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In-wall and ceiling speakers buying guide

How to choose the right ones for your rooms


Joshua Crane

Joshua honed his knowledge of home audio/video gear during an 8-year stint as a Crutchfield Advisor. He can talk tech with the best of them, but he lives for the emotional experience of music. He brings that outlook to his writing, and to his side gigs as a folk guitar player and music teacher. He stays active by chopping firewood and exploring our national parks.

More from Joshua Crane

Living room with in-ceiling speakers.

Built-in speakers save space on your floors and shelves. The wiring is hidden behind the walls. And paintable grilles make flush-mounted speakers nearly invisible.

In-ceiling and in-wall speakers provide high-quality sound without cluttering up your decor. Want music in your kitchen without a speaker taking up counter space? How about a surround sound system without bulky speakers in the living room?

Generally speaking, ceiling speakers are best for multi-room music systems. In-wall speakers are ideal for space-saving surround sound. We'll show you the options for both.

Ceiling speakers for whole-house music

There are two main things to consider when planning your in-ceiling music system. First, how many speakers does each room need for good sound? That depends on the room's size and how it's being used.

One or two ceiling speakers may provide good background music for your dining room. But say you have a large living room with a high-ceiling. You might need five or six speakers to get the volume you need when you throw a party.

The other factor to consider is speaker placement. You want your music system to deliver even coverage throughout your room. This takes careful planning to get the best results.

Link for free AV system design.

Free customized system design

It takes experience and expertise to plan a good multi-room music system. Let one of our A/V Designers map out everything for you. Upload floorplans and photos of your rooms and your designer will draw up a free system proposal. You'll see what size speakers to get, how much power you need, and where everything should go. You'll even receive a pre-loaded shopping cart with everything that you need.

AV Design system proposal image.

Your A/V Designer will map out the ideal speaker locations for your floorplans.

How much should you spend?

Let your budget be guided by the listening experience that you want in each room. Modestly-priced speakers are fine for background listening. But if you're passionate about music, you want a system that you can really jam to. Go for higher-quality speakers that deliver the live concert experience. Tell your designer about your performance goals for each room. He or she will help you choose the right equipment.

Ceiling speaker features 

Direct your high frequencies

Many ceiling speakers offer a tweeter that can be rotated. Instead of sound going in one fixed direction, it can be directed towards you for better performance.

Illustration of aimable tweeters.

Choose a speaker with an aimable tweeter to direct the sound exactly where you want it.

Get stereo sound from a single speaker

Sometimes you want music overhead but just have room for one speaker. Stereo input speakers play both the left and right channels of music in a single location. They are a great way to add music to small spaces. Or you may want several of these in a room that's not well suited for stereo pairs.

Image of a stereo input speaker.

Stereo input speakers have two tweeters and play both the left and right channels of music.

Use a moisture-resistant speaker in your bathroom

Some speakers use heavy-duty materials that hold better up in humid environments. They are perfect for withstanding steam in the bathroom or kitchen. You can even use them in the ceiling of a covered porch for music outside.

Moisture-resistant speakers in a bathroom.

Choose moisture-resistant speakers for areas with high humidity. They're ideal for bathrooms, kitchens, and saunas.

Self-enclosed speakers

Most in-ceiling speakers only require a few inches of mounting depth. But some are 8 or 9 inches deep, because they have extra large woofers or they have enclosures (back boxes) built around them. Enclosed speakers offer excellent bass performance. But the extra depth can pose a fit problem in some homes. Check the speaker measurements to make sure they will fit between your ceiling and the floor above.

Front and side view of an enclosed speaker to illustrate the depth of the speaker.

Self-enclosed speakers offer great bass, but are extra deep. Be sure to measure your mounting depth to make sure your new speakers will fit.

In-wall speakers for serious listening

Sometimes sitting down to listen to music — and doing nothing else — is good for the soul. If you have a room where you can do dedicated listening, consider in-wall speakers. When placed at ear-level, they provide a more direct field of sound and a "sweet spot" for stereo imaging. This makes you feel more like the band is live on stage in front of you.

Illustration of an in-wall speaker system that creates a "sweet spot" for the listener.

Carefully placed in-wall speakers provide a front-row listening experience for music.

Choosing in-wall speakers for surround sound

An in-wall surround system provides a true theater experience. Just like with ceiling speakers, there's a range of sizes and designs. Your speaker selection will be based on your room's layout and your performance goals. Here's how a typical 7.1 in-wall system looks:

Illustration of a 7.1 system

Here's the typical in-wall speaker placement for a 7.1 surround sound system.

The importance of voice-matching

Every speaker brand has subtle tonal qualities that are unique to them. This makes for a distinct audio "voicing". If you were painting a room blue you'd use the same shade for all four walls. You wouldn't paint one wall a different shade of blue than the others. You want them to match.

Speaker voice-matching works along the same lines. You want to use the same brand of speakers throughout your room. This gives you consistently great sound as action moves all around you.

For front left and right channels

Most in-wall speakers can be used for your left and right channels. They install vertically on either side of your TV.

For the center channel

The center channel is perhaps the most important speaker in your home theater. It's responsible for the movie's dialogue. It installs horizontally, typically below your TV or projector screen. Use a center channel that has a tweeter in the middle of the speaker. This balanced design provides even dialogue for all of your seating locations.

Image of center channel speaker.

Choose a center channel speaker that has a tweeter between two woofers. This lets everyone hear dialogue clearly.

