Jesse Dykema’s home theater – Contrast Theater – is so impressive that his parents ended up buying their own A/V setups. However, creating his own impressive home theater wasn’t that easy. Dykema, also known as Soundguy1989 on AVS Forum, lives in Tucson, AZ and said demoing high-end A/V equipment within a drivable distance of his house presented a challenge.
“Tucson is a great city to live in, but since it’s not a big city, there weren’t very many high-end A/V brands available to demo when I got started in this hobby. This led me to read online reviews and articles to help determine the best components for my system. I also became aware of brands like Emotiva and other ID brands that I would not have discovered. Because of this, the majority of my home theater system is composed of internet-direct brands.”
Jesse Dykema’s Contrast Theater
In the end, Dykema’s Contrast Theater came together so well that we’ve named it the December 2019 Home Theater of the Month.
AVS Forum: What were your primary design goals for this theater? (e.g., sound isolation, decor, number of audio channels, acoustic treatment, size and shape of screen, number of seats, etc.)
JD: The main design goals for this theater focused purely on performance and affordability. These goals dictated every aspect of the theater and I believe they were exceeded. In order to reach my goal, I wanted to assemble an incredible system that was also affordable. I also wanted to isolate the sound from the rest of the house, in order to achieve a low noise floor in the theater and not disturb people in the house.
The seating was designed to be for performance and functionality. The adjustable headrests give viewers an optimal view of the screen and the integrated cup holders add to their functionality. I decided to get a larger screen and brighter projector than I had in my previous house to maximize the immersive experience. The screen is formatted in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio because newer movies are the main focus of the room. An Atmos system was incorporated to provide stunning audio that matches the excellent video.
AVS Forum: What are some unique aspects or features of your home theater?
JD: Every surface in the theater is black. This is one of the most unique and impressive aspects of the theater. It can be difficult to create an all black room without it being disconcerting for people. However. I feel like I’ve succeeded, because everyone who has seen the room has given me complements and no one has said they’ve felt uncomfortable. The theater is also a contrast from the rest of the house, which has white walls and colorful art.
Another unique feature of the theater is that all the speakers are active studio monitors. This includes the Atmos speakers. I have yet to see another theater with this design. Finally, the projection screen does not have a visible frame. This makes the image a lot more immersive because the image does not reflect off the frame, causing distractions. All of these unique attributes create a system that puts performance first and allows the viewer or listener to become completely immersed in the content.
AVS Forum: How long was the planning phase?
JD: It took a few months of designing before we decided on the plans for the house and theater. There were a lot of small tweaks and changes over that time. We went through about drawings before we settled on a final drawing. Many configurations were considered, including a basement and two-story plan. However, due to the dramatically increased costs of those options, we decided to construct a single story house and attach the theater to the garage. Even though the planning phase for the construction was relatively short, decided what equipment to buy was a much lengthier process. I did countless hours of research and used the knowledge that I’d gained from over a decade of information gathering to find the best components.
AVS Forum: How long was the building phase?
JD: The building phase lasted about eight months. The theater was build along with the house. One of the challenges was waiting for the theater to be constructed until the rest of the house was built. The theater was actually finished a bit sooner than the house, because there was no plumbing and very little finished carpentry involved. I would’ve liked the theater to be done before the rest of the house, so I could have used it during the construction process. However, given the level of performance that the theater offers, I’m glad it wasn’t rushed.
AVS Forum: What construction materials and techniques did you use?
JD: The entire theater is double walled with double doors and a 1-inch air gap between the walls. This is done for sound proofing purposes. The double door entrance also offers a great reveal to the theater. Everyone I’ve shown my theater to has been surprised to discover the second door, when I open the first one. They are also truly shocked to discover how dark and quiet it is with the lights off. Since there are no windows and all the lights are covered, the room is completely dark when the lights are off and absolutely silent when the doors are closed.
Thick carpet covers the concrete floor and wood riser to provide absorption. Clips and hat channel are used to suspend the ceiling and 5/8-inch drywall is used for additional sound isolation. The theater is also located on the far end of the house, off the garage, in order to further isolate the sound from the rest of the house.
AVS Forum: What was the total cost (AV equipment, acoustic treatments, construction materials, contractors)?
JD: The total cost for the theater, including construction and equipment costs, was $63,000. The equipment costs $30,000. This includes everything in the room (theater chairs, acoustic treatments and a/v equipment). The construction cost was $33,000. This is the cost of the labor and materials, which include the flooring, walls and HVAC. This cost was substantially lower than it could have been because my dad and I designed and built most of it, eliminating the fees of contractors or architects. Because I did not have these expenses, I was able to construct a state of the art theater for a very affordable cost.
