Getting that perfect stereo system takes some time and planning. So does designing a home theater or surround sound listening room. There is no end of variables to take into consideration. From the number of speakers, to the brands or sound profiles you prefer, to acoustic treatment and the size and shape of the room.
You will also need to consider the differences between in-wall and standing speakers? Therefore, if you’re asking yourself, “Are in-wall speakers still useful for surround sound?” trust us, sound engineering hasn’t changed all that much.
In-wall speakers can be completely functional in a surround sound system and provide even more benefits. However, they have their critics, though. So, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of in-wall speakers for home theaters.
What are In-Wall Speakers?
Glad you asked! OK, we wrote that to pique your interest. If you already know what these are, then feel free to skip ahead. If the concept of in-wall speakers is new to you, though, here’s a simple explanation.
You’ve been in spaces, maybe a meeting room or a shopping center, that has flat speakers installed flush to the ceiling. These are in-ceiling speakers and are found everywhere. They’re designed to be inconspicuous and to stay out of everyone’s way.
Well, just flip these down 90 degrees to the wall, and you’ve got the concept of in-wall speakers. They’re designed to be cut into your walls so that they sit flush or just slightly out from the walls for several reasons we’ll go into later.
How are In-Wall Speakers Different?
We hope the next thing you’re asking is “Can you install any kind of speaker in the wall?” Because we have a resounding NO as your answer.
First of all, regular speakers are usually collections of driver cones set up in cabinets. These cabinets are designed to be both sturdy and heavy. They need to provide the density to produce the full sound that great floor standing speakers offer.
Now imagine trying to install these big, heavy, and clunky cabinets into your walls. Yep, doesn’t sound like a successful proposition.
In-wall speakers are designed differently…
They are generally just faceplates with the drivers mounted on them and the electronics in the back. The back could be covered in a casing or simply left open. In either case, they need to be thin so that they can fit into the space behind your wall. You wouldn’t want the front in one room and the back in another, now would you?
Different Types of In-Wall Speakers
We may as well include in-ceiling speakers here, too. These can be successfully mixed into excellent stereo surround sound systems. The only difference is, of course, that one type gets installed in the ceiling and the other in the wall.
Generally, in-ceiling speakers are much smaller and lighter speakers. Perhaps featuring two small drivers like the ¾-inch tweeter and 6 ½-inch midrange drivers in the Polk Audio MC60.
Larger in-wall speakers can get bigger, bassier, and more powerful. You’d normally start with a pair of 2-way, 2.5 way, or 3-way wall speakers that would mimic what floor standing speakers do in a normal sound system. An example of this would be the Polk Audio RC85i 2-way speakers that have 1-inch tweeters and 8-inch woofers.
Setting up a listening room…
These two speakers may be enough, or they could be paired with a subwoofer for a 2.1 surround system. For movie or TV-centered home theatres, though, you’d probably also want to add a center channel speaker to hit you with some very critical mid-range you need for music and clear dialogue.
This could be something like the 255c-RT from Polk Audio which features a pair of 5 ¼-inch midrange drivers and a 1-inch tweeter.
Some brands sell full sets of surround sound in-wall speaker systems to make things easier for you. The Acoustic Audio 9 by Goldwood is one set that gives you a 7.2 channel system. It does this with nine speakers, including two in-ceiling speakers and two passive subwoofers (that need to be powered by sub amps, though).
Why Use In-Wall speakers?
Go ahead and look around the internet for discussions about in-wall vs in-ceiling speakers. Most of them end up devolving into fiery debates and wild accusations. All over speakers?
There are some benefits of in-wall speakers over bookshelf or floor standing speakers. Here are some of the main ones.
This is probably the first thing that occurs to you when you get anywhere from two to nine speakers off the floor. Or onto shelves, into the wall, and ceiling.
Especially if you have a small room to use as your home theater, or if your partner is a terrible hoarder (not naming any names…). This space-saving can be a real bonus. You can also get your room looking smooth, sleek, and modern by getting rid of the clunky speakers and reams of cable.
Mounting your speakers in the wall (or ceiling) can boost the gain of the speakers by anywhere from 4-8dB. You end up getting more bass boost in your speakers without having to invest in a more expensive system.
Improved Sound Clarity
When speakers blast sound through a room, they send it in all directions. This sound reflects off all of the walls as well as the ceiling and the floor, and this can cause interference or just plain muddy things up.
By placing the speakers in the walls, you reduce at least some of those reflections by taking away that wall as a reflective surface. This can lead to clearer sound quality.
What’s Not Great about In-Wall Speakers?
Ignore the crackpot theories that they’re alien hypnosis devices or that they make you go bald prematurely. We can answer the question, “Are In-Wall Speakers Still Useful for Surround Sound?” with some degree of certainty. However, there are some downsides to in-wall speakers.
In-wall speakers need to be installed, not just plopped on the floor. This means cutting fairly precise holes and running cabling through the walls. Of course, you need tools and know-how to do this. Otherwise, you’re going to have to hire someone to do it for you, and that could add a substantial extra cost.
Once you bite the bullet and install your speakers in the walls, they can’t be moved easily. Of course, you can cut new holes and patch and paint the old ones. But that’s a bigger hassle than just sliding a floor-standing speaker over a foot or two.
Some speakers do have swivel heads, so you can adjust their positions. For example, the JBL SP6CII in-ceiling speakers. However, most are stationary.
Hard to Upgrade
If you ever want to change or upgrade your system, it’s the same issue. You’re stuck cutting new or bigger holes, and that means more work and more mess.
Looking for Great Speakers?
We have a nice selection of reviews to help choose the perfect options. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Sonos Speakers, the Best In Wall Speakers, the Best Home Theater Speakers, the Best Bookshelf Speakers, the Best 7.1 Home Theater System, the Best Floor Standing Speakers, and the Best Powered Speakers you can buy in 2021.
You may also like our comprehensive reviews of the Best Karaoke Speakers, the Best Wireless Outdoor Speakers, the Best Apple AirPlay Speakers, the Best Tailgate Speakers, the Best Wireless TV Speakers, the Best Smart Speakers, or the Best Ceiling Speakers For Dolby Atmos currently on the market.
Are In-Wall Speakers Still Useful for Surround Sound? – Final Thoughts
For those who ask, the answer is still yes. They’re used in movie theatres and professional sound systems everywhere, so why not in your home theater as well? These speakers can produce clearer, more powerful sound with less reflection and more bass gain.
At the same time, they’re not for everyone. Installation takes a lot of time and effort (or money). And it’s a real pain to move or upgrade the speakers once they’re installed. However, if you want a sleek-looking home theater with great sound, in-wall speakers could still be your best bet.
Until next time, happy listening.