In the latest installment of our series of no-nonsense architectural speaker reviews, we turn our attention from the Brits at Kef to the profoundly French Focal 300 IW6 LCR in-wall speaker Oui, Oui!
Starting with nerdy essentials, each 300 IW6 LCR comes loaded with dual 6 1/2″ Woofers, a 4″ Mid-range, and a 1″ aluminum/magnesium tweeter.
The 300 series marks a manufacturing transition point in Focal’s custom install line, assembling all models in the same factory in France that produce their high-end signature products like Kanta, Sopra, etc.
Focal claims these are “coherently aligned” with their Kanta towers utilizing the same woven flax cone material but a different tweeter configuration. This makes them a perfect complement to a two-channel Kanta system when perhaps floor space or budget prevent placing full-size speaker cabinets throughout the room.
In both of our most recent installs, we decided to build MDF back boxes for the speakers since they were installed behind fabric in one case and an acoustically transparent screen in another.
Unfortunately, Focal doesn’t provide any guidance for enclosure volume, but based on our experience with other similar units, we opted for roughly two cu ft and were pleased with the result.
Installation is simple and makes use of Focal’s “Easy Quick Install” system. Rather than relying on traditional speaker dogs and screws, Focal uses eight high-tensioned plastic spring clips to securely hold the speakers in place.
As long as you make use of the included template to cut out your openings, it really does take less than a minute to install each speaker.
A word to the wise, these are a little less forgiving than speaker dogs, so leave at least an inch and a half between the sides of your opening and any framing members.
Full stop; you will not be disappointed. In our test environment, not only did the IW6 LCRs exhibit the signature “Focal” sound, but they also offered low-frequency extension I’ve yet to experience from any other open-back architectural speaker.
Again, I’m not claiming these could go toe to toe with a set of gargantuan hi-fi towers, but they certainly qualify as full-range, which is in and of itself quite a feat for an in-wall speaker. When paired with a capable sub, the end result is fantastic and nearly invisible.
Bass performance is going to vary greatly depending on the volume of your enclosure, but in the average 8ft – 10ft wall should be more than adequate, and it will be better still with a properly sized MDF enclosure.
If you haven’t had a chance to experience the timber of Focals in person, I will describe their midrange to low-frequency crossover as exceptionally smooth and well-engineered.
Their tweeters tend to be a bit more on the sweet or articulate side, but there is a pad for you to EQ to taste if you prefer a more mellow top end. It’s a bit more forward than something like Kef’s UniQ but never sibilant or sizzly.
With a price of $1199 each, are they worth it?
I think these speakers occupy a comfortable spot at the edge of a precipice. The 300 series offer a step into the world of true audiophile sound in a compact in-wall package. Yes, at a higher price point, there is room to improve.
If you have a larger space, budget, or want the very best, there are next-level options out there (The Focal 1000 Series or Kef Reference come to mind), but for most people, the 300 series represent an investment that’s easy to justify by both their pedigree and sound quality.
Editors Note: If you're entirely new to home theaters and AV or are trying to gain a basic knowledge of technology in new construction as a homeowner, I would suggest you start your journey with our New Home Technology Guide. It's more of a bird's eye view of what's possible and serves as a great primer on the topic.
Now that you’ve been warned brace yourself for a deep dive into the how. If you’re planning to DIY the wiring of your project, or you want to be very well versed when communicating with your installer you’ve come to the right place. Let’s get started unpacking the process of designing and wiring your smart home from end to end!
The importance of Design:
During the planning stages, anything is possible. As long as you take it into account during this phase, you can integrate a vast number of systems. Of course, it can vary from project to project, but we usually start with the following outline:
Take an inventory of what will and will not apply to your home. For example, if you don’t have a pool or sprinkler system, “Water & Aquatics” can be struck from the list. Next, let’s hash things out a little further. Split each category into detailed subcategories. Here’s an example of the expanded list.
You’ll need to create a symbol or marking to delineate each type of device.
