A big honkin’ pair of speakers may rock your world, but these days, more and more great sounds are coming from less obtrusive in-wall and in-ceiling models. These speakers fit into a wall so that their grilles mount flush to the surface—while offering the extra benefits of freeing up space and pleasing the aesthetic minded.
These hidden speaker systems come in three flavors: in-wall and in-ceiling speakers and in-wall subwoofers. Many in-wall speakers are square, while in-ceiling speakers are generally round to match lighting fixtures. Typically placed between the studs or joists of walls and ceilings, most come with paintable grilles so you can blend them right in with your decor.
Dissecting the Specs
When shopping for speakers, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the many specifications. Don’t worry, here are a few key ones to focus on. First, look at the frequency range. This is the range of sounds that a speaker can produce. The larger the range, the more detail you will hear from your music and movies. Keep in mind that the human ear has a frequency range of around 20 to 20,000 hertz (20 kHz), give or take.
Next is the amount of power that a speaker can handle, measured in watts. This recommendation often comes from the manufacturer, telling you how much power your amplifier should be able to safely handle to drive the speakers. Typically, 20 to 30 watts per channel can cover background listening, depending on room size and characteristics. However, home theaters or other large systems will push the power envelope higher, often around 100 watts per channel.
Impedance is simply the mixture of how a speaker resists the flow of the electrical current. This is measured in ohms, and the lower the resistance, the better.
Finally, speaker sensitivity conveys how well the speaker converts low power to sound. The higher the rating, the more sensitive the speaker is—and the better sound you’ll achieve. An increase of 3 decibels (dB) in sensitivity is equal to doubling the power.
Inside and Out
Why are some speakers more expensive than others? It could have to do with the woofers and the tweeters. A tweeter is a small driver inside the speaker that handles high frequencies. The woofer reproduces the lower frequencies. Every type of speaker has one or more of these drivers, many boasting a unique construction or special materials. That often makes a difference in the price.
Some speakers have tweeters that can pivot, which allows you to angle the speaker toward your listening spot.
Finally, some in-wall and in-ceiling speakers come with their own enclosures—also called backboxes. In these, the speaker drivers are specifically tuned to the enclosure, so that less sound will radiate from the back of the speaker and into adjacent spaces. Look for dampening materials between the speaker and the wall to prevent the wall material from coloring the sound.
When it comes to choosing speakers, all the specs can make your head spin. In the end, you need to let your ears (and maybe your wallet) be your guide. It’s not just your sound system at stake; when cutting into the walls, you want to make the right selection the first time.
View 50 of the most popular In-Wall and In-Ceiling speakers
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Over the past 15 years, Rachel Cericola has covered entertainment, web and technology trends. Check her out at www.rachelcericola.com.