A Complete Guide to Ceiling Speakers (2021)

A Complete Guide to Ceiling Speakers
A Complete Guide to Ceiling Speakers

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In-ceiling speakers, which are also known as ceiling-mount or architectural speakers, have been popular for ages, as a discreet and elegant way to provide sound to any space without often unattractive loudspeakers towering over everything or unsightly and sometimes dangerous wires strung across the floor. If positioned and installed correctly, the best in-ceiling speakers can sound great with stereo or home theater systems, and provide incredible sound all throughout your house.

If you are building, building on, modifying or remodeling, or if you just want the stylish and sophisticated look and sound that the best in-ceiling speakers provide, this is the guide for you. We will talk about what ceiling speakers are, how they work, how they sound, how they are installed, how many you need and where you should place them, and finally we’ll list our choices for the very best ceiling mounted speakers on the market today.

Do In-Ceiling Speakers Sound Good?

Many people have heard awful sounding in-wall or in-ceiling speakers – perhaps at a school or office – and assume that this is just what they sound like: lifeless, weightless, tinny and harsh.

With the newest generation of in-ceiling speakers nothing could be further from the truth, though, and they can provide full, rich sound, with great bass, clear and detailed sound, extremely low distortion, a warm and musical sound overall and lots of energy for your music or movies.

And if they are positioned correctly (more on that below) you can enjoy amazing stereo or surround-sound imaging – really, a fully immersive listening experience – and the beautiful sound can easily project into the whole room – even open spaces, irregularly shaped rooms and non-standard layouts.

What are the Different Types of In-Ceiling speakers?

While there are tons of different varieties of in-ceiling speakers – different designs, sizes and levels of quality – the most important breakdown is of the 2 basic types:

  • Active In-Ceiling Loudspeakers – a wireless (usually Bluetooth) speaker with its own amplifier (which will at least need a wire for power connection)
  • Passive – still the most common, don’t require power but need speaker cables and to be connected to an amplifier (a stereo system or home theater receiver, for example)

And while many people wonder about Smart Home in-ceiling speakers, the idea of a voice-activated speaker in the ceiling isn’t really practicable (and you probably don’t want to yell anyway), and so ultimately you’ll want either your wired or wireless speakers to simply connect to whatever Alexa, Google Home or other Smart system you’re using, just as speakers, and leave the voice commands to your phone or other Smart device.

Even Bluetooth wireless speakers are pretty rare, in fact – it may seem like a good idea, but really, since you’re having to run wires anyway for AC power, normal wired speakers are pretty much as easy to install, can provide better sound and a more reliable connection, and aren’t going to become outdated with new technology.

Indeed, very few companies even make wireless in-ceiling speakers for the home, but if you decide to go that way the Pyle 8 Inch Bluetooth In-Ceiling Speakers would be our number one choice for best in-ceiling Bluetooth speakers. Besides these excellent Pyle wireless speakers, all of our recommendations in this buyer’s guide of best speakers for ceiling mount will be normal wired speakers.

How Many Speakers Do You Need, and Where should You Place Them?

For stereo, two in-ceiling speakers should be placed at equal distances from the walls and corners, and at a good distance from each other to provide the best separation and stereo imaging.

For home theater, the in-ceiling speakers should also be placed the same distance from the walls (at least the two side speakers should be consistent with each other, as should the two front and the two back), and you should place all 5 or 7 as you would normal surround speakers.

Other than that, you can allow your own decorating sense and the look and style of the room be your guide. Be sure, though, that the following are considered:

  • The speakers are not blocked (by light fixtures, ceiling fans, etc.) and can project to your listening area
  • The spot where you want to put them will work – you can run wires there and the ceiling is strong enough

As far as quantity, the first consideration is whether you want stereo sound (1 or more pairs of speakers) or home theater surround sound (5 or 7 speakers and optionally a stand-alone subwoofer). Generally I would recommend that while you’re going through the process of selecting and installing ceiling speakers, you do it all now – that is, if there’s a chance you might want home theater sound later on, install the full 5-7 speakers now, and you only have to go through the installation once.

