IN-WALL SPEAKER REVIEWS

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Mar 27, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,547

AT A GLANCE
Plus
A 55-inch horizontal soundbar that can be installed without modifying the wall studs
Can learn volume and mute IR codes from your TV’s remote
Excellent simulated
surround and music
processing
Minus
Really needs a subwoofer
Only one HDMI input

THE VERDICT
The Niles CSF55A is more expensive than a similarly performing active soundbar, but it’s well worth it for the person who wants the gear to disappear without giving up any sound quality.

It’s either the craziest flippin’ idea ever, or it’s absolutely brilliant. I mean, in-wall speakers are one thing. Soundbars, though, especially active soundbars, are completely different creatures. But somebody at Niles—whether inspired by an offhanded joke, an improbable Frankenstein-like engineering experiment, or an alcohol-infused haze after a tedious sales meeting—decided that what the world needs is an active, in-wall soundbar system to complement wall-mounted flat-panel TVs.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 11, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,400

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Installer setup over IP
Options for wide, narrow, and frameless grilles
Six-band parametric EQ
Minus
Installation may be tricky for the uninitiated

THE VERDICT
Extensive tuning capabilities make for true high-end performance at an affordable price.

When it comes to architectural speakers, there are few companies I can think of that do things in a more focused, more insightful, and—most important when it comes to custom installations—more useful way than Triad. The company stands out in another way, too, in that most of Triad’s speakers are built to order in the U.S. (Portland, Oregon, to be specific) and are usually less than two weeks old by the time they arrive at the dealer’s warehouse door.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 11, 2013 0 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,700

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Stillbass anti-shake technology keeps vibration in the box and out of the wall
520-watt amplifier with DSP equalization
Outstanding build quality
Minus
Flangeless grille looks less than elegant
Output drops off fast below 30 Hz

THE VERDICT
A solid, albeit pricey, choice for an in-wall sub.

Sunfire is no stranger to the small-box, high-output subwoofer concept, dating all the way back to 1996 with company founder Bob Carver’s original True Subwoofer—an 11.5-inch cube with one active driver and one passive radiator powered by a (claimed) 2,700-watt internal amplifier.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 11, 2013 0 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,150

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Totally invisible installation
Can be covered with paint, wallpaper, or select specialized wall treatments
Good value
250-watt amplifier with low-pass filter
Outstanding build quality
Minus
More involved installation due to drywall finishing
Soft bass compared with traditional subs

THE VERDICT
Not the first choice for sheer sonic impact, but if aesthetics absolutely demand that no subwoofer or grille be visible, the B30G will get the job done.

Stealth Acoustics’ B30G subwoofer system is unlike nearly any other you’ll ever hold in your hands—or install in your walls. While “invisible” speakers are not a new thing, they’re still uncommon or, for most people, totally unheard of. A speaker that’s an integral part of your wall, one that can be painted, covered with wallpaper, or even done up with special wall treatments is such a seductive idea that it’s a wonder it’s not wildly popular as an architectural speaker design.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Sep 20, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
Price $7,750

At a Glance

Plus
Planar magnetic thin-film drivers
Solid Uni-grip mounting clamps
Thin magnetically attached grilles available in custom lengths
Truly outstanding sound quality

Minus
Horizontal center channel use requires stud modifications
Definitely not the cheapest in-wall system you can buy

The Verdict
It might bust your budget on the front end, but the Wisdom Insight delivers a near-electrostatic, audiophile listening experience in a disappearing, in-wall package.

If you’re intimately familiar with Wisdom Audio, then you’re more dialed into this industry than I am. Sure, I’ve breezed by the company’s booth at past CEDIA Expos, but when I hear that name it always brings to mind the image of a of an old guy in a flowing robe with a long, white beard (and maybe a Harry Potter–esque wizard’s hat) sitting in an overstuffed chair in front of an audio system, his beard and hat being blown back à la the old Memorex advertising campaign.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 28, 2011 0 comments
Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $6,003 At A Glance: Discrete center-channel drivers built into main speakers • Grilles custom-sized to match flat panel • Can also be mounted on the wall

One of the more interesting things I overheard during this year’s CEDIA Expo in Indianapolis was an offhanded comment that “the sound quality of TVs today is worse than it was with TVs 20 years ago.” Think about that for a minute. A new, George Jetson–style, 50-inch flat-panel HDTV hanging on the wall makes one of those old, 50-inch, three-CRT, rear-projection (analog) TVs look like something even Fred Flintstone would pass on. But put those two sets side by side, close your eyes, and give a good, long listen to a movie, a football game, or even the nightly news running on each one of them. Despite the 20 years of technological “improvements” between them, my highly educated (I am a professional, after all) guess is that most people will pick that hulking behemoth 50-inch console rear-projection TV as the one they’d rather have if sound quality were the only concern.

Gary Altunian Posted: Mar 29, 2011 0 comments
Price: $17,800 At A Glance: Excellent clarity and transparency • Great system value • Awesome bass

Pure Magic

As a contributing writer for Home Theater magazine, I’m often the go-to guy for reviewing large in-wall speaker systems that other writers can’t or won’t review, usually for lack of adequate space. I have enough space, and I enjoy listening to new speakers, especially high-end types. It’s a lot of work and it disrupts an otherwise orderly living room, but I’m not complaining.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Mar 21, 2011 0 comments
Price: $3,000 At A Glance: Extremely rigid back-box enclosure construction • 4-inch voice-coil flat woofer • Class D amp can power one or two woofers

Beaucoup Bass in a Box

Some days it’s just better not to defy the laws of physics or other important aspects of the universe. Gravity, the speed of light in a vacuum (but not in a Dyson), entropy, and Murphy’s Law are all there for good reasons. As my mother used to say (calmly petting the Schrödinger cat in her lap), “Pick another parallel universe out of the infinity of multiverses if you don’t like it here.”