Placing your AV Rack and Low-Voltage Panel
You need to consider two critical pieces of equipment when beginning to lay out your wiring plan. The first location is for your equipment rack; the second is for the low-voltage panel or “Smart Panel.”
The rack will hold all of the home’s central nervous system, including patch bays, network switches, audio amplifiers, video distribution equipment, network routers, and your automation system controller. If you decide to centralize your entire home altogether, you might also have cable boxes, satellite receivers, and even more.
The low voltage panel is installed directly into the wall. We find it most useful for housing the coaxial system and all camera-related wiring. Separating the surveillance elements from the rest of the rack enables you to lock the panel up securely. Hence, things keep functioning even if someone attempts tampering with the equipment rack.
When deciding where to place your rack, first and foremost find a location with enough room to accommodate the equipment and plenty of room to work. As much as it might seem like a waste of space, your equipment needs to be located in a conditioned area. Heat is the number one enemy of electronics, so choose a location that’s well ventilated.
You’re also going to have to avoid any major structural members since drilling through them could compromise the integrity of your building. Start your search on an interior wall or under a staircase.
How to make a smart plan for technology in your new home.
You’re finally building your dream home. You’ve hired an architect, and you’re shopping around for the perfect builder. You may not know it yet, but this is the ideal time to involve a home technology integrator.
What exactly is an integrator? An integrator is the designer and installer of your home’s technology backbone. Their primary mission is to create audio and video experiences like music throughout the house, TV installations, and home theater. An integrator brings together all of the separate systems in your home like lighting, HVAC, and security and makes them more manageable by providing one cohesive control system.
While smaller spaces can be easily managed with off-the-shelf solutions like Apple HomeKit or SmartThings, it’s usually a huge benefit to call in an expert as the home’s size grows.
It’s important to talk through your options early on because, while you can retrofit some things after the house has been completed, it’s dramatically less expensive to pre-wire your home during construction.
IF THERE’S EVEN THE SLIGHTEST CHANCE YOU MIGHT WANT SOMETHING IN THE FUTURE, RUN THE WIRE DURING CONSTRUCTION!
LASTLY, WHILE IT MAY BE TEMPTING, DON’T RELY ENTIRELY ON WIRELESS.
Wi-Fi has come a long way, but if you have the opportunity to pre-wire for any device like a computer or TV, you should do so. This forward-thinking frees up your wireless network to provide the best service for devices that move around throughout the home (phones, tablets, etc.) and gives you a little bit of a backup plan if you need to add something later on that can’t be hardwired.
One of the biggest trends in building today is the use of a whole-home audio system. If you’ve ever wanted to have music playing throughout your home (without deafening anyone who dares to walk in the living room), then this is the solution for you.
Some of the more popular brands you’ll probably run into are Sonos & BlueSound, but you may occasionally see others. Speakers are installed in ceilings and walls, but soundbars and freestanding speakers can also be integrated. You can stream music from the provider of your choice or even listen to vinyl from your turntable.
Once these speakers are in place, it doesn’t just stop at music. With a bit of further design, you can use these speakers to carry sound from your TV, broadcast the doorbell, or even function as an intercom.
THINK IT THROUGH:
Not every space needs the same quality of sound. Work with your designer and figure out the places where quality counts. Come up with a Good, Better, Best strategy.
This method lets you focus your investment on areas where you’ll be congregating, like a kitchen or living room, but allows you to use more economical options in transient spaces like hallways or bathrooms
TYPES OF SPEAKERS:
Let’s take a moment to make sure you have a clear understanding of the different types of speakers that are available. For purposes of discussing your new home, we can break those down into three main categories.
IN-CEILING & IN-WALL
In-Ceiling or In-Wall speakers are exactly as their names describe, but you’ll sometimes see them called “Architectural Speakers.” They’re speakers that are tucked away into your wall or ceiling and can provide rich sound without eating up floor space or providing an easy target for a Sharpie-wielding toddler or teething chihuahua. When people think of speakers in a smart home today, these are what come to mind.
