The Ultimate Stereo Amplifier Buying Guide For Home Audio
Contents:1. Choosing An Amplifier
2. Music Sources
3. Amplifier Connections
4. How To Wire Speakers To An Amplifier
5. Other Things To Consider
6. Top 10 Ceiling Speaker Amplifiers
Adding ceiling speakers to a room such as your kitchen, dining room or bedroom is an exciting task and will provide years of entertainment for you and your whole family.
There's not a whole lot of components to ceiling speaker systems so with a small amount of advice it's pretty easy to pick the best system for your needs. (don't forget that we're here to help too!)
Before choosing a ceiling speaker amplifier we’d recommend that you first take into consideration what you are trying to achieve.
This guide is designed to help you understand how to connect in-ceiling, in-wall and bookshelf speakers to an amplifier for lifestyle audio in your home. Most commonly installed for background music in kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms and living spaces.
- What room am I doing?
- What’s most important to me, sound quality or ease of use?
- What speakers am I connecting?
1. CHOOSING AN AMPLIFIER
Let’s first start with your room.
Choosing an amplifier for background music in your bathroom would lead to a completely different amplifier than if you wanted high quality sound in your living room for primary listening.
HiFi amplifiers are large and cumbersome, but when paired with high end ceiling speakers they’ll sound unbeatable.
Integrated in wall or in-ceiling amplifiers are smaller, easier to hide in a kitchen cupboard, sound great for general music and are easy to use simply by pairing your smartphone.
We always suggest to consider what you’re trying to achieve, what your budgets are and pairing the right amplifier with the right speakers for the right application!
Don’t worry though, we’ve got lots of bundles created by our audio experts to ensure you get the perfect pairing, and we’re always available for free advice.
TYPES OF AMPLIFIER
These are the most common type of amplifiers, especially if you’ve looked at traditional HiFi systems.
They come in various shapes and sizes and are often the most powerful with the most connectivity. But as a downside they are usually not the easiest to use and often require you to turn them on manually each time you want to use them. Not a major problem for considered listening in the lounge, but for day to day background music in the kitchen a Bluetooth amplifier may be more user friendly.
There are a range of smaller hybrid freestanding amplifiers that pack a decent sound quality, lots of connectivity and ease of use with auto-on Bluetooth such as the Tangent Ampster BTII which we use in a lot of ceiling speaker packages for higher sound quality.
You can also pair most freestanding amps with a subwoofer, so if bass is a consideration then you’ll want to look at a freestanding amp!
In Wall Amplifiers
If you’re adding music to a kitchen, bedroom or bathroom then you’ll be surprised at how little power you need to fill that room out and instead of a bulky HiFi amplifier you will benefit more from an in wall amplifier such as the Systemline E50 or Systemline E100.
These are stylish, discreet in wall amplifiers that have a built-in Bluetooth receiver.
The Systemline E100 also has a built in FM & DAB radio so you can be listening to your favourite radio station at the touch of a button.
You can also connect a television to the amplifier for background TV through your ceiling speakers.
In Ceiling Amplifiers
The final option is an in ceiling amplifier for the most discreet system available.
You have two options here, in ceiling amplifiers that connect to passive ceiling speakers such as the KB Sound Select Star which can be controlled by a smartphone app or a handheld remote control.
Another consideration is an all-in-one active ceiling speaker such as the Lithe Audio. This is a plug & play ceiling speaker, simply power it up, pair your phone and enjoy your music without needing a separate amplifier.
You’ll be surprised at how good these systems can sound. They are more than adequate for most kitchens and definitely great for bathrooms!
WiFi Multiroom Amplifiers
Multiroom amplifiers are often a bit of a combination of the other types, but they do deserve their own section!
If you are planning to add music to multiple rooms such as your kitchen, dining room and living space and want to group them to play the same music at the same time then you'll need to look at the WiFi multiroom options.
These amplifiers are connected to your home network and can be controlled via a free app for your smart device.
You can stream internet radio, internet music services such as Spotify, Deezer & much more.
