It is no secret to avid HomeTheaterReview.com readers that I simply love invisible speakers. I started into the world of invisibles in my last house (which I sold this past spring) almost on a dare. You see, most AV reviewers have a hard time with in-wall speaker reviews, and invisibles are a whole other level of complexity and cost to review, so Sonance basically said, "Look, we will give you the in-walls that you might want to use in your place if you just try one pair of our invisibles." It isn't uncommon for in-wall speakers to stay installed as a part of the review process, since paying to patch, sand, and paint a reviewer's drywall is easily as expensive as just leaving the speakers in. Well, if I knew back then what I know now, I would have asked for all invisible speakers. I just loved the look, the concept, and, amazingly, the sound.
Roll the tape forward to late 2019 and my family is living in another house in the same ZIP Code. The new house is about 50 percent larger and the style is "beachy, contemporary, Mediterranean," which is a pretty far departure from 1950s "post-and-beam" modern style of our last two homes. This McMansion (yes, I am not offended if you call it that because that is exactly what it is) was built in 1998 and never received one dollar of capital improvements, sadly. I've been pouring money into this place like I make a hell of a lot more than I really do, and that includes a burgeoning AV system--one that truly embraces the invisible speaker concept.
This is where the $1,650 per pair Stealth Acoustics LRX-83 speakers come into play. I had one of those "good problems," in that so many companies wanted in on review opportunities at my house that I was able to set up a number of pairs of invisible speakers, including matching them with invisible subwoofers from Gray Sound. So many, in fact, that I've been able to get to some deeper insights into this category that I am so fond of.
If this is the first you are hearing about invisible speakers, the concept is that you can install in-wall speakers that emit energy differently than traditional in-walls, in that they have a flat transducer (or transducers) that can be covered by (most likely) drywall mud or wallpaper or fabric. The end result is singularly the most wife-acceptance-factor product that the AV industry has ever seen. Or not seen, when you get right down to it. When friends come over and want to check out my AV system, I often start by pointing at the speakers in the ceiling in the living and dining room like an idiot, which is course part of the gag because there's nothing to see. Start playing some music through them, though, and there's an "ah ha!" moment for all of my guests.
Paired with a subwoofer, powered by an Anthem multi-zone amp with ARC (Anthem Room Correction), these speakers deliver wonderfully dynamic sound without contributing to any sort of "wall/ceiling acne." And in a home like this, that really makes a difference. I worked hard and spent enthusiastically to get rid of the gold hardware throughout my house and replace it with brushed nickel. I replaced each and every light switch with Crestron keypads (not fully programmed yet but coming soon to a living room near you). I replaced every electrical outlet. I got rid of the stained, nasty HVAC vents and replaced them with brushed nickel vents that are much nicer looking. We even replaced all of the six-inch, out-of-date lighting cans with new three-inch LED cans that are color adjustable (about $52 each from Elite) to 2700 Kelvin. This all sets up the venue for the Stealth Acoustics LRX-83 speakers.
Technology and Design
The Stealth Acoustics LRX-83 is a three-way, full range, invisible speaker made in America. Unlike most other invisible speakers, Stealth utilizes a combination of transducers and traditional cone woofers in every model in the line. Stealth owns a patent on this driver configuration, and claims that the inclusion of the cone woofer driver is a big benefit when it comes to performance. With the optional back box installed, there is reported bass extension as low as 40 Hz. With a subwoofer, and Stealth Acoustics makes invisible ones, you can expect true, full range sound from your invisible setup. Much like other invisibles, the Stealth Acoustics LRX-83s have not one but two protection circuits that protect your installed speaker investment when your kids are trying to play Kanye at 130 dB while you are on vacation. And thank God for that.
