Being a career Army officer has its challenges, but it also has its perks. After 18 years of active duty—including two deployments to Iraq—psychiatrist Matthew Cody (psychdoc) is now stationed in Honolulu, HI, where he was recently promoted to the rank of Colonel and serves as Chief of Outpatient and Forensic Behavioral Health at the Army’s major medical center in Hawaii.
Once he determined that the Army was probably not going to relocate him for a while, he bought a house and settled down with his wife and two young children. And of course, being a member of AVS Forum, he wanted to build a home theater, a desire that started way before he enlisted. “My interest started one day early in college when I walked into an audio store just to look around. It was clear I was a poor college student, but the salesman insisted on having me come into their best demo room and listen to their highest performing setup. He showed me several CDs to choose from, and I remember picking Enya since I had the same CD and I knew what it sounded like on several systems. I wondered if this huge setup in front of me would sound any different, and to my surprise, I started hearing things that I’d not heard before. It sounded wonderful. I was hooked, at least on audio.
“The next summer, I bought a LaserDisc player, mainly for the five-CD carousel, and a large demo TV—well, large by the standards of the day, somewhere between 35″ and 38″. The first time I played a LaserDisc with my speakers and TV, I was immediately addicted to home theater.”
Fast forward to 2011, when Matthew returned from his second deployment to Iraq. At that point, he and his wife decided to build a massive addition that would more than double the square footage of their house and include a dedicated theater room. “I started with two primary goals. First, I started my build thread on AVS Forum to demonstrate that someone with absolutely no experience building anything can build a home theater if they fully commit themselves—at least, that’s what I hoped when I first started. Beyond just completing a theater, my other goal, in one word, was ‘overkill.’ I asked myself, what could I end up with if I went to extremes with sound isolation, construction materials, and choice of equipment while building it all myself? I hoped the answer would be my dream home theater.”
Lofty goals indeed, especially for someone with absolutely no construction experience. “The contractor, a lifelong friend of my wife’s family in Hawaii, offered to assist us and suggested I could help out to hold down costs. Little did I know how much I was going to help!” In fact, the contractor installed the framing and stopped by once in a while to check on his work and lend a hand, but the rest was done entirely by Matthew with a bit of help from his father and brother-in-law. “The entire addition took over three years, and theater construction sank to last in priority. It was a labor of love that filled most of my early evenings after work, the majority of my weekends, and the vast majority of my vacation time for a year and a half.”
After the basic framing was in place, Matthew went to work on the walls. “To the best of my knowledge, mine is the only home theater with a full MDF [medium-density fiberboard] layer below two layers of 5/8″ drywall on the walls and ceiling with Green Glue between all the layers. That multilayer sandwich rests on Kinetics IsoMax sound-isolation clips and metal hat channels to really contain sound within the theater. The sole entrance has two airtight, gasket-sealed, solid-mahogany doors. The room has an amazingly high STC [sound transmission class] rating. It’s an absolute black hole for sound; nothing gets in and nothing gets out.”
Matthew finished the room in Sapele wood. “I spent hundreds of hours on a router table making every piece of wood trim as well as cutting and shaping large Sapele panels. The intended results required a lot of time and attention hand brushing all the wood with polyurethane. After each polyurethane coat, meticulous attention with steel wool yielded a beautiful look that amazes me every time I see it.”
Large areas at the first-reflection points consist of OC703 that lies flush with the surrounding paneling. The absorptive padding is covered with acoustically transparent cloth from Guilford of Maine; the color is “Stop Sign 1891.”
Of course, he wanted to treat the room acoustically to optimize the sonic performance. “I searched various AVS Forum threads for information about the right percentage of treatments to keep the correct balance between having a room that is too dead versus too reflective. Then I determined the first-reflection points on the walls from the speakers to the main listening positions and mounted acoustic-treatment panels consisting of Owens Corning 703 within the walls so they are flush with the Sapele wood. This looks much better than having large acoustic treatments hanging on the wall, but it means that additional layers of wood and Sapele are attached to the thick sound-isolation barrier, creating a wall that is close to 5” thick!
“For the bass traps in the corners, I used MegaTraps by RealTraps with large triangles of OC703 filling in the space above them. The bass traps are all hidden behind large Sapele-framed cloth screens. I used black cloth in the front to minimize picture interference.”
