Choosing The Best In-Wall & In-Ceiling Speaker Types For Your Home Theater

This article is part of our Home Theater Design Series that covers virtually everything about designing a home theater.

The selection of home theater speakers on the market is certainly very wide with all kinds of sizes, shapes, and pricing. One category we get a lot of questions on is all about speakers that mount in your walls and/or ceiling. These go by in-wall speakers, in-ceiling speakers, built-in speakers, or are sometimes just called architectural speakers.

When this category of speakers first came out, they were designed to be used for discrete music speakers throughout a home. In those days there were not many different varieties, but today, with the growing popularity of home theater, there are now numerous options on the market.

These types of speakers are used quite often in home theaters for good reason. You may have enough room for your favorite speakers on the front wall with your TV or projection screen, but when you think about placing all of the speakers needed for a fully immersive home theater, most of us simply do not have space for all of the other channels.

Most brands of speakers who make good speakers you place in your room, also offer a good selection of in-ceiling and in-wall speakers that acoustically pair well with their in-room speakers. Many people use these built-in speakers for their surround and Dolby Atmos height speakers.

This article will give you some insight into different types of built-in speakers and the best use case for each one. While some of these are great for music listening, we are going to focus on how to pick the best in-wall & in-ceiling speakers for your home theater system.

In addition to our world-class home theater design tool, we've given you everything you need to begin your home theater journey in Home Theater Central.

Speakers That Mount In the Ceiling

You might think all ceiling speakers are the same. Heck, they all pretty much look the same once they’re installed. However, if you pull the speaker grill off and look behind the curtain, you’ll discover some big differences that are important to know when choosing in-ceiling speakers for your home theater.

General Use In-Ceiling Speakers

These are typically round, although some may have a square grill option. General use in-ceiling speakers will have a single woofer that faces straight down and a tweeter centered in the speaker that also points straight down.

This type of speaker may have a woofer that is anywhere from 4” to 10” in diameter, with the majority of them having a 6”-8” woofer and a dome tweeter. These standard in-ceiling speakers are typically used for traditional music listening in a room or throughout numerous rooms in a home.

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Since high frequencies that come from the tweeter are directional, we do not typically recommend this type of speaker for use in a home theater where speakers often need to be pointed toward the listener versus just playing straight down.

However, there is one use case where we do feel they work well. If you are creating a Dolby Atmos system with just one pair of height speakers, the height speakers are best if they are positioned just slightly in front of the main seating area. They are not so far away that you will be out of the full dispersion pattern of the tweeter that points straight down.

Because of this, if you were trying to save a little money, this type of speaker could be used in a single in-ceiling Dolby Atmos set up. We do recommend you get the same brand as your main speakers and, if possible, go within the same series. But, if your budget allows, the next speaker type in our lineup will provide a better listening experience.

In-Ceiling Speakers with a Tweeter You Can Aim

At first glance, even with the grills off and the speaker drivers exposed, these may appear to be identical to the general use type mentioned above. Actually, they are, with one big exception: you can move the tweeter to aim it.

With all of the new formats of surround sound being based on object-based surround rather than dispersed sound effects, you want to have speakers that focus the sound.

In-ceiling speakers with a tweeter you can aim can be used for Dolby Atmos height speakers. If you are not doing a Dolby Atmos-based system and are going for a 5.1 or 7.1 system, they can also be used for the surround channels.

To use this type of speaker in a home theater system, simply aim the tweeter down at the main seating area and you will be all set.

While this kind of speaker is far better than the general use models for home theater, there is a new type that has emerged recently that we feel is far superior.

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In-Ceiling Speakers Where the Drivers are Mounted At an Angle

While aiming the tweeter is a step in the right direction, being able to aim all of the speaker drivers at the primary seating position is much better!

When you pull the grill off of this type of in-ceiling speaker, you will immediately notice it is totally different from a general use speaker.

These come in both round and square designs and some even have a woofer, midrange, and tweeter driver. If it is a two way design, both the woofer and tweeter will be mounted at an angle inside the enclosure, usually 30-35 degrees. Usually, with a three-way design, it is not possible to aim the woofer, so it will fire downward, but bass is not very directional, which makes that perfectly ok.

The round ones work especially well for Dolby Atmos height channels as you can rotate the whole speaker to aim it perfectly at your primary seats. If you are doing a 5.1 or 7.1 system, this type can work great for your surround speakers. You can use our free home theater design tool to figure out exactly where each speaker should go in your own room.

