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Are invisible speakers expensive?

As a part of a whole-house audio system, invisible speakers will increase your budget around 10% per room.

Consider the cost of a distributed audio system in a typical living room. The cost of electronics, wiring, automation, and everyday speakers puts you around $10k. Switch to invisibles and your budget inches up to $11k. A 10% overall increase in cost. Part of that cost is the speaker itself. Invisible speakers are more complicated to build, and use expensive materials for durability. So a LW1200 speaker, at $750 each, is more expensive than a sonically similar

high-end architectural speaker.

Now add the cost of installation. Invisible speakers require an additional site visit from your Integrator. During the first visit, the integrator may choose to install an optional backbox.

Following drywall application, the Integrator returns to install and test the speaker. After taping and finishing, the Integrator returns again to test and tune the system. Anticipate an extra hour or two per speaker for installation vs. a traditional speaker.

For bass to 80 Hz and equivalent coverage, you would need 4 Live-Wall speakers ($750 each), or 6 architectural speakers ($350 each). The in-ceiling speakers, painted to match the ceiling, would cost $2,100 plus another $600 for painting. The Live-Wall speakers would cost $3,000.

Can you use an invisible speaker outdoors?

One of the benefits of a LiveWall invisible speaker is placement flexibility. Because we use materials common to the aeronautics industry, our speakers are impervious to environmental extremes, including heat, cold, and moisture.

You can put LiveWall speakers into shower stalls, in saunas, and steam rooms, even outdoors under a light application of stucco.

The face of the LiveWall speaker is the active music-making part so it needs a clear path into the listening environment. That means you can’t put anything thick and solid, like paneling, wood slats, or siding, in front of the speaker.

You can cover the speaker with drywall mud, paint, wallpaper, venetian plaster, and a thin layer of stucco. For protection, we recommend using a vinyl admixture with your mud, plaster, or stucco, for added flexibility and resilience.

Do I need a backbox?

Yes. But not for the reason you think. Integrators install backboxes for three reasons — to reduce sound transmission into adjacent rooms, to ‘claim the space’ in the wall or ceiling, and to protect the speaker from debris.

As a rule, backboxes do not improve the acoustic performance of good speaker systems. Inferior speakers may benefit from the stiffening backboxes provide, but we’re not talking about inferior speakers here.

Architectural speakers need a good amount of open air space behind the drivers. Most architectural speakers use an Infinite Baffle design, with the back of the speaker playing into the wall. Infinite Baffle designs work best when there's an infinite (you saw that coming) amount of unimpeded air space behind the speaker. When the air space is too small, the springiness of the air stiffens, which constrains the movement of the bass unit. Reduced airspace reduces driver movement, which reduces bass extension and overall output volume.

To test this, simply put an architectural speaker into a wall that's stuffed to the brim with insulation. You'll hear no bass and no impact. We call this overdamping, or choking.

The more bass a speaker is capable of producing, the more air it needs behind the drivers. That's just physics. But most manufacturers (us included) size our backboxes so they fit between and are no deeper than a 2x4 stud. That means a backbox would have to be at least two feet tall to give enough breathing room to achieve bass to 60 Hz.

If a speaker is capable of reaching down past 60 Hz, but it's put into a smallish box, the speaker will lose a good deal of bass extension. Most enclosed architectural speakers suffer from limited bass specifically because of this issue.

Reduce sound transmission

Well constructed backboxes with plenty of absorptive material reduce sound traveling into adjoining rooms at certain frequencies. High frequencies above 500 Hz are nicely contained within the box. But low bass notes are not, and while attenuated, escape the confines of the box, regardless of construction.

Think of it this way: when you're at a stoplight and a car pulls up next to you with loud, heavy bass music playing, you can easily hear the music. And this is music that's contained by two boxes — their car and yours. Bass notes — with their very long wavelengths — easily pass through wood and metal containers.

