Gray Sound S80 Ported In-Ceiling Subwoofer

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Gray Sound S80 Ported In-Ceiling Subwoofer


Imagine walking into a well-designed living room, sitting down for a bit, and to your surprise you get a fully immersive, full-range audio experience without seeing a single speaker. Is this fantasy? Is this fake news? Nope. It is reality, and currently living it in my dining room, office, living room, kitchen, and master bedroom. For speakers, I use either Nakymatone ECHT invisible speakers or Stealth Acoustics LRX-83s, both of which physically disappear behind the drywall skim coat yet sound surprisingly good. What they are missing versus audiophile speakers (other than an actual physical footprint) is real bass. That is where the Gray Sound S80 comes in.

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Priced at $1,400, this in-ceiling subwoofer is designed to deliver bass in ways that in-wall, in-ceiling, and invisible speakers simply can't. This narrow, mounted box sends low frequency audio from the subwoofer through a plastic tube into a bracket that your installer or drywall specialist cuts into the ceiling and covers with a square, lighting-fixture-style bit of hardware. 7-GraySound-Hardware.jpgDepending on your lighting fixtures and the placement of the Gray Sound S80, it's often hard to tell that there is a subwoofer installed in the room at all, even if you know to look for one. Until, that is, you turn the music on and the room comes to life with actual full range audio.

The Gray Sound S80 is a passive speaker with a four-ohm load and an eight-inch driver. It isn't the easiest load to drive, but somehow my Anthem MDX-8 did just fine. The unit itself is 20 centimeters tall by 24 centimeters wide and 49 centimeters long (Gray Sound is from The Netherlands, thus the metric system numbers). The company has matching speakers that look exactly like the sub once installed.

Performance
Audiophiles don't tend to like subwoofers or architectural products, in that there is some sort of pride that comes from having big, floorstanding speakers in your room. More mainstream consumers will within seconds understand that they are experiencing something special the second you hit play on your favorite disc, station, or playlist. Simply put, in-ceiling speakers have for far too long been musical afterthoughts and the Nakymatone ECHT paired with the Gray Sound S80 is an investment in the modest audiophile range (perhaps $5,000 all in with installation, drywall, and paint), but unlike other more traditional speakers, this setup takes up literally no floorspace. 

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On "Get Lucky" from Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers, you get my musical point from the first few bars. Round, deep, and pretty damn tight bass emits into the room. Robot-driven funk floods the listening space without the need for any big black boxes in the corner. Bass drums have some gravitas. Bass guitar has some heft and weight to it in ways that I've never heard even large format in-wall speakers like my old PSBs reproduce.

If you love Barry While (and who doesn't?) adding in a component such as the Gray Sound S80 allows you to have your music playback system that can live up to the highs and more importantly the lows that are recorded into his deeply soulful jams. On "There It Is" from 1995's The Icon Is Love (streaming from Amazon Music), Barry's amazingly robust voice is given the treatment that it deserves. The Roland 808 synthesizer used on the track goes about as low as any acoustic instrument, if not deeper. The Gray Sound S80 is up for most of the challenge that this tricky track presents, and when balanced using room correction and the volume is matched with the Nakymatone invisibles, you get a really nicely blended sound that goes pretty damn deep, considering.

If you wanted to go hardcore in a demo for your friends, cue up "More Human Than Human" from White Zombie's Astro-Creep 2000 and give the volume a healthy bump. There is some significant bass on this track, but it is also a bit of a crowded mix. Things can collapse on lesser systems and sluggish subwoofers sound messy and lame. The Gray Sound S80 goes deep. It plays loud. And it never got a bit bloated or muddy on this hellish audio test.

High Points

  • The wife acceptance factor of the Gray Sound S80s is off the charts.
  • Adding bass to in-walls or in-ceiling speakers really does help solve a lot of issues that the category has always suffered from.
  • A Gray Sound S80 is a crafty way to get more bass into an object-based surround system when floorspace is at a premium in a dedicated home theater system.

Low Points

  • Given the S80's $1,400 price tag, the cheap plastic speaker inputs are embarrassing. Keep in mind, these connections are made to be buried in the ceiling. Imagine if you live somewhere that has earthquakes and that disconnected the sub? You'd be toast until you got the drywall saw out.
  • The Gray Sound S80 is a lifestyle product as much as a performance product, so you need to budget in the money for a top drywall subcontractor who can carefully finish where the speakers/subs are installed.
  • This is a passive subwoofer, meaning you need to power it, and whatever system you drive it with has to provide crossover and EQ, as well as level controls and amplification.

Comparison and Competition

Stealth Acoustics makes a full invisible in-ceiling subwoofer to match their invisible speakers, like the LRX-85s that I used in two locations in my new home. Their B30G is a really different approach for getting bass into a system, in that it has big magnets powering a full panel that you can cover with drywall skim coat, thin wood, wallpaper, or some other surface.

Paradigm has some "between the studs" options, such as the $799 Paradigm RVC-12SQ and the PCS-82SQ, both of which are more physically obtrusive than the Stealth or Gray Sound options.

There are countless other in-wall subwoofer options from brands ranging from MartinLogan to Sonance to Polk to Sunfire to OSD to Klipsch to Jamo to Definitive Technology to Velodyne and so on. The draw of products like the Gray Sound is the balance between performance and the design advantages of having such a small aperture port that allows all of the low frequency information out.

Conclusion
The Gray Sound S80 isn't for everybody. If you rent, investing in one is likely a stupid idea. If you want the lowest of lows, the S80 also isn't for you, as you likely will need a big box subwoofer like the SVS SB-4000 that I use in my home theater rig. But if you want to make a room that actually looks and acts like a living space and bring full range sound to it in ways that don't affect the floor space one bit, the Gray Sound S80 is for you. Your wife will love the concept. So will your architect and interior designer.

Having bass in every room of your house is simply fantastic. Getting in-ceiling speakers to live up to the performance specs of more traditional speakers is also a bit game changing. The specialty consumer electronics industry is finding more and more creative ways to deliver better and better AV experiences without dominating your living space be it a Samsung Frame TV or invisible speakers like those we've reviewed here in the past. Add to that list the Gray Sound S80 ported subwoofer. Your in-wall or in-ceiling speakers will thank you for the introduction. 

Additional Resources
 Visit the Gray Sound website for more product information.
 Check out our In-wall and Architectural Speaker category page to read similar reviews.
 Check out our Subwoofer category page to read similar reviews.

HTR Product Rating for Gray Sound S80 Ported In-Ceiling Subwoofer

Criteria Rating

Performance

4.5

Value

3.5

Overall

4

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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