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Speakers’ Future: The Writing Is On The Wall And In The Wall

9/13/2006 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Denver – In the speaker market, the writing is on the wall, in the wall, and in the ceiling.

The custom-installation channel is growing in influence and looking more like the audio specialty channel during its peak years, when thousands of independent retailers dominated the industry and turned to independent reps and distributors for product.

Acknowledging the custom channels’ growth, more companies here are expanding their selections of in-wall, on-wall, and in-ceiling speakers. Canton, Definitive, Meridian, Polk, PSB, and Terra are among the companies expanding their custom selections. Russound is showing its first on-wall. And Energy is showing its first in-wall subwoofer and first outdoor rock speakers.

Other highlights include:

—more in-ceiling speakers designed specifically for home theater, including models from Definitive Technology and Polk, whose new model is the industry’s first THX-certified in-ceiling home theater speaker.

— SpeakerCraft and Triad on-wall LCRs that combine left, center and right channels in one enclosure designed to complement flat-panel TVs.

Other companies with substantial architectural-speaker introductions are Niles (see page xx), Klipsch, and Sonance, which is launching near-invisible speakers friendly to architects and interior designers (see page xx).

Here’s a sampling of architectural speaker introductions at the show:

Artison: The on-wall Masterpiece LCR for flat-panel TVs sits at the top of a three-speaker selection of LCRs that attach to the left and right of flat-panel TVs. All incorporate center-channel drivers to eliminate the need for a dedicated center channel speaker. At $2,500/pair, the Masterpiece features two front-firing tweeters, two 5.25-inch midrange/woofers, and one side-firing tweeter to expand the sound stage. It measures 27x6x3.5 inches and can be adjusted to match a screen’s height.

The in-wall Landscape subwoofer at a suggested $2,000 uses a dual-driver design to eliminate vibration, edgeless surround to maximize driver output, and automatic room equalization circuitry in its outboard 600-watt class D amp, which also features front-panel controls such as gain and music/movie modes. It shipped in mid-August and measures 23.5x9.5 inches after installation.

BostonAcoustics: The company expands its DSi Designer Series of hidden-theater architectural speakers to 17 with the launch of a $250-each in-wall and its $225-each in-ceiling counterpart. Both are two-way models with 8-inch woofer. They’re due in October along with two limited-distribution versions.

Canton: In a significant expansion of its architectural line, the company is adding four in-wall and four in-ceiling speakers, all two-way models with woofers ranging from 5.25 to 8.25 inches. The newcomers include Canton’s first in-wall LCR architectural speaker for home theaters and first single-speaker stereo model.

The in-walls range from $224 to $349 each. The in-ceilings range from $224 to $324 each.

Also new: the company’s first active tower speaker, part of its flat-screen-friendly line, at $1,600 each. The CD 3200 is a 2.5-way, 200-watt speaker features four 4-inch mid/bass drivers, two above and two below a tweeter. The top two drivers reproduce bass and midrange, and the lower two reproduce only bass. It’s available.

Definitive Technology: The custom Reference series is expanding with two models. One is the company’s first in-ceiling speaker with angled baffle for use as an LCR in home theaters. The other is the company’s first bipolar surround to feature a sealed non-resonant medite enclosure and ability to be installed either in-ceiling or in-wall.

The series is now “a complete grouping of upscale custom speakers, including in-wall powered subwoofers, line-source in-walls, in-ceiling, front speakers, and surrounds,” said president Sandy Gross. All models in the series feature passive radiators and sealed medite enclosures.

The new models are expected to ship in the fall. The front-channel LCR, at a projected $599 each, features a 1-inch tweeter flanked on each side by a 5.25-inch woofer on the forward-firing baffle. The 6.5-inch passive radiators are on the downward-firing baffle.

The $499-projected surround speaker, intended for rear- or side-surround use, features a 1-inch tweeter on each of two angled baffles. Each tweeter is flanked on one side by a 4.5-inch bass/midrange driver and a 4.5-inch passive radiator.

