Hindsight is 20/20 they say. And knowing what I know today, I would have used all invisible speakers in my house renovation project back in 2013. I used one pair of invisible speakers from Sonance as somewhat of an experiment in my dining room, where my drywall subcontractor smoothed over the "invisible" speakers, leaving sound but no visible trace of said transducers. The result was fantastic on so many levels. First off, there is the ultimate wife acceptance factor. There is really not much missing in terms of volume, even if you want to push them with some serious AC/DC. They are almost impossible to blow up because of protection circuits internally, and they look like--well... nothing. Needless to say, I am a fan of the invisible speaker concept.
Enter Nakymatone into this new market niche. A relatively new player to the specialty audio-video world, Nakymatone (Finnish for "invisible" but an awkward name for a high-end AV company) are true specialists who at this point make one thing and one thing well: invisible, high end in-wall and/or in-ceiling speakers. I like that level of focus.
The product for review is also a tough one to pronounce: the Nakymatone Echt ($3,000 per pair). Designed to be installed in the stud bays of your walls or ceiling, the Echt speakers are not traditional transducers in that they don't have say a 6- or 8-inch driver and tweeter. They're more like the sounding board of an instrument, in that they vibrate in ways designed to make excellent sound while hiding behind some form of covering. I can feel audiophiles cringing already. Don't. They sound better than you might expect. Far better.
Reviews of in-wall speakers are, generally speaking, a nightmare. Not all reviewers own their homes and even when they do it can be tricky, expensive, messy and time consuming to start punching holes in one's walls and/or ceilings. In my case, I had a different problem--my house is currently for sale. It also already comes with a $200,000-plus smart home entertainment system, complete with an 85-inch 4K HDTV, a $25,000 4K Crestron video distribution system, outdoor 65-inch 4K TVs, speakers in every room, an 8.2 surround system for the pool, a 4K TV for the cabana, and so much more. Simply put, adding another pair of $3,000 speakers just seemed wasteful.
What I did was have my good friend, Tim Duffy, a dealer for Nakymatone at Simply Home Entertainment, install them in his newly renovated home here in West Los Angeles' booming "Silicon Beach" area. His modern design stylings and high end distributed audio system would be a perfect environment for these speakers to live a long and happy life installed behind the skim coat of his drywall.
The installation of Nakymatone speakers is similar to other in-wall or in-ceiling speakers, in that they need to be secured nicely inside your studs, which can be done easily with the associated and included hardware. The package includes various sized spacers that allow you to set the depth of the speakers in your stud-bay to exact levels. In reality, I can't imagine any consumer would install these transducers themselves, but I guess they could if they had a drywall saw, a powered screwdriver, and working knowledge of how to smooth over some skim coat paired with a lot of ambition.
These bright blue speakers are very well built, especially in contrast with many of the throwaway and/or consumer grade in-wall speakers clogging the market. They have a very solid feel, perhaps more so because they don't have a traditional driver that moves around.
One key thing that you or your installer needs to make damned-well sure that the speaker leads are installed correctly, as it's pretty hard to get access to these speakers once they are "mudded over" by you or more likely your drywall guy. I know of a disaster story that involves a switch being set incorrectly on about sixteen pairs of another brand's invisible speakers, but thankfully the Nakymatones have no such switch to set, so that isn't a concern.
Even if you install the Echt speakers yourself, I recommend that you have a professional "mud over" the speakers. Smoothing and sanding drywall is a messy project best left for the professionals. Yes, bringing in another "trade" is an additional cost, but it's cheaper than a divorce. Allow the drywall skim coat to dry, have it sanded, and ultimately you likely want to paint your entire ceiling or wall. Once done, you areready to rock and roll even if it doesn't look like it. Mainly, it doesn't look like it because once your Nakymatone Echt's are installed, mudded, and painted, they don't look like anything. They are literally invisible.
Now, by all means, you can get more creative with the coverings. Wallpaper is in play if that's a look that you like. Leather has been successfully used in truly out-of-the-box installations. Wood veneers have been used on walls or directly built into cabinetry and/or furniture. This is a speaker-transducer that allows for a whole new level of creativity in terms of applications and installations.
In most cases, you wouldn't exactly think of rocking your in-wall speakers all that hard, but in the case of the Nakymatone Echts, you absolutely can. Powered by a 50-watt-per-channel Sonance distribution amp (which is exactly the same power amp that I use for my outdoor speaker system, as well as a few channels of my distributed audio system) it doesn't take long for the Nakymatones to come to life. They have a reported 106 dB output, even when covered with drywall. That's not rock-concert loud, but it is louder than you really need for Tidal or Spotify. The Echts have a simple but highly effective protection circuit that immediately senses when an amp is clipping and instantly drops the volume by 15 dB. When the amp gets its act together (likely when you back down the volume a bit) the speakers spring back to normal, thus keeping them perfectly safe.
Lately, I've been listening to a lot of the new Thievery Corporation record Treasures from the Temple, which I have on my phone in 1440 AIFF. The track "History" is a groovy cut, which is far more hip-hop than my normal tastes will allow, but it works. The DJs create a happening musical bed that extends pretty deep, frequency-wise. Considering the fact that these are invisible speakers, the lows dug deeper than I would have expected--not earth-shaking, but surprisingly solid and musically satisfying.
The less hip-hop vocals in the chorus present themselves with a warm timbre and good presence, like you'd expect from speakers with a more traditional form factor. Link a few pairs of Echts in a couple of rooms and crank it up, and you're ready to have one hell of a hip house party.
