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Family room home theater remodel for a Utah AV Enthusiast

Client Profile

Let’s get the low down on the client for this family room home theater transformation project!

A.R. lives in a small town near Salt Lake City, Utah and has a young family. He’s been an audio-video enthusiast his whole life. In particular, he’s passionate about bass and has competed in and won many car audio competitions.

The AVS Forum build thread can be found here.

Project Overview

A.R. wanted to convert part of the family room in his home into a high performance home theater. His shopping list included:

  • Sound isolated construction, so he could watch movies whilst the children were sleeping
  • Killer bass, of the quantity and quality he was used to from his car audio days
  • Stunning aesthetic, with use of lighting and interior design to make a theater that looks as good as it sounds

As you can see from the photo montage below, we’d have to demo a corner of the room and add two walls just to get a space for the theater. This was no ordinary family room to home theater project. Time to call in the experts!

Remodeling a space like this is always more difficult than new build construction, with creativity required to work around the as-is situation and patience required to deal with the inevitable challenges related to the existing structure that only manifest after demo has occurred.

Photo showing the room before home theater design started
The family room which would house the future home theater. The planned location for the home theater can be seen in the photo on the bottom right, with the taped out screen and seating locations.

Acoustic Frontiers Home Theater Solutions

The design on this family room to home theater project started in 2016. The client and his contractors demo’d and installed the theater, and we flew out to Utah to calibrate the AV in 2017.

We provided the following services:

  • Our ESSENTIALS design package, comprised of: layout, sub/number placement optimization, AV equipment engineering and acoustic treatment design
  • Sound isolation and HVAC design
  • Lighting design
  • Implementation support: reviewing plans with contractors, handling Q&A, working through implementation challenges

The theater was designed in the early days of spatial audio, and was a 7.1.4 layout with four subwoofers. Procella P8 and P5 speakers were utilized. Two rows of sides were used, with the input signal for the second row of sides matrix mixed with the rears in Xilica DSP  processors for decorrelation. The electronics comprised a Yamaha CX-A5100 pre-pro and Crown DCi 8|300 amplifiers.

The video side comprised a JVC RS400 projector and a Seymour AV screen with the UF material.

Frequency response simulation for subwoofers
Computer simulation of the frequency response at every seat in the theater. We use these simulations to determine sub number and placement.

 

Sub number / placement analysis showed that the best location for the subs was in the corners, and that the best seat-to-seat consistency would be achieved by running the rear pair time delayed and out of phase, a so called Double Bass Array or Controlled Acoustic Bass System. Deep Sea Sound provided the subwoofers. Four of their Mariana 18S were used, together with a 12,000W 240V amplifier. A unique aspect of the design was the integration of the rear subs into the riser – they were mounted INSIDE the riser and fired upwards through custom grilles. This was done to preserve floor space inside the theater.

In Riser Subwoofer
18″ custom in-riser subwoofer from Deep Sea Sound.

 

The acoustic treatment design was one of the first implementations of our 1’x1′ absorption / diffusion chequerboard. This is our take on how to create a balanced and even room acoustic for spatial audio. Panel locations were determined through ray tracing and speaker off axis analysis. The side wall panel layout is shown below. It uses fabric wrapped Diffuse Signature panels custom made for us by Arithmetic Design together with the RPG Broadsorber, an engineered 2″ thick absorber that offers the performance of a thicker product.

Home theater acoustic treatment design
Detailed plans for acoustic panel placement on the left side wall of the home theater

 

The lighting design is modern, incorporating small LED cans in a perimeter soffit together with LED tape installed on the steps, around the screen and around the soffit perimeter.

