In wall speakers vs. bookshelf speakers

Discussion in 'Speakers & Subwoofers' started by CraigO, Aug 3, 2005.

  1. CraigO

    CraigO Auditioning

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    For home theater and music how do the in-wall speakers compare to standard box type of speakers? The in-wall type are neater looking in terms of installation, but I am questioning how good they would sound out of such a small and flat box.

    Also, for in-wall speakers, how much bleed through of sound would I expect into the next room? I am in an apartment with a common wall to a neighbor, it is new construction so pretty sturdy - 5/8" drywall with 2x8" metal studs and R?? (fiberglass) insulation in the wall cavity.

    New to home theater and new to the HT forum.

    Thanks in Advance,

    Craig
     
  2. Wayne A. Pflughaupt

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    Welcome to the Forum, Craig!

    Generally, in-walls don’t sound as good or image as well as free-standing speakers. The sound quality issue comes from the lack of a substantial cabinet: Thin sheetrock will resonate more readily than a dense, well-designed MDF cabinet. The imaging issue comes with the tweeter being flush-mounted – you get the same effect by flush-mounting regular speakers, too.

    Not to say there aren’t any good-sounding in-walls out there, but you’ll find that the best ones will be way more expensive than a comparable free-standing speaker – perhaps 2-3 times as much.

    A good compromise would be to use regular speakers for the fronts, and in-walls for the rear surrounds. That would limit the number of “boxes” in the room, give the best performance where it’s most important (i.e., the front), and still give a satisfying surround sound experience.

    I wouldn’t do the in-wall thing with an adjoining neighbor. While the construction indeed sounds “sturdy,” that has nothing to do with soundproofing. Your typical in-wall insulation is not designed for soundproofing, it’s designed to slow down the transfer of temperature.

    Regards,
    Wayne A. Pflughaupt
     
  3. KeithMoechnig

    KeithMoechnig Stunt Coordinator

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    Are they really going to let you cut holes in the sheetrock? Anyways, like said, they normally don't sound as good. And your neighbor may not like them too much over a bookshelf speaker.
     
  4. Kevin C Brown

    Kevin C Brown Producer

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    The sound quality of in-wall speakers is also compromised due to reflection effects of the walls right next to the drivers. I.e., this is why most center channels that sit right on top of a TV don't sound very good. That large surface flush with the speaker's drivers really messes with the speaker's frequency response.

    Notice that whenever Home Theater Magazine reviews in-wall speakers, they do *not* include their typical freq response curves. I have complained time and time again about this, but they say that people who want to buy in-walls understand that their performance will be worse than a comparable bookshelf speaker.

    I always get a kick out of those "featured installations" where someone has a $10,000 pre/pro, a $5000 player, a $20,000 front projector, and in-wall speakers all around the room. Looks nice, sure, but will have poor sound quality.
     
  5. MikeNg

    MikeNg Second Unit

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    Welcome to the forum Craig.

    I wouldn't install inwalls in the apartment unless you get some sort of agreement from the landlord/apt. management about what happens with the speakers/wiring/etc. when you move and if you are responsible for any sheetrock repairs if/when you leave. If they say it must stay (since you are in essence modifying the living space and it's attached to the property) you should see if they'd spring for part/all of it. Be a negotiator!

    Also given the close proximation of the back of the speaker driver to your neighbor's wall (IE their ear!), he/she/they won't appreciate it when you're watching Master and Commander at 2AM.

    I say get some good bookshelves and if you're concerned about sound bleeding through the walls, treat them will sound insulation.

    Mike
     
  6. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    Most apartments I've lived would never allow in-wall speakers, so unless you've already asked or you own the place (condo), then I would forget about that one.

    Not to mention what Kevin already said, in walls are not going to sound as good as free standing speakers. In ceilings for surrounds are acceptable, but I always recommend against in-walls for the front stage.
     
  7. CraigO

    CraigO Auditioning

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    Thanks for the advice.

    I do own my condo, and watched it getting built, so have a good idea of the construction. Already have made more than a few holes of my own! :)

    Makes sense, I always see the in-wall speakers, but don't really know how they sound. I do like to listen to music and so I think having better sounding speakers would make me a lot happier.

    I think I will opt for the bookshelf speakers with wall mounting brackets. Maybe in ceiling speakers for the back speakers.

    Next question would be the type of speakers to target for the main front speakers - something in the $500 range.
     
  8. Kevin C Brown

    Kevin C Brown Producer

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    Craig- One thing that might also help: if you are going to put bookshelf speakers close to a wall, look for those speakers that are ported in front. Helps sound quality.
     
  9. mrpaulr

    mrpaulr Auditioning

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    Well Craig, I think it's important to make a few quantitative distinctions here. Everyone is talking about poorer sound quality without really quantifying what that means, not to mention that a great deal of "experts" can't tell the difference between a Neuman mic that costs 2800$ and a decent 300$ mic as their sound quality difference may be in the area of 3-5%...


