After a truly revolutionary product design is introduced, I imagine engineers at competing companies angrily flinging their slide rules across the room and proclaiming, “Of course! That makes perfect sense! Why didn’t I think of that? Why?!” That was my first thought when unboxing Niles’ new Cynema Soundfield, “Why has no one thought of this before?” That was immediately followed by, “And thank God they included a comprehensive installation manual!”
In-wall speakers have been around for more than 25 years, and while there have been some amazing design advancements, they still pretty much boil down to round or square options. But the inherent problem with in-wall speakers is positioning them. Even during new construction, stud layout often requires reframing so the speakers–especially the center channel–are centered on the display. In a retrofit, this positioning is a total crapshoot, which is why virtually every soundbar to date is an on-wall model.
Depending on the speaker size the Niles Cynema Soundfield is offered in 48-, 55-, and 65-inch wide versions, which refers to the grille width–there are limitations on how close a stud can be to the centerline of the TV. However, the ingenious design of Niles’ Cynema Soundfield lets installers deliver a sleek, stylish in-wall speaker centered in virtually any retrofit application, with no risk of getting burned by a stud finder after you’ve already started chopping out a section of a customer’s wall.
As mentioned, the Cynema includes a comprehensive installation manual that you’ll welcome on your first go. Once you understand the procedure, however, it’s incredibly simple and virtually foolproof, differing only slightly from a typical in-wall install. To experience the installation as realistically as possibly without chopping a 52.25-inch hole in my wall, I built a 16-inch on-center stud wall that I insulated and used for the installation.
Depending on the speaker size—it is offered in 48-, 55-, and 65-inch wide versions, which refers to the grille width–there are limitations on how close a stud can be to the centerline of the TV. The 48-inch model must be at least 3.75 inches from a stud, and the 55-inch model has to be at least a quarter inch away. (There are no issues with the 65-inch model.) So, be sure it’s clear prior to going all Samurai Jack with a jab saw. A cutout template is included.
Once the hole is cut, you’ll have a cavity with exposed studs in the wall, but no worries or drilling required. The Cynema uses slide brackets that screw into the studs, leaving a slight gap behind for wire routing. Clamp-down end brackets are also included to secure the edges to the drywall if the studding isn’t within three inches. The mounting rails then slide into these brackets.
The speaker and amplifier modules have handy swing-out brackets that hold them in place on the rail, leaving your hands free to make wiring connections. Once connections have been made, the modules rotate into the wall and snap into the frame, not requiring any screws or tools.
Wide audio mode on the Niles Cynema Soundfield opened up the sound, adding the missing high-end and sounding more open and spacious. The high-voltage module cuts into the wall below the speaker and connects to the amplifier module via low-voltage DC, meaning that an electrician isn’t needed for the retro.
Once installed, I connected my iPhone via mini-jack cable and my Kaleidescape via HDMI. The speaker automatically selects the active input, but overrides to the digital Toslink/HDMI input if multiple sources are playing. The Cynema doesn’t come with a remote, but it can learn the volume up/down and mute commands from any remote and Niles offers some discreet IR codes that include additional commands.
I played a variety of music, movies, and TV audio through the bar and quickly discovered it only decodes Dolby Digital, meaning any discs encoded in DTS–or lossless audio formats–didn’t play. Voices sounded good through the speaker, making it easy to understand dialog-heavy shows, and I could even make out what Bane was saying in The Dark Knight Rises, which is no small feat.
Bass is lacking, not too surprising considering the driver size, and Cynema definitely sounded like it was missing the bottom octaves. I also found the audio a little “boxy,” being very full of midrange but lacking detail to the high-end. Then I used the discreet IR code to turn wide audio mode on, and it really opened up the sound, adding the missing high-end and sounding more open and spacious. The speaker also sounded far more impressive after I paired it with a Niles SW8 powered sub. This compact sub delivered the deep, powerful bass that had been lacking, making Cynema sound like a much bigger, far more impressive speaker. I would definitely recommend pairing it with a sub.
There are adjustments for raising/lowering the left, center, and right speakers, but no display for the adjustment or volume level which drove the control freak in me crazy wondering where they were set.
Bottom line, the Cynema won’t be for everyone. At $1,750, the 55-inch model I tested is at the upper range of soundbar pricing and doesn’t include a much-needed sub. But a sub is easily added – even wirelessly–and for a retrofit demanding improved sound and a discreet in-wall design, the Cynema may be an installer’s best friend.
Terrific retrofit design fits wide range of installs, incredibly simple to install
Lack of bass, no display of levels
• Easily retrofits below flat panel TV in existing stud walls
• 30-watt x 3 RMS power output from amplifier module
• Easily connects to Niles wireless subwoofer transmitter system
• Auto selection of active input, with TV input taking priority
• Inputs: Toslink optical digital, HDMI, analog stereo 1/8-inch (x2), 1/8- inch IR receiver; Outputs: RCA subwoofer, HDMI
• Dimensions: 3.75 x 52.25 (cutout H x W, inches) 5.25 x 55 (grille H x W) 3.5-inches deep behind 5/8-inch drywall