- JVC RS500 (previously a JVC RS20, a Sony Pearl, a Sanyo LCD)
- Triad speakers: InRoom Gold LCR for Left, Center and Right (previously Thiel, Magnepan, Paradigm, Mackie, Usher, B&W) behind a
- Seymour EN4K acoustic screen (8 feet wide, not diag) 2.37:1 (previously a Stewart Ultramatte 200, a Stewart FireHawk, a Dalite)
- Surround duties: Triad In Wall Bronze Satellites (sides) and Triad InCorner Bronze (back). (Previously Thiel, Paradigm, Mackie.)
- Overhead: Triad In Ceiling Sealed Silver Rounds.
- Marantz SR6010 receiver (previously Yamaha Aventage 1010, Denon 4311, Onkyo pre-pro, Emotiva, Nuforce pre-pro, etc)
- Proceed three channel amp for LCR (previously Parasound 5 channel amp)
- Two Rythmik F15HP - using Audyssey sub eq in the receiver (previously Thiel sub, JL Audio, HSU, Triad, previous EQ provided by SVS AS EQ1, Anti-Mode 8033 Cinema EQ, miniDSP)
- 50/50 absorption/diffusion panels covering about 30% of the walls (GIK and DIY)
- Sources: Samsung K8500 UHD, Oppo 103D, Apple TV gen 3, Sonos Connect (previously too many to list)
Similar to the current look, though with different surround speakers (side and rear), a different area rug (on a single level), etc.
1) SIX FEET is the minimum depth of a riser. I made mine five feet and it's workable but the back row cannot recline! Okay, so they wouldn't really want to, from a line of sight perspective, but they might want to raise their feet. With five feet of space, they can't. (And seven inches height is really not quite enough for them.)
2) The DOOR should go in the front of the room, if space is tight. There is a whole "dead space" section between the screen and the first row. This is the PERFECT place to have a doorway for entry/exit. Putting the door where I did, next to the seating, means you are limited in seating/walking distance right in the spot where space is at a premium. It has been annoying enough that I have though about adding a door or re-orienting the whole room (but wiring locations and the riser make that a huge task).
3) HVAC is more important to comfort than chairs or anything else in the room. I should have used a mini Split system from the start, instead of trying to rely on other methods.
This is how it started. A detached garage on a 1920's house. There was no way we were going to drive a modern car to the back of the lot and into this cramped garage on a daily basis. On the other hand, it was perfectly isolated by a very large infinite air space from the rest of the living space -- and the neighbors!
It started with some sketches in the space...
Yank out the cabinets, and (important!) had the old concrete slab replaced.
: A traditional garage concrete floor is sloped for run off. YOU DONT WANT THAT in a home theater (or, really, any domestic room). But I wasn't smart enough to know that's how they would pour the floor, so I wasn't smart enough to tell them not to.
In the end, the building itself was so unsquare (80+ years of settling will do that) that it wasn't a complete disaster since everything had to be custom measured and plumb was never the same as what gravity wanted, but it was a miss, and a lesson learned --
-- and it would have made the whole "room within a room" easier to keep level, plumb and square.
The good news is that redwood lasts a long time so things were structurally okay -- as in not falling over or down or rotting.
But the electrical was not ideal (it would all have to be replaced). There were plants growing through one wall, due a neighbor's untended vines. There was some nasty insulation, ravaged by time and rodents. Etc. Etc.
Drywall out, and then some framing work. Get by with a little help from friends in these situations....
Killed one of the garage doors and made it a people door.
The general concept was "a room within a room".
It got a little complicated in some places, notably with the cross beams in the rafters of the garage. If we had simply made the roof lower than them, we would have had a room that was under 7 feet in height. NO GOOD.
So we went with a modified concept, where we built around them -- and the end result was that it looks like beams running through the roof of the room. Not bad. Rather proud of that solution, in fact.
Less clearly a win: Instead of just using the max space in the garage, which would have resulted in an essentially square room about 16' on each side, we carved out a space about 12' x 16' to get some rectangular-ness to the space -- thinking it would help with acoustics, and that the space outside the theater space would be a nice ante-rooom -- at first for a little exercise space, and the gear, and later (much later) for a lobby. I call this not clearly a win because I do feel a little space challenged into the room.
Not a win at all: The internal door. Well, the position is not too bad. But I made two follow on mistakes: I did not put the screen wall near the door -- which means the door is near the seats -- which means we that valuable space that could have been used for seats was needed for walking space. And the other mistake with the door: It opens INTO the theater space. Doh! The other direction, while non standard perhaps, would be far more space friendly inside it.
(Follow on lesson learned from earlier: The sloped nature of the concrete slab meant that the door could NOT be hung plumb because it would run into the sloped floor. Ugh! Of course, having it open the other direction would have solved that, too.)
Did I mention this was a dumb way to do the doors. Sure they don't collide and I can move in and out large things. But..... the theater door should open OUT into the foyer.
