Sonance's invisible and near-invisible line of in-ceiling and in-wall speakers are true to form. Can you spot them?
Every generation has had its own debate about which invention has significantly improved the existence of mankind. Fire. The wheel. The airplane. But can you imagine the world without loudspeakers? Try your best to do this. No headphones on long flights. No ambient music during that dinner party. No talk radio as you sit in an hour-long traffic jam. No custom installation business.
Generally speaking, loudspeakers have done their part to enhance our quality of life. But the advent of the stereo and home theater system has continued to the raise the bar on what makes a good speaker. In the custom install channel, while televisions and technically intricate AV components are fawned over, there is also a justified obsession with high-grade loudspeakers. This has resulted in not only great sounding output, but also innovation in the very design of the unitsmost interestingly of all, the in-ceiling and in-wall speaker.
SpeakerCraft has been fulfilling its dealers demands for bigger and better in-wall and in-ceiling offerings, which has yielded its new 10-inch AIM series. Most of the recent in-wall and in-ceiling developments in the CEDIA channel have been due to market and integrator drivers. Perhaps the most notable of these has been the battering that the U.S. economy has taken of late. This has led to a complex solutions dance for both integrators and dealers.
CEDIA channel dealers around the country are striving to reinvent themselves in the face of a tough economy, said Ari Supran, chief sales and marketing officer for Sonance. They are reaching out to the design community as a means to create lasting partnerships and to diversify their customer base and they are looking for vendors and brands that can help position them as a valuable resource to their clients design team.
Sonance is not alone in acknowledging the impact of the economy on the segment. SpeakerCrafts vice president of marketing, David Donald, admitted that the dramatic downturn in the new construction housing market has had a major effect on loudspeaker sales, though he sees a silver lining. Dealers have begun to focus on retrofit projects and more high-end custom systems, Donald pointed out. This has increased the need for higher performance loudspeakers as opposed to the entry-level models used in most production homes.
Courting the Fourth Estate
Triad Speakers' In-wall Omni/4 Sconce can also be used as a fully dimmable and controllable sconce lighting element. A number of speaker manufacturers have approached the current economic impediment differently, though not impractically. For many, the rising influence of the architect and interior designer has encouraged the creation of product lines that are aimed at aesthetically and aurally pleasing the luxury set, while giving dealers entre into that higher end market.
At Sonance, we believe that any dealer serious about participating in the luxury home market needs to bring a range of aesthetic solutions to their client and their design team, Supran said. [This] means a range from invisible to nearly invisible to design statement products. We have new models debuting in all three of these categories and they are all driven by dealer needs.
The idea of upping the innovation ante is also integral to Triad Speakers new In-wall Omni/4 Sconce, a high-performance, multi-purpose speaker product that can also be used as a fully dimmable and controllable sconce lighting element. With this product, our dealers can give the designers and their clients the options of several different grill styles, all available in any color they specify, and choices as to what color they would like the lights to be, said Mike Budd, director of international sales and business development for Triad. Designers are accustomed to having options with the products they specify so that their vision for the space they will be installed in can be realized. One of our design goals is to help achieve this without sacrificing high-quality sound in any room.
TruAudio, faithful to its architectural-inspired leanings, came out with its Revolve Series of in-ceiling LCR and surround speakers earlier this year.
TruAudio, faithful to its architectural-inspired leanings, came out with its Revolve Series of in-ceiling LCR and surround speakers earlier this year. Designed for installation in small spaces, the REV-6 models can be rotated toward the listening area, while the REV6-SUR.1 is an in-ceiling bi-pole surround speaker with dual pivoting 0.75-inch titanium speakers and power handling of up to 150 watts.
For SpeakerCraft, the focus has been on fulfilling its dealers demands for bigger and better in-wall and in-ceiling offerings, which has yielded its new 10-inch AIM series. We have taken our proven AIM technology and applied it to a much larger speaker featuring a fully pivoting 10-inch woofer, Donald explained. The substantial increase in cone area means significantly more bass response and greater overall sound pressure levels. The result is a very high-performance option for customers who do not want to sacrifice sound quality but still want everything flush in the ceiling.
