Tag Archives: speakers

Focal Sib & Co, Dome, and EASYA Speakers – FNA 2015 Event

On the second day of the Focal North America new products event John-Philippe Fontaine, who has a background as a sound engineer, gave us a tour of three of Focal North America’s newest entry level home theater systems. We were invited into a room containing a Focal Sib & Co system and a Focal Dome Flax 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos system with their newest speakers. We also got to demo their Focal EASYA wireless speaker with Apt-X streaming support.

Focal Sib & Co 5.1 Speaker System

We started with the Focal Sib & Co speakers. SIB stands for “Small is Beautiful”, and the line was launched over 10 years ago. Focal is now on their third iteration of the SIB speakers, which focuses on providing strong bass and clean detail—all in a compact system. The retail price on the Focal Sib (sold individually) is $149. The larger Focal Sib XL is $269. The Sib is a 2-way bass reflex system with a 5″ polyflex woofer and a 1/2-inch aluminum tweeter. The cabinet is made of a stiff ABS with some vibration reduction built into the design. Frequency response is around 75Hz to 20kHz and you get a respectable 90 dB SPL sensitivity, so you don’t need a ton of power to drive them.

The Focal Sib XL uses two 5″ poly flex mid-bass drivers (still a 2-way design) to deliver more output and a with a bit more reach (67Hz on the low end). Both speakers are designed to be neutral and not color the sound.

The Focal Cub 3 subwoofer has a 150W BASH amplifier which powers its 8-inch woofer and uses an “Aero” bass port that is designed to reduce port chuffing.

The system, which is also sold in a kit for $799 with 5 Sibs and a Cub 3 (as the Sib&Co 5.1) can be placed on stands, mounted on-wall, or even located within or on furniture. The Focal Sib XL has an on-wall tuning switch that compensates for on-wall placement, and mounting is simplified through the use of Polyfix 2-piece wall mounts. It can also be mounted on a stand or in a horizontal orientation for use as a center channel speaker. The remaining mount allows it to be placed on top of furniture.

Focal Sib & Co, Dome, and EASYA Speakers – FNA 2015 Event

We got to demo the Sib&Co 5.1 system, playing back a scene from the Ed Norton version of The Hulk movie, as well as some clips from a RedBull racing demo and a Julio Iglesias music video. A couple takeaways from the demo:

  • You can really crank this system up load without distortion
  • Bass was clean, but not terribly punchy-something I’ll take over “boomy” any day of the week.
  • Highs were clean and crisp, but not harsh or overbearing.

The system was remarkably capable in the difficult mid-bass region.

Focal Dôme Speakers

Next up was the Focal Dôme system which Focal bills as a “high end miniature” system. The Dôme is a sealed 2-way system with a high-gloss die-cast aluminum enclosure that comes in black, white, or red. It has a 4-inch fiberglass and resin-coated paper driver coupled to a 1-inch Chorus V inverted aluminum magnesium (Al/Mg) dome tweeter. These speakers are very efficient as well, producing lots of volume with very little amplifier power.

Focal Sib & Co, Dome, and EASYA Speakers – FNA 2015 Event

Focal calls this speaker its “Sonic Spotlight” and indeed that’s what it looks like. The Dôme subwoofer has an 8-inch driver with a 100W BASH amplifier, and it looks like a bit like the top of a gigantic shiny black pill.

The price point on these speakers is $1,699 for a 5.1 system. A Dôme Flax model offers a new cone material for the woofer (invented by Focal in 2013) which features lower mass for better woofer acceleration. Flax is basically linen, a natural fiber grown and made in France. It’s also a super rigid material when sandwiched between glass resin, and it’s well-damped. The make-up of the Focal Dôme driver is similar to their traditional drivers, with a fiberglass and resin layer on top and bottom—but the middle 0.4mm cellulose layer is replaced by flax. Since the use of flax takes a lot more production time to manufacture, the Focal Dôme Flax 5.1 system will run $1,999 and is available in Black and White (not Red). Stands will run you about $359. The Focal Dôme Flax system comes with the Sub Air wireless subwoofer only (an upgrade from the pill-shaped model). These speakers are fully table, wall, and ceiling placeable.

Focal Sib & Co, Dome, and EASYA Speakers – FNA 2015 Event

We got to listen to the Focal 5.1 Dôme Flax Atmos system with two additional in-ceiling Focal 300 ICW4 speakers (pending for US distribution). The wireless 2.4 GHz Sub Air uses a 110W BASH amplifier to drive its 8-inch woofer, and it’s the kind of sub that can fit under a couch (or even be wall-mounted). Its port is tuned to 40Hz which gives it a good amount of bottom end fill. Currently you can only run a single Sub Air per system, but Focal is taking a look at that for future multiple-subwoofer possibilities. It uses a small dongle as a transmitter that attaches to your surround receiver or AV processor‘s subwoofer preamp output.

Focal EASYA Wireless Speakers

The Focal EASYA wireless speaker (pronounced “ease-ya”) is a “classic hi-fi” speaker that’s really a good looking product with the same inverted aluminum magnesium tweeter that has a poron suspension that shouldn’t change over time—it’s like memory foam, but for metal). It’s also wireless, so while you need to connect it to power, you don’t have any speaker cables. The wireless hub transmits to the speakers (up to 2), and it can receive audio from your smart device directly via AptX Bluetooth (for near-lossless quality). It also has RCA inputs, an analogue 3.5mm input, and optical & Coax S/PDIF for more input options. There’s even USB for connecting it to a Mac or PC. Another cool thing about the speakers is that they have integrated bottom-mounted LED status lights to let you know when they’re connected (Red is dead, white is right—made that up myself).

Focal Sib & Co, Dome, and EASYA Speakers – FNA 2015 Event

The actual EASYA tower speakers are a 2.5-way design with two 5″ midbass drivers and the aforementioned tweeter. The complete system sells for $2,799.

