The Ultimate Ceiling Speakers Buying Guide (Updated For 2020)
Contents:1. Introduction To Ceiling Speakers
2. Ceiling Speaker Amplifiers
3. Ceiling Speaker Cabling
4. Ceiling Speaker Accessories
5. Frequently Asked Questions
Ceiling speakers are a great way to add high quality music to your home whilst blending perfectly with your decor.
By choosing the right ceiling speaker and amplifier combo you can easily achieve high quality, easy to use sound in your home.
We’ve broken this guide down into three sections which follow inline with the main components you need to get up and running… ceiling speakers, amplifiers and cabling.
1. INTRODUCTION TO CEILING SPEAKERS
Ceiling speakers are an excellent choice especially in kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms where it’s ideal to save countertop space and where sound coverage is important.
You’ll find many different types of speakers in different styles, sizes and for different applications.
TYPES OF CEILING SPEAKERS
There are three main types of ceiling speakers, we’ll cover them below, remember that “passive” refers to a speaker requiring an amplifier.
1. PASSIVE MONO CEILING SPEAKERS
This is the most common type of ceiling speaker and is most likely what you’re looking for within your project.
Mono means that you’ll need two for stereo applications, one for the left channel and one for the right.
The vast majority of speakers that you’ll find on our website are passive mono speakers which gives you complete freedom to choose your preferred brand, quality level and amplifier.
2. PASSIVE STEREO CEILING SPEAKERS
For smaller rooms you may only want or have room for one ceiling speaker, such as in the bathroom, bedroom or small kitchens.
In this instance we would recommend a passive stereo ceiling speaker which has two tweeters, one for the left audio channel and one for the right audio channel.
These speakers still require two separate cables from the amplifier and will play in stereo for optimum sound output.
We wouldn’t recommend putting one mono speaker in a room as the majority of amplifiers are stereo only so you’d only play the left or right audio channel which means you may lose some of the track and won’t provide the best sound quality.
There are a number of amplifiers that can play in mono such as the Systemline E50 however it’s usually better to stick with a stereo speaker.
3. ACTIVE CEILING SPEAKERS
These are really popular, especially for kitchens and bathrooms as they combine a Bluetooth or WiFi amplifier built onto the back of a high quality ceiling speaker.
With systems such as the Lithe Audio bluetooth ceiling speakers you can simply power them up within the ceiling and stream your favourite music via Bluetooth.
They sound great, are easy to use and very easy to install.
There are two drawbacks though: 1) you are restricted to the speaker size and quality on offer by the all-in-one speaker brand. This is fine for most cases but if you want high end speakers from a particular brand or you want larger 8” speakers then this option won’t work for you. And 2) It can get a bit expensive for rooms requiring four speakers as you need to buy two master pairs whereas some other systems let you connect four passive speakers to one amplifier directly.
CEILING SPEAKER SIZES
Ceiling speakers come in a range of sizes from 2” up to 8”.
The most common sizes being 6.5” and 8”. We find that the majority of people opt for a 6.5” speaker for kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms etc. 8” are often selected for larger open plan rooms or when optimum music quality is the main goal.
The bigger the speaker, the better it’ll sound and the more bass it’ll produce than it’s smaller counterparts.
It’s important to note though that the speaker size refers to the woofer or cone of the speaker itself, not the overall dimension. So a 6.5” ceiling speaker is going to be about 9 inches overall, don’t be surprised when you get it out the box and it’s bigger than you were expecting!
CEILING SPEAKER SHAPES
You’ll most commonly find circular grilles on the majority of ceiling speakers. These are most commonly used for on-ceiling applications and generally look the best.
However most brands do also offer square grilles which may work better for you if you have square lighting for instance.
Look out on the product pages for the “Grille Shape” option where you can select between circular and square.
WATER RESISTANT CEILING SPEAKERS
If you’re planning to fit ceiling speakers in a bathroom, wet room or similar location then you need to take some further considerations.
At the very least the speaker should have a polypropylene cone (plastic) as most speakers of this spec are sold as “moisture resistant” and will be fine within a bathroom as long as it’s in Zone 3 or completely outside of the zones.
For ceiling speakers directly within a shower or wet room you’ll want to use a properly rated IP44 ceiling speaker such as the Q Acoustics QI65CW range or the Monitor Audio AWC range. These are better protected against water ingress and will cope in zone 2.