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Feb 07, 2011 0 comments
Price: $6,190 At A Glance: Fully enclosed in-ceiling speakers • 45-degree angled baffle • Pivoting tweeter with catenary-shaped dome

Hitting the Class Ceiling

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with the ability to watch any movie they want (even Avatar in 2D), and that they should never, ever use in-ceiling speakers for a home theater. After all, you want Sigourney Weaver’s gravelly, “Where’s my god damn cigarette?” to sound like it’s coming from the screen, not the light fixtures above your head, right?

Gary Altunian Posted: Sep 27, 2010 0 comments
Price: $88,500 At A Glance: A unique listening experience • Unprecedented detail and transparency • Exceedingly good bass

Jaw-Dropping Home Cinema Somewhere on the audio quality scale, a home theater system crosses an imaginary line and becomes a home cinema system, one that’s capable of truly extraordinary music and film sound reproduction. I’m not exactly sure where that line is, or at what price, but I know it when I hear it. A true home cinema system delivers music that rivals a live event and a movie experience that surpasses even some of the finest commercial cinemas. In this rarefied universe of ultra-high-end audio systems, I tested a no-holds-barred home theater speaker system from Wisdom Audio based on the company’s L100i and C150i in-wall speakers and Suitcase Sub. As you’ll read, the in-wall speakers are just the beginning with this unique system.

Not Your Father’s In-Wall Speakers
In addition to the Suitcase Sub, this review system featured two L100i speakers for the left and right channels and a C150i for the center channel (although you can use either model for the left, center, right, or surround channels). The L100i and C150i are sized for placement behind an acoustically transparent video projection screen measuring at least 50 inches in height and of adequate width. The L100i and C150i are designed to deliver high-performance audio from speakers that disappear from the audience’s view behind the screen. The L100i is a two-part speaker system that consists of a 48-by-8-inch planar magnetic line-source array for the mid and high frequencies (above 275 hertz) and a separate enclosure of the same size that contains eight 6-inch woofers for bass/midbass. The three-part C150i features the same planar magnetic driver array combined with two bass enclosures that each house eight 6-inch woofers. The additional eight bass drivers in the C150i signal the importance of the center channel for dialogue information, onscreen action, and overall system dynamics.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jun 07, 2010 0 comments
Price: $3,400 At A Glance: Totally invisible speakers • Extremely diffuse dispersion • Must be used with a subwoofer

Invisible or Invisibull?

It’s a terrible disease in which your brain gets eaten away from the inside out—yet you won’t see those little donation boxes at checkout counters begging for your loose change to find a cure. In fact, most people aren’t aware that it even exists, although they certainly see its debilitating effects every day. It’s called Chronic Euphemism Syndrome (CES), and it runs rampant throughout consumer electronics companies’ marketing departments. Salespeople suffer mightily from it, too. The entire profession is tainted with images of the truth being throttled to within inches of its life in the back room where the salesperson heads after he says, “Let me ask my manager.”

Gary Altunian Posted: Dec 14, 2009 0 comments
Price: $5,281 At A Glance: Great visual complement for ultra-thin flat-panel TVs • Sealed enclosures for controlled performance • Smooth bass from vibration-canceling in-wall subwoofer

Thin Is the New In

If you’ve shopped for a flat-screen television lately, you know that thin is in. Flat screens that used to be 3 to 5 inches thick can hardly be called flat compared with the new models that barely exceed 1 inch in depth. And new display designs promise even thinner models in the future.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Nov 30, 2009 1 comments
Price: $6,995 At A Glance: THX Ultra2 certified • Fits in a standard 2-by-4 wall • Easy to install in existing construction • Separate amplifier with remote control

It’s What You Don’t See

A bottle of vodka can’t make a speaker sound any better than it actually does. But it can make me think I sound better (smarter, and of course funnier). It might even make suggestible friends agree if you pass the bottle around the room. However, it still can’t change a subwoofer’s performance. Vodka, after all, isn’t a room treatment product—although enough (empty) bottles spread throughout the room might be just the thing.

Gary Altunian Posted: Apr 27, 2009 0 comments
Price: $10,197 At A Glance: Great in-wall speaker for flat-panel displays • Excellent sonic coherence • In-wall speakers with an in-room sound quality

Transcend Music Reproduction

If you’re a home theater enthusiast or audio purist who follows the high-end speaker market, you’re probably familiar with Pioneer’s line of TAD loudspeakers and their reputation for exquisite sound reproduction. It all started with the TAD Model-1, which drew rave reviews with its concentrically aligned beryllium midrange and tweeter. Priced at $45,000 per pair, they were obtainable for only the wealthiest audiophiles.

Gary Altunian Posted: Sep 22, 2008 0 comments
Easy on the eyes and ears.

According to industry legend, Sonance got its start in the in-wall speaker business by installing a cabinet speaker in a wall and covering it with a custom grille. The customer was so pleased with the results that the founders of the company decided to design a true in-wall speaker, believing that others would want them too. As they say, the rest is history.

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