How To Choose In-Wall, On-Wall, and In-Ceiling Speakers

Outfitting your home with in-wall, on-wall, and ceiling speakers is a big decision. Not only can it be an expensive project but there are dozens of manufacturers and speaker types to choose from. We’ve written this quick buying guide on how to choose in-wall, on-wall, and ceiling speakers, in order to help you stick to the fun side of building your home audio system.

In-Wall vs. Ceiling Speakers

The first choice you need to make is whether you want in-wall / on-wall or ceiling speakers. The difference between the two is quite simple – in and on-wall speakers are mounted front-firing with the woofers pointed horizontally across the room, while ceiling speakers are mounted down-firing from the ceiling above. Both options have their pros and cons, but the decision can be simplified by truly understanding your ultimate goals and expectations.  

In-wall speakers and on-wall speakers have distinct advantages for critical listening and dispersion. By mounting the transducers approximately at ear-level, you’ll achieve stereo imaging and a lifelike soundstage that simply can’t be as accurately replicated by ceiling speakers. In-wall and on-wall speakers are more often used in surround sound setups because of this added dimensionality, but also provide a superior stereo effect for music listening than ceiling speakers. You’ll want to consider this option if you have a dedicated listening space, like a home theater or studio, or if you basically value a little added performance over stealth. For the ultimate sound space, you’ll also want to invest in a decent center channel and subwoofer.

If you’re looking to unobtrusively add a multi-room audio setup, then ceiling speakers are a much better option. They combine stealth and functionality in perfect proportion to shower a room with wonderful, immersive sound.  Ceiling speakers come in multiple sizes and formats to accommodate any silent area that should be filled with sound. Most mid size and larger rooms would benefit from two to four stereo pairs to thoroughly energize the area, but there are single piece designs that actually provide the capability of reproducing stereo sound.  Generally equipped with two tweeters, these speakers are perfectly suited for smaller environments where a pair might be difficult to fit, like bathrooms, dressing rooms, hallways, and the like. If you want to create a surreptitious music experience throughout your home ceiling speakers are your best bet.

Creating A Cohesive Soundscape

Perhaps the most important aspect of designing your listening space is to ensure that all the pieces flow well and compliment each other. This is called voice-matching. Proper voice-matching can be achieved if you follow one simple step: stick with the same speaker brand. Each speaker manufacturer will have their own sound signature, complete with nuances that are meant to be enjoyed as a whole. When combining different brands of audio equipment, especially speakers, you’ll find that not all of them complement each other and some sound signatures will actually clash. The best way to create a cohesive soundscape is to purchase all of your in-wall or ceiling speakers from the same manufacturer – even from the same series, if possible.

Self-Enclosed Speakers and Back Boxes

Other terms you’ll come across during your research are self-enclosed and back box. These are used to describe the type of enclosure that houses an in-wall or ceiling speaker. Sometimes it is an option, and sometimes it’s an integrated feature, but either way the benefits are the same. Open back in-wall and ceiling speakers can have varying performance because no two ceilings or walls are identical, having differences in the interior volume, amount of insulation, and materials used.  A wall that faces the exterior has much more insulation, is built with more robust materials, and is much thicker than an interior wall that might create a closet. Adding a back box to an open back speaker, or choosing one that has an integrated back box, ensures consistent performance regardless of its placement. Back boxes, integrated or add ons, also contain acoustic energy and greatly reduce the amount of sound that bleeds to the adjacent rooms. You can enjoy strong listening levels in one space while someone sleeps soundly nearby.

For more information on Totem’s in-wall, on-wall and ceiling speakers, take a look HERE.


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