The Integration Guide to Hidden Electronics - ResidentialSystems.com

The Integration Guide to Hidden Electronics

In-Ceiling and In-Wall Speakers Are in Their Prime
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This Integration Guide was sponsored by Monitor Audio as a supplement to Residential Systems, December 2015

Loudspeakers are arguably the most functional inventions of our modern age, showing as all classic products tend to do, a longevity extended by tweaks rather than wholesale reinvention. With the advent of in-wall and in-ceiling variations nearly 30 years ago, this maturing category of custom integration has only grown more refined and in demand as the ways in which we acquire and listen to audio content has changed.

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Tru Audio’s Ghost line of in-ceiling and in-wall speakers come in sizes ranging from 4 inches to 8 inches, along with multiple build types, including dual voice coil.

“New developments in home entertainment technology, particularly content streaming services, in combination with the rebound of the housing market present homebuyers with an opportune perspective on adding luxury amenities to improve the quality of their home,” said Taylor Nichols, director of marketing for Origin Acoustics. “In the last several years, our category has enjoyed an upward-ticking housing market with many new construction projects and renovations taking place.

“The increasing popularity and awareness of the home automation category with heavily marketed mainstream products like Nest, Apple TV, and Sonos has helped educate homeowners on ways to enhance their environments,” Nichols added. “We’re seeing an awakened market come to life that didn’t exist before. More and more consumers are showing interest toward in-wall and in-ceiling speakers to help showcase these new entertainment products at peak performance with the peace of mind that comes when the wires and room clutter of speakers don’t obstruct their preferred décor.”

Along with content streaming, IoT mania, and a revived housing market, 3D audio also gets kudos for reintroducing consumers to in-wall and -ceiling options, not to mention the impetus it has given manufacturers to not only improve sound quality but also rethink speaker placement—a revival that Chris Bundy, project manager for Core Brands, highlighted when he noted that “each manufacturer will look at the challenge of creating the myriad of directed sound fields working in concert together to deliver object-oriented sound through its own lens. Each will build upon its strengths, creating solutions that, while targeting the same end, together could revolutionize the mature category.”

IN THE BOX

The architectural component of the in-wall/ceiling speaker is its most significant feature, of course, while also standing as its Achilles heel. There are still grumblings, mostly from the audiophile corner of the business, that these speakers lack the dynamic range and pristine sound quality of traditional high-end speakers. But in an age when content delivery has surpassed consumer concerns about sound quality (a differential that to most is almost undetectable at this digital stage), this has become a minor quibble, and for some brands, a non-issue as sound delivery has significantly improved alongside redesigns of speaker components.

Origin Acoustics, a relatively new name in CI with a very familiar collective behind the brand, was recently at CEDIA 2015 showcasing its Director Collection of in-ceiling speakers, which features what the company calls a Zip-Clip Tool-Less mounting system that allows integrators to expand the size of the speakers without creating bigger openings during installation.

“Effectively, the installation method utilized in the Director Collection has allowed us to expand the size of our speakers in comparison to our competitors without changing the appearance to a consumer, Nichols explained. “Integrators are raving about everything in the Director speakers, from the quick and easy installation process to the high-fidelity performance they can display to their customers, and the guarantee of a lifetime warranty. The icing on the cake is the flexibility for them to offer 16 speakers with two-way and three-way pivoting configurations ranging in price from $150 to $3,200 per pair into the same new construction bracket.”

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James Loudspeaker has aimed for smaller, higher-performance products with its Small Aperture Series, which are customizable and allow integrators to work with designers on creating speakers that fit into unplanned construction scenarios.

James Loudspeaker has aimed for smaller, higher-performance products with its Small Aperture Series, which is customizable and allows integrators to work with designers on creating speakers that fit into unplanned construction scenarios.

“For the integrator, it provides them the opportunity to work hand in hand with the designer or architect, knowing they can deliver their client’s dream solution without jeopardizing style or performance,” said James’ CEO Mark Schafle. “It does require more cooperative effort from the integrator and the supplier to achieve this signature premium result.”

