Home Theater Resources

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After investing a lot in equipment, shouldn’t you get the most out of your listening room? Unfortunately, most people don’t. After researching and purchasing very good and often state of the art equipment the room is ignored. This is very unfortunate, because the room is often the most important factor in achieving good quality sound.

We specialize in small room acoustics (less than 10,000 cubic feet), and we use an engineering company with over 30 years of experience in architectural acoustics engineering and design. Everything from noise control, sound isolation, and environmental acoustics to the interior acoustics must be considered. They have designed rooms from New York to Singapore and can improve the sound of virtually any listening room. In fact, their designs will make a more dramatic change in your system than any upgrade at a similar and often much higher price. They design rooms for home theaters as well as 2 channel audio on both a domestic and international basis. However, in all cases the primary goal remains the same: to achieve the best sonic results. There are three levels of construction that are available: Entry, Custom, Ultimate.

At all three levels our priority is to develop an acoustically rewarding change in the listening environment while keeping in mind any constraints our client may have, such as square footage available, existing structures, aesthetics, and overall cost. We understand that the best acoustical solution may be impractical for some. And what is practical for one customer may not be practical for another. Even at the entry level we take into consideration the customers individual needs. At the higher levels we work through more constraints and more options.

Isn’t it time to invest in your listening room and get the most out of your system?

“Screening Room” is actually a term that comes from Hollywood studios to describe small theater rooms, generally on the studio lot, where films in production (“dailies”) are previewed. These screening rooms are also used to preview films as finished products to select audiences prior to their theatrical release.

With the advent of digital video technology, more and more films are now professionally previewed in studio screening rooms on digital video instead of 35mm film. We use the same technology and digital equipment found in professional studio screening rooms, providing our clients with images and sound that meet or surpass real Hollywood screening rooms in every way… and we do this using “off the shelf ” easy to play DVD’s and other High Definition media.

A completely bare, empty room will have undesirable acoustics. It will be very “echoy,” with uneven bass. Acoustic room treatment is the application of various problem-solving materials attached to the room’s surfaces and/or placed within the room.

Acoustic treatments affect the sound at any particular room boundary in one of three ways. They can: Absorb sound. Sound striking the surface is absorbed and not retransmitted to the room. Diffuse sound. Sound striking the surface bounces back into the room in all directions. Reflect sound. Sound striking the surface bounces back like a billiard ball striking a bumper (or a light ray shining on a mirror).

How a particular acoustic treatment affects sound will also vary with the audio frequencies involved (i.e. the pitches of the notes). For example, a thin acoustic treatment such as lightweight draperies may abort high frequencies, yet may allow midrange frequencies to be reflected by the wall behind the draperies.

Bass notes have much longer wavelengths. As the wavelength approaches the dimensions of the room, resonance becomes the dominate physical phenomenon governing the room’s bass acoustics. Much larger, thicker absorption materials are needed to treat bass than are needed for high frequencies. The corners of the room will build up the most bass energy. In a rectangular “shoebox” shaped room, there will be eight tri-corners (four at the floor, four at the ceiling) where you will find the most bass energy building up under steady-state conditions. So it naturally follows that this is where you would usually first think to treat the room with bass trapping.

Another aspect of analyzing a room’s acoustics is calculating the room’s resonant frequencies. We usually recommend that, when building a new room, you limit the shape of the room to a simple rectangular prism (shoebox-like shape). With this shape room, it is easier to predict the axial, tangential, and oblique modes than if the room is odd-shaped. However, if you already have an irregularly-shaped room, we can measure it’s resonances with sophisticated computerized testing equipment..

Above the bass region, room reverberation dominates the room’s acoustics. An overly reverberant room (known as a “live” room) has unpleasant acoustics. It will be very hard to hear sounds distinctly. On the flip side, a completely non-reverberant (“dead”) room, will cause an unpleasant “pressure on the ears” feeling, and will hinder the performance of a high quality audio system.

One particular type of reverberation is called “slap echo.” If you clap your hands once sharply in a room with parallel bare walls, you will hear slap echo — a series of rapid distinct echoes. Because slap echo degrades music reproduction, it is one of the things that we seek to minimize when treating a room acoustically.

Tip: Most people are highly sensitive to the reverberation characteristics of a room. Even if you don’t listen to music in a particular room, you may which to consider room acoustics in its construction. For example, a large, overly-live living room, family room, or dining room will not invite relaxed conversation.

Any listening room, whether for live music or reproduced sound, can be substantially improved with a comprehensive acoustic treatment design. We have used all sorts of approaches, many of which can be retrofitted to an existing room.

An existing room will resist soundproofing efforts, making a good result both difficult and expensive. However, in new construction, you have a wonderful opportunity to create a quiet room for your enjoyment of music and perhaps movie soundtracks.

