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Installing in-wall and ceiling speakers

A step-by-step, do-it-yourself guide

Tara W. has worked for Crutchfield since 2004. She writes about whole-house music and video gear, and works on Crutchfield's video team.

More from Tara W.

Installing your own in-wall, in-ceiling, or on-wall speakers can give you a good-looking, great-sounding audio system. This guide includes detailed information to help you install in-wall, in-ceiling, or on-wall speakers.

If you plan to install speakers in a new or finished home where you'll need to run in-wall wire, read our article on wiring your home. It'll give you information on planning your wire route, the tools you'll need, and how to install in-wall wiring.

Before you get started

Some people don't feel comfortable with certain aspects of the in-wall or in-ceiling speaker installation process. If you'd prefer not to do it yourself, call our A/V Designers at 1-800-555-9407 and we'll set you up with a certified professional installer in your area. (Installer service available for single-room installations only.)

Make sure that you understand local building and fire codes. Also, make sure you know what's behind the wall or ceiling into which you plan to install your speakers.

Preparation and planning

Speaker placement

Generally, you'll want to choose your speaker locations before buying speakers. If you're still in the process of deciding where to put your in-wall, in-ceiling, or on-wall speakers, or if you want some detailed placement tips, check out our article on in-wall, in-ceiling, and on-wall speaker placement.

For tips on placing in-wall or in-floor subs, see our article on home theater speaker placement.

Making sure your speaker locations will work

After you've chosen your ideal speaker locations, use a stud finder to locate the studs in that area of the wall or ceiling. We suggest you use a high-quality stud finder than can detect studs, AC cables, and water pipes so that you can avoid these in-wall obstacles.

Remember that in-wall and in-ceiling speakers need to fit between two studs or joists (preferably in the middle of that space for the best performance); on-wall speakers need to be drilled into a stud, or into the wall using an anchor.

Always inspect as much as possible without making a hole. Explore your crawlspace or ceiling in an unfinished segment of your basement. Try to detect which way joists run and where empty wall space between studs might be.

By inspecting from your crawlspace or attic, you can identify which wall locations are empty of water pipes and electrical wires. However, you still can't know what's behind the wall with absolute certainty. You must be prepared to cut and patch exploratory holes.

In-wall/in-ceiling speakers

To determine if each of your in-wall or in-ceiling speaker locations will work, you'll need to drill a pilot hole in addition to using a high-quality stud finder. This is a small hole, drilled in the middle of where you want to place your speaker.

Start by shutting off the power

Shut off power in the area where you'll be drilling your pilot hole. Use caution when drilling, so you don't plunge your bit into a pipe or electrical conduit. Next, insert a sturdy wire (such as a bent coat hanger) into the pilot hole, and explore the surrounding area, making sure there's enough room for the speaker.

Check the mounting dimensions listed in the owner's manual, including any required brackets, and make sure there's enough space in the wall to accommodate the width, height, and depth.

Don't cut any drywall until you've drilled pilot holes and checked all of your desired speaker locations. If one of your locations doesn't work out, you might want to move one or more of the others.

Once you know that each of your speaker locations will work, trace the template that came with your speaker onto the wall or ceiling. Use a level to make sure it's positioned properly. You may want to tape it to the wall to make sure it doesn't move while you work.

Speaker installation guide - retrofitting

Use a sturdy wire (such as a bent coat hanger) to explore your pilot holes. Be sure there will be enough room (width, height, and depth) to install your speakers.

If you're installing an in-wall or in-floor subwoofer, the process will be very similar. You'll need to locate an area of wall or floor between two studs or joists that is capable of fitting your subwoofer. Due to the size of in-wall subs, you may need to drill multiple pilot holes, or cut a larger exploratory hole so that you can ensure that the space will be big enough. Next, trace the template that came with your sub.

