Recently, I got very interested in building speakers and as a result, I google my way around everything there is to know about speaker building. I was intrigued to find that there were many people who are also passionate about this subject and there is a whole science and art behind it. Being a technologists and avid maker of things, I was comfortable in picking up some of this knowledge and turning it into a project.
As with all creative projects, it requires money, dexterity, knowledge gathering & application, and a great deal of perseverance as well as patience. I understand that not everyone are inclined to work and think this way but they do care about what they buy and hence this article. It is directed towards folks who are looking for the best in-wall speakers but are not able to make the decisions as they don’t have any information regarding it’s sonic performance against other comparative products.
The tests in this post compares three top-selling in-wall speakers that can be found in Amazon. Unfortunately, there are no side by side comparison of these products in terms of sonic performance for users to make a productive decision regarding cost vs sound quality. In this post, I summarize a test rig that I prepared that will hopefully help you in arriving at this decision.
Under the tests were the 3 units shown below which appear to be to top sellers on Amazon and have received favorable ratings.
Micca M-6S 6.5 Inch 2-Way In-Wall Speaker (referred to as ‘Micca’)
652W Silver Ticket 2-Way In-Wall Speaker (referred to as ‘652W’)
VM AUDIO Shaker 6.5 2-Way In-Wall Speaker (referred to as ‘VM Audio’)
The test lab for comparing the speakers
Like all good experiments, it is important to have an experimental bed that will be constant for all test conditions for the speakers. Effectively an environment that can be kept constant whilst feeding the same audio source and determining the sound profile. Note that I have not used any measuring equipment to do this comparison and might spark debates from audiophiles. However, the end goal was simply to measure the sound from the speakers for the same consistent input and determining it’s quality against each other. It can be said that everyone has a preference towards a particular taste in music but that would not detract from the fact that you are judging the same music coming out of each of those speakers. As long as my feet are on the ground and not dancing vigorously to the music, I felt the tests were going to be an objective one.
were simply my ears with everything else being constant including the passage of sound to my ears and all furniture as is.
The test rig…
For the test rig, I made a rigid plywood box with an open front that will comfortably sit the speakers flat and taped with duck-tape to minimize sound leakage. This set-up was fine since the requirement for a tightly sealed box or sound deadening material were not an issue as the speakers were subjected to the same conditions under listening tests. The speakers connected to the in-house amplifier, chromecast audio and power supplies (Fig. 1).
I was already somewhat familiar with the VM Audio speaker whilst building out the amp rig and had a general feeling of what this sounded like. I plugged the Micca speaker as I was anxious to hear this speaker considering all the rave reviews received in Amazon. I was immediately awestruck by its sound, and all the music I pushed through it on my Android tablet (google music player) sounded pretty good.
However, the speakers were stored in a cold room (NYs inclemental weather) and so I knew they needed to be warmed up for a good test. Some folks also recommend a break-in period of 2-3 days of continuous music before you can fully appreciate the sound. However, you can argue that all three speakers under test were subjected to the same temperatures and break-in period and a direct measurement one after another would not skew the tests. One could also argue that the materials used may have very different properties to each other requiring different levels of break-in before they are fully ‘cured’. I won’t into the details of this so I thought it would be best to let the speakers sit in room temperature for a few days and conduct a protracted listening tests for all three speakers.
For the tests, it is important to make sure that speaker placements are exactly the same ie. position on table, from the wall and any other objects nearby. It was important that I was also listening from exactly the same position of where I was sitting. I was also aware of the fact that resting hands behind your heads would compromise the tests. If you don’t believe me, place your hands facing forwards behind your ear and you will see how different all the sounds appear. Such were the lengths I was prepared to go to in order to pick out the various nuances of sound emanating from the speakers. In case you were thinking, I was not exactly a sitting robot 🙂 It was the only way towards appreciating and optimizing a product as I have further audio projects in mind for my new found passion.
After subjecting all three to protracted listening tests I have provided the following results for the readers. Keep in mind that the applications for these speakers are for in-wall application and subjective tests such as this only qualifies its rendering capability of sound. It would be hard to say how the speakers will sound on your wall and according to the room size and your furniture placement. Equally, the type of amplifier you choose, will all add up to give the final overall sound that will come out of these speakers. Sound engineers call the in-wall environment as an infinite baffle whereas the closed-box tests is how I am conducting these sound tests. It is safe to say, the quality of the listening tests are arguably the same for each speaker and any deficiency in particular frequencies, distortions of the sound would be a faithful measure of the ability of the speaker to render sound.
Warm sounding, less distortion (well matched to this amplifier).
Whitney Houston, OTOWAA voice, dialog
Some timbre distortion evidence when changes gear, otherwise voice clear, good mid range and appears to have more bass than VM
lower sensitivity (but that is ok, the 60W more than capable at listening to high volumes)
need to show the loudness at mid-point of the chromecast
Treble (bit grainy (harsh) and high), whereas Micca sounds like together
However, broke in is about half hour whereas Micca broke in 1 hr
Micca warmer and more enjoyable to listen, feels like you could listen to this for a long time without being fatigued
Sharpness in the higher frequency that is noticeable
Surprising good, does not have the deficiency of the mid priced one
I was quite surprised by the results of these tests as the addage, ‘you pay for what you get’ would naturally apply but not so for these batch of speakers. The V652 has a harsh treble that you just could not discount from all the listening tests. The Micca sounded more warm across the frequency range and was enjoyable to listen to as it depicted no harshness like the V652 and also had a good soundstage. I was most struck by the performance of the VM Audio which for the price point has to be a bargain for what it delivers. It holds itself up against the Micca very well and has a muscular quality to the sound. Although not as warm sounding as the Micca, it did not have any harsh qualities throughout the frequency band.
After subjecting the speakers to a break-in and listening to the same music repeatedly through each speaker, I was able to reach the following conclusions.
Micca, VM, $25
$25, VM, Micca
Overall (value for money):
VM, Micca, $25
Your money will go a long way with the VM but if you are really picky about sound and like a more restrained (or mellow) listening experience then you can opt for the Micca.
Bear in mind that this speaker is almost 4 times as much as the VM speaker and as everyone says, sound is a subjective quality.
I hope that this post benefits some of the readers in deciding what in-wall speakers to choose since ratings are not always the most accurate measure of picking out the right ones. My next tasks will be to see how these speakers sound like with the proper optimization of other parameters such as sound box dimensions, rigidity of box, fibre materials, amplifier matching etc. Like I said the acid test would be to hook these up to your own walls and see how they sound but based on these tests you can get an idea of the quality of the sound that each produce.