Architectural speakers don’t need to be expensive: Stephen Dawson reviews some entry level options from Wintal.
How much do you want to spend on ceiling speakers? The last pair I did were stunning, as they ought to be, seeing as how they were priced at $2,500 a pair, with an $1,190 option for fancier grilles.
Sadly, not all of us have access to the financial resources needed to manage such an expenditure. So here we go to the far more affordable end of the scale: Wintal speakers from Radio Parts. Price? Just $99 per pair.
What are they?
The Wintal CE650 speakers are 6.5” two-way ceiling speakers. They’re called ‘Edgeless’, which is what they are in the sense that the grilles entirely cover them. Held in place by half a dozen magnets, the white grilles stands about 6mm tall against the ceiling surface, making for a neat finish. There’s no reason to suspect that they aren’t paintable. The grilles themselves are metal, while the ring around them is plastic.
The body of each speaker is held in place by swing-out arms on long threads in the conventional manner, so they can be installed from within the room so long as cables are available.
The bass/midrange driver is, as the name suggests, a 6.5” or 165mm model. In front of that is a 13mm Mylar dome tweeter. Mylar is the trade name for a particular type of polyester film material which offers good stability and high tensile strength.
The tweeter stands on a pedestal emerging from a hole at the centre of the larger driver, as is the norm. There’s no cage at the front to steady it laterally. The wiring is unusual. Instead of the tweeter’s signal being fed through wires within the pedestal, the two wires are passed through the face of the cone of the larger driver. At the point where they emerge they are glued in place. The wires are braided, so fairly giving.
It’s hard to see what happens thereafter because the wiring is covered with a black goop. But since there is no connection directly between the terminals and the larger driver, the only way the signal could get to them is via the tweeter. So I figure the cables do go down the pedestal after all, but in order to feed the signal to the bass/midrange. I’m not sure I’ve seen this arrangement before.
It looks like the crossover consists of a single capacitor soldered to the terminals of the tweeter. It sits on the edge of the tweeter body, in front of the bass/midrange. Wintal says that the crossover is ‘6dB’, from which I take it they mean 6dB per octave. It looks like it’s high pass only, protecting the tweeter from bass, but not filtering out treble from the bass/midrange. The tweeter does not swivel, nor is there a trim switch to adjust its level.
Wintal does not specify a frequency response. It says that the speaker presents an eight ohm load to the amplifier and has a sensitivity of 87dB (+/-3dB). It’s rated at 25W continuous power handling, 50W maximum.
I’m guessing that what I’ve written so far might betray some scepticism about the quality of sound such inexpensive installation speakers might produce. But that evaporated the instant I started playing some music. I put on the first Dire Straits album (the Direct Stream Digital version, no less) and was instantly impressed with the tonal balance. In particular, the bass guitar was in excellent balance with the rest of the music. The treble was fairly clean and clearly extended, with respectable handling of the cymbals. Even the kick drum was hinted at.
I pushed Janis Joplin’s hit song Kozmic Blues hard. At normal listening levels it had a similar decent balance to the Dire Straits, but did seem louder than I would have expected. Usually a system seems louder if it’s a bit harsher, is laden with a bit more harmonic distortion. That’s what you’d expect. And indeed, as I rotated the volume control, the harshness became more apparent. But with brief peaks just about touching a hundred decibels at a little over a metre, what was most surprising was that these low cost speakers could deliver it at all.
For something quite different, I turned to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The bold first section (“Fortunat Imperatrix Mundi: O Fortuna, Fortune Plango Vulnera” – forget the Latin, everyone knows the music), given the full choral and orchestral treatment was again delivered with surprisingly fine balance. The choir was tidy at lower volumes, became harsh and a little muddled at higher levels. The dynamic range was quite impressive, and what was very surprising with the fullness with which the tympani was delivered.
And in the opening of the next track – Primo Vere – there was even a rather hifi-like sense of stage depth!
It was only when I moved to a piano solo rendition of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody #2 that I was a little disappointed. Again the tonal balance was fine, but the lower keys of the piano lacked the bite I’d have preferred.
I ran a few tests to check out my impressions. These of course don’t fully encompass all aspects of performance, but they can give a sense of you much power your system might need to make use of them, and whether they provide enough output at various frequencies to provide the raw material upon which a home theatre receiver’s EQ system can perform its magic.
First, the sensitivity was a bit higher – a lot higher – than implied by the specification. According to my meter, each speaker produced a touch over 90dB for 2.83 volts at one metre. I use two octaves of pink noise, centred on 1kHz, for that test. A sensitivity of 90dB versus 87dB has the same effect as doubling amplifier power, all other things being equal.
I also measured the frequency response at one metre. I’m always leery of this because there’s no anechoic chamber involved, so room effects are massive. Nonetheless, it was clear that the speaker could deliver all the way out to 20kHz at the top end, and had a reasonably well balanced midrange, from less than 250 hertz to more than 8000 hertz. That explained the natural, fairly uncoloured sound the speakers were capable of producing, There appeared be a step down by around 6dB to a new plateau in the octave below 250 hertz, but we’re into heavy interpretive territory here. Room effects? Box effects? The speaker itself? This can be smoothed by a receiver EQ.
Below 120 hertz the response appeared to fall away, but my measurements showed a peak back to full level all the way down at 63 to 70 hertz. That’s likely a resonance in the box itself.
And all that goes to show some of the pitfalls of measurement. To get a better idea of the bass capabilities of these speakers, I measured the frequency response up close to the cone of the larger driver. That gives you no idea how the treble and bass drivers work together, but it does largely eliminate room effects.
The result? 56 to 1000 hertz ± 3dB. Which is pretty amazing, really. Below 56 hertz, the response fell away at 12dB per octave.
So, yes, these speakers can produce surprisingly deep bass. Nonetheless, I’d suggest using a crossover of 100 or 120 hertz to a subwoofer if at all possible. At higher levels in the lower frequencies distortion from them is inevitably going to increase. Removing the deep bass load from them is going to allow them to perform better in the upper bass and midrange.
What can I say? For just $99, if you buy the Wintal CE650 Edgeless ceiling speakers, you can get remarkably good sound.
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