On-wall speakers

It's easier to determine if your on-wall locations will work. If your speaker needs to be mounted to a stud, use a high-quality stud finder to locate the studs nearest to your ideal spot and mark the location. When you mount the bracket, you'll want it centered on the stud.

If you're going to secure your speaker to the wall using anchors, mark your ideal locations, and use your stud finder to check for any obstructions. You can find anchors at your local hardware store.

Finding pre-wired speaker wire

If you or someone else pre-wired your house during construction, and you're going to install the speakers yourself, you'll need some kind of documentation to show you where the wire is behind the wall.

You can reference photographs of the wire run before the drywall went up, or the wiring plan for your speakers or similar documentation (which should be available from the electrician or custom installer who ran the wire). That way you'll know where to find the wire — as well as where not to cut so you don't damage it.

Of course, if you used a rough-in bracket while your house was being built, you won't have any trouble finding your pre-wired speaker wire. Rough-in brackets attach to exposed studs and can be used as place-holders. That way, when the drywallers install the drywall, they'll cut holes in the sheetrock around the bracket (just like they do for light fixtures, electrical sockets, etc.). With the speaker hole already cut, and the speaker wire just inside, there's no guesswork.

If you're still in the process of planning your installation, and haven't run in-wall speaker wire yet, see our guide to in-wall wiring for detailed info.

Cutting drywall

After you've checked all of your speaker locations and traced the templates, you can begin cutting the drywall. If it's a rectangular speaker, start by drilling two small holes in opposite corners; if it's round, drill two small holes on opposite sides. Next, using your drywall saw, start from one hole, and work around the outline to the next.

Use a hand-held drywall saw (not an electric one) and cut slowly. Cut the drywall in one piece, on an inward slant, so that it's easier to patch later if necessary. If you don't need to patch the hole, just remove any excess material before installing the speaker. Be sure you know what's behind the drywall before you cut. 

Installing your speakers

In-wall/in-ceiling speakers

Tools you'll need:

  • a drywall saw
  • a utility knife
  • wire strippers (for the gauge of wire you're working with)
  • a Phillips screwdriver and/or drill (check the owner's manual)
  • masking tape
  • a pencil
  • a level
  • a chalk line or laser level (especially for in-ceiling speakers)
  • measuring tape
  • a scribe (for circular speakers)

Speaker installation guide - retrofitting

Installing in-wall or in-ceiling speakers: Once you've chosen your speaker locations, check for obstructions using your stud finder. Drill a small test hole, and probe the area behind it using a sturdy wire, making sure the area's clear before cutting. To install the speaker: A. Level the template. B. Trace the template. C. Cut the drywall out in one piece. Pull out your dressed loop of speaker wire. Strip the wire and attach speaker connectors, if you like. D. After you connect the wires to the speaker, screw the speaker and frame into the wall, but not too tightly or the grille won't fit properly. E. Gently place the grille into the frame. F. Enjoy the finished product.

Installing your speaker into the wall

The basic idea behind all in-wall and in-ceiling speakers is that the speaker is held in place by sandwiching the drywall. A frame around the speaker conceals the cutout in the drywall and presses against the front of the wall.

Behind the wall, the speaker has either a set of flip-out "dog ear" brackets or a bracket that screws into the frame. You should read and follow the manufacturer's instructions precisely. Here are some tips that may help (if they don't conflict with your speaker installation manual):

  • Put some insulation in the wall cavity before you install the speaker to improve the sound. Put the same amount of insulation in each speaker cavity — don't pack it tightly in one and loosely in another.
  • Check for any tone controls on the speaker. If the speaker is within a foot of a corner, set the bass controls to the "minus" or "cut" position. If the room is going to be very "live," without rugs or a lot of upholstered furniture to absorb sound, set the treble control to the "minus" or "cut" position.
  • Don't over-tighten the screws. If you over-tighten the screws, the speaker frame may bend, or the drywall may crack. If you're using a powered screwdriver, set the torque setting on low. Let the powered screwdriver do most of the work, then do the final tightening by hand.
  • If the speaker has any tone controls or has a pivoting tweeter, leave the grille off until you can listen to the speaker. Once you have adjusted the speaker, install the grille.
  • Be careful handling the grilles. If they get bent, it's very difficult to use them. Grilles friction-fit into the installed speakers. Do not use excessive force to install them. If the grille does not slip in, try loosening the mounting screws before resorting to muscle to install them. Work a little in at a time, starting at one corner and gradually moving around the speaker.

