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How to Choose In-Wall Speakers

What Are the Benefits of In-wall Speakers?

In-wall speakers have become quite popular in homes, and it’s not uncommon to see them in hallways and home theaters big and small. People are discovering just how ingenious these speakers are and how far they’ve come since their humble beginnings. Advances in acoustic quality and ease of installation have made in-wall speakers competitive with traditional free-standing models. In additional to producing excellent sound quality, these speakers blend well within any interior and free up a lot of precious floor space.

Flush-mount In-wall speakers can be painted to match your décor, and the wiring is completely hidden from view. Bass response from in-walls is excellent because the speaker uses the wall or ceiling cavity as the speaker cabinet, and features like swiveling tweeters let you direct the high frequencies toward your ears. In-walls and in-ceiling speakers are also resilient, often lasting decades, and many models are moisture-resistant so you can install them in bathrooms, laundry rooms, and other moist areas. (Avoid installing in-ceiling speakers directly above a bath or shower stall.)

How In-wall Speakers Work: A Few Basics

An in-wall speaker works essentially the same way as a regular box cabinet speaker. Instead of being positioned inside a cabinet (box), however, these speakers are mounted in a frame and set into the wall. An in-ceiling speaker works essentially the same way. Generally, in-wall speakers tend to be rectangular while in-ceiling speakers tend to be round. All in-wall and in-ceiling speakers have paintable grilles.

Do Different Rooms Require Different Speakers?

One size fits all doesn’t really apply to in-wall speakers because different rooms tend to be used for different kinds of listening. In a family room or home theater, you’ll probably sit in a specific spot to hear music or the surround sound of a movie track at relatively high volumes. In this case, the biggest, best-sounding in-wall speakers you can afford, positioned at ear level when seated, will be your best bet.

A kitchen or dining room, on the other hand, is a place where you might want low-key sound distributed evenly throughout the space, so an array of in-wall speakers will work. Smaller areas like a bathrooms or hallways, tend to be used for background audio. For rooms like these, a single "stereo" dual voice coil speaker will do the trick. Be sure your speakers are moisture-resistant when installing in a bathrooms or laundry rooms.

What Size of In wall Speakers Should I Choose?
We recommend that customers choose the best speakers their budgets will allow. Remember that larger speakers tend to produce louder, cleaner sound than smaller speakers (especially at lower volumes), so you won’t have to crank the volume up. The size of the room or area is also important. If your room size is more than 15 x 20 ft, go with 6.5" size speaker or (even better), an 8" speaker.

For large rooms and dedicated home theaters, 8" speakers will give you big sound and big bass. Be sure the components are high quality; for example a 1” aluminum cone tweeter and an 8” injection molded graphite (IMG) woofer will deliver powerful bass response and higher sound pressure level with increased dynamics. Hearing the subtle details of a song or movie goes a long way in enhancing your experience.

High fidelity 6 1/2" speakers are well suited for medium-size rooms and home theater systems. Features like a 1” silk dome tweeter and polypropylene cone woofer provide excellent mid to high range sound. If you love low frequency effects (bass), add a powered sub-woofer to your theater room. A subwoofer handles frequencies from 120 hertz and lower (the low boom sounds); upgrading to aluminum tweeters and injection molded graphic IMG woofers will also improve clarity and bass response.

Finally, 5 1/4" speakers provide excellent sound quality when space is a factor. The speakers are great for smaller bedrooms, dining rooms, kitchens or patio areas or just about anywhere you want to listen to music at a moderate level. Our 5 1/4s are an economical option that will give you good coverage throughout the house, but we don't recommend them for serious music listening or for main speakers in medium or large home theaters.

Other Important Factors When Choosing:

Power handling
A speaker’s recommended power specification usually tells you at least the maximum amplifier power the speaker can handle. Sometimes you’ll see minimum power handling as well. A speaker with recommended power of 20-100 watts is well-suited to a 100-watt RMS receiver.

Frequency response
The range of human hearing is about 20-20,000 Hz. A frequency response specification tells you what portion of that range a speaker can play. A speaker with a frequency response of 50-20,000 Hz handles a wider range and offers deeper bass than a speaker with a frequency response of 65-20,000 Hz.

A speaker's efficiency, or sensitivity, rating indicates how effectively it uses the power sent to it by your amplifier. A speaker with a rating of 87 dB needs a lot more power to play as loudly as a speaker with a rating of 91 dB.

Also many in-ceiling and some in-wall speakers come with swiveling tweeters, so you can angle your sound toward a preferred listening spot. Some speakers also come with bass and treble tone controls that you can access simply by popping off the speaker grille!

Where Should I Use Single "Stereo" Dual Voice Coil Speaker?

When your house is wired for stereo (left and right channel) sound but you only have room for one speaker, check out dual voice coil models (DVC). Rather than having to listen to one regular (mono) speaker where you’ll hear half of the music signal, dual voice coil single stereo speakers play both the left and right channels of stereo music via one woofer and two angled tweeters. You get the spaciousness of stereo sound, even in a small place. These speakers are recommended for use in compact rooms like bathrooms, garages or throughout long narrow spaces like hallways.

Do I Need Subwoofer?