To reintroduce the SpeakerCraft brand, Core Brands debuted the AIM Series 2 less than a year ago, which features a new design that saw the line move to a wide, flat speaker back (as opposed to a rounded one) that allows it to rest securely on a ladder or shelf, along with belt hooks that act as a third hand for an installer.

“For performance, it’s the co-molded materials and padded dog-ear mounting brackets that minimize unintended sound transduction through walls and ceilings, or the line ACR Tweeter Array that improves performance in the upper and mid-range frequencies,” Bundy explained. “Those innovations are backed up by the quality of the materials, ensuring that these lifetime-warrantied speakers will sound as good in 50 years as they do today.”

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Beale Street Audio’s IC6-MB are best sellers for their price-to-value ratio and Sonic Vortex technology.Origin Acoustics’ Director Collection features speakers with two-way and three-way pivoting configurations.The SpeakerCraft AIM Series 2 features a line ACR Tweeter Array designed to improve performance in the upper and mid-range frequencies.Monitor Audio’s CT 265 IDC (Inverted Dual Concentric) in-wall speaker can reduce installation time by 25 percent.

Beale Street Audio’s IC6-MB are best sellers for their price-to-value ratio, though executive director Mark Cichowski also pointed to the company’s Sonic Vortex technology as factor in the line’s popularity.

“Deep bass, broad dispersion, and excellent off-axis sound are all contributing factors that combine to make the speaker sound larger than it actually is,” Cichowski said. “In fact, many dealers that typically use 8-inch-size speakers are finding that they can use just one of our 6.5-inch models instead, and they are still getting the ‘big’ sound and incredible performance that they want, even at lower listening volumes.”

KEF’s David Kroll, who serves as global CI product manager for the speaker brand, is also keen to underscore the value of its proprietary Uni-Q technology, especially in the company’s 6.5-inch rounds. Developed by a team of acoustical engineers, physicists, and researchers in KEF’s engineering office, Uni-Q is “a highly refined coincident driver that behaves as a perfect point source,” according to Kroll.

“Without the comb filtering and diffraction that happens at the crossover frequencies of a conventional speaker, our Uni-Q driver has the wide off-axis power response with no discernable change in tonal balance,” Kroll added. “What this means is that no matter if you sit directly underneath, or far off to the other side of the room, the speaker sounds the same. So even when placed far off to the sides for looks by the interior designer, a pair of KEF Uni-Q speakers will completely fill the room with sound. Often a single CI speaker with a KEF Uni-Q driver will give better coverage than two pairs of conventional speakers.”

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Artison’s Mezzanine 8 Surround in-ceiling speaker features an invisible module to keep it visually discreet, and hybrid Monopole/Dipole design that directs sound without “localization.”

Monitor Audio’s director of U.S. sales west says the company’s CT 265 IDC (Inverted Dual Concentric) in-wall speaker can reduce installation time by 25 percent. The speaker, which features a weather-resistant design and a patented Tri-Grip dogleg system, also offers a magnetically attached trimless grille, adjustable response controls, protective crossover covers to prevent component damage, and a “bridge handle” for easy handling during installation.

“The IDC’s pivoting tweeter/midrange module is ideal for vocal band intelligibility and front sound localization,” Hook said. “[And it] provides 150 degrees of dispersion for a ‘floodlight’ effect, ideal for Dolby Atmos theaters. All frequencies are reproduced utilizing C-CAM cone and dome drivers for the most consistent sound quality.”

With multi-channel surround sound as the goal, Artison’s Mezzanine 8 Surround in-ceiling speaker delivers. Featuring an invisible module to keep it visually discreet, the speaker incorporates the brand’s hybrid Monopole/Dipole design that directs sound without “localization.”