The best backboxes do reduce upper bass frequencies up to 9dB. That's a significant reduction, to be sure (almost 65% of the sound is trapped in the box). And yet these backboxes are unable to significantly reduce low bass information, which easily pass through the walls of the house.

Again, consider a subwoofer in a dedicated theater. Even when placed in a well-insulated room, the rumble of the sub is heard throughout the house. This is the physics of sound — bass notes, with their long wavelengths travel freely. Backboxes help overall, but have their limitations.

Claim the space

During new construction, it's important for the Integrator to protect a defined area in the walls from pipes, conduit, and excess insulation. A backbox is an inexpensive way to ensure other construction elements don't interfere with sonic performance and speaker placement. Integrators like to be 'first in line' after studs are up to install backboxes, helping the electrician and plumber plan their routes.

Protect from debris

Because most architectural speakers are open behind the drivers, there's a likelihood construction debris and critters make contact with the back of the speaker. In-ceiling placement is particularly sensitive, since the debris rests atop the moving parts of the speaker,

rattling perfectly to the beat. Backboxes keep the back of the speaker clean, while preventing critters from munching on critical components.

Do invisible speakers need a special amplifier?

Kinda. LiveWall speakers appreciate a high-quality amplifier with at least 60 watts of power per channel. We've chosen to engineer LiveWall speakers with enhanced bass response (and lower sensitivity, meaning they require more power to play loud).

You see, speaker designers face a choice driven by physics — limited bass with higher sensitivity, or extended bass with lower sensitivity. Choosing an extended bass design increases manufacturing costs, since the speaker has to handle more power to produce an equivalent amount of output. But LiveWall Integrators use better amplification anyway, so it's a non-issue.

In addition, sophisticated Integrators specify DSP amplifiers into their important projects, allowing room-by-room acoustic analysis and tuning to overcome anomalies introduced by the room or decorating choices. When used in conjunction with a high-quality DSP amplifier, a LiveWall room can be optimized for truly magical performance.

Do invisible speakers sound good?

Let's consider invisible speakers for three situations: background music, home theater, and critical listening. A great background music system fills the room with accurate, full-range, enveloping music at low to moderate volume levels.

Accuracy is tough to pin down in the audio world. For us, it refers to the percentage variance from the input signal. Here's an analogy. Let's represent a musical passage as a 12' square being fed into a speaker system. A 'perfect' speaker would reproduce that exact 12' square. But a speaker with inherent distortion will produce something less than a square — perhaps a rectangle with rounded corners.

Measuring the difference between the output and the input gives us a ratio, and thus, a distortion figure. Perfect accuracy gives us distortion of 0%. Typical high-end distributed audio speakers have distortion nearing 15%. Invisible speakers have distortion ranging from 5% to over 50%, with the worst offenders spitting out a lopsided polygon.

We define full-range from 55 Hz thru 17,000 Hz That's equivalent to the note ‘A’ three octaves below Middle C, up past the highest notes of any instrument into the ‘atmospherics.'

Envelopment refers to the dispersion characteristics of the speaker — the broader the dispersion, the more musical information you'll hear as you move about the room. Good envelopment means there are no hotspots or dropouts throughout the listening area.

Moderate volume is anything under 85dB. Chain saws, lawn mowers, and snow blowers create about 85dB of output, so we're defining 'moderate' as loud, but not too loud.

Background Music

Invisible speakers are an excellent choice for background audio systems, and in some cases, outperform traditional architectural speakers with broader dispersion and smoother tonal balance.

Home theater
A great home theater system presents fully understandable dialog, a 3-dimensional soundscape, and palpable bass. Understandable dialog is imperative in a home theater system — and yet is often overlooked during the design stage. Crisp dialog (and effects) are best reproduced by a narrow dispersion, high-impact directional speaker system. Invisible speakers, with their wider dispersion are a good choice using 2 per channel.

You see, using two invisible speakers stacked atop each other creates the vertical dispersion pattern best suited for vocal reproduction.

