Whole-House Sound Hath Charms to Soothe the Savage in You

Whole-house sound sets the mood, reduces sound system clutter, and adds value. Run wires behind the walls or go wireless—there’s a system for every budget.

The wiring for a whole-house sound system can be neatly tucked into a closet or storage room. Image: NuVo Technologies

Installing whole-house sound hath the same charms of music — soothing savage beasts, and all that — and is a luxury feature that charms buyers, too. These sound systems, which can pipe music to every room or to just a few, cost as high as $3,000 per room for behind-the-walls wiring (including speakers), to as low as $400 per room for wireless units. But whatever price point you choose, music will make your house sound like a million bucks. Here’s a look at your options.

High end: Get wired

The highest-quality whole-house sound travels through structured wires embedded in your walls. Wires run from your sound system, neatly tucked into a storage room or closet, through the ceiling into speakers mounted in rooms you select. This is the gold standard option for the music purist and should be installed by a sound specialist.

Structured wiring most easily is installed in new construction, and nearly half of all new homes built in and after 2008 have it. Retrofitting a house with structured wiring will cost $700 to $2,700 per room, depending on the control units you select. A pair of speakers for each room can cost from $100 to $2,000.

Mid-priced: Leverage existing wires

Leveraging existing wires is a less intrusive way to achieve whole-house sound because you aren’t cutting through walls to run new wire. Expect to sacrifice audio fidelity, but it’s minimal.

A source hub—a central device that iPods, CD players, and other source equipment plugs into—sends audio signals in a digital format over existing electrical wires. A receiver plugged into a wall outlet in each room converts digital back into analog music.

Costs run $500 to $1,000 per room including speakers; it takes a day or less to install.

Budget luxury: Go wireless

Installing a wireless system is the easiest, most affordable way to get whole-house sound—and the only one you can do yourself.

Music is distributed from your computer, through a router, and into a small player box (about the size of toaster) placed in each room you choose. If you want sound in five rooms, you’ll need five player boxes and five sets of speakers.

Wireless systems cost about $400 per room and can be set up in a couple hours.