electrical systems, design & remodel
Big, boxy audio speakers make nice plant stands, or a handy place to pile up CD cases. But in an age when you can slim a TV to a mere 4 inches thick and hang it on the wall, those bulky boxes don't make a lot of sense. That's why many homeowners are opting instead for in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, which deliver high-fidelity sound without cluttering up the living room. "People don't want to see speakers—and they don't want to dedicate the floor space," says David Allen, vice president of prod­uct development for manufacturer Martin Logan. Tucking speakers into wall and ceiling cavities does more than just reclaim square foot­age:?It also gets rid of unsightly wiring snaked along baseboards and in tangled webs behind the TV. "And," adds Allen, "there's no worrying about the color of the speaker veneer matching your interior."

Small Speaker, Big Sound

Most in-wall speakers don't rely on the typical wooden housing to transmit sound. Instead, the compact units— each of which includes a small tweeter for high frequencies and a large woofer for bass (some have midrange drivers for in-between frequencies)—fit between studs and use the wall cavity itself as the speaker box.

Though sound quality can vary depending on wall construction, a well-engineered in-wall speaker is as capable of producing as realistic, even as spectacular, a sound as any floor speaker, says Mark Bryn, a technical support executive at German speaker-maker Canton.

Like freestanding speakers, in-wall units are typically sold as a pair, which is what you'll need for an average-size living room. But unlike freestanding models, these can't easily be moved around, so proper placement is critical. To assure full coverage, audio experts use the equilateral triangle rule: Speakers should be about the same distance from each ­other as they are from the primary seating area.

For the best sound, the tweeters should be lined up at about ear level while you're sitting down. If that gets in the way of your favorite painting, you can mount the speakers higher or lower on the wall; just be aware that you'll trade off a bit of sound quality for aesthetics. Some speakers have pivoting tweeters, which allow you to mount them where they're less visible and still direct sound toward the listening area.

Figuring out where on the wall the speakers will go is the easy part. Cutting the holes and snaking the wires from the amp to the speakers is a little more challenging, but if you've ever run phone line behind a wall, you should be able to handle it. Manufacturers try to make it easy, including installation templates and all the mounting hardware you'll need. Most specialty audio retailers can also provide professional installation services.

Once you've determined where the holes will be, it's a matter of cutting the drywall, fastening the support brackets, and connecting the wires. In fact, hard-core DIYers may be disappointed that there won't be much call for the power tools. "In the case of Sheetrock, it should be very easy," Bryn says. "A $5 drywall saw from the hard­ware store will do it." With the brackets secured and the speaker in place, all you'll see is the removable cover, which can even be painted the same color as the wall.

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