Home Electronics: Hidden Treasures

<< Back to Robb Report, October 2004
  • Brent Butterworth

The hospital paging system calls a doctor to your bedside. The dentist’s office music system anesthetizes your brain with Muzak while you await a root canal. The grade-school intercom beckons you to the principal’s office. For most of us, these dreary images are all that come to mind when we think of in-wall speakers. We think of them as institutional products, not high-fidelity components.

Indeed, many speaker companies simply order their in-walls unheard (and sometimes even unseen) from a Chinese manufacturer. However, in-wall speakers are no longer limited to such commercial-grade compost. Today’s best in-walls often incorporate the same components as the finest conventional speakers while retaining the most prized characteristic of their underperforming cousins: their ability to disappear into your walls. Only a white grille appears, framed by a thin bezel. An electronics installer can apply paint or wallpaper to blend the speaker further into your wall.

The high-end in-wall speaker category caught fire in 1999 when Sonance—the General Motors of in-walls—jumped into the market with the Silhouette III. The III launched at $3,100 each, a staggering sum at the time for an in-wall speaker. (I remember the sniggering in the back rows at the press event.) But listeners who wanted high-quality sound in environs where a freestanding speaker would not do embraced the Silhouette. Sonance’s current top model is the Silhouette II ($2,400 each), a step down from the III, but still stunning in its sound quality.

The fact that B&W, the world’s leading high-end speaker maker, has created an in-wall version of its beloved Nautilus 803 speaker should tell you that in-walls have finally arrived. The Signature 8NT ($2,500 each with a supporting back box) uses the same woofer, midrange, and tweeter drivers as the 803. Although its sound does not envelop the listener as the 803’s does, the Signature 8NT will still impress with its clarity.

MartinLogan is best known for large panel speakers that resemble shoji screens and wreck thousands of marriages each year. The company has recently turned its attention to less esoteric products, and the results have been remarkable. Although we have yet to hear MartinLogan’s new Voyage in-wall ($1,995 each), the astounding performance of the company’s Fresco on-wall speakers has piqued our curiosity about the Voyage.

The Voyage uses a ribbon-shaped tweeter and midrange drivers from Bohlender-Graebener, a company that offers its own twist on the high-end in-wall. Its R-75i ($6,000 per pair, with the R-8i woofer module) is one long ribbon, measuring more than 6 feet in height. This extended ribbon produces a more spacious sound than most in-walls can conjure. The R-8i module provides bass.

Perhaps today’s ultimate in-wall is SpeakerCraft’s Rogue, a $50,000-per-pair, custom-order model. Its nearly 7-foot-tall aluminum front panel holds eight woofers and a 6-foot ribbon tweeter. Unlike other in-walls, the Rogue is designed to be seen—it is available in a wide selection of colors and textures. Whether that includes paisley, we do not know, but regardless, the Rogue makes a statement bold enough to silence the haughtiest audio enthusiast.


Bowers & Wilkins



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