Home Theater of the Month: Coal Creek

To build the home theater of his dreams, Lindy sought out the best advice and assistance he could find, and the result speaks for itself.

As most members know, AVS Forum is an invaluable resource for those who want to build a home theater, simply by reading about what others have done. So it was for Lindy (Lindy0026), a real-estate investment professional living near Denver, CO. “In the Spring of 2013, I wanted to finish my basement and build a cool media room for the family. When I started my research, I came across AVS Forum. I spent my evenings reading through build threads, trying to learn about acoustic principles, build techniques, equipment, etc.”

But sometimes, all that information can be overwhelming. “After about three months of this, I decided I was in over my head and I should hire someone to help me with the design. I’ve always loved the rooms designed by the Erskine Group, so I called Dennis Erskine, who put me in touch with his colleague Shawn Byrne. He started talking about properly calibrated audio and the importance of designing the room from the ground up with audio in mind. I was hooked.”


The basement area that would become Lindy’s home theater was fairly limited in size.

“We decided it would be a 7.1 setup with a projector and 2.35:1 acoustically transparent screen. No anamorphic lens initially; I’ll get one down the road. And acoustic treatments were a big part of the plan from the start. Due to the size of the theater area, there was room for only six seats. I had hoped for more, but that’s what we had to work with. My wife and I wanted a fairly simple aesthetic for the theater. The rest of the house has painted walls with white trim, so we brought that into the theater. She was given the choice for colors and ultimately picked the monochromatic color scheme seen in the photos.”

After making these decisions, Shawn’s first step was a set of CAD (computer-aided design) drawings of the proposed design:


As seen in the floor plan, Lindy’s theater would have an entrance hallway and room for six comfy seats.

(Front-back)
The front wall (top) would have the center speaker behind the screen and the front LR speakers just beyond the sides of the screen. The rear wall would house the rear-surround speakers, acoustic treatments, and a door to the equipment closet.


Here is the plan for the sides of the theater with two pairs of side-surround speakers, lots of acoustic treatments, and an in-wall subwoofer in the left wall.

After about a year of planning, construction finally began in June 2014. Recognizing his own limitations, Lindy decided to contract out much of the actual building work. “I had two guys doing the carpentry while a local company did the HVAC, another local company did the low-voltage wiring and set up the rack, and an electrician did all the high-voltage work. I chased around and did all materials runs. I painted, sanded, caulked, carried materials around, cleaned up, etc. I did whatever I could to help out and keep things moving smoothly for the carpenters and other workers.”


According to Lindy, “We framed out the room with engineered lumber; the extra expense was worth it since we got a very accurate framing job.” This view looks toward the back of the theater, which has an office behind it.

Lindy wanted sound isolation between the theater and the rest of the house, so he used whisper clips and hat channels to isolate the drywall from the studs. The shell of the room was constructed using two layers of drywall separated with Green Glue, and the floor was floated with Serenity Mat and 3/4″ plywood. To further ensure sound isolation, he custom-built a door using a 1.75″ solid-core door with two layers of 1/2″ MDF on the outer surface with Green Glue between the layers.

One of the architectural elements is a “lighting cloud“—a separate structure to hold overhead lights—in the middle of the ceiling. “This was installed so I wouldn’t have to deal with cans and backer boxes. The ceiling in that area is punctured in only two small spots to bring the power down for the nine lights in the cloud. It also holds one of the two tape lights in the channel between the soffit and the cloud.”


The heavy lighting cloud was placed using two drywall lifts. It would soon be covered with 3/4″ MDF.

Speaking of the soffit, it’s also built out of MDF. “It holds the 10″ flex ducting for the HVAC system. I ended up using a ducted mini-split system and giving the theater its own HVAC. The air exchanger is in the ceiling of the office next to the theater.”


Large plywood pilasters were installed to house the four side-surround and two rear surround speakers along with an in-wall subwoofer below the front-side surround on the right in this view toward the back of the theater.

Once the walls were painted a light, neutral gray, it was time to install the acoustic treatments specified by Shawn Byrne. Most of the wall space was covered with QuestAI Q-Perf panels, except for center of the back wall, which got a Q-Sorber panel. The hallway leading into the theater has Owens Corning 705 fiberglass panels. All panels are two inches thick. “I couldn’t believe what a difference it made in the room.” The soffits are lined with 1″ OC 703 to reduce any noise from the HVAC system.


The acoustic panels were installed in frames on the walls. Each panel is covered with medium-gray acoustically transparent cloth.

