As a retired cinematographer, Rob Hahn knows a good-looking image when he sees one. So it’s no surprise that he wanted a superlative home theater. “I’ve always dreamed of building a proper home theater, but it’s only just now that the technology is good enough to do it right.” Also, he was frustrated whenever he went out to the movies. “I got tired of seeing films out of focus with dim lamps and painfully loud sound levels.
“Another motivation was to build a theater that would properly showcase films in the manner they were meant to be seen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation—I ask, ‘Have you ever seen 2001?” And the reply is something like, ‘Yeah, I saw it last year on my iPad.’ It’s been a revelation for the people we’ve had over to see films like West Side Story on a 19-foot screen. They all say, ‘I guess I never really saw it until tonight!'”
Of course, to “do it right” also requires a lot of research and planning. Rob joined AVS Forum in 2004, but he went much farther than studying build threads. “In 2008, I traveled to Detroit and Houston to visit other AVS Forum members to see their theaters. I wanted to pick their brains about the experiences they had in design and construction.”
The next step was assembling the right team to turn his dream into reality. “In 2012, I hired Keith Yates Design (KYD) to design the theater—including all the acoustic treatments, speakers, and HVAC—and Geoff Franklin of The Projection Room to do all the video, including the screen, projector, wiring, and Crestron control system. We used SketchUp and GoToMeeting during the design phase, since Keith’s company is on the West Coast and I’m on the East Coast. I could ask them to zoom into a specific area and make adjustments right then and there. Then they’d upload the latest design in SketchUp and I could walk through the theater; it was amazing and extremely helpful. It took about a year of design before we broke ground and started construction, but the design process continued throughout the construction phase.”
In this case, “breaking ground” is no understatement—the plan called for tearing down half the house and building the theater from scratch. “The actual construction was done by Davenport Contracting out of Stamford, CT. We needed a contractor who wasn’t afraid to ask questions and would be incessantly curious about solving the many issues that were sure to come up during building. They also had to work very closely with Keith Yates and Geoff Franklin, and that relationship had to be very honest. No shortcuts could be taken if we wanted the final product to perform as designed.”
That design was very specific. “I wanted a theater that presented movies as an all-encompassing experience without having to build a bat cave. A completely black room can feel oppressive, so we built a hybrid. The back half of the room has warm wood, deep-brown carpet, and classic moldings, while the front half is black to maximize perceived contrast on the screen. In terms of shape, I hate shoebox theaters, so it was important that the room got wider as you got closer to the screen.
“Also, 4-way masking is extremely important to me. I wanted to be able to make 1.33 films larger than they would be in a constant-image-height [CIH] setup. You watch Close Encounters in 2.35 and Gone With the Wind in 1.33. In CIH theaters, to get the 1.33 aspect ratio, you would bring in the side masks, creating a smaller canvas. But with 4-way masking, I can move the top and bottom masks—as well as the sides—to create 1.33, but I end up with a larger canvas than I would have in a CIH configuration. I believe that Gone With the Wind was meant to have just as much impact as 2001, and the only way to achieve that is with 4-way masking.
“Another advantage of 4-way masking is that you can change the size of the screen depending on what kind of movie you’re watching. In a commercial movie theater, you get to choose how close you want to be to the screen. But in a home theater, you don’t have that flexibility. With 4-way masking, I can make the screen any size I want, based on the quality of the source material and the aspect ratio. For films that have huge vistas and slow-moving cameras, such as Lawrence of Arabia and 2001, I can watch on a 19′ screen. For action films with a lot of hand-held work, such as the Bourne films, or titles with less-than-pristine picture quality, I can make the image smaller. Geoff Franklin and his calibrator, David Abrams, did a fantastic job installing the huge masking mechanism and Stewart screen material, calibrating the Sony VPL-VW5000ES projector, and coordinating the operation of the entire theater, including lighting, through the Crestron system.”
KYD’s acoustical engineers modeled and simulated the room’s acoustic performance during the design phase, and when the construction got to a certain point, they measured the acoustics with high-resolution conventional microphones and a 3D mic to see how closely the actual space matched the computer model. If it didn’t, they could tweak the space as needed.
The room’s noise floor was another important consideration. “I wanted an intensely quiet room, and the design of the HVAC [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning] system was crucial in this regard. The goal was a noise rating of NCB 5 [which is quieter than a professional recording studio], and Keith’s engineering team builds a 6 dB ‘pad’ into the calculations to offset field discrepancies, which means the results equated to NCB -1 (negative 1).
“We accomplished this partly by using very large supply ducting to minimize air-flow speed. Also, the slots in the air grills are large enough to allow for low-velocity discharge. We also employed low-velocity acoustic silencers for both supply and return. All HVAC fan-coil units are decoupled from the surface of the building using isolation hangers. The end result is that tiny sound details are rendered in the most delicate fashion because of the extremely low noise floor.”
Of course, other forms of acoustic isolation and treatment were used as well. “Keith’s plan called for very specific construction techniques in order to achieve the performance I wanted. The room is floating and decoupled from the building—it’s actually a room within a room. The theater is over our garage, so the ceiling of the garage is isolated from the floor of the theater—we never hear the garage door opening while watching a film.”
This floating-room approach has other advantages. “It allowed us to install all the speakers and acoustic treatments in the sides, rear, and ceiling of the theater behind acoustically transparent fabric. The fabric on the walls is installed on panels with moldings that are attached by magnets. To get behind the fabric to change a blown speaker or adjust the acoustic material, all I have to do is pull on a couple of tabs to remove the panels. It’s an extremely flexible design, and since no nails are used, I never have to worry about messing up the stained wood when I need access.”