Home theater lighting design
Lighting design concept for the home theater

 

The onsite AV calibration included:

  • Dialing in the integration of the front and rear subwoofers using digital delay and level to minimize differences in bass between the two rows
  • EQ’ing all speakers using the Xilica DSPs
  • Decorrelating the 2nd pair of surrounds using the Xilica DSPs
  • Setting speaker levels and relative sub/mains level
  • Creating multiple house curves or presets for different theater usages
  • Video calibration to ISF / THX standards including custom HDR gamma curves for the JVC projector

The Results

A.R. did a fantastic job implementing his family room home theater design. It was truly a team effort from him, his contractors and us. The results speak for themselves:

Front of home theater
Front wall with custom media storage cabinets to the side of and below screen. The front subwoofers are also hidden in the cabinet below the screen.

Angled view of home theater
View towards front of theater.

View to rear of theater.
View to rear of theater.

 

In the Client’s Words

On his experience with the difference the acoustic treatments made:

“Once the home theater was put back together, my wife and I listened from the front and rear rows. We listened to several music and movie tracks we have heard frequently in our theater. There is a HUGE difference in sound.

Before the acoustic treatments were installed, it sounded really good, but now the characteristics are very different. It sounds like a different room. I can localize all speakers much better now, especially the ceiling and rears which I was having issues hearing. Sound is way more separated and distinct. The room sounds much more musical. The biggest difference is definitely what I call “control”. The sound is very controlled now. It’s hard to describe, but that is the best way I know how.

My wife is not an audiophile, she just puts up with my desire to have great audio. We listened together for the first time and she was smiling because of the differences she was hearing. It was very easy to tell and is just awesome to listen to! It sounds so much better already!” A.R.

 

On his experience with the calibration process:

“Nyal Mellor is an avid AVS Forum contributor. He owns Acoustic Frontiers and holds some of home theater’s highest certifications, such as HAA Level I & II, THX Video Level I & II, CEDIA EST I & II. Nyal designs, integrates and calibrates home theaters for people all around the country, including many AVS Forum Users.

AVS users giving me advice on these forums, highly recommended Nyal. I spoke with several home theater companies and then Nyal. I was lucky enough to have Nyal take on my home theater project, which started right here on this thread almost a year ago. Nyal interviewed me to understand my aspirations and goals for a home theater. He ended up designing my theater, including the room layout, acoustic design, HVAC design, low voltage design, electrical design and lighting design. He also assisted me in project management and helped come up with solutions to unforeseen issues during the build. My theater would not be close to as good, without all his advice and assistance.

This past week, Nyal arrived and saw my theater in person for the first time. He told me the theater looked good in pictures, but it is significantly better in person. He was very complimentary on the aesthetics and quality of craftmanship. He went on to say it was one of the nicer theaters he’s experienced and that we did a great job. Even though Nyal is very knowledgeable, he is very humble, gracious and down-to-earth. It was great getting to know him more, personally. He was fun to talk with and I learned a lot watching him work. Nyal allowed me to watch him for two-full days, describing what he was doing and why. Talk about insightful and fun!

The first day, Nyal started on the projector. He spent a lot of time showing me how it should look and the adjustments we could make. I learned how important a good base greyscale is and what levels should look like with the color overlay. After being educated, I could clearly see the differences. It was a huge change and so much nicer to watch. The content now has much better color, is more life-like, smoother and way more pleasant to watch! My HDR is fantastic to watch now. I really appreciated Nyal going through so many different profiles to make sure it was the right one for me.

After video, Nyal started working on the bass array. Bass is my “thing”, so I paid close attention. The first step was to dial in the four subs to work together as closely as possible. Next, he started doing some EQ on the low frequencies. He had a tool, which showed what the room and subs were doing together. I could clearly see the room was well designed and the sub response was very good. It showed how important good room design and having suitable equipment are interrelated. Seeing is believing! There were minimal dips and peaks, which Nyal smoothed out with little effort. When it came to levels, I insisted he calibrate the subs hotter than normal. The funny thing is, Nyal kept turning down the gains and levels on my subs. It made me nervous at first. On the front of the sub amp there are 20 increments (10 dots with a space between each) for volume gain. Nyal ended up putting both sub channels on 5 of 20, or one-quarter of the maximum volume. LOL! I have SO much bass capability, it’s REDONKULOUS! No, I did not over-purchase. I got way better performance and headroom with my subs and paid less than most other subs on the market!

