7 things to consider about in-wall and in-ceiling speakers
1/08/2016 9:00 am
In-wall and in-ceiling speakers have become some of our best-selling products, and it's easy to see why.
Not everyone can have bookshelf or floorstanding audiophile speakers in every room of their home but nearly everyone has a taste for speakers that truly sound fantastic. Even home theatre enthusiasts are using in-wall speakers to work with the space they have available for their home theatre, allowing for the best possible experience they can afford without having to compromise on audio performance.
In-wall speakers pretty much work like regular speakers. But instead of using a cabinet for resonance, they’re mounted in a frame and set into your wall. In-wall speakers use the wall cavity as a large cabinet, giving bass in essentially the same way you might get from a stand-alone speaker.
An in-ceiling speaker are no different, except that — obviously — they’re installed in your ceiling.
There are 7 main things to consider when planning your in-ceiling music system.
1. Speaker placement
2. Wiring capabilities
3. Sound quality
6. In-wall or in-ceiling?
The first factor to consider is speaker placement. Even more than with free standing or bookshelf speakers, you'll need to decide how and where you'll use your in-wall or in-ceiling speakers well before you start looking at specific speaker models and features. Once your speakers are installed, there is no moving them around.
Good speaker placement can make or break your system's sound.
Whether you are planning a whole house music system or a surround sound system for a dedicated music or home theatre room will largely determine your choices and placement.
If your planning for background music, your main goal is to get even coverage throughout the room. This takes careful planning to get the best results.
In-ceiling speakers will be your speaker of choice and you will have to work out how many speakers each room needs for good sound. Clearly, that depends on the room's size and how it's being used.
One In-ceiling speaker is definitely not equal to the next in-ceiling speaker.
The most basic model is simply a single fixed speaker driver that is designed to be put up in the ceiling.
Sometimes though, you want music overhead but just have room for one speaker. In that case stereo (2 channel) input speakers play both the left and right channels of music in a single location. They are a great way to add music to small spaces and are available in several sizes offered by Klipsch, Q Acoustics and Definitive Technology.
In larger rooms, you'll probably want to use more speakers, staggering them throughout the area. Especially if the volume in these areas will generally stay low (background), you won't have to worry too much about reflected sound. Your main goal is to disperse the sound over as wide an area as possible.
One noticeable exception is the dining area: here you will want to avoid surfaces in the room that will reflect sound in a disruptive way. For example, if you place a ceiling-mounted speaker directly over your dining room table, the sound may reflect upward off the table and interfere with conversation. Something to keep in mind during your design.
Many in-ceiling speakers offer a tweeter that can be rotated. Instead of sound going in one fixed direction, it can be directed towards you for better performance, that can direct both high and low frequencies towards the listening area.
Some speakers like some of the Q Acoustics in ceiling speakers use heavy-duty materials that hold better up in humid environments. They are perfect for withstanding steam in the bathroom or kitchen.
If your bathroom is relatively large, placing a water resistant stereo-input speaker near the vanity and one near the bathtub will ensure you can follow that morning's news, even during noisier activities like brushing your teeth or showering.
And then there are the aesthetic considerations.
Low profile aesthetics like the Definitive Technology 's Disappearing™ In-Wall series feature also near-invisibility thanks to their small diameters, hidden flange design, and low profile micro-perf grilles.
Also, some like the NS-IC600 YAMAHA 16cm Custom In-Ceiling Speakers offer paintable magnetic grills.
Most in-ceiling speakers only require a few inches of mounting depth. But some like the Definitive Reference series speakers have integrated enclosures (back boxes) built around them. Enclosed speakers offer excellent bass performance. But always make sure that the extra depth fits. We have seen dimensions of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers cause hair scratching moments on several occasions.
Every speaker brand has subtle tonal qualities that are unique to them. For this reason, you want to use the same brand of speakers within a room. This gives you consistency in sound.
If you have a room (dedicated or not) that is used as a home theatre, a 5.1 (or more!) in-wall speaker system is a great way to maintain esthetics as a step-up from a soundbar in audio experience. For this use, in-walls are to be preferred over in-ceilings, especially for the front channels.
Just like with ceiling speakers, there's a range of sizes and designs when it comes to in-wall speakers. Q Acoustics, EarthQuake, Klipsch and Definitive Technology all offer a range of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers especially designed for home theatres.