The screen wall got its own acoustic treatment: two layers of black Johns Manville Linacoustic RC HVAC duct liner with a thin layer of plastic between them. This is called a membrane trap, and it’s designed to absorb a wider range of frequencies than a single layer.


Seen here is the first of two layers of Linacoustic RC on the screen wall. The front LR speakers are located in their own niches outside the screen boundaries, while the center speaker sits on its own shelf (which was painted black before the screen went up).

Once the equipment was in place, it was time to calibrate the system; Lindy had Shawn come out to perform that task. “He had a microphone array and a couple of laptops, one of which ran the software that interfaced with the QSC DSPs while the other monitored the mics. First, we did a rough setup with the settings in the Outlaw 975 pre/pro. Then we set the levels so that all the speakers were playing at reference level. He played a bunch of different test pieces, including some music and a few movie scenes. At those levels without calibration, it was very unpleasant to listen to. After a few pieces, my ears physically hurt and I just wanted to put my fingers in them.

“Next, he played pink noise through one speaker at a time. He would look at the frequency-response graph and adjust the output from the speaker using the DSP. As he smoothed out the graph, the pink noise sounded better. Then he retuned the level of each speaker. When he played the test pieces again, the volume was the same as before, but everything sounded way better. I did not have any ear pain. Everything sounded brighter and crisper, and dialog was far more intelligible.


Shawn Byrne brought laptops and microphones to calibrate the audio using QSC DSPs.

Lindy found that the bass took some getting used to. “In this room, the bass hits and then disappears. As it turns out, I was used to listening to sloppy bass that rumbled with long decay times. The Procella P15 subwoofer has plenty of kick; you certainly feel it in movie scenes with lots of LFE. It just took me a few weeks to get used to good, precise LFE. It seemed like a lot of money at the time, but buying those DSPs and having Shawn fly out for calibration were some of the best choices I made.”


The equipment rack pulls out of its closet on rails and spins around to provide easy access to the cabling. Ingenious!

Of course, such a project always presents its own set of challenges. “I had paid for a set of plans from Shawn, but not detailed instructions. He was available to give advice, but it was up to us to figure out how things went together. I spent countless hours with the carpenters planning each move. I am a stickler for detail, and there are no do-overs on a project like this, so we had to know exactly how everything was going to go at each step. I had no idea that it was going to be so technical and involved. Luckily, I had Shawn to ask questions to along the way. He spent dozens of hours on the phone with me talking through design details and theory. He really went above and beyond his obligations. I also consulted with Jeff Parkinson (BIGmouthinDC) a bunch. I would Skype with him and he would help me work out various technical details. What a great resource he is.”


The finished theater is the embodiment of simple elegance and high performance.


Six Palliser Blade recliners provide the ultimate in comfort.

After eight months, construction was complete, and Lindy could finally relax and enjoy his theater, which he decided to name after a nearby creek. “The single greatest moment in the entire project was watching the first movie with friends after the calibration was complete.” I have no doubt there will many more such moments in the Coal Creek Theater.

For much more detail about how Lindy’s home theater came together, check out the build thread here.

If you’d like your home theater—or a home theater you particularly admire—to be considered for HT of the Month, PM me with the details and a link to the build thread if available.

EQUIPMENT LIST

Sources

Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player
Xbox One game console
Apple TV streamer
HomeWorx OTA tuner

AV Electronics

Outlaw 975 pre/pro
QSC DSP-30 DSP (LR calibration)
QSC DSP 322ua DSP (surrounds, center, & subwoofer calibration)
Outlaw 2200 mono power amps (2, drives front LR)
Outlaw 7200 7-channel power amp (200 W/ch, drives center & surrounds)
Triad RackAmp 350 DSP V2 (drives Triad sub)

Video Processing
DVDO iScan Duo

Projector

Digital Projection M-Vision Cine 400

Screen
Stewart StudioTek 130 G3 (111″ diagonal, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, 1.3 gain, acoustically transparent microperf)

Speakers
Procella P6V (2, front LR)
Procella P6 (center)
Triad InWall Bronze/4 (6, side and rear surround)
Procella P15 subwoofer
Triad InWall Bronze/6 Sub subwoofer

Cables
Blue Jeans HDMI
Belden 12 AWG for speakers
Planet Waves interconnects

Control
ProControl Pro24.r IR/RF universal remote

Power Conditioning
APC H15 line conditioner
APC J35B UPC

Seating
Palliser Blade (6)