While reading about audio equipment to buy for the new house, I browsed across the Best of 2010 list from hometheaterreview.com and saw that they gave Noble Fidelity the award for best in-wall speakers. I’d never heard of the company and had already ordered speakers from Klipsch and Definitive Technology to try. I emailed them asking for a dealer in Seattle and got a response from Gregory Ford, I believe the, or an, owner of the company, said they don’t have a Seattle dealer but will sell direct to me with a no-questions-asked return policy so I can try them out. They even paid the shipping charges both ways! I couldn’t resist, so I took him up on the offer and ordered a pair of L-85 in-ceiling speakers.

Noble Fidelity L-85

I was pretty confident that I’d like the Klipsch the best and Definitive Technology is so highly-regarded that I thought they might give the Klipsch a good run for their money. Once I had them all, I installed them in 15”x15” fake walls that I built and hooked them up to my office receiver. All were good speakers, but the Noble Fidelity speakers surprised me. I felt like the Noble Fidelitys were slightly more spatial than the others, but it was too close to call and varied by the music I played; classical, jazz and vocal-centric music (Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” is amazing) were clearly better on the Noble Fidelity speakers, but the others did just as well on rock. I couldn’t decide, so I decided to take them to the house to listen to them where they’ll be installed. It’s good that the fake walls I made were small and could fit in the car!

Greg asked me what speakers I was comparing them to and how I was testing them. I took a photo of the installation walls I built and sent it to him. He wanted to talk by phone, so I called him. He thought the boxes I made were too small by a factor of 4 and said that his speakers wouldn’t show off their bass enough. He wanted me to build bigger boxes and gave me a quick tutorial on the physics of sound. He had his engineer talk to me too but his engineer thought the boxes I built would be good enough, at least to compare apples-to-apples against the other speakers. He suggested that I could even put insulation or pillow-filling in the box to simulate a bigger baffle – he also tried to explain the physics of sound to me, but physics is too hard on my little brain. Greg sent me plans for a bigger box and where to mount the speaker in it.

I decided to stick with the boxes I already built so as not to give the Noble Fidelity speakers an unfair advantage. And I was too lazy to build 6 more boxes! Actually, at the house, I decided to build a 2’x3’ box since it was so easy with the tools available – a few cuts with a saw and a few nails with a nail gun – but I haven’t yet tried installing the speakers in the box to see if it made a difference.

I took the speakers to the house, set them up in the living room, hooked up my iPod to my receiver and, wow, what a difference! The Noble Fidelitys sounded wonderful. Gay said she felt like she was wearing a nice pair of headphones. In that room, in comparison to the Noble Fidelitys, the Klipsch sounded like the music was coming from tin cans and the Definitive Technology speakers sounded practically muffled. The Klipsch bass was shallow and the Noble Fidelitys had a well-rounded bass. And this was in the boxes that Greg said weren’t showing off the bass well enough. It was an easy decision.

I was also impressed with the amount of time Greg gave me. Reading the reviews of the speakers, it’s clear that Greg likes talking to his customers. I can understand working with reviewers, but I’m just some schlub with no influence on his business. He talked to me about the history of the in-wall speaker business (80% of “in-wall” speakers are installed in ceilings), why in-wall speakers are rectangular (they look better on walls) and why in-ceiling speakers are round (they can’t be installed crooked and it’s harder to measure straight lines on a ceiling), gave me advice on where in the room to install in-ceiling speakers (not in the center of the room!). He even asked for drawings of the house and had his engineer suggest where to install the speakers in each room.

I took the speakers back home and, while waiting until it’s time to install them in the house, I’m using them as my office stereo speakers. They put my beloved Klipsch floor-standing speakers that I’ve had, and loved, for years to shame! And these are in-ceiling speakers that cost less!

The drywall is going in the house so we had to decide exactly where we would put the speakers in each room. I talked to Oliver, the engineer at Noble Fidelity, on Friday afternoon by phone to help me pick locations. He had to leave the office but promised to call me back that night at 7pm to finish. He did and we talked for an hour and a half about the speakers in each room and, along the way, I learned even more about acoustics. All told, I think I’ve consumed 3+ hours of Noble Fidelity’s time, much more than either Klipsch or Definitive Technology (zero). I love small companies that have a passion for their products.