By no means was I going to install these speakers myself, as that is way above my pay grade. Simply Home Entertainment punched up my walls and ceilings to mount the Stealth Acoustics LRX-83s in the stud bays of my ceilings and in many cases match them with Gray Sound invisible subwoofers. That part is about the same as any in-wall or in-ceiling speaker. The patching of the holes and mudding and sanding of the skim coat over the speaker is the part that is where invisibles get more expensive. But also, as the name suggests, more stealth. There is significant mess made in this process, and there is additional cost versus just snapping grills into place and being done with it. With that said, the aesthetic improvements are so substantial over traditional in-walls or in-ceiling speakers that I can't imagine not using invisibles for most applications going forward.
Placement is a key issue for many when it comes to invisible speakers, specifically when talking about imaging. In-ceiling applications are excellent for background music, but if you are trying to get a more high-performance installation, you will likely want to install the speakers in-wall and more like traditional speakers. Invisibles can image better than you might expect when installed thoughtfully. What they can't do that traditional speakers can is present an incredible depth in soundstage. That's just physics. Physics also suggest that traditional speakers can't disappear in your living room, so there is some give and take.
For most of my listening, I disconnected the Gray Sound subwoofer so that I could focus on the sound of the Stealth Acoustics LRX-83s on their own. I have been playing with Sonos for whole-home audio for the first time (I know, kinda late to the game) as I wanted to do something a little different in the new house. The source that I have been most compelled by is Amazon's new HD Music, which offers a wealth of audiophile-quality streaming for $15 a month. I haven't gotten that deep into Sonos and all of its streaming music options just yet otherwise, but Amazon HD provides a lot of diverse tunes at seemingly good resolution.
On the sing-songy "Killer Queen" by Queen (Amazon HD), I loved the level of detail that I could hear on the piano in the opening moments. The super-overdubbed Freddy backup singer effect was lively and fun.
Brian May's guitar had air around it and retained its unique sonic signature without sounding muffled.
My only critique is that the speakers being in the ceiling didn't image as fantastically as they could have if they were in the wall. With that said, that is not any ding on the speakers so much as the physical reality of my office.
Although this song will always be tied to the last scene in The Sopranos, "Don't Stop Believing" (Pandora via Sonos) sounded both familiar and correct to my ears. This legendary track has a lot of space and uses its dynamic window nicely as it builds in intensity. The bass guitar isn't thunderous without the subwoofer, but it is clearly there and as good as any larger, traditional in-ceiling speaker. Steve Perry's voice beams while the rest of the musical bed is layered nicely--not compressed or muddy as one might stereotypically expect from something like an invisible speaker.
To torture test the LRX-83s (and you knew I would), I fired up Disturbed's cover of the Genesis classic "Land of Confusion," which is loaded with dynamic, growling guitars, strong bass, and lots of production cues.
At meaningful levels one might expect to hear a dull sound because of the skim coat over the speakers, but that isn't the case. The tonality of the track sounded great, realistic. The dynamics were powerful even without a sub.
These speakers can, without question, rock.
Comparison and Competition
Sonance pretty much invented the in-wall speaker business and they were my first introduction to invisible speakers via their IS4 product. They still make the same speakers that I reviewed for about the same price as the Stealth Acoustics LRX-83s. What I liked about the Stealth Acoustics LRX-83 compared to the Sonance was their ability to reproduce an appreciable amount of depth in a recording considering their physical limitations. I might give the Stealths a slight advantage on the bass side, too.
Nakymatone is a European brand of uber-premium invisible speakers that I have also used in key locations in my new home with great success. They are the best competition for the Stealth Acoustic products, as they are truly fine transducers that can also not be seen but are very much appreciated when heard.
I believe there are other options from Monitor Audio, TruAudio, and others, as invisible speakers bring audio to people who wouldn't have it any other way and that is something that we've never really had in the specialty AV business before.
In my new house, I didn't just use invisible speakers for distributed music around the house; I also used them for effects channel speakers in my pending family room home theater. The invisible concept is simply a game changer and the Stealth Acoustics LRX-83 is a strong performer. Yes, you can spend less money on traditional in-wall or in-ceiling speakers if budget is a key factor, but if you've got the coin to spring for invisible speakers, you owe it to yourself to take a look at the Stealth Acoustics lineup of products - especially they LRX-83 which is simply an excellent all-around invisible speaker option.