Even in a room with walls three feet thick, a small hole for an electrical wire will create an air leak. Sound will escape, thereby bypassing all the soundproofing efforts. Only great attention to detail in the design and construction of the room will result in a high level of sound isolation. During construction, a knowledgeable consultant should inspect the room at various stages to catch any potential problems. Remember: your contractor and subcontractors are not necessarily accustomed to constructing rooms with soundproofing in mind.

Key Point: Sound travels through the path of least resistance. If you build extra thick walls, floor, and ceiling, less sound will travel in and out of your room. Going a step further, you can build a concrete slab on grade and then erect an exterior and interior shell on top of it. The interior walls and ceiling then don’t touch the exterior shell, creating an entire “room within a room.” Just as dual pane thermal window insulate against heat transmission, this construction will insulate against sound transmission. If you need an even higher level of soundproofing, we can design an isolated floor for your room. The floor and the interior shell of the room then “float” on the slab, isolating the room from floor-borne noise transmission.

An excessively soundproofed room can have another problem, however. If the walls, ceiling, and floor are too rigid or too massive, they will retain all of the speaker’s bass in the room. Such a room will require much more extensive acoustic treatment to achieve a neutral tonal balance. So ideally you want the proper amount of mass that is not too rigid and does not act as a resonator.

With the basic sound isolation design complete, careful attention should turn to everything that penetrates the inner shell: doors, windows, electrical boxes, pipes, ducts, and so forth. Anything, no matter how large or small, that needs a hole cut in a wall, floor, or ceiling can create a flanking path for sound. We can specify special doors to mitigate sound transmission through these paths. Liberal and fastidious application of special acoustical caulk will both seal the room and provide anti-resonant sound isolation. This acoustical caulk remains pliable to provide a permanent air seal.

HVAC ducting provides a direct path for air to move in and out of the room. Designing bends in the ductwork, wrapping the exterior of the duct, and lining its interior will improve the soundproofing somewhat. “Home runs” of the ductwork back to the furnace or air handler will help. We can design a still air box with a great deal of sound absorbent material. Flexible ductwork junctions will isolate the ducts from the vibration of compressors, fans, and burners. Vibration generating equipment can be physically mounted on isolating rubber mounts.

Different construction techniques obviously yield varying amounts of sound isolation. Sound isolation is quantified by Sound Transmission Constant, or STC, as measured in decibels. For example, an STC of 60db would represent a high degree of soundproofing, whereas an STC of 30 would represent relatively little soundproofing. But if you have a wall that has an STC rating of 60 and a door with an STC rating of 30, you are wasting your money building the wall so well. It is important to have a balanced design and then to build it correctly. Because decibel scale is logarithmic, a difference of 30 db (60-30 = 30) represents a factor of 1000 — a great difference indeed.

Typical residential doors can leak a tremendous amount of sound. With careful planning, the doors can be ordered with special materials so that they will create an airtight seal when closed. With high quality seals, proper installation, and perfect adjustment, these doors will greatly enhance the soundproofing.

A well-designed, well-implemented control system makes even the most sophisticated equipment a pleasure to operate.

Imagine pressing “Play DVD Movie”. Watch the equipment turn on. Notice that the VCR, which you’re not using, stayed off. Lights flicker on the equipment as the control system selects the right inputs and sets the right modes. Hear the volume adjust to your preferred listening level. The curtains dramatically open, revealing your screen. The light-tight blinds descend over the windows as the room lights slowly dim. The movie begins.

But a great control system requires much more than just the automation. A talented system designer carefully considers what functions need automating and how those functions should best be provided.

The design of a true high-end control system requires significant experience in software user interface design and ergonomics. For example, buttons should be grouped logically by function. Similar functions should be provided in a consistent location on each screen. The use of functional modes should usually (but not always) be avoided. Colors should be chosen carefully, with an eye toward the meaning. We have on staff a professional software engineer and designer.

Often a poorly-designed control system frustrates its user because it affords too much control. Like a car stereo with a million tiny buttons, providing control over unused options will hamper daily use. We use the “houseguest” criterion. Could guests in your home pick up your remote control and listen to music or watch a movie? Could they do it without any instruction?

Even a simple control system with keypads in the wall can be tricky. Does “Volume Up” raise the volume in just this room, or does it change the whole house? The right answer depends upon your lifestyle and the layout of the rooms in your home. Did pressing “Radio” affect every room? What if mom is snoozing in the Master Bedroom?

We strive to design control systems that are:

• Completely reliable

• Automation of all the necessary functions (no more, no less)

• Convenient to use

• Carefully designed around your lifestyle

• Logical and easy to understand (“houseguest” criterion)

• Harmoniously designed and pleasing to operate

In an ideal world, your local utility company would supply your home with electrical power in the form of a pure 60 Hz sine wave. We have sampled the power lines with an oscilloscope; they contain much more than pure 60 Hz power. Electric motors, fluorescent lights, computers, and other appliances contaminate your power lines and grounding system with electrical noise. In addition, other power-hungry appliances in your home such as heaters, hairdryers, and air conditioners will cause voltage fluctuations when they are in use. The electrical noise is not minor; it occurs in a wide bandwidth, up to several Mhz (1,000,000 Hz), and it contains large (several hundred volt) spikes and dips.