The second factor is the size of the room, and remember that for larger rooms a single pair of stereo speakers might not be able to fully project into or cover the entire area. As a general guideline:

  • Small Room (10 x 12 Feet) – 2 in-ceiling speakers for stereo: 5 in-ceiling speakers for home theater and small stand-alone subwoofer
  • Medium Room (12 x 18 Feet) – 2 to 4 in-ceiling speakers for stereo: 5/7 in-ceiling speakers for home theater and small/medium stand-alone subwoofer
  • Large Room (15 x 24 Feet) – at least 4 speakers for stereo: 7 in-ceiling speakers for home theater and medium/large stand-alone subwoofer

Who Makes the Best, and the Best Sounding, In-Ceiling Speakers in 2021?

We have had the pleasure of hearing many different in-ceiling speaker systems, and even installing a few of them, and so we are in a really good position to judge the best in-ceiling speakers available today. But we’ve not only limited ourselves to our own experience; we’ve also pored over countless verified customer reviews from Amazon and other companies, and as a result, have compiled our top recommendations in the following categories:

As you can imagine, that last category is all about the sound, but in fact all of the speakers on our list of best in-ceiling speaker systems in 2021 will sound absolutely fantastic, will be easy to install, designed to project sound perfectly into your space, have excellent material and build quality and long-term reliability and offer a great value for the money.

The Best Ceiling Mount Speakers in 2021

Super-Budget

Our Pick
Acoustic Audio by Goldwood CS-IC83 8” 3-Way In Ceiling Home Theater Speaker System
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At a Glance:

  • 3 Way 8 Inch In-Ceiling Speaker
  • Mounting Diameter: 9.49 Inches
  • Mounting Depth: 3.7 Inches
  • Power Handling: 19-350 Watts per Channel

It is surprising to see a high quality polypropylene woofer driver in a speaker in this price range, not to mention high-tech mica composite midranges and silk soft dome tweeters, but what is even more surprising is the sound quality. No, these super-inexpensive Acoustic Audio CS-IC83 8 inch ceiling speakers won’t have the tonal quality or resolution of a Bose or Yamaha, but they do have tons of punch, a clear and engaging  sound and surprisingly deep and powerful bass.

The CS-IC83 are a snap to install (almost literally, with their clever pressure-mount clamps) and the grills can be painted to match any decor. They are not adjustable in terms of angle, which can help with tricky room shapes or configurations, but their shallow mounting depth means you can place them more flexibly than many other architectural speakers.

A high quality set of speakers for a very low price, the Acoustic Audio CS-IC83 are our choice for best super-budget in-ceiling speakers in 2021.

These Acoustic Audio ceiling mount speakers are also available in 6.5 inch size: Acoustic Audio CS-IC63 6.5″ 2-Way In-Ceiling Home Theater Speaker System

Budget

Our Pick
Micca M-8C 2-Way in Ceiling in Wall Speaker, 8 Inch Woofer
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At a Glance:

  • 2 Way 8 Inch In-Ceiling Speaker
  • Mounting Diameter: 9.4 Inches
  • Mounting Depth: 3.4 Inches
  • Power Handling: 100 Watts per Channel Maximum

The next recommendation in our roundup of the best ceiling mount speakers for stereo and home theater systems is a longtime favorite of professional installers and building contractors, who like them because they are really easy to install, are high quality and reliable (so you only have to install them once!) and because they always satisfy, even delight, their clients.

But even a moderately experienced DIYer can easily install the Micca M-8C ceiling speakers, and so anybody can enjoy their particularly clear and low distortion sound, with great imaging for both stereo and home theater surround and warm, dynamic bass that always offers a substantial foundation but never overwhelms. 