The key feature though is the multiroom function, simply group multiple speakers together in the app and all areas will play the same music at the same time in perfect sync.
You will need one amplifier per room and you have full flexibility with most multiroom amplifiers you have unlimited speaker choices. Connect to ceiling speakers, bookshelf speakers, in wall speakers, floor standing speakers or even garden speakers to create a whole home music system.
There are numerous brands of multiroom amplifier, the most popular being Sonos & Denon HEOS. Most multiroom amplifiers have various analog and digital audio inputs, some even have Bluetooth for the best of both worlds!
You'll also find that streaming music is better quality than Bluetooth and it removes a few annoyances, such as Bluetooth range issues (typically 10m before it cuts off) and if your phone rings or you get a text or email the music won't cut out.
2. MUSIC SOURCES
Now that you understand the different types of amplifier; freestanding, in-ceiling & in-wall next we need to decide how you want to listen to music.
There are now numerous methods from broadcast radio to internet streaming, and the options can affect your amplifier choice.
FM / DAB RADIO
It’s safe to say that a lot of people listen to the radio at home, work or in the car. And most of the time it’ll be via an FM or DAB radio.
There are a good number of ceiling speaker amplifiers on the market that incorporate a built-in FM and/or DAB radio tuner. For example the KB Sound Select Star range features a choice between FM or FM & DAB radio tuners in a discreet hide away amplifier, controlled by a handheld remote or a free app.
FM radio is easily received from anywhere in the UK and DAB is fast catching up as they expand out the coverage nationwide. DAB provides much better sound quality and sometime between 2020-2025 they’ll likely be turning FM radio off, so we’d strongly suggest that you invest in a DAB compatible amplifier rather than FM only.
Another great choice is the Systemline E100 in-wall amplifier as this features a built-in FM & DAB radio tuner along with Bluetooth streaming, it’s a great solution for most single-room home audio systems.
If you love your radio stations and don’t want to stream from the internet then consider a ceiling speaker amplifier with an FM & DAB radio tuner built in.
INTERNET STREAMING (WiFi)
This has fast become the go-to method of getting your music to your amplifier!
There are numerous ways of doing this but the most popular and most supported is via Bluetooth.
Almost all smart phones, tablets and computers come with Bluetooth from default so it’s universal, easy and lets you stream anything your smart device can play including Spotify, Deezer, TuneIN Radio, Apple Music, YouTube & much more.
There are also a few wireless streaming protocols, mostly found in multiroom amplifiers, such as Airplay, DLNA and proprietary systems such as Sonos, Denon HEOS, Yamaha Music cast etc.
Multiroom streaming amplifiers typically give you all the internet streaming services, the ability to stream directly from music stored on your device and network storage drives (NAS drives) and computers.
With multiroom amplifiers you can also stream to multiple rooms at the same time in perfect sync. Multiroom amplifiers are more expensive usually, however they do generally give you the best sound quality and functions, especially if you are planning to do more than one room of your home.
Apple user? Consider an Airplay compatible speaker. Airplay makes it easy to cast any music from your iOS device to your speaker, with Airplay 2 you can also group rooms and cast to multiple speakers at the same time. Take a look at the iEAST StreamAmp i50B which also features AirPlay and DLNA streaming.
The Lithe Audio WiFi speakers are soon to be made Airplay 2 compatible, this will be a game changer in the ceiling speaker market!
If you primarily play music from your smart device then you must choose an amplifier with Bluetooth or WiFi streaming.
LOCAL MUSIC SOURCE
Traditionally HiFi systems would come with separate components, you’d typically have a radio tuner, CD player, mini disc player etc. which all plug into the main amplifier unit.
Most of these music sources are now (almost) redundant but there are plenty of occasions where a hardwired audio input will be needed such as if you want to connect a record player, WiFi streamer, television etc.
Most freestanding amplifiers will have an aux connection, however if you are looking for a more discreet in wall or in ceiling amplifier make sure you double check the specifications as not all ceiling speaker amplifiers have hard-wired connectivity available.
