media room design Tag

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

Cineluxe Showcase: A Tribeca Trendsetter

photo by John Frattasi

Steve Haas is the person you call when want to make sure your home theater will sound better than any movie theater. His extensive body of work for various commercial venues and high-end private viewing and listening spaces has established him as one of the world’s leading acoustical engineers. And his collaborations with legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis have made him synonymous with the highest-quality dedicated home theaters.

 

But media rooms (also known as entertainment rooms, multi-use spaces, or communal spaces) are increasingly becoming the movie-watching venue of choice in the luxury market—even though they’re in many ways the antithesis of what you would want for a reference-quality home theater. They tend to be part of an open floorplan, need to serve other forms of entertainment beyond movies, are frequently flooded with ambient light, and feature serious acoustical challenges like hardwood floors, huge plate-glass windows, and large stone and concrete surfaces.

 

None of that changes the fact that the high-end market really likes these kinds of rooms. Fortunately, things like larger, brighter video displays, innovative projection-screen materials, digital room correction, and way more sophisticated lighting and shading control are helping to tame what would have until just a few years ago been impossible spaces for watching movies at any real level of quality.

 

But advanced tech can’t do everything it takes to make a room exceptional, or even acceptable. Which is why we wanted to talk to Haas about what he does to bring these often resistant spaces into line.

—Michael Gaughn

Media rooms can vary dramatically but clients are looking for great performance regardless or they wouldn’t be engaging you. How do you typically handle something like that?

One of the first steps we always employ is understanding from the homeowners how they and, if applicable, their family use their homes—or how they intend to use it, if it’s a new home. Will they all gather in the media room at the same time to watch a movie? In that case, it’s more about dealing with the quality and not so much worrying about whether the sound spreads to the kids’ bedrooms.

 

 

To ensure the acoustical quality of a media room, I would think it would be crucial for you to be brought in early in the planning for a new home or a renovation. Otherwise, you could be dealing with a badly compromised space. Are you usually advising from the beginning or do you find yourself having to make do?

That’s a great question because it really is all over the map. More often than not, the architectural design and interior design are already well underway or nearly completed; or worse, it could be that the construction has already started. And as 

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

This multi-use media room in Connecticut contains a home theater . . .

sheetrock starts going in, the homeowner gets a sense of just how much this house is going to sound really “bouncy”— reflective and reverberant—and maybe they should get somebody to deal with these spaces.

 

That happened to us with a project in Westchester County recently. It was a gut renovation well underway; and that’s when the homeowner just realized, “Wow, we really need somebody.” We had to come in and do a lot of massaging to the interior design and the architectural design to 

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

. . . billiards lounge . . .

get what we wanted.

 

That project had two different rooms—a two-channel listening room and a media room that were both very open to the surrounding spaces, pretty much flanking the kitchen and breakfast-nook area. The entire right wall of the two-channel room was stone, surrounding a fireplace—which, of course, there’s nothing we can do about that—and the media room itself had a lot of glass, very much glass. So we’re always dealing with compromises in situations like that.

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

. . . and recording studio. Unique acoustic treatments and acoustically transparent finishes—including metal mesh, micro-perforated clear shades, and both exposed and concealed wood diffusion panels—were employed to achieve the desired aesthetic and acoustic performance. (photos courtesy of Audio Command Systems)

A lot of luxury homes, especially out west, favor very open floorplans and almost exclusively hard surfaces like wood floors, stone walls and fireplaces, and floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows. And often the client wants their great room to double as a media room, which is usually the least conducive space in the home. That has to be a worst-case scenario for you.

We’ve certainly worked on rustic media rooms in Colorado, Utah—all that part of the country. And there are solutions, like monolithic plasters and 

micro-perforated woods, that can be used in an open-plan home to at least tame the sound, to help ensure it’s not just one echo chamber, one reverberant nightmare bleeding into the rest of the home. Also, trying to achieve as much tonal balance in the way the architectural materials are absorbing sound between low, medium, and high frequencies is essential. You have a fair chance of at least being able to enjoy a controlled room, even if it’s not dialed in with the level of finesse we would have in a dedicated room in a different type of architecture. It’s really important to understand that not every architectural style is going to lend itself to a fabric-wrapped room.

 

 

Home theaters are designed to be isolated, but in an open floorplan, the great room is often the physical center of the home. I would imagine you have to worry as much about the sound bleeding into the rest of the house as you do about the quality of sound in the room itself.

Because media rooms are outside that dedicated area, we often design them as part of the whole-house acoustic design. So we’re looking at various spaces throughout the home, not just for a high level of performance, but basically for general acoustic privacy.

