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Help me wire this crazy-ass layout for surround sound...
June 26, 2006 8:32 PM   Subscribe

Help me inexpensively and at least somewhat discreetly wire my place for surround. The problem: Really challenging room layout and a tight budget.

The short version of what I'm looking for is:
- Recommendations of quality but affordable speaker cable (please, no Monster)
- Ideas on how to find out if/how I can drill into the soffit safely (if you need pics, I can put some up)
- Ballpark figures on having a room wired for surround if you've had it done
- Creative ideas for semi-attractively achieving this wiring without going into the wall
- Or .. point me to a magical tool that will let me go through the wall with minimal damage and easy/inexpensive repairs?
- I already have the surround system, and I'm house-poor - please do not recommend I purchase wireless speakers

The more detailed notes with regard to this challenge:
- Floors are hardwood, I can't tuck wiring under baseboards or carpet, unfortunately
- It shouldn't make a huge difference, but the system I have is 6.1 surround (3 rears), not just 5.1
- Ceilings are somewhat high (9 feet). There is a soffit running around the perimeter (from the left of the entertainment center toward right, all the way around the wall with the balcony doors, and over to the kitchen), but it is unclear if I can drill into this soffit safely. Ductwork definitely runs through it, but it seems awfully big for all of that space to be air duct. Is there a safe way to find out if/how/where I can drill in and pull cables?
- Note all the doorways / hallways in the floorplan below. I was going to buy that white conduit-type tubing you can run along your trim, but it seems like it'd look awfully goofy going around so many doors or hallway openings. Please excuse my really crappy and not at all to scale MS Paint mockup of the room's floorplan:



- I'm very house-poor having just spent most of my savings on this condo, so I'm afraid spending several hundred dollars having an electrician pull cables is probably out of the question, though I don't know how much that costs.

I fully understand that waiting until I have the money to have a professional run cables is an option. However, I have 2 cats and leaving the wiring running all over the floor temporarily is not really an option as they like to muck with things once in a while, so right now I can't hook up the speakers at all. I'm really really missing the ability to listen to music and watch movies with decent sound.
posted by twiggy to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good gosh...I think you have every single thing possible going against you with getting this wired. If you can't go through walls and can't go along the base boards...then you really will need to either A) Save up your cash and get some wireless speakers or B) I can't think of another option.
posted by JPigford at 8:39 PM on June 26, 2006


I rent, so going into the walls wasn't an option. I used some raceways from home depot which blended in well with the white moulding.
posted by justkevin at 9:13 PM on June 26, 2006


Something like this maybe? Fairly economical, though maybe still out of your budget. Certainly cheaper than an electrician and possibly any other option you have. Unless you want to run wires up the wall and through the ceiling.

I'm testing some wireless speakers for a friend's home automation company that are fantastic, but certainly not cheap. I can attest to the general usefulness of such wireless roducts, though.

Good luck!
posted by empyrean at 9:16 PM on June 26, 2006


"However, I have 2 cats and leaving the wiring running all over the floor temporarily is not really an option as they like to muck with things once in a while, so right now I can't hook up the speakers at all. I'm really really missing the ability to listen to music and watch movies with decent sound"

If you don't mind the wires then you can duct tape them to the floor as an anti-cat and anti trip measure. If you can find some gaffer tape it won't leave a residue even after months on the floor.
posted by Mitheral at 9:55 PM on June 26, 2006


That room is not going to have very good accoustics, at least from your drawing.

Does it have a light mounted somewhere that you could pull out and have a look?
Look in your utility closet and see if you can follow the ducting from there.
Failing that, get a thin drill-bit and poke a hole in the corner of the soffit and see if it's mostly hollow.
I'd bet that it is, in which case running a wire is mostly a matter of threading the pull-tape around and yanking the wires back.

How about your ceilings? Are they concrete and solid, or is there an airgap up there?

You could get some wiretracks and run the wire on the outside of the soffit, but underneath the wiretrack.
posted by madajb at 10:08 PM on June 26, 2006


Can you exchange your 6.1 system? (Doesn't sound like it...)

Try to avoid spending money on things like cable runs and mounting brackets. Instead, invest in a higher quality two-channel system. With all the channels and speakers involved in a surround system, the sound quality takes a hit. Pack all the punch into two speakers and a subwoofer, powered by a simple mid-level stereo amplifier, and the improved sound quality and imaging could sound better than surround sound.