“This allows integrators to install the speakers in less-than-ideal locations and have listeners enjoy accurate sonic reproduction without being aware of the speaker,” explained Cary Christie, Artison’s founder and CEO. “A similar approach is evident in the design of the grille, which is affixed to the speaker by magnets instead of screws, allowing for quick, sonically accurate installations and easy grille alignment to complement the room décor.”

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Bose’s newest in-wall and -ceiling speakers feature Stereo Everywhere technology that is said to cover the room with balanced stereo sound without drop offs and the need for aim tweeters.

Bose, which has played strong in the multi-room audio market, recently revamped its entire line of in-ceiling and in-wall speakers with new design and easier installation, including the addition of its Stereo Everywhere trademarked technology that is said to cover the room with balanced stereo sound without drop offs and the need for aim tweeters. Keeping things simple by allowing integrators to choose from two performance levels in two shapes, Bose’s in-ceiling and -wall options also feature dogleg clamps and magnetically attached grilles to make installation fast and easy.

Citing audio as a meaningful component of the smart home, Bryan Garner, president of Tru Audio points to the company’s Ghost line of in-ceiling and in-wall options, with sizes ranging from 4 inches to 8 inches, along with multiple build types, including dual voice coil and Tru Audio’s signature red carbon fiber woofer.

“The series allows integrators to offer their customers an array of options based on budget and performance demands,” Garner said. “All while blending effortlessly into the installation environment thanks to our first-to-market bezel-free white speaker.

“Designed to be a main front loudspeaker, GoldenEar’s Invisa 7000 includes the company’s High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter and the same 7-inch cast-basket driver used in its sister product, the Aon 3 Bookshelf Monitor. The speaker also features crossover with film capacitors and is angled in the ceiling to focus the sound within its flangeless construction. It is a design that GoldenEar’s cofounder, Sand Gross, has said is proving popular as a side or rear surround, especially in a Dolby Atmos setup.

“At the CEDIA Show, we demonstrated a unique, groundbreaking, in-ceiling Invisible Dolby Atmos System, utilizing our Invisa 7000s, MPXs, and SuperSub XXL—not in-ceiling, of course,” Gross said. “The sound quality that we were able to achieve was superb, and the response was exceptional. We believe that this is a terrific solution to achieve ultra-high performance in a way that is very user friendly. This system has already received excellent reviews, and has been embraced by our dealers and their customers.”

The recovering housing market’s penchant for pre-wiring architectural speakers into new and custom builds, and consumers’ affinity for streaming content is behind Klipsch’s successful CDT-3650-C 6.5-inch, two-way in-ceiling speaker, which features IMG woofers and a 1-inch aluminum tweeter mated to Klipsch’s patented Tractrix horn, as well as Controlled Dispersion Technology (CDT) for maximum placement flexibility.

“With the ability for the everyday user to easily pull content from the cloud and stream it wirelessly throughout his or her home,” said Jill Escol, global communications director for Klipsch, “architectural speakers and distributed audio systems are becoming a huge part of everyday life for consumers of all ages, no matter how tech savvy they are.”

AGING GRACEFULLY

As mature as the category might be, in-ceiling and in-wall speakers are keeping up with a great deal of help and influence from supporting markets, especially the newly reinvigorated home cinema space (3D audio) and the welcome return of new custom homes.

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Klipsch’s CDT-3650-C 6.5-inch, two-way in-ceiling speaker features IMG woofers and a 1-inch aluminum tweeter mated to Klipsch’s patented Tractrix horn.

The bear hug consumers have given to streaming audio content, and by extension, the hunt for integration into connected home devices in its numerous variations has been of great assistance to the category as well.

“The in-ceiling and in-wall category will continue to be molded by the demands of the end user,” noted Garner. “Whereas the mass markets once let audio quality take a back seat to convenience, they have now come back to making the quality of their music more important than ever. Homeowners will now look to their integrator to provide the understanding and expertise on how to bring the quality of their listening experience to the next level.”

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