Making the best of mediocre speakers

I want to get the best system I can, given unfortunate constraints. I'm building a new 2-channel listening system in a new apartment, and my wife insists the speakers in our 17x23 living-room must be in-walls. They fit into a particular lowered soffit, so they'll be installed just above head height. The Sonance Z4s are the best I could find to fit the area; they're OK, but obviously this is a compromise.

So I am planning on a nice subwoofer (which, btw, must also be in-wall), maybe by James, to beef things up. Then about 3K for separates--I am considering a Rowland 102 amp, a Rogue Audio Perseus preamp, and a Cambridge or NAD CD.

My question is, am I wasting money, given the in-wall speakers and placement? Do a nice sub and electronics make up for the speakers? Or should I throw in the towel and just get an Arcam Solo or something?

Many thanks.
Get a decent integrated and source.Used lower priced NAD,Rotel,Cambridge comes to mind.I would not spend a whole lot because you are not going to get much more than "casual listening" performance from that speaker placement.This is just my opinion.Good luck.
Price - long time ago I upgraded to Paradigm Studio/60 speakers and bought Rowland 102 plus Benchmark DAC1 (has volume control) using DVD player for CDP (Benchmark is jitter rejecting and doesn't care about transport - also good for computer). Very nice sound but now I got (bought dealer demo) Hyperion HPS-938. It is pretty much a shock to me how much better speaker could be in my room. Midrange is to die for and lows are chest pumping. Whole thing sounds the same time very coherent transparent and relaxed. Imaging is first class. In my opinion it is not a matter of lows or highs but just better transducers (and design) - you cannot cheat it. Rowland 102 is based on the smallest Icepower module (200ASC) as well as few other amps like Bel Canto S300. W4S is also based on Icepower (larger) and is very good bang for the buck. Rowland has exceptional cases (aluminum billet) and it might be important since one review claims midbass improvement with expensive antiresonant feet under Bel Canto S300. Rowland 102 is really nice amp and it is good candidate to buy used since it was released not so long ago (I'm one of the first owners). Be advised that it has only XLR inputs.

Look at bookshelf Hyperions (somebody is selling it on Audiogon): They might have the same transducers (read reviews) and add high quality sub as next step in the future (like JL Fantom series). It would be difficult to top system like that - at least within $10k. Forget about in-wall speakers - waste of money IMHO.

If I would guess it might cost you $450 for this Hyperion 586 (older model scratched), $1K for used Rowland. Buy new Benchmark ($1k) since they had a lot of problems and revisions at the very beginning - unless you know what revision it is. Whole budget would be $2450 and will leave you with $500 to save for the future purchase of the JL Fantom sub. The really good one 113 runs used at about $2k but you might settle for cheaper and smaller 110.

Somebody claimed very good performance of Icepower amp with Usher Tiny Dancer - exceptional bookshelf speaker with a lot of good bass (but I would still go with Hyperion 586 and the JL fantom). I hope it will help you a little to make your mind.
First, welcome to Audiogon!

Here's the deal. You're simply not going to be able to get that "sweet spot" of sound with in walls. Tell the wife you not only have to get the in walls, but you have to install at least 10 separate tweeters in the ceiling to get any semblance of stereo sound, so you'll need another amp too. Might as well go for a few more sets of in walls while you're at it. For the sub, you'll need something like the Eminent Technology Model 17 to make up for the lack of bass from the in walls.

When you present her with all this, a set of monitors & separate sub will seem like a much better compromise.
Price...I am not so sure that in-wall speakers have to mean mediocre sound. I have never had any so I do not speak from personal experience but my local audio dealer (Goodwins High End in Boston) carries a line of in-wall speakers from Wisdom Audio ( that he says rivals many of the big name high-end speakers. They are not cheap rivaling high-end speakers on price as well but if budget is not an issue this may be one way to go. Here are some reviews:
Good in-walls can't sound pretty nice. The problems are the height and bass. Yours are mounted too high as you know. You need ones with angled tweeters to help compensate. A good sub will help a lot too (even an in-wall one). However, don't bother with $3k worth of gear if your speakers aren't up to snuff. There's some neat units by KEF, Thiel and others that remain fairly hidden.
Choose one:

A. Find another "wife." - "Is it you that wants the in-wall speakers?"

B. Find another hobby.
Thanks guys. Bday0000: there is a wife, but you are right insofar as I agreed with her insistence. It is a difficult room: open on both narrow ends of the rectangle, with 3 doorways and a dining room area, and no shelves for bookshelf speakers... Short of putting the speakers on stands in the middle of the room, which was what she vetoed (I volunteered to keep them grouped together along the wall when not in use, and that was declined), there are no easy solutions. Which is where the in-walls come in.