Have you ever browsed http://audiogon.com? If you ignore the nutjobs looking to sell their 6-month old $20,000 museum piece systems, the classifieds section has a great deal of simple, solid components.
posted by reeddavid at 10:12 PM on June 26, 2006


Ceilings are unfortunately untouchable, so I can only use the soffit or the walls to run wire through.

I've had my 6.1 system for a few years now, but it was easy to run wires under my baseboard at my old apartment. Way too late to exchange it.

I would heed your advice about ditching the rears, reeddavid, but I also like to watch movies in surround, and the effects would be missed, especially from this system. It does have a nice 2 channel mode which I often switch to when I listen to music (it's a mid-level Onkyo receiver, I don't have the model number handy).

I do appreciate justkevin's suggestion, but as I said in my post - I already looked into those, the problem is, if you look at the layout, I'd be running raceways around 3 doors and it would just start to look a little ridiculous.

Anyone have any idea what an electrician would charge to run these through the walls?
posted by twiggy at 10:26 PM on June 26, 2006


i can recommend good quality wires for homecinema systems from monoprice. justkevin thanks for the link, I've been looking for a company like that for ages.
posted by ouke at 12:42 AM on June 27, 2006


I am also a poor audiophile, and haven't found speaker cable that beats good old fat cooker wire in terms of bang for buck. Can't find any to link to, but I remember paying about £30 for a 50m reel.
posted by cogat at 12:51 AM on June 27, 2006


One possibility that is similar to tucking the cables into the baseboard would be to install crown moulding and using that as the cable run. You can get relatively inexpensive crown moulding, though the soffit and / or kitchen wall cabinets may make installation location choices difficult.

A raceway behind the unit and wall mounted speakers would reduce the impact of the wall runs for the wires.
posted by Mahogne at 5:29 AM on June 27, 2006


if you're willing to build your own cables, Blue Jeans Cable or Axiom Audio will sell you quality bulk cable for ~$1/ft., including hardware. it's really really easy to do yourself - i think building your own cable + using raceways (and maybe a strategically placed ikea rug or two) would probably be the cheapest, most painless way to go. if you do decide to build your own cable, make sure you order plenty, because it gets used up alot faster than you think. i set up my surround with the Axiom cable - it sounds fine and since i cut everything to the specific length i needed, there's no clutter or loops of cable to hide.
posted by the painkiller at 6:12 AM on June 27, 2006


Can you run the speaker wires under the floor?
posted by loc-dogg at 6:40 AM on June 27, 2006


Second the crown molding idea. I'm not exactly sure what's going on with your soffit, but that's what my dad did when he moved into a new (old) house. This is assuming that your speakers mount on the walls instead of sitting on the floor...

Drill a hole in the drywall behind your receiver that is just big enough to fit 5 sets of speaker wire through. Drill a similar hole directly above it, an inch or so below where the crown molding will butt up to the ceiling (or soffit). Use a wire pull (I think it might be called a 'fish tape') to pull wires in through the bottom hole, up through the wall, and out the top hole. (Of course, you could just use raceway for this part if you don't want to root around inside your wall.) Then, just put the crown molding around the contours of the ceiling, tucking the appropriate wires behind it as you go. Voila - surround sound and no visible wires!
posted by cebailey at 6:54 AM on June 27, 2006


Through the floor is promising--is there a basement or crawl space underneath? It would be both the cheapest and cleanest installation. Crown molding is also a nice idea, and it will make your room look classier, but it will be at least a few hundred bucks. There is also something called flatwire, sort of a thick tape with speaker wire in it, that can be painted or wallpapered over. I haven't used it but am thinking of picking some up for a similar project.
posted by LarryC at 7:37 AM on June 27, 2006


There is a combo cable raceway/crown moulding product that might just do the trick for you: wiretracks. Looks pretty easy to install. That same website has some other cable-management products that might help.

Or you could take the industrial approach and hang a snake tray from your ceiling.
posted by adamrice at 8:00 AM on June 27, 2006


One possibility is a raceway which are generally plastic guides that run along the wall. THey come with adhesive and you stick them to your wall and hide the wires inside. They are fairly inexpensive and can be ordered online if need be. I found mine at a Lowe's Hardware store and it was invaluable when I had to baby-proof my home and hide the wires around our living room.
posted by Tallguy at 8:10 AM on June 27, 2006


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