The AVS Forum Home Theater of the Month for November 2019 is the Oconee Theater.
Chuck Gerlach was originally a computer programmer, but ended up spending most of his career involved in the automation of financial transactions. Gerlach claims he’s retired now, but still works as a consultant for Atlanta Home Theater and calibrating home theater setups “when the project makes sense.”
Ten years as marketing director for Sigtech (the original digital room correction company) taught Chuck more about audio and room effects than anything else, even his formal education in applied mathematics! He notes this experience is the root cause of spending so much money on this hobby. He’s also spent time pre-retirement acting as a dealer for some well known audio products such as Dunlavy Audio Labs speakers and Tact Audio.
In short, Gerlach is a master of quite a few trades.
Now, at his home on Lake Oconne in Greensboro, GA, he’s built the impressive Oconee Theater. This is Gerlach’s fourth home theater overall, which he says he loves and has “close to zero interest or inclination to make any significant changes. I don’t even spend much time tweaking any longer (and for someone like me, that is fairly significant).”
A view of the seats in the Oconee Theater – Photo by Chuck Gerlach
AVS Forum: How did you become interested in the home-theater hobby? When did you become a member of AVS Forum?
CG: When living in Dallas, TX, I met a guy who owned a speaker manufacturing company and he put together a “pseudo surround” system in his show room. I became fascinated by the possibilities and decided (1984) to put one together in my home. It consisted of a Mitsubishi 50” TV, sources were initially VCR then Laser Disc, two speakers up front, two in the rear and a surround processor by Fosgate. We didn’t call it a home theater but rather a multi-media room. Prior to this time, I had spent all of my efforts and money on 2 channel systems.
I stumbled across “a real home theater” while on a business trip to Los Angeles the very early 90’s. I went to visit a very high-end 2 channel store in Beverly Hills and I think it was called Christopher Hansen Audio but I may be mistaken. I walked in and listened to lots of 2 channel stuff but then wandered into a back room where they had a Sony 1251 (or maybe 1291) CRT projector on a 100” Stewart Screen, Snell THX speakers and Snell subs. I was “gob smacked” and went home and built almost an exact replica (but used 2 Velodyne Subs). This was also the first time I began experimenting using passive room treatment. I tried to follow the early THX recommendations of placement and the room ended up being fairly interesting. That is what I call “Home Theater Number 1”.
At the same time, I had another room next to our theater room dedicated to 2 channel audio and was using Wilson speakers, an Audio Research preamp and Krell mono blocks to drive the speakers. I eventually decided that I would combine the rooms (into what was then the theater room) and put my Wilsons in place of the Snells and also installed 3 SigTechs so I could perform room correction on all 5 channels and the subs. This is what I call “Home Theater Number 1.1”
Next up, I built a much more fully fleshed out theater in the room that was originally the 2 channel room. In it, I had 5 Dunlavy speakers, Bryston amps driving everything, and had the room professionally designed by a now defunct company. I used SigTechs in this room as well. I went just as crazy with the 2-channel stuff as I did with the theater since the room was used for both. I purchased the dCS digital stack and a bunch of other stupidly expense equipment as well. This would be “Home Theater Number 2”.
I then changed homes and built “Home Theater Number 3”. I brought most of my equipment with me but ended up changing almost all of it over a period of time. It was during this period where I discovered AVS Forum (2001). I ended up with an all Seaton system using 4 of his SubMersive subs, and his Catalysts speakers, and a processor that included Audyssey. That room was my first 7.1 system. I used the same room design consulting company in this room but the results were incredibly disappointing. And the design company refused to accept that the audio issues were of their doing. As a result of trying to fix the incredibly annoying audio, I met Glenn Kuras, who is the owner of GIK. While he was visiting my room, he uttered the phrase that is now part of my Avatar: “It is always the room”. And It was and is!
AVS Forum became (and still is) my primary source for what products and services were available in the world of HT, new technologies, and how I was introduced to new companies (e.g. SVS, Seaton, Rives Audio, Audyssey based products, Seymour, Datasat, Trinnov, etc).