 

If somebody wants to play a movie loud or have other types of entertainment, such as watching TV or playing video games, there’s really no way to stop that sound from completely taking over a good portion of an open-plan home. And that’s where we really have to think about the compromises. We have to think about it very holistically in terms of the

usage of the home.

 

Are we able to implement engineered absorptive/diffusive treatments, like we would in a dedicated room? Sometimes, but often not. Your left wall relative to the screen might be completely treatable because it’s just going to be bare sheetrock, but then the right wall is that huge stone fireplace we talked about.

 

 

Is it more important to get sonic symmetry—which is usually one of the key criteria when designing a 

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

Steve Haas with the Father of Home Theater (and
Cineluxe contributor), Theo Kalomirakis

listening room, media room, or home theater—or do you just place treatments where you can and not worry about the symmetry?

I would argue that symmetry is extremely important because even if the sound is compromised, you don’t want it to change drastically when you go from left to right across the room. As long as we can treat other surfaces (ceilings especially) and achieve overall control, this approach can get decent results.

 

 

A lot of these homes have large, open stairwells that feed directly into the great room area. That has to be a particularly big challenge.

That’s always a very important issue to raise, and there are a lot of times where the designers will say, “You know what? Yeah, we have to close off the stairwell. Otherwise, they will hear everything everywhere in the home.” And you can do that when you’re in early enough in the design process. There are creative ways to design contained stairwells that provide that type of sound control.

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

Steve calibrating a 38-channel audio system in a large event space for a private residence in Sydney, Australia

Some people would say that digital room correction—not the kind found in mass-market receivers but the higher-end implementations—can compensate for a lot of the problems you’ve been describing with media rooms.

Well, it can fix a lot, certainly—or I shouldn’t say “fix,” because it’s a matter of just taking what is already there and reducing what the physical space has done to compromise it. If you know your speakers are behaving fine out of the box, then you have to understand what makes them not perform optimally at those particular seats. And that has a lot to do with their interaction with elements of the room that aren’t perfectly controlled because of the compromises we’ve been talking about.

 

With today’s processors, whether it’s mid-level or certainly the higher-end processors, there are a lot of tools in place to do this. But it cannot be done fully in an automated fashion even with the best processors. They just don’t work well without somebody with trained ears and skills looking at their results and saying, “OK, that got me a fair distance forward. Now here’s what we need to do to tweak it. Here’s how to optimize it with a manual calibration to get that last 10 to 20%.”

 

It’s easy to understand why the processors some manufacturers claim are perfect and get perfect results really don’t. There are things acoustically that can be overcome with electronics and there are things that just cannot. If you have a room that is

all hard and reflective surfaces, whether it’s glass, sheet-rock, stone, you name it, there’s just nothing a processor can do to overcome the excessive reflections and reverberations.

 

Yet there are those who will claim they can. The end users and AV integrators really need to understand that you can bend the laws of physics, but you can’t break them. If you have speaker interactions with nearby hard surfaces that cause what’s called “comb filtering”—short delayed reflections that combine with the direct sound to cancel a series of frequencies—no  processor eliminate that. That is absolutely a physical correction that needs to be made to the interaction of the speakers with the surrounding room and the surfaces close to the speakers.

 

 

So, when you talk to a client, what do you tell them is the best you can achieve with a media room, compared to a dedicated home theater?

We can say that on a scale of 1 to 10, that it’s not going to be a 10. No media room I’ve ever worked on is a 10—essentially flawless acoustically. Now, do we have solid 9’s? Absolutely, because we’ve worked hard with the entire design team to make intelligent compromises that achieve a well-balanced experience that thrills the end user.

 

If something is going to be well below an 8 or 9, then the client needs to understand that. They need to get to the point where they say, “I’m OK with a 6 or 7 because I’m gaining all these other functions. I have these beautiful vistas of the mountains out this glass window. The stone fireplace is just over the top. Wonderful. All these things.” We have to always remember it’s not just about what we do and what we bring to the table. It’s the overall experience. And people sometimes are OK with balanced compromises.

 

 

Since you often find yourself being brought into a project later than you would prefer, what needs to happen to change that?

First of all, it’s educating homeowners and architects on what happens when you ignore the need for proper acoustics. And fortunately there are a lot of case studies, a lot of horror stories, we can share that say, “OK, here’s what happens when you ignore acoustics in any regard.” Either the quality in some cases or the privacy, the isolation of just general noise, allowing exterior noise or mechanical equipment noise to infiltrate the rest of your house.

 

I really do think the answer lies with the architects and designers because they have to be on board with saying, “You know what, we don’t want our houses just to look good or feel good. We want them to sound good as well.” And that is a stretch for a lot of visual designers. That’s no secret because it’s just not something they’re used to. And they also have a lot of preconceived notions about what it means to implement acoustics.