If you’re looking to connect another audio source into your amplifier then you must look out for an amplifier with an AUX input, whether it’s 3.5mm jack, RCA or digital optical input.
3. AMPLIFIER CONNECTIONS
There are a whole host of audio inputs available, as we're covering lifestyle audio rather than full on HiFi there's only a few that'll actually get used.
Most integrated amplifiers designed for in ceiling and in walls only have analog audio inputs. There are some compact integrated amplifiers with built in digital to analog converters featuring a digital audio input. As of 2020 these are getting more and more popular and we expect most amplifiers in future to feature a digital input of some kind.
For most cases though analog will be fine for connecting TV's, turntables, media streamers etc.
AMPLIFIER CONNECTION TYPES
Analog Audio Inputs:
- 3.5mm Jack
Digital Audio Inputs:
- Optical (TOS Link)
- Coaxial (RCA)
- USB (Type A - For Connecting USB Drives)
- Speaker Outputs (Binding Posts or Clips)
- Subwoofer Output (RCA)
Now bear in mind here that we're talking about integrated ceiling, in wall and bookshelf speakers designed for general music listening, not full on HiFi so there is going to be a trade off between connectivity and ease of use.
You'll most likely be wanting Bluetooth as a minimum, it's pretty much an industry standard now and almost all of our amplifiers here at K&B Audio feature Bluetooth connectivity.
Some of the integrated systems we offer such as the Systemline E100 are super easy to use, look great and cover most bases, but it doesn't have a digital optical input... a full on HiFi amplifier may have every connection under the sun but it's a big box that needs to hide somewhere and be turned on each time you want to use it.
There is a trade off and we find that 99% of people want a decent, easy to use system that streams music from their smart phone and has the ability to connect to a television.
Note: you can find a more in-depth guide to connecting a television or other audio source to your amplifier by clicking here.
4. HOW TO WIRE SPEAKERS TO AN AMPLIFIER
Wiring for ceiling speakers is really easy if you follow a few basic rules.
All speakers should be wired using two core speaker cable from a decent brand, you don’t need to go crazy but we would recommend that you use a full copper cable such as the QED QX16/2 or the 42 strand two core speaker cable we provide here at K&B Audio.
You can either wire each speaker back to the amplifier, or daisy chain* from the first speaker to the second speaker (left to left).
* Important: You can only do this once! Do not daisy chain more than two speakers on a low-impedance amplifier.
The diagrams below show some basic speaker to amplifier connections, we've shown them with ceiling speakers but the principle is the same for in wall or bookshelf. (just ensure if connecting two pair that they are 8 ohm, more on that later).
WIRING FOR ONE PAIR OF SPEAKERS
WIRING FOR TWO PAIRS OF SPEAKERS
WIRING FOR A SINGLE STEREO SPEAKER
If you are installing a stereo ceiling speaker (one ceiling speaker with left and right channel) then this needs to be treated as two speakers and will need two separate cables, one for left and one for right.
We are often asked to solve an issue where only one cable has been wired to a single speaker position in a room, and unfortunately the only solution aside from re-wiring is to go mono.
Wiring one cable for single stereos will not suffice, wire two for stereo.
When installing two pairs of speakers to one amplifier you can either wire back each speaker individually and connect at the amplifier or you can wire them in parallel by wiring from the amplifier to the first left speaker, and then from the first left speaker to the second left speaker and then the same again for the right.
There’s no right or wrong, it really depends on your application. Both will work fine.
HOW MANY SPEAKERS CAN I HAVE ON AN AMPLIFIER?
All ceiling speakers have an ohm rating, the most common is 8 ohms but it’s you’ll also find 6 ohm speakers such as from Monitor Audio.
The lower the ohm rating, the lower the resistance which means the speaker will be driven harder by the amplifier and thus provide a better/louder sound.
You won’t hit any problems when connecting one pair of speakers to an amplifier, however if you are planning to connect more than one pair to an amplifier you need to take care on what speakers you choose.
Firstly, check your amplifier’s minimum impedance value. You’ll find that most amplifiers are stable to 4 ohms.
