Andrew Schutsky's humble basement hangout is proof that a top-notch home theater does not have to cost a fortune to build.
My first visit to the home theater of Andrew Schutsky (Gorilla83), located in Thornton, Pennsylvania, took place almost two years ago
; it was my first AVS get-together. That visit included a subwoofer showdown, which is where I learned exactly how obsessed some AVS members are with accurate, full-range bass reproduction. When I recently paid a visit to Andrew, it was to see the fruits of all his recent labor. With his focus on maximum performance for the dollar, Andrew achieved a level of quality in his system that remains elusive to many audio/videophiles, even in some home theaters that cost significantly more to build. Furthermore, Andrew produced all of it without having to demolish the finished basement he inherited when he bought his house.
When discussing his design goals, Andrew said, "My primary objective was to provide a comfortable viewing area for my family and friends to watch movies, TV shows, and sporting events. My room and system were designed to provide very high performance levels on as low a budget as possible. From the feedback of the many AVS members that have visited so far, that goal was met successfully. "
As Andrew tells it, the theater itself had no planning phase per se. Instead, it evolved in an organic fashion, all of it documented on AVS forum in Andrew's build thread
. "My system may be an exception; I wasn't starting from an empty space or room; I inherited a finished basement when we moved into this house almost four years ago. I've been making changes—drastic and tiny—almost monthly after we got settled in. My build thread outlines the journey from a few years back."
The space before Andrew built a theater. The system included a 65-inch Mitsubishi DLP HDTV and a Polk Monitor 70 speaker system.
After about a year, the old system came out, and construction of the theater began.
Although Andrew did not opt to demolish the existing finished basement and build from scratch, he did take care to optimize the visual and acoustical environment. Most of that work happened over the past couple of years. According to Andrew, "The first major overhaul occurred about a year or so after we moved in. In a two-year period, I've taken my theater space from a highly reflective and undesirable environment in terms of acoustics and light control to one that rivals top-notch theaters while maintaining a normal living area."
Andrew took a DIY approach to many elements of his home theater, including speakers, subwoofers, sound treatments, and the screen itself. In terms of both form and function, his theater provides a fully immersive experience. When it comes to sound reproduction, I enjoyed what I heard in Andrew's theater so much, it serves as a reference for me—even when compared to some of the megabucks stereo and surround-sound systems I've listened to at CEDIA, CES, and various high-end shows.
Building the theater involved stuffing a lot of sound-insulation material behind the drywall and above the drop ceiling—Andrew used up to 2 feet of insulation in some areas. The ceiling itself is made of Certainteed Theater Black F ceiling tiles. I like how his false front wall incorporates an acoustically transparent screen. The wall stays in place using magnets, making it easy to access the formidable stack of speaker components hidden behind it. The materials and techniques Andrew used to tame the room's acoustics are effective and relatively inexpensive to deploy—namely, rigid and semi-rigid fiberboard sound insulation for DIY acoustical treatments such as bass traps and sound-absorbing panels.
There is up to 2 feet of insulation above the drop ceiling, and even more insulation behind the screen.
The DIY approach
paid off handsomely when it came to the final material cost, which Andrew estimates at $3500 in supplies. In addition, judicious selection of equipment kept his AV-electronics costs down to approximately $13,000. I have encountered systems that cost 10 times as much and more, yet do not have the precision, clarity, and dynamic impact of Andrew's system. "99% of my room—including some of the speakers, subs, treatments—was DIY," he says. "The only item that I contracted out was the carpet installation on my riser. "
As with any home-theater project, there were challenges to go along with the rewards. I asked how he met those challenges. "My wife can attest that I am my own worst critic!" he laughed. "I have a passion for learning, and this has been very good and very bad—the more I learn, the more I want to improve the room, setup, and equipment. I've gone from a basic room that sounded 'pretty good' using commercial equipment, to going nutso in the DIY arena. This includes constructing an entire building outside to house a CNC [computer numerical control] milling machine and full workshop."
Andrew enjoys the fruits of his labor, noting, "After every change, the first listen is always SO satisfying. Some of my favorite additions included adding the riser, the four dual-opposed 18" subs, and the AT screen."
Four dual-opposed subwoofers add up to eight 18" drivers. That's a rarefied amount of deep-bass capacity—just the sort of subwoofer arsenal you would typically find in a large movie theater. Thanks to the use of a sealed configuration in the dual-opposed cabinets, these subs can play down to single-digit hertz at above-reference levels. I've honestly never heard commercial subs do what Andrew's subs can do; he is part of an elite group of AVS DIYers whose systems have no practical limitations reproducing the entire audible audio spectrum as well as the infrasonic frequencies that lie below it.