Focal Sib & Co, Dome, and EASYA Speakers – FNA 2015 Event

Listening to them, the EASYA towers certainly put out a lot of bass, and they played loudly in the medium sized conference room we were in. These speakers have lots of potential, and it will be cool to see how consumer begin implementing wireless speakers into their homes—making use of space that presented a difficult or impossible connectivity problem for traditional speaker cables.

Shop Speaker Packages at Audiogurus

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2015 Focal North America Event – Day 1

Earlier this year, French speaker and headphone company Focal announced that it was creating Focal North America—a partnership between Focal Global and B&B Electronics. The partnership is starting strong, with the company launching and/or distributing new products in six of the Focal product lines. The primary lines include their Spirit headphones, the Dimension line of soundbars and subwoofers, and 5.1 speaker systems branded as Sib & Co and Dôme. Of interest to CEDIA members and residential and commercial installers, they also have a line of custom installation products—including a new line of speakers targeting Dolby Atmos. I was invited to the 2015 Focal North America event in Phoenix to see some of their newest products and see how the company plans to address the market in 2016 and beyond.

2015 Focal North America Event Guest Speaker: Fab Dupont

I got to meet Ben Jensen, who acceding up Focal North America as president, and Jason Haberman who is the category and marketing manager. The highlight of the first evening of the event was a presentation by none other than Fab Dupont, a recording and mix engineer who’s worked with artists such as Shakira, J Lo, and Kirk Whalum. He’s also an advocate of Focal, and uses their speakers in his mixing studio. Fab knows his stuff, and he started off by bringing up some tracks that he had worked on recently, and which are representative of the industry as a whole.

2015 Focal North America Event – Day 1

Fab stated that the problem with most records is that the bottom isn’t right. It’s not uncommon the get an “emasculated” bass track (lacking depth to the kick drum). He frequently adds (presumably via a digital side chain trigger for those of you into this stuff) additional bass tracks to flesh out the sound, and he may even add some “snap” to the top end. It’s not unusual for a plain kick drum to get four tracks and several layers of processing—both effects and compression.

2015 Focal North America Event – Day 1

And this is just for the kick.

Consequently, his point was that you spend a LOT of time in front of your speakers. Ear fatigue is a big deal when you’re dealing with an entire day’s worth of listening. Practically, you can note this by the SPL levels you’ll have at the end of the day versus the beginning. It’s not uncommon to measure 20dB SPL or more of “fatigue creep”. That will kill you over time and ruin your ears. I know this first hand as I spent over 7 years working in post production audio—whee the issues are the same even though you’re working on feature films instead of record albums. Distortion is a major cause of ear fatigue. Focal addressed this—particular the line with the use of Beryllium tweeters in their Focal studio monitors, like the SM9 powered monitors that Fab uses.

We were listening to a track called “The Sound” which I believe was by a French band called Colt Seavers. We were looking at the song in AVID’s Pro Tools with a 50-60 track mix. It was mixed on a pair of SM9 monitors with a subwoofer to hear what was going on in the 30Hz region. We also listened to additional tracks, and it was great to hear some of the techniques and thinking that goes into recording and mixing these audio tracks from a Pro who’s well recognized in the industry.

My favorite quote of the evening was this, spoken by Fab Dupont a the closing of the first evening: “The equipment does more and more things, less and less well.”

I’d have to agree, which is why I was looking forward to the next day when I’d get to hear Focal’s home theater, headphones, and custom installation line of products for myself.

The post 2015 Focal North America Event – Day 1 appeared first on Audiogurus.

Adding a Subwoofer to Your Home Theater

I’ve heard it said that the center channel is the most important used channel in home theater. That’s hogwash. It may be the most used channel in home theater, but the most important (after your left and right speakers, that is) is the subwoofer. When’s the last time you remember someone, after a particularly awesome dialogue scene, turning to you and exclaiming, “Wow! That is an incredible center channel speaker!” If you said, “Never,” then you will understand why I believe the subwoofer is the key to impressive home theater.

So when do you add a subwoofer to your system?

Right away. As soon as you can. Even if you only have a pair of stereo speakers, the subwoofer should be your next purchase It will make more of a difference in a home theater than a pair of surround speakers or a center channel. It doesn’t matter if you watch Pixar movies or episodes of The Walking Dead, a subwoofer brings any soundtrack to life because it puts out the audio that most bookshelf or tower speakers can’t reproduce.

And if your speakers haven’t reproducing that sound (and it’s likely they haven’t), then you are in for a real treat when you first fire up that sub.

So What Size Do I Get?

This is a great question. Adding a subwoofer can be as simple as getting the biggest one you can afford, but there are some subwoofer buying strategies involved as well. For example, two subs are better than one. I’m not kidding, and I don’t make more money if you buy two over one. It’s simply an acoustical fact that most rooms benefit from the use of two different subwoofers summing together to deliver music. It keeps the average peaks lower, producing a more even sound, and it increases overall output potential by splitting the load.

What this has to do with size is that, if you can afford two 10-inch subs, go for that in a heartbeat over a single 12-inch. The exception, of course, is if you are in very tiny room or you simply have to have the lowest frequency response possible. Typically, a 12-inch subwoofer will play anywhere from 3-6 kHz lower than a 12-inch model. That difference, however, isn’t the only thing you look at. You also want enough output.

Subwoofers and Room Size

With subwoofers, what you are attempting to do is essentially pressurize the room. That’s going to be difficult in a room that extends out into a kitchen, or which doesn’t have clearly-defined boundaries or doors. And I’ve just described a majority of homes today, so you’re likely in that boat to some fashion. In the end you want to get a larger sub (or two larger subs) if you have a wide-open space. Anything less, and you will get some usable bass, but you’ll have a very tough time controlling it and getting consistent sound.