 

What we’re trying to do is basically quell those misconceptions to say, “There is a way to do this without turning your beautiful house into a science project or burlap panel or whatever.” The biggest challenge and biggest effort one can make is to let the designers understand that we can give homeowners a much better sensory experience and also add to the wellness factor of their home from multiple senses and not compromise in any appreciable way.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Media Rooms Come of Age

Media rooms have a pretty bad reputation. So bad, in fact, that anyone who really cares about quality usually hesitates to go down that path as an alternative to a dedicated home theater. And that hesitation used to be justified because media rooms were inevitably compromised—mainly by small TV screens, unattractive, elaborate speaker systems and their inevitable 

profusion of cables, lousy acoustics, too much ambient light, and primitive room control.

 

But if you haven’t checked out the media-room market in the last five years or so, you might be surprised by how dramatically these systems and spaces have improved, and that it’s now possible to have a media room that can fit in well with the flow of your household with practically no compromises.

 

Note that I said “practically no.” Media rooms can’t yet achieve the level of playback quality a dedicated home theater can, and maybe never will. But for anyone who doesn’t want their primary entertainment space sealed off from the rest of the home, or only wants a modest setup but also wants a better-than-movie theater experience, or just doesn’t have the room for a standalone theater—which is practically everyone living in Manhattan, no matter how well-off—a well-designed and installed media room no longer represents a distant second-best solution.

 

It could even be argued that some of the recent media-room collaborations between architects, designers, and integrators (such as the one shown at the top of the page) represent the real cutting edge of current home entertainment.

 

So what’s changed that media rooms are now poised to finally shed their stigma?

 

♦  Reference-quality playback has become standard-issue in TVs, in smaller speaker setups, and with the movies and series you can readily access via download or streaming.

 

♦  TV screens have gotten a lot better, a lot bigger, a lot lighter, and a lot more stylish.

 

♦  Control systems are now much more sophisticated, flexible, and comprehensive.

 

♦  Lighting and shade control, in particular, have become more common and far more versatile.

 

♦  The best digital room-correction systems can now tame and optimize acoustically compromised spaces.

 

♦  Improvements in downloading and streaming, and in the picture and sound quality of TV series and video games, have created a demand for spaces that maximize the experience of all forms of entertainment and are responsive to the entertainment needs of all members of the household.

 

♦  Some interior designers have stopped holding their noses and decided to devote some of their considerable talent to making these rooms functional, attractive, and seamlessly integrated into the rest of the home.

 

♦  Some high-end integrators have moved beyond the general disdain for media rooms and now see them as the challenge and opportunity they are.

 

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics” is the first in a series of articles that will provide you with all the information you need to decide if you want a media room and how to make it best suit your needs. We’ll walk you through a variety of possibilities—from simple, no-compromise setups for a smallish secondary room to far more elaborate reference-quality systems for large, open-plan communal spaces. And we’ll do it without going deep into the tech. The goal is to provide you with enough of the essential concepts, facts, and context so you can convey to your integrator et al. exactly what you want to achieve and get a good sense of whether they’re up to the job.

 

But maybe the most important piece of advice we can pass along doesn’t have anything to do with gear, or content, or lights or shades, or any of that. While it’s good to have the strong core knowledge we’ll be providing, your biggest priority should be finding an integrator who “gets it.” For any candidates you’re considering, study their website thoroughly—especially their portfolio; if possible, visit one or more of the media rooms they’ve created. And listen to them carefully to be sure they’re not taking on the assignment grudgingly but are willing to embrace the challenge and create an exceptional multi-use entertainment space for you and your family.

 

So, should you still opt for a dedicated home theater if you have the room and aren’t willing to settle for anything less than the best? Absolutely. Should you be for one second embarrassed or ashamed if you decide to go with a media room instead? Absolutely not.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

AN INNOVATIVE MEDIA ROOM SPACE

The New York City apartment shown at left converts into a DCI-compliant theater at the press of a button; and yet there is no evidence of the system when it’s not in use. Almost every inch of wall space is either a reference-quality speaker or an acoustic treatment, all of it covered in custom-made acoustically transparent fabric.

 

Photos courtesy of Steinway Lyngdorf

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ALSO ON CINELUXE

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms
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Ep. 2: Let There Be Light–And Shades

Episode 2 opens with Cineluxe contributor John Sciacca joining hosts Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger to discuss the reasons why home theaters are making a comeback. At 6:56, Lutron Communications Director Melissa Andresko joins Mike, Dennis & John to talk about the increasing importance of lighting & shading in luxury home entertainment spaces. At 12:13, we all talk about how lighting control can be a form of creative expression, and how interior design is becoming a key element in the creation of multi-use entertainment spaces. And the episode closes out at 23:28 with a quick discussion of ways to beat the wintertime blues.

