Ceiling LoudspeakersIt can generally be said that many loudspeakers look the same, even if they don’t sound the same. This is especially true of ceiling loudspeakers. 6/22/2010 10:13 AM Eastern
Jun 22, 2010 2:13 PM, By Bob McCarthy
It can generally be said that many loudspeakers look the same, even if they don’t sound the same. The local music store has loudspeakers that look like the ones you saw in the arena last night, but they are not the same animal. They don’t have the same range, fidelity, power, control, reliability, or cost to manufacture (and with that comes price). This is especially true of ceiling loudspeakers. In all but a few cases, they look exactly the same—just an area of perforated grille. By looks alone, one cannot tell the $29.95 version from the $699.95 model. But by sound, that’s another story. Our focus this month is on high-end, top-of-the-ceiling ceiling loudspeakers. When you are looking for more than just, “There is a blue light special on aisle 3,” there are lots of options available.
There are some common features of all these units that, for brevity, will be omitted: All are rated as sufficiently fireproof for ceiling installation and all have various mounting options for the standard ceiling types and common connector configurations. In many fields, it is a great idea to innovate something that does not fit the mold. In the world of ceiling loudspeakers, this will put you right out of the market. Motto: Fit the round peg in the round hole.
The easiest way to differentiate ceiling loudspeakers is by their size. And yes, size matters, but size by itself is not decisive. Since the focus is on music and voice transmission, we will also exclude full-range (i.e. those with no separate tweeter) loudspeakers since these are suitable for voice only.
Most ceiling loudspeaker manufacturers offer units that span the entire Goldilocks range: Papa Bear (8in. or more), Mama Bear (5in to 7in.), and Baby Bear (4in. or less), but for space, we will feature one from each manufacturer. Let’s work our way up in size, and then we will cover some interesting exceptions.
Small loudspeakers (less than 5in.)
Small loudspeakers have the least low-frequency extension and power, the lowest cost, and usually the widest coverage. Small units do well with low ceilings where density must be high.
One player in small format is Community Professional Loudspeaker’ Cloud 4, a member of its Cloud series of 4in., 6in., and 12in. loudspeakers. We anxiously await the Cloud9. The Cloud4’s extended coverage pattern of 145 degrees makes it well-suited for gap-free coverage even on low ceilings. The .75in. HF driver is coaxially mounted to the 4in. LF driver with four adjustable transformer tabs (and 16V bypass) as well as a trim pot for HF level. With 30W of maximum power capability, the Cloud4 can deliver 102dB SPL at 1 meter. The housing is all metal, making this the most rugged and heaviest cloud you will likely encounter. As we have come to expect from Community, the Cloud series is weather-resistant and ready for swimming pools and cruise ships as well as drier environs.
The Extron FF 220T is a full-range sound-field loudspeaker for 70V/100V systems. It features Extron patent-pending Flat Field technology, which reduces beaming of mid and high frequencies directly under the loudspeaker, delivering consistent sound levels, and reducing the number of loudspeakers required. In addition, the FF 220T offers a wide dispersion area of 170 degrees, providing a very wide room coverage pattern, which is especially important for rooms with low ceilings. The FF 220T is designed for quick and easy installation into standard suspended tile ceilings. The process requires minimal effort and time without any pre-installation procedures necessary for the typical round speaker, such as cutting holes through ceiling tiles and mounting supporting hardware. With a low-profile enclosure, this loudspeaker is an excellent choice for ceiling installations with tight above-the-ceiling space issues.
QSC has expanded its AcousticDesign series with the AD-C42T. This is a passive two-way unit with a .75in dome tweeter coaxially mounted to the woofer to create a 100 degree coverage pattern. The tweeter mounting pole is slightly off-center, a feature designed to reduce destructive interference between the drivers. With a sensitivity of 88dB SPL (1W/1 meter), and 40W of continuous power handling, the unit should be capable of developing 104dB SPL at 1 meter. The loudspeaker can be driven at 8V or with an integral 70V/100V multitap transformer. When it’s transformer-driven, the volume can be set with via a screwdriver operated switch. Housing is a fire-rated plastic and steel enclosure with standard attachment fittings.
Medium loudspeakers (5in. to 7in.)
In the midsize category, we find the JBL Control 26C. This is a coaxial 6.5in. woofer with a .75in. tweeter. The loudspeaker itself is rated for 140W continuous with a sensitivity of 89dB. If driven directly, the 16V loudspeaker might be capable of generating 110dB SPL at 1 meter over its 75Hz-to-20kHz operating range. With the 70V/100V transformer in line (rated at 60W max), the loudspeaker can reach 107dB SPL. The coverage is a conical 110 degrees, and the level can be adjusted at the transformer in 3dB steps.
The Penton Audio CCS6T 6in. coaxial loudspeaker is housed in a compact enclosure that requires only a 6.75in. cutout and 7in. depth. A 1in. titanium dome tweeter handles the HF response with a 130 degree midband coverage angle. The unit can be tapped in 3dB steps with a maximum of 60W drive from either 100V or 70V lines. Level can be adjusted on an installed unit by removing the front grille. In spite of the small enclosure volume, the unit sports a surprising LF limit of 60Hz (-5dB). The maximum SPL comes in at around 107dB at 1 meter, making the CCS6T suitable for both background and foreground applications.