Adding the Subwoofer

So adding a subwoofer is a relatively simple process once you decide which you’re getting (and how many). You’ll need to make some adjustments in your AV receiver settings. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Connect your subwoofer to your AV receiver using the coaxial (RCA) subwoofer output
  2. Set the volume of the sub (if there is one) to its half-way point
  3. In the Speaker Setup menu, tell the receiver you have a subwoofer
  4. Set the crossover for your system to 80Hz if you have bookshelf speakers that do not go down to 20Hz or bookshelf speakers. If you have very small satellite speakers, then set the crossover to 100Hz.
  5. In the Speaker Setup menu, set the level of the subwoofer using the test tone
  6. Re-verify all speaker levels
  7. If you change anything, including any of the subwoofer settings, repeat steps 5 and 6

Conclusion

We have other articles, including one on Getting the Correct Subwoofer Settings, so check that out if you’re not sure what to do once you have your subwoofer added into your system.

Shop Subwoofers at Audiogurus

The post Adding a Subwoofer to Your Home Theater appeared first on Audiogurus.

Adding a Subwoofer to Your Home Theater

I’ve heard it said that the center channel is the most important used channel in home theater. That’s hogwash. It may be the most used channel in home theater, but the most important (after your left and right speakers, that is) is the subwoofer. When’s the last time you remember someone, after a particularly awesome dialogue scene, turning to you and exclaiming, “Wow! That is an incredible center channel speaker!” If you said, “Never,” then you will understand why I believe the subwoofer is the key to impressive home theater.

So when do you add a subwoofer to your system?

Right away. As soon as you can. Even if you only have a pair of stereo speakers, the subwoofer should be your next purchase It will make more of a difference in a home theater than a pair of surround speakers or a center channel. It doesn’t matter if you watch Pixar movies or episodes of The Walking Dead, a subwoofer brings any soundtrack to life because it puts out the audio that most bookshelf or tower speakers can’t reproduce.

And if your speakers haven’t reproducing that sound (and it’s likely they haven’t), then you are in for a real treat when you first fire up that sub.

So What Size Do I Get?

This is a great question. Adding a subwoofer can be as simple as getting the biggest one you can afford, but there are some subwoofer buying strategies involved as well. For example, two subs are better than one. I’m not kidding, and I don’t make more money if you buy two over one. It’s simply an acoustical fact that most rooms benefit from the use of two different subwoofers summing together to deliver music. It keeps the average peaks lower, producing a more even sound, and it increases overall output potential by splitting the load.

What this has to do with size is that, if you can afford two 10-inch subs, go for that in a heartbeat over a single 12-inch. The exception, of course, is if you are in very tiny room or you simply have to have the lowest frequency response possible. Typically, a 12-inch subwoofer will play anywhere from 3-6 kHz lower than a 12-inch model. That difference, however, isn’t the only thing you look at. You also want enough output.

Subwoofers and Room Size

With subwoofers, what you are attempting to do is essentially pressurize the room. That’s going to be difficult in a room that extends out into a kitchen, or which doesn’t have clearly-defined boundaries or doors. And I’ve just described a majority of homes today, so you’re likely in that boat to some fashion. In the end you want to get a larger sub (or two larger subs) if you have a wide-open space. Anything less, and you will get some usable bass, but you’ll have a very tough time controlling it and getting consistent sound.

Adding the Subwoofer

So adding a subwoofer is a relatively simple process once you decide which you’re getting (and how many). You’ll need to make some adjustments in your AV receiver settings. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Connect your subwoofer to your AV receiver using the coaxial (RCA) subwoofer output
  2. Set the volume of the sub (if there is one) to its half-way point
  3. In the Speaker Setup menu, tell the receiver you have a subwoofer
  4. Set the crossover for your system to 80Hz if you have bookshelf speakers that do not go down to 20Hz or bookshelf speakers. If you have very small satellite speakers, then set the crossover to 100Hz.
  5. In the Speaker Setup menu, set the level of the subwoofer using the test tone
  6. Re-verify all speaker levels
  7. If you change anything, including any of the subwoofer settings, repeat steps 5 and 6

Conclusion

We have other articles, including one on Getting the Correct Subwoofer Settings, so check that out if you’re not sure what to do once you have your subwoofer added into your system.

Shop Subwoofers at Audiogurus

The post Adding a Subwoofer to Your Home Theater appeared first on Audiogurus.

Adding a Subwoofer to Your Home Theater

I’ve heard it said that the center channel is the most important used channel in home theater. That’s hogwash. It may be the most used channel in home theater, but the most important (after your left and right speakers, that is) is the subwoofer. When’s the last time you remember someone, after a particularly awesome dialogue scene, turning to you and exclaiming, “Wow! That is an incredible center channel speaker!” If you said, “Never,” then you will understand why I believe the subwoofer is the key to impressive home theater.

So when do you add a subwoofer to your system?

Right away. As soon as you can. Even if you only have a pair of stereo speakers, the subwoofer should be your next purchase It will make more of a difference in a home theater than a pair of surround speakers or a center channel. It doesn’t matter if you watch Pixar movies or episodes of The Walking Dead, a subwoofer brings any soundtrack to life because it puts out the audio that most bookshelf or tower speakers can’t reproduce.

And if your speakers haven’t reproducing that sound (and it’s likely they haven’t), then you are in for a real treat when you first fire up that sub.

So What Size Do I Get?

This is a great question. Adding a subwoofer can be as simple as getting the biggest one you can afford, but there are some subwoofer buying strategies involved as well. For example, two subs are better than one. I’m not kidding, and I don’t make more money if you buy two over one. It’s simply an acoustical fact that most rooms benefit from the use of two different subwoofers summing together to deliver music. It keeps the average peaks lower, producing a more even sound, and it increases overall output potential by splitting the load.

What this has to do with size is that, if you can afford two 10-inch subs, go for that in a heartbeat over a single 12-inch. The exception, of course, is if you are in very tiny room or you simply have to have the lowest frequency response possible. Typically, a 12-inch subwoofer will play anywhere from 3-6 kHz lower than a 12-inch model. That difference, however, isn’t the only thing you look at. You also want enough output.

