When discussing the different types of speakers with a client, for a home automation project I often refer to the tag line coined by the people that invented the in-wall speaker, Sonance. “Degrees of Invisibility” is just that, how much of the speaker are you willing to look at.
At Cloud9 Smart we often deal with decorators and designers and may never meet the client till the end, so the aesthetics of the speakers plays a huge role in the selection process. More than 90% of our projects feature speakers made by Sonance, which has a product to fit just about every taste. This includes in-wall, in-ceiling and outdoor speakers both for home theater and rooms with just audio. Most serious speaker manufacturers make similar types of speakers so this information is not just relevant to Sonance.
At the invisible range of the spectrum, the choice is easy. Invisible speakers are blended into the sheetrock or masonry and get a light coat of plaster and a coat of paint to make them stealthy. If you walk up to a wall that has an invisible speaker you will not be able to identify an outline or any marks identifying the spot. If you put your hand over a speaker that is playing, you can feel the vibrations. They can even be installed behind wall coverings and thin veneers as long as care is taken during the process. It is not uncommon for an invisible speaker to receive too thick of a coat of plaster and completely ruin the sound quality. Strictly following the manufacturer’s installation instructions is the key to success. The biggest challenge on the job sites is that even though you may convey to the General Contractor what sort of finish the speakers require, that information often doesn’t make it down the chain of command to the guy that applies the second or 3rd coat of plaster. Since the speaker quickly becomes invisible, they often lose track of its exact placement making it even more difficult.
Sound quality has come a long way, but to a discerning ear, invisible speakers might not be acceptable.
The next 3 levels of invisibility are determined mostly by the type of grill or cover. The Architectural series, which must also installed during the construction process, results in a speaker that is truly flush with the wall. The grill is set into the wall opening so if you ran your hand across it you would barely notice it. The grills, which are available in metal or fabric, do not have any bezel at all and are held together with magnets. The installation process requires that a special piece of sheetrock containing the speaker bracket be installed into the wall, often before the rest of the sheetrock is applied. The seams are then blended with plaster and eliminated.
The Visual Performance Series, which is our most often used model is a traditional in-wall/ceiling speaker but with a magnetic grill and a very small bezel around it, less than ¼”. When painted to match the wall color, they fade well into the surface.
The classic series, at the bottom of the range in aesthetics, still features great sound quality but with a more visible appearance. The bezel around the grill can measure up to an inch. If you don’t care about this sort of thing, the choice is clear.
Performance from the 3 types of conventional speakers will depend on the level of components, placement and the cavity that they are installed in. Most brands will feature a good, better, best component level, directly reflected in the price which can double with each jump.
Placement is important but we often have to sacrifice a bit in order to make sense out of the ceiling layout between the lights, smoke detectors and air vents. A bit of work with the architect in the design stages can often alleviate the placement issues.
The cavity is essentially the hollow space that the speaker will sit in. The bigger the cavity the more bass you will get out of the speaker to a certain degree. Too much cavity, however, will result in a sloppy sound. Most manufacturers make back boxes that you can install behind the speakers to gain the optimal cavity size, but they may make placement more difficult from the increased depth.
Other tricks include dual tweeters in a single speaker (which can help in a very cluttered ceiling while still providing a stereo signal), very low profile speakers in difficult places with little depth or in wall, and a subwoofer which can eliminate the unsightly black boxes in most home theater installs.