Home > Multi-zone Audio System > Cheap alternative to multi-zone audio amplifiers

Cheap alternative to multi-zone audio amplifiers

In the home audio project I’m working on, I need to support 5 stereo audio zones (I guess earthlings would call it “rooms”). One of them is the living room, so I want to re-use the same speakers and amplifier I’m installing for the home theater system.

I wrote here a little bit about how I chose the home theater amp.

After spending some time on ebay, here’s what I found:

  • Multi-zone amplifiers (10, 12 channels etc) are very expensive. Not an option.
  • 5 stereo amplifiers is also not an option. Too wasteful in energy and space.
  • Surround amplifiers come in 3 flavors: 5 channels, 6 channels and 7 channels (“what about the dot-one” you ask? well, a “5.1” amplifier is almost always a 5-channel, and the 6th channel – LFE – is amplified by a dedicated subwoofer amp). There’s also 8 channel amps, but these are relatively new, so I couldn’t find any second-hand.
  • Two of the living room speakers double as speakers for the audio system, the other three are used only for home theater.

It’s easy to see, as my combinatorics TA would say, that the optimal solution is to use a 6-channel surround amp for 3 audio zones, and a 7-channel surround amp for another audio channel + the living room (switching between surround and stereo audio). Should be easy, and since I’m perfectly good with 10-year-old used amps (as I wrote here), should not be expensive.

So I bought a wonderful 2002 Marantz SR5200 6-channel amp for the first 3 zones. I hope the  cabinet will be strong enough to hold it, as it weighs a tonne, but it’s an excellent amp for my needs, which I bought for a mere 500ILS (about $130).

As for the 7-channel amp, after some reading I figured out a Denon 7.1 receiver will be a good choice: they all seem to have equal power to all channels (mostly 7x80w), they have analog fail-over when they don’t receive digital signal (which I intend to repurpose for automatic switching between TV and audio), and they support “Zone 2” – the ability to have it act as if it were a 5-channel amp and a separate 2-channel amp. And, used Denon amps are abundant, so it should be easy to find a good one in Tel Aviv.

And I did find a guy, here in Tel Aviv, who sells a Denon AVR1709. 500ILS ($130). Or, he thought he was. He was actually selling an AVR1905. No biggie, all I cared was it’ll have 7x80W and “Zone 2”. I didn’t care about the HDMI support of the 1709, and I hope I can manage without its automatic calibration.

Total expense: 1000ILS ($260).

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