See No Evil, Hear No Evil Page 3
Parasound's PAL-380 ($800/pair) is the largest and most expensive of the in-walls in this sampler. It's also the only three-way system, utilizing an 8-inch Kevlar woofer, a 2-inch soft-dome midrange, and a 1-inch aluminum-dome tweeter. The tweeter and midrange sit side by side in a pivoting assembly that can be angled +/-15 degrees. There are three adjustment switches between the two drivers. The treble adjustment has three settings (-3, 0, and +3 dB), as does the midrange control. The third switch is a two-position midbass adjustment that offers 0 or -3 dB of modification. The flange has six spring-loaded swing arms that you twist open once you've placed the flange in the cutout. Tightening the screws (which are already in place) clamps the flange tightly against the wall. The speaker baffle then screws into the flange with six screws.
The flange that surrounds the PAL-380's grille is very narrow, and it gives this big speaker a very elegant and sophisticated look on the wall. The 8-inch Kevlar woofer, so wonderful to listen to, unfortunately detracts from the overall appearance by making its yellow-hued presence clearly visible through the grille. The good news is that, thanks to the woofer, the aluminum tweeter (also visible) is much less noticeable.
It's quite evident that a lot of effort went into designing these speakers. They're shipped in mirror-image pairs, and the pivoting tweeter/midrange assembly is acoustically isolated from the wall. A fabric covering on the back of the woofer (found only on the Parasound and Phase Technology models) keeps drywall particles, insulation, and rat excrement from catastrophically finding its way into the speaker's voice coil. A rubber O-ring between the flange and speaker baffle (which is a pain in the butt to hold in place while installing the baffle) and rubber grommets placed between the baffle and the screws hold the baffle to the flange to reduce vibrations and further seal the entire assembly.
Thanks to the three-way design and the large woofer, the sound from these mighty in-walls is commanding and powerful. "Dance of the Knights" from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet had an excellent brooding quality. Saxophone solos were particularly comfortable and warm, while vocals from Sade and Willie Nelson appeared to come from lower in space than with any of the other speakers (thanks to the angled tweeter/midrange).
PAL-380 In-Wall Speaker $800/pair
Sonance Symphony 623T
A long-term veteran of the in-wall-speaker business, Sonance offers volume controls, switchers, and all things custom, including box speakers. Still, they haven't forgotten their roots, as the Symphony 623T ($500/pair)—the smallest of the in-walls sampled—shows quite well. Preattached flex-bars allow you to slide the speaker in, up, and then down into your cutout, much like installing a screen in a window. Once in the wall, you tighten six screws, snugly pulling the flex-bars (from behind) and the speaker flange (from the front) against the wall. Since the speaker baffle is premounted in the flange, this speaker is out of the box and in the wall in no time.
The two-way Symphony 623T utilizes a 6.5-inch black-glass composite woofer and a 1-inch aluminum-dome pivoting tweeter with a +/-3dB variable level adjustment. Everything behind the grille—except for the aluminum tweeter—is sensibly finished in a dull black, and the 623T's cloth grille refuses to let even a hint of technology show itself, making this the least conspicuous in-wall of the bunch. A knockout for easy installation of an IR repeater eye behind the grille is one more way to keep ugly technology out of sight but easy to use.
Sonance sent along a special product called Sonafill (about $140), which is sold separately and consists of two "acoustic pillows" that you stuff into the wall between the studs 2 inches above and below the edges of the speaker cutout. Also included are four 6-inch-by-12-inch, self-adhesive dampening tiles that stick to the inside of the drywall: two above and two below the opening. Together, the elements of the Sonafill system are designed to reduce drywall resonance and help reduce the amount of sound transferred to adjoining rooms.
I listened to the Symphony 623Ts without, and then with, the Sonafill treatment. They offered a nice smooth sound with snap in just the right places. This is a speaker that gives you a lot of sound for the money. With the Sonafill, there was a definite improvement in vocal and midbass clarity. Dido's voice, for example, became noticeably more focused and less strained. It tightened up the overall performance of the 623Ts, and I'm sure it would have an equally impressive effect on other in-walls, as well.
Symphony 623T In-Wall Speaker $500/pair