo enthusiasts drool over in high-end salons. In the professional world the demand is for accurate, reliable gear. Performance matters. Period. Price is a consideration, of course, but superficial things like exotic cabinet finishes are rarely a concern.

Modern production facilities almost always use powered monitor speakers, with the amps built right into the speaker cabinet. The main monitors in high-end recording studios are the one exception. There the main monitors will often be built into the mixing room itself, and driven by immensely powerful amplifiers. We’re talking multiple thousands of watts of clean power.

Remembering back though the past years work I’d seen and heard powered monitors from Genelec, KRK, Mackie, JBL, Yamaha and M-Audio. All had left a good impression. Some are truly outstanding. While some models are seriously expensive I hadn’t realized how affordable much of this gear had become since the boom in small home and project recording studios.

In part 3 I’ll examine The Logic Behind Powered Audio Monitors

* no pets were harmed in the events of this tale or its subsequent telling. My own safety is imperiled by the reality of wires laid across a floor in plain view of my spouse. Ingesting plastic being unwise for all living creatures, we don’t buy our dogs frisbees.