AVS Forum: How much was true DIY (with your own hands and those of friends and family) and how much was contracted out?
JD: About 60% of the work was DIY. My dad and I did the external framing, sheathing and siding with the help of a framer. This part of the build took us about three weeks to complete. Roughly 40% of the work was contracted out. This includes roofing, flooring and painting.
The roof of the theater and the rest of the house is a standing seam metal roof. Solar panels were installed after the construction was completed in order to provide solar power to the theater. The carpet and concrete were subbed out as well. A third party completed the painting and matte black paint was used for the most immersive experience.
AVS Forum: If you contracted some of the work out, who or what company was the designer, installer, etc.?
JD: Local companies performed all of the construction work.
AVS Forum: Who did the acoustic design, audio/video calibration?
JD: W. Jeff Meier performed the theater design, audio/video calibration and acoustical analysis. He was extremely kind and skilled. He answered all of the A/V questions that I asked him while he performed the calibrations. His services are also incredibly affordable. Jeff’s services are invaluable and the results represent some of the biggest improvements in my theater. This reinforces the fact that the room is the most important aspect of achieving excellent sound and video. I’ve read many articles on this, but if I hadn’t experienced those vast differences for myself, I wouldn’t have believed how profound an effect the room can have on the experience.
AVS Forum: What were your biggest challenges? How did you meet them?
JD: One of the biggest challenges that I encountered was the build process of the theater. I built the exterior of the theater with my dad and a framer. I subbed out the interior construction and acted as general contractor. Both of these roles were extremely challenging, since I did not have any experience and had to learn on the fly. I rose to these challenges by being patient and continuing to move forward. Another challenge that I encountered was finding the best equipment for the money.
I spent many hours researching new technologies and used the knowledge that I had acquired over a decade to assemble an incredible system that still blows me away every time I use it.
AVS Forum: What were the greatest moments in the process?
JD: One of the greatest moments in the process was experiencing the theater for the first time. It exceeded my expectations, which were quite high. I was a bit concerned about how it would sound, since I listened a bit before the acoustic treatments were installed and was a bit disappointed. I had nothing to fear though. W. Jeff Meier did an incredible job with the theater design.
Once the acoustic panels had been installed, the sound was vastly improved. Jeff also calibrated the audio and video, which improved things by several more magnitudes. Jeff was instrumental in the performance of my theater. It wouldn’t be the same without him.
AVS Forum: Does your theater have a name? If so, what is it, and why did you choose that name?
JD: My theater is called the Contrast Theater, because it stands in contrast to most theaters. One of the reasons for this is that all of the speakers, including the ceiling speakers, are active studio monitors. Additionally, everything in the room is black, except for the screen. Another unusual aspect of my theater is the HVAC system. Instead of running central air, like the majority of home theater owners, I decided to use mini-splits instead. I made this decision because mini-splits are nearly silent in their stock form, as well as extremely efficient. In addition, the entire house, including the theater is solar powered.
AVS Forum: What is your profession?
JD: I own an A/V Consulting business. I consult with residential clients to help them get the best system for their budget, lifestyle and space. My home theater doubles as a demo theater for perspective clients. Audio/Video has been a passion of mine for over twelve years and I’m very glad that I’ve made a career out of it. I’m very fortunate to be able to do what I love. I’ve always wanted to have a career that I enjoy and that helps people. A/V Consulting achieves both of those goals. It is a very rewarding profession in an excellent industry.
AVS Forum: What city do you live in?
JD: I live in Tucson, AZ. Tucson is a great city to live in, but since it’s not a big city, there weren’t very many high-end A/V brands available to demo when I got started in this hobby. This led me to read online reviews and articles to help determine the best components for my system. I also became aware of brands like Emotiva and other ID brands that I would not have discovered. Because of this, most my home theater system is composed of internet-direct brands.
Oppo UDP-203 UHD Blu-Ray Player
Seymour AV Center Stage XD material on custom aluminum frame (150″ wide, 2.39:1, 1.0 gain, woven acoustically transparent)
Speaker & Subwoofers
11X Emotiva Stealth 6 Monitors
4X SBS SB-16 Ultra
12X Knauf Acoustic Panels
35X DMD Acoustic Panels
8X GIK Acoustic Panels
4X GIK Soffit Bass Traps
Mogami Gold Studio XLR
Monoprice CAT 7 Ethernet
Monoprice Luxe Series CL3 Active HDMI Cable
Various Generic HDMI and USB Cables
Fusion Escape-1019 (6 in two rows of three)
Actual room: 28.4′ (L) 22.4′ (W) 11.8′ (H)