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CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE EPISODES OF THE CINELUXE HOUR

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 5

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 5

As Trinnov’s Jon Herron mentioned in Pt. 4 of this series, when you sit down to watch a movie or listen to music, the sound generated by the electronics and speakers is perceived in three key ways. Firstly, there’s the sound that travels straight from the speakers to your ears. Secondly, there’s the sound bouncing off the walls, floor, and ceiling one, two, or three times, which takes a slightly less direct path to your brain. Then there’s the fainter echoes and reverberations that ping-pong around the room.

 

Every room generates its own mix of those three elements. It’s what makes your room sound like your room—its unique sonic fingerprint. But here’s the thing: It’s also what makes your room sound decidedly unlike the claustrophobic interior of a submarine or the rolling dunes of Tatooine or the craggy and cavernous wastes of Cirith Ungol.

 

That’s one of the main reasons I selected the Trinnov Altitude 16 home theater preamp/optimizer to serve as the centerpiece of the trade-show booth’s audio electronics. But as Jon pointed out, to fully deal with all of the acoustical issues in a room, you need a combination of digital signal processing and passive acoustical treatments. The rule of thumb is that you should strive to absorb about 20% of the reflections and scatter 25% of the reflections from the walls and ceiling. You would generally place more absorption toward the front of the room, and interleave the absorption and scattering materials.

 

That last point was one of my biggest sources of stress in helping to design this room—or at least, it’s the source of stress that stands out most in my memory. Why the stress? Because at this point in the design process, my co-conspirators—Mike, Melinda, and Marcelo—were spending most of their time talking about midcentury modern furniture, lighting sconces, draperies, throw rugs, and other floor coverings. And all I could think was, “These people are going to murder me right in my neck if I start hanging egg-crate foam on the walls.”

 

Still, if we wanted the speakers and electronics to transport attendees to other worlds (or at least more interesting corners of this world) with minimal distraction from the room’s temporary and non-traditional construction, I knew we would need some sort of acoustical treatments. So, I reached out to Anthony Grimani—former Dolby Labs and THX exec and current owner of PMI (Performance Media Industries, Ltd)—for his guidance in treating the room as best as possible without making it look like a recording studio.

Anthony Grimani explains how a diffuser works

Not only was Anthony’s advice invaluable, but his company also just so happens to manufacture exactly the sorts of treatments we needed for the room. We did go back and forth a few times on placement, trading renderings until absorbers were optimally placed to deal with first reflections on the walls and ceiling, and diffusers at the back of the room to randomize reflections into a sense of reverberations and create a more enveloping listening environment.

Even after we had the passive acoustical treatments specified and virtually placed, with instructions passed along to the booth construction company, and a followup visit scheduled by Grimani to fine tune the placements during installation, I have to admit that I was still nervous about all of this. In my final rendered sketches of the room, the treatments just sort of looked out of place. They didn’t, to my eyes, evoke the living room environment I knew everyone else on the design team was shooting for.

 

Those fears were allayed the first time I actually laid eyes on the space once it was fully constructed. And they were further allayed as the first attendees filed into the room for a demo. As the first movie clip came to an end, I heard a woman at the edge of the room lean over to a friend and whisper-yell, “I love the 3D sculptures on the walls. They’re so abstract but so pretty!” It took me a second to realize she was confusing Grimani’s diffusers for artwork.

Dennis Burger narrates a very quick tour of the demo room. (If you
look really close at the video, you’ll notice that the circles in the
ceiling are the GoldenEar Invisa 650 speakers mentioned in Pt. 3.)

Lessons learned here: Sometimes you can’t plan for every single contingency when designing a home entertainment space. Things in the real world don’t always look like they do in quick 3D sketches. But just as importantly: Don’t assume that performance-oriented design choices will necessarily conflict with décor-oriented design choices. In the end, the acoustical treatments I was so worried about wound up giving the room a funky modern vibe that worked great with the look we were going for. And if we’d had more than a few weeks to work on the design, and if we knew then what we know now, who knows? We may have even made the acoustical treatments the design focal point of the room.

 

Granted, in the real world, that means having conversations with interior designers about the benefits of acoustical treatments, their physical design, and where they need to be placed for optimal effectiveness. But ultimately, all of the pieces that come together to create a luxury entertainment space should be a collaborative—not an antagonistic—process. No necks need to be murdered in the creation of any room.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 4

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 4

Dennis Burger:

 

In Part 3 of this series, I discussed how we arrived at a speaker system for the Kaleidescape booth by solving the riddle of the back of the room and working forward. I also hinted that Trinnov’s Altitude 16 home theater preamp/optimizer was key to making those speakers sound their best.