Drop ceiling installation

Installing speakers in drop ceilings is slightly different than normal in-wall or in-ceiling installations. Your required materials and steps will vary depending on the type of drop ceiling in your home.

  • For installations in high-quality press board drop ceilings, you'll be able to cut into the sturdy ceiling panels, use the tools listed above, and follow the directions above, too.
  • For installations in thinner, foam-panel drop ceilings, you'll want to place a relatively large piece of plywood above the foam panel, and cut a hole for the speaker through both pieces. The sturdier plywood will support and distribute the weight of the speaker, while still giving you a nice, clean look. This installation technique can also be used in patios and four-season rooms that don't have a supportive ceiling structure.

Installing on-wall speakers

Tools you'll need:
  • a utility knife
  • wire strippers (for the gauge of wire you're working with)
  • a Phillips screwdriver and/or drill (check the owner's manual)
  • a pencil
  • a level
  • a tape measure

On-wall speaker brackets need to be drilled directly into a stud, or possibly drilled into the wall using wall anchors. If you're using in-wall wire, you'll need to make a small hole close to the speaker bracket for the wire to exit the wall.

Since the speaker wire will likely be coming out of the wall directly behind the on-wall speaker, this hole will probably be concealed by the bracket. For this reason, many people choose not to mount a wall plate. You'll just need a hole large enough to pass your speaker wire without pinching it.

Drill a pilot hole first

Start by drilling a pilot hole and exploring the space behind the wall using a piece of sturdy wire (such as a bent coat hanger). Check for any obstructions. When you've confirmed that the area behind the wall is clear, cut a small hole to retrieve your in-wall wire.

Cut the drywall on an inward slant so that it'll be easier to patch when you're done. If you have detailed measurements and photographs of your in-wall wire, it may be as simple as reaching into the wall and pulling out the wire. But finding your in-wall wire isn't always that straightforward, and you may have to cut another hole to reach it. Be prepared to patch and repair your drywall. For drywall repair and cleanup tips, see our in-wall wiring guide.

If you're running wire on the outside of the wall, you'll probably want secure it to the wall within 2-3" of the speaker for a clean look. Use flat or round cable clamps (depending on the shape of your cable). These plastic clamps nail easily to your wall.

Finally, it's time to attach the bracket to the wall, wire your speaker, and attach your speaker to the bracket. This process can vary slightly between mounting brackets, so be sure to follow the installation instructions in the owner's manual.

Speaker grille and frame painting

If you're going to paint the speaker grilles and frames yourself, here are some tips:

  1. If your speakers are already installed, remove the grille from the speaker. They must be painted separately with paint that's been thinned. Only use thinners recommended by the paint manufacturer.
  2. Clean surfaces with a damp cloth before masking.
  3. Protect the speaker drivers. The woofer and tweeter cannot be painted. You must mask them off. Some speakers come with paint masks in the box. If not, use paper and masking tape to create your own mask. Mask off the entire baffle (the area behind the grille). Don't use tape directly on the drivers.
Speaker installation guide - retrofitting  Many speakers come with paint masks to protect the drivers.
  1. If you're painting an on-wall speaker and bracket, mask off the speaker wire connections, and any threaded parts on the speaker and the bracket.
  2. Use a primer for best paint adhesion.
  3. It's best to apply the paint in several light coats, and spraying the paint on will work better than using a paint brush. When you paint the grilles, use thinner paint and take care not to clog the holes of the grille.
  4. Wait until paint is completely dry before removing any masking.