Saunas and steam rooms are a different ball game entirely and in these cases you should use the correct sauna rated speakers, we offer Apart speakers in sizes from 5” to 8” all of which are designed to withstand the conditions in saunas and steam rooms.
CEILING SPEAKER BRANDS
As with anything there are quite a few different brands of ceiling speakers.
We provide some of the top brands include Monitor Audio, Q Acoustics, Lithe Audio and Polk Audio. Over the years we’ve narrowed it down to these main brands as we know the sound quality and performance meets our customers requirements and we know that we can offer the best support before, during and after sale.
You can also buy ceiling speakers from household names such as Bose, B&O etc. and you’ll get a great speaker, but you are paying for the brand name too. Sometimes you can get much better value for money with a lesser-known brand.
In the HiFi world you’ll find Monitor Audio and Q Acoustics at the top of the charts and their ceiling speaker ranges are comprehensive with a speaker for every budget and sound requirement.
If you’re not as worried about brand names but want excellent sound quality at a reasonable price then check out Lithe Audio as their active and passive ceiling speaker ranges are very well priced and offer great performance.
Take a look at our Top 10 Best Ceiling Speakers article which outlines the most popular speakers people actually buy from us.
2. CEILING SPEAKER AMPLIFIERS
The majority of ceiling speakers are “passive” which means they require a separate amplifier to make them work.
You can choose any compatible stereo amplifier from full HiFi amplifiers to smaller compact ceiling speaker amplifiers such as the Tangent Ampster BTII.
It really depends on what you're trying to achieve.
We’ll cover the types of amplifiers in more detail below however note that we’ve skipped over large traditional HiFi amplifiers as we’ve found the vast majority of our customers prefer a compact ceiling speaker amplifier or an in wall/in-ceiling amplifier such as the Systemline E-Series.
COMPACT HIFI AMPLIFIERS
These are small and traditional looking HiFi amplifiers with a smaller form factor. Such as the Tangent Ampster BT II.
Pros: Usually more connections available, often more powerful as physically larger amplifiers. Most HiFi amplifiers have a subwoofer output so you can add some bass!
Cons: You need to find an accessible home for it, not usually a problem though with these as you can fit them in a kitchen or bathroom cupboard.
IN CEILING/WALL AMPLIFIERS
A very popular choice is an in wall amplifier such as the Systemline E50 & E120 which offers a decent digital amplifier along with a built-in Bluetooth receiver and in the case of the E100 it also has a DAB+ radio tuner.
These are most popular in kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms where you want decent sound without cables and countertop clutter.
It’s also handy to just press a button and have the radio playing!
Likewise in-ceiling amplifiers that can be hidden above the ceiling with the speakers such as the KB Sound Select Star are very popular as they are easily retrofitted into existing properties without doing much damage, they are really easy to use and you simply stream your music via Bluetooth or control the radio with a handheld remote control.
Pros: No visible cables, wall panels provide ease of use without needing a phone or app.
Cons: Limited power output, often no optical or subwoofer connectivity.
Multiroom amplifiers are usually the best all rounders, but do come at a bit of a premium.
You’ll avoid some common issues with ceiling speaker systems such as Bluetooth range issues and input choices and you can group multiple rooms together to play the same music throughout your home.
The amplifier is installed either within the room or in a central location such as under the stairs, the speakers are then wired into the amplifier using 2 core speaker cables.
You’ll then control the system from a smartphone app which allows you to play music from top internet streaming services such as TuneIN radio, Spotify, Deezer etc. You can also play music stored on your smartphone (HEOS, iEAST) or from a network attached storage drive (NAS drive).
If you like YouTube then you can’t listen to YouTube through these amplifiers, so if this is a consideration choose either a Bluetooth amplifier or a multiroom amplifier with Bluetooth connectivity and make sure the amplifier is within range of the room you’re putting speakers in.
Some multiroom amplifiers have Bluetooth as well, for instance the Denon HEOS and the Hamilton WSA50 but don’t forget that 8-10m Bluetooth range issue so if you’re mounting them under the stairs you likely won’t be able to use Bluetooth.
