July 01, 2008
| by Dennis Burger
General attitudes toward speaker aesthetics can generally be broken down into two categories: those who don’t mind (or actually desire) seeing their speakers and having them be seen, and those who would just as soon stick a toilet in the middle of their living room and sully their décor with a floorstanding loudspeaker array.
The latter group has been the target demographic of in-wall speaker manufacturers for years. But even in-walls take a measureable toll on a room’s aesthetics, marring an otherwise pristine surface with grills sure to catch the attention of the fussy-eyed.
That’s why a number of speaker manufacturers have begun offering completely invisible speakers: devices that bring the walls themselves to life with the sound of music. How do they do it? A few different ways, actually:
The most common approach to invisible speaker design involves affixing one or more electromechanical transducers (from the Latin transducere, which means “to transduce”… or something like that) to a rigid rectangular panel, which acts as an acoustical diaphragm. This rectangular diaphragm then takes the place of a section of drywall in the wall or ceiling. When taped, mudded and painted or lightly wallpapered over, these speakers become not merely indistinguishable from the wall surface, but actually an integral part of it.
Examples of this approach to invisible speaker design include, appropriately enough, Sound Advance’s SA2R Invisible Speaker, Amina Technologies’ AIW-Series Invisible Speakers, and Onsia’s Concealed Flat Panel Speakers.
The Sound Advance SA2R ($1200/pair) measures 21.25-in. high, 14.25-in. wide, and 3.25-in. or 5.25-in. deep depending on the back box used (the former is for in-wall installation; the latter for in-ceiling), and boasts a frequency response of 70Hz to 20 kHz.
The five models available in Amina’s AIW-series (Price: I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you; actually I couldn’t tell you, so you’re safe… for now) all measure 17.75-in. by 13.625-in. by 1.625-in., and range from 20 to 80 watts of power handling, with 20- and 40-watt-per-channel stereo models also available. Frequency response on all five models is 120Hz to 20KHz.
Onsia’s In-Wall Sound Panels ($149 apiece) feature aerated polystyrene panels measuring 24-in. by 24-in. and must be secured between two studs with mounting screws. They have a frequency response of 120Hz to 17 KHz, and are rated at 50 watts RMS.
Adding Some Oomph
It doesn’t take much more than a quick glance at the specs for the speakers above to notice that they lack a little something that the French call “de basse fréquence (or they should, anyway).” Stealth Acoustics gets around this problem by taking the same basic platform—high- and mid-frequency transducers are coupled directly to a vibrating diaphragm, which becomes part of the wall itself—but behind this diaphragm, Stealth also adds 8-in. cone woofers for a healthy bottom-end kick.
The Stealth Acoustics AX3 Invisible In-Wall Speaker ($1500/pair) has a frequency range of 40Hz to 20KHz, matching the frequency range of many gargantuan floorstanding tower speakers. Its rated power capacity is 150 watts.
If that’s not enough boom for your buck, the Stealth Acoustics B1630 In-Wall Subwoofer Panel System ($560 per system, which includes two panels) employs two 8” drivers per panel to reach down to a pant-leg-shaking 35Hz.