Should I bother setting up ceiling speakers that came with my house?
February 15, 2021 6:11 AM   Subscribe

Just bought a new house that happens to have built-in ceiling speakers (installed around 2013 I think). I'm tempted to get them wired up because I listen to music all day and the high ceilings aren't very forgiving with the tabletop radio I currently use. But I've learned the whole kit and caboodle would set me back $1200 or so. Worth it? Or should I just scatter a few $200 Sonos speakers around and call it a day?
posted by lecorbeau to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hmm..were the speakers installed when the ceiling was being done? Or did someone cut open the existing ceiling, install speakers, and then never bother to connect them? The latter would make no sense...

If the speakers were installed before the ceiling was drywalled, there surely must be a wire somewhere in some wall that leads to them. It wouldn't make any sense whatsoever to not run wires while the ceiling was open, so there's got to be a drop somewhere that you can access.

I'm totally going to favor the wired setup if at all possible, since wireless protocols change but speaker wire is speaker wire. If it were me, I'd find out if there's a wire in the wall somewhere, track down where it is, and connect a stereo receiver to it.
posted by vitout at 6:32 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for your response! Sorry if it wasn't clear, there is wiring but it requires receiver + central channel (?) + subwoofer and some other things that I obviously don't understand very well.
posted by lecorbeau at 6:36 AM on February 15

You just bought this house? Set up your ceiling speakers! It’s an investment but you listen to music a lot. Three Sonos speakers will be half the cost of the premium wired setup. I say go for it.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 6:42 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]

Oh, in that case, I'd totally go with a receiver. It sounds as though the house is wired for 5.1 sound, in which case you'll need one that's 5.1-compatible, but you can get a basic one of those for around $300.

Some receivers can compensate for not having a center channel, by folding the audio to the side channels, but either way—a center channel speaker wouldn't be that expensive, maybe $200? And as far as I know, a subwoofer is only ever a "nice to have", and not necessary. You can add one later—but those aren't that expensive either, maybe another $200?

I'd make sure that whatever receiver you have has Bluetooth support, so you can stream to it from your devices. If you're an Apple household, make sure it has AirPlay 2 support.

Either way, I don't think you're getting anywhere near $1200 unless you want high-end stuff. You'd probably wind up spending around what you would for a couple Sonos speakers, and have a system with much more longevity and expandability.
posted by vitout at 6:47 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]

You'll need an amplifier + source. A modern receiver serves as an amplifier, and some come with apps for internet radio and such.

But really any old receiver will do, for music only you don't need hdmi and other stuff, so if you checkout local classifieds or buy nothing groups you can probably get a receiver for cheap/free that's a little older since all you need is the audio amplification. Then you need something to plug into it as a source for audio. They usually have am/fm tuners, so youd just need an antenna for that, or cable to a computer, etc.

For movie watching you'd want a center channel and sub, for music, center is unnecessary. Depending on how much bass the speakers put out you may or may not want a subwoofer for music.
posted by TheAdamist at 6:57 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]

Seconding what vitout says, there's no reason a receiver + sub should cost anywhere near $1,200, especially if you just want the speakers making noise and don't care about high-end specs like Dolby Atmos.

Even the extremely fancy and expensive Sonos amp (the Sonos device you'd get to attach to your existing wired speakers) is only $799.

If you wanted to skimp and didn't care about TV surround sound you could even just get a regular stereo two channel amp and double up on the speaker cables similar to what's described here: How to connect two speakers to one amplifier [channel].
posted by tiamat at 7:01 AM on February 15

So some houses have whole home audio in multiple rooms, and some houses, people just really like 5.1 surround sound for their TV's in every room.

If you really have whole home audio, that should come with there receiver. There should be 1-2 speakers per room, including the kitchen.

If, rather, you have 4-5 speakers in living room/bedrooms, then they probably just wired them there for surround sound.

If it's truly whole home, there should be a closet with lots of cords coming out. I'd figure out how to buy an amplifier like others say, and I would personally just throw an echo dot / Google home with Spotify on it for easiest control.

If it's 5.1, your mileage might vary. I personally don't see the appeal much because most media caps at 3.1 surround sound. But, I recommend a cheap refurb receiver, and you can learn how to wire it in where the cords come out, usually under your TV.

I would bother with the first, and would only bother with the second if you care about home theater stuff.
posted by bbqturtle at 7:21 AM on February 15

I agree with others that you can just put a receiver/amplifier on the existing speakers if all you want to do is play music. And it can be really cheap if all you want to do is play music. This amp is $40, and it probably would do exactly what you want. It can drive four speakers (I'm guessing that's what you have in the ceiling), it has both bluetooth input and wired inputs (so plenty of flexibility in where the music comes from, including your phone), and it even has an FM radio built in if you want to have that option.

It won't work with actual surround-sound from a TV or other video sources, and you would have to spend somewhat more to get that capability if you want to keep that option open. But again, $40 and connecting a few wires probably gets you exactly what you're asking for here. You could always swap it out for something else if you wanted to use the speakers for surround sound later.
posted by whatnotever at 9:10 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]

If your room is too echo-y now, the ceiling-mounted speakers won't make it any less so. For clarity, you really want ear-level speakers, as close to your ears as feasible. The platonic ideal being of course ... headphones :)

But if you're roaming around the house all day, it really doesn't matter, a Sonos or high-power Bluetooth speaker could fill the space just as well. I agree with whatnotever that you could fish out the wires and DIY for cheaper.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:33 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]

Can you get access to one of the speakers to find out the model? The quality of the speakers will affect whether it's worth getting them working. It will also reveal whether the speakers are constant-voltage, which is not uncommon for speakers designed for zoned installation, which would mean that the amps mentioned above would not work for the purpose out of the box.
posted by Candleman at 10:36 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]

I did ceiling speakers in our recently reno'ed kitchen/dining room; I have a slightly underpowered for the speakers lepy 4 channel amp (something like: this except I seem to recall cheaper).

In theory the lepy is sufficient to handle bluetooth, or play from a usb. But I've got a chromecast audio connected by 3.5 . Granted, chromecast audios sell for a premium on ebay now, but the amp was well under $100 CDN, and you can connect whatever to it. Speakers could go louder than the lepy can drive, but I keep the volume on the lepy around 50%, and usually the volume on the chromecast audio is between 10-30% - I.E. there's lots of room for louder.
posted by nobeagle at 11:40 AM on February 15

It's really hard to get ceiling speakers to sound good, so I personally would be inclined to spend the money on something else that I can move around and properly tune for the listening environment. Ceiling speakers tend to make everything sound like a department store IMO, and even a fairly cheap pair of bookshelf speakers is an improvement.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:55 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]

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