Pros: No Range Issues, Best Audio Quality, Group Multiple Zones Together
Cons: Expensive, No YouTube Streaming (unless you have Bluetooth)
ACTIVE BLUETOOTH CEILING SPEAKERS
If you’re looking for the easiest option, and often the best option for kitchens, bedrooms and bathroom then an active ceiling speaker may be the best option for you!
They feature a built in amplifier, Bluetooth receiver and simply require a power supply from the lighting or power circuit. They sit there ready to be used in an ultra low power state until you connect your smartphone or tablet and play music, then they’ll jump into life and play your music!
You are limited to the speaker quality and size on offer by the manufacturer though so if you specifically want 8 inch speakers then this isn’t the option for you, but if you want easy to use, high quality sound with no cables or clutter then Bluetooth Ceiling Speakers are your best bet!
We highly recommend the Lithe Audio range which you can see by clicking here.
Pros: Easy Install, Limited Wiring Requirements, Sound great, easy to use.
Cons: Limited to speaker size and quality on offer by the all-in-one brands.
You’ll also find a much more in-depth buying guide by clicking here to read our Ultimate Guide To Stereo Amplifiers.
3. CEILING SPEAKER CABLING
All ceiling speakers will require some form of cabling, whether it’s a power cable or a speaker cable from an amplifier.
Almost all installations will be with a two core speaker cable either a figure 8 42 strand or an installation grade cable such as the QED 16/2.
In some instances you can use four core cables such as for stereo ceiling speakers and sometimes it’s simply easy to wire four core cable when pre-wiring a system as you can wire a four core into the first speaker then link to the second speaker with a 2 core cable, especially in multiroom audio systems where the amplifiers are installed under the stairs.
We’ll cover wiring in greater detail in the ceiling speaker wiring guide, but here’s an overview of how the systems are wired.
PASSIVE CEILING SPEAKERS
Passive ceiling speakers will need to be wired from the speaker back to the amplifier in 2 core speaker cable.
Each speaker, left and right, will need to wire back separately. Do not daisy chain them!
If you are installing a passive stereo speaker then don’t forget that’s technically two separate mono speakers so will still require a four core cable (or 2 x 2 core cables) one for left and one for right.
ACTIVE CEILING SPEAKERS
Active ceiling speakers such as the Lithe Audio range will require a standard 230v power supply to the master speaker, then a speaker cable from the master to the passive speaker.
These types of ceiling speakers are much easier to install and require less cabling and components, however it does mean that you are restricted to the size and sound quality available from the active speaker brands.
They are also much easier to retrofit into an existing room, you simply need to cut the speaker hole and find a power connection such as the lighting circuit or local power circuit. No need to get cables down the walls etc.
4. CEILING SPEAKER ACCESSORIES
CEILING SPEAKER FIRE HOODS
Ceiling speakers should always be installed with a fire hood.
Don’t worry your speaker’s not going to catch fire, but if your room did then the speaker will melt away which will allow the fire to spread quickly.
A ceiling speaker fire hood is designed to maintain the fire rating of the ceiling which slows the spread of fire.
If you have building control involved then you’ll likely need to install them, and it’s also worth checking with your home insurers as they’ll potentially void your insurance if you do not fit fire hoods.
We have a much more in-depth guide to ceiling speaker fire hoods which you can read by clicking here.
If you like your bass, or simply an all round good sound with a bit of depth then we’d recommend installing a subwoofer.
Ceiling speakers can be surprisingly deep with a good level of bass, especially good quality brands with larger 8” speakers - but you’ll not get the same depth as a HiFi speaker or a subwoofer.
Most of our customers do not need or want a subwoofer, so don’t get me wrong you’ll likely be happy with the standard system, but there are subwoofers options available if you want the ultimate system...
For HiFi and multiroom systems this is usually really easy as the amplifiers have a dedicated subwoofer output, you can simply wire a subwoofer cable from the amplifier to an active subwoofer.
However for systems such as the Lithe Audio and Systemline E-Series there are no subwoofer outputs so you’ll need to use an active subwoofer with a speaker level input, such as the AV Link M8S.
With this you wire from one of the speakers into the amplifier.
We only recommend this on speaker systems with one pair of speakers and an active subwoofer connected to a HiFi or multiroom amplifier is always better than a speaker-level subwoofer.
