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Motorized Custom Speaker Choices Rev Up

8/08/2005 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Installers, start your engines.

KEF America and SpeakerCraft expect to accelerate their sales with motorized in-ceiling speakers that combine sonic advantages with a little flash. When active, the flush-mount speakers extend outward from the ceiling to deliver movie soundtracks and music to a room's listening positions.

KEF was the first company to launch a motorized in-ceiling speaker for residential use, having unveiled its first such models more than five years ago. Now it's expanding its selection to two models from one model and adding its first motorized in-wall speaker for surround-sound channels. For its part, SpeakerCraft has become the second company to offer motorized in-ceiling speakers with the launch of its first three models.

All of the in-ceiling speakers tap into growing demand for in-ceiling speakers in home theater applications, driven largely by interior designers' aesthetic concerns, without compromising sound quality.

Traditional in-ceiling speakers usually fire straight down at the floor. In recent years, suppliers such as SpeakerCraft have unveiled flush-mount in-ceiling speakers that use woofers and tweeters that can be aimed to point the drivers toward the listening area. One company, Sonance, offers a speaker with oval-shaped grille and fixed drivers mounted on the back end of a curved enclosure to point toward the listening area without being blocked by the ceiling.

Although motorized models are more costly and require more installation time than drivers that can be aimed, KEF and SpeakerCraft see advantages to motorization. “They provide far more effective positioning,” a KEF spokesman said. “If the speaker is flush, you can aim the drivers only so much.”

KEF's new Ci380, shipping in mid-September at $500 each, consists of three 3-inch drivers whose shared baffle swings down up to 45 degrees to deliver sound to the listening position. It's intended mainly for home theater use. It joins a five-year-old model, the $500-each two-way Ci 200QT, which is much larger and delivers deeper bass response through its larger woofer and concentrically mounted tweeter.

The 380's drivers consists of two woofers flanked by a 3-inch, two-way driver with concentrically mounted tweeter. The 380 delivers 80Hz-30kHz +/-3dB

In launching what could be the first motorized in-wall speaker, KEF is targeting surround-channel applications for the $500-each Ci FDT, said to combine the virtues of dipolar surround speakers with the aesthetic benefits of a flush-mount, in-wall design that doesn't protrude from the wall like other dipolar in-walls. It ships in September.

Here's how the Ci FDT works:

A 5-inch cone woofer/midrange driver mounts flush in the wall, but an NXT-technology flat-panel speaker swings out and slides into a position perpendicular with the wall and fires toward the front and back of the room. The NXT panel's inherent dipole response “envelopes the audience with uniform surround sound effects,” yielding a “deep and stable soundstage,” the company said.

In its motorized-speaker launch, SpeakerCraft is offering three models that drop down from the ceiling and rotate to precisely aim their drivers at the listening position. They retail for a suggested $350, $550 and $750 each, and all can be used for LCR or surround channels.

The three speakers, which compose the TIME (Theater In Motion Experience) series, drop down at selectable 15-degree, 30-degree or 45-degree angles and rotate across the sound stage at infinitely adjustable degrees. Multiple preset positions can be programmed into the system and selected via an included IR remote, whose codes can be learned by learning remotes and home automation systems. Each preset can be programmed for different home-theater seating positions or for music-listening positions.

The remote control will be bundled at a suggested $250 with a control box that delivers low-voltage power and control signals to up to eight motorized speakers, which use polypropylene, aluminum and Kevlar drivers.

Although SpeakerCraft has adopted motorization, it remains a firm supporter of aimable in-ceiling speakers, expanding its selection to nine from five with the launch of the lower-priced AIM 7 series at $425 to $925 per pair with 7-inch woofers. They join five AIM 8 series at a suggested $425 to $1,550 per pair with 8-inch woofers.

Like the five AIM 8 speakers, the AIM 7 speakers feature a fully pivoting woofer baffle and a fully pivoting concentrically mounted 1-inch dome tweeter. They fit in the same-size cutouts as 6-inch speakers, the company said.

AIM 7 speakers replace the nonpivoting CRS6 series of in-ceiling speakers. The new models are priced the same as CRS6 models but deliver higher SPLs and deeper bass response, the company said.

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