Selecting Speakers for the Living Room
The living room is the focal point of your home’s interior. It makes a statement about you, your family, and your view of the world. Integrating speakers into this environment requires a special sensitivity. Blending in with the décor and architecture is usually the primary concern. But keep in mind that the living room is often used for entertaining, so you’re going to want provide your guests with quality sound. Putting all this together might seem difficult at first, but rest assured that Sound Advice has the right solutions— speakers that not only sound great, but also comfortably blend in with fine furnishings.
How would you like to have your cake and eat it too? Well, we can show you how. For example, in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, also known as architectural speakers, install directly in your walls and ceilings. After we paint them to match the room’s color, they virtually disappear into the décor.
Fabulous sound can look good too
Architectural speakers from the top brands offer truly superb sound performance. At Sound Advice, we audition new ones all the time and we’re constantly amazed at how great they are. The technology in a good quality architectural speaker now mimics that of the finest conventional box speakers. Those days of cheap, flimsy commercial PA speakers are thankfully over, at least at here at Sound Advice.
Go entirely invisible
There’s a new category of living room speakers that when installed are completely, 100% invisible.
Hide them on a shelf
Sound Advice also offers many quality speakers that comfortably sit on a shelf. Choose from three-piece subwoofer/satellite speaker systems or conventional two-piece bookshelf speaker systems. Either way, you’ll enjoy superb sound that’s easy on the budget and simple to install.
Be bold and show them off
Our very best speakers are the large floor-standing models. Before you dismiss them as being obtrusive, keep in mind that many are actually quite handsome and boast designs that can complement the furnishings around them. Also, many floor-standing speakers have been designed to have as small a footprint as possible, freeing up valuable living room floor space. If you’re really into great sound, keep floor-standing speakers in mind for your living room.
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A little about how speakers work
Sound is simply vibrating air. So it makes sense that for a speaker to produce sound, it must make the air around it vibrate. That in a nutshell is what a speaker does. But how it makes air vibrate is a bit more involved. Since a little inside knowledge about sound and speaker design can be helpful when selecting speakers for your home entertainment system, let’s take a closer look. I promise it won’t be too complicated.
Show and tell
A speaker makes sound by vibrating the air around it. Here’s a fun experiment. Take a metal ruler and hold it securely on the edge of a table with about 9-10 inches of the ruler hanging free. Now, pluck the free edge of ruler with a finger like you would pluck a guitar string. The ruler will vibrate up and down. Place your ear near the vibrating ruler; you should hear a distinct tone. Next, shorten how much of the ruler hangs over the edge of the table. Pluck it again. Notice how the tone is higher pitched. If you experiment with different lengths, you’ll notice how the pitch changes each time.
We can learn three things that apply to speakers from this little demonstration. First, a vibrating object creates sound. Second, a large vibrating object creates a low-pitched sound. Third, a small vibrating object creates a higher pitched sound.
Woofers, tweeters, and other animal sounds
In a speaker system, the objects that vibrate are called the drivers. From our experiment, we learned that it takes a large object to produce low-pitched tones and a small object to produce high-pitched tones.
If a speaker system has only one driver and it’s large, it will only accurately reproduce the low tones. The high tones will be lacking. Similarly, if a speaker system has only one small driver, the high tones will be crisp and clear, but the low will be lacking. The solution is to have both large and small drivers, each a specializing in a particular range of sounds.
The big driver is called the woofer (a large dog’s woof can be very low pitched). The little driver is called a tweeter (you can probably figure that one out). Some speaker systems can have even more drivers; each one specialized for a particular range of sounds. But the woofer and tweeter are probably the most important.
As we have learned, the size of the woofer helps determine how well the speaker produces the deeper low tones, or as we call it, the bass. That’s why larger speakers usually sound fuller and richer than smaller ones.
There’s one more important part of a speaker that needs mentioning. It’s called the crossover. Think of it as a traffic cop. Like a cop directing traffic left, right or straight ahead, the crossover directs the high sounds to the tweeter and the low sounds to the woofer. It’s a very important part of the speaker and greatly influences the system’s overall sound performance.
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Surround sound adds an exciting dimension to home theater. However, sometimes it’s just not possible to accommodate the five to seven speakers needed to create the full surround effects. There might be a problem running the wires to the speakers, or maybe there’s simply not enough space to put them all. But without surround sound, you’re only getting half of the experience. What are you supposed to do?
All this from a single speaker?
A single sound bar takes the place of multiple speakers. In a typical surround sound speaker system, there are three speakers in the front (the left, center, and right channels) plus two or four speakers in the back (the surround effects channels). A three-channel sound bar replaces all three front speakers, but you still need the rear speakers.
A five-channel sound bar does it all—full surround sound from a single easy to install speaker. This kind of sound bar uses multiple speaker arrays and sophisticated electronics processing to simulate the surround effects, including the rear channels. I’ll be the first to say that a well-designed separate speaker surround sound system is clearly superior. The way you sense sounds coming from all around you is more realistic and engaging. That being said, I’ve also heard sound bars that are truly remarkable. How they can make that much sound from a single speaker is amazing, but true.
