Gauging the performance of in-ceiling speakers isn’t always easy, since their performance can vary greatly upon the specifics of their installation. The installation variables complicate both a manufacturer’s attempts to design a speaker that will work in a wide variety of installations and a reviewer’s ability to describe the speaker’s performance in a way that will be meaningful to the reader. There are plenty of architectural speakers that address relative positioning with “boundary” or trim controls and pivotable tweeters. The differences in wall or ceiling cavity sizes can be controlled with a back box. This is where Beale Street Audio’s in-ceiling speakers set themselves apart.
Back boxes, by their very nature, help reduce the noise transmission to adjacent rooms and provide more consistency in different applications. So why don’t all in-ceiling speakers come with back boxes? Primarily because they add expense and limit low frequency extension by limiting the size of the speaker enclosure. Beale Street’s “Sonic Vortex” technology provides the expected benefits of a back box system but is also designed to increase low frequency extension and reduce distortion. The reasonable price is a pleasant bonus.
Today, we’ll be discussing two speakers that utilize this technology: the IC6-BB ($225/each) in-ceiling speaker and BPS-80 ($469) powered subwoofer. “Sonic Vortex” is Beale Street Audio’s creation and incorporates a transmission line coiled up in the speakers’ backboxes. The transmission lines are different sizes for the different drivers and coil around the cylindrical backbox in a vortex formation, venting out the front of the speaker in a series of dispersion ports in the bezel. Don’t worry, the bezel-less grill covers the drivers and ports. If you are not familiar with transmission lines, this may appear to simply be a ported backbox, but it isn’t. A properly designed transmission line not only harnesses the back energy of the driver(s) like a ported enclosure but also provides additional control of phase, reduces distortion by exercising more control of the airflow through a more complex pathway. In simpler terms, it can act to smoothly extend extension while minimizing distortion. Beale Street advises that there is a 6 to 9dB boost in the mid-lower bass region and the helps to provide a smooth 160-degree dispersion pattern.
The Sonic Vortex in-ceiling speakers come in two sizes, with either a 6.5- or 8-inch mid-woofer and in three performance levels: “B,” “MB,” and the top of the line “BB,” which stands for “Better than their best.” The IC6-BB features a 6.5-inch carbon fiber woofer and one-inch titanium dome pivoting tweeter. The overall chassis is significantly larger, requiring an 8.4-inch circular cutout and 6.8 inches of depth. The attractive, bezel-less metal screen grille has a 9.4 inch diameter. Beale Street Audio states the frequency response of 46Hz to 22kHz, a nominal impedance of 8 Ohms, and sensitivity of 89 dB.
The BPS-80 is a relatively small, cube-shaped subwoofer measuring approximately 13.5 inches across and weighing in at 15.56 pounds. A black cloth grille is magnetically attached to the front, behind which sits an eight-inch driver with butyl rubber surround inside a bezel with six rectangular openings. The openings are the ports for the Sonic Vortex transmission line. The back side of the wood cabinet features a 220-watt plate amplifier, which houses LFE and stereo line level inputs, as well as speaker level inputs and pass-through speaker level outputs. A simple control set includes a continuously adjustable subwoofer crossover and volume control, as well as a 0/180-degree phase switch. The rated frequency range is 28 Hz to 300 Hz but, as with the in-ceiling speakers, no information is provided as to the tolerances for this range.
Beale Street provides simple, clear instructions for both speakers. The IC6-BB speaker’s documentation advise the user on how to make an easily repairable cut to allow for the clearances to be confirmed before making the final, full-size cutout. This is particularly important in light of the speaker’s nearly seven-inch depth. This is significantly deeper than most in-ceiling speakers, and while most ceiling cavities should have sufficient clearance, if that particular location has an obstruction such as a pipe or ductwork, you will need to patch the hole and find another location. I should point out that there are shallower speakers in the Sonic Vortex lineup that need less than half the depth.