And maybe most importantly, AVS Forum has allowed me to “meet” a number of wonderful people who shared the same addiction passion ….some in person and some “virtually”. A number of AVSers have been to one version or another of my theaters; I have met a few at various conferences; I have visited one AVSer (@Craig John who lives not close to me) to hear his Triad Platinum speakers prior to making my decision to purchase them; And I have connected with someone who has been immeasurably helpful as I negotiated my move to a NAS from which I could rip, store and watch my movie collection. He lives on another continent (the UK) and goes by the name @Wookii . How cool is it that AVS Forum provides all of those benefits and capabilities?
So when we moved to our current home, we decided to build “Home Theater Number 4” and brought with us all of the equipment (less the screen and masking system and the acoustic treatment) that was in our previous home. I had GIK do all of the design work (room dimensions, etc) and used all of their passive treatment. This room has always been the best I have owned and has allowed the equipment that has been placed in it to excel.
“Home Theater Number 4.1” is a result of making a number of fairly significant changes: I tried to make the room look a little less like a recording studio (based upon some of the many AVS Forum theaters I looked at). I also found the AVS Forum thread: “The Blacker the Theater, The Better the Image” and wanted to implement some of what I found. The black GIK diffusers also served as dust catchers and I wanted to find a way to solve that issue as well. So I built all new black GOM panels to cover all of the treatment and built new “skins” for the columns, installed 8 feet of black carpeting in the front of the room, covered the first 6 feet of ceiling with black velvet, covered the inside edges of the left and right speaker in black velvet and did the same under the front soffits. So the cosmetic changes were part of the conversion to HT 4.1. Secondly, I changed from an all Seaton audio system to an all Triad system (less subs). Next I moved from a 7.1 system to a 7.x.4 system (now a 9.x.6 system) and lastly, moved from one of the more traditional processors (Marantz) to a Datasat (now Trinnov). Furthermore, I changed from a 4K Sony ES600 to a JVC RS500 so I could handle HDR but have now upgraded my video chain to include a Lumagen Radiance Pro, JVC RS4500 and Panamorph Lens.
Main speakers and screen in the Oconee theater, seen from the side. Photo by Chuck Gerlach
I don’t envision a “Home Theater Number 4.2”. I am more pleased with this theater than any other I have had and, for the very first time, have close to zero interest or inclination to make any significant changes. I don’t even spend much time tweaking any longer. (And for someone like me, that is fairly significant).
One last and important thing: When I purchased the Trinnov, I decided to “farm out” the initial calibration. I was comfortable that given 25 years of doing room calibration and 4 years of working with multiple Datasat processors/theaters that I could at least extract 90% of what the Trinnov was capable of on my own. But, I wanted to get on with using our HT and reduce the time necessary to get to a point where I would be totally pleased with what I was hearing. I am a very picky listener and my own worst critic. I knew it would be months before I would like what I heard if I did the work myself and decided I would rather watch movies than diddle with setup.
So I hired Adam Pelz (@appelz) to perform his magic. In two days, he did more than I would have been able to accomplish in months.. I have watched more movies (and spent more money doing so) since his calibration than I did in the previous year!! In addition, I had just purchased a new bulb for my (then) projector and he calibrated it as well. Hiring him was clearly one of my better decisions. Since then, I have become much more familiar and have been able to re-calibrate my room (multiple times) and calibrate a number of other AVSers who use the Trinnov, as well.
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.).
CG: Sound Isolation: This is an area where I confess that I went: “Ready; Fire; Aim”. My design goal for almost complete room isolation was, as it turns out, unattainable without a $20,000 complete redo of our HVAC system (I had no intention of making that kind of investment in this home). The only HVAC change I did make was to (recently) add a mini-Split to the equipment room.
While our home has 2 floors, it only has one HVAC system serving both. It uses a system to allow both floors to have control of the temperature but that means that the ductwork for the second floor is connected (indirectly) to the ductwork of the first floor. I’m sure you can see where this is going. After spending all of the money on double drywall, green glue, carpet underlayment, soundproofing all outlets, heavy solid doors, etc, it turned out to be all for naught. When we first put on some music just to make sure everything was connected correctly, we noticed that sound could easily be heard through a number of the AC outlets, the worst offender being the one in the master bath toilet area.