If you connect two pairs of 8 ohm ceiling speakers in parallel then the amplifier will see a resistance of 4 ohms, for most amplifiers this is absolutely fine and your system will work well.
If however you add 6 ohm speakers your amplifier will only see a load of 3 ohms which is too low and when you turn the volume up you risk shutting the amplifier down and/or damaging the speakers.
This is also the case if you add more than two pairs of speakers to an amplifier. You should never directly connect more than two pairs, we recommend instead that you use a protected speaker switch.
5. OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
MATCH YOUR AMPLIFIER WITH YOUR SPEAKERS
It is important that you choose the right amplifier for your ceiling speakers based on the performance and quality of both.
Both speakers and amplifiers will have a power rating, you should ensure that your amplifiers power is less than the speakers power rating else you will risk damaging it.
For instance if you have a 100W amplifier then you should not connect it to a ceiling speaker with a 30W power rating.
You don’t need to worry about the other way around though, most ceiling speakers are rated at 60W + and you can pair them with a 15 or 30W amplifier with no problems. The power rating is a maximum and does not mean that you MUST have a 60W amplifier to use it.
POWER ISN'T EVERYTHING
Ahhh power, it's pretty easy to assume that more power = best sound but this isn't always the case!
Power doesn't equal volume, until you start 10X'ing your amplifiers output.
Our best selling speaker range (Systemline E-Series) has a class D digital amplifier with just 18W per channel, however this adequately fills large kitchen/dining rooms with high quality sound.
For most background and general music systems in your home you don't need to go crazy (HiFi is a different matter, but that's not what we're covering here).
Instead of looking for the most power, choose to go for good quality power.
We have 18W high quality amplifiers that provide a better output sound quality than some 60W amplifiers so don't get too caught up in the numbers.
We mention the Tangent Ampster BTII a lot in this guide and that's because it's a great sounding amplifier with plenty of connectivity, ease of use and all at a great price point.
We would strongly suggest that you consider whether or not you are planning to add a subwoofer to your speaker system before you purchase an amplifier.
Most integrated amplifiers at this level do not feature subwoofer outputs which makes it quite expensive to add a subwoofer as you'll need to find one with speaker level input, which isn't ideal.
If you are planning to add a subwoofer then you'll want to choose one with a dedicated subwoofer output such as the Tangent Ampster BTII which allows you to plug in any active subwoofer via RCA cable.
A subwoofer can make a big difference to your room and if outright audio performance is a key factor then we'd suggest you do so, however it is worth noting that the majority of our customers do not add a subwoofer as it's often not really required for decent music in kitchens, bedrooms & bathrooms.
6. TOP 10 CEILING SPEAKER AMPLIFIERS
There are a whole host of amplifiers on the market, we've played with a lot of them and rounded up the best-selling amplifiers that suit ceiling speakers the best.
Click below to view the amplifier.
- Tangent Ampster BT II (Bluetooth, AUX, Optical, Subwoofer)
- Systemline E50 (Bluetooth, AUX)
- Systemline E100 (Bluetooth, FM, DAB+, AUX)
- KB Sound Select Star Space (Bluetooth, FM, DAB+)
- Denon HEOS HS2 AMP (Bluetooth, WiFi Multiroom, Internet Streaming, AUX)
- Sonos AMP (WiFi Multiroom, Internet Streaming, AUX)
- iEAST StreamAMP i50B (Bluetooth, WiFi Multiroom, Internet Streaming, AUX)
- KB Sound Mando (Bluetooth, AUX)
- e-Audio B425ABL (Bluetooth)
- K2 Audio Bluetooth Express (Bluetooth, AUX)
Hopefully you now have a much greater understanding of what a ceiling speaker amplifier is, what choices there are and are on the way to choosing the best amplifiers for your home audio project.
As usual the audio experts at K&B Audio are here to help you choose an amplifier for your ceiling speakers.
Buying from K&B Audio also gets you lifetime tech support, free advice and great service!
Feel free to contact us by email, live chat or phone on 02392 190955.
Did we miss something? Do you still have questions? Ask them below and we'll reply as well as updating this guide.