Latest News The highs and lows of in-ceiling speakers

Recently we spoke about the difficulties of installing traditional audio and visual equipment into the modern living environment.

In all honesty, there are compromises made with almost every audio installation. In the perfect world for a music-based system, your speakers would be a meter or more forward of the rear wall and the same distance from the side walls. You would sit at the apex of an equilateral triangle, i.e. the speakers would be the same distance apart from each other as you are from them. The tweeters would ideally be at ear height when you are in the listening position. The speaker cable lengths are the same – so the equipment is located between the speakers – and the room’s acoustics have been attended to. The list goes on.

Unless you are one of the few that have the space and the means to build a dedicated listening room, the ideals described above are always going to be compromised (although we would recommend getting as close to the ideal as possible).

Though, there is one compromise that is a pet peeve of mine: mounting all your Home Theatre speakers in the ceiling. We recognise that this will be necessary where there is no alternative (glass, view, etc.), but this is rare. The obvious downside is performance – I don’t care how good an in-ceiling speaker is; it will not be as good as a similarly priced box speaker. (In fact, I sometimes wonder why many in-ceiling speakers cost as much as they do, given there is no cabinet involved, let alone savings in freight etc. – but that’s another story).

We sell and install hundreds of in-ceiling speakers a year, but they are almost all for secondary listening areas like kitchens, bedrooms, etc., where you will not be listening critically. We will go in-ceiling for rear speakers when there is no alternative, and the ‘height’ speakers used in Dolby Atmos etc. installations need to be installed in the ceiling. You can read more about Dolby Atmos here.

The biggest downside of mounting all the speakers in the ceiling though is the disconnect between sight and sound. The use of acoustically transparent screens for dedicated projection-based home theatres is commonplace. It allows the front speakers to be placed behind the screen so that the sound and the vision are arriving from the same place. This has been the standard for commercial theatres for a very long time. Obviously, with a TV, this is not possible, but the front speakers should be placed as close to the same plane as the screen as possible.

Watching someone speak on a screen, yet having a disconnected voice come from above, is very disconcerting. It is not natural, and your brain recognises that. Your brain expects the words to emanate from the same place as it sees the lips moving. If you can’t place speakers where the screen is located, investigate in-wall speakers as an alternative. Again, these will not perform as well as traditional box speakers, but they will be far superior to in-ceiling.

And don’t fall for the ‘it’s OK, these in-ceiling speakers have pivoting drivers – you won’t notice’ sales ploy; your ears are more intelligent than that!

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