A sub is really necessary in a home theater setup. Low frequency is the .1 in 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound systems and is a must-have to fully enjoy the full audio spectrum. Many people who use in-wall speakers for home theater simply buy a regular powered subwoofer to supplement the low frequencies, and because bass is omni-directional a sub can be placed discreetly in a room. To find the best match size for your home theater, choose a powered subwoofer that is 2" - 3 " larger than the size of your front speakers.

Why Do My Speakers Sound Bad When I Test Them?

A lot of customers will hook the speakers they receive to their receiver (amp) to test them before they install them. Because these flush-mount speakers are designed to be used in the wall, the uninstalled in-wall/in-ceiling speakers will sound weak and tinny. Without the enclosure (in this case your house wall), the speaker can't produce the sound pressure level. So if you want to try them out, mount speakers into a box of about 3 cu. ft. or larger to listen or just go ahead and mount them in the wall and listen.

What Kind of Wire Should I Use for my Speakers?

For runs up to 100 feet for background music, 16 gauge will be fine. Most homes less than 2500 square feet are fine pre-wired with 16 gauge wire. If the run is approaching or exceeding 100 feet, you should use 14 gauge wire. Some of the higher end equipment available will go as far as accepting 10 gauge wire, but this can be overkill. If you’re running cable behind a wall or ceiling, be sure to use UL Class 3 rated cable that is in compliance with most building codes. This cable is less likely to degrade in extreme temperatures because it uses an extra plenum sheath to protect the cable. The letters CL3 should be printed somewhere on the sheath.

Is A Rough-in Kit necessary for New Construction?

Rough-in kits are not necessary and in many cases are not a good idea. Builders and installers will often recommend inserting rough-in kits prior to the sheetrock installation. The problem with this is that locks you into using speakers that fit the kits. Once they are installed, they cannot be repositioned and the appearance of a room can change during the construction process. Placing speakers after the room is complete will give you more flexibility.

It is always good idea to have a general idea of where you want your speakers mounted in the framing stage, and to run the wire out into the desired stud bays on either side of your preferred location while it's still fully accessible. Run the cable as necessary and simply tack it to the inside of the stud nearest the point where you plan to install a speaker. Leave several extra feet of cable and keep a good map of where everything is placed before the drywall goes up.

What Should I Know Before Installation?

Installing in-wall and in-ceiling speakers is reasonably easy and knowing you saved money by doing it yourself is very rewarding. There are some things you should know before you plan your project.

New Construction

Wiring takes place pre-drywall, and speaker installation takes place during drywall rough-in. You should order your speaker cable and speakers at an early enough stage of construction so they’ll be ready for installation. You don't want your home construction being put on hold to wait for your speakers and cable.

Even if you're going to install your speakers yourself, discuss the installation with the contractor in charge of your construction. It's important for them to know your plans and the time frame needed. You may also want to discuss your wiring plans with your electrician.

For safety reasons, you need to use UL Class 3 rated cable to be in compliance with most building codes. You also need to purchase enough cable to make all the wire runs needed.

Existing Construction

Locate and mark the places where you want to have speakers and plan the work ahead of time. Use a stud finder to locate the position and know what cable runs will be necessary. If installing in-walls is new to you, start small; for example install an in wall music center with two ceiling or two wall speakers. For an elaborate whole house project, consider hiring a professional. A lot of customers find our DIY in-ceiling/in-wall installtion video helpful.

Find out the whether the surfaces where you wish to install speakers are suitable for that kind of installation. Plaster walls in old houses, or drywall built right against cement block supports, may cause you serious installation difficulties. Know these things before you start.

What Is the Best way to Setup Audio Distribution for my Whole House?

Use a single stereo amplifier with a speaker selector box with impedance protection turned on. A speaker selector allows you to connect multiple pairs of speakers to a single stereo amplifier. Most selector boxes include a switch for turning impedance protection "on" or "off". When turned "on", your receiver will never see an unsafe impedance. The shortcoming of impedance protection is that it has the effect of "choking" your power, meaning you won't be able to get quite the same volume out of your speakers compared to a set-up that employs impedance matching. This kind of speaker selector is usually "Resistor" based speaker selectors

Use a single stereo amplifier with impedance matching volume controls which are "Autoformer" based. This allows you to get the most juice out of your amplifier and provides a convenient method for connecting your speakers in parallel. In a carefully planned impedance matching scheme, you will turn the protection switch off thereby ensuring you get the most from your amp.

When you setup your home theater, you can use a line level auxiliary output (or preamp output) on your home theater receiver to connect to the line level inputs on a stereo amplifier. In this way, the sources you have connected to your receiver (such as a DVD player, satellite receiver, etc.) can also be played throughout your whole-house audio system. If you use a multi-zone amplifier, you can also connect each source directly into the multi-zone amp so that you can have multiple sources playing at the same time and you decide which zone hears each source.

If you are in the market for a new home theater receiver and want to power an extra one or two pair of speakers throughout your home, you should consider purchasing a receiver that can handle both. These receivers will have a minimum of 7 channels of power built-in; 5 channels for home theater, and 2 channels for stereo whole-house audio (note: some 6.1 receivers provide the option of using the sixth channel to power a mono whole-house system, but who wants mono instead of stereo?). Such receivers are usually dual source/dual zone, which means you can play two sources at the same time and choose which zone (home theater zone or stereo zone) hears each source. As an example, the home theater zone can be playing a DVD, while the stereo zone listens to a radio or satellite