For side and rear surround sound

Adding speakers beside and behind you makes you feel like you're a part of the movie. Consider using surrounds that feature tweeters that fire in different directions. This design delivers lifelike sound in a wide area. Everyone gets wraparound effects - especially if you have multiple rows of seating.

Image of a speaker with off-axis tweeters.

In-wall surround speakers use tweeters that face different directions to provide immersive surround effects

Give your system the bass it deserves

No home theater is complete without a subwoofer for the low end. For a completely invisible system, install a sub into your wall or floor. These sneaky-good subs get their power from an external amplifier.

Image of an in-wall sub and amp package.

Install a subwoofer into your wall for impactful bass without taking up space. A separate power amp provides power.

Dolby Atmos

Want an immersive home theater with sound coming from all directions? Create a Dolby Atmos system by installing speakers into your ceiling and connecting them to a surround sound receiver with Dolby Atmos decoding. You'll feel the rain gently failing through the trees in the jungle. You might even duck when the helicopter swoops down from the sky. 

Illustration of a 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos system.

You don't need special ceiling speakers to make Atmos work. But you do need a Dolby Atmos-capable receiver.

Explore other setup options

There are numerous ways to set up a flush-mounted surround system. For more information, check out our in-wall and in-ceiling speaker placement guide.

Installation accessories

Use the right wire for your speakers

It's important that you use speaker wire that's approved for in-wall runs. You want UL-rated wire that's labeled CL2 or CL3. Check out our ceiling and wall wiring guide for more info.

Rough-in brackets for new construction

If you have access to your wall studs or ceiling joists, use pre-construction brackets. They provide a more stable and secure mount for your speakers. They also act as a speaker placeholder when the drywall is being cut.

Keep the sound where you want it

Your ceiling speakers may have another room located above them. Use back boxes above the speakers to limit the sound that leaks through. Back boxes also improve bass response by providing an enclosure around the speaker.

Easy volume control

For a simple way to control your music's volume in each room, install an in-wall volume control.

We're here to help

If you'd like free expert advice, contact our A/V Design team. For info on how to drive speakers throughout your house, check out our multi-room power guide. Self-installing? Check out our in-ceiling and in-wall installation guide. Free lifetime tech support is included with every Crutchfield purchase.

Last updated May 17, 2016
  • ellie from providence ri

    Posted on 5/18/2015 5:54:48 PM

    Can somebody please explain to me how to use these speakers? Do I connect it with a computer? Is it bluetooth? please help

  • Writing Team from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/19/2015 10:01:34 AM

    Thanks for your question, Ellie. Generally speaking, in-wall and in-ceiling speakers have no internal power source of their own, so they must first be connected to a receiver or power amplifier in order to play. The connections are made using speaker wire run behind the walls from the receiver to the speakers. Your music sources, like your computer or a Bluetooth source such as your smartphone, must first be fed into the receiver, where it is amplified and sent out to the speakers.

    For more help choosing the right in-wall or in-ceiling speakers to suit your home, please contact our advisors via phone or chat.

  • Gary from Sg2

    Posted on 7/8/2015 12:56:02 PM

    Going to install about 16 ceiling speakers whilst doing renovation. What depth between false ceiling and concrete ceiling should I leave

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/9/2015 9:14:34 AM

    Gary, I'm not sure it makes a lot of difference as long as there is adequate clearance to accommodate the mounting depth of your speakers. You may want to give our advisors a call just to be sure there aren't any other issues to watch for.

  • Russell Garrett from Blanchard

    Posted on 7/18/2015 11:10:29 PM

    I'm planning on putting a pair of Polk Audio RC85i in an exterior insulated wall. Will the insulation effect the speaker or the sound output? Should the insulation be cut away from the speaker?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/20/2015 11:24:44 AM

    Russell, I forwarded your questions to our AV Design Group installers, and here are a few of their responses:

    "It depends on the insulation. If the insulation is paper backed you will have to cut away the paper at the least. Compressing the insulation will reduce the R factor for sure. So it is hard to say if the remaining compressed insulation provides greater R value than simply leaving a pocket.

    Blown insulation that is flaked will simply fall out of the hole. Insulation that expands and solidifies will need to have an entire pocket cut away to gain air space or go with the closed back Monitor Audio models. I would say the thickness of the exterior wall studs and type of insulation would dictate my final decision."

    "The insulation is not a problem as long as it is standard batting. If it's the loose blown-in insulation a layer of paper or plastic should be used to keep the insulation from getting around or in the voice coil."

    I hope this helps, Russell. As far as the sound is concerned, I imagine that as long as there is some open air space behind the speaker for it to "breathe", sound quality shouldn't be adversely affected.

  • eric from HUNTINGTON

    Posted on 12/26/2015 4:24:56 PM

    I kinda set my house up wrong when I built it but I put speaker holes in sheet rock in the ceiling. Basically due to design of room I got 2 holes in front of room around the TV and 3 in the back of the room. Was curious best solution to make my TV den downstairs sound the best. Also I would have a floor sub and but what else might i need.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/27/2015 6:28:27 PM

    Eric, I sent your questions to our sales team for the best answers. They'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • Brandon from houston

    Posted on 2/15/2016 5:37:53 PM

    Hi, Can you use 4 ceiling speakers with a in wall center speaker? Could you place the center speaker under the screen or could this cause issues? Do I need to place 2 ceiling speakers near the front by the screen? Thanks for your help

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