The Walls Are Alive

Flat-panel TV is the 900-pound gorilla currently ruling the home theater roost. More and more people are deciding that, yeah, a steep price, grayish blacks, and the occasional digital video glitch really are worth it for a hang-on-the-wall TV that's big, bright, and bodacious - décor-wise.

Of course, hulking, boxy, out-in-the-room speakers tend to spoil the effect of these flat-panel beauties - which is why ultra-thin on-wall speakers have become a hot trend in home theater sound. To see how some of the higher-end speaker manufacturers are meeting the on-wall challenge, we summoned surround systems from KEF (KHT 9000 ACE satellites with the PSW 2150 subwoofer, $5,100), M&K Sound (MP-150 satellites with MX-700 sub, $6,394), and Thiel (ViewPoint front speakers with SCS3 surrounds and SS2 sub, $12,030).

Test Setup

I set up each suite of wall-mountable speakers in my home theater studio in turn, with the front left/right models all flanking my 42-inch Gateway plasma HDTV monitor. They were placed on stands at TV height, bang-on flush against the wall, which yields the same sound as actual wall mounting. The center speakers for the KEF and M&K systems (Thiel opts out of a center channel) also went against the wall, just below the bottom of the screen. Many people mount center speakers above the screen, but I think below is better unless the screen is really low. The surround speakers went on high shelves or stands against the side walls just behind the listening position, and the subwoofers occupied my usual location to the left of the left front speaker.

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