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Best in-wall and ceiling surround sound speaker systems

Our top four choices for an elite, clutter-free home theater

Before I moved into my house, I installed in-wall speakers as part of my surround sound system. My family loves how our home theater sounds! The best part? There are no bulky speakers or pesky wires cluttering up the floor. 

These days I spend most of my time researching and writing about speakers. But I also spent seven years designing in-wall and in-ceiling home theater systems. So I'm a firm believer that you can get top-shelf audio performance from speakers that disappear into your décor.

Are you in the process of building your dream system? This article highlights the best custom-install speakers we carry, along with tips on how to build a high-end home theater without any footprint. 

5 features that make in-wall and ceiling speakers great for home theater

Premium in-wall and in-ceiling speakers are engineered to reproduce sound as accurately as possible. Here are a few key features to look for in high-end models:

1. Contain and improve sound with a back-box

A built-in back-box gives the speaker its own enclosure, much like a traditional bookshelf speaker. This helps create consistently focused, well-balanced sound — regardless of the space is behind it in the wall or ceiling.

Picture of a Black box.

Back-boxes help prevent audio from bleeding through to an adjacent room. They also protect your speaker from dust and dirt.

2. Tone controls let you adapt the sound to your room

Look for speakers with built-in tone controls that let you adjust woofer and tweeter output levels independently. That way you can boost or cut lows and highs to best match your room's acoustics.

Top section of a speaker with tone controls.

Speakers that have integrated tone controls let you tailor the sound for your room.

3. Use three "LCR" speakers for a seamless front soundstage

Some audio enthusiasts prefer using the same speaker in each location of their home theater. This creates a unified front soundstage, with tonal consistency throughout the room. 

LCR (left, center, right) in-wall speakers can be installed horizontally as a center channel, or vertically as left and right front speakers for seamless sound. 

LCR speaker.

Using an LCR as a center channel gives you evenly distributed high frequencies, since the tweeter is located in the middle of the speaker. If you simply turned a "regular" in-wall speaker sideways, the tweeter would be off to one side.

4. Consider speakers that share technology with high-end floor-standers

Some premium in-wall and ceiling speakers share engineering and design characteristics with their traditional box speaker counterparts. For example, Monitor Audio uses the same gold dome tweeter and C-CAM® woofer material in their in-wall CP-WT380IDC as they do the highly acclaimed Silver 500 floor-standing speaker. These speakers share a tonal "voice," and have similar power handling capabilities.

Like a capable tower speaker, high-end in-wall models let you get the most out of dynamic — and often sonically demanding — movie soundtracks. By comparison, modestly priced in-wall and ceiling speakers are often designed for background music. They can be subpar when it comes to home theater applications.

Comparison of standing and wall speakers.

These two Monitor Audio speakers have very different enclosures, but share the same high-end driver materials and sound quality.

5. Angled drivers direct sound toward you

I don't often recommend in-ceiling speakers as the front channels of a home theater system. That's because most models fire sound straight down from the front of the room. Sound feels like it's coming from above your TV, instead of directly from it. 

Thankfully, there are exceptions to this rule! Several of the speakers highlighted below are ideal for front-channel installations.

how the overhead speaker angles toward the listener

Some high-end ceiling speakers use drivers that are mounted at an angle. This brings sound toward you, creating a much more believable connection between what you're seeing and hearing.

Our top 4 in-wall and in-ceiling speaker systems

Here are our go-to choices for the best surround sound experience. Choose in-wall speakers for the front, and ceiling-mounted speakers for the rear, or vice versa — it ultimately comes down to what configuration best suits your room.

I recommend staying with the same brand for all of your speakers. This ensures tonal consistency ("voice matching") throughout the room. One exception is the subwoofer. Some brands don't offer an in-wall sub, so you'll have to choose a different brand or buy an out-of-the-wall sub.

If you want free, personalized advice putting together a system, just give us a shout.

1. PSB speaker system

Placement  In-wall In-ceiling 
Front L+R W-LCR 
Center channel  W-LCR 
Rear surround W-LCR 
Subwoofer Def Tech IWSub 10/10

Excellent overhead performance

PSB has a unique solution if you want an all in-ceiling home theater. The C-LCR's drivers are angled, which directs sound toward you. Use one for each of your three front channels to pull you into the action unfolding on the screen. 

PSB C-LCR in-ceiling speaker

PSB's uniquely designed C-LCR in-ceiling speaker uses angled drivers to bring sound down and toward you. It's ideal for the front channels of an in-ceiling home theater system.

Matching overhead surround speaker

The C-SUR is a matching surround speaker that also uses angled drivers for immersive overhead sound. This unique speaker can produce two distinct channels of surround effects from a single location. Use a C-SUR on each side of your room to cover all four surround channels in your system. Each channel fires sound in a different direction for maximum impact.

All of the PSB speakers listed above have built-in back-boxes. These enhance sonic performance and prevent sound from leaking into an adjacent room. 

