I tackled the daunting task of installing a pair of surround sound speakers in my family room theater this morning. This is actually the second set of surround sound speakers I’ve put in our family room. Reason being, shortly after installing the first set, we decided to flip the room around 180 degrees and put the couch where the TV was and the TV where the couch was. The surround sound speakers ended up at the front of the room and we never used them again. Even without any pre-wire for surround sound, this is a fairly easy job to accomplish. And here’s how I did it.
This is a quick list of some of the items and tools I used to install my in-ceiling surround sound speakers:
Dayton ES65C 6-1/2″ Coaxial Ceiling Speaker Pair
16 AWG speaker wire
Binding post wall plate
I bought the Dayton ES65C 6-1/2″ Coaxial Ceiling Speakers because they were a good price, and not the cheapest (nor the best) pair of speakers available but offer some great specs, a swivel 1″ dome tweeter and should be perfect for surround sound. I counted seven components on the crossover, though I didn’t try and figure out exactly what was doing what, it appears to at least be a 12dB/octave filter on the tweeter with some padding and either a 12dB on the woofer or a 6 dB plus a Zobel network. I compared them against some other in-wall speakers I have and they sounded great, even up there with a much more expensive set of Polk Audio speakers. Lots of nice highs and a clean, smooth midrange and is not harsh at all. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a full set of these for a whole house audio setup. For surround sound, they should be perfect.
I marked a spot on the ceiling at each of the desired locations about 12″ from the rear wall and directly over the furthest edge of each side of my sectional. They are about 12 feet apart mounted in a 9-foot ceiling. I used a stud finder (and my knuckles) to find a clear spot in the ceiling between joists and cut two holes with a saw. I’ve got blown-in insulation, which as soon as I stuck my hand through the new openings to make room for the speaker, a ton of that stuff fell onto my head. I gathered it up and stuck it in a bag to throw back up into the attic later.
I bought a set of those speaker protector bags that PE sells to go behind the speakers and keep blown-in insulation from getting into the driver. They worked great. I cut a small 16″ x 16″ piece of regular R-11 insulation and put that inside the bag to create a nice “enclosure” for the speakers to keep most of the sound from simply echoing throughout the entire attic.
The trickiest part of any surround sound install is getting the wire from the back of the room to the front. If you’ve got an attic it’s not too bad. All you need is some string, or Polyline, and a rock. You take the Polyline, tie it to the rock, stick your arm up in the hole and throw the rock as far over to the other side of the room as you can get it. I’ve got a pitched roof that gave me only about 8″ of clearance above each of the holes (and making it impossible to physically get to from the attic), so getting a good throw was tough. But I managed to get it far enough so that I didn’t have to climb too far into the attic to retrieve it. With the string coming out of the ceiling on one end, and also sitting up in the attic above the stereo equipment on the far wall, I was ready to pull the wire. With a couple knots and some tape, I had the wire run.
The next part is getting the wire down the wall and back into the room. Since this was an interior wall in my house, it is not insulated, I just drilled a 1″ hole in the top plate next to a bunch of other cables I had run previously and ran the wire down the wall. I cut a hole down below where the stereo gear is and felt around for the wires till I found them both. I stripped the ends and installed the binding post wall plate. A single gang low-voltage box really helps make the wall plate installation a breeze and can be found at any hardware store, or I recently just discovered that even Parts Express carries them. What don’t those guys carry?
The last thing I did was actually install both the speakers. Most in-wall/in-ceiling speakers have the same dog-ear style flip-around locking mechanism which makes them a piece of cake to install. Here’s a quick tip on getting those flip-around ears to work properly – loosen them up before tightening them down to ensure that they flip around before you stick them in the ceiling. Sometimes they are pretty tight, and they catch on the post before flipping around. So just a few turns of the screwdriver to loosen them up, helps them flip around easily and then they tighten all the way down and onto the ceiling nice and easy. I stripped the wires, connected the speakers, and screwed them into place. I swiveled the tweeters towards the center of the couch just to direct some of the sound more towards the listeners, and then installed the grill covers. And that’s about it, how to have great surround sound in just a couple of hours and with minimal tools and effort.
I’ve only watched one movie so far (it was Stardust, which BTW is an awesome movie, great visual effects, great score, overall great movie) and I have to say that the new surrounds sounded really good. I was very impressed. It’s nice to have the cool surround sound effects back that have been missing from my HT for the last couple of years. Next thing on the list is a pair of bookshelf speakers (Dayton Reference Series design) and of course, the sweet Audiopulse subwoofer. Should be fun!