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Home Theater/in wall speakers


Dear Bobbert, I have a home theater system with a Klipsch Quintet SL 5 PK. They are very nice, but now that I have moved them to my new room, they are too big and out of place. I want to replace the LCR and the satellite speakers with in-wall mounted speakers. I am not an audiophile by any means. The Navy made sure of that when the noise of an operating nuclear power plant fried my mid range. Just about anything will do, but I do have some standards. I want to keep the cost under $1000 and I want the cover grills to be white or ivory. I have included some information on my speakers below:

Power handling: 3 left-center-right (LCR) and 2 satellites 50 watts (200 watts peak)
Impedance: 8 ohms

LCR tweeter: 0.75" aluminum diaphragm compression driver mated to 80x80 square Tractrix Horn

Satellite tweeter: 0.75" aluminum diaphragm compression driver mated to 90x40 Tractrix Horn

LCR woofers: dual 3.5" high-output, satellite woofers: 3.5" woofer

LCR crossover frequency: 2600Hz, satellite crossover frequency: 2800Hz

LCR frequency response: 80Hz - 23kHz (+/- 3dB), satellite frequency response: 120Hz - 23kHz (+/- 3dB)

LCR cabinet design: bass reflex via dual front-firing ports, satellite cabinet design: bass reflex via rear-firing port

Magnet shielding: yes (all speakers)

I welcome any and all recommendations, Sincerely, Dick Schlueter

The primary thing you'll have to keep in mind, moving away from Klipsch speakers, is that you'll be moving away from horn-loaded speakers. This will change the characteristics of the high-frequency sounds, and may be noted as a change in the imaging or resolution capabilities of the system. You will also be changing the overall acoustics of the system by moving rooms and switching to in-wall speakers; this is unavoidable (and doesn't have to mean a death sentence for good sound).

What I would be primarily interested in, specifications wise, is what you're going to power these speakers with. I'm assuming you're using a surround sound receiver, but just want to clarify that before you commit to any new speakers (to ensure that it will be compatible with whatever you select, or in the event that it isn't, to ensure that a suitable replacement can be found (and yes, all of that can be accomplished for less than $1000)). I'm also going to assume you will keep the subwoofer from the Klipsch system, so we shouldn't need to worry about that (if it was big enough in the previous room, it should have no problem in a smaller space).

Regarding what to specifically look at -

On the lower end of the price scale, Monoprice offers a variety of in-wall and in-ceiling options:

I cannot comment on how they sound, however, but Monoprice in general puts out quality products at fair prices, so I would assume them to be "good enough" for the majority of users and usage situations.

At a higher price point, Bose offers in-wall models as well:

My understanding is that their sound quality will be comparable to the FreeSpace (commerical line) in-wall, or Acoustimass (freestanding in-room) speakers, that is to say, fairly good. They do not, however, come as singles - which either means configuring your processor for four-channel sound (I'll come back to this in a moment), or purchasing three pairs and not using one of the speakers.

In both cases, the grilles are paintable to match your room, as long as they are painted when not attached to the speaker.

If neither of those manufacturers appeal to you, Polk Audio also offers a wide range of options:

Some specific points:

- I generally would not suggest installing speakers in the ceiling, not only is it often more challenging (working on a ladder), but the speakers are rotated 90* off axis from where most surround sound processors assume they will be, and where most recorded material assumes they will be - this means that imaging and positional cues are not as accurately presented. However, in-ceiling speakers are generally fairly compact circular models, as opposed to larger rectangular models - there would be nothing wrong with picking such a speaker for your surrounds and installing it in-wall (just modify the installation directions to suit the wall).

- Ensure that you use CL/UL certified speaker wire that is rated for in-wall installation, for wiring these up. While this sounds like an imposing requirement, you can buy this kind of speaker wire at Home Depot (or similar) for less than a dollar per foot in most cases. My advice would be to figure out each run's required length, and have the store cut each run to your needed length to save time during the overall install (as opposed to buying the total footage that you need). Two-conductor wire is generally what you will need per speaker, select gauge based on overall length; here's a handy table and explanation (put together by a retired McIntosh engineer): Also insure that your installation doesn't violate any codes for your municipality (I would contact whoever oversees this for your region if this is a concern on your part).

- The "four channel" thing: while 5.1 is touted as the latest and greatest for surround sound, and has been around for many years, it isn't always the best option for all installations. Specifically, the LCR arrangement can actually create a "narrowing" effect in systems where the speakers must be placed relatively closely together (less than say, six feet between each speaker (which makes a total front stage width of at least 18 feet)), especially when running non-surround material through a matrix decoder (like Dolby Pro Logic) due to how the channel steering works. Stereo is still perfectly capable of producing a coherent 3D soundfield when the speakers aren't placed at opposite ends of the world (and historically, large-room stereo systems often had a center channel wired into the configuration to compensate for this; Klipsch is actually one of the originators of this technique), and modern surround sound processors generally have no problem re-mixing the center channel into the front L/R channels for playback of 5.1 material (while stereo material is played back natively, and Dolby Surround simply does not have the center channel extracted). The use of stereo speakers for the front stage can also often improve dialog intelligibility across the entire listening space, due to issues with how most modern center channel speakers are designed (more on that: Ultimately it's worth considering, especially if you watch a lot of older content that only exists in mono, stereo, or Dolby Surround formats, as the removal of the center channel can often have positive effects. The surround channels function as normal in all cases.

- Regarding a center channel in general, best practices are to use the same speaker for all channels (to ensure that they're all matched to each other, and have the same dispersion patterns). The horizontal center channel usually doesn't fit into this model. My advice, if you go the route of 5.1, would be to buy five of the same in-wall (or if you must buy in pairs, six) and install the LCR at the same height across the front, following a THX, Dolby, or DTS diagram as closely as possible:

(The THX site is probably the easiest to view)

However, in response to the "same speaker for all channels" - if you have to cheat, cheat on the surrounds. They often carry relatively limited audio, and rarely require full-range bass extension.

- If you end up having to buy six of the same speaker, and assuming your receiver/processor supports it, you could alternately configure a 6.1 system (LCR front and back), which provides some additional surround performance. I would not, however, generally suggest going out of your way to have 6.1 (or 7.1 for that matter), because very little content is mixed for it, and most of the time the processor will simply be "upmixing" to provide audio for the sixth speaker (this is not, by itself, a bad thing - it's more that you really are not missing anything by only having 5.1, because the vast majority of surround sound content is mixed for 5.1).

If you aren't terribly picky about sound quality, I would probably just go with a reasonable speaker from Monoprice, like these:

Three pairs will set you back less than $200, and wiring shouldn't put you too far over that (depending on how much overall wire you need).

If you have any further questions, feel free to ask.


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