Right around this time last year, I finished up the first major overhaul of my dad’s home theater system, during which I upgraded his old architectural speakers with a fresh new set of angled in-ceilings specifically designed for LCR applications. It was a pretty straightforward installation, and we were both quite pleased with the results. Until, that is, I popped in my Star Wars: Episode II Blu-ray and the 7-inch woofers in those speakers nearly brought Pop’s popcorn ceiling down on our head. I exaggerate, of course. We weren’t in any real danger from the few flakes of dust that fell. But I did have to raise the crossover point between the speakers in the ceiling and the sub on the floor way above what the speakers themselves could handle, well above what could ever be considered deep bass.
This is not a review of those speakers, and I’m sure if you’ve installed any number of in-ceiling speakers, there’s nothing revelatory in the anecdote above. I mention it merely as setup for the reaction I had when I met with representatives of Beale Street Audio at this year’s International CES, during which time they gave me a sneak peek at their own in-ceiling subwoofers.
Beale Street’s 6.5-inch ICS6-MB
Granted, we’ve seen in-ceiling subs before, but most exist in the form of big sealed boxes that mount directly to the rafters or joists and pump low bass frequencies through the ceiling via a hose or port. Beale Street Audio’s in-ceiling subs are not of that sort, though. Aside from their lack of tweeters, and the presence of six roughly rectangular ports surrounding their cones, the company’s ICS8-MB and ICS6-MB subs look like your typical one-piece in-ceiling speakers. Which is to say that each is a pretty nondescript cylinder with a magnetic perforated metal grille and dog-ears that extend and retract via front-mounted screws.
All of these design features make for a speaker that’s straightforward and easy to install, but don’t give you any indication of why you would want to mount these ferocious little bass monsters directly into drywall. To understand that, one needs to take a closer look at the speakers inside.
The semi-rectangular ports that I mentioned above are actually the key. They’re the endpoints of what Beale Street Audio has dubbed Sonic Vortex Ported Transmission Line technology. Simply put, the end of the speaker enclosure opposite the driver itself splits and spins the air inside the cabinet into six chambers, which corkscrew around the exterior of the enclosure itself. This has two effects. First, it effectively gives each subwoofer six incredibly long-tuned ports, which extend bass response considerably. Second, it also gives the speakers incredible rigidity, which is, in part, what allows them to anchor directly to drywall without turning the entire ceiling into one big veritable rattletrap.
Beale Street provided me with both of its subwoofers for evaluation: the eight-inch ICS8-MB and the 6.5-inch ICS6-MB, both of which belong to its “More Better” series. As yet, the company doesn’t offer any subwoofers in its BB, or “Better than their Best” series. But unlike most of its MB speakers, the subs do sport woven Kevlar drivers instead of aluminum. (The BB speakers rely on woven carbon fiber.) The company also sent along a pair of its A100 Class D amplifiers, which feature pretty straightforward RCA line-level inputs, speaker level outputs, variable phase and high-pass controls, along with a toggle switch for a 6db bass boost at 40Hz.
Simply put, with Beale Street Audio’s Sonic Vortex Ported Transmission Line technology, the end of the speaker enclosure opposite the driver itself splits and spins the air inside the cabinet into six chambers, which corkscrew around the exterior of the enclosure itself.
Rather than hooking up both subs at once, I decided to evaluate them individually, starting with the eight-inch ICS8-MB. I think what surprised me most was its frequency response. Beale Street’s rated low frequency extension of 35Hz seems pretty accurate as a -3dB point. What that number doesn’t tell you, though, is that instead of the sharp drop off on the low end that I’m used to seeing with most subs, a graph of the ICS8-MB’s in-room response tapers off gracefully. In my room, with bass management applied by my Anthem MRX 710 receiver, I’d put the -3dB point closer to 32Hz or so, with the -6dB point somewhere in the neighborhood of 19Hz.
In other words, this sub pretty much rocks. What’s more, it does an incredible job of filling the room all by its lonesome. I cued up some of my favorite bass demos (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man) and found myself just as impressed by the deep, rich, powerful bass as I was by the fact that my ceiling remained pretty much silent. Just on a whim, as I was swapping it out for the smaller ICS6-MB, I held the ICS8-MB while also putting my hand on the Aperion bookshelf speakers that constituted the rest of my sound system for this review, and the Aperions seemed to shake, rattle, and roll by comparison, despite the fact that they weren’t delivering much of anything below 80Hz.
The little ICS6-MB proved no less impressive, at least in terms of its easy installation and rattle-free performance. Of course, given its size, its bass output isn’t quite so deep. Its low-frequency extension is rated at 42Hz, and although it doesn’t roll off quite so gracefully as its larger sibling, I’d still peg its -3dB after-bass management as somewhere in the neighborhood of 35Hz, with a -6dB point in the upper 20s.
So perhaps you wouldn’t be inclined to rely on the ICS6-MB as the sole subwoofer in a high-performance home theater system, but it’s a superbly musical sub that would add wonderful weight to a two-channel music system. And it would also work great as a second sub in a home theater system, not necessarily to add deep bass, but to combat room modes.
If there’s a single, solitary drawback to either of these subs, it’s the fact that–contrary to Beale Street Audio’s literature–there is a very minor bit of chuffing to contend with from both subs. This was most noticeable when I was running frequency sweeps and calibrating the subs, but I also heard it a little bit when playing quiet background music (mostly Björk’s “Hyperballad”). Still, that’s an itty bitty price to pay for subs that not only install so easily (and unobtrusively!), but perform so incredibly well.
Install like regular in-ceiling speakers but also boast stunning bass performance
A weensy bit of port noise; the A100 tends to get a little toasty
► 100 watts amplification
► Stereo or mono audio line level input (RCA)
► Adjustable subwoofer crossover frequency
► Adjustable phase settings
► 6.5” Kevlar Woofer
► Butyl Rubber Surround
► Cutout: 8.4” (214mm)
► Depth 6.8” (172mm)
► Power Handling: 5-120W
► Impedance: 4Ω
► 8” Kevlar Woofer
► Butyl rubber surround
► Cutout: 10.3” (261.5mm)
► Depth 8.6” (219.5mm)
► Power handling: 5-120W
► Impedance: 4Ω