Subwoofers and Room Size

With subwoofers, what you are attempting to do is essentially pressurize the room. That’s going to be difficult in a room that extends out into a kitchen, or which doesn’t have clearly-defined boundaries or doors. And I’ve just described a majority of homes today, so you’re likely in that boat to some fashion. In the end you want to get a larger sub (or two larger subs) if you have a wide-open space. Anything less, and you will get some usable bass, but you’ll have a very tough time controlling it and getting consistent sound.

Adding the Subwoofer

So adding a subwoofer is a relatively simple process once you decide which you’re getting (and how many). You’ll need to make some adjustments in your AV receiver settings. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Connect your subwoofer to your AV receiver using the coaxial (RCA) subwoofer output
  2. Set the volume of the sub (if there is one) to its half-way point
  3. In the Speaker Setup menu, tell the receiver you have a subwoofer
  4. Set the crossover for your system to 80Hz if you have bookshelf speakers that do not go down to 20Hz or bookshelf speakers. If you have very small satellite speakers, then set the crossover to 100Hz.
  5. In the Speaker Setup menu, set the level of the subwoofer using the test tone
  6. Re-verify all speaker levels
  7. If you change anything, including any of the subwoofer settings, repeat steps 5 and 6

Conclusion

We have other articles, including one on Getting the Correct Subwoofer Settings, so check that out if you’re not sure what to do once you have your subwoofer added into your system.

Shop Subwoofers at Audiogurus

The post Adding a Subwoofer to Your Home Theater appeared first on Audiogurus.

In-ceiling Surround Sound Speakers

I find with many rooms it’s easy to place the front speakers. Even the center channel seems to be something that finds its place below the television or, in rare cases, above. But surround speakers often get left uninstalled or not purchased, largely because the room isn’t set up to easily handle stand-mounted or wall-mounted rear speakers. Perhaps you have a large opening on one side of the room, or there’s simply no place to put speaker stands where they need to be. For these situations I highly recommend the use of in-ceiling surround sound speakers. In-ceiling surround sound speakers let you enjoy that nice diffuse rear- and even side-channel information even when the room doesn’t make it easy to place speakers.

So while we recommend in-ceiling surrounds (but never for the main left/right/center channels), there are some caveats to consider and some general guidelines for purchasing them. As a surround sound solution it’s hard to go wrong, but following a few simple tips can help you to make a decision that will last a long time and one you won’t later regret.

Considerations for In-ceiling Surround Sound Speakers

  • More Complex Doesn’t Mean More…Better
    If you’re in the market for in-ceiling surround sound speakers, realize that here are a myriad to choose from. In-ceiling speakers vary from two-way to four-way and can get very complex. While we aren’t going to broadbrush all 4-way speakers, I have to say that overcomplicating these speakers doesn’t always equate to better sound.
  • Backboxes are Good for Sound Quality
    Most entry level in-ceiling speakers are going to lack an included backbox. That means that they simply get installed into the ceiling with what’s called an “infinite baffle” That’s not a device, that’s your attic. It means there’s no backbox. It also means that you can’t really have insulation touching the speaker and that you’re now subjecting the speaker to the humidity, heat or cold of your attic depending on the season and where you live. It also means you can’t really know how those speakers will sound in the room because a backbox truly controls the frequency response and dynamics of a driver. No backbox means there’s simply not a lot of back pressure on the driver and it will yield a much different sound in different environments and under different conditions.

And here’s another tip: If the speaker doesn’t come with a backbox, but has one as an optional available accessory. It should also come with a way to tell the speaker that it now has a backbox—because the sound and output are going to change. The thing is, though, most products don’t do this, so take that into consideration as you figure out which speakers to select for your install.

  • Backboxes are Good for Energy Efficiency
    For energy efficiency alone—the ability to cover the speaker in R40 insulation—I’d recommend getting a speaker with a backbox, or one that lets you purchase it as an optional accessory. There are also aftermarket universal solutions, but again, now you’re putting a product on another product for which it was never designed. If it’s up to me, I always select a product with a backbox so I can not have to worry about replacing it 5 years later due to dry rot or mold issues. Plus, you separate the heat and cold of the attic from your home by more than just the material of the woofer cone.
  • Speaker Connectors are Important if you Already Ran Thick-Gauge Wire
    I installed some surround sound speakers once (OK, more than once) and the speaker wiring was 12-gauge. Trouble was, the connectors on the speaker only supported 14 gauge wire. I had to trim up the cable to get it to fit. This isn’t tragic, but you may want to make sure your cables aren’t better quality than your speakers! Dropping the gauge at the last stage isn’t a big deal, lots of installers do it. It just makes for a sloppier install. Another option is to attach or solder pin connectors to your wire, which can clamp easily into most spring clip connections. It’s up to you and your level of detail to the job. There’s no universally accepted way to do it, but there are a ton of wrong ways!
  • Size Matters (Yoda was Wrong)
    I tend to pay attention to the frequency response of the in-ceiling surround sound speakers when spec’ing them for a room. A larger 8-inch woofer, for example, is going to give you a lot of bass response while a smaller 4-inch driver is never going to hit the lowest parts of the frequency range. The important metric to hit cleanly, of course, is 80Hz. That way you can be assured that everything above your subwoofer’s crossover point can be handled by all speakers in the system. Some surround receivers offer independent crossover settings per channel, but I still like to simplify my installs by unifying that metric. An 8-inch woofer may get down to around 45Hz or lower while the bottom end of a 6.5-inch model may be closer to 70Hz at volume. Manufacturers have varying specs on this and so it’s often hard to compare.
  • Fire Up that Grille!
    It may seem trivial, but I really think the grilles used on in-ceiling surround sound speakers matter and deserve some attention. Some are snap-on models that are made of plastic and break quite easily. These also tend to be thick and stand out, as if to shout, “Here I am! I’m an in-ceiling speaker!” Others are made from metal, are paintable, and feature a magnetic attachment mechanism that lets them pop on and off with ease (but only when you want them to). Most of the new magnetic grilles are also paintable, so you can blend them perfectly into your ceiling. A grille may not be important to you, but I’ve been impressed by the new methods manufacturers are experimenting with in order to hide these ceiling speakers from view.

