Niles StageFront Home Theater Speaker System

the listMost of us are familiar with the old saying that children should be seen and not heard. How might we apply similar thinking to loudspeakers? Just the word loudspeaker suggests something that needs to be heard clearly. But more and more people want their speakers to be the exact opposite of those perfect Victorian children - that is, heard but not seen. While the aesthetic quality of many speakers has improved to the point where they can be treated like pieces of modern sculpture, many homeowners and decorators still insist on seeing nothing at all - which helps explain the ever increasing popularity of in-wall, in-ceiling, and other types of stealth loudspeakers.

In-wall speakers for a home theater can be a good solution in some situations. However, mounting locations are often limited by the presence of windows, doors, wall studs, and other obstructions. A more flexible option is in-cabinet speakers, designed to fit inside the furniture that houses the rest of your A/V gear, typically behind openings covered with speaker grille cloth. If the design is done properly, this approach lets you keep the front speakers in their optimum locations, while using larger speakers that aren't limited in size by a 4-inch-deep drywall cavity.

Niles has long been at the forefront of the custom installation market. So it comes as no surprise that the company's first stab at creating a truly top-performance home-theater speaker system includes in-wall, on-wall, and in-cabinet models that can be mixed and matched to create a complete package. The StageFronts come in two basic performance levels, 50 Series and 70 Series, although the differences have more to do with their maximum output capabilities than with their sonic qualities.

In practice, most systems of this type end up using a combination of in-cabinet speakers up front and in- or on-wall speakers for the surround locations. With that in mind, we put together a 7.1-channel package using three top-of-the-range in-cabinet PRO2870LCRs for the front left, center, and right speakers, a pair of the in-wall IW770FXs for the side surrounds, and a pair of the on-wall PRO770FXs for the back surrounds. Subwoofer duties were handled by two PRO15SWs, each a massive standalone or in-cabinet sub with a built-in 1,000-watt amplifier.

Even though the PRO2870LCR is intended to be hidden away inside a cabinet, it's a real no-holds-barred beast of a speaker that would look perfectly at home as a midfield monitor in a pro recording studio. This speaker can pack a tremendous dynamic punch with its twin carbon-fiber cone woofers, yet the boxy but compact dimensions allow it to fit neatly on a standard-component-width shelf.