3-D soundscapes are built with well-positioned surround and overhead speakers with slight diffusion to enhance the environment. Here's where invisible speakers shine, and are highly recommended.

Gut-pounding bass is best achieved through dedicated box subwoofers. And yet, invisible subwoofers — when a sufficient number are installed do an admirable job of filling the room with palpable bass.

Invisible speakers are a good choice for the surround and effects channels. But use 2 speakers per channel for the front stage.

Critical listening

While some invisible speakers have low distortion and admirable tonal balance, there are no invisible speakers currently available that outperform audiophile box speakers.

Frequency Response is a measure of the magnitude of the output relative to frequency. For example, if a piano player hits every key on the piano with the same exact pressure, we might call this a 'flat' frequency response. Meaning, each note is as loud as any other note. But if the piano player bangs the high keys with extra force, we might say the frequency response is 'bright.' Tricky stuff, this Frequency Response measurement. In short, the highest quality speakers have the flattest response.

Grille-free speakers vs. traditional speakers.

We evaluate three criteria — aesthetics, coverage, and output — when choosing whether to specify a grille-free or traditional speaker.

Aesthetics drive the specifying process, our Ar11 grille-free speakers are the right choice. No ugly grilles, no yellowing, no sagging. The Ar speakers are the designer's choice.

Coverage: Requirements range from broad to narrow. You want broad coverage from whole-house music speakers --with sound dispersed throughout the room. When broad coverage is required, Ar grille-free speakers, with their 160'° dispersion are the right choice. Traditional grilled in-ceiling speakers have narrower dispersion characteristics --a natural byproduct of the 'bass unit/tweeter' configuration. To overcome narrow dispersion, Integrators increase the number of speakers in the room. The downside is additional cost and ceiling clutter. There are instances when a narrowly-focused in-ceiling speaker may be desirable, particularly in less-than-perfect home theater installations. When planning the front stage in an in-ceiling; theater, specialized in-ceiling grilled speakers make the most of a compromised situation.

There is some disagreement on ideal dispersion characteristics for surround speakers. Some acoustic engineers prefer a diffuse sound from their surrounds, others prefer a more direct sound. We're of the mind that direct sound is more appropriate — particularly since the best sound engineers use direct-radiating surrounds in their mixing suites. For this reason, we recommend a wall (not ceiling) mounted direct radiating surround speaker, like our LW1210 or LW1220 Al.

Output refers to loudness. The Ar11 has enough output to produce loud music within the room.

How many speakers do I need in a room?

How does the LiveWall Sub compare to traditional subwoofers? Many people have a high expectation for the performance of a single in-wall (or invisible) subwoofer. Let's settle this now: one built-in subwoofer will not replace the performance, output, extension, and impact of one high-end cabinet-based subwoofer.

The LWSub can reach low (to 25 Hz -6dB), but plays 25% as loud as a high-end 10" powered cabinet-based subwoofer. Therefore, you will need at least four LWSubs to perform as loud and low as a single high-quality box sub. Use several invisible subs per room for high output ;We have clients who demand theater level sound from their invisible speaker systems. No problem. Simple math tells us how many speakers and subs to place in a room to achieve high level output. In general, a 6-seat home theater requires 6 or more LWSubs for best performance.

The benefit of multiple subs

Although you will need two LWSubs to equal the sound pressure level of a single box subwoofer, you achieve the serendipitous benefit of multiple sources of bass: improved coverage throughout the room. A single subwoofer in a room is problematic, because it excites room modes in a given manner. Most rooms will create location-specific bumps and dips in the frequency response. And based on typical seating arrangements relative to the walls and speakers, the most egregious bass fluctuations tend to cluster around the listening area. Adding a second sub --and strategically placing it for best impact — smooths out those room modes. Adding a third and a fourth sub — also strategically placed — adds more smoothness.

So while it takes two LWSubs to achieve the same output as a single powered subwoofer, it's most likely the room will sound significantly better with two LWSubs versus the single powered subwoofer.