Conclusion

In-ceiling speakers used to be a very small segment, but they are gaining in popularity. They sound better, work better in newer energy-efficient homes, and considerably add to the convenience of adding surround sound in homes where those rear speakers would simply be impossible to add. If an in-ceiling speaker seems right for you, start checking off the features you find important. I’m pretty certain you’ll narrow down the selection quickly and be able to find one that will work well for you.

Shop In-ceiling Speakers at Audiogurus

The post In-ceiling Surround Sound Speakers appeared first on Audiogurus.

In-ceiling Surround Sound Speakers

I find with many rooms it’s easy to place the front speakers. Even the center channel seems to be something that finds its place below the television or, in rare cases, above. But surround speakers often get left uninstalled or not purchased, largely because the room isn’t set up to easily handle stand-mounted or wall-mounted rear speakers. Perhaps you have a large opening on one side of the room, or there’s simply no place to put speaker stands where they need to be. For these situations I highly recommend the use of in-ceiling surround sound speakers. In-ceiling surround sound speakers let you enjoy that nice diffuse rear- and even side-channel information even when the room doesn’t make it easy to place speakers.

So while we recommend in-ceiling surrounds (but never for the main left/right/center channels), there are some caveats to consider and some general guidelines for purchasing them. As a surround sound solution it’s hard to go wrong, but following a few simple tips can help you to make a decision that will last a long time and one you won’t later regret.

Considerations for In-ceiling Surround Sound Speakers

  • More Complex Doesn’t Mean More…Better
    If you’re in the market for in-ceiling surround sound speakers, realize that here are a myriad to choose from. In-ceiling speakers vary from two-way to four-way and can get very complex. While we aren’t going to broadbrush all 4-way speakers, I have to say that overcomplicating these speakers doesn’t always equate to better sound.
  • Backboxes are Good for Sound Quality
    Most entry level in-ceiling speakers are going to lack an included backbox. That means that they simply get installed into the ceiling with what’s called an “infinite baffle” That’s not a device, that’s your attic. It means there’s no backbox. It also means that you can’t really have insulation touching the speaker and that you’re now subjecting the speaker to the humidity, heat or cold of your attic depending on the season and where you live. It also means you can’t really know how those speakers will sound in the room because a backbox truly controls the frequency response and dynamics of a driver. No backbox means there’s simply not a lot of back pressure on the driver and it will yield a much different sound in different environments and under different conditions.

And here’s another tip: If the speaker doesn’t come with a backbox, but has one as an optional available accessory. It should also come with a way to tell the speaker that it now has a backbox—because the sound and output are going to change. The thing is, though, most products don’t do this, so take that into consideration as you figure out which speakers to select for your install.

  • Backboxes are Good for Energy Efficiency
    For energy efficiency alone—the ability to cover the speaker in R40 insulation—I’d recommend getting a speaker with a backbox, or one that lets you purchase it as an optional accessory. There are also aftermarket universal solutions, but again, now you’re putting a product on another product for which it was never designed. If it’s up to me, I always select a product with a backbox so I can not have to worry about replacing it 5 years later due to dry rot or mold issues. Plus, you separate the heat and cold of the attic from your home by more than just the material of the woofer cone.
  • Speaker Connectors are Important if you Already Ran Thick-Gauge Wire
    I installed some surround sound speakers once (OK, more than once) and the speaker wiring was 12-gauge. Trouble was, the connectors on the speaker only supported 14 gauge wire. I had to trim up the cable to get it to fit. This isn’t tragic, but you may want to make sure your cables aren’t better quality than your speakers! Dropping the gauge at the last stage isn’t a big deal, lots of installers do it. It just makes for a sloppier install. Another option is to attach or solder pin connectors to your wire, which can clamp easily into most spring clip connections. It’s up to you and your level of detail to the job. There’s no universally accepted way to do it, but there are a ton of wrong ways!
  • Size Matters (Yoda was Wrong)
    I tend to pay attention to the frequency response of the in-ceiling surround sound speakers when spec’ing them for a room. A larger 8-inch woofer, for example, is going to give you a lot of bass response while a smaller 4-inch driver is never going to hit the lowest parts of the frequency range. The important metric to hit cleanly, of course, is 80Hz. That way you can be assured that everything above your subwoofer’s crossover point can be handled by all speakers in the system. Some surround receivers offer independent crossover settings per channel, but I still like to simplify my installs by unifying that metric. An 8-inch woofer may get down to around 45Hz or lower while the bottom end of a 6.5-inch model may be closer to 70Hz at volume. Manufacturers have varying specs on this and so it’s often hard to compare.
  • Fire Up that Grille!
    It may seem trivial, but I really think the grilles used on in-ceiling surround sound speakers matter and deserve some attention. Some are snap-on models that are made of plastic and break quite easily. These also tend to be thick and stand out, as if to shout, “Here I am! I’m an in-ceiling speaker!” Others are made from metal, are paintable, and feature a magnetic attachment mechanism that lets them pop on and off with ease (but only when you want them to). Most of the new magnetic grilles are also paintable, so you can blend them perfectly into your ceiling. A grille may not be important to you, but I’ve been impressed by the new methods manufacturers are experimenting with in order to hide these ceiling speakers from view.

Conclusion

In-ceiling speakers used to be a very small segment, but they are gaining in popularity. They sound better, work better in newer energy-efficient homes, and considerably add to the convenience of adding surround sound in homes where those rear speakers would simply be impossible to add. If an in-ceiling speaker seems right for you, start checking off the features you find important. I’m pretty certain you’ll narrow down the selection quickly and be able to find one that will work well for you.