A peek at the tower of audio power that currently resides behind the acoustically transparent screen.
In addition to the subs behind the screen, Andrew recently added a nearfield sub containing two more 18" drivers, located just behind the riser.
Andrew's attention to detail doesn't come as a surprise when you consider his profession—he works in IT, supporting the entire manufacturing process at a pharmaceutical company. He is also a family man, happily married for over four years. He has an 11-month-old son, and the family enjoys the company of their pet, a three-year-old retriever/shepherd mix.
It's amazing to see how Andrew transformed his basement into a top-notch home theater. The best part is that he's not done evolving his theater. As impressive as his theater is today, I'm also excited to see what comes next. For example, at a recent mini get-together, Andrew mentioned that he is thinking of rebuilding his behind-screen subwoofer enclosures.
I spent a lot of time discussing the sound system, because Andrew's theater achieves rarefied levels of audio fidelity. However, home theater is also about the viewing environment, and this room does not disappoint when it comes to providing an immersive visual experience. Since my last visit, the most-marked improvement was going all black on the ceiling. Now, thanks to the improved light absorption, his 135-inch 16:9 Seymour AV Center Stage XD acoustically transparent screen displays an enviable degree of contrast and color pop when lit up by his Epson 8700UB projector. The performance of this room is a reminder of the value of acoustical treatments and controlled lighting when it comes to creating a high-quality viewing and listening experience.
Now, the Humble Hangout is a home theater worth bragging about. Photo by Mark Henninger
You could say that I'm more familiar with Andrew's home theater than any other aside from my own. That's because I've spent many hours there listening to some of the finest sounding music and demoing movies that looked and sounded fantastic. In fact, I've used his theater as a proving ground for my own DIY subwoofers and my current speakers—thanks to the AVS get-togethers he hosts on a regular basis. Andrew is always open to audio experimentation, and he shares everything he does with the community in threads such as this one about the recent mini get-together
, which was really about saying goodbye to one of the gang, Austin Haylock (popalock), whose home theater was the first-ever AVS HToM
Assembling a DIY subwoofer enclosure at a recent get-together. Photo by Mark Henninger
I'm a sucker for any system that achieves elite performance at a mere fraction of high-end prices. In fact, I love to find high-performance systems that cost less than the sales tax on high-end systems of similar capability. Thanks to his DIY creations, Andrew is in a rarefied club of AVS members whose home theater systems look and sound just as good as some of the best pro designs I've experienced. Needless to say, I look forward to his future upgrades and to any future potential get-togethers. Andrew's humble basement home-theater hangout is well worth the trip.
For much more detail about how Andrew's home theater came together, check out the build thread here
. If you are not familiar with the world of DIY audio, you might be surprised at how much knowledge you'll find in that community.
If you'd like your home theater considered for HT of the Month, PM Scott Wilkinson or me with the details and a link to your build thread if available.
Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player
Roku 3 streamer
Sony PS3 game console
Verizon FIOS HD STB
Samsung model n120 netbook (video and display for tweaking EQ and measuring room)
Denon AVR-4311CI receiver (currently used in pre-pro mode)
Sherbourn A7-350 7-channel power amplifier (mains and surrounds)
Peavey IPR2 7500 power amps for dual-opposed subwoofers (2)
Behringer Inuke 6000 for nearfield subs
Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema 8700UB
Seymour AV Center Stage XD (135", 16:9, 1.1 gain, acoustically transparent fabric, grommet tensioning system, Fidello Triple black velvet edges, DIY frame)
MiniDSP 10x10 digital EQ
Yorkville U215B (LCR)
JBL 8340A (2, surrounds)
DIY SEOS 10 hybrid (2, surrounds)
DIY subwoofers (8 Stereo Integrity 18" drivers in 4 dual-opposed 7.5 cubic foot enclosures
DIY nearfield subwoofers (2 Stereo Integrity 18" drivers in one front-firing 8 cubic foot enclosure)
Monoprice and Mediabridge cabling, speaker wire
Logitech Harmony Touch
DIY relay boxes to trigger power amps on/off
Panamax max 4400 20A power-conditioning boxes (2)
Raymour and Flanigan recliners (3 front row, 3 in second row)
DIY riser (9' wide, 7' deep)
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