Thanks for the suggestions of angled tweeters, and the hope that perhaps Thiel or someone else makes good in-walls.

Maybe I could rephrase the question as this: given the constraints of placement and of having to use fairly small in-walls, what can an audiophile do in order to get the best possible results?

From reading the threads here on Audiogon I get the sense that some people (probably a minority) think that lesser speakers can be brought along by great sources and electronics, and made to really sing. Others may say don't waste the time and money. That's my real question, though I am starting to realize that maybe this just can't be a true listening room!

I appreciate everyone's advice.
First of all,I hope you own the apartment,or got permission to do this.In the wall speakers just can't seem to sound anything like normal speakers.And another thing,are there any neighbors behind those walls with the speakers that may not enjoy the same thing your listening to?I hope not.
Another problem,regular drywall will have a tendency to vibrate loose,whether screws or nails are used.I can't imagine what the in wall subs will do.
If it was me, and I was set on in walls at non ideal heights, Id buy the Dayton top model(8 inch woofer/dual tweeter) speakers all around for under $250 pair at partsexpress. I would hit them with a Onkyo NR906, and a SVS sub. The cylinder subs they sell can offer huge bass and fit snuggly in a corner.

The Daytons have soft domes, and kevlar drivers. There easy to install yourself, and the Onkyo NR906 will crush them. Id expect to cross over between 80-120HZ. You may want to buy 2 qty SVS subs so the bass isnt localized at high cross over points.

The Onkyo has auto EQ with auddusy.
In wall can be made to work well, according to Floyd Toole, author of a great book called 'Sound Reproduction'. My take on his comments is that an in-wall sub is not going to work. So, try to get the wife to bend on that issue. In the end the fact you are in an apartment with common walls might doom the use of speakers. A great headphone set appears to be the 'final' solution. If that is the case, I would scale back on all the electronics and get a great tube headphone amp.
Why not try conventional speakers with wall mounted brackets.
You nailed it...this is not going to be a perfect listening room. So, make your decisions based on this. Your limitations are going to be your dont spend the majority of money there. Get cheap in walls with a cheap sub. Spend your money on good components. If you move in the just going to throw money down the drain with those in walls, whereas the components will be there for a longer time. If you want an audiophile listening experience, get some good headphones and a good heaphone amp as suggested above. Just prepair yourself for the "honey...are you going to sit there with those things and not pay any attention to me" comments. Which, at that point I would remind her about the inwall fiasco.
Consider ceiling speakers with tweeters that can be aimed at the listening position. I am very happy with Klipsch in ceiling speakers. They don't require much power, so a tube or class A SS amp will will be sufficient.
You really need to convince your wife that a subwoofer is a wonderful end table. You can even put a plant on it!
This may be a dead issue, but I would revisit the question of whether you might find a way to use conventional speakers in the room. I have a pair of Salk SongTower QWT finished in Hawiian Koa wood. My wife, who has rarely seen a speaker that she likes in a room, okayed these. She treats them like pedestals and displays something on top. I have my SongTowers at one end of a long series of open rooms and they project throughout the open space quite well.

The SongTowers received very good reviews, have a small footprint, can be custom finished to blend into any decor, are flexible in placement and have great dispersion. These sound good to my ears even when placed in less than ideal locations. You might try a SongTower or variant thereof along each wall.

My suggestion would be to contact Jim Salk at He might have some additional suggestions for your difficult room. Since he custom builds speakers, he may also be able to offer a speaker you could mount on the wall or place in an acceptable location as an alternative.

There is a forum on for Salk where you might post and get additional suggestions.
My frst choice would be a nice pair of full range speakers , Maybe something nice looking like vienna Acoustics etc.

