Review: Flatwire

Flatwire Photoset
Originally uploaded by seangraham

In college, and I split the cost of a surround sound setup. Jon purchased the receiver and I purchased a set of speakers to complete the 5.1 setup. After I graduated I lost the use of Jon’s receiver, so I bought my own, which I used for the first few years living in Boston. After my retreat to New Jersey and subsequent return, Corinna and I decided that the living room in her old condo was simply too small, and the walls too fragile, to mount all the speakers to. So my glorious surround sound setup collected dust for several years.

Having moved into a new, larger, house and having bought a ridiculously large television, it only seemed to make sense to have a nice sound system.. Unfortunately, there were a few problems with this plan:

  • There are condos above and below us, so there was no access from above or below.
  • Corinna and I had no interest in unsightly wires running around the living room.
  • I don’t trust wireless speaker setups, and besides, I already have 5 perfectly good speakers.
  • We didn’t want to rip the walls down solely to run speaker wire.

Given all that, I assumed that others would likely have this problem, so I began searching around for a solution. After some research I settled on Flatwire. Basically, you glue Flatwire to the wall, tape over it with joint tape, then feather joint compound over the whole kit and caboodle to conceal it. I was somewhat skeptical, but after reading some good words I decided to take a bit of a leap of faith and shell out a few hundred bucks on the gear. I got 100′ of flat speaker wire, 8 wall boxes, the spray adhesive and extra-wide joint tape.

We found pages and pages of illustrated installation instructions on the company’s site, and they were a little intimidating.. Fortunately, Corinna and I sat down and carefully read them, making sure we understood each step before any installation started. Once we invested this time it became clear that this installation really wasn’t as complicated as it seemed at first. The instructions are just very detailed.. After understanding all the steps, all it takes is some solid patience…

We used a chalk line to snap out all 4 routes around the living room.. What became apparent quickly was that while it may seem that keeping the wires level would be really important, in a 100 year old home which isn’t terribly level anywhere else, what really mattered was keeping the lines a consistent distance from the ceiling. We took time to make sure we had enough space along the entire runs to account for any sags in the ceiling. Once we were confident in all of the chalk lines, we began the first run. It seemed logical to start with the shortest run, which was the front right speaker. We measured the length of the run, and then measured out and cut the appropriate length of wire. The instructions advised us to test this length of cable before proceeding, so we connected two of the wall boxes to either end and hooked up the stereo and a speaker. Everything worked great, so we disassembled the whole setup and began gluing the wire to the walls. First, we mounted the first wall box to the wall and connected the wire to that box as a kind of anchor while we glued. The glue is really, really sticky, and didn’t necessarily spray straight out of the nozzle, so it took a little practice to shoot straight.. Fortunately, any misfiring would be covered up by the spackle anyway, so I wasn’t too worried. After getting this first run glued to the wall we mounted the second wall box and connected the other end of the wire to it. After reconnecting the speaker and stereo to this first run, we successfully tested this first run. The instructions advised testing each run 3 times: Before gluing, after gluing, and after spackling. This would have taken us forever, so after this first run we only tested after gluing (and obviously after painting).

After this first run, we glued the remaining 3 runs to the wall and mounted all of the wall boxes, testing all of them successfully. With each run we became faster and faster as we became more familiar with the process. We started this process around 11am and finished gluing and testing around 4pm, just in time to jump in the shower quickly and catch The Police at Fenway. The next day Corinna began taping and feathering the wires.. This took her a few days, mostly because of the amount of spackle needed to really hide the wire combined with drying time. She may correct me, but I believe it took three passes to really smooth it out. After getting the paint on the walls Thursday night I mounted the speakers Friday and we took the system for a test-drive.

While I’m no audiophile, I do appreciate good sound, and as far as I can tell, the Flatwire doesn’t color or distort the audio in any perceivable way. The stereo sounds wonderful and bass and treble response seem identical to the traditional speaker wire I replaced. To be honest, I can’t really find any flaws in the system. It’s expensive, and it requires spackling finesse which may be beyond some (including myself), but if you are in a similar bind to me, it seems like a perfect solution.


Last night I watched Episode 1 with commentary from RiffTrax. RiffTrax is the brainchild of Mike Nelson, formerly of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  If you were a fan of MST3K, you already understand the basic premise behind RiffTrax:  Mike (and friends) record a snarky commentary track to a film and release it as an mp3 file.  Simply load the file into whatever media player you choose, press play and follow the audio directions.  I understood this all in principal (especially since I beta-tested the same concept a few years ago when

 was experimenting with DVDTracks), and I loved MST when it was on the air, but I couldn’t tell if this would work or not.

When I saw that they had done Episode 1, I couldn’t resist..  The first thing you notice is that the commentary is delivered in a zip file containing an unprotected mp3 and a text file.  The text file contains some basic information and also a guide to mapping “movie time” to “audio time” with some dialog snippets to help you in case you pause or stop the film for whatever reason and lose sync between the two.  My biggest concern was the issue of sync, but the RiffTrax guys handled it very well…  At the start of the audio file there is some introductory matter, and then there were instructions to pause the audio track after a countdown and to un-pause it after “A long time ago…” faded off the screen.  In addition, they have a “robot” named DisembAudio which occasionally recites a line of dialog so you can tell if they were in sync.  In practice, I found that it didn’t really matter if they were out of sync, even if it was by a second or two, but also that unless you were pausing or whatever, you didn’t have to worry about sync at all.  

As far as content goes, Mike has Kevin Murphy at his side for this one, who you may recognize better as the voice of Tom Servo on MST.  Other tracks feature Bill Corbett, who voiced Crow and was also a writer on the old show.  While the commentary for Episode 1 started off a little slow (just like the movie!), once they got into a groove it was like old times again.  It was a great experience, and if you are an MSTie, you owe it to yourself to grab one of their tracks and give it a go.   Obviously with my small sample size, I don’t know how much the quality varies, but for 2-3 bucks, it’s a pretty good deal.  I might even consider renting some REAL stinkers and just buying the RiffTrax that go along with them to make them watchable. :)

Stubb a Dub

Today I spent alot of time over at CSH meeting incoming freshman who are moving on floor in the fall… The ones I met seemed pretty cool, but I only met a small subset. I always love meeting the freshmen and learning their various personality quirks, etc.

I got my Portable MP3/CD Player today. While the UI is a bit cumbersome, it is finally great to be able to listen to MP3’s on the road, and the ability to store 10 albums on one CD can’t be beat…. It even supports CD-RWs!