One of the smoothest and most musical speakers of this type that we’ve ever heard, the Micca M-8C ceiling mount speakers will please and impress with their sound for many years, and are high enough quality to last all that time – an easy choice for best budget in-ceiling speakers in 2021.

And for the same speakers in 6.5 inch, just follow this link: Micca M-6C 2-Way 6.5 Inch In Ceiling Speaker

Mid-Priced

Our Pick
Polk Audio RC80i 2-way Premium In-Ceiling 8" Round Speakers
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At a Glance:

  • 2 Way 8 Inch In-Ceiling Speaker
  • Mounting Diameter: 9.4 Inches
  • Mounting Depth: 3.3 Inches
  • Power Handling: 20-100 Watts per Channel

Anybody who has heard a pair of Polk speakers sound will instantly recognize these Polk Audio RC80i in-ceiling speakers as coming from that long-respected audio manufacturer. The warm and musical sound signature, which is dark and smooth but still somehow has abundant energy and detail, has made Polk famous – and it is an ideal sound for in-ceiling installations, as it will provide really high resolution, high fidelity sound for years without even a tiny hint of harshness or fatigue.

The Polk commitment to quality and engineering excellence is also obvious in the RC80i speakers as well, which are superbly built of rust-proof and moisture resistant materials – and incidentally make a great protected outdoor ceiling speaker as well – and the tweeters’ angle and sound level are adjustable to optimize them for any room or installation.

Easy to install and easy to listen to, the Polk Audio RC80i in-ceiling speakers are our choice for best mid-priced in-ceiling speakers in 2020, and our choice as well for best in-ceiling speakers for outdoor installations.

They are also available in a 6.5 inch diameter: Polk Audio RC80i 6.5 Inch 2 Way In-Ceiling Speakers

Premium

Our Pick
Bose Virtually Invisible 791 In-Ceiling Speaker II
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At a Glance:

  • 2 Way 8 Inch In-Ceiling Speaker
  • Mounting Diameter: 8.6 Inches
  • Mounting Depth: 4.4 Inches
  • Power Handling: 20-100 Watts per Channel

Bose, in recent years, has come to be known as a true premium brand, which at its often considerable price offers real bragging rights. If you insist on Sub Zero appliances over Frigidaire, Mercedes over Acura, All Clad over Tefal or Pink over Polo you might well be a Bose customer, and the Bose Virtually Invisible 791 II in-ceiling speakers might be your perfect choice.

But just like all of those other best-of-the-best products, the Bose Nearly Invisible 791 aren’t all just about prestige or boast – they are the finest ceiling speakers in many different ways, as are so many other Bose products in their respective categories. The physical design is the best we’ve seen for really covering the entire room with that legendary Bose sound, the material quality and long term durability is as good as it gets, and the sound is, well, Bose. Smooth and wide open, with perfect imaging and uncanny stereo or surround soundstage, very low distortion and a wholly relaxed and unfatiguing quality that somehow still manages to convey every ounce of the music’s or movie’s dynamic energy and excitement.

A truly premium product in all the best ways – engineering, materials and construction, performance and sound (and, of course, bragging rights) – the Bose Virtually Invisible 791 II is the best in-ceiling we’ve heard, and our clear choice for best premium in-ceiling speaker for 2021.

Budget Audiophile / Videophile

Our Pick
Yamaha NSIC800WH 140-Watts 2-Way RMS Speaker
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At a Glance:

  • 2 Way 8 Inch In-Ceiling Speaker
  • Mounting Diameter: 10.9 Inches
  • Mounting Depth: 4.3 Inches
  • Power Handling: 40-150 Watts per Channel

With our next recommendation in this list of best architectural speakers in 2021, the Yamaha NS-IC600 in-ceiling speaker, we are beginning to approach the true audiophile ideal, and in a quite reasonably priced product.

