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In-Wall/In-Ceiling Buyers Guide

Introduction

There are many reasons why you may choose to go with in-wall or in-ceiling speakers. The first and most obvious reason would be the fact that they have a zero footprint on living space and can easily blend into any home decor. That, in and of itself, is generally reason enough for most. While those who claim to be true audiophiles may belittle in-wall's as being inferior to a traditional large box speaker, those who care about the appearance of their home and don't necessarily have a large spare room to use as a dedicated home theater will easily be able to appreciate the fact that in-wall speakers can turn any room into a decent home theater without taking up living space during those times when your living room or family room need to serve other functions.

The same can be said of many enthusiast hobbies. Those who are really into aquaria are known to have huge 100 gallon plus tanks in their basements with elaborate PVC pipe filtering systems and spare tanks, but for most of us, a clean 35-50 gallon tank is more than enough to enjoy the hobby and still beautify our homes. So while the "true audiophile" would not settle for less than having enormous floor standing towers placed no less than 3 feet from any side or back walls, toed in just right to be enjoyed from the one perfect listening spot that he has marked on his couch, a majority of consumers would get much more enjoyment from an open space where you can entertain lots of friends and then instantly turn the room into a theater that can be enjoyed by everybody.

It is also a fact, that you will gain no less enjoyment from a well laid out home theater using good quality in-wall speakers like the ones you will find at Monoprice. For pure listening enjoyment of movie sound tracks in a home theater or ambient music in a whole house sound systems, in-walls and in-ceilings will fit the bill perfectly.

The hardest part, is deciding which ones will fit your needs best.

Size

As it is for any speaker, the bigger the room, the bigger the speakers you should get. There is no set rule for what size you need for a given amount of space. Basically, speakers work by moving air. The larger the room, the more volume of air that needs to be moved to achieve a certain audio volume. Using bigger speakers will provide a fuller sound and give better extension on the low end. While it would not hurt to have speakers that are too large for a given room, having ones that are too small will mean the speakers will struggle more at higher volumes, making the audio sound thin.

Monoprice sells a variety of sized in-wall and in-ceiling speakers ranging from 5.25" to 8 inches. The size generally denotes the diameter of the largest cone on the speaker (the woofer) and not the overall diameter of the speaker itself. The actual overall speaker size is generally much larger. Beyond the woofers diameter is the surrounds, the frame and the bezel of the speaker. So a 5.25" round in-ceiling speaker for example, will have an actual diameter more like 8 inches or more.

When looking at the specs of a in-wall or in-ceiling speaker, you will generally find two set of dimensions in addition to the speakers "size" noted above. There are the overall dimensions and the cut-out dimensions. The overall dimensions are the edge to edge dimensions of the whole speaker. In the case of the round in-ceilings, they are the outer diameter of the entire speaker and in the case of rectangular in-walls, they are the height and width. The cut-out dimensions represent the size of the hole that you will need to cut into the wall in order to install the speaker. This dimension is general just an inch or two smaller than the overall dimension. The front of the speaker, once installed, will overlap the cut-out hole with the outer bezel of the speaker face. Before cutting any holes, it is important to make sure you are cutting out the proper measurements. Our speakers each come with templates to make this job easier.

As mentioned earlier, there is no set rule for which size would be best other than bigger is generally better. But since sometimes space maybe limited on the surface you want to mount to and you may not want overkill, here is a simple guide. 5.25" are good for small bedrooms and dens. 6.5" would fit nicely in most small or mid-sized living rooms like you might find in a condo. Anything larger, go with an 8".

Speaker Shape and Configurations

You may have noticed that In-wall speakers tend to be rectangular and In-ceiling speakers tend to be round. I'm not sure if there is a true reason for this other than things in the ceiling like lighting and smoke detectors are often round and things on the walls like windows and picture frames tend to be rectangular so speakers designers just wanted to remain aesthetically consistent. One practical difference between an in-ceiling and in-wall speaker however, is that while walls generally have a depth of only 3.5" behind the drywall due to the use of 2"x4" in their construction, ceilings, usually have much more space behind them. Therefore, in-wall speakers will generally not have a mounting depth of more than 3 inches and place their drivers side by side. The coaxial configuration of round in-ceiling speakers are not as limited by depth requirements and take up more space behind the drivers to allow a flush mounted front. So the stacked rounds which require more depth won't generally fit into a sidewall.

Speaker Construction

Many exotic materials can be used in the construction of speaker cones. Traditionally, paper has been used because it is lightweight, economical and flexible. However, paper is susceptible to moisture and mildew which can form easily in many rooms in the home. Monoprice speakers are made with the same exotic, high quality materials you see in many high end speakers including polypropylene, Kevlar and glass composite.