Another remarkable feature of Matthew’s theater is the fiber-optic night-sky ceiling, which he built with a bit of help from his dad, who was visiting at the time. “The ceiling includes over 1200 drilled holes using a template of the northern sky that includes the Milky Way and constellations. The fiber-optic cables for the comets, a meteor, and individual stars were routed to the light engine hidden in the soffit; that’s what causes the stars to twinkle and the comets and meteor to streak across the ceiling. I spent over 150 hours on the ceiling alone.”
After all that work, Matthew wasn’t about to scrimp on the AV gear. He had been communicating with fellow AVS Forum member Jim Goodrich (JlgLaw), who had a high-end AV company called CineLife on Oahu. When Jim was packing to move to the mainland, Matthew ended up buying several Aerial Acoustics speakers and a Stewart GrayHawk screen from him. “I love the sound of my Aerial Acoustics 20T main LR speakers, and I wondered what the theater’s performance would be like if I used Aerial Acoustics throughout. Instead of installing some moderate-performing in-wall speakers, I used Aerial Acoustics for the mains, center, subs, wides, surrounds, and the newly released 5T speakers on the ceiling for a 9.4.8 system. And if the Army decides to move me to another post, I can easily take all the speakers with me without destroying anything.”
The equipment racks flank the entrance to the theater. On the left are a Marantz AV8801 pre/pro, a Kaleidescape 3U Movie Server and M700 Disc Vault, a Torus Power unit, and other gear, while the right side holds the Bryston power amps.
When I asked about the biggest challenges Matthew faced in the process, he was unequivocal. “Every item in this build was a challenge. I had no experience to fall back on. I spent hours on each step of each item researching on AVS Forum and YouTube and asking friends and family for their insights and building practices so this project would end successfully. If I had to pick a moment when I thought to myself, ‘This might end badly,’ it was toward the end of the build while working on the star ceiling. I found it hard to believe that I wouldn’t make at least one error creating, labeling, and bundling over 1200 fiber-optic cables and connecting them in the correct order and location. To my shock, it turned out perfectly, although it seemed to be spiraling out of control into a mess more than once.”
What about the cost? “Total cost would only be a guess at this point. Equipment is likely around $80-90k, and construction materials were around $15-20k. Of course, I didn’t pay much at all for contractors, since I did virtually all the work myself. One large hidden cost came from shipping all the items to Hawaii. Conservatively, I estimate shipping costs to exceed $10k, which takes into account inexpensive shipping by freighter for the largest and heaviest pieces.”
So we’re talking somewhere north of $100,000, which ain’t private’s pay, but it’s far less than a theater of this caliber would cost with contractors and installers. “Ultimately, the biggest challenge—and my greatest success—was my ability to persevere. Could I stick with it day after day, week after week, month after month, and not only complete it but end up with a home theater that even a professional would be proud of? I was almost sad to see the project end, but I met every goal and challenge I placed on myself along the way. This build process has been an amazing personal journey.” And the reward is an amazing cinematic experience every time Matthew and his family and friends watch a movie in that incredible monument to what he found he could do with his own two hands.
If you’d like your home theater considered for HT of the Month, PM me with the details and a link to your build thread if available.
Kaleidescape 3U movie server
Kaleidescape M700 Disc Vault
DirecTV HD DVR
Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player
Marantz AV8801 preamp/processor
Bryston 6B SST2 3-channel power amp (LCR)
Bryston 4B SST2 2-channel power amp (2, wides & heights)
Bryston 9B SST2 5-channel power amp (surrounds)
Parasound 5250 5-channel power amp (on standby for Dolby Atmos/DTS:X upgrade)
Lumagen Radiance XS3D
Sony VPL-VW1000ES (upgraded to VPL-VW1100ES standard)
ISCO III anamorphic lens on Cineslide motorized sled
Stewart Filmscreen GrayHawk (11.5′ wide, 2.35:1 with side masking, retractable, not acoustically transparent)
Aerial Acoustics 20T (2, LR)
Aerial Acoustics CC5 (center)
Aerial Acoustics LR5 (2, wides)
Aerial Acoustics SR3 (2, side surrounds)
Aerial Acoustics 5B (2, rear ceiling)
Aerial Acoustics 5T (6, ceiling)
Aerial Acoustics SW12 subwoofer (4)
Definitive Technology BPVX (2, rear surrounds, left over from previous system)
Torus Power CS 25 AVR power conditioner
Panamax MB1500 UPS power conditioner and battery backup for projector
Fortress Palladium (9, two rows in stadium configuration)
25′ (L) x 18.5′ (W) x 9′ (H)