Architectural speakers – ceilings and walls wired for sound

Lights, power and airconditioning have been built into the walls of our homes for decades, so why not sound? Anthony Fordham takes an inside look at architectural speakers.

No modern homeowner would tolerate being squeezed out of their living-room by mounting piles of hardware. Think about it: there’s electrical cabling, lighting, and climate control in the form of heating and cooling. Yet for decades now your lights, power and air conditioning have all been built into the walls in the form of recessed downlights, power points, and ducted gas heating or air-con.

So why not your entertainment hardware as well? Dealing with the TV is simple: grab a projector and install a retractable screen in the ceiling – or mount a slim plasma or LCD to the wall.

Meanwhile, speakers still sit around the lounge room taking up valuable space and crimping your minimalist Scandinavian-inspired style.

Back in the days of stereo, even big powerful speakers didn’t take up too much room. After all, there were only two of them. But a serious AV enthusiast now demands increasing numbers of speakers to service their 7.1 channel receiver.

Naturally this can leave even the most generous of entertainment spaces rather crowded. Especially if you crave power and want to output several hundred watts of audio through serious, expensive speakers.

There is an answer to this mounting problem. Traditional speaker manufacturers, along with veterans in the field, now produce speakers specifically designed to be installed in walls and ceilings. Properly called architectural speakers, in-wall and in-ceiling units can perform almost identically to floorstanding box speakers, but take up no floor space and can be styled to be virtually invisible.If installing architectural speakers sounds like the perfect solution to the endless fights in your household about exactly how much the AV should be allowed to dominate the living room, then read on!

The rise of architectural speakers

According to the manufacturers of architectural speakers, home theatre has very much been the driving force behind these units.

Prior to the rise of surround sound, in-wall installations were limited to very high-end audiophiles or people with a lot of cash and a desire to spend it on making their home a Jetsons-like future house. Oh yes, and the DIY crowd who often ended up with holes in the ceiling, or ugly box speakers glued into ragged gashes in the walls.

Today, an increasing number of new home builders and renovators are incorporating media rooms into their designs. And while these rooms have plenty of space at the front for centre and stereo speakers, having to position side and rear speakers can interfere with chair positioning.

The solution is to build surround speakers into the walls. It’s even possible to completely hide the speakers behind acoustically-invisible cloth panels.

In the Australian market, about 70 percent of architectural speaker installations are done for surround setups, and almost all installations are done to save on floor space or to preserve an aesthetic ideal.

Even though an in-wall installation will costs thousands more than acoustically-equivalent floorstanding box speakers, to owners of these systems the aesthetic value of hiding all that hardware in the walls along with the heating ducts and electrical wiring is more than worth the expense.