Shop In-ceiling Speakers at Audiogurus

The post In-ceiling Surround Sound Speakers appeared first on Audiogurus.

In-ceiling Surround Sound Speakers

I find with many rooms it’s easy to place the front speakers. Even the center channel seems to be something that finds its place below the television or, in rare cases, above. But surround speakers often get left uninstalled or not purchased, largely because the room isn’t set up to easily handle stand-mounted or wall-mounted rear speakers. Perhaps you have a large opening on one side of the room, or there’s simply no place to put speaker stands where they need to be. For these situations I highly recommend the use of in-ceiling surround sound speakers. In-ceiling surround sound speakers let you enjoy that nice diffuse rear- and even side-channel information even when the room doesn’t make it easy to place speakers.

So while we recommend in-ceiling surrounds (but never for the main left/right/center channels), there are some caveats to consider and some general guidelines for purchasing them. As a surround sound solution it’s hard to go wrong, but following a few simple tips can help you to make a decision that will last a long time and one you won’t later regret.

Considerations for In-ceiling Surround Sound Speakers

  • More Complex Doesn’t Mean More…Better
    If you’re in the market for in-ceiling surround sound speakers, realize that here are a myriad to choose from. In-ceiling speakers vary from two-way to four-way and can get very complex. While we aren’t going to broadbrush all 4-way speakers, I have to say that overcomplicating these speakers doesn’t always equate to better sound.
  • Backboxes are Good for Sound Quality
    Most entry level in-ceiling speakers are going to lack an included backbox. That means that they simply get installed into the ceiling with what’s called an “infinite baffle” That’s not a device, that’s your attic. It means there’s no backbox. It also means that you can’t really have insulation touching the speaker and that you’re now subjecting the speaker to the humidity, heat or cold of your attic depending on the season and where you live. It also means you can’t really know how those speakers will sound in the room because a backbox truly controls the frequency response and dynamics of a driver. No backbox means there’s simply not a lot of back pressure on the driver and it will yield a much different sound in different environments and under different conditions.

And here’s another tip: If the speaker doesn’t come with a backbox, but has one as an optional available accessory. It should also come with a way to tell the speaker that it now has a backbox—because the sound and output are going to change. The thing is, though, most products don’t do this, so take that into consideration as you figure out which speakers to select for your install.

  • Backboxes are Good for Energy Efficiency
    For energy efficiency alone—the ability to cover the speaker in R40 insulation—I’d recommend getting a speaker with a backbox, or one that lets you purchase it as an optional accessory. There are also aftermarket universal solutions, but again, now you’re putting a product on another product for which it was never designed. If it’s up to me, I always select a product with a backbox so I can not have to worry about replacing it 5 years later due to dry rot or mold issues. Plus, you separate the heat and cold of the attic from your home by more than just the material of the woofer cone.
  • Speaker Connectors are Important if you Already Ran Thick-Gauge Wire
    I installed some surround sound speakers once (OK, more than once) and the speaker wiring was 12-gauge. Trouble was, the connectors on the speaker only supported 14 gauge wire. I had to trim up the cable to get it to fit. This isn’t tragic, but you may want to make sure your cables aren’t better quality than your speakers! Dropping the gauge at the last stage isn’t a big deal, lots of installers do it. It just makes for a sloppier install. Another option is to attach or solder pin connectors to your wire, which can clamp easily into most spring clip connections. It’s up to you and your level of detail to the job. There’s no universally accepted way to do it, but there are a ton of wrong ways!
  • Size Matters (Yoda was Wrong)
    I tend to pay attention to the frequency response of the in-ceiling surround sound speakers when spec’ing them for a room. A larger 8-inch woofer, for example, is going to give you a lot of bass response while a smaller 4-inch driver is never going to hit the lowest parts of the frequency range. The important metric to hit cleanly, of course, is 80Hz. That way you can be assured that everything above your subwoofer’s crossover point can be handled by all speakers in the system. Some surround receivers offer independent crossover settings per channel, but I still like to simplify my installs by unifying that metric. An 8-inch woofer may get down to around 45Hz or lower while the bottom end of a 6.5-inch model may be closer to 70Hz at volume. Manufacturers have varying specs on this and so it’s often hard to compare.
  • Fire Up that Grille!
    It may seem trivial, but I really think the grilles used on in-ceiling surround sound speakers matter and deserve some attention. Some are snap-on models that are made of plastic and break quite easily. These also tend to be thick and stand out, as if to shout, “Here I am! I’m an in-ceiling speaker!” Others are made from metal, are paintable, and feature a magnetic attachment mechanism that lets them pop on and off with ease (but only when you want them to). Most of the new magnetic grilles are also paintable, so you can blend them perfectly into your ceiling. A grille may not be important to you, but I’ve been impressed by the new methods manufacturers are experimenting with in order to hide these ceiling speakers from view.

Conclusion

In-ceiling speakers used to be a very small segment, but they are gaining in popularity. They sound better, work better in newer energy-efficient homes, and considerably add to the convenience of adding surround sound in homes where those rear speakers would simply be impossible to add. If an in-ceiling speaker seems right for you, start checking off the features you find important. I’m pretty certain you’ll narrow down the selection quickly and be able to find one that will work well for you.

Shop In-ceiling Speakers at Audiogurus

The post In-ceiling Surround Sound Speakers appeared first on Audiogurus.

Wiring for Whole House Distributed Audio

I’ve got a brother-in-law who’s building a house. He was asking me about many different things having to do with wiring up the home, but one question in particular had to do with integrating a whole house distributed audio system. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked about wiring up a home for sound, and it’s likely to not be the last. Whole house audio systems are a big deal, and they are certainly one of the more exciting aspects of thinking about the functionality and use of your home during the pre-construction phase. Wiring your audio correctly, and with a mid on the future possibilities, is a big part of that consideration.