Passive subwoofers are also an option if you have a larger budget, you’ll need a second subwoofer amplifier to power them such as the Monitor Audio IWA-250 which can be used with up to two in-wall or in-ceiling subwoofers.
Speaker switches are a great way of expanding your system and covering bigger areas if used correctly.
There are two types available, in wall and freestanding.
In wall speaker selector switches are best used for split zones such as kitchens & dining rooms or bedrooms & en-suite bathrooms. You can put a pair of speakers in the kitchen and a pair in the garden patio wired from one amplifier.
The selector switch will allow you to play just the kitchen, just the patio or the kitchen and patio together.
This reduces the costs significantly and makes areas more usable. Note that these types of areas are usually used as one zone so both will play the same music at the same volume.
It’s very rare that you’ll use a bedroom and an en-suite separately so there’s no point doubling your costs when an in-wall speaker selector switch can make it much cheaper and easier to use.
Freestanding speaker selector switches come in sizes from two pairs up to eight pairs.
The two pair versions are good for achieving the same as the above scenarios but without needing an in-wall switch.
The larger switches allow you to safely connect more than two pairs of speakers to an amplifier.
For instance you could connect three pairs of speakers to an amplifier to cover a large kitchen & dining room, but bear in mind that the more speakers you have connected the lower the power to each speaker will be.
These speaker selector switches also have a switch per pair of speakers so you can turn zones on and off which means you can do some basic multiroom audio.
Remember though that all rooms will play the same music at the same volume and the more speakers turned on, the lower the overall power from the amplifier will be so don’t try to do your whole home with one 20W amplifier and an 8 way speaker selector switch!
Similar to the speaker selector switches described above, in wall volume controls allow you to turn the volume down or off to a particular speaker.
The most common uses are;
1) from a speaker selector switch where the amplifier volume is up high and each pair of speakers has a local volume control in the room allowing you to adjust the volume or turn the room off and...
2) sometimes in a kitchen & patio setup you can put a volume control on the patio speakers to turn the patio off, or turn it down from the kitchen zone.
TV CONNECTION CABLES
You can also connect your television to most of our in ceiling speaker systems.
To do this you’ll need an audio cable from the amplifier to your television.
This depends on the amplifier used, if you’re using a ceiling speaker amplifier with volume control then the best bet is to use the optical or RCA line output from the TV.
If your amplifier doesn’t have a volume control then you need to ensure that the TV can control the volume otherwise the speakers will play at full volume. Usually this is best achieved by using the headphone output from your TV, or checking if the audio output has a “variable” setting which will allow your TV remote to adjust the volume.
There’s a much more in depth guide available by clicking here.
5. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q. How Many Ceiling Speakers Can I Have On One Amplifier?
A. In short, the maximum in most instances is four. Most amplifiers are stable with a speaker load of 4 ohms. Most ceiling speakers are 8 ohms and resistances when installed in parallel will halve. So two pairs of 8 ohm ceiling speakers mean the amplifier sees 4 ohms which is fine.
If however you add a third pair in the amplifier will see less than four ohms though and it’ll probably trip the internal thermal fuses and potentially damage your amplifier.
So in most instances stick to four speakers in total.
If you need to use more than two pairs then you should use an impedance matching protected speaker switch mentioned in the “ceiling speaker accessories” section.
Q. Can I Paint Ceiling Speaker Grilles?
A. All ceiling speakers come with a white grille, but the vast majority of grilles are paintable. You’ll need to use an aerosol spray, not emulsion!
Check with the specific brand you’re looking at first, but most can be painted with no problems.
Q. I Don’t Have Much Space Above The Ceiling, What Are My Options?
A. All of our product pages include specifications which will list the speaker depth. Most in-ceiling speakers require around 80-100mm of depth.
There are a range of shallow depth speakers though including the Monitor Audio CSS230 which only requires a mounting depth of 50mm.
Hopefully you now have a good understanding of how a ceiling speaker system is put together and what options are best for you.
Don’t forget that our audio experts are here to help you make the right choices on ceiling speakers, amplifiers and also advice with cables and placements.
Feel free to get in touch by email, live chat or calling us on 02393 19055.
You can see all of our ceiling speakers by clicking here.
We are authorised retailers for top brands such as Monitor Audio, Q Acoustics, Polk Audio & Lithe Audio.
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