Leaving the nest for the cramped new reality of the dorm room can be tough, but doubly so if you come from a particularly tech-savvy home, and are accustomed to luxuries like a good sound system and home automation. Suffice to say, you’re going to have to leave the home theater, multi-room sound, and Control4 system behind. But you can replicate some of the comforts of home in your new cubicle domicile on a smaller scale and tighter budget.
The first and most obvious place to start — since we can assume you’ll have a laptop, and we can assume it’s loaded with music — is a good set of high-fidelity multimedia speakers. And no, not the sort of cheap, plastic computer speakers you see lining the shelves at your local big box electronics store. More and more bona fide hi-fi manufacturers are making some amazing speakers for desktop (or near-desktop use), including the recently announced Monitor Audio Airstream WS100. PSB also debuted the gorgeous sounding Alpha PS1 at this year’s CEDIA Expo, and KEF’s X300A Powered Speakers wowed crowds at the same show with their integrated Class AB amplification and separate DACs for each speaker. Our own Jack Cotter had very nice things to say in his review of the Blue Aura WS80i sound system, and, of course, there’s my favorite: the Anne Hathaway of computer speakers, Paradigm Shift’s A² Powered Speakers.
Also, if you’re leaving a tech-heavy home for the college dorm, you may also be one of the rare representatives of your generation who watch entertainment on this thing we call a “television” (from the Greek tele, meaning “at a distance” and the Latin visio, meaning “rate hikes”), and if you do, you certainly don’t want to depend on the craptacular 5-watt speakers they’re building into them these days. But a full-blown 7.1-channel surround system is probably out of the question.
So you’ll probably want to pick up a good quality soundbar to replicate the surround sound experience. Just make sure you’re careful when you’re shopping: the word “soundbar” is unfortunately applied to both integrated LCR speakers that still require a receiver to power, as well as self-contained, amplified units that do all of their processing internally. The latter is what you’ll want for the dorm room, and we’ve got reviews on three great models to get the trick done: Jack liked the AudioSource S3D60 SoundBar with Sonic Emotion 3D Sound, Michael still prefers his Polk Audio SurroundBar 6000 to all the alternatives, and I really dug the Boston Acoustics Tvee Model 25 Soundbar.
If you’ve got a newer Samsung TV (and a trust fund), you might also want to take a serious look at the company’s DA-E750 2.1 Channel 100-Watt Dual Audio Dock, which not only brings vacuum tube sound to physically and wirelessly docked personal media players of the iOS and Galaxy type; it will also accept audio from many Samsung televisions wireless, making it a rocking soundbar of sorts, too.
What about automation, though? You’re definitely not going to be calling the local custom integrator to come and drag structured wiring through the walls of your dorm, but you can do a lot with a few plugs and a smartphone app these days.
A good place to start might be an X10 R.F. PC Transceiver paired with a couple of X10 LM465 Lamp Control Modules and maybe an X10 Split Receptacle Module or three, along with the X10 iOS or Android control app of your preference, and you’ve got the beginnings of a complete home automation system away from home.