Surround Sound - Speaker Guide - In-Ceiling and In-Wall Speakers
Updated: April 17, 2016

The Complete Guide to
In-Ceiling and In-Wall Speakers

More Speaker Options for your Home Entertainment

In-ceiling and in-wall speakers have become a most popular choice among home theater enthusiast looking for ways to reduce speaker clutter. Irrespective of whether it is a room decor issue or floor space problem, in-wall and in-ceiling speakers represent the ideal choice if you want to hide away your sound source while still enjoying great home theater sound.

During these last years, in-wall and in-ceiling speakers sound performance has improved to the point that these provide a good match to that of free-standing speakers. We still say that if you want the very best in home theater sound and multi-channel music listening, use of free-standing speakers is your only option. But there is no doubt that today's in-ceiling and in-wall speakers sound good enough even for the most demanding home theater enthusiasts.

In this speakers guide, we first explain the basics of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers; we then discuss the things to consider when making a purchase for home theater or multi-room audio applications.


Polk Audio RC85i In-wall speakers Polk Audio RC85i 2-Way
100W RMS In-Wall Speakers

with 1-inch swivel tweeter

Relatively easy to install, this is one of the most popular and affordable in-wall speaker models irrespective of brand.

Polk Audio RCi series in-wall speakers are capable of great overall sound performance and are most suitable where higher volumes and great bass response are required. The RC85i uses a rather massive 8-inch mid-bass blue polymer driver with Infinite Baffle tuning, capable of delivering rich bass irrespective of the wall you put them in. RC85i swivel tweeter detail

In addition, the use of a swivel tweeter makes it possible to obtain the best directional sound for your listening area.

These speakers come with a removable and paintable grill and are timber matched to Polk Monitor, TSi and OWM series speakers.

In-Ceiling and In-Wall Speakers for your Home Theater

What you need to know

One issue many come across when design a home theater is surely that of speaker placement, or rather how the many different audio speakers associated with today's 5.1 and 7.1-plus multi-channel audio systems are going to impact the overall home theater room decor.

Well, it is here that in-wall and in-ceiling speakers provide suitable alternatives to free-standing conventional speakers in both the home theater and in multi-room home entertainment.

Up to not long ago, this hidden-sound technology did not perform well especially in multi-channel 5.1 music listening and home theater applications. Stereo sound has always been much easier to satisfy with in-wall and in-ceiling speaker systems.

But things have changed...

Today, you can conceal specially designed speakers in walls and in ceilings while still enjoying really good quality sound — though not to the same extent as is possible with conventional free-standing speak systems for the same capital outlay.

In-Wall and In-Ceiling Speaker Basics

In-ceiling and In-wall speakers work like conventional speakers except that they do not come with a cabinet. Instead, they are mounted on a specially designed frame to allow the speaker to be canceling in the wall or ceiling. In this way, in-wall and in-ceiling speakers use the wall or ceiling cavity as a large cabinet. This explains why they tend to deliver more bass especially when not mounted in a suitably designed back-box. However, if you are after the best sonic performance with in-wall speakers, it is not recommended to leave the back box out of your equation when planning an in-wall or an in-ceiling speaker installation.

The problem with in-wall speakers is that you will never know how your concealed speakers will sound until you install them. It is true that some ceiling and in-wall speaker systems come with dedicated bass and treble tone controls to help you better tune your speakers once installed with the rest of your speaker setup.

The presence of a back box designed specifically for your selected in-wall or in-ceiling speaker will do a lot more to control your in-wall speaker or ceiling speaker performance. The back box gives you better control over resonance, while maintaining the correct tonal balance with the rest of your home theater speakers; the latter is fundamental to achieve a unified soundfield in multichannel audio.

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In general, most in-wall speakers come in a rectangular frame while in-ceiling speakers are round. Choosing one shape over another is more an issue of personal preference. All in-wall and in-ceiling speakers come with accompanying speaker grills - most of which are paintable to better conceal the speaker from view.

The use of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers is definitely turning out to be a trendy option in the home theater but there are a few issues worth knowing about...

Both speaker options require at least 4-inch clearance behind the mounting panel to house the speaker unit. Some require even more mounting clearance especially if the speaker driver is either tilted in some direction, or uses an adjustable pivot to enable the user direct more of the speaker sound to the audience.

In the case of in-wall speaker units, it is possible to find slim-type units that may require just over 2-inch clearance but be aware that the acoustic quality may suffer. Keep in mind that the volume of a speaker enclosure plays a critical role in speaker performance; without enough physical depth, a speaker produces less fuller sound.

Equally important is that high-quality in-wall speakers can be especially expensive in comparison to traditional home theater speakers. A case in point is the Atlantic Technology IWTS-30LCR-S in-Wall THX Ultra2 LCR Speaker, which is selling online at $1,250 each.

Mind you, this Atlantic in-wall speaker is a state of the art speaker. It is a THX Ultra 2 speaker capable of handling 200W continuous power and comes with an enclosed midrange that can be rotated up to 90 degrees and tilted by up to 5 degrees to better direct the sound towards the listening area. The latter is an extremely important feature when working with in-wall speakers as it gives added flexibility to your in-wall speaker placement.