If that is not possible There are many inwalls that are excellent. For example Speakercraft makes expensive in walls that you can get which also have two enclosure options, foam and metal. The enclosures make a huge difference.

Lastly my advise for the best system is to get the best source. A better CD player or Dac if your doing a music server will make a bigger difference that the electronics once they are past a certain point.
A true listening room is very hard to find, indeed.
But, if you are considering in-walls, I highly recommend RBH in-walls. I use them for home theater and friends use them for 2 channel. Very impressive. The bigger 8" woofer has ample bass, but a sub helps.
You can find good buys on eBay.
Good luck and let us know how it works out.
there are models from Thiel, Dynaudio, Krell, Etc
Thanks everyone! The wisdom of the forum makes me think I'd better opt for on-walls as opposed to in-walls, search out a speaker with angled tweeters, get a decent sub, and spend on good sources. No JRDG for me!
Magnepan wall speakers?
I had a similar experience with my wife years ago, in our living room. In short I could not make in-wall speakers work. They were OK for background music (or maybe HT), but it was impossible to get any kind or decent stereo imaging and soundstage depth.

Mounting speakers on-wall would almost certainly be a better option, but you are probably going to find youself limited to bookshelf-tyoe speakers with limited range. Can you add a sub and call it a plant stand?

I like Magnumpi205's idea for Maggie wall speakers. Get a sub that the Mrs. can live with and you're set, assuming that you're music preference is not mainly heavy metal.
Magnepan makes, or at least USED to make wall bracket to 'hinge' a speaker to the wall. It'd fold flat to the wall when not being used. Since they were small panels the LF extension was awful, but maybe a small sub which would go to 120+ would be able to fill in the gap.
The stocking dealing I am lucky enough to have 25 miles from here would lend you a pair of floor stands so you could move 'em around for a couple weeks before deciding where to hang them permanently.
Perfect for backchannel drivers in a HT setup.
Magnepan MMGW-$325 a pr
Let me second the MMGW option. With a sub (fight for it...dont give up), you CAN be satisfied with the results.
Vandersteen makes two models of "surface mount" speakers; perhaps worth a look.

As someone who managed apartments for eight years, I'd anticipate neighbor issues with in-wall speakers (though I'm not familiar with the installation options). As has already been noted, the possibilities for difficulty of this sort with an in-wall make the blood curdle. When such noise issues arise, they can be *extremely* difficult to resolve, and incredibly stressful.

I wonder if you and your spouse might agree on near wall specific speaker like North Creek. With NC, one can choose one's veneer, and the end result can be very decor friendly, and minimally consumptive of space -- at least I think so; you can judge yourself with a look at my system pics. The price point can be attractive too.

Best of luck,

The Vienna Schoenberg on wall speakers are actually pretty striking. I installed them in my theater room (in the gloss black finish) and my wife LOVES them as a decor element. No one is going to confuse these for SOTA free standers, but they do sound pretty good.

Good Luck


PS - The comment re: neighbors is critical. In wall subs may start a full on war. Actually, floor standing subs can do that - I've been there.
I change my statement, if large on walls are acceptable, Id also go with Magnepan. Fantastic speakers.
Marty is right that one doesn't need in-walls to start a feud with neighbors. I'd expect in-wall would be less problematic for a wall that did not communicate with another apt. (in addition, construction details might prevent installation for some communicating walls), but I'd in general expect in-walls to transmit more vibration, all else equal. John
Thanks everyone.
It's an apartment I own, and the walls in question are interior to the apartment, so no neighbor issues, luckily!

The main problem is that due to the weird layout of the room, with doorways and so on, there is no real area to do a proper wallmount, only this soffit. The soffit however is only about 8 3/4" tall, which means that, even assuming the speakers would be mounted on their sides, is quite a limiting factor. It certainly means a subwoofer is crucial, as these are essentially tweeters alone, at that size. I think the Magnepans don't fit that area...

I've been looking into B&W, which has some decent sounding in-walls that may fit; paired with a good sub it might just be possible. If anyone knows of a small in or on wall speaker with an positionable tweeter, that would be amazing.