Some more framing. And other stuff, including painting the old walls (exterior walls) with primer, adding spray foam to seal things, using flashing vapor barrier under the framing, padding places where metal met metal (like the simpson strong ties), etc.
The spray foam was overkill. Later, I added ventilation -- both between the room and foyer and foyer and outdoors. Spray foam sealant was because I thought I'd need to keep it air tight to be sound tight. Turns out, "convoluted path" was just as effective....
And then those pesky ceiling beams. You can see where I would have liked to have put the ceiling.
And that I ran the main ceiling joists at that level.
I need to dig up the photos of what ACTUALLY worked -- to build something almost "around" the old structure, and not touch the new one at all. The contractor I hired to teach me framing and do a significant amount of the heaving lifting and work at this stage thought I was CRAZY at first, but gradually understood to the point where he has great ideas about how to achieve the decoupled goals in this odd situation.
You may wonder why I bothered to try to do it this way, given that I wasn't attached to a living space or sleeping space nor sharing a wall with a neighbor. But my goal was isolation from the outside, in addition to keeping sound from escaping. It mostly worked: Even at full tilt, if you are outside the garage, it just sounds like something faint in the distance. And when inside, if you have nothing playing, you'll not hear the outside world unless something is running a combustion engine very loud and very close.
I wanted to achieve a few things:
Future proof as much as possible. So this meant running five or six separate 20amp circuits in the room. That way, I could separate things like the projector from the subwoofer from the space heater from the power recline chair from the electric screen from the lights on a fader from the lights not on a fader from the blah blah blah. No, I didn't plan to have all that stuff in there, but why the not spend an extra 100 bucks to run separate lines from the subpanel in order have options down the road?
I also ran lots of low voltage wire. And I am learning now I should have run even more. I ran drops for 7 locations. In each location I ran thick speaker wire, two coax, one XLR. This means I could run all active speakers in the room. And seven subwoofers. Or all passive speakers. Etc. I ended up using stuff in creative ways, such as I have had a turntable in the room, but I needed to get the line level out from the turntable pre-amp, to the speaker amp in the equipment rack outside the room. Well, there come a couple of XLR drops to the rescue -- balanced turntable audio safely attended to. Or, no matter where a sub should be placed, there's a coax/RCA or XLR output within a few feet.
What else should I have run? Probably twice as much high level speaker cable. It's relatively cheap, and there have been a few times where it would have been interesting to biamp or experiment with ab/ing between speakers, etc. But for the most part, is has worked out well.
There is an "escape valve" in that I have an open attic space above the room, and could run more cables up there and fish them down into the walls without major surgery. But I haven't resorted to that, yet.
And, of course, whenever possible (which was almost everywhere) I ran power and audio in separate places. Typically the power is run around the room laterally, and audio was run in the rafters and then down the wall. That didn't work perfectly with the overhead lights, but I think I managed to have only one 90 degree intersection and that has not proved problematic.
I ran two lighting circuits to two different switches. So far I have just used the can lights with spots in them, and the others remain unused. That's okay. There are also outlets in the ceiling. Definitely one circuit just for the projector. And some near the screen wall -- which would have been useful if I ever wanted a retractable screen -- or moved the projector to another location.
About the projector "circuit". It's actually got a male inlet plug in the equipment area outside the room, that lets me run the projector off a AV grade UPS device. In addition to the obvious benefit of being able to power down the projector nicely if the power to the house goes out, it also regulates the voltage -- which I believe keeps sensitive or finiky gear (read "JVC projector") happier. It may be a placebo.
(Aside: Having the AV grade UPS in there is nice too for firmware updates or not losing recordings on the DVR due to a power hiccup.)
LESSONS LEARNED HERE? Well, for one, run more speaker level wire. Other than that, don't be afraid to terminate! I bought nice face plates etc for the wires, and then told myself "all those extra terminations and connection points are just additional potential points of failure, and might impact the signal a little". What I really should have said is: I'm too lazy to do this part cleanly, now -- and in the future, so I'll forever have slightly ugly wiring....
Well, we'll get to that part of the story, later, as I am embarking on version 2.0 for this room.
And then we started in on the insulation. Didn't go with the pink stuff because I had the impression (probably just marketing) that this stuff was slightly less toxic but the same price. Who knows.
Don't forget the simple things like can lights that can be put up against insulation, etc, otherwise at this stage you are taking a couple days to build boxes around your cans -- no fun.
While there were several earlier milestones (new floor, ripping the old garage apart, framing the build, putting in wires) once the insulation went up, the feeling and sound of the space changed in a dramatic way.
Okay, so you remember those structural beams in the outter structure, the garage, that got in the way of having a nice regular height room?
They turned into good places to run wire.
And frame around them.
Drywall is another big milestone. And putting blue tape on the walls and temporary chairs on the floor really gives you your first taste of the space. Yes, it does not sound right yet, and look right yet, but still, it's a glimpse.
