Thursday, February 26, 2009

iTunes to Shower Speakers

[Update: I've posted a video about installing a bathroom speaker using an Airport Express as part of an Amazon review of a
SpeakerCraft CRS6 One in ceiling speaker
. If you like it, I'd appreciate helpful votes.]

As I’ve mentioned before, the big new thing at the house the last year was a much improved moderately large shower in the basement. It’s become a locus of activity, as the babies have taken to bathing there making ad hoc bath basins out of plastic toy bins.

One thing missing would be a source of music. It occurred to me that if I could get an Airport Express mounted near the ceiling over the shower, I could use its AirTunes capability to stream music while I bathed. This would have the advantage of also allowing my wife to stream music or radio programming from her computer as well. Refurbished Airport Expresses go for $79 at the Apple online store with free shipping. Plus, I’d have another wireless N source.

[Update: Did you know that if you have an iPod Touch or iPhone, and an Apple TV, and an Airport Express, you can configure the Apple Remote for iPhone to tell the Apple TV to send its music to the Airport Express. And yes, I have all those things, and yes, Apple makes more money off me than the State of New Hampshire.]

According to the AVS Forum’s speaker section, a good in-ceiling speaker for the high humidity environment of a shower's ceiling is the Jamo 6.52DVCA2. I have done no comparing, so I cannot personally attest to how it sounds versus other in-ceiling products. It sounds fine to me, and it turns out is easy to install due to its well thought out mounting hardware. This speaker integrates both a left and right channel, so I only needed the one, and made do without much separation. This was found online for $78 shipped. [Update: Be sure to point both tweeters at where your head will be. I made the mistake of pointing one at the tiled wall, resulting in a muffled, echoey sound. Also, you might want to put some silicon sealer between the dry wall and the plastic bevel of the speaker.]

Finally, I needed a small amplifier to bridge the unamplified output of the Express with the 8Ω inputs of the speaker. Again, I am not an audio person, but I found a small 2×15 W stereo amplifier on Amazon, a Pyle Pro PCA1 Mini 2×15W Stereo Power Amplifier for $36 shipped. I didn’t suppose the small enclosed space of the shower would need any more power than that. And I was right. The system is plenty loud with the volume knob set at one quarter maximum. The amp's inputs are male RCA jacks, requiring a female RCA to mini jack adaptor. I wrote a short Amazon review on this amp, and I'd appreciate any helpful votes.

Remember, the Airport Express is not a "line out" analog device. The loudness of the output can be controlled via the volume slider in iTunes or the Apple iPhone Remote app depending on the setup. While this results in somewhat less than optimal sound, it is extremely convenient.

My original thought had been to install an electrical socket in the space above the shower and plug both the amplifier and the Airport Express there. But the only advantages to that plan would be to marginally improve my home’s WiFi coverage, and to limit any noise caused by runs of analog signals in stereo wire. Neither reason was compelling enough to justify the added expense and hassle of dealing with household current and possible building code problems. As it happened, I had a wall socket in my laundry room which was 20 feet of stereo cable from my shower's ceiling, and there is where I placed the amp and WiFi hub.

So the total required hardware:

That does tend to add up quickly, doesn’t it? Well, maybe you needed a new 802.11n wireless hub anyway.

In retrospect, I should have gotten 4 conductor in wall stereo cable instead of 2 conductor. The added complexity of dragging two cables had no benefit.

I went to Lowe's and purchased a drywall saw, safety goggles, and a dust mask; all of which made the task of cutting out the speaker mounting hole painless. It is amazing how easily a hand drywall saw cuts through drywall. The hardest part was finding a place to cut the hole where there was plenty of space in the void above the ceiling. I'd have preferred a more symmetrical arrangement with the ceiling light, but the geometry of the joists was such that my options were limited. I used gluestick to temporarily stick the provided paper template so I could very precisely mark out the hole in pencil then started cutting with the saw; very easy. The JAMO speaker easily screws into place with a hidden mount.

And now I have my shower music. Time will tell if it was worth the expense.

[Update: Energy usage. I attached everything to my Kill-A-Watt, and while playing the Airport Express and the amplifier together draw 7 W, while not playing they draw 5 W, and with the amplifier turned off the Airport Express by itself draws 3 W. So, at 5W idle, it costs much less than a dollar a month to power the system. Also, while playing my unibody MacBook draws around 17 W with its screen asleep, so a system which played music 24/7 would cost on the order of $3/month of electricity.]