Another candidate in the midsized arena is the C165W by Yorkville Sound. This is a 6.5in. coaxial system with a .75in. tweeter. The LF range extension reaches only 100Hz, but this highly efficient (92dB 1W/ 1 meter) loudspeaker can reach 110dB with 60W of drive. The coverage pattern is quite wide as well, reaching 120 degrees. The C165 is recommended as a louder retail club/sports bar music and paging loudspeaker.
Jun 22, 2010 2:13 PM, By Bob McCarthy
Large Loudspeakers (Greater than 8in.)
We can take any installation or touring box, stick it in the ceiling, and call it a “ceiling loudspeaker.” A big ballroom with high ceilings and high SPL requirements favors such an approach, but we are going to limit our discussion here to those models designed exclusively for ceiling applications. This limits the maximum driver size to about 12in.
Moving up to an 8in. loudspeaker extends the bass response. Adding a high excursion woofer and expanded enclosure volume take it even further. All of these are found in the Boston Acoustics VSi 5830. This is a three-way, 8V unit for home or short-distance applications. The pivoting tweeter is a 1in. aluminum dome, and the midrange is handled by a 3.5in. stamped steel copolymer driver. The LF extension reaches down to 48Hz and can be equalized with an integral switch to compensate for the loudspeaker’s position relative to corners. When driven at 100W, this loudspeaker should be able to produce 109dB SPL at 1 meter, making it competitive in the home theater or loud retail market.
No name in our industry is more synonymous with coaxial than Tannoy. Unveiled at InfoComm 2010, the new CMS 1201 ceiling loudspeaker is built around a 12in. high-power Dual Concentric driver with a ferrofluid-cooled Neodymium magnet and a new HF waveguide for smooth, uniform response over a 90-degree coverage area. To simplify implementation, Tannoy’s free Ease Address design software can calculate optimum spacing and performance from a few simple parameters. The CMS 1201 is offered in low-impedance (CMS 1201DC) and a 70V/100V transformer version (CMS 1201DCt). Various standard transformer taps are configurable before screwing the driver assembly into the backcan. Later, if a level change is required, the hinged baffle leaves both hands free to make adjustments. While this does not look or feel like the traditional ceiling loudspeaker/backcan assembly, a great deal of engineering has gone into ease of installation for applications having very high ceilings or high SPL requirements. The CMS 1201 has enough power to pump disco into retail clothing stores so parents will hand the kids their credit card and run.
Not every loudspeaker fits in the standard mold. Here are a few specialty items that merit attention.
All the loudspeakers featured above tout their capability to have wide coverage. But what about those cases where we want narrow coverage from above? Do we have to stick a large format box with a horn into the ceiling? Enter the Holosonics Audio Spotlight, an entirely new approach to ceiling loudspeaker design. This is a specialty product that provides highly controlled directionality from a flat surface. The loudspeaker is a 1/2in.-thick flatpanel, and the directional control comes from ultrasonic soundwaves that combine in the air to create audible sound. The signal that drives the loudspeakers is beyond our hearing (but quite popular with bats), yet these waves modulate the air to create audible sound in a very precisely controlled area. This allows for directional control without the depth of horns or multiple drivers to do the shaping. Naturally your standard power amplifier won’t be driving this. The loudspeaker system consists of the easily installed flatpanel and a small specialized controller. Just add line level audio and mix.
Applications for such a system include any place where you want sound in a small area that does not spill into others. Examples might include museums or exhibitions where attendees can hear audio where they are standing and then walk out of it to the next station. Don’t look for it to rock your world. This design is limited in frequency range and can reach only 85dB SPL at 1kHz, although a new version, just released, can generate an additional 6dB.
Two versions are available in black and white or custom print finishes. The AS-16 provides the more narrow coverage, and the AS-24 can be used at longer distances and has more spread.
The Martin Audio CS10 is a specialty product that we can expect to become more commonplace in the future: the ceiling-mounted subwoofer. OK, it’s not for the dentist office, but it definitely will be found in home theaters, retail, bars, and commercial entertainment applications. The CS10 enclosure is made from a fire-retardant MDF that mounts on three convenient brackets. You will need some advance planning for the extra real estate, but it will fit in the opening of a single 24”x24” ceiling tile with 9.5in. of vertical clearance. A single 10in. driver in a reflex enclosure runs from 32Hz to 150Hz (-10dB) and can generate up to 115dB SPL continuous. If the client wants to shake the rafters, the CS10 is in a great position to do it.
If you’re standing on the floor, the Meyer Sound Stella-8C looks like every other ceiling loudspeaker. From up in the ceiling, it still looks like a standard backcan, but inside the can is a very different animal: a self-powered two-way loudspeaker, driven with a balanced line and powered from an external DC supply. The Stella-8C is an actively crossed, phase-aligned two-way loudspeaker (8in. to .75in coaxial tweeter). The onboard electronics contains the signal processing to optimize the loudspeaker’s response and bi-amplified driver protection. The loudspeaker is fed both a balanced audio signal and a DC power feed from a dedicated power supply (the Stella-188). The 12VDC-to-18VDC line is classified as low voltage so that conduit is not required. The sonic advantages to amplifying your loudspeakers locally, avoiding transformers and reducing noise through balanced lines, are substantial. The Stella-8C (and sister 4C) were engineered primarily for use in Meyer Sound’s Constellation electroacoustic architecture, which sends unique signals to each loudspeaker. In cases where multiple channels of audio are desired for different ceiling loudspeakers, the independent channels capability of the self-powered approach makes it more economically competitive.