Maybe I took it too far by hooking up some powered monitors! At least I resisted putting the projector in there (NOOOOOO, not among all that construction dust!!!).
If you can, hire an expert for the drywall. Yes, if you are being a stickler, you will have to educate them about how to hang it and how to mud it, for acoustic perfection. But, especially at the mudding stage, an expert is going to get much better results super fast.
And then the paint.
Black seems like the hardcore, perfect choice.
After having lived with it for some time, I am not so sure! I didn't get the ultimate perfect, flat black. I just got the flat black that was easy to get at the local hardware store. So I may not be getting the full effect of a flat black room.
And don't get me wrong, it is very dark!
But I think were I to do things over again, I might do dark gray on the walls, and save black for the ceiling and screen wall -- and trim/panels in black or gray, depending on location.
In fact, in "theater 2.0" (tm) that may be where I go. Not sure yet.
ANOTHER LESSON LEARNED: In addition to perhaps not going ALL BLACK throughout the room -- which sort of goes against conventional wisdom for a hardcore space -- I will say I have to agree with another conventional wisdom idea that I did NOT follow: Carpet.
Everyone does wall to wall low pile carpet with the biggest thicket pad under it that they can stand. I figured I would be classy and do a hardwood floor and use area rugs. FAIL. Well, I mean, it has worked and does work but is pretty much a waste and is lost to the eye since I have worked so hard to cover it with area rugs.
I don't know that I will install wall to wall carpet as part of theater 2.0, but if I were starting from scratch on a dedicated room in the future, I would not choose to add hardwood! I would spend the money on good carpeting instead.
While all this is going on inside the theater, outside the theater in the anteroom, the equipment rack was coming together. Yes, could have done the clean and cool thing and gotten a traditional rack from one of the big vendors.
But I didn't. At this point in the process, my budget was getting stretched, and for a fraction of the price of a mid atlantic kind of rack, I could get a double tall wire rack at a kitchen store -- which had great ventilation, adjustable shelves, wheels on the bottom, and fit most gear very well.
Funny to look at this now! HD-DVD, HTPC, a traditional DVD player! Blu-ray didn't exist at the time. My how things have changed.
The other end of the anteroom was, for a time, a workout space, with a treadmill facing an old tube TV on the wall. Later it became the DVD and blu-ray library, and storage. (Freakin TUBE TV over the treadmill. Old school.)
And then the money shot.... hanging the screen, hooking up a few speakers and the sub, throwing some panels around to tame the room a little, pulling in some furniture from elsewhere in the house for temp seating.
Okay okay, it's all super ugly! And you can see I was already making notes with painter's tape about where I needed to mask the screen. It was a 10 foot wide 2.35:1 stewart screen and while that seemed really cool for a 12 foot wide room, it was actually too big -- at least, in terms of fitting speakers on that wall, too.
In theater 2.0, I am adding a AT screen, that is 8 feet wide, on a false wall, and I have got the Stewart screen up for sale. Strangely, I guess it must be too big for most other people, too, since no one has bought it yet!
Yes, the eagle eyes among you will note that the projector is the classic Sony Pearl, awesome bang for buck in its day.
Adding the riser was a cool step (no pun intended). You'll notice that the room is built, and the riser it getting added into a fully built room.
You might think this was because it's easier (maybe for me it is, but that's another topic). You may think it was because it was an afterthought (it wasn't). But the real reason is that while I was building a room within a room and the building shares no common walls with anything, I still wanted to seal in the sound and seal out the outside world as much as possible, and building interior pieces into a completed room helped maintain those features of isolation.
Adding all the insulation to the riser helped keep it from becoming a drum.
LESSONS LEARNED: I should have researched how to make the riser into a bass trap. That would have been an almost free (other than effort) nice big bonus! I should have probably made it a bit taller, even though it was already a little close to the ceiling for tall people. And I should have made the riser one foot deeper (minimum) than the four I allowed. Reasons:
1. A basic theater recliner seat needs 5 feet for the user to raise their legs and have at least a foot rest, if not recline fully.
2. It turns out, after much more acoustic theory learning, my front row (head location) should be at 55% of the room for the least standing waves (68% is also an option but then there would have been no second row). For more about why this is, see Anthony Grimani's interviews on HT Geeks. If the back row riser had been another foot in size, my front row would have been in the PERFECT position! Yes, I can pull the front row seats forward, but that's a bit low-rent looking.
Speaking of things looking "low rent": PLEASE excuse the random furniture! I was working with what we had in the house that could be spared
Time to add some acoustic panels from GIK. They guys there were helpful with advice and recommendations.
LESSONS LEARNED: Even though a basic diffuser is twice the price of a absorbing panel, getting a similar amount of wall space covered in each type is ideal. I should have cut back on my absorption factor a bit in order to buy diffusion, even if it meant less overall coverage for while as the budget built back up.