The growth in the popularity and availability of in-wall loudspeakers has been explosive. Virtually every major speaker manufacturer now offers a line of in-walls in almost every price range, some several thousand dollars per pair. The quality of inwall speakers has also steadily improved in the past few years, leading to much wider acceptance among audio enthusiasts.
To some, the downside of in-wall speakers has always been that they are not "tuned" or designed specifically for the volume of the wall cavity in which they are installed, like a floorstanding speaker is tuned for its enclosure. This leads to a variety of results when they are installed in a typical residential wall, and because of this variability some audiophiles question their accuracy. Many manufacturers use sophisticated technology to overcome these issues, and some offer enclosures or back-boxes for their in-walls to control the speaker's response characteristics when wall-mounted. Regardless, in-walls are popular and gaining acceptance because they take no floor space and almost disappear when installed, especially when the grilles are painted to match the room.
In this article, we review three pairs of in-wall speakers. We start with the BG PD-6 at $599 (the company rebranded from Bohlender-Graebener to BG Corp. last January), then move up to the PSB CW180R at $1200 per pair, and end with the Paradigm SA-35 at $1325. All are from respected manufacturers who also build floorstanding speakers and whose knowledge of loudspeaker technology and manufacturing has been applied to their in-wall offerings. All of the speakers were evaluated as pairs in identical "portable walls" built specifically for listening to inwalls. The walls measure 32" wide by 48" high and use standard 16" on-center stud construction found in a typical residential wall; all are covered on both sides with 5/8" drywall. The wall cavities are filled with R-13 insulation to prev e n t intern a l reflections and reverberations. The walls are large enough to emulate the sound of the speakers if they were installed in a real interior wall, but portable enough to move from my workshop to my listening room.
The BG PD-6 is a two-way speaker with a single six-inch Kevlar bass driver coupled to a three-inch Planar Ribbon Tweeter. Neodymium magnets are used in both the woofer and tweeter. Ribbon tweeters are considered ideal for mid- and high-frequency reproduction because the diaphragm is much lighter than that of a conventional tweeter, allowing for faster transient response, and ribbons don't use voice coils, so there is less potential for phase distortion and, according to BG, more extended ultrasonic frequency response (up to 25kHz). As a result, ribbons can sound very detailed and open. Such is the case with the BG PD-6. Though not large by comparison with some in-walls, measuring 8.6" high by 11.9" wide, they are still very enjoyable to listen to for extended periods. The Planar Ribbon Tweeter design produces broad dispersion characteristics over a wide listening area, providing a wide horizontal and vertical "sweet spot." In fact, frequencyresponse changes are hardly noticeable when moving from side to side or sitting and standing. Midrange and highs are very open and detailed, and the speakers are particularly adept with vocals. In Rod Stewart's rendition of "Till There Was You" [j Records], the PD-6 reveals subtle vocal details that could be obscured by a conventional tweeter, yet the sound remains very smooth. The BGs also produced a stable center image. The tweeter has a three-position level control (-3dB, flat, and +3dB at 2.5kHz); I preferred to listen to the flat position. Although the midbass response of the Kevlar woofer (with high-compliance rubber surround) is tight and well defined, the PD-6s require a subwoofer for deep bass, for both music and movies, as their low-frequency response rolls off rather quickly below about 50Hz. The construction quality of the BG PD-6 is very good.
Installation of the speakers is simple, using six dogleg clamps that secure the speaker to the wall, and both speakers and grilles can be painted to match the surface they are mounted on. They are designed for inwall or in-ceiling placement.
At $599 per pair, the BG PD-6 inwall speakers are a solid value. They sound good, they're built well, and they would make a great choice for a twochannel system or a multichannel home-theater system (for which you would buy five-toseven of the P D - 6 s ) . Make sure you include a subwoofer. The one BG makes, the R-8i, is an in-wall passive sub with two 8-inch drivers that fits into a standard wall depth of 3¾".
PSB CW180R Located in Pickering, Ontario, Canada, PSB has been manufacturing loudspeakers since 1972. Started by Paul S. Barton, the company has invested a lot of effort into research, making use of the testing facilities of the National Research Council in Ottawa. PSB manufactures a wide range of speakers, including floorstanding and custom- installation units.