How much money should I spend on in-ceiling speakers?

We get asked by clients and designers “how much should I spend on in-ceiling speakers” all the time. It is a difficult question to answer early on in a new relationship because we are just getting to know you and your family. What’s important is that we help you spend your money wisely. You don’t want to waste money but you also don’t want to be disappointed with the end result and wished you had upgraded.

What we are talking about here is integrating music into your home renovation or new construction. Having speakers in the ceiling is a design decision more than an audio decision so you have to keep that in mind.

Where are you going to place them and what do you expect from them?

Are they going into your kitchen where you will use them every day but your focus is on other things like making dinner? Are they going into a listening room where you want to relax, have a coffee or wine and enjoy the music?

The environment is important too. The room is going to affect the sound considerably so don’t waste your time putting in very expensive speakers in a room with only hard surfaces. You will just be disappointed. Also just because you have an open concept design, don’t try to fill a large area with just a pair of speakers. You are better off focussing the areas you occupy with dedicated speakers. E.g., the kitchen should have dedicated speakers and the family room or dining area should have their own speakers. This way you can actually focus the activities in each room without having to turn it up so loud. Your family will appreciate this.

Which type of speakers?

The other aspect of in-ceiling or architectural speakers is whether you actually need them or not. As integrators, we would love to install 32 in-ceiling speakers in every home but in reality, does every room need a pair of speakers? No they don’t and you can still listen to music in the Den or bathroom without in-ceiling speakers. Portable or WiFi speakers are great additions to secondary rooms for occasional listening. If you have the space or furniture to sit them on, a SONOS Play1 on your bathroom counter is a great way to catch the morning news or listen to a podcast for a fraction of the price. Again, focus on the design first. Understand where you want music and if you have room for speakers in the room vs. hiding them in the ceiling.

If you have the room for bookshelf or tower speakers, they are always going to provide the best sound. Most of our clients are challenged to find space but keep this in mind as you can mix and match what type of speakers, amplifiers and whole system you choose.

What should I spend on speakers?

Although this is important, it should actually be how much should I spend on listening to music in this room? What does that mean? Considering the speakers are only a part of the solution, you need to consider the whole system:

  • Speakers
  • Amplifiers
  • Source of music (e.g, CD player, Music Streamer, Record Player, etc)
  • Quality of Wiring
  • and Room or Environment

What are examples of systems?

SONOS Play1

The simplest entry level system to reference currently is using a SONOS Play1 which costs you $199 CAD. It does everything you need to listen to music in a room. Just don’t expect to be able to hear it with more than 2 people in the room or far away from the speaker. The sound is “good” but that’s it and you also have to find a location to put the speaker. Maybe on the bedside table? Sure that’s easy.

Now you know you don’t want to have a portable speaker on the kitchen counter so you want to have a good quality system with a pair of in-ceiling speakers. Let’s stick with SONOS for now but you could use many other options like Bluesound or Control4 multiroom audio systems.

SONOS Connect:Amp

SONOS makes a dedicated SONOS Connect:Amp which is an integrated amplifier to power any 3rd party speaker. You just need to wire a pair of speakers to the amp and now you have a zone of audio. The current or soon-to-be old amp is $649 CAD (SONOS is launching an all new Amp for $799 shortly). Our most popular in-ceiling speaker size is 6.5″ in the mid level category. I know there could be arguments on this but I always tell clients that an in-ceiling speaker can range from $100 to $1,000 (excluding our invisible speakers) so let’s pick them on that spectrum. Now…if you choose a $100 speaker, I’m going to set your expectations very low. They sound very basic (ok actually they sound like garbage) and have absolutely no depth to them. They will also quickly experience distortion at higher volumes which isn’t very nice to the ears…so what do you do?

A typical choice

SONOS Connect:Amp with a pair of 6.5″ In-ceiling speakers

Our most common price point is around $250 per speaker.

So what does that zone cost you in reality? 1 x Amp, 2 x speakers, 2 x trim rings for new construction, 16-4 speaker wire (assume 100′ to the AV room) and labour at rough-in and final installation you are looking at around $1,400 for that zone of music. That is a “good” quality sound system.

If you spend $500 per speaker, you get “very good” quality and a lot of speaker for your money. Back to the SONOS Connect:Amp…if you want “very high quality” sound, you need to upgrade the amp so threshold for the speaker is above $500 you really need a separate amp but it can still be a sonos zone by using their Connect zoneplayer. The other trick is instead of just upgrading the amp, you can add a subwoofer into the room which will make your in-ceiling speakers more efficient. What are your options? There is always the SONOS Wireless Sub for $899 but you have to find a spot for it. If you have the floor space, great. It’s easy and you don’t have to commit to it during construction because you can add it later.

What if you don’t want to see the subwoofer?

Just like in-ceiling speakers, we can integrate in-room or in-wall subwoofers and now you have a 2.1 or 4.1 listening room. You can budget about $1,500 for in-wall sub which includes the actual speaker wired back to a subwoofer amplifier. Labour is going to be higher for this zone but let’s assume you just added the in-wall sub to your $1,400 audio zone. Installed you are looking at around $3,250 for this solution. The subwoofer just like in-ceiling speakers are planned for during the design phase so they can be roughed in.

10″ in-wall subwoofer and 6.5″ rough-in bracket for in-ceiling speaker.

Finally, let’s look at the higher end of the spectrum.

We are going to have room in the ceiling for an 8″ speaker which also helps us greatly with lower frequencies and therefore could eliminate the need for a sub. Now we are talking about a full range in-ceiling speaker and this hits our $1,000 range. The regular SONOS amp just can’t handle these speakers so we go with an Audio Control Bijou or Rialto amplifier with the SONOS Connect.

Audio Control Rialto 600 and SONOS Connect

Together, this solution adds up like this:

  • 2 x 8″ full range speakers $2,000
  • 2 x rough-in trim brackets $50
  • 1 x Rialto Amp $1,200
  • 1 x SONOS Connect $449
  • 2 x 14-2 speaker wire (upgraded from our standard 16 gauge) $150
  • Rough-in labour and final installation setup labour $250
  • Total price is around $4,099

This gives you a nice range of choices. We haven’t considered the higher end invisible speakers if you really can’t stand the sight of speaker grilles on your walls or ceilings. Invisible speakers have come a long way over the years but I will leave those for another day.

In Summary

We have the basic Play1 zone of audio for $199 or the amazing full range sound system for $4,099 with a pair of in-ceiling speakers. Somewhere in the middle of those are your “good quality” in-ceiling solutions for around $1,400. All of these solutions rely on SONOS for music streaming but offer you, the homeowner choices to match your taste in audio quality.

Talk to us about your project and we will help you make the right choices for your budgets.

Which speakers do we recommend?

We focus our efforts on working with great speaker companies that offer a wide range of options, easy installation, exceptional warranty and support services, and obviously amazing sound. The price range mentioned here is for our line of speakers from Monitor Audio. They are based in the UK but have distribution for North America based here in Ontario. We also carry specialized solutions from Triad (a Control4 brand), Leon Speakers, Amina Invisibles, Russound, KEF, PSB, BOSE and others. And that’s only for residential. For commercial applications our list continues.

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