Energy: The brand is showing its first in-wall subwoofer and first outdoor rock speaker. The sub featured dual 8-inch drivers and bracing system to control drywall resonances. IT goes with a 500-watt subwoofer amp that drives up to two of the subs simultaneously and features a half-wall switch to compensate for lower wall volume.

Pricing was unavailable.

Klipsch: The company has revamped its contractor series and is showing recently launched THX Ultra2-certified in-wall speakers along with the recently launched in-wall subwoofer.

The four models in the Contractor series are priced like their predecessors but now feature swing-out dog-leg mounting system, paintable white aluminum grilles for use in humid areas, and acoustically transparent fabric scrim begin the grille to hide the drivers. All are two-way models. The8-inch in-ceiling coaxial model is $125 each, and a 6.5-inch version is $110. A 6.5-inch single-speaker stereo model is $150, and a 6.5-inch in-wall is $126. Installation kits at $35 to $45/pair are extra.

MB Quart: The brand is launching its first home products since its purchase last year by Maxxsonics from Rockford Fosgate. They comprise two architectural speaker series, two freestanding-speaker series, and two subwoofetr series.

Meridian: Having entered the architectural speaker market with the DSP420 and M420 in-walls, the company is adding the 200 series of in-ceiling two-way speakers and the 300 series of two-way in-wall/on-walls. Both can be connected to any brand of amplifier when used with optional passive crossovers. They can also be turned into active speakers when driven by Meridian’s GP41 external crossover/amplifier.

The GP41 features 8x100-watt amplification and modular plug-in crossovers. A planned firmware upgrade for the company’s G68 surround processor will integrate the speakers directly into the processor’s set-up application.

The 200 series in-ceiling speaker is a round model at $397 with pivoting tweeter and 8-inch woofer.

The 300 on-wall/in-wall series consists of three rectangular models, all with integrated enclosures and priced from $2,395 to $4,895 each. The 320, which can also be mounted in the ceiling, features a 6.5-inch woofer. The 330 adds a 6.5-inch bass radiator, and the 350 features dual bass rivers and dual passive radiators.

Polk: In expanding its architectural speaker presence to more than 35 models, the company is focusing on both ends of the price and performance spectrum. At the upper end, Polk is launching the industry’s first THX-certified in-ceiling speakers, which meet the step-up THX Ultra2 specs. At the lower end, the company is showing an opening-price series of architectural speakers destined only for installing dealers.

The $1,200-each RTS100 Ultra2-certified in-ceiling speaker joins Polk’s current Ultra2-certified in-walls. The 100, shipping in late August, features dual 5.25-inch woofers and 1-inch tweeter on an angled baffle said to deliver an image “that seems to hover in front of the listener.” The speaker uses an integrated enclosure to deliver predictable response, and it secures to a metal frame screwed to joists or studs to deliver a sturdier mounting platform. A wall-distance switch engages a low-Q pass-band filter to attenuate boominess when placed near walls without sacrificing deep bass output. A tweeter attenuation switch also engages a pass-band filter to compensate for overly reflective rooms.

“It’s a real engineering challenge to develop an in-ceiling speaker that meets all THX requirements when measured at a 45 degree angle from the front of the speaker,” a THX spokesman said. We had to ensure that home audiences would experience the same accuracy of response at every seating position, as they do with other Ultra2 speakers. One of the most important items was having a speaker driver with the right positioning and enough power to deliver Ultra2 performance.”

The new SCi series of architectural speakers is priced from $99 to $214 each, priced under the step-up TCi and LCi series of in-ceiling and in-wall speakers. The new series is priced similarly to the DIY RCi series sold over the counter. Four models are round two-way in-ceiling units, including one coaxial model and one single-speaker stereo model. Two are two-way rectangular in-wall speakers. They shipped in August. All use rust-proof grilles and hardware.

PSB: The company is expanding its custom speaker selection and extending its selection to lower price points, all in the CustomSound series.