2. Monitor Audio speaker system

Placement  In-wall In-ceiling 
Front L+R CP-WT380IDC 
Center channel  CP-WT240LCR CP-CT380IDC
Rear surround CP-WT380IDC 
Subwoofer IWS-10

Enjoy consistently excellent sound

Our customers love Monitor Audio's stellar bookshelf and floor-standing speakers. The company's Controlled Performance Series in-wall and in-ceiling speakers share many of the same design elements of Monitor's traditional speakers, including the company's signature gold dome tweeter and C-CAM driver material. 

Build a complete Monitor Audio system

I recommend using the three-way CP-WT380IDC for left and right channels of system. The CP-WT240LCR is an ideal center channel. For overhead surround effects, the bipole/dipole C380-FX offers stunning sonic immersion.

Monitor Audio C380-FX in-ceiling speaker

Want crazy-good overhead surround sound effects? Monitor Audio's C380-FX uses tweeters that fire in different directions for immersive overhead sound.

Round out your system with the IWS-10 in-wall subwoofer. It installs into the IWB-10 enclosure, and gets its power from the IWA-250 amplifier.

Each Controlled Performance speaker has an integrated back-box for the best performance.

3. MartinLogan speaker system

Placement  In-wall In-ceiling 
Front L+R Edge 
Center channel  Edge  
Rear surround Edge  
Subwoofer Def Tech IWSub 10/10

MartinLogan is famous in the audio world for their unique Electrostatic loudspeakers. They also create an exceptional line of custom-install speakers. Their Stealth Architectural Series consists of three models: the in-ceiling Vanquish, and the in-wall Edge and Axis

These three ultra-high performance speakers offer similar voicing to many of MartinLogan's box speakers. That's thanks in part to its Folded Motion® XT tweeter, which is the same one used in many of their popular floor-standing and bookshelf speakers. 

MartinLogan Axis in-wall speaker

MartinLogan's Axis in-wall speaker pairs superb sound quality with a clean, elegant look.

4. Dynaudio speaker system

Placement  In-wall In-ceiling 
Front L+R S4-W80 
Center channel  S4-W80 
Rear surround S4-W80 
Subwoofer Def Tech IWSub 10/10

Dynaudio has garnered worldwide recognition for their superb speaker lines for homes, cars, and recording studios. They also apply their design expertise to custom-install speakers. Mix and match the S4-W80 in-wall speaker with the S4-C80 and S4-DVC65 ceiling speakers for a killer surround sound system.

Dynaudio S4-W80 in-wall speaker

Dynaudio in-wall speakers use uniquely designed baffle latches for quick and simple tool-free mounting.

What about the bass?

Some of the brands I've listed offer a passive in-wall subwoofer for high-quality, hideaway bass. These subs each get power from an external monoblock amplifier. We sell some packages that include a sub and matching amp, or you can buy a standalone amp to drive your sub.

If you don't want to go in-wall with your sub, use a traditional powered subwoofer with your system with confidence.

Monitor Audio in-wall subwoofer and outboard amplifier

Monitor Audio's IWS-10 in-wall subwoofer pairs perfectly with their IWA-250 sub amp for potent hideaway bass.

Planning and installation tips

Here at Crutchfield we're big on DIY. So we want to make sure you have all of the information you need to get started.

Read my speaker placement and installation guide to learn how to map out the locations of your new custom-install system. And check out our in-wall wiring guide for a deep dive into how it all connects together.

We provide free lifetime tech support with your purchase. Our Virginia-based team is here seven days a week to help with any questions that you have.

Crutchfield Advisor Norm installing a wall speaker.

We have an in-house team of A/V experts that are here to help you before and after your purchase.

Get free personalized help from an A/V expert

Want some help choosing the right speakers for your new system? Give one of our friendly Advisors a call for free expert advice.

Last updated 8/14/2019
  • Jon from Boston

    Posted on 5/8/2019

    Hi Kramer, thanks for this very helpful article. Hoping you might expand on the Monitor Audio C380-FX recommendation for in-ceiling rear surrounds. Given the emphasis on the importance of the back box, I would have thought that one of CP-CTxxx series would be recommended for this application. This suggests that you favor the bipole/dipole feature in a tradeoff with the backbox. So I am curious whether your recommendation would change if my budget for surrounds only supports the C265-FX. In other words, would you recommend the CP-CTxxx series over the C265-FX for in-ceiling surrounds? Many thanks.

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield on 5/9/2019
    Hi Jon — great questions! Back-boxes are particularly helpful when there's an adjacent room where audio bleed-through could be an issue (like if a bedroom was directly above the home theater space, for example).

    Another scenario where back-boxes shine is when there's an open attic directly above where the in-ceiling speakers are installed. In that instance there isn't any contained sonic space for the speaker, so the back-box creates it instead. That's where the whole "controlled performance" aspect of that series comes into play.

    If neither of those examples apply to your room, you can go with the FX surrounds with confidence. They are fantastic speakers, and are purpose-built for providing the best sound effects possible. In that case I would indeed favor the bipole/dipole design over the back-box.
  • Shailesh

    Posted on 4/12/2019

    Hi Kramer, Top Article. Could you please guide me which In wall speaker should I opt for In Wall installation for my Bedroom. Main Purpose of those speakers would be for Music Listening and will be powered with Multi Zone Av Reciever,mostly Denon 4500. Between Klipsch and Polk which one you recommend. (Among this 2 brands which ones has good bass). Looking forward to your recommendation.