Polypropylene is a thermoplastic polymer. Next to paper, it is probably one of the most popular materials used for speaker driver construction. It offers many benefits over paper however, including a being extremely light weight while being resistant to moisture and mildew. On the sonic front, it is a softer material and although not quite as precise as more rigid materials like Kevlar is less prone to sonic breakup distortion at the crossover points. Because of its natural tendency to dampen breakup at the frequency extremes you get a smoother transition at the crossover. This results in a mellower and less tinny sound than you would normally get from other types of speakers.

Kevlar is a synthetic fiber. It is the same material used to make bullet-proof vests for the military. Kevlar cones are light weight yet extremely rigid providing very precise audio with minimal distortion normally caused by cone flex. Our Kevlar speakers are matched with an equally precise silk membrane dome tweeter made of titanium fiber thread and a high quality crossover network to ensure high fidelity and low distortion. The lower distortion levels allow the speaker to be driven harder and handle higher peak power levels. The main benefit our Kevlar speakers are the clarity and fidelity at which they produce audio.

Glass composite is similar to polypropylene but with tiny glass granuals suspended in the material giving it greater tensile strength. This puts it between regular polypropylene cones and Kevlar cones, providing a balance between sonic clarity and smooth crossover transitions.

Frequency Response

Another factor to consider is the frequency response of the speakers. The range of human hearing typically go from 20hz on the low end, up to 20,000hz on the high end. While most small speakers will have no problem with the highs, they generally are not capable of recreating the extreme low end rumble you find on many movie sound tracks. That is why it is important to realize that no in-wall speaker system by itself is generally sufficient for a dedicated home theater. It's important to have a good powered subwoofer to handle all the Low Frequency Effects (LFE) to go with your in-wall speakers. You will find that most speakers, though they may state that they can extend down to 50hz, also have a roll off at the low end. This is where, though the speaker can maintain a frequency at a certain volume, you will find that it will roll off to a volume of zero as the frequency decreases. So a small speaker will probably have a more realistic bottom frequency of about 120hz and then decrease in volume until it actually cuts out at 50hz. For this reason it is good to have a powered sub that can blend into the smaller speakers' low end.

One problem however, is when you pair small speakers with large subs is a frequency hole you end up with because the subs upper limits are not quite able to reach the smaller speakers bottom limits. This is a common problem with many Sub Sat systems. You may have heard people complain that a particular system was all high and lows with nothing in between. If you are building a system in a larger room that requires more volume to fill the space with sound, you might consider using some of Monoprice's passive in-wall subwoofers. Unlike true powered subs, the in-wall subs are actually more like bridge speakers that help to fill in the sonic gap between a powered sub and the other smaller system. In this type of setup, the powered sub will take care of the non-directional extreme lows. The in-wall subs reproduce the mid to upper bass and the standard in-walls will reproduce the mids and highs.

Other Factors

Other factors to consider in speaker selection include impedance, power handling capacity and sensitivity.

Impedance is the measure of the load the speakers place on the amplifier. If you have a lower impedance, you need more power to drive the speakers at the same volume. Most home theater receivers are rated to 6 or 8 ohms. It's important to remember, however, that the load is not generally one constant level. That is as the volume of a recording increases and decreases, the load will vary dynamically. Also, lower frequency sounds place a greater load on a system then higher frequencies. So, a dramatic explosion in a movie will put much greater load on a system then the ambient noise of birds chirping and wind blowing in a quiet outdoor scene. Still, it's probably best to stay within 2 ohms of the receiver's impedance rating when selecting your speakers and not have any two sets of speakers within your system have a rated difference of greater than 2 ohms.

The same principles of dynamics applies to power handling capacity. Power output will fluctuate with the material being played. However, with most receivers today, you will find that the power ratings tend to be greatly exaggerated. Many brand name receivers typically have power ratings of over 100 watts per channel. But, you may have noticed that some high end systems will have lower power ratings. A side by side comparison will generally show that the system with the higher power rating is not necessarily louder than the other. This is because with many of the consumer grade products with exaggerated power handling ratings, power is measured in terms of short peaks, whereas the system with the lower rating is measured dynamically over a broad range. In any case, unless you are blasting your system at full volume constantly, you will generally not be hitting the maximum power rating very often.

Sensitivity is a measure of how much power is required to produce a certain amount of volume. Speakers with higher sensitivity ratings will play louder at a certain power level than a speaker with a lower rating.

Conclusion

In-wall and in-ceiling speakers are a great way to go. They fit easily in most rooms, they eliminate unsightly cable clutter, they don't take up any space and they sound really great. Best of all, they are really impressive to friends and family who will appreciate a room filled with sound and not large boxes.

Check out our selection of In-Wall Speakers.