It almost seems to defy the law of physics that there can be “invisible” speakers, but yes, they do exist and audio video integrators have been using them since the 1990’s (well, you can see them, but only when you take them out of the box, not when they are installed). Many interior designers and architects love them and we have installed our fair share over the years, but they haven’t been as popular as you might think. Why? Two complaints have been that they are expensive and don’t sound as good as conventional flush-mount speakers at a similar price point. The answer?…behold the new ‘Sonance Invisible Series’ loudspeakers that go a long way to answering these challenges.
Most previous invisible speakers suffer from a somewhat veiled sound that didn’t have extended high or low frequency response. Manufacturers would try to compensate for this by using special equalizers that added to cost and complexity, and only partially solved the problem. Sonance tackled this by re-thinking how this category of speaker is designed, and the result is a substantial increase in sound quality that most people will be perfectly happy with.
As an audio video integrator, I’m personally impressed that Sonance took on this challenge, as they could have left “good enough” alone. They purchased a well-known invisible speaker company called “Sound Advance” several years ago. These speakers have been popular for years, but instead they set out to build a better mouse trap (err…I mean, loudspeaker).
To become truly invisible, the speakers fit flush with the wall surface and are either painted, covered with wallpaper or plastered over with a finish thickness of up to 3mm of flexible material. Some other brands only allow 1mm of material maximum over the speaker surface until sound quality rapidly deteriorates. You can even use them with venetian plaster. Installations have been tested with both acrylic and lime-based Venetian plaster and both work great.
Besides drywall/wallboard installation, the speakers may be installed in brick and concrete walls, too. See the diagram below for an illustration of how they mount in drywall.
The actual sound-radiating surface of the speaker are not round cones or domes like we are used to seeing in a speaker; rather a flat diaphragm vibrates and couples to the air to provide room-filling sound. A big side benefit to this speaker technology is a much wider sound dispersion pattern. This means the sound is not as “beamy”…you can move away from where the speaker is aiming without a drastic decrease in sound volume. In some larger rooms, two speakers will suffice where with conventional flush mount speakers four might be necessary for even sound coverage.
These new speakers also feature much higher ‘sensitivity’, which is geek-speak for the fact that these speakers will play louder with less amplifier power. Less power costs less money and saves energy.
The Sonance Invisible Series speakers set a new benchmark in low bass frequency reproduction for this type of speaker. Most invisible speakers are rather weak in the bass region, and unless used for only the most basic background music, require a subwoofer to sound decent. Though subwoofers are fairly easy to hide these days (in-wall models and above ceiling and under floor models available), not needing a subwoofer for good sound quality saves money and complication.
Adding a subwoofer to any in-wall or in-ceiling speaker will help in bass quality and extension, so why not have that too be invisible? Sonance makes an invisible flush-mount woofer that will give extra reinforcement to bass frequencies for some extra “punch”.
An optional aluminum “back can” is available that contains the speaker’s back wave sound energy. This keeps the wall surface behind the speaker from rattling and helps keep the sound from “leaking” throughout the wall structure.
The line includes four models. The IS2 is the smallest model (a 2-way speaker…tweeter + woofer) and replaces what would be a conventional flush-mount speaker with an 8” woofer. These sell for $1,100 per pair. The larger IS4 model (a 3-way speaker with tweeter + midrange + woofer) replaces a conventional speaker with a 10” woofer and sells for $1,600 per pair.
There is even a “Single Stereo” model (the IS4SST) that combines the signal of the left and right loudspeaker, perfect for corridors or hallways where two speakers might be impossible to install. This 3-way speaker costs $900 each. The ISW Woofer is $600 each.
The optional back can is $100 per speaker for the IS2, and $125 each for the IS4, IS4SST, and ISW woofer.
Key Takeaway: Invisible speakers can sound great and not dent your bank account too badly. These speakers make an excellent choice for whole house music systems and make a stealth option for media rooms and some home theater designs.