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How to Choose Ceiling Speakers

How to Choose Ceiling Speakers

You want ceiling speakers, and you're ready to buy. Congrats! Now you have the task of choosing which speaker is right for your project. To help our customers along, the team at Whole House Audio put together a list of questions that will help you get the most enjoyment from your new home theater or whole house audio system.

Do you want speakers for background music, entertaining, or home theater listening?

Speaker sizes and designs vary depending on the application. If you are simply looking for background music around the house, a speaker with a smaller woofer size and driver will be just fine. If you are cranking the audio up or plan on using the speakers in a home theater or media room, invest in speakers that can handle the higher volumes. This usually means a larger woofer (6.5 or 8 inches), and higher quality drivers, for example, Kevlar or polypropylene woofers. If you crave the kind of audio that will ruffle neighbors six blocks away, we have speakers for that too. Just make sure your amplifier or receiver has enough power for the system. Trying to drive 8" Kevlar speakers with a 25-watt per channel amp is like putting a 4-cylinder engine in a Lamborghini; it'll move but you miss all the fun.

What type of environment will these speakers be installed?

You know how you want to use your new speakers, now consider the type of room or rooms you'll where they will be installed. Some rooms are small or oddly shaped, which can make speaker placement difficult. Such areas could benefit from our dual voice coil speakers (one speaker provides stereo sound) to get a more balanced sound. If the television is positioned in a corner, consider an angled (LCR) speakers that allow you to direct sound. If you're building a media room that opens up to the kitchen, your music and movies will be competing against chatty people and clanging dishwashers. If there is a lot of background noise or the space is fairly large, go for the largest, highest quality speakers you can afford. 

Sizing Things Up

Larger rooms (over 20 x 15 ft) with high ceilings and rooms that open up to other areas of the house require larger, more efficient speakers and more amplifier power to output sound at higher volume levels. Installing ceiling speakers with a 4-inch cone in a large living room will sound distorted when you turn up the volume, and you will turn up the volume because that poor little speaker isn't designed to work with that much air. 

What type of A/V system will be powering your speakers?

Whether you are using an existing system or purchasing a new one with the latest surround sound technologies, it is important to know the specifications of your system before selecting speakers. Your amplifier or receiver is what powers the system, and it will give you a good idea of any limitations in terms of size and sound. Most receiver and amp manuals can be found online. Things to look for include, how many speakers can your system power, what is the impedance (ohms), and how many watts per channel. Make sure your system can handle the impedance of the speakers and aim for similar wattage. If your system cannot connect the desired number of speakers, consider purchasing a speaker selector and/or another amplifier.

Are your speakers intended for use in a multi-channel home theater system?

If you plan on using your speakers as part of a home theater system or other multi-channel audio systems, consider the quality of the speakers you purchase and the similarity of sound provided by them. All the speakers in a multi-channel system should exhibit similar quality. The center channel, in particular, must be of equal quality to the front speakers as it will be called upon to produce a large amount of the audio in a movie soundtrack. Also, it is important that the center speaker has a similar sound to the front stereo speakers so that they create a cohesive sound field. The speakers in a multi-channel audio system do not necessarily have to come from the same manufacturer, but often speakers from the same manufacturer feature the most similar sound and compatibility.

Do you have, or do you plan to use a digital 5.1 surround sound format such as Dolby Digital or DTS?

If you are using one of these digital surround sound formats, you may be interested in a subwoofer. The digital 5.1 formats feature a special low-frequency effects channel intended specifically to be produced by a subwoofer, although it can be bypassed if you are using main stereo speakers with sufficient bass response. The 5.1 digital systems also feature full-range, stereo surround channels necessitating good quality surround speakers with a similar sound, power and efficiency to the front three speakers (left, center, right).

Will you power your speakers with a receiver?

Receivers often do not operate well into low impedance loads. If you use a receiver with your speakers, look for speakers with a nominal impedance of 8 ohms or higher. You may look at speakers with a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, but avoid speakers in the 4-ohm range. If you are interested in speakers with a 4-ohm nominal impedance, you may want to consider investing in a separate amplifier. Otherwise, check your receiver (or the receiver you intend to purchase) to make sure it can operate into low impedances.

What is your price range for the speakers?

Once you know your sound needs/expectations, set a price range to work with based on all the factors mentioned above. As you look for speakers, either individually or as a system, be aware that you may need to spend slightly more for improved quality. Remember that building a good system on a limited budget may take time. If you are operating on a limited budget, you may be better off purchasing higher-quality speakers first and investing in a new amplifier at a later date. You can always build your system up, so start with a good foundation that will meet your long-term needs.

Will you purchase an entire audio system including speakers, amplifiers, preamplifiers, source components, etc.? If so, what is your price range for the entire system?

Your expenditures on speakers should make up around 40 percent to 50 percent of your total expenditures on audio if you plan on putting together a multi-channel home theater system. Each of the speakers should be of similar quality, though the front left and right stereo pair often costs more than the other speakers and may take up around 20 percent of your total home theater audio budget. If you can afford a subwoofer, it is a worthy addition to a home theater system. However, most good subwoofers capable of truly providing deep bass cost $500 and up. If your budget does not allow you to spend the $500 or more for a good subwoofer, additional funds below the mark for a good sub are better spent on a higher quality left and right stereo speakers with more powerful bass response themselves.