Yamaha’s “Natural Sound” moniker really does capture the essence of these remarkably neutral and honest ceiling mount speakers, which do little or nothing to get between you and the music or movie soundtrack. Extremely low distortion and flat, wide frequency response couple with almost non-existent coloration, allowing the recorded sound, exactly as the audio engineers originally captured and perfected it, to come through in all of its beauty and dynamic intensity.

An amazing value and a perfect choice for the discerning listener on a budget, the Yamaha NS-IC800 Natural Sound ceiling mount speakers are our enthusiastic recommendation as best budget audiophile in-ceiling speakers in 2021.

Also available in a 6.5 inch diameter: Yamaha NS-IC600 Natural Sound In-Ceiling Speaker

Audiophile / Videophile

Our Pick
Klipsch CDT-5800-C II In-Ceiling Speaker
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At a Glance:

  • 2 Way 8 Inch In-Ceiling Speaker
  • Mounting Diameter: 9.8 Inches
  • Mounting Depth: 5.4 Inches
  • Power Handling: 50-200 Watts per Channel

Our last item in this buyer’s guide for best ceiling mount speakers is my favorite, and quite possibly the most impressive built-in speaker I’ve ever heard – the Klipsch CDT-5800-C II ceiling mount speaker.

Deep bass that is incredibly fast, tight and energized lends great excitement to any music or movie, and the mid-bass is smooth and dark, but with a kind of inner light that seems to cut through this often difficult and overlooked part of the audio spectrum and provide detail, clarity and impact. Upper midrange and high frequencies are sweet and liquid – not overly or artificially so, but in a perfect representation of the beauty and musicality of the original recording.

Both male and female vocals, and movie dialogue, are not only clear and understandable but have a tonal accuracy that lends great realism to any listening experience. And, speaking of realism and suspension of disbelief, the imaging and soundstage – both stereo and surround – are unparalleled, with a kind of holographic imaging that provides perfect and perfectly consistent placement and almost frighteningly smooth and realistic movement.

The best sounding ceiling speakers I have ever heard, the Klipsch CDT-5800-C II are an obvious choice for best in-ceiling speakers for audiophiles and videophiles, and a superb product in every way.

And for the same experience in a 6.5 inch speaker: Klipsch CDT-3650-C II 6.5 Inch 2 Way In-Ceiling Speaker 

Final Thoughts: Are In-Ceiling Speakers Really Easy to Install?

If you have done even a few DIY projects around the house, and aren’t terrified of power tools or wiring, installing in-ceiling speakers is a relatively easy and very rewarding job. And while this is not the place to provide an in-depth guide to installing ceiling mount speakers, I would love nonetheless to mention a few important things to consider and remember:

  • Make sure you can actually install speakers in your own ceilings – specifically check building codes and requirements before you begin.
  • Make sure you have all the right tools and enough speaker wire before you begin – nothing’s worse than having to interrupt a job half done, especially if there are now big holes in your ceiling.
  • Make sure that you have not only enough wire, but the correct wire. This applies to both electrical wire and to speaker wire, which for in-wall and in-ceiling installations should be UL-rated CL2 or CL3.
  • Check the physical layout for best aesthetics and best sound coverage, and determine the exact position of the speakers before any work is done.
  • Confirm before starting that you can actually run wires where you need them (behind walls and above ceilings).
  • Confirm before starting that there is enough space for the speakers – not just the diameter, but the depth – and that the ceiling is strong enough to hold the speakers. 
  • It is a really good idea to mount a speaker terminal station on the wall, especially one that is very clearly marked. My favorite is the Fosman 7.2 Home Theater Wall Plate, which also accommodates HDMI and subwoofer connections, and I use it with the excellent Mediabridge Banana Plugs.
Timothy Scott
Timothy Scott
Hey there, I am Timothy and I am an aspiring bass guitarist and lover of high-quality speakers. Music has been my life. I've owned several high-quality speakers over the last few years and have become obsessed with them. At Speakergy.com I share my knowledge on choosing and using speakers. I hope you enjoy my articles!

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