    So yeah, it's "poorer" but let's get real and ask the following: does that really matter?


    Bookshelf speakers have enclosures that are designed to limit the rear reflection of sound meeting up with the front and causing sound-cancellation (this is remaining top-level without too much mumbo jumbo). They also help to keep the drivers cool while they are operating. Some advanced designs are really engineered into the speaker and are a part of the sound production itself. Those are typically very pricey speakers indeed! But you are not paying for the parts, you are paying for the RnD that went into developing it.


    An issue to consider with in-wall is if you are mounting on an outside wall. You must maintain a vapor barrier and enclose the speaker as well, so as to prevent corrosion among other nasty things.


    Could you take a bookshelf speaker and convert it into an in-wall? Most definitely. You will likely loose some sound quality, but if you frame it in correctly, you can mitigate a great deal of that. One good idea is to use Roxul or some other insulation that also has sound deadening qualities around the speaker to act as a defacto enclosure. Or, you could technically just create an in-wall shelf and slide the speaker into it and leave it like that. It's a pain though, as most bookshelves are 6" to 6.5" in depth. 2x4s are 3.5"... What is really important is that you want to minimize speaker contact with the sheetrock. Gypsum board is highly porous and, like a porous wood, will reverberate sound quite well. That's not good, unless you want to convert your wall into a subwoofer, which you can do! haha


    So create a floating insert if possible with alternating studs that would allow you to insulate in between. I can draw out a quick design if you like later on but it's basically the same principle as soundproofing stud walls. Google it for more info.


    You won't ever get optimal results with in-walls, but you will likely get anywhere from 75-90% if you do it correctly and take the time to plan, plan, plan. Measure 8 times, cut 0.5, then measure again, repeat. :) This is very precise business more the most part. Just remember that the rule of sound boils down to dispersion, absorption, reflection and direction.


    Hope this helps, and I meant no offense to all of you other guys/gals who took the time to try and help him. I just find people tend to want more explanation than less when they come into a forum. So, to me, just saying things like "don't do it; it sucks" just doesn't seem like a useful comment.
     
  10. David Willow

    David Willow Babbling Idiot
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    That's a great post Paul, but you are responding nearly 6 years late. Where have you been all this time? :D
     
  11. Jim Mcc

    Jim Mcc Producer

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    [/quote]
     
  12. misselis

    misselis Auditioning

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    Mr.Paul-

    Your response was Just in Time: I'm looking at my old Bose (20x10) b.shelves wondering what if I dismantle them and re-hang them only w/out their ugly wood box?-
    I do not think I will now. And I'll even leave my even uglier polks as they are, because.... 10% is huge variation! After experiencing the leaps in audio quality between vinyl to my first cd and then analog to full digital..... I just need to remember: FORM follows FUNCTION.... if it's visual....it's a different story but full rich sound.... I can close my eyes.

    Now- is hanging speakers a compromise to quality? mine are anchored (have been 3 years) solidly into brick...

    thanks
     
  13. David Willow

    David Willow Babbling Idiot
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    Elissa,


    How much hanging changes the sound really depends on the speaker design. Some are ported so hanging will destroy the sound. Some are designed to be pointed at the listener so hanging will prevent them from performing optimally. Others really need space to work well. Also keep in mind the closer you get to the wall the bigger impact the wall has on bass response. Sometimes that's a good thing while other times it makes things 'boomy'.


    If you must put the speakers on the wall*, get ones that were designed for such placement.


    *IMO, it is never a good design to put speakers on the wall unless sound quality is not your main concern.
     
  14. CB750

    CB750 Screenwriter

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    Paul great post


    You explained the draw backs of in wall speakers well beyond the normal poor sound quality. It puts in-walls in their proper prospective as since they are not equal to stand alone speakers the only reason one should purchase them is Vanity, because they like the look. We should reference your post when the question of in-walls and in-ceilings come up again.


    Elissa,

    What David said is true and explains why many satellites speaker manufactures provide or recommend wall mounts which move the speakers a few inches off the wall so that it can breath. In addition it's not the simple act of hanging speakers that may effect sound but it is the height that you place them. It is generally recommended that book shelf and satellite speakers be placed so that they are ear level when seated. Being a skeptical person and since my satellites were going to be placed on built in book shelves on either side of my TV I experimented, with various heights and sure enough my system sounded best with the L & R at ear level 7' apart, with the center channel under the screen. All other possible arrangements did not sound as good with the speakers being at ceiling level the worst. BTW I have an old set of 1970 vintage Bose 901's, with the walnut panels and I find the quality of the wood and workmanship to be quite good.
     

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