Fortunately, it has turned out not to be quite as disastrous as I first envisioned. Normally, either I am in the theater during the day or my wife is with me when watching a movie in the evening. On those occasions when I want to listen to music in the evening if my wife is going to bed, we close the door from the master bedroom to the master bathroom and close the door to the master toilet and I can listen at any reasonable level without disturbing her.
The one real downside is that the ambient noise level in this theater (from sound coming INTO the room through the vents) is much higher than I planned and that I have experienced in all other rooms. But it is what it is and really takes almost nothing away from the overall experience.
Conclusion: If you want great sound isolation, do not leave out a single component.
Screen size/shape, etc: Had I to do this theater all over again, I would place all of my equipment and media in the room behind the theater (a bedroom) and then have the ability to have all of my front speakers behind what could be a much larger screen. There is currently a door to the left of the screen that allows access to the equipment room but restricts my ability to expand the screen size.
When I moved into this theater, I was still a two-channel guy and wanted the room to serve both two channel and home theater. As a result, the room acoustic treatment was designed for both, and having the left and right speaker placement in the room would provide the ability to hear a more three-dimensional image when listening to music in 2 channels.
What I didn’t and couldn’t know at the time was that 3D audio and specifically Auro(Matic) along with the Datasat or Trinnov processor could provide all of the 3D immersive-ness I wanted when listening to music, even if all of the front speakers were behind the screen. But, neither the fact that my screen is the size it is (120 inches wide and 51 inches tall – 2:35) or that my left and right speakers are in the room, reduce the enjoyment or immersive-ness we get to experience. Would larger be better? Yes, but not at the cost of redoing all of my electrical, moving all of my equipment, new screen and masking system, etc.
Acoustic Treatment: I learned long ago that passive room treatment would be critically important to the final acoustic outcome so I decided to spend whatever it took to achieve it. As noted above, the plan included solutions for both 2 channel and HT. And while in theory, “compromises” were required, the way it turned out with me using all speakers when listening to music, there are zero shortcomings to the installed solution.
AVS Forum: What are some unique aspects or features of your home theater?
CG: I’m not sure anything is “unique” in our theater – other than the fact that it has 3 doors in it.
AVS Forum: How long was the planning phase?
CG: Given this was not my first theater, the planning time was fairly short since I learned so much with all of my other theater projects; maybe 2 months total. I worked with GIK on the treatment plan and room design, and that probably took a month or so and then worked with the local company that actually built out the room. They had never done anything like this but were very flexible working with me as we walked through the various pieces of what the room needed to be. They did a great job.
AVS Forum: How long was the building phase?
CG: The room changes began the day we closed on our home. That was August, 2013. We were “operational” in November. We were not living in this town at the time so I travelled back and forth from Atlanta to work with the builder.
AVS Forum: What construction materials and techniques did you use?
CG: On each of the doors (3 of them) we used special seals to try to reduce sound leakage around the door; each of the electrical outlets were treated with a sealant that helps reduce leakage and we also used a heavy underlayment that was placed under the carpet padding to try to reduce the effects of being on a wooden suspended floor. Individually, those were successful except the doors. I learned that the ONLY way to have doors (even heavy solid doors) not be a source of sound leakage would have been to use double doors with an air space between them… and we did not do that. We used double 5/8 drywall with many buckets of “Green Glue” between the surfaces. Given the room is on the 2nd floor, it is reasonably solid.
AVS Forum: What was the total cost (AV equipment, acoustic treatments, construction materials, contractors)?
CG: I have approximately $140,000 invested in this theater including all of the equipment, seating, acoustic treatments, construction, etc. BUT, I did not write checks totaling that amount for this theater. This process started well over 40 years ago when I started diving into serious 2 channel systems, then moved to multi-channel home theater systems and then through various modifications, new rooms and new upgrades.