Live-Wall Subwoofer Installation Issues

Things to know about installing a LiveWall Sub.

Use our backbox. No question — you need to use the LWSub BOX with the sub. Subwoofers create tremendous pressure behind the driver (in the wall) and this pressure needs to be controlled. The LWSub BOX maintains a airtight seal, protecting the speaker, and efficiently pushing as much sound into the room as practical. We often get asked if a carpenter can build a custom box for the Sub. And while we discourage this, in critical cases where the LWSub BOX can not fit, we recommend purchasing the LWSub BOX, and modifying the height or depth of the box while retaining the mounting system as is. Any modifications must retain the original internal air volume of the box, or the subwoofer will not operate properly.

Check for air leaks before mudding. Proper gasketing of the speaker is essential for good performance and trouble-free use. We can't stress this enough test the subwoofer after it's been installed but prior to taping, mud or spackle.

Listen for air leaks. Now is the time to fix any problems. Use a vinyl admix. It increases flexibility of the mud and ensures no cracking over time.

Use the right amplifier. You will need a 500w amplifier with a low pass filter. Set the crossover point to 100 Hz or below, allowing only the bass signal to pass to the subwoofer. 500w is required to get the stated performance of the sub.

Put damping material on metal studs. If you're mounting the LiveWall sub into metal studs, take the time to secure the studs and add damping material like to quell errant vibrations. Nothing is more annoying than vibrations coming from metal studs, ducting, or other loose building materials. Remember: the sub produces a lot of air pressure in the room and in the backbox. Loose building materials will rattle if they're not secured.

My Integrator says invisible speakers don't sound good.

That was true a decade ago. Invisible speakers — for many years — have been a weak link in the audio chain. Invisible speakers showed up in the early '90's and were favored by designers and architects, much to the chagrin of AV Integrators. Early technologies were, to put it kindly, lacking. With limited high frequency, sloppy bass, and low-impact midrange, Integrators reluctantly installed these speakers with the caveat 'they present a sonic compromise.' A decade later performance improved somewhat, and yet, Integrators still saw invisible speakers as a 'problem solver,' not an everyday solution.

Not until the advent of the NXT and LiveWall patents did invisible speakers come into their own, handily outperforming lesser traditional architectural speakers in bass response, inner detail, extension, and coverage. Unfortunately, thousands of customers over the past 25 years have had a poor sonic experience with invisible speakers, and this long, slow ramp-up period has colored the views of some Integrators who have not yet experienced the performance of a high-end invisible speaker. High-end Integrators have begun the switch to invisibles as an everyday solution, with many Integrators in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami only specifying invisible speakers in their projects. Our LW1220 Al outperforms most traditional in-wall speakers — competing more favorably with better quality boxed speakers.

First-time listeners to our invisible speakers are typically amazed at the bass performance, inner detail, and high frequency extension we achieve, calling the products ‘magical.'

We are confident that in the coming years, high-performance invisible speakers will be de regueur in better homes.

What happens if my LiveWall speaker breaks?

We've designed LiveWall speakers with several failsafes to virtually eliminate field failures.

We include power-limiting protection switches, oversized voice coils, and aeronautic adhesives. And yet, failures do occur: we see about 1 field failure for every 10,000 speakers installed — typically caused by installation issues.

Live-Wall speakers are not fixable, and so the ‘repair' solution is to simply cut out the failed unit and replace it with a new one.

Replacing a failed unit is straightforward. The integrator cuts the bad unit out from the wall with a rotozip, and retrofits in a new unit. The new unit is then finished to match the existing wall treatment.

The three-year LiveWall warranty covers repairing or replacing the failed unit, but does not cover the cost of drywall repair and painting. It's fair to consider the cost of ownership of an invisible speaker, and use that information to decide where best to place the speaker.

Using a LiveWall backbox protects the back of the speaker from construction debris and critters, and is highly recommended, particularly when placed on high-value surfaces.