Polk Audio TC80i Round 2-Way 8-Inch In-Ceiling Loudspeaker Polk Audio TC80i Round 2-Way 8-Inch
In-Ceiling Loudspeaker

A premium in-ceiling speaker rated at 125W rms using an 8-inch woofer and a swivel mounted 1-inch tweeter.

In-ceiling home theater speakers suffer from a major acoustical disadvantage over both in-wall and conventional free-standing speakers, namely that of firing directly at the floor. This acoustical disadvantage would be further enhanced by a bare floor.  Some in-ceiling speakers such as the Polk TC80i shown here use a tilted speaker to direct more of their sound towards the listener.

This floor-firing characteristic limits the use of in-ceiling speakers to general audio applications in offices and whole-house installations rather than in multichannel speaker setups in the home theater. Their use in the home theater is rather limited as rear surrounds rather than as front speakers.

Using in-wall and in-ceiling speakers

Choosing your Speakers:

The process of selecting your in-ceiling or in-wall audio speakers follows on the same footsteps as conventional speakers — especially when it comes to power handling, speaker sensitivity, speaker frequency response, etc.

As with free-standing speakers, concealed speakers come designed with different speaker characteristics to match the requirements associated with the different applications. For example, it is one thing using speakers for the main fronts and another using speakers for the surrounds. In other words, ensure that the speakers you choose are designed for your specific application.

Equally important is where you plan to install in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. Do you have enough clearance to allow for an in-wall speaker installation? Check the speaker dimensions first.

Ceiling and In-Wall Audio Speaker Placement:

Directly related to the issue of speaker installation is your in-wall or in-ceiling speaker placement. Again, the same principles highlighted in our Speaker Placement guide applies; however you have to translate the requirements associated with free-standing speakers to your concealed speaker installation.

There is one major problem here one should be aware of when dealing with ceiling and in-wall speakers — especially in the home theater where speaker placement is critical for an immersive listening experience.

With this type of speaker installation, there is no room for speaker placement experimentation; it just has to be right the first time. Surely, you do not want to end up with a big hole in the wall or ceiling simply because you got your speaker placement wrong! The little added-flexibility provided by pivoted in-wall and in-ceiling speaker systems is definitely not enough to correct for a wrong speaker replacement.

Our advice: When dealing with the placement of in-wall and in-ceiling home theater speakers, it is always recommended to seek on-site professional advice.

Use of subwoofers with In-Ceiling and In-Wall Speaker Installations:

Klipsch Dual 8IN In-wall Subwoofer
Klipsch RW5802 300W Dual 8" Passive In-wall Subwoofer

This passive premium Klipsch in-wall subwoofer comes in an integrated sealed enclosure for best performance. It is a rather expensive subwoofer that is best powered by the specifically designed Klipsch subwoofer amplifier.

Pyle Home PDIWS28 Dual 8-Inch In-Wall High Power Subwoofer System
Pyle Home PDIWS28 Dual 8-inch passive in-wall subwoofer

An inexpensive alternative option that can do a lot towards enhancing the bass in your home theater; this Pyle passive in-wall subwoofer comes with a 250W continuous power rating and has relative good bass response for the price.

The best way to complement the sound of ceiling and in-wall speakers is to use a dedicated subwoofer. Rather, while with full-size free-standing tower speakers, you may do away with a dedicated subwoofer, this is not the case with in-wall and in-ceiling speaker installations. In these circumstances, the use of a dedicated subwoofer helps produce a fuller, more realistic sound.

In-wall subwoofers are readily available though these generally come as passive subwoofers. One such option is the Klipsch dual 8-inch in-wall subwoofer featured on the right. This is a rather expensive premium option but cheaper options such as the Pyle PDIWS28 can still do a lot (though not to the same extent) towards enhancing the bass in your room for much less.

However, a free-standing option should not be an issue when it comes to subwoofers.  Most powered subwoofers are small enough to be placed behind your couch. One main advantage of subwoofers with respect to the rest of your home theater speakers is that subwoofer placement is not critical. In other words, you can almost literally hide your subwoofer away from site without affecting sound performance.

And with a subwoofer like the Polk Audio PSWPRO 550Wi (available from Amazon US), you also have the convenience of wireless audio connectivity.

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 Article Content

Issues discussed in this Home Theater Speakers Guide:

Blue bullet Introduction: Things have changed!

Blue bullet In-Wall / In-Ceiling Speaker Basics: Issues worth knowing about

Blue bullet Use of In-wall and in-ceiling speakers:
Choosing speakers
Speaker placement
In-wall subwoofers

Blue bullet Readers Comments: Submitting your comments is easy!

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Home Theater Speaker Basics

Understanding Speaker Specifications

Selecting Speakers for Multi-channel Audio

Subwoofer Guide

Sound Bar Speakers Buying Guide

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Speaker Placement in Multi-channel Audio

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THX Home Cinema Explained

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