In-Ceiling is a perfect solution when you’re looking for “heard and not seen.”
One caveat to be aware of: depending on the particular speakers you’ve selected, they can sometimes be lacking in bass response, but the addition of a subwoofer can quickly remedy this.
TIPS & TRICKS:
Specify in-ceiling speakers with a “rough-in” bracket that acts as a template for your drywall crew. This bracket allows you to line up speakers with other elements on the ceiling, like recessed lights or other points of interest. These brackets are cut out as your drywall is installed, leaving a perfect hole and no mess in your home later on.
Are you concerned about sound from speakers in one room bleeding into the room behind it or the floor above? Install a back box. A back box is an enclosure that installs behind your speaker and blocks the sound from traveling into adjacent rooms; it also provides a slight boost in audio quality.
Everyone knows the built-in sound from your TV leaves much to be desired. You can only expect so much from a pair of tiny speakers shooting backward into your wall. That’s where Soundbars come in. They provide a simple upgrade from your TV’s internal speakers without much of the fuss of larger speakers.
Due to their compact size, they can’t match the performance of in-wall or freestanding speakers, but they’re a great starting point and perfect for spaces like bedrooms or an office.
FREE STANDING / FURNITURE PIECES:
While they’re no longer as common as their in-wall brethren, sometimes freestanding speakers are a perfect choice. Since the enclosure the speakers live in can be engineered for performance, freestanding speakers are the pinnacle of audio quality. They don’t have to be ugly either; speakers from brands like Focal or KEF are available in a wide range of finishes and can genuinely give your interior designer something unique to work with.
I like to think of some of these high-design pieces as furniture and not just a source of sound. There’s no better way to say “listening room” than a bold pair of speakers commanding your attention. The downside to freestanding speakers is they do eat up floor space, but sometimes quality is worth the compromise.
SUBWOOFERS: ‘CAUSE YOU’RE ALL ABOUT THAT BASS:
One final speaker serves as a faithful companion to all three types we’ve listed above. Subwoofers reproduce low frequencies and bass in a way that most normal speakers aren’t able to. Subs are the secret sauce that makes you FEEL the music. It takes a substantial speaker to create that energy, so most subwoofers clock in between ten and sixteen inches in diameter.
A subwoofer is an absolute must for a home theater, but you should also consider using them in entertaining spaces or living rooms.
So what exactly is a home theater? A home theater can be any space that offers a few key ingredients. The size and appearance can vary, but they always employ some kind of multi-speaker surround sound system and a high-quality display. The main idea is to bring some of the magic and allure of a commercial movie theater right into the comfort of your own home.
WHAT TYPE OF DISPLAY IS BEST FOR YOU?
There are two primary display technologies available today; Flat-panel TVs (LCD & OLED) and Projection systems.
The first thing to decide is what size screen is appropriate for your space. When a screen is too small, you won’t be drawn into the action or might find yourself squinting. Conversely, if a screen is too large, it will overwhelm the space and cause you to tilt your neck to take in the entire scene.
A RULE OF THUMB:
WE RECOMMEND THE FOLLOWING SCREEN SIZES BASED ON THE ROOM TYPE:
Home Offices, Living Rooms, Great Rooms : 55″-77″
Media Rooms & Custom Theaters: 82″ – INFINITY! (Seriously!)
If you want to make sure you get things right, use a screen-size calculator from THX or SMPTE. Input the distance between your seating position and the screen. The calculator will suggest the perfect screen size for your room.
When you sit straight in front of a screen, this is called on-axis viewing. Most displays perform their best when viewed on-axis, but as you move to the left or right of center (off-axis), some types of TVs are prone to washing out and losing contrast. If a wide viewing angle is required, consider a TV based on OLED technology. It might cost a little bit more, but in the end, you (and all your guests) will be much happier with the experience.
