Review: BG Radia's Supersized Surround System

The speaker world is anything but conservative. Think of the different types you can buy: good ol' cones 'n' domes, electrostatics, planar magnetics, ribbons, horns, pulsating spheres, and more, mounted in all sorts of enclosures or in no enclosures at all.

The world of custom home theater is less daring. Installers want speaker systems that sound great, play loud as hell for hours on end, place reasonable demands on amplifiers, and install easily. This is why you rarely see anything but cone 'n' dome speakers used in custom home theaters.

Of the companies catering to the custom market, BG Radia is one of the few that does things differently.

Instead of typical cones 'n' domes, BG employs its own planar magnetic drivers, which use lightweight plastic diaphragms with wires bonded to them. The diaphragm is suspended in a magnetic field, and the wires act as a voice coil. When an audio signal from an amplifier is passed through the wires, the diaphragm moves back and forth. It works a lot like a conventional driver but has lower mass and theoretically better high-frequency reproduction and detail. While other companies, most notably Magnepan, employ planar magnetic technology to build huge panel speakers, BG uses it to build small ribbon-type drivers meant to replace tweeters and midranges. It combines these drivers with conventional woofers for bass.

Next to most in-wall speakers, BG's LA-550 looks as stretched as Chelsea Handler does when she stands next to her assistant, Chuy. At 73.25 inches tall, more than three times the height of a typical high-quality in-wall, the LA-550 is in its own product category.

Why so high? So that the LA-550's six 8-inch ribbon drivers can act as a line array. A line array spreads sound broadly in the horizontal direction while producing a narrow beam vertically, thus minimizing sound reflections from the floor and ceiling. Four 5.25-inch woofers handle the bass.

BG designed the LA-550 for the left and right front channels in a stereo or home theater system. The company suggests the speaker can also be used for the center channel - and that's how my review system was configured - but you're going to need one hell of a large projection screen to conceal this speaker, and there's no way to make it work with flat-panel TVs. A more practical choice would be the CC-400 in-wall center speaker, which has dual 8-inch woofers and four of the same ribbon drivers found on the LA-500, plus two 3-inch-high ribbon tweeters.

Likewise, not a lot of people want a surround speaker that's more than 6 feet high. For surround channels, BG recommends the SS-303, a speaker that deploys its four ribbon drivers in a radically different layout. Its two 10-inch planar magnetic drivers angle toward each other, while its two 3-inch drivers, mounted in the V formed by the 10-inchers, angle away from each other. Dual 8-inch woofers deliver solid bass response.

Speaking of bass, BG offers a novel subwoofer to go with the LA-550: the BGX-S6B. This in-wall sub packs six 4-inch woofers, each in its own little plastic enclosure and facing one another in pairs. This "boxer" arrangement cancels vibration; while one driver's moving to the left, the other moves right. One BGX-S6B module doesn't produce much bass - you need at least two and preferably four. The purpose-built, high-powered BGX-A2 subwoofer amp provides two 600-watt amp channels (enough to drive two or four sub modules) and also has the internal equalization necessary to coax the tiny drivers into pumping out deep bass.