One other nice use case is for a totally stealth all in-ceiling 5.1 system which we often see in family rooms where there is no room for in-room box speakers. You can put three speakers in the ceiling for your left, center, and right, and then use two more for surrounds. With all of the speaker drivers aiming at your seats, the sound can be well focused. While we do prefer having your lower speakers at ear level, this is the best compromise if you need to hide everything in the ceiling due to space or design limitations.

These types of angled speakers are definitely our favorite for Dolby Atmos height speakers!

Using In-Ceiling Speakers for Both Atmos Height and Surround Channels

We get a lot of questions on this one. Some people want many channels of surround but do not want to see any speakers and think they can just put them all in the ceiling. The whole point of Dolby Atmos surround sound is to envelop you in a fully immersive audio experience that is three-dimensional. To accomplish this, you need to have your main surround and rear surround speakers close to ear level while the atmos speakers project sound from above you. If you want to hide all of your speakers, we highly recommend you consider speakers that mount in your walls for your main and rear surrounds and just use the in-ceiling type for your Dolby Atmos height channels. If you can only use ceiling speakers, we recommend just doing surrounds and/or rears in the ceiling but not using Atmos in your system since all speakers are on the same plane. If you have more questions on this give us a call or chat with us.

Speakers That Mount In the Walls

The name tells it all for this type of speaker design. Here we find anywhere from some very basic types to models that rival or exceed the performance of some of the best traditional box speakers.

Basic In-Wall Speakers

These are rectangular in shape and are generally a two-way design with a woofer and tweeter.

For Dolby Atmos-based surround systems, these can work fantastic as your main surrounds and rear surround speakers. We cover the best way to position them in our separate guide to speaker configurations.

You could also use them as your main front three speakers on either side and below or above a flat panel TV or projection screen, or they could go behind an acoustically transparent projection screen. If you are going to use them as your main front three speakers, we do recommend you get at least ones that have a 6” woofer or larger.

However, for your main speakers, the next category of in-wall speakers is an even better choice and can give you outstanding audio quality.

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Purpose Designed LCR In-Wall Speakers

LCR stands for Left Center Right, which means these are designed to be used as your main front three speakers in a home theater system.

In this category, you will have a very wide range of both choices and prices. As more and more people are looking for an immersive home theater experience where you do not see the speakers in the room, we are seeing lots of models of in-wall speakers that can deliver the performance level of a state-of-the-art floor-standing speaker.

While the basic in-wall speakers normally have a woofer and tweeter, all of the LCR type models have at least a dual woofer system, with many more having 3, 4, and 5-way designs with multiple speaker drivers. Many of these will come with a back box made specifically for the speaker to assure it performs best in the wall.

Some LCR speakers have the ability to rotate the midrange and tweeter assembly 90 degrees so you can turn the speaker horizontally for a center channel above or below your screen. If you are thinking of this type of application, you will want to look for that feature.

There is nothing like having the sound come right from behind an acoustically transparent front projection home theater screen. LCR speakers are an excellent choice for this type of system. With the great selection of LCR in-wall speakers out there, you can now get sound that is as good or better than a giant floor-standing speaker you can completely hide!

Another advantage the better in-wall LCR speakers offer is perfect acoustic matching. With tower or bookshelf speakers, the center channel can usually be matched up very well, but it is hard to use the exact same speaker in your center as you do for your left and right speakers. If you do in-wall LCR’s behind an acoustically transparent screen, all three can be exactly the same. And if you want to match things up even more, the same speakers can also be used as your surround speakers.

As you can probably tell, LCRs are our favorite architectural speakers, and rightly so. Some of the LCR models available today sound just amazing!

We hope this short guide has helped you determine which type of built-in speaker is best for your system and needs. If you are designing a new theater or remodeling your current one, check out our free home theater design tool, which will help calculate the best speaker locations, screen size, and much more for your room. If you have any questions or want help mapping out your theater, our team of home theater experts is standing by to answer them via email, phone, chat, or in one of our North Carolina stores.

And, should you purchase your built-in speakers from us, our experts can help you with some tips on how to best install and position them for great performance.

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If you are in the market for a new home theater system or improving part (or all) of the one you already own, you’ve probably figured out that the options can be more confusing than advanced algebra! Explore our guide to understand the available options and how they might work or not work in your particular situation. If you need help customizing a solution for your space, reach out - we're happy to help!

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