And let me be clear—asking about whole house audio is typically a loaded question. Whole house distributed audio can mean many things to many people. I think the best way I’ve found to give advice that’s meaningful has always started with asking the right questions. Questions like What’s your budget? How will you use the system? How big is the home? How flexible does the system need to be? and Do you want the minimum, or are you looking for the very best in performance, features and stability?

Once you answer those questions you can begin to have a better grasp on the details that will be in this article. When wiring up an entire home for audio you really run into one of several possible configurations. While the possibilities are nearly endless, you can nail down a few basic configurations to summarize the options. Before you move on, however, get the answers to the questions above so you can carry them with you as you investigate the possibilities below.

Speaker Selector Switches With or Without Integrated Volume Controls

This type of configuration is essentially a distributed audio system consisting of a source component running through an amplifier and then sent to a speaker selector box. That selector box is really a distribution system that’s just smart enough to know how to keep your amplifier from blowing up. It does this by impedance-matching the system to deliver no less than a 4-ohm load to the amp. If the system didn’t do this, then adding four or more speakers to an amplifier would drop the impedance seen by the amplifier(s) to less than 2-ohms. That will fry just about any amplifier or AV receiver over a relatively short period of time.

Wiring for Whole House Distributed Audio

This is a whole house distributed audio wiring diagram showing amplification that is run from a speaker selector box directly to the speakers. This system only allows you to adjust the volume from the central equipment closet, or by lowering the overall output of the system if you happen to have a WiFi or RF remote.

Wiring for Whole House Distributed AudioSpeaker selector switches can simply split the signal to a bunch of speakers, or they can also provide volume control for each output pair. Volume control is particularly good for when each speaker or speaker pair won’t produce the same level of volume per input. This could be due to using a different speaker in each zone or simply because of the acoustical differences from one speaker placement to another. (Think of a speaker in a small bathroom compared to the same speaker in a large room.)

This is, by far, the most basic of whole house distributed audio systems, and it’s best for those who don’t plan on a multitude of sources and who are mostly concerned with getting moderately tame amounts of audio throughout a home for ambient music during get-togethers. If you want to route a particular audio source to one or more specific rooms, or if you want to have more real-time control over the volume of audio in the room while you’re listening, then you’ll want a more sophisticated solution.

Localizing Volume Control in the Room

The next step up in whole house distributed audio complexity comes when you begin to add passive volume controls to each room in the home that has speakers. This allows you to control the volume right in the room you’re in without having to run back to an equipment closet or without having to adjust the output levels in the rest of the home.

Wiring for Whole House Distributed Audio

This is a whole house distributed audio wiring diagram showing amplification that is run through passive volume controls before continuing on to the speakers. This system allows you to adjust the volume right in the room you are in, plus an integrated IR receiver will let you control your source devices if needed. (Extra wiring is required for this functionality.)

The additional complexity here comes from the fact that you now have to run your speaker cables to a volume control in the wall before passing on to the speaker in the ceiling or other location. This not only involves more speaker wire, it also increases the installation complexity since you’re now running wiring down your walls. You also have to be very aware of your building codes to be sure you’re in compliance when running this type of cabling in your walls—particularly when you’re doing retro work in a building that is already constructed. Running wiring in a new home is one thing, but adding it in after the fact may involve more issues with properly securing the cables to your interior wall studs.

Wiring for Whole House Distributed Audio

The advantage to a system like this is that you’ll be able to directly control the volume of audio in the room you’re in simply by turning a dial or sliding a switch on a nearby wall plate. The disadvantage is that it’s not a terribly “smart” system. You have to visit each room to adjust the volume and there aren’t many configurations like this that can interface with a smart app or other method of bringing up the IQ of the speakers in your house. One advanced function you can do with a system like this is utilize volume controls with built-in IR receivers that can be routed back to your equipment closet. With this, you at least have the opportunity to use a remote control to change an input source if needed, without having to run back to your AV closet.

Utilizing a Smart Control System

This last option is the beginning of what most custom installers consider “true” whole house distributed audio. The use of a low voltage control system means that you are running your powered audio lines directly to your speakers, but you are controlling those speakers using low voltage cables which are wired to local “smart” digital control switches within the room. This is a much more intelligent system, and it allows you to centrally control your entire home from a touchscreen app or other centralized interface while still maintaining the ability to control each room independently. The difference is, when you adjust the volume in a room, the system recognizes what’s going on and there is some form of two-way communication.

This is a whole home wiring diagram that features both centralized amplification for speakers as well as control signals for each switch location. This results in a very smart, assignable system that is extremely versatile.

The other huge difference is that a control system allows you the opportunity to also change the source from within the room. Since it uses low voltage to communicate with the central hub, that central hub can be told to switch to a different input source or route audio from one location to another as needed. This type of system is very powerful and is typically powered by the low voltage control cable (typically one or two Cat5e/6 wires).

As you can imagine, the sky’s the limit with systems like this as they can involve color touchscreen control panels and also involve the use of WiFi and apps to provide even more control. Some systems are getting extremely smart and are introducing the concept of IP-addressable speakers, whereby each speaker in your home is now able to be assigned sources and controlled independently within your whole home audio system.

Regardless of which method you choose, just be sure to plan out your needs, and ensure you have the ability to run the required cabling to both the speakers and/or the volume control locations around your home. Whole home distributed audio is very cool, and it’s a great way to facilitate great audio for parties or even when your outside or in your bedroom or workshop. For those about to embark upon this adventure, we’re a bit jealous—it’s a lot of fun!

Shop Bulk Cables at Audiogurus

The post Wiring for Whole House Distributed Audio appeared first on Audiogurus.