 

How did I get from “I need something to power these speakers and process all of the audio” to “Gimme one of the most advanced and luxurious audio/video preamplifiers on the planet,” you ask? It was a bit of a winding road, so let’s start at the beginning of it.

 

When we were first understanding what this room would look like and how we wanted it to sound, someone in our design group (I forget who) asked a simple question: “Can we do this with an AV receiver?”

 

It’s a reasonable question, since we wanted the space to evoke a living room environment, and AV receivers—in which all of the digital signal processing and amplification reside in one box—generally power the sound systems in such rooms. But in this case, my back-of-the-napkin calculations told me we needed 160 watts of clean power for every speaker, which is way more than most receivers can deliver.

 

I also knew we needed really amazing digital room correction to compensate for all of the acoustical shortcomings of this space. (If you’re not familiar with digital room correction and how it works, check out my article “Room Correction Revisited” at Home Theater Review.) The long and short of it is that the room optimization software built into most AV receivers wouldn’t be sophisticated enough.

 

So, given that we needed a separate AV preamp to handle the processing and standalone amplifiers to power the speakers, I started thinking long and hard about what was out there. I wasn’t picking between equipment manufacturers; I was picking between room correction systems—two in particular: Dirac and Trinnov. (Lyngdorf Audio’s RoomPerfect probably would have been a great option, too, but I don’t have hands-on experience with it, and given our time constraints I had to go with what I knew.)

The advantages of Dirac are that it’s available in much more affordable equipment, and its filters would have made this particular room sound really good with only a little effort. But I was informed that “really good” wasn’t good enough. We needed the best.

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 4

So, I turned to Trinnov, whose Altitude 16 (shown above) delivers the most advanced and customizable room correction I know of. What’s more, the Altitude 16 can sonically relocate speakers through some deft processing that I don’t even understand. This was handy because, as I said in the last post, sometimes we had to position speakers in such a way as to accommodate multiple standing-room-only attendees.

 

I reached out to Jon Herron, Trinnov’s International Sales Manager, and asked if I could take him on a 3D tour of my latest revision of the booth design via Google Hangouts. Here’s Jon with his own first impressions of the 3D renderings, along with some thoughts on the specific room correction challenges this demo space posed.

 

 

Jon Herron:

 

So, the challenge was to get sound that is as lifelike as possible in a space that (by itself) would be about as far from lifelike as you can get. The background noise would be high (since it was a trade show). The construction would be temporary and necessarily focused on speed of assembly rather than quality. The shape of the space was also driven to some degree by architectural features not normally found in a home.

 

Imagine trying to get a concert-hall experience in a baseball stadium.

 

Success in any endeavor involves first understanding the nature of the problem. In this case, the problem was largely based on psycho-acoustics—understanding how we humans hear and understand the world around us based on what we hear.

 

A key to understanding how we perceive sound is to understand that we always, without thinking about it, hear three different things:

 

Direct Sound: This is the sound that goes straight from the source (in this case, a speaker) to your ears. Our brains will “hear” this first arrival as the true source and nature of the sound itself.

 

First Reflections: The very next versions of the sound are the first reflections from the surroundings. In a room, these reflections are typically the first bounces from the floor, ceilings, and walls. These tell you quite a bit about the environment you’re in—outdoors (few reflections), or in a larger or smaller room, for example.

 

Subsequent Reverberation: Unless steps are taken to absorb or scatter the sound away from you, sound usually will bounce around for a while. These multiple, later, and smaller versions of the direct sound tell you even more about the environment you’re in. You’d have little or no reverberation outdoors; you’d have quite a lot in a cave; you’d probably hear something in between in your living room or a concert hall.

 

Unfortunately, it’s really easy to mess up what Dennis describes as “room correction” by trying to address all these disparate problems with a single solution. The problems are different; therefore, the best solutions are also different and need to be determined and layered together.

 

If you badly break a leg, you must first realign things, stabilize the leg with a splint, and then put it in a cast for long-term healing. Doing just one of those things, or doing all the things out of order, simply won’t work. It’s the same with using digital signal processing to fix a “broken” acoustical environment.

 

In our diagnosis of how we hear, the second and third items above are “soft” in the high frequencies (imagine turning down the Treble control) for the simple reason that higher frequencies are far easier to absorb or scatter than are lower frequencies. If you don’t make an allowance for the reflected energy sounding different than the direct, you’ll mistakenly ruin the direct sound in a vain effort to fix the environment of the room itself. They are different problems.

 

This, by the way, is why we at Trinnov refer to our system as a Speaker/Room Optimizer. We’re trying to optimize all these different problems with appropriate digital processing solutions, rather than trying to simply “correct” the room with a one-size-fits-all solution.

