Are In-Wall Speakers Right for You?

The pros and cons of using in-wall and in-ceiling speakers

The giant speakers that audio enthusiasts like usually won't pass muster with those who care more about how a room looks than how great the sound is. There's a simple solution: In-wall and in-ceiling speakers mount flush in a wall or ceiling and don't take up any floor space. You can even paint or wallpaper over the speakers to make them look like part of the room.

In-wall speakers mounted around a television

Are In-Wall Speakers the Right Choice for You?

Be honest. In-wall and in-ceiling speakers aren't a simple solution. Installing them means cutting holes in the walls or ceiling, requiring either a homeowner skilled at DIY projects or the services of a costly custom installer. There's also the complication of running wires through walls and, usually, a lot of drywall dust. Of course, you can't go cutting holes in the walls unless you own the home. Lastly, many audio enthusiasts feel—rightly or wrongly—that in-wall and in-ceiling speakers aren't capable of high-quality sound.

The information here can help you determine whether in-wall or in-ceiling speakers are the right choice for you. It'll give you some idea of what's involved in the installation and tips on finding the right person to do the installation if you choose to go that way.

To get an idea of how in-walls work and what they sound like, check out in-wall speaker reviews.

Do They Sound Good Enough?

Let's get the sound quality issue out of the way right now. The sound from many in-wall speakers is excellent. If you install them correctly and choose a good speaker, the only thing you sacrifice in a stereo setup is that the sound might not be quite as spacious.

In-ceiling speakers, though, are a sonic compromise. The sound comes from above your head, which doesn't seem natural. Although there are a few great-sounding ceiling speakers, most sound rather rough and lo-fi.

Can You Install Them? Should You?

Installing in-wall speakers isn't for the faint-hearted or anyone who hasn't done a lot of reasonably heavy-duty home improvement. You have to cut holes in the wall with a drywall saw or RotoZip, first making sure there aren't any studs or pipes where you plan to mount the speaker.

Then, you run the wires through the wall, possibly needing to drill through the firebreak (the stud that runs horizontally in the middle of the wall). You drill through the studs at the floor or ceiling and run the wire through the attic or the basement and bring it up to the wall near your equipment rack. You finish the connection with a wall box and a speaker connector panel.

In-ceiling speakers are a little easier because you run the wire through only one wall.

There's not much you can do to improve the sound of in-ceiling speakers, but there are several ways to get in-walls sounding better. Do whatever you can to reinforce the drywall above and below the speaker; vibrating drywall tends to give in-walls a boomy, bloated sound. Cut a couple of 6-inch pieces of 2-by-4 lumber and wedge them into the wall behind the drywall with white glue or woodworking glue on the edges to hold them in place. Also, stuff the wall with attic insulation to absorb the sound coming from the back of the speaker and minimize the transmission of sound into the room on the other side of the wall.

Getting Qualified Help

If you think this job might be too tough for you, it probably is. Contacting a qualified audio/video installer is the way for you to go. The Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association offers a free referral service that lists installers in your area and shows you their qualifications. Also, ask your neighbors if they have anybody good they can recommend.

Serious audio enthusiasts almost have to use the services of an installer. Most of the best in-wall and in-ceiling speakers are available exclusively through custom installers. You'll almost certainly pay more for the speakers than you would if you got them at a home improvement store or bought them online.

You'll also pay for the installation. Costs can be all over the map depending on the installer, the construction of your house, the speakers you choose, and where you live. To give you an idea, it usually takes about three hours on average to install a pair of in-wall speakers and maybe two hours to do a pair of in-ceiling speakers. Ranch houses are the easiest to work on because they are only one story and all the wires run through the attic. Running wires on the ground floor of a two-story slab home takes longer.

What Should You Buy?

If you're doing your own installation, you can find a good selection of name brand in-wall and in-ceiling speakers online at sites like Crutchfield.com and BestBuy.com. You can also find some great deals from budget-oriented vendors such as OutdoorSpeakerDepot.

Get plenty of CL3-rated speaker cable, too. Do not use standard speaker cable. CL3-rated cable uses a non-flammable jacket.

With standard speaker cable, if the jacket is flammable and you have a house fire, the speaker cable works like a fuse, carrying the fire all through your house in minutes.

No matter what you think of in-walls, they have one undeniable advantage to keep in mind: You won't have to listen to complaints about the way your speakers look.

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