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Deciding between in-wall vs on-wall speakers can be a daunting task. Both provide a sleek, modern appearance and exceptional sound quality, and both can involve costly or complicated installation to varying degrees, so knowing the most about what each offer is essential to deciding on the best speakers for you.
While you’re looking into mounting options, you might also want to read about coaxial vs component speakers. You can also read about the pros and cons of bookshelf vs in-wall speakers as a third option.
Anyone looking for the best listening experience possible with their home audio or entertainment system would do wise to consider in-wall or on-wall speakers. Both offer audio performance customized to your space compared to shelf speakers, meaning you’ll theoretically be getting the best experience possible for your specific needs. But there are several significant differences when it comes to sound quality, cost, and other factors you should consider.
Most in-wall speakers feature adjustable woofers so that you can more precisely calibrate the bass response to the room after installation.
Both in-wall and wall-mounted speakers offer a more discreet, space-saving design compared to bookshelf and similar speakers. On-wall speakers are considerably slimmer than traditional speakers and are made to hang directly on a wall like a painting or a photograph, taking up less visual and functional space.
In-wall speakers are installed directly into your walls without a speaker cabinet and thus provide an even more integrated, modern look, though with more installation time and cost. In-wall speakers have the edge somewhat here.
In-wall and on-wall speakers both tend to be higher-end pieces of audio equipment designed for more demanding audio enthusiasts (though not necessarily audiophiles). However, the bass response can sometimes suffer because they’re installed directly into your wall, making them sound a little thinner than wall-mounted models.
Most offer adjustable woofers so that users can calibrate their position for optimal bass response, but this basic design feature means on-wall models come out ahead a bit.
Both options tend to start at slightly higher price points than comparable traditional speakers, but in-wall speakers require a custom installation. This fact can add considerably to their overall cost.
While you can elect to install them yourself to save on labor costs, you’ll still have to spend extra money on parts and possibly tools. It’s also not necessarily a quick and easy job, depending on your space and your walls. As such, most manufacturers will recommend having a professional do the job. Either way, you’re going to shell out more than you would in total for on-wall models.
Though they generally offer good to exceptional audio performance, poorly installed or calibrated in-wall speakers can produce an inferior stereo image and bass response compared to box, bookshelf, or on-wall models.
Can you relocate or reposition in-wall speakers?
Relocating in-wall speakers even a few inches can be a big project since you’ll probably have to recut part of your wall. However, most in-wall models feature adjustable “ring” woofers that allow you to get the best angle possible for the most bass response.
Do in-wall speakers sound good?
Though it depends somewhat on the specific model, in-wall speakers can sound quite good, even compared to high-end bookshelf designs. The one thing to keep in mind is that they can lack some bass compared to on-wall models, but with the proper placement, you’ll not lose too much bass response to wall absorption.
Is voice matching important?
Voice matching refers to the process of selecting your speakers to cater to the specific shape and size of your room. While it can make a big difference in some situations, it’s an extra step that can sometimes have added costs. It’s more worth doing if you’ve got an unusually shaped room or exceptionally high ceilings. Carpeting (or lack thereof) can affect voice matching, as well.
STAT: Global sales of in-wall speakers have increased dramatically in the past five years compared to the growth of box or bookshelf models. (source)