A wide viewing angle can be one of the primary differences between a cheap TV from a big box store and the available higher-end models. Sure, it’s great to save a couple of bucks if you can, but that doesn’t matter if it isn’t usable in your space.
WILL IT PLAY NICE WITH OTHERS?
An essential but often overlooked piece of the puzzle when selecting a display has nothing to do with picture quality, screen size, or aesthetics. To integrate with most home control systems, a TV has to support network control.
If you select any mid-range or higher models from Sony or Samsung, you should be safe, but picking a TCL or Vizio could leave you banging your head against the wall.
FLAT PANEL OR PROJECTOR?
Once you’ve settled on the appropriate screen size, let’s look at which technology might be the best fit. Believe it or not, it’s a pretty easy decision!
If you need a screen larger than 85 inches, you’re going to need a projector. For any application smaller than 85 inches, keep things simple and stick to a flat panel.
PROJECTORS : THE REALLY BIG SCREEN
Projection setups have one huge advantage compared to flat-panel TVs, and that is the ability to accommodate enormous screen sizes. Nothing else can even come close to their ability to put you right in the middle of the action. When you’re looking for the wow factor, a projector delivers!
But, there are a few factors that come with the territory…
The most significant enemy to any projection setup is ambient light. When stray light from the outdoors hits your screen, it causes it to lose contrast and punch but fortunately, there are a few creative solutions that can help mitigate the problem.
The first line of defense is to address the source of the light itself. You can pair a home control system with motorized shades and automated lighting control. With a single press of a button, you can turn on the projector, dim the lights in your room, lower the shades and start your movie.
Companies likeScreen Innovations have worked miracles to solve these kinds of problems with new screen materials like “Slate” or “Black Diamond .” These screens brilliantly display the image coming from your projector while rejecting most of the ambient light in the room.
But wait, that’s not all!
Have you ever wondered where all the bulky speakers are hiding in a movie theater? If you’ve taken in a showing at the IMAX, you’ve probably seen the demo where they illuminate the screen from behind to reveal the colossal stacks of speakers hiding behind the screen.
When you use what’s called an “Acoustically Transparent” or AT screen, you can benefit from the same thing at home. An AT screen has thousands of tiny perforations that allow sound to pass through unencumbered while visually hiding anything concealed behind it.
This is a perfect option for people who want big-league sound without seeing where it is coming from.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO DREAM BIG
Almost anything is possible with projection.
You can hide motorized screens in ceilings or drop one down in front of a smaller TV for casual use!
A CLOSER LOOK: SURROUND SOUND FOR HOME THEATER
If you want to get more information on the basics of Surround Sound check out our blog post “Surround Sound Basics” here!
MOTORIZED SHADES & CURTAINS
If you ever wished that one day you could press a button and completely transform the feeling of a room, the future is here, and such technology is no longer just reserved for the likes of Tony Stark, James Bond, or Richard Branson.
Motorized shades serve multiple purposes like controlling the amount of light inside the room, helping control solar heat gain, and offering privacy on demand.
There are three primary categories of shade materials. “solar screen” fabrics allow a specific amount of light to pass through while offering a screened look. You’ll usually see them written as with a percentage value, representing the amount of light that is allowed to pass through the material.
“Blackout” fabrics, while entirely opaque, offer the most significant amount of privacy and temperature control.
TIPS & TRICKS FOR MOTORIZED SHADES:
When selecting a light filtering fabric, choose darker colors for enhanced viewability and lighter colors to help maximize heat reduction.
AS ALWAYS, IT PAYS TO PREWIRE.
In a remodel situation, installations are usually limited to using lithium batteries that require an annual recharge. When planning for new construction, be sure to specify a prewire to make your shades virtually maintenance-free.
Lighting Control & Automation
Lighting control is also one of those most natural and valuable ways to automate your home. Each bank of lights can be assigned to scenes or schedules., and you can even make walking around the house on the way out the door a thing of the past.
You have three options to consider when it comes to controlling the lighting.