"Spirits in The Material World" from The Police's 1981 Ghost in the Machine album allows one the chance to hear how well the Nakymatone Echt speakers resolve specific details. While I would vote for Led Zeppelin's John Bonham as the best drummer in rock and roll history, The Police's Stuart Copeland would rank a close second, and on this track he's all over the place, following Sting's roving bassline with rhymical trickery that is second to none.
In 1440 AIFF, you could hear all of these little tricky cymbal fills with a crystal clarity that I never would have thought could come from an invisible speaker. I know I am getting hyperbolic here, but you really have to go out and hear these speakers for yourself to understand what kind of detail they're capable of delivering.
From Pandora, I listened to "Solsbury Hill" from Peter Gabriel's first solo record after his epic run with Genesis. What was notable about this track was the musicality and the density of the mix. Acoustic guitar layered on top of synth keyboards (Moog, maybe? I'm not exactly sure) on top of the more rhymical guitars. It's a familiar track for many of us, and musically even in lower-resolution streaming format. If nothing else, it quashes the predisposition many may have to think that transducers stuck behind drywall skim coat would sound like a pair of "real" speakers with a wet blanket over them. It doesn't take more than a few seconds for anyone with ears to say "wow, these sound better than I would have ever expected."
Looking to give these speakers a rough time, I cued up "Freedom" from Rage Against the Machine's eponymous album in 1440 AIFF format. From the first grunt, this track uses steel-toed boots to kick some musical ass. Heavy bass, driving drums, pinch harmonics on the guitar that beam above the mix. And this isn't a track that you back down from the volume. You torture test speakers like the Nakymatone Echt. And you know what? They kinda like it rough. During the more cacophonous chorus sections, the Echts hold up to the musical gun fight. During the more percussive and pensive verses they resolve details and tones more like a high-end speaker than anybody has a right to expect.
You can install invisible speakers in walls so they image more like traditional speakers, but more often than not they end up in the ceiling. That was the case with my speakers, as well as my test samples. The makes imaging somewhat upside down. And in terms of imaging depth, there is no in-wall speaker on the market that can create the soundstage depth that you get from traditional speakers.
While the Nakymatone Echts are pretty much the easiest speakers to install in their category, they do require more labor than traditional in-wall or in-ceiling speakers. In nearly every case, you are going to want to have a custom AV installer prepare your Echts for installation. Then you need a comparable sub, which is no big deal if you're doing construction or a major renovation, but it's more cost that other in-walls don't have. Lastly, you need to paint over the skim coat (assuming you don't use an alternative covering, which also requires other sub-contractors). These aren't low-cost speakers to start with, and they require more labor, time, and cost to get going. Sure, they disappear, but you pay to get them there.
For total output, if you are looking to create a night-club-like level of volume, you likely need to install more traditional type speakers located behind a fabric wall or grills, as 106 dB is loud but not crazy loud. One could argue that much above 106 dB is hearing damagingly loud, but I don't want to be a prude here. It's likely that if you are investing in $3,000 invisible speakers, you likely will have other speakers in your main audiophile or surround sound home theater that can crank hard when you need them to peel the paint from the ceiling.
Comparison and Competition
The best example for comparison that I have are the Sonance IS4 speakers that I used in my house. They are close to half the price at $1,600, which can add up especially if you are going invisible in a number of rooms or using a number of speakers in an object-based surround system, as I will do in the future. The output of the Sonance speakers is good, but not as detailed as the Nakymatone Echts. Sonically, using the same amps from Crestron and Sonance, I thought the Nakymatone Echts sounded more resolved, especially on that Police track. If these speakers are for background music only in non-critical listening locations, Nakymatone makes a few different models that could help cost engineer your budget a bit: one at $1,500 per pair, another at $2,200 per pair, and a Single Point Stereo model at $999 for small rooms where space is an issue.
There are a few other players in this growing and exciting market segment. Stealth Acoustics is one of them, but I have not run into a dealer who sells them, nor have I had a chance to experience them. I will likely try to seek them out at the upcoming CEDIA 2018 show in San Diego to learn more. Another brand that I hadn't heard of until recently is Feonic, which looks promising but seems to be a little more focused on commercial installations.
It's hard not to love this new category of loudspeakers. They simply eliminate one of the most annoying objections in all of AV history: aesthetics. Yes, they are more work to install, but they pay excellent dividends. In my next house, I will use these speakers enthusiastically, not just in nearly every room of my distributed audio system, but to add upwards of a dozen channels of object-based (Dolby Atmos, DTS:X) surround sound speakers and beyond. Some think you need EQ on them, and today's modern distribution amps have said EQ, as do many AV receivers, but I didn't find it a necessity. They sound pretty damn good au natural.
The Nakymatone Echt is currently the apex predator of the invisible speaker world. At $3,000 per pair, they're also near the top in terms of pricing. They are sold by elite custom installers who likely know how to get the most from your distributed AV and dedicated surround sound. For mid-sized rooms, I could see someone doing an entire Nakymatone Echt invisible speaker system (don't forget an in-wall sub or at least a white one to hide in the room) along with an ultra-thin, ultra-cool OLED set for one hell of a little home theater setup that looked, on so many levels, as good as it sounds without any clutter.
Lastly, I can't say it enough: don't judge invisible speakers like these with preconceived notions. I did and I was a fool back then. Now, I am a 100 percent convert to this new religion. They are a rocking solution to so many of today's tricky installation challenges, but don't sell out performance even when getting dressed up to kill. Buy and install with confidence. The Nakymatone Echt are one of the coolest new speaker products that we've seen in years.