In order to isolate a high-performance audio and/or video system from these electronic “pollutants”, and to provide the highest quality electrical power, we can take special considerations when installing the electrical system for your room.

Typically, we run separate, dedicated, isolated circuits for the audio and for the video systems. These circuits use high-quality special A/C receptacles with shielded electrical boxes in the walls. For the main equipment location, we sometimes prefer to have multiple gangs of receptacles in order to avoid the need for power strips. The receptacles are powered by electrical cabling in the walls. Typically we use a form of shielded cabling or conduit to prevent electromagnetic interference within the walls. We also over-specify the capacity to reduce the voltage drop that occurs when current flows through cabling.

The electrical cabling terminates at your circuit breaker (or fuse) box. We have recently found new high-end circuit breaker boxes that use heavy-duty fixed breakers in lieu of the cheap pull-out variety. If possible and appropriate for your system, we specify these boxes as the connection is mechanically stronger and more positive. In the U.S., the power delivered to your breaker box is actually two “legs” of 110 volts each. This provides the option for high-current appliances such as dryers to use both legs for a total of 220 volts. Normally, electricians distribute the 110 volt circuits on both legs. To reduce the noise potential in a high-performance system, we specify that all circuits be powered by the same leg — preferable the one that has the fewest noise-generating appliances on it.

For some systems, we suggest a balanced power system. Installed either in the room or at the breaker box, this system lowers the noise potential by -6db and provides improved immunity from induced noise (known as common mode noise rejection). Recording studios often use these systems to ensure the best possible recordings.

Your high-performance system needs a grounding system not only for safety, but to prevent hum and noise. For safety purposes, almost any grounding system will do. For performance purposes, we prefer a low-impedance isolated earth ground. Isolating the grounds for the different circuits prevent cross-contamination of the electrical power. Isolating the grounds from the rest of the electrical system prevents contamination by other appliances. In some communities, the electrical code permits a totally separate, isolated ground rod installed in the earth. The electrician drives an 8′ or 10′ copper rod into the earth outside your home and connects your system’s ground to it. He then connects the shielding on the electrical cable to the circuit box ground. The techniques and materials described in this section represent the electrical infrastructure of your high-performance system. We may elect to include additional power filtering, isolation, and/or conditioning at the point of use within the room. This isolates each component from each every other component in the system (as well as from the outside world) thereby preventing cross-contamination of the electrical power. Because this additional equipment is not built into your home, this equipment does not necessarily need to be planned before the construction phase of your room.

During new or complete renovation, upgrading your electrical system will cost only slightly more than standard-quality electrical work. During minor remodeling or partial renovation, the labor costs will be higher if new wiring needs to be run through existing finished walls. We would be happy to consult with you to help you determine the best plan for your project.

Your HVAC system will heat, ventilate, cool, humidify, dehumidify, or filter the air in your room. But it may also add the noise of rushing air, the creaking of hot water pipers, the rumbling of motors, compressors and burners. And even when off, it may provide a flanking path to defeat your soundproofing.

In a forced air system, conditioned air should enter the room slowly. A good design picks a happy medium between the quiet of slow moving air and the required volume of air movement for the temperature and ventilation requirements of the room.

In a low air speed HVAC system, cooling ducts can be placed in the ceiling or high on the walls so the heavy cool air drifts down over the space naturally. And of course heating ducts on the floor or low on the walls will let warm light air drift up into the room. These duct placements eliminate the need for rushing air to be forced against the natural convection currents in the room.

To slow the air just before it enters the room, we can specify still air boxes in which rapidly entering air is dispersed and distributed more slowly through a number of ducts. A still air box can also help reduce noise transmission both in and out of the room.

If you are custom building a room, we may recommend that you consider radiant floor heating; it’s very comfortable and quite quiet. Because the surface area of the floor is so large, a very low floor temperature such as 81 degrees Fahrenheit will evenly heat the room. In winter, radiant heat does not contribute to low humidity as does forced hot air. Also, because radiant heat eliminates the need for radiators and ducts, the acoustic layout of the room and optimal system setup need not consider these obstacles.

Each HVAC project is different. Lifestyle issues, performance issues, budget, and personal preferences mandate a customized approach to each individual job.

With Dolby Atmos, sound designers are freed from channel restrictions. They can now precisely place and move sounds as independent objects in a multidimensional space, including anywhere overhead, so you can hear them as you would naturally. Sounds fl ow above and around you in step with the visuals, bringing a new sense of height and reality to your listening experience. Dolby Atmos helps weave the audio story to match what’s happening on-screen. It puts you in the middle of the action like you have never experienced before.