#1 – Smart Dimmers or Switches
The traditional way is to install “smart” dimmers throughout the home. Each light or “Load” is wired directly to a dimmer switch in each room. This can save on wire costs for your electrician, but in larger homes that have multiple switches for each space, it can certainly get ugly. The advantage of this method is cost. Depending on which platform you use, like Lutron RA or Z-Wave, you could only be looking at a premium of $50-$100 per dimmer location.
#2 – Wi-Fi Bulbs
The second option is the use of wi-fi bulbs. With an app on your phone or tablet, the lights can be programmed with different flash patterns and color schemes if you’re feeling adventurous.
There are a few negatives to opting for individual smart bulbs, one being their significant price premium. Also, if you choose bulbs using wi-fi technology, they’re notorious for slowing down wi-fi traffic and crowding your network.
#3 – Panelized Lighting
The last type of lighting control is the most intensive but also has a few very distinct benefits.
Panelized lighting is the gold standard in custom lighting control.
In a typical home, light switches are installed directly in each room, and the individual fixtures or loads connect directly to them. This traditional approach is simple and does offer savings on wiring costs.
When you make use of panelized lighting, all switches and dimmers are located in a central panel (usually in your home’s mechanical room) and then remotely controlled.
This configuration does require a little more wire and planning, but the payoff is enormous. For example, you can have six loads controlled in the space, typically used for only one, or eliminate mechanical switches and centralize control on a touch panel.
We’ve talked about some of the things you can do with technology in your new home, but what’s the best way to bring everything together and make it a functional and useful part of your everyday life? The use of a home control system makes integrating all of the various technology in your house user-friendly and effortless.
You’ve probably heard of some of the DIY brands in the space like SmartThings, or Apple Home Kit. On the professional side, some of the bigger players are Control 4, Savant, Crestron, and Elan. When you’re working with a smaller home or just a few devices, sometimes the big box brands are completely adequate.
If you’re controlling every aspect of your home, or just have a lot of technology you’re much better off with a professionally installed solution.
At Audilux, we’ve standardized all of our installations around Elan. We think it’s the very best option on the market for custom homes and provides a great balance of elegance and value.
One of the biggest differences between a custom system and DIY alternatives is that all of the processing is done right inside your home rather than sent off to the internet. This is called “Local Control” and it offers a huge advantage in both security and performance. Imagine asking a question from across the room rather than being forced to walk ten miles just to get an answer, I think we’d all choose the simpler option.
This also means that in the event your internet connection is down everything continues to function normally. This is not true of store-bought solutions.
There is a lot more than just good technology going into the images of theaters you see on Pinterest or in Magazines. It takes a lot of work from talented interior designers coordinating with your general contractor and your technology professional to achieve those kinds of results.
If you have something in mind, bring it up early so everyone who needs to be involved can do their part to make your dream come to fruition!
ARE YOU IN THE NASHVILLE AREA AND LOOKING FOR A PROFESSIONAL TO PARTNER WITH ON YOUR NEW HOME?
It can be tempting to put an arduous amount of effort into a cutting-edge projection system and surround sound only to neglect the one equally important piece of gear, the seats! But, just as you probably don’t want to hike fifty miles of the Natchez Trace in flip-flops, you’re not going to get maximum enjoyment out of your theater or media room with a traditional sofa and chairs
Dedicated theater seating is the secret sauce to making your new space somewhere you’ll love to spend time.
Types of theater seating:
Individual Recliners are connected and arranged in a straight line or arc to help maximize the viewing experience. Since these recliners are purpose-built for theater use, expect to find extras like cup holders, snack trays, LED lighting, and more.
Some manufacturers even offer seats in staggered heights to improve sightlines with the screen while avoiding the need for a riser on the back row.
Loveseats & Sofas
Think of a loveseat as a recliner for two. A loveseat offers all the same features and extras of dedicated recliners without the pesky center armrest to keep you apart.