Once the subs were all dialed in, Nyal said my subs far exceeded his expectations and he was very impressed with how well they performed. He said my theater is stacked and far better than most when it comes to low frequencies. He commented I have a crazy amount of headroom. My subs are killing it and hardly moving! The subs sounded great before, but oh MAN did they rock significantly more after Nyal was done. The bass was WAY tighter, crisper and more musical. I didn’t think 18” subs could be that tight. Like, seriously wow! I made some good changes to the subs and delay before, but Nyal’s integration on the subs took it to a whole new level! I absolutely love how big of a change Nyal made with my bass!!

The next step was to start correlating my side and rear speakers. Unfortunately, the rears and four sides were on two different processors, so Nyal had to do a quick re-wire job. That was not part of the deal, but Nyal did it anyway. With everything wired up correctly, Nyal began correlation of the two sets of sides and one set of rear speakers. This involved mixing some of those channels together in a very particular way. Secret sauce!?

On the second day, Nyal started EQ calibration for the speakers. He took time with each of my 13 speakers (and 4 subs) to properly crossover, eliminate the minimal dips and peaks, adjust levels, delays and develop a good curve. This process is time-consuming with so many speakers, but fortunately the good room design had established a great base, where minimal changes were needed. I got to hear it in this intermediate stage. My midbass increased substantially and information in the upper regions came to life. It was fun to hear things I hadn’t heard before! It sounded so much better…but Nyal wasn’t done yet.

The next process was to do an integration of all the speakers/subs. Nyal worked with some fancy equipment and then his ears, dialing in all the changes he previously made to blend together. After that process, Nyal had me audition on content I was familiar with and asked for my feedback on what I was hearing; what changes I wanted for my own “house curve”. It was awesome to hear new things! Sound blended better significantly with even better dynamics. The best words I can describe it with are powerful, clean and smooth. A huge improvement in sound quality!

Once that profile was completed, Nyal started the same process to create additional profiles for the room. I ended up with a profile for my front row, a balanced profile for both rows and a music profile. When I decided to build the theater, I didn’t think I would listen to music a lot, so I didn’t focus on that. Nyal’s music calibration was nothing short of Amazing! Like WOW! I couldn’t believe my ears. I truly didn’t think the sound could be THAT much better. It was immediately apparent and I told him to leave it right there…don’t touch it! I will be absolutely listening to music a lot more. Even my wife was amazed at the difference and she isn’t that discerning of a listener. She actually listened to music for an hour the night Nyal left. That’s saying something!

After the three profiles were complete, Nyal went back and had me audition each. We made slight modifications to the balanced profile, then he went back to each audio and video mode he calibrated, to finalize settings. He taught me how to make adjustments for future profiles I may want to add, most importantly, how to do it correctly.

I always knew I wanted to complete the build process with a calibration, but it’s expensive. I could have easily been content to stop after my build and have a great sounding theater, but I am sure glad I didn’t. Many of the changes were so dramatic, it was worth the money to make any one of those changes, individually. What I ended up getting were massive changes in all areas important to me. Yes, massive. I absolutely love the changes and am very glad I stayed the course with professional calibration!

I want to make sure Nyal understands how important he has been to the success and enjoyment of my theater. While I have received help from many people, some more than others, Nyal stands at the top of that list. He is the biggest reason my theater is so incredible in every way. If you get the opportunity to follow your dream, like I did, do it the right way and have Acoustic Frontiers help you make your dream be the best it can be!” A.R.

 

On his thoughts on the theater 2 years after completion:

“LOVING the theater.  It just rocks!  Especially now that more immersive audio has been coming out.. The sound isolation works AWESOME.  Of course it sounds FANTASTIC!  The theater looks AWESOME!  We get SO many compliments when people see it for the first time.  It’s always WOW!  Now when I demo it to people I just watch their faces instead of the movie.  It’s far more entertaining watching their jaw drop. Our family just LOVES movies and we watch them often.  Totally LOVE our theater! A.R.

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