Wiring for Whole House Distributed Audio

I’ve got a brother-in-law who’s building a house. He was asking me about many different things having to do with wiring up the home, but one question in particular had to do with integrating a whole house distributed audio system. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked about wiring up a home for sound, and it’s likely to not be the last. Whole house audio systems are a big deal, and they are certainly one of the more exciting aspects of thinking about the functionality and use of your home during the pre-construction phase. Wiring your audio correctly, and with a mid on the future possibilities, is a big part of that consideration.

And let me be clear—asking about whole house audio is typically a loaded question. Whole house distributed audio can mean many things to many people. I think the best way I’ve found to give advice that’s meaningful has always started with asking the right questions. Questions like What’s your budget? How will you use the system? How big is the home? How flexible does the system need to be? and Do you want the minimum, or are you looking for the very best in performance, features and stability?

Once you answer those questions you can begin to have a better grasp on the details that will be in this article. When wiring up an entire home for audio you really run into one of several possible configurations. While the possibilities are nearly endless, you can nail down a few basic configurations to summarize the options. Before you move on, however, get the answers to the questions above so you can carry them with you as you investigate the possibilities below.

Speaker Selector Switches With or Without Integrated Volume Controls

This type of configuration is essentially a distributed audio system consisting of a source component running through an amplifier and then sent to a speaker selector box. That selector box is really a distribution system that’s just smart enough to know how to keep your amplifier from blowing up. It does this by impedance-matching the system to deliver no less than a 4-ohm load to the amp. If the system didn’t do this, then adding four or more speakers to an amplifier would drop the impedance seen by the amplifier(s) to less than 2-ohms. That will fry just about any amplifier or AV receiver over a relatively short period of time.

Wiring for Whole House Distributed Audio

This is a whole house distributed audio wiring diagram showing amplification that is run from a speaker selector box directly to the speakers. This system only allows you to adjust the volume from the central equipment closet, or by lowering the overall output of the system if you happen to have a WiFi or RF remote.

Wiring for Whole House Distributed AudioSpeaker selector switches can simply split the signal to a bunch of speakers, or they can also provide volume control for each output pair. Volume control is particularly good for when each speaker or speaker pair won’t produce the same level of volume per input. This could be due to using a different speaker in each zone or simply because of the acoustical differences from one speaker placement to another. (Think of a speaker in a small bathroom compared to the same speaker in a large room.)

This is, by far, the most basic of whole house distributed audio systems, and it’s best for those who don’t plan on a multitude of sources and who are mostly concerned with getting moderately tame amounts of audio throughout a home for ambient music during get-togethers. If you want to route a particular audio source to one or more specific rooms, or if you want to have more real-time control over the volume of audio in the room while you’re listening, then you’ll want a more sophisticated solution.

Localizing Volume Control in the Room

The next step up in whole house distributed audio complexity comes when you begin to add passive volume controls to each room in the home that has speakers. This allows you to control the volume right in the room you’re in without having to run back to an equipment closet or without having to adjust the output levels in the rest of the home.

Wiring for Whole House Distributed Audio

This is a whole house distributed audio wiring diagram showing amplification that is run through passive volume controls before continuing on to the speakers. This system allows you to adjust the volume right in the room you are in, plus an integrated IR receiver will let you control your source devices if needed. (Extra wiring is required for this functionality.)

The additional complexity here comes from the fact that you now have to run your speaker cables to a volume control in the wall before passing on to the speaker in the ceiling or other location. This not only involves more speaker wire, it also increases the installation complexity since you’re now running wiring down your walls. You also have to be very aware of your building codes to be sure you’re in compliance when running this type of cabling in your walls—particularly when you’re doing retro work in a building that is already constructed. Running wiring in a new home is one thing, but adding it in after the fact may involve more issues with properly securing the cables to your interior wall studs.

Wiring for Whole House Distributed Audio

The advantage to a system like this is that you’ll be able to directly control the volume of audio in the room you’re in simply by turning a dial or sliding a switch on a nearby wall plate. The disadvantage is that it’s not a terribly “smart” system. You have to visit each room to adjust the volume and there aren’t many configurations like this that can interface with a smart app or other method of bringing up the IQ of the speakers in your house. One advanced function you can do with a system like this is utilize volume controls with built-in IR receivers that can be routed back to your equipment closet. With this, you at least have the opportunity to use a remote control to change an input source if needed, without having to run back to your AV closet.

Utilizing a Smart Control System

This last option is the beginning of what most custom installers consider “true” whole house distributed audio. The use of a low voltage control system means that you are running your powered audio lines directly to your speakers, but you are controlling those speakers using low voltage cables which are wired to local “smart” digital control switches within the room. This is a much more intelligent system, and it allows you to centrally control your entire home from a touchscreen app or other centralized interface while still maintaining the ability to control each room independently. The difference is, when you adjust the volume in a room, the system recognizes what’s going on and there is some form of two-way communication.

This is a whole home wiring diagram that features both centralized amplification for speakers as well as control signals for each switch location. This results in a very smart, assignable system that is extremely versatile.

The other huge difference is that a control system allows you the opportunity to also change the source from within the room. Since it uses low voltage to communicate with the central hub, that central hub can be told to switch to a different input source or route audio from one location to another as needed. This type of system is very powerful and is typically powered by the low voltage control cable (typically one or two Cat5e/6 wires).

As you can imagine, the sky’s the limit with systems like this as they can involve color touchscreen control panels and also involve the use of WiFi and apps to provide even more control. Some systems are getting extremely smart and are introducing the concept of IP-addressable speakers, whereby each speaker in your home is now able to be assigned sources and controlled independently within your whole home audio system.

Regardless of which method you choose, just be sure to plan out your needs, and ensure you have the ability to run the required cabling to both the speakers and/or the volume control locations around your home. Whole home distributed audio is very cool, and it’s a great way to facilitate great audio for parties or even when your outside or in your bedroom or workshop. For those about to embark upon this adventure, we’re a bit jealous—it’s a lot of fun!

Shop Bulk Cables at Audiogurus

The post Wiring for Whole House Distributed Audio appeared first on Audiogurus.