Good speakers should be heard and not seen. 29 James in-ceiling that’s the gospel according to lots of people anyway. They want a house full of good sound but don’t want the big boxes that pump it out. If you’re one of these the technology is developing quite nicely.

American company James Loudspeaker has just unveiled a premium full range three-way speaker (woofer, mid-range and tweeter) and all you see is an aperture eight centimetres in diameter. The great bulk of the speaker is hidden in the ceiling or wall and the bit you see, the aperture, is available in a range of styles both square and round to work in with your light fittings or whatever else may be around them. They can also accept industry standard lighting trim kits to match similarly styled lighting products.

If you appreciate how speakers work the design of this thing is intriguing. The woofer, a driver 16.5 centimetres across, is hidden away in an aluminium box that goes behind the wall or up in the roof. The box is modelled on a traditional band-pass design giving the woofer real clout in its lower range, going as low as 38 Hertz, while the mid and tweeter take the range right up to 22 kiloHertz, well beyond the normal range of hearing. Unless you’re a dog.

A band pass speaker places an aperture in the cabinet backed by a tube to enhance bass within a certain range. James has taken this idea and stuffed a five-centimetre mid-range driver and, in front of it a two-centimetre tweeter, inside the tube. So mid and high range sound emerges from the middle of the tube while the bass coming from the woofer inside the box exits through the vacant space around these two. If this sounds inordinately complex, it is. But should you have an engineering bent you’ll regard this tube as a work of art.

29 James in-situThe upshot is that while you see only the eight centimetre grille surrounding the business end of the tube you’ll get serious sound from all the hardware you can’t see. The hidden aluminium box measures 35 by 25 by 16 cm with a mounting depth of a tad less than 18 cm, so unless you include these in your house from blueprint stage you’ll most likely have to put them in the ceiling, and they have cross members to brace to ceiling joists.

James has a range of small aperture speakers for walls and ceilings but this model, fetchingly named the 63SA-7HO, is the first high-output model, meaning it can operate at volume levels sufficient that a power limiter has been included in the design to protect it from damage by bursts of energy caused by sudden musical transients.

It is primarily designed for discreet music through whole-of-home systems but a pair can also serve as the rear channels for home theatre systems, and for these there’s a matching subwoofer unit. However the front channels of home theatre systems are still best done with speakers at ear level rather than in the ceiling.

The Australian importer of James’ products, Nick Libertone, happily admits that audiophiles will always prefer traditional speakers but “Lots of people don’t want the big box,” he said. “This is a very high-end speaker. The design is such that it can put out more bass than many 20-cm subwoofers. And it all comes through an aperture that’s eight centimetres across.”

29 James explodedYou won’t find these in the discount shops. The great bulk of Libertone’s customers are professional installers working in homes and businesses, and he says the market for premium small aperture in-wall and in-ceiling speakers is growing slowly. Probably because they’re unashamedly high end and expensive. Most of James’ small aperture models cost between $3000 and $4000 per pair and the 63SA-7HOs are $4400 a pair. Plenty of very good conventional in-wall and in-ceiling units (installers call them flush mounts) cost a quarter that.

The catch is that their grilles are usually 20 to 30 cm across, and while they can be painted to match the wall or ceiling they’re mounted in, they’re still more obvious than an aperture less than half that size.

Published August 2016



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