The front LCR speakers—JBL’s mighty M2s, no less—are mounted behind a 19-foot-wide, microperfed Stewart SnoMatte 100 acoustically transparent screen. Joining them are six KYD-designed UberSub infrasonic subwoofers, each comprised of dual 24″ drivers facing each other in custom-machined housings; that’s 12 drivers in all. As verified during four days of testing and system calibration, the UberSub system met its target of reproducing bass down to 5 Hz at 120-130 dB with less than 3% total harmonic distortion.
On the forward portions of the side walls are two JBL AC28/26 speakers on each side, serving as front-wide channels. The surround duties are performed by six JBL 8340As (two on each side and two in the rear), and 10 JBL SCS 8 speakers are mounted on the ceiling for Atmos overhead effects. Rounding out the speakers are eight KYD/JL Audio SHOC-24 subwoofers at the side and rear walls and two more 24″ infrasonic subwoofers mounted under the center seat in the second and third rows. In terms of the number of speakers, the Atmos configuration is an amazing 13.16.10. Clearly, nothing but a Trinnov Altitude32 pre/pro would suffice to control such a monstrous Atmos system!
Because all the speakers are behind acoustically transparent fabric, Rob was able to implement a unique design element—he installed lights behind the fabric that allow visitors to see the speakers and acoustic treatments that would otherwise be invisible. “Being a cinematographer, I had fun lighting all the items behind the acoustically transparent screen and wall and ceiling fabrics. All automated aspects of the theater are controlled by a Crestron system, including the lighting. With one click, all the main recessed and sconce lighting slowly dims, while the lighting behind the screen and wall fabric slowly comes on, like a slow dissolve, showcasing all the stuff that’s ‘behind the curtain.’ It’s a really cool effect.”
For seating, Rob chose the Palliser Vox recliner. “There are three rows of seats, five seats per row. We toyed with the idea of having only two rows, so that the money seats would have no seating in front of them, but ultimately I thought it would be better to have a front row, even if no one sat in them most times, to give the viewer some perspective—a feeling that they’re in a real theater.”
After three years of construction, Rob’s theater is finally complete. Clearly, he spared no expense to get exactly what he wanted. When I asked him about the total cost, his only reply was, “a lot!”
Rob’s greatest moment was also quite poignant. “Rick Koch, the head of Davenport Contracting, passed away from cancer two months ago. He was an extraordinary man and the main reason the theater came together so beautifully. He desperately wanted to see a movie in the finished theater, so everyone worked long hours to make that happen. At the end of April 2016, we watched Gravity with him and all the people who helped build the theater. He was so proud of what his company had done, and he was fascinated to see and hear how all the work they did translated to the incredible movie-watching event we were having. It was a profoundly moving experience that none of us will ever forget.”
A moving movie-watching experience, indeed. Now, after all the hard work—and a bittersweet farewell to one of those who made it happen—Rob and his family and friends get to enjoy one of the most sophisticated home theaters I’ve ever come across.
For much more detail about how Rob’s home theater came together, check out the build thread here.
Also, fellow AVS Forum member Art Sonneborn, who owns one of the theaters Rob visited in 2008, recounts his visit to Rob’s theater here.
If you’d like your home theater considered for Home Theater of the Month, PM me with the details and a link to your build thread if available.
Kaleidescape Strato movie server
Kaleidescape DV700 Disc Vaults (9)
Kaleidescape 3U movie servers (2)
Samsung UBD-K8500 UHD Blu-ray player
TiVo Bolt cable/OTA DVR & streaming receiver
Trinnov Altitude32 preamp/processor
Mark Levinson No. 533H 3-channel power amp (1, HF drivers of M2s)
Mark Levinson 531H monoblock power amps (3, LF drivers of M2s)
JBL Synthesis SDA-8300 8-channel power amps (3, side & rear surrounds, overheads)
JBL Synthesis SDA-4600 4-channel power amp (1, front wides)
Keith Yates Design UA-12K (aka SpeakerPower SP2-12000) 2-channel power amps (4, powering the UberSubs)
Lumagen Radiance Pro
Lab.Gruppen/Lake LM 26 audio signal router/processor (5, mains and subs)
Lab.Gruppen/Lake LM 44 audio signal router/processor (6, surrounds)
Sony VPL-VW5000ES (no anamorphic lens)
Stewart Filmscreen SnoMatte 100 LS (19′ W, 2.1:1 full aspect ratio, Director’s Choice 4-way masking, microperfed acoustically transparent, 1.0 gain)
JBL Pro M2 (3, LCR)
JBL Pro AC28/26 (2 left wide, 2 right wide)
JBL Pro 8340A (2 left side, 2 right side, 2 rear)
JBL Pro SCS 8 (10, ceiling)
Custom KYD/JL Audio SHOC-24 powered subwoofers (8, side & rear walls)
Custom KYD UberSub passive subwoofers (6 pairs of 24″ modules behind screen, 2 single 24″ drivers under center seat in rows 2 & 3)
Liberty ExtraFlex OFC 10/2 speaker cables with Canare/Neutrik termination
Corning Optical fiber-optic cables
Belden CAT5/6, RS232 cables
Extensive custom system
Palliser Vox (15 in three rows of five)
Actual room: 34′ (L) x 28′ (W) x 16′ (H)
Apparent room (after baffle wall, fabric concealing speakers and acoustic treatments, isolated slab floor, and seating risers): 28.5′ (L) x 26′ (W) x 13′ (H) at the front of the room, 29′ (L) x 24′ (W) x 9.5′ (H) at the back of the room