So You Think Your Room's Bad. Pt. 4

In the trade show demo room, the No. 1 priority was to focus on getting the direct sound as natural as possible. Mitigating first reflections (where we could) was also important, but not if it compromised the direct sound.

 

Similarly, we wanted to provide a more natural reverberant decay (the rate at which sound dies away) that didn’t allow one range of frequencies to stick out like a sore thumb or otherwise call attention to itself. In a good concert hall, when the symphony suddenly stops playing, the entire, rich tapestry of sound should

die away together. If the flute section reverberated after the other sounds had faded, even for a moment, it would sound extremely unnatural, even unpleasant.

 

Addressing all these varying challenges in a way that truly lets you enjoy the music or movie you choose without the heavy-handed overlay of the sound of the room you’re in requires (ideally) a combination of passive acoustics and what we at Trinnov have come to call “digital acoustics.”

 

 

DB again:

 

And that’s the perfect segue into the next post in this series. I knew that physical acoustical treatments, working in conjunction with Trinnov’s digital acoustics, would make this demo room sound its best. But I also didn’t want to make the room look like a recording studio. We’ll dig more deeply into those concerns in Pt. 5.

Jon Herron has been in the audio & video business since he was a teenager. The
combination of music and technology was simply too seductive for him to do anything
else—that and the fact that no one would likely hire him to do anything else. He has
worked in both large and small retail organizations, as a manufacturers’ representative,
and (mostly) for a series of audio manufacturers, including Snell Acoustics, Madrigal
Audio Laboratories, Wisdom Audio, and Trinnov Audio. He lives in Connecticut with his
wife and two terribly spoiled cats.

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 3

Dennis BurgerAt the end of our previous post in this series, I teased the fact that one pair of speakers at the back of the room ended up driving the decision-making process for the entire Atmos surround sound speaker system. It’s worth digging a little more deeply into exactly why that’s the case.

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

Just to remind you what the geometry of our demo space looked like, here’s an overhead view of the back of the room. The rear wall is at the top. You can see a rough approximation of what we thought our seating may look like, as well as the canted walls that made the outside of the booth look so great, but crunched us a bit in the demo space.

 

If we had gone with seven ear-level speakers, that would have meant four speakers in the back of the room, at positions marked A and B. But this would have caused problems for anyone sitting in the back row. Someone sitting next to speaker A on one side of the room wouldn’t have really been able to hear speakers A and B on the other side, and the speakers at the front of the room—for dialogue and screen sound effects—would have been drowned out. Sometimes more isn’t necessarily better.

 

What I really needed was a speaker I could position somewhat closer to the points marked C, but a little higher on the wall so as not to overwhelm any one seat in the back row. The extra height was also added to accommodate anyone standing in the back of the room, so they wouldn’t block the surround sound effects for anyone sitting in front.

 

I desperately needed a speaker that would project its sound out into the room authoritatively, while also spreading its sound out less like a spotlight and more like a floodlight. 

 

I also needed an in-wall solution, for reasons discussed in our previous post. One speaker came immediately to mind: GoldenEar Technology’s Invisa MPX MultiPolar in-Wall speaker. The MPX’s bass/midrange drivers don’t point straight out into the room, as do those of most speakers. One of the drivers is rotated a bit to the right, the other a bit to the left. Combine that with the company’s High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter (which squeezes air sort of like an accordion to create low-distortion, room-penetrating high-frequency sounds, rather than pushing air like a normal dome tweeter), and you have the makings of everything I needed here—wide, deep, enveloping sound that wasn’t diffuse.

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

And with that piece of the puzzle solved, the rest of the speaker system started to fall into place. To match the sound of the MPX, I specified three of GoldenEar’s Signature Point Source (SPS) in-walls for the front left, right, and center speakers, and four of the company’s Invisa 650 in-ceilings for the overhead channels.

 

We also had just enough space at the front of the room for subwoofers, so I opted for a pair of SuperSub X subs. Why two subs for such a small space? It wasn’t so much about producing enough volume as it was about delivering rich, even bass in such a weird acoustical environment and making sure every seat in the room experienced the same level of bass.

 

With those decisions made, I called GoldenEar’s Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Jack Shafton, and asked him if I could take him on a virtual tour of our most current 3D design for the booth. I wanted a second opinion from an industry expert, just to make sure I had made the right choices given such compromises. I also wanted his advice on exact speaker placement.

