See No Evil, Hear No Evil

A tasty sampler of in-wall speakers that let you enjoy intoxicating performance without any of the headaches.

I love chocolate. No, I lust for chocolate. I'm incapable of walking down a candy aisle without lingering to look at the tight foil wrappings and the seductively enticing labels with their bold promises of the sinfully rich pleasure within. Sometimes, I stop, unable to control myself, and furtively fondle a bar of this darkly ambrosial substance that the Aztecs quite correctly considered the food of the gods. Certain no one is looking, I'll even bring a wrapped bar, more precious than its weight in gold, to my nostrils for a fleeting, stolen whiff of its wondrous scent. My mouth begins to water. My body shudders with excitement—an embarrassing moment of weakness in my struggle to remain pure.

Why this choco-lechery? Why not just buy the damn thing and get it over with? Unfortunately, I've been cursed with one of the world's greatest chocolate addictions combined with some of the worst chocolate-induced migraines. Pity me, ye blessed mortals who think nothing of feasting on dark chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate mints, chocolate-covered almonds, and chocolate truffles (in all their glorious flavors) without so much as a pimple erupting on thy forehead. For me, it's one chocolate after-dinner mint, and massive jackhammers behind my eyes pound me into submission. So, in trench coat and dark sunglasses, I lurk near the chocolate section and leer.

Others, of course, have their own particular hardships. Take the many people who'd love to have great sound in their living room, bedroom, or kitchen, but they (or maybe their spouses) don't want to look at—or just don't have the floor space for—traditional speakers. Anyone who's ever hired an interior designer quickly learns that these professionals are trained from birth to instinctively and adamantly reject the idea of floorstanding speakers in any room. As if that weren't enough, raising toddlers (or cats) with tower speakers in the house (especially those of the cloth-covered variety that make irresistible feline scratching posts) is sure to damage the speakers, the walls, the children, or your marriage. It's much better to sell them (the speakers, not the children) at your next garage sale for pennies on the dollar.

I've had fools try to convince me that carob is a fine substitute for chocolate. Fat chance. There is hope, though, for those who have an addiction to great sound but can't handle the headache of "real" speakers. In-wall speakers used to be for the nonserious lightweights who weren't ready to make the sacrifices necessary for true high fidelity. However, much has changed over the last 15 years. There are now a bewildering number of speaker companies that offer in-wall speakers. Some of them have merely slapped a couple of drivers in a baffle board, snapped on a grille, and pasted the word "architectural" on the box—figuring that's all it takes. Others, however, have spent diligent time and effort crafting high-performance models using advanced construction techniques and materials that eliminate unwanted vibrations. Some offer high-frequency drivers that pivot toward the listening area to compensate for poor placement (which is often dictated by construction or room arrangement). Most offer aesthetics that fit in with almost any home décor. In addition, a quality in-wall speaker, unfettered by expensive-to-manufacture and expensive-to-ship cabinets, is often slightly less expensive than its floor- or shelf-bound equivalent. You won't get quite the same amount of bass from an in-wall version, but the sidebar on in-wall subs offers a tasteful solution to that problem.

I've rounded up five of the better in-walls currently available, all affordably priced in the $500- to $800-per-pair range. You might consider this a Whitman's Sampler of in-walls, featuring selected favorites that will make your mouth water—or at least cause your ears to tingle. (Best of all, after I'm done, you won't have to turn any of these over and poke in the bottom to see what's inside.)