In-wall and ceiling speakers guide

How to choose the right ones for your rooms


Crutchfield Writing Team

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In-wall and In-ceiling Speakers

In-wall and in-ceiling speakers are an unobtrusive way to fill your room with music, or add surround sound to your home theater.

In-wall and in-ceiling speakers have become some of our best-selling models, and it's easy to see why. They finally sound good enough to satisfy those who care about audio quality, and are also a great solution for folks who don't want to give up their floor or shelf space to traditional speakers. Below, we'll take a look at the things you should consider when buying in-wall or in-ceiling speakers. [Shop for in-wall speakers.] [Shop for in-ceiling speakers.]

How they work: the basics

An in-wall speaker works like a regular speaker. But instead of being attached to a cabinet, it's mounted in a frame and set into your wall. It uses the wall cavity as a large cabinet, giving you more bass than you might get from a stand-alone speaker of the same size.

An in-ceiling speaker works essentially the same way, except that — you guessed it — it's installed in your ceiling. For the most part, in-wall speakers tend to be rectangular, and in-ceiling speakers tend to be round — but there's no reason you couldn't install a rectangular in-wall speaker in your ceiling, for example, if that's what you preferred. Almost all in-wall and in-ceiling speakers have paintable grilles, so you can camouflage them in your walls or ceiling.

In-wall and In-ceiling Speakers

In-wall and in-ceiling speakers use your wall and ceiling cavities as large speaker cabinets.

Using in-wall and in-ceiling speakers

Two of the most important things to think about when shopping for in-wall or in-ceiling speakers are how you're going to use them and where you'd like to install them. For example, you'd probably buy a different type and number of speakers for surround sound in your home theater than you would for background music in the kitchen. Before you start looking at specific speaker models and features, you'll need to decide how and where you'll use them. You can find detailed recommendations for a number of different rooms and setups in our in-wall and in-ceiling speaker placement article.

Deciding between different speakers

Wherever you're installing your in-wall or in-ceiling speakers, there are a few key factors to consider while you shop:

  • Frequency response (Hz) — The range of human hearing is about 20-20,000 Hz. Frequency response tells you what portion of that range a speaker can reproduce. For example, a speaker with a frequency response of 50-20,000 Hz handles a larger portion of that range than a speaker with a frequency response of 65-20,000 Hz. You'd generally hear deeper bass and more balanced sound from the 50 Hz speaker.
  • Power handling (watts) — A speaker's recommended power specification usually tells you the maximum amplifier power the speaker can handle; often, its minimum power handling is included as well. This information tells you how much power your amp or receiver should have to safely drive your speakers. For example, a 100-watt RMS receiver would be a good match for a speaker with recommended power of 20-100 watts.
  • Sensitivity (dB) — A speaker's sensitivity, or efficiency, rating indicates how effectively it uses the power it receives from your amplifier. Speakers with higher sensitivity ratings can be played louder without straining your amp. In fact, a model with a sensitivity rating that's 3 dB higher than another speaker's only needs half as much power to deliver sound at the same volume.

Here are some other features to consider, depending on where you're installing your speakers, and how you're going to listen to them:

  • Swiveling tweeters — Some in-wall and in-ceiling speakers come with swiveling tweeters, so you can angle the sound toward a preferred listening spot. For example, in a home theater setup, you might angle the tweeters in your surround speakers to get more realistic sound effects.
  • Bass and treble tone controls — It's impossible to know exactly how in-wall or in-ceiling speakers will sound in your home until you install them. Bass and treble controls let you tweak the sound for your space, even after your speakers are in.
  • Moisture-resistance — If you're installing speakers in a potentially humid area, like a bathroom or kitchen, look for moisture-resistant models. They'll stand up to humidity better than other speakers.

Stereo input speakers — perfect for small or awkward spaces

A single stereo input speaker plays both the left and right channels of stereo music through one woofer and two angled tweeters. They're a great way to add background music to small or awkward spaces, where having two speakers isn't practical. For example, you might install one in a walk-in closet, two in a large bathroom, or three down a long hallway.

In-wall and In-ceiling Speakers

A single stereo-input speaker plays both the left and right channels of stereo music through one woofer and two angled tweeters.

What about a subwoofer?

If you're using in-wall or in-ceiling speakers for dedicated music listening or for home theater, a powered subwoofer is a must. It fills out the low frequencies, giving you warmer, more realistic sound. Many subwoofers are small enough to tuck behind a couch or table. We also offer subs that install in your wall, floor or ceiling for an elegant, space-saving solution. [Shop for in-wall subwoofers.]

Keep your home and family safe with in-wall rated speaker wire

When you're installing in-wall or in-ceiling speakers, it's important that you use speaker cable that's approved for in-wall runs. Be sure to check your local building and fire code and buy wire accordingly. If you're going to run cable inside your walls, you'll need UL-rated speaker wire labeled CL2 or CL3.

The Underwriters Laboratory (UL) looks at heat generated from current flowing through wire, how quickly the cable will catch and spread fire when exposed to flame, and the wire's susceptibility to damage from external stresses.

Before you buy: about installation

To get a good idea of what's involved in installing in-wall or in-ceiling speakers, check out our free, step-by-step installation guides for in-wall wire and in-wall, in-ceiling, and on-wall speakers. If you're planning on installing your wire and speakers yourself, make sure you're comfortable with all the tasks described.

If you'd prefer not to install your own in-wall or in-ceiling speakers, we can set you up with a certified professional installer in your area. For more information, call our A/V Design Group at 1-800-555-9407.

  • 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.