 

Here’s Jack with his reactions to seeing the 3D renderings for the first time, along with some thoughts on what makes GoldenEar’s architectural speakers unique:

Jack Shafton: When Dennis shared his plan for this booth at CEDIA, my first reaction was, “YIKES!” GoldenEar always uses a fully enclosed sound room for our own trade-show demos, so this was certainly a new challenge. We agreed that this room would never be ideal, but could certainly be done effectively using the Invisa speakers and SuperSubs. Dennis hit on one of the reasons the Invisa MPX was such a good choice: It’s a direct radiator (important for today’s surround formats) with very wide dispersion. But I would also mention that the power handling and efficiency of the speaker are of great importance given the semi-open nature of this sound room.

 

That’s just one speaker, though (well, two in the case of this room). As for why GoldenEar’s Invisa speakers were the right choice overall, remember that this system needed to impress consumer electronics industry members, not the average consumer who has never heard a great-sounding home theater. One thing that I think sets our in-wall and in-ceiling speakers apart is that we design them using the same drivers and technology employed in our award-winning Triton tower speakers. There is no good/better/best stratification in the GoldenEar architectural speaker lineup; just the best of everything we do. The folded-ribbon tweeter offers exceptional dispersion, amazing fidelity, and great power handling, and it is found in every Invisa speaker. Combine that with our mid/bass driver

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

GoldenEar Invisa MPX

technology, crossover design, and GoldenEar speaker voicing, and the result is exactly what Dennis needed to blow people away in a space that had no business sounding as good as it did. Of course, the two SuperSubs helped a lot, as they provide big sub performance in a tiny, vibration-cancelling design.

 

 

DB again: In addition to confirming my speaker choices, Jack gave me some helpful advice in terms of placement, especially of the front speakers and overhead channels. That guidance was invaluable given the weird geometry of the room. Mind you, the odds you’ll be installing a cinema sound system in a room as compromised as ours are slim. The lesson to be learned here is that when taming a problematic home cinema space, you’ll sometimes find that solving your most daunting problems first makes all of the other pieces fall into place.

 

Still, as amazing as GoldenEar’s speakers are, if we had merely slapped them in the walls and ceilings and provided them with power, they wouldn’t have sounded their best. In our next post, I’ll be discussing how Trinnov’s Altitude 16 home theater preamp/optimizer helped us tame some of the room’s worst acoustical problems and give the GoldenEar speakers room to shine.

Jack Shafton is a 40-year veteran of the consumer electronics industry who has been
involved in the design, manufacture, and marketing of some very successful specialty
audio products, including two highlighted in
Stereophile’s “100 Most Important Audio
Products in the Last 40 Years.” Jack’s love of music and movies, combined with a
passion to bring better sound into everyone’s home, has been the driving force in his
commitment to help the industry grow. He also loves fast cars and
cats. (Sorry, dog lovers.)

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

A Tribeca Trendsetter

Cineluxe Showcase

Ed Gilmore casually bringing some shots of an install he’d done in Tribeca up on his computer monitor was a major “a-ha” moment for me. The first shot showed a stylish, obviously comfortable living area that also served as a billiards room, dining area, and kitchen. The second showed the same room transformed into a home entertainment space a lot of people would kill for. That, a completely intuitive part of me screamed, perfectly represents the new paradigm.

 

Others must agree with that conclusion because people just won’t leave Ed alone about that space. Ironically, even he admits it’s not perfect—but it’s getting there, as the client invests more and more in turning what was initially a whim into a room that can blow most movie theaters out of the water.

 

Having since visited the apartment, and shot some video there, I recently circled back around with Ed to talk about all things Tribeca.

—Michael Gaughn

 

 

People seem to love that installation because it says that almost any room can now be transformed into a legitimate entertainment space.

 

I think what we did was to, in a minimally invasive way, create a home theater experience in a room that, if you looked at it from any angle, you would immediately say it couldn’t be done there. There was just no way.

 

Aesthetically, the room had already been designed before you came into the picture. How were you able to navigate those waters?

 

We just needed to be open and try to find really unique solutions that would both satisfy a high-end level of performance as well as maintain a certain aesthetic value the client wanted us to maintain, and be true to the bones of that room. I don’t think that’s any rare talent. The issue was that he had interviewed a lot of other AV guys who told him right off the bat, “No, we won’t do that.” And that wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. So we were lucky enough to be able to convince him that we could do it, and it could be compelling.

That communal area wasn’t supposed to be the main entertainment space, right?

 

Right. The den [shown at right] is the room where he really sits and watches most of his TV. That was the room he wanted to spend some money on. This other room was kind of an experiment for him.

 

But as he saw it implemented, immediately he thought, “I’m going to

A Tribeca Theater to Die For

photos by John Frattasi

sink some more money into this room.” And that’s exactly what he did. That’s what he did with the Kaleidescape Strato, that’s what he did with the Steinway Lyngdorf speaker system, and what he’s about to do with projection, by upgrading the projector there as well.

 

Are people fascinated by that room because it’s a kind of outlier or because it represents a trend?