Once the location is ascertained and the drywall is cut, the rest of the installation is very similar to that of other in-ceiling speakers. The speaker wires are easily attached to spring-loaded terminals, and four screw activated “dogs” secure the speaker in place. The aimable tweeter can then be adjusted for the intended listening position. Another installation option for these speakers is the use of an optional pendant enclosure. As the speakers have an incorporated backbox, it is relatively simple exercise to slide an aesthetically pleasing enclosure around the speaker and hang them from the ceiling much like a pendant light.
The BPS-80 subwoofer was simple to install and configure. I connected the speaker level outputs of my Russound MCA-88X distribution amplifier to the subwoofer’s speaker level inputs and used the pass-through outputs for the IC6-BBs. The limited adjustments kept the setup quick but was sufficient to get a reasonably smooth integration.
With U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (Tidal, Island Records) the speakers did a good job with Bono’s voice, but the cymbals on the drums were a bit thin. I played with the position of the tweeters and was able to improve this a bit. Notably, the bass guitar notes were well defined and clean. This is an area that many open-backed architectural speakers can struggle with due to cavity resonances, but the IC6-BBs came through with flying colors. Listening without the subwoofer, there was a noticeable lack of very deep bass energy, but what was coming from the speakers was well controlled. I preferred to have the subwoofer engaged, but with the volume about two to three dB lower in level than the IC6-BB speakers, this provided some bass extension while reducing localization.
Another of the many other songs I listened to was Billie Eilish’s “everything i wanted” (Tidal, Interscope Records). Her voice came through fuller and better defined than I expected from an architectural speaker anywhere near this price point. The recurring synthesized bass notes were tight, but really needed the reinforcement of the sub to reach their full potential. As I heard on several other tracks, the IC6-BBs can more than hold their own for their size when it comes to bass output and are certainly fine for casual listening, but you will want to add a subwoofer if your music preferences lean toward music with lots of bass. However, adding an in-room subwoofer may come at the cost of some discontinuity. I note that Beale Street Audio also makes some architectural subwoofers that may provide frequency extension and a smoother transition due to co-localization.
The IC6-BB’s size can work against it. The seven-inch depth is more likely to limit installation options due to hidden obstacles. The 8.4-inch diameter cutout is about average for a 6.5-inch speaker with an integrated backbox, but is noticeably larger than most models with the same sized drivers and no backbox.
The BPS-80 subwoofer lacks any sort of auto-EQ or room correction. This is understandable at this price, and those who are also using a modern receiver with room correction will be able to handle those adjustments on that end. However, the relatively low-powered amplified and small size means that low frequency output is limited. If you want to feel the bass pulse through you while grooving to your favorite dance tunes, you should consider a second BPS-80 or a larger and more powerful subwoofer.
There are a handful of other similarly sized speakers with integrated backboxes that you might consider if you’re in the market for architectural speakers of this sort. The Monitor Audio CP-CT150 ($289 each) features a pivotable, one-inch tweeter and five-inch polymer woofer. It needs the same diameter cutout, but less than six inches of installation depth. The low end of its frequency extension is reported as 75Hz, with a sensitivity rating of 85dB per watt at one meter. By comparison, the IC6-BB is rated for 46Hz of bass extension and a sensitivity of 89 dB, although I believe the stated frequency range to be generous.
The MartinLogan Installer Series IC3 ($229.99/each) is slightly smaller, with a 0.75-inch tweeter and 3.5-inch woofer. With low-frequency roll-off reported at 100Hz, you’ll definitely be giving up some bass extension, but you’ll have a much smaller speaker at less than four inches deep with a 3.75- inch diameter cutout.
The Beale Street Audio IC6-BB and BPS-80 combination were a pleasant surprise. Unlike many of the product pitches we hear, the novel Sonic Vortex design delivers much of what is promised. The 6.5-inch IC6-BB provided bass output similar to my Russound IC-620 speakers, despite the Russounds having a larger enclosure. The Russounds are a bit fuller, but the IC6-BBs are more controlled and the backboxes greatly reduce noise transmission into adjacent rooms.