The high-value models priced from $249 to $479/pair consist of four round coaxial models and two rectangular two-way in-wall models, all with 6.5-inch woofers. They are the CW28, CW26, CW80R, CW88R, CW60R and the CW50R

A second group of five new models, ranging from $500 to $800/pair, is also being added to the series and includes an in-wall three-way with rotating midrange/tweeter assembly for horizontal or vertical placement, a surround with switchable bipole or dipole operation, two coaxial models, and a two-way with pivoting tweeter. All feature 6-inch woofers. They are the CW363, CW262, CW260, CW160R and CW160S.

The speakers join other models priced from $1,500 to $4,500/pair with 8-inch woofers.

Russound: The company’s first on-wall speaker, intended for masonry walls that can’t accept in-walls, is the Complement C7LCR, whose slender extruded-aluminum cabinet can be mounted horizontally or vertically by flat-panel TVs. It uses a Super Bessel Array of six 3.5-inch mid/low drivers and a 1-inch tweeter to deliver a much wider sweet spot than most other on-wall speakers, the company said. It’s due in the first quarter at an unannounced price.

Sonance: Besides launching its near-invisible series (page xx), the company is adding a fourth model to its ThinLine series intended for walls or ceilings with only 3.03 inches of available mounting depth. The latest model is single-speaker stereo model at $325. The other three models, priced from $300 to $450/pair, include two with pivoting tweeters. All four are two-way models with 6.5-inch woofers.

SpeakerCraft: The company unveiled a new outdoor speaker line and is displaying the first on-wall speakers in its high-performance Tantra series of architectural speakers.

The on-wall five-SKU Tantra selection, designed to complement flat-panel TVs, was shown last year nut began in August in final form with wall brackets. The company offers optional floor and table stands.

Tantra on-walls, available in black or silver aluminum, include two LCRs and one “Triple LCR,” designed to reproduce three front channels from one cabinet at $600 each. It features three 5.25-inch aluminum woofers and three pivoting 0.75-inch aluminum tweeters at $600 per cabinet.

The Tantra LCR at $400 each is a three-way with 2.5-inch midrange and 1-inch tweeter on an aimable pivoting assembly, which is flanked by a 5.25-inch woofer on either side. The $300-each LCR is a two-way with pivoting tweeter and two 5.25-inch woofers. The $600 Tantra Four features four 5.25-inch woofers and a pivoting tweeter, while the Tantra One at $200 each features 1-inch tweeter and 5.25-inch woofer.

For exterior use, the company launched a new line called Outdoor Elements. The models can be placed under eves, around patios, or in shrubbery, thanks to an open-air design using specific EQ curves and driver complements. They feature aluminum grilles and pivoting bracket mount. Eight models include two single-speaker stereo models at $275 and $375 each. The other six are priced from $325 to $625/pair.

StereoStones: The newest outdoor rock subwoofer is the Sunfire D10 with 10-inch driver and integrated 1,000-watt amplifier. It joins a Gibralter rock subwoofer lacking internal amplifier. The Gibralter can be powered by a 250-watt rack-mount amplifier. Two Gibralters can be powered by a single amp for a combined price of $1,500.

Terra: The company is complementing its 5.25-inch in-ceiling speakers with a 6.5-inch model and an 8-inch model, both for in-ceiling use. The two-way models with aimable 1-inch tweeters are weather-resistant and suitable for outdoor or pool-house use. The company is also showing its recently released outdoor subwoofer.

Triad: The OnWall Mini LCR combines three front speakers in one cabinet at $1,250-$1,350 depending on color. The 6x42x5.63-inch enclosure, sized for a 42-inch display, houses two 4-inch midrange drivers and one tweeter per each of the three channels. It’s available.

Velodyne: A new subwoofer series called SubContractor consists of four freestanding in-room/in-cabinet models, an in-wall model, and an in-ceiling/in-floor model. Each can be driven by a 1,250-watt RMS (3,000 peak) subwoofer amp with DSP control and seven-band automatic room EQ. One amp can drive two subs.

The amp is $999, as is the in-wall sub.

The in-wall sub features backbox enclosure that can be installed during a home’s rough-in stage, and the driver and baffle can be installed at the trim-out stage. It fits flush in a standard 2x4 wall and shows a grille that’s less than 5 inches high. The in-ceiling/in-floor model is $799. The freestanding four are priced from $399 to $999.

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