Quality-wise it’s good to realize that in-wall speakers are slightly different to regular speakers: they have a limited amount of depth and width that constrains the volume of the cabinet. They are also less predictable than a regular speaker since you may have different insulation materials in the wall (or none at all) and you may also have cross-bracing within the middle of the wall that will further constrain or alter the volume of the natural backbox.
It’s important to understand, however, that designers know what they are dealing with. For instance, they compensate for ‘boundary gain’ (the condition whereby a speaker closer to a wall (or in this case, in the wall) emits more bass frequencies). Boundary gain is a factor of room acoustics that is simply unavoidable. Place a speaker close to a wall and you’ll hear more low frequencies overall. The enclosure and the drivers of in-wall speakers are all made with this in mind so that when you get them home and put them, in place, the system sonically matches the sound you’d get from a regular speaker.
Some in–walls also come with very sophisticated features you would probably not expect from in-wall speakers like adjustable cross-over.
With all that it’s probably very clear by now that your speaker selection will be based on your room's layout and your performance goals.
The general rules for speaker placement apply as described in our speaker placement blog.
Place the front left and right speakers so that they're at level when you're seated, both equal distances from the main listening position.
Place the center channel speaker so that it's at ear level when you're seated. If your television is wall-mounted, place the center channel speaker slightly below. If your TV rests on a stand or table, place the center channel speaker just above it, and angle the tweeters down towards seated ear level if possible.
Place the surround speakers above seated ear level (as high as standing ear level).
For Atmos home theaters, one popular Dolby recommendation is to use four in-ceiling speakers (for 7.1.4 or 5.1.4), with one pair located in front of your listening position and a second pair behind it. They also suggest using in-ceiling speakers with a wide dispersion pattern, or speakers with pivoting drivers that can be angled slightly toward your listening position. If your system can only accommodate one pair of in-ceiling speakers, mount them above the front left and front right speakers.
No home theatre is complete without a subwoofer to cover the low end. If a freestanding subwoofer is not an option and you decide to have a completely invisible system, Definitive Technology provide subs for in-wall installation.
There really are no particular hang-ups when using in-wall speakers within the context of a full surround sound system. In fact, about the only speakers you may have an issue with are the front channels. There are two solutions for in-wall front channels. One is that you have ample room below (or above) and beside your television to mount the speakers, or you are using a perforated projector screen whereby the center channel speaker can be mounted directly behind the action (just like in a commercial movie theater).
Aside from that, surround speakers and back channels work just fine with even good quality in-ceiling speakers.
Once you've decided where to install your speakers, you'll need to run in-wall speaker wire from your receiver to each speaker location. The same rules that we discussed in our pre-wiring blog apply. Key considerations are what kind of wire to use and how to route it from your receiver to your speakers.
You'll want to use the right kind of speaker wire inside your walls. With this, we mean future proofing as well as using the right gauge for the length you are covering. To make sure you get good, clean sound you'll need to make sure your speaker cable has been shielded to prevent interference from nearby AC power lines.
Because your ceiling speakers may have another room located above them, enclosure boxes like the DynaBox Enclosure for In-Ceiling Speakers above the speakers limit the sound that leaks through.Dynamat In-Wall Sound Barrier Speaker Enclosure does the same for in-wall speakers. On top of that, box enclosures also provide a more controlled bass response by creating an enclosure around the speaker.
A final note on speaker performance, quality and as a consequence budget.
Just like for any pair of speakers, there is variety, options and quality differences galore when it comes to in-wall and in-ceiling speakers.
And as with anything, the more you pay, the better the quality of your drivers and the crossovers and the more flexibility you will have in adjusting your set-up, which can only benefit your play-back.
The question is mainly whether you want in-ceilings for just some background music and are happy with a very basic budget in–ceiling speaker, or are you more serious about your music system and have higher expectations from your set-up?
As it will no doubt be clear, it takes experience and expertise to plan a good multi-room and dedicated music system using in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. The Rapallo team is very happy to map out everything for you. You simply have to tell us about your performance goals for each room. We will help you choose the right equipment within your budget.
Source: Crutchfield, QAcoustics, Klipsch, Definitive Technology, Yamaha