Many AV consumers don't know that it's now possible to hide in-wall or in-ceiling speakers in ways that they literally cannot be seen but definitely can be heard. Sonance, a leader in architectural speakers design, bought a company called Sound Advance about 10 years ago to delve into this edgy new world of speakers, and today the company has a full line of speakers in its Invisible Series that range from small speakers that augment sound in residential rooms or commercial locations to larger, more full-range hidden speakers. This review is about Sonance's IS4 invisible in-ceiling speaker, which is on the larger side of the spectrum of invisible speakers. Priced at $1,600 per pair, these transducers are designed to compete more with today's modern in-wall speakers that have traditional grills.
The Sonance IS4 speakers are transducers that vibrate while being covered by any number of surfaces, such as skim coat (like drywall), wallpaper, and wood. This genre of speaker tends to not work as well behind materials like plaster and cement, as those materials are too rigid to function effectively. The Sonance IS4 speakers are designed to be transducers (technically all speakers are transducers) that vibrate in a way that uses the surface on top of them to help them make sound. This might sound crazy; but, believe it or not, it works...and works pretty well.
The cosmetic advantage of these speakers is obvious to the eye, as they help reduce what architects call "wall (or ceiling) acne"--thus reducing the number of fixtures on the ceiling. The question is, how do they sound? I will get to that in just a second...
My Sonance IS4 speakers are installed in my dining-room ceiling. My installation firm, Simply Home Entertainment, is getting more and more requests for speakers with this invisible look, especially in more modern homes. My home's décor is modern, as it's a 1950s "mid-Century" property that's been redone to 2015 standards. There are slick, Crestron-controlled LED cans in the ceiling, but there's no sign of speakers. My Crestron "SWAMP receiver" feeds easily 10-plus zones of music throughout my home via a very cool interface on an Apple iPad. Simply select "music", the zone (in this case "dining room"), and set the volume. Choose a source--mainly, my Autonomic Mirage server playing Pandora, Tidal, Sirius-XM, and Internet Radio--and you are ready to rock.
Before you are ready to dial in your system, your general contractor or AV installer likely will install a placeholder in the studs where the speakers will go. This helps other trades not mess around with your installation. Once your GC is closer to installing drywall, your AV contractor will come back and install the speakers in their locations. There are detailed instructions on the front of the speaker about how to install it correctly.
One important warning is to make sure that your installer selects the correct impedance, as the speakers come with two options: one for stereo use and another much higher impedance for installations of speakers in series. You do NOT want that option if you are using them in stereo like I am, and fixing it is messy and costly--unlike a traditional in-wall where you could just pop off the grill. In the case of installed "invisible" speakers, they are behind a material like skim coat that is a total pain to repair, so you want to be extra-sure you get it right.
Speaking of after-installation worries, the Sonance IS4 comes with a very serious protection circuit. If somebody (think: house guest, teenage kid, etc.) is blasting your invisible speakers too hard, they will shut down long before they fail and won't come back online until their internal parts have cooled down to reasonable temperatures. Simply put, nobody wants these speakers installed if they are going to blow up behind your wall, as that's a higher standard of cost and grief than blowing up traditional in-wall speakers. Thankfully, Sonance thought of this problem ahead of time.
While I am not sure I endorse this type of installation, Sonance says that some of its clients use IS4s behind small furniture, art, and other physical barriers to make stealth sound. For my tastes, I'd rather have background sound coming from the ceiling, but I understand that, especially in Europe, such installations might be physically impossible.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...