A chaise can be an opulent and attractive way to take in a movie with loved ones without dealing with reclining. With so much room to spread out, you might be tempted to take a nap after the movie!
Bean bags are the often overlooked but unsung hero for adding extra seating to your theater space. While I wouldn’t suggest them as a primary choice for the whole family, They’re a perfect way to add additional seating for kids.
As a bonus, they sit low enough to the ground that others can easily see the screen overhead.
Look for high-quality options from Lovesac or MoonPod. They’ll fit right in with the rest of your room’s interior won’t turn into a lumpy pile of mush after a few years.
so how much is this going to cost me?
Home Theater seats are usually priced “per seat,” and there can be an extensive range in prices depending on your chosen materials.
While there are some cheaper options out there, I would suggest budgeting a minimum of $1000 per seat as a rule of thumb. Of course, you’ll be missing some of the higher-end materials and extra features like power recline, bass shakers, and LED lighting, but you can expect quality construction at that price point.
If you’ve chosen to decorate the rest of your home with quality furniture pieces from Restoration Hardware, West Elm, or the like, expect to pay anywhere from $2500-$5000 per seat for theater seating of similar quality. Just remember that you’re looking at fully custom furniture at the higher end of the spectrum, and you can have almost anything you can dream up! Top grain leather, vintage velvet, personalized embroidery, and lighting are all on the table!
I’m sure you probably remember the first time you experienced surround sound at the movie theater. In my case, I walked into a local screening of Jurassic Park, unaware of my local cinemas’ latest upgrade. I watched in awe as the t-rex skulked onto the screen, brontosaurus thundered, and velociraptors screeched and whirred around me.
I left with a massive smile on my face and immediately started trying to replicate the audio experience at home.
Early on, most people were stuck using kits from Bose, JBL, or a few other companies, but we’ve come a long way since then! Now it’s not only possible to match the experience of your local movie house; in many cases, you can even do better! (All while skipping the crazy popcorn prices in the process!)
If you’re starting to consider a custom home theater or surround sound system for your home, here are a few fundamentals to help you with your research:
What exactly is surround sound?
The goal of a surround sound system is to take the action unfolding on your screen and place you sonically right in the middle of it. So, for example, when a plane flies overhead in a film, the sound would come diving from over your head.
Surround sound systems consist of an audio receiver and two functional types of speakers: satellite (full-range) and Subwoofers. The full-range speakers reproduce the majority of the audio signal and are carefully positioned all around the room to help simulate a sound’s location.
The Subwoofers are tasked with one hundred percent of the bass and low-frequency information and providing the roar when explosions take the stage.
Do your best to be “matchy-matchy”:
All of your satellite speakers should be identical in an ideal world, but that’s not always practical.
At the very least, make sure to use speakers from the same manufacturer and product line to ensure they have similar timbre and voicing; this will prevent a noticeable change in tone as elements move from one speaker to the next.
Surround formats are specified using a number system.
The way system configurations are written can often be confusing. Here’s the secret formula:
The first number listed is the number of satellite speakers; the second number after the decimal is the number of subwoofers. So a “5.1 System” would have five satellite speakers and one subwoofer, and a “7.1 System” would consist of seven satellite speakers and one subwoofer.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen the addition of a third number. The final number represents the number of heightspeakers for Dolby Atmos. If you’re lucky enough to build a “9.2.4 System”, not only will you have a mind-blowing theater, but it would include nine satellites, two subwoofers, and four height speakers (oh my!)
What is Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmosis the latest and greatest surround sound tech from Dolby Engineering. It incorporates height speakers (usually installed in the ceiling) to make sound come from above and additionally employs object-based audio processing.
Without getting too nerdy, Atmos takes a movie’s soundtrack and customizes it precisely to the number of speakers you have available. You let the receiver or processor know what it has to work with; the rest is Dolby magic!
Are you looking for a custom home theater in Franklin, Nashville, or Middle TN?
Please don’t hesitate to reach out! We’d love to put our expertise to work for you!