Powered or un-powered?
A powered sound bar is a totally self-contained surround sound system that is connected directly to your home theater television, DVD and Blu-ray player, and video game. There are two big advantages of a powered sound bar. First, there’s no more equipment to buy and install. Everything you need comes in one box. That’s a pretty strong advantage. Second, the built-in amplification and processing is specially tuned for the particular sound bar, increasing its sound performance to much higher levels.
An un-powered sound bar connects to a home theater receiver, just like regular speakers, but there’s only one of them. If you already own a home theater receiver, an un-powered sound bar might make more sense. And even if you don’t already own a home theater receiver, an un-powered sound bar lets you purchase a separate receiver that may accommodate your room and your components better than a powered sound bar.
Does a sound bar make sense for me?
Maybe, but your home theater room should be enclosed with four walls. A sound bar in an open floor plan room doesn’t work very well. That’s because to simulate the rear effects sounds, the sound bar reflects sounds off of the wall surfaces. No reflective wall surfaces—no surround sound
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In-Wall and In-Ceiling Speakers
When I say the word speaker, what comes to mind? Big boxes sitting on the floor that make a great place to put a lamp? Smaller boxes on bookshelves collecting dust?
Like many of us, you’ve probably spent a great deal of time and resources making your home look good. You hired a designer. You carefully chose the right furniture, the proper fabrics, and the best wall colors. Every architectural detail contributes to create a beautiful, cohesive design for you, your family, and friends to enjoy.
Now it’s time to add the home entertainment system. The flat-panel TV looks like a painting on the wall, so it blends in just fine. But what about the speakers? They’re another story. Big speakers are simply out of the question. They will ruin the aesthetics that you worked so hard to achieve.
An elegant solution
You can have your cake and eat it too. In-wall and in-ceiling speakers, also known as architectural speakers, are installed directly into walls and ceilings. When installed and painted to match the wall color, they blend in unobtrusively with the room’s décor.
But are they any good?
The good ones are very good indeed. The technologies found in good quality architectural speakers are now as good as the best conventional box speakers. But like most products, there are substandard in-wall and in-ceiling speakers out there. So make sure you buy from a reputable dealer like Sound Advice where they recommend and install the best brands.
What’s the difference between an in-wall and in-ceiling speaker?
The most obvious difference is the shape. Most in-wall speakers have a rectangular shape, while in-ceiling speakers are usually round. A feature you might want to consider that is only found on some in-ceiling speakers is a pivoting speaker mechanism. For the best possible sound, an in-ceiling speaker should be positioned over the listening area. But often this is not possible. With a pivoting speaker, the ceiling-mount speaker can be installed away from the listening area, and then “aimed” back in towards the listeners.
Can I use architectural speakers for home theater?
You bet. And some of them rival the best conventional speakers. But you should look for makes that offer specific versions for the front and rear surround effects speakers. That optimizes them for the home theater application.
For music, architecturally speakers are normally installed in stereo pairs: a left and a right speaker. But sometimes a room is just too small for two speakers. So in foyers, bathrooms, hallways and even small kitchens, we recommend stereo input speakers— a single speaker that reproduces a satisfying stereo effect.
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There are “invisible” speakers. And then there are INVISIBLE speakers. In-wall and in-ceiling speakers are sometimes referred to as “invisible,” but that would be stretching the truth. Yes, they are unobtrusive and discrete, but you can still plainly see their mounting flanges and speaker grilles even when painted. Tiny subwoofer/satellite speaker systems are sometimes described as “invisible.” Again, that could be considered a bit of marketing spin. This tutorial is about real INVISBLE speakers: speakers that are completely, totally, 100% invisible to the listener. How’s that possible? Glad you asked.
The secret to invisibility
In one aspect, an invisible speaker is similar to a standard in-wall or in-ceiling speaker. They all require a hole to be cut through the drywall. But that’s where the similarity ends. In a standard in-wall or in-ceiling speaker, the woofers and tweeters create sound just like they do in any conventional speaker, with their sound output escaping through the holes of the speaker grille. That’s why they aren’t truly invisible.
In a true invisible speaker, the woofers and tweeters are physically attached to a flat panel that looks like standard drywall material. When the woofers and tweeters vibrate, the flat panel vibrates, which then creates the sounds that you want hear. If the design is carefully crafted, there is very little difference in sound performance from the woofers and tweeters by themselves, and then coupled to the flat-panel.
But what really makes the speaker invisible is in the way it’s installed. A hole is precisely cut in the drywall, the invisible speaker is mounted in the hole so the flat panel material mates with the drywall that surrounds it, and then both are joined together using traditional drywall joining materials and techniques. When finished, the invisible speaker will be totally seamless with the wall that surrounds it. Viola. Even the cloaking device from Star Trek couldn’t do better.
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