Bower & Wilkins, noted for its dedication to audiophiles, has created the CCM818, which was designed by the company's senior development engineer, Dr. John Dibb. Bowers & Wilkins, noted for its dedication to audiophiles, has created the CCM818, which was designed by the companys senior development engineer, Dr. John Dibb. Featuring an eight-inch Kevlar bass/midrange driver, this in-ceiling speaker also has an optimally aligned Nautilus tube-loaded tweeter and a 12-degree angled baffle that aims for the ideal listening axis. Doug Anderson, vice president of marketing for the B&W Group, highlighted one other great feature: The real magic of this [speaker] lies in the painstaking process known as voicing, he said, the often subtle changes in crossover circuit values and driver design that shapes the sound quality.
Directional components within the in-wall/in-ceiling speaker design has also been carried out by PSB Speakers, who has come up with its own patented solution for sonic diffraction in round co-axial speakers: Sonic Guide. According to Jim Price, PSBs director of sales and marketing, this technology allows the tweeter to be positioned in any direction while creating only one response anomaly. We can then easily modify the component topology in the crossover, giving the loudspeaker a flat high fidelity response.
PSB Speakers has come up with its own patented solution for sonic diffraction in round co-axial speakers: Sonic Guide. Pictured is PSB's CW180R in-ceiling speaker. Tackling the sound stage from a different perspective, Wisdom Audio has worked with Audyssey Laboratories to apply intelligent room correction and to deal with room dispersion within its Sage Series L75i in-wall speaker line. Even the finest speakers available are at the mercy of the acoustics of the room they are installed in, noted Todd Sutherland, western regional manager and director of sales operations for the company. While customers many not completely understand that, most dealers do... The Sage Series L75i in-wall speakers line source nature effectively eliminates floor and ceiling reflections, resulting in dramatic improvements in detail and intelligibility while addressing real-world installation problems presented by cathedral or coffered ceilings.
Pumping Up the Bass
The success of hidden, structurally imbedded speakers has had its bass challenges. Subwoofers are an integral part of generating a full soundscape, but as Chris Brunhaver, project manager for BG Radia, underscored about in-wall subs, they have previous been plagued by low output, poor subjective impact and extension, but more so with significant mechanical vibration when coupled to the surround structure.
BG's BGX-4850 in-wall THX Ultra2 certified subwoofer system consists of four self-contained modules arranged in "vibration-cancelling balanced pairs." To stop all of that shaking, but still deliver a high dynamic range to match its Radia Series, BG produced the BGX-4850 in-wall THX Ultra2 certified subwoofer system, which consists of four self-contained modules arranged in vibration-cancelling balanced pairs that covers a radiating area equivalent to two 18-inch drivers-all within a standard stud-space wall.
Custom outfitter, Leon Speakers, has got into the subwoofer act with its A-3 sub, which can be integrated in three ways: in-room, on-wall, or in-wall. Leon prides itself on its options offerings, and the A-3, which has an eight-inch Aura driver and comes with vibration dampening wall mounts, is no exception. The sub can be ordered in custom colors, sizes, drivers, mounts, and more.
Cycling back to the needs of high-end customers and the dealers who cater to them, quite a few manufacturers have tapped into niche corners of the speaker business. Among them, the team at Niles Audio, who have cast their eyes on the multiple-dwelling unit sector as well as opportunities in outdoor living.
Niles has issued its new 8-inch CM in-ceiling speakers, which along with a pivoting tweeter and integrated woofer/baffle design, also feature weather resistant construction. Outdoor living drives products in two ways: an increasing number of outdoor home theaters and the need for more stealthy outdoor speakers that look like Malibu lights, said Frank Sterns, president of Niles Audio. We have also seen a demand for waterproof, flush-mount speakers. More people want sound in the shower and outdoors without seeing the obvious speaker cabinets.
To that end, Niles has issued its new eight-inch CM in-ceiling speakers, which along with a pivoting tweeter and integrated woofer/baffle design, also feature weather-resistant construction to accommodate installation in moist indoor areas like showers and outdoor areas under eaves.
Similarly, Boston Acoustics addresses moisture issues with its new line of High Humidity products. At last years CEDIA several custom integrators told us that more and more of their customers are investing in secondary and tertiary home entertainment systems, whether for use in bathrooms, living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, or for outdoor areasand were looking for discrete solutions that would provide great sound, said Phil Cohn, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Boston Acoustics. The results of that feedback include the HH460T2 and the VH470TS weather-resistant in-wall and in-ceiling speakers for placement in spas, bathrooms, outdoor patios, and pool areas.
Llanor Alleyne is managing editor of Residential Systems based in New York City.