AVS Forum: How much was true DIY (with your own hands and those of friends and family) and how much was contracted out?
CG: The total construction cost (approximately $31,000) is split approximately 80% contracted and DIY about 20%
AVS Forum: Who did the acoustic design, audio/video calibration?
CG: GIK did the room/acoustic design, I did all of the installation and initial audio calibration
AVS Forum: What were your biggest challenges? How did you meet them?
CG: As previously noted, Isolation of the room was clearly the biggest challenge, and we were only partially successful at overcoming that challenge. But it all worked out OK. Perfect? No, but it has to be good enough.
AVS Forum: What were the greatest moments in the process?
CG: We have experienced a number of “great moments” during the last 5 years. In no particular order: (1) When I first fired up the fully calibrated room at the beginning of 2014, I realized I had come a long way since “Theater Number 1” and had a very large smile on my face; (2) When we had our next door neighbors over to watch a movie with us (she was a “Transformer” fan). At the end of the movie, she looked at me and said: “I have no idea what you paid for all of this but it was worth every penny of it” (and I would agree with her); (3) The move to 3D audio (Dolby Atmos and DTS:X) was and is one of the most amazing transformations that has occurred in home theater. Even my wife who has no ability (or desire) to hear differences in the various changes I have made loved that upgrade; (4) The move to our first 4K projector (Sony) and then to our current JVC (4K/HDR) were also high on the list. (5) The move to first the Datasat and then the Trinnov moved the audio to an entirely new level. (6) And lastly, while maybe not the greatest, but the most satisfying and rewarding occurred when we got this last move to the Trinnov and 9.x.6 system. I have not even seriously thought about needing to diddle or upgrade and that provides me great peace of mind (and more time to enjoy listening to music and watching movies.) In the many years I have been involved in audio (first 2 channel and then home theater), I have NEVER been less inclined to make any kind of serious upgrade or changes. It is a nice place to be.
AVS Forum: What is the URL for your build thread?
The room is 19’3” wide, 22 feet long and 8 feet high. The original space was 27 feet long but we took 5 feet to be used for equipment and media storage as well as having space to put the center channel behind the screen.
VIDEO EQUIPMENT: JVC RS4500 Laser Projector; Panamorph Paladin Lens; Lumagen RadiancePro; Carada Masquerade Electronic Horizontal Masking System; Seymour Acoustically Transparent 2:35 120 x 51 inch screen (~1.0 Gain – XD Material);
SPEAKERS: Room is setup as a 9.2.6 theater. LCRs: Triad Platinum LCR’s; Surrounds: (4) Triad Silver In-Room Monitors; Wides: (2) Triad In-Ceiling Silver Monitors; SUBS: 8 Seaton F18 subs (2 Masters and 6 Slaves driven by 4000 watt amp in each Master — 2 in each of the front two corners) and (4) Seaton F18’s located along the rear wall; ; 3D Audio ceiling speakers: (6) RSL C34E’s
SOURCES: Synology NAS DS1817+ (32TB/~22TB Usable); Nvidia Shield/Plexfor viewing ripped movies. Apple TV 4K = access to Netflix and Amazon TV and others; Dish Network 4K DVR; Oppo 203 4K Blu Ray Player; SGC (Small Green Computer) sonicTransporter i5 CDR for running Roon Core for music playback (ripped files and Qobuz) and collection management
ACOUSTIC TREATMENT: Room design and all acoustic treatment by GIK. First reflections point: GIK q7D diffusors (2 per side) – Covered by cosmetic beveled panels from Acoustimac; Front wall:all absorption; rear side walls: GIK Monster Bass Traps with Scatter Plates (3 per side); Rear wall: (3) GIK q7D’s with (2) GIK Monster Bass Traps with Scatter Plates; Left rear corner: GIK Soffit Traps; Front corners: Custom corner traps; Soffit: DIY soffits traps; Ceiling Cloud: GIK 244 Bass Traps (3); The idea for the rectangular panels with beveled edges came from the Theater of Peter M