What is a grille-free speaker?

We engineered a new category of in-ceiling speakers.

We've developed the Ar Series which eliminate ugly grilles. Using our patented constrained layer damping design, these super-thin flat-panel speakers protrude only 3mm from the ceiling, and have an elegant European look that makes them perfect for any decor. Traditional in-ceiling speakers are based on 70 year-old technology, with cone bass units and free-standing tweeters. And like the cabinet speakers of the past, these designs require a grille for protection and to hide the inner workings of the speaker. In-ceiling speakers have always presented an aesthetic problem, but the solutions never addressed the underlying issue: grilles, and their gray perforated metal are inherently ugly.

Our design is new and radically different. We use a multi-layer flat diaphragm instead of a cone. Our diaphragm is finished and painted white --so it blends seamlessly with the ceiling. No ugly grilles, no sagging, or yellowing. The face of an Ar speaker is smooth and white, and can be painted to match your ceiling.

Environmental extremes. Ar speakers are perfectly at home inside and out, and are marine-rated for extreme environmental conditions. They will withstand moisture, heat, cold, even salt spray.

Which invisible speaker technology is best?

There are essentially three technologies used in invisible speakers the vibrating puck, constrained layer damping, and traditional speaker units attached to a substrate.

Amina uses NXT's patented vibrating puck technology to excellent effect. A small puck is adhered to a thin substrate which produces highly accurate, enveloping output. The puck design, however, has limited bandwidth, and only goes down to about 120 Hz missing an entire octave of bass. Amina recommends using an optional subwoofer (which does not use a puck) to create full-range music.

We've developed the LiveWall line of invisible speakers using a constrained layer damping system that excels in extension, accuracy, and envelopment. It also has the lowest distortion measurements in the field. Constrained layer damping flattens a traditional cone and tunes the system through a sandwich of materials with varying densities and shapes. Our bass extension and output is enviable, and our high frequency output extends past the range of human hearing. Stealth Acoustics, Sonance, and several other brands use traditional (non-patentable) speaker elements adhered in one fashion or another to a substrate. While capable of producing a great deal of output and good bass extension, these designs suffer from higher distortion and limited dispersion. These negative traits are inherent in the design, and create a soundscape overemphasizing some notes, while muffling others.

Why should I buy an invisible speaker?

Aesthetics drives the decision to put invisible speakers throughout the home.

Grilled speakers add an unwelcome blemish to the room, with their gray mesh centers, yellowing bezels, and shadow-casting protrusion. There are a number of acoustic benefits to a LiveWall invisible speaker — namely broader dispersion and no phase anomalies off-axis — but aesthetics should be your primary decision maker.

Acoustically, LiveWall speakers outperform most mid-priced (around $750/pair) architectural speakers. So let's compareLiveWall speakers to high-end architectural competitors priced above $1,000/pair.

Comparing a LiveWall vs. a high-end architectural speaker.

Few high-end speakers play louder and with more transient-edge impact than a LiveWall speaker. These specialty products are quite large and intrusive, and yet could provide more inner detail, particularly on difficult musical passages. Some high-end speakers may not require as powerful an amplifier as a LiveWall speaker for best performance.

Acoustic upside of a LiveWall speaker.

For equivalent coverage, you will need to use perhaps twice as many high-end ceiling speakers to match the broad dispersion of LiveWall, and only the largest, most intrusive architectural speakers (with a minimum 10’ bass unit) will have the bass extension of a LiveWall LW1220 Al.

There's no direct comparison.

Comparing invisible and traditional speakers is somewhat like comparing sedans to SUVs. They both get you there — yet their functionality is markedly different. Invisible speakers are the best choice for clients who value the appearance of their rooms, and want to avoid cluttering the ceiling with obtrusive hardware. Traditional speakers are the best choice for clients who care less about aesthetics, and more about budget or a very particular sonic performance.