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield on 4/15/2019
    Hi Shailesh, I recommend choosing a model that has an 8" woofer for decent-quality bass. For the money, you'll be hard-pressed to beat the Polk Audio RC85i in-wall speakers. I have a pair of these in my living room and love how they sound with music.
  • wayne from San Francisco

    Posted on 2/17/2019

    For the Revel system, why do you prefer the C783 for the surround channel over the C763L for an in ceiling surround? If I'm planning to use C763L's for front Atmos would the C783 still be your choice for an in ceiling surround? Thanks

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield on 2/18/2019
    Hi Wayne, the C763L is an excellent front-channel speaker because of the way its drivers are angled to direct sound toward you from the front of the room. It could also sound nice as a surround speaker, but I don't think it would give you the broader, more diffuse sound that a traditional surround speaker aims to create. The C783 creates a wider soundfield, making it my preferred choice for surround effects in an in-ceiling Revel system.
  • Paul from chicago

    Posted on 12/30/2018

    Great info Kramer...can you recommend a 5.1 setup for in ceiling that's a bit more friendly on the bank? perhaps $1000-$1500 range not including a sub. Thx

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield on 12/31/2018
    Thanks Paul! I'm going to put you in touch with one of our advisors, who will reach out to get more info about your room.
  • James from Murrieta

    Posted on 11/22/2018

    Hello, I've heard some in-wall speakers at the local electronics store, and they sounded horrible. I really want in-wall speakers, but don't want to give up the sonic clarity and performance that floor standing speakers provide. I'm looking for in-wall speakers that will play very loudly and very clearly in a large room, mostly for listening of music with an occasional movie here and there. Type of music will range from U2 to Metallica. I plan to couple these L+R speakers with a SVS subwoofer. Will any of these 5 recommended in-wall speakers live up to my expectations, or are they really for background music or playing at soft or moderate levels only? I would appreciate your input. Thank you.

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield on 12/3/2018
    Hi James, the short answer is yes. All of these are really solid speakers, and when paired with a good sub will perform the way you're describing wanting. These top-end models largely use the same woofers and tweeters as the equivalent bookshelf/floor-standing speakers in the same lineup, so sonically you're getting a similar experience (only with less bass since they lack the larger enclosures that traditional box speakers have). Give us a shout if you'd like a personalized recommendation. Thanks!
  • Jack

    Posted on 11/2/2018

    Should I be using angled in ceiling speakers for Atmos applocation? My speaker manufacture (Focal) does make the matching in ceiling (300 ICW series) however they are not angled.

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield on 11/5/2018
    Hi Jack, the 300 ICW 8 is an excellent choice for overhead surround effects with your Focal system. The tweeter is aimable and has a level control switch, so you can tailor the output to your room.
  • Matt from Seven Hills

    Posted on 10/26/2018

    Looking for some help on some bathroom speakers....came across these: Looking for something that is not necessarily top top of the line, but might as well do it right...and also need to make sure they can survive in a room with a shower and the condensation!

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield on 10/29/2018
    Hi Matt, the RC80is are an excellent choice for your bathroom system! They are moisture-resistant and sound great — for the money they're unbeatable.
  • Scott C. from Charlotte

    Posted on 8/23/2018

    Thanks for your response, Kramer. I thought ya'll carried the Definitive UIW RCS II... Perhaps when I looked the last time (maybe 6 months ago)? My installer has access to the Definitive's and the Revel's. I have one more question... Do you have a Sub Woofer recommendation for a room which is located on a lower level, approximately 20x25' with a wall of windows, carpet, brick fireplace, and built-in book cases? I am stuck putting the TV above the fireplace (not happy about it) and running a LCR and Surround in-ceiling (because the wife hates the way floor standers look). The room is multi-use, but will be used primarily for viewing movies and football.

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield on 8/28/2018
    Hey again Scott, sorry for the delay in getting back to you (I've been out of the office).

    I would take a look at the popular Klipsch Reference R-112SW 12" sub. The bass from this sub is incredible, and it's even on sale right now.

    I highly recommend using the Auralex SubDude-II™ isolation platform underneath whichever sub you use. It will prevent your windows and fireplace doors from rattling (it's a real miracle-maker).
  • Scott C. from Charlotte

    Posted on 8/22/2018

    Are you not a fan of the Definitive in-ceiling options which are similar to the PSB's?

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield on 8/22/2018
    Hi Scott, we don't currently carry any DefTech in-ceiling speakers that use angled drivers the same way that PSB does. And for an overhead home theater it's important to be able to bring the sound down and toward you so it feels connected to what you're seeing on the screen. My vote would be to go with PSB models for the best performance.
  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/21/2018

    Hi Charles, I highly recommend choosing speakers that have integrated back-boxes. All of Monitor's Controlled Performance Series in-ceiling speakers have them built-in, as do two from PSB (linked above).

  • Charles from Green Bay

    Posted on 5/18/2018

    What ceiling speakers come with good enclosures so sound is improved? Or is it best to buy the enclosure separately?