How to Select In-Wall Speakers for a Home

by David Lipscomb Google

    The optimal choice for those seeking great sound and minimal visual intrusion, in-wall speakers visually disappear while filling a room with sound. Also known as architectural speakers, in-wall and in-ceiling products slide into a hole cut into the drywall using a template and may be painted to match. Selecting the right in-wall speaker means no-compromise sound, while offering a potential aesthetic improvement through removal of conventional speaker boxes.

    Different Speakers, Different Uses

    In-wall speakers and their in-ceiling speaker cousins may be used for home theater, discrete stereo listening or a distributed, multi-room audio system. In-wall speakers are normally rectangular in shape, resembling a conventional stand-mounted bookshelf speaker recessed into the wall. These are found in varying shapes and sizes, some very large and designed for high-end performance. Ceiling speakers are round in shape, designed to disperse sound over an overlapping area from above. The shape also serves to blend with recessed lighting to further mask their appearance. Despite their intended uses, there's no sonic limitation in using an in-wall speaker in the ceiling or vice-versa, the limitation being mainly aesthetic.

    Back Box Enclosures

    Many times differences in speaker enclosures separate a good performing speaker from an average one. Back boxes are medium density fiberboard or composite enclosures, fitting between studs and mounted behind the speaker and drywall. Back boxes provide the speaker with a predictable airspace, along with increased isolation into adjoining rooms. Since there can be a variance in wall cavity depth, a standardized enclosure size makes each speaker sonically identical without the wall acting as an unpredictable sonic variable. Back boxes also help with moisture resistance and potential damage from household pest intrusion. They're typically vibration-damped and insulated, resembling the cabinet internals of a well-made standalone speaker. Back boxes increase power handling by creating an airtight seal for the speaker, previously impossible in an infinite-baffle wall enclosure. Back boxes are especially important with in-wall subwoofers, without which the installation and all other adjoining walls would experience high levels of vibration teamed with poor performance.

    Sonic Adjustments

    Although back boxes mitigate much of the variance in sound associated with using in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, when they're not in use the tone can change from speaker to speaker. Typically, a speaker mounted in a larger cavity must work harder to pressurize that space, resulting in increased bass. Although we may not hear the difference in bass output from one speaker to the next, humans are very sensitive to changes in the midrange. The bass and treble balance affects the audio mid-band, so many in-wall products have switches boosting or attenuating bass and treble output to create a sonic balance. Additionally, many in-wall speakers offer a pivoting tweeter or front baffle to direct sound to the listening space, necessary given the speaker's fixed location.

    Wiring Factors

    Architectural speakers many times are driven by an amplifier or receiver mounted in a fixed location. As a result, the speakers may be a hundred feet or more from their power source. For this reason, a larger gauge of speaker wire is needed as this distance increases. For example, if a speaker pair is 100 feet from the amplifier, 12 gauge CL-rated speaker wire is needed, while at 20 feet 16 gauge is appropriate. Choosing the right speaker wire affects power handling, since too small a wire creates unnecessary resistance to the audio signal. This resistance results in decreased audio output and anemic bass. Observing the correct speaker gauge prevents rooms further from the amplifier sounding quieter than rooms in closer proximity to the power source.

    Proper Power

    Matching the "RMS" of the speaker and the amplifier further increases the ability of all of the speakers in the installation to sound their best. RMS stands for root mean squared and refers to the average power output and handling of an amplifier and speaker respectively. These figures are normally located in product documentation, or a label affixed to the magnet of the speaker or rear of the amplifier. If you can't locate the RMS power rating for the speaker, look for the "input power" or "power handling" figure in these same locations. If no power rating is present at all, you may not be able to optimally match speaker to amplifier; however, it's unlikely using reputable brands that any damage or incompatibility will occur. Most speakers are efficient enough in their power handling to not need enormous amounts of amplifier power. In most cases, amplifiers providing 20 to 100 watts per channel are able to power the vast majority of in-wall products without issue.

    About the Author

    David Lipscomb is a professional writer and public relations practitioner. Lipscomb brings more than a decade of experience in the consumer electronics and advertising industries. Lipscomb holds a degree in public relations from Webster University.

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