If you're installing your speakers in new construction, you may be working with your builder and painters to paint your speaker grilles to match your room. Be sure to schedule a trip to install them before the painters begin work at your home.

With some speakers you must install the speaker and the frames and grilles; with others you can simply install the frame and grille, keeping the expensive speaker portion safely at home until the house is finished.

Working with your painter

Discuss painting the speakers with your painter and your builder. Place the grilles for each room's speakers in that room with notes attached identifying the grilles as speaker grilles to be painted. Plan to return to the site as soon as the grilles are all painted to install the grilles into the frames.

Don't expect the grilles to stay clean and unscratched if you leave them lying around the construction site. Install them as soon as you can. Since the grilles simply friction-fit into the frames, it's typically a quick visit with a ladder and no tools.

Free personalized advice

Have questions about choosing the right equipment for your home? Our expert Advisors know the gear inside and out. Call, email, or chat with us today. Free lifetime tech support is included with your Crutchfield purchase.

I love helping others bring their passion of audio into their home!

Jane, Crutchfield Advisor


    Posted on 5/3/2015

    How do you connect the built in wall speakers to my Sony TV?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/4/2015

    Sam, few, if any, modern TVs have outputs that can connect directly to external speakers. The TV would first need to be connected to a receiver or amplifier, then from there, to the in-wall speakers. For suggestions and options, please give our advisors a call at the number on top of this page.

  • CJ from Battleground

    Posted on 8/9/2015

    Is there any instruction to install the in wall speakers into the pre-construction mounts. And how to deal with the insulation inthe wall?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/10/2015

    CJ, The pre-construction brackets usually come with mounting instructions. As for insulation, it depends on the type. You might want to give our advisors a call to see what the best options are in your circumstances.

  • Rocky

    Posted on 8/13/2015

    (1) Can I install the "in wall speakers" in the brick wall? (2) Is there any chance to drop in performance compare to the same level, type, size and capacity of bookshelf speakers? (3) If I buy the "Polk 265rt" series speakers as front L & R, then what are the preferable models for centre, rear surround and the sub woofer of the same brand?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/13/2015

    Rocky, These are all really good questions. I would suggest calling or chatting online with our advisors to get answers and expert recommendations for your setup.

  • James Duncan from Florence

    Posted on 8/13/2015

    Ceiling mount, can I use plastic to stop insulation from falling into specker. Or should I build a box

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/14/2015

    James, Plastic should be fine (just don't let it touch the speaker or you may get unwanted vibration). A box would probably be better.

  • David Schirm from Harrisburg PA

    Posted on 10/30/2015

    Getting a rattle at low frequency in my new Boston Acoustic speakers. I purchased the speakers from Crutchfield in the spring but just heard them today when I moved into our new house. I did not install the speakers as this was done by builder. Any suggestions?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/2/2015

    Hi David, It sounds like things may just need a little tightening up. Since you purchased your speakers from us, I would recommend giving our tech department a call for some tips and pointers to take care of that.

  • Eric from Winter Garden

    Posted on 8/19/2016

    Pre-wiring for home theater in new construction. There are obstructions in ideal speaker placement areas (flexible air ducts and electrical conduit). How can I protect in-ceiling speakers (Planning on Polk MC80's) from these? What potential hazards are there?

  • Joshua Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/6/2016

    Eric, please accept my apologies for the delayed response to your question. It got caught in a filter, and it just got rescued this morning!

    I checked with our A/V Design Group, and the safest installation involves avoiding electrical runs completely.

    This Russound enclosure can protect the speaker from the air duct and prevents speaker rattle. But the only alternative for the electrical conduit is to avoid it. We recommend not passing any high-voltage wiring over the speaker or its enclosure.

    I recommend giving our A/V Design folks a call. They can help you work out the specifics of the system planning.

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