 

I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s tapping into a trend, that trend being that people aren’t interested in having dedicated rooms for specific purposes like a theater, or even a dedicated music room.

The promotional media-room tour I produced of the Tribeca space.

There’s an aspirational aspect to it as well. It resonates with people because it’s well done. I mean, it’s a really beautiful space. And it’s well thought out. And that goes back to the developer, who did a really nice job on that building. The dimensions of the room are great, and it has this wonderful warm feeling to it without really needing much in terms of other types of interior design.

 

But these particular clients do have taste, and they’ve been around the block a few times in terms of renovations. He is a serial renovator. And so their choice of artwork, their choice of furnishings—those little details that they have there are great. And I think that resonates with a lot of people too.

 

If luxury is really about details—about somebody caring enough to make sure every last thing is done right—Tribeca would seem to qualify.

 

I think you and I agree on this, right? Attention to detail is really what matters in a luxury space. People have asked me about what luxury is, and I typically say that it needs to be inspirational. But that doesn’t mean it really needs to be noticeable. It’s something that kind of unfolds. And by the time you realize what’s happening, you’re kind of taken by surprise by it. And it’s organic—it feels like it was always part of what was meant to be there.

 

 

In a followup post, Ed will talk more about turning problem rooms into great theaters and about the increasing importance of interior designers in home entertainment spaces.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Ed Gilmore

Since 1991, Ed Gilmore and Gilmore’s Sound Advice, Inc. have been designing, deploying, and servicing hundreds of integrated systems by strictly adhering to a word-of-mouth recommendation policy. Typical systems consist of audio & video distribution, home theater, lighting & shading systems, enterprise-level network/WiFi & telephony, along with HVAC & security systems integration. In 2016, Gilmore created one of the most unique showroom & event spaces in New York City. Increased space also allows GSA to rack-build, program, and test systems prior to deployment.

About HTA

The Home Technology Association is an independent organization that connects homeowners with the most reputable and qualified professionals in the home technology industry. In an industry that has no barriers to entry, it has created a rigorous set of standards for companies to adhere to. Only firms that meet the 60-plus points of evaluation criteria are granted certification status. Once certified, these firms must maintain HTA standards or risk losing certification.

 

Gilmore’s Sound Advice is an HTA member, and Ed Gilmore believes it provides an indispensable service. “I think the value of HTA is that it’s a vetted process. It’s a certification program that vets integrators and lets the general public know that we hold ourselves to very high standards. And no other organization does that.”

HTA Logo

REVIEWS

Mission: Impossible--Fallout
Blue Planet II
Netflix' "Filmworker"
Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague

ALSO ON CINELUXE

The Rumors of the Death of Home Theater
Luxury Made Easy, Pt. 1
So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 4

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 2

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 2

We concluded our last post facing two major challenges: Squeezing a completely enclosed space into the middle of what had previously been an open-floorplan tradeshow booth, and then outfitting it with the kind of reference-quality movie system you usually only find in luxury home theater rooms.

 

It would seem like creating the room should have been easy. Just throw up four walls and drop a ceiling on them, right? Well, yeah—if you have enough space to work with. But the booth needed to be able to handle a constant flow of business traffic, and filtering all those people through a movie theater almost continuously in use for demos wasn’t an option. So we had to strike a balance between having a theater that groups could rotate in and out of while also having enough room on the outside for meetings and product spotlights—all within the confines of a 20 x 40-foot space barely large enough to hold a typical dedicated theater room.

 

We also didn’t want to give up the canted divider walls in the middle of the booth since they’d be used to hold big TVs showing videos that would lure people into the booth. And we didn’t want to completely give up offering a glimpse of the den-like theater room, since we wanted to make a statement that luxury cinema isn’t just about home theaters anymore.

The early, open floorplan, followed by the revised design incorporating
a self-contained room for a reference-quality home theater.

The solution was to cheat—a lot. Dennis, Marcelo, Melinda, and I kept moving the walls around, our fingers crossed the whole time, until we found positions for them that might allow the demo room to hold about a dozen people while about 40 other people milled around in the rest of the booth. The fire marshal nixed our plans to cover the whole booth, but we did get approval for a roof over just the demo area.

 

We eventually arrived at a 22.5′ wide by 14′ deep space—but remember that the back two corners were lopped off, thanks to the angled walls, so it was actually smaller than that. And, yes, under saner circumstances, the room would have been 14′ wide by 22.5′ deep—but that’s a whole other story.

 

So we ended up with a seriously space-challenged demo room with angled walls and the wrong orientation, the whole thing built out of narrow metal supports, thin fabric, a bunch of foam core, and not much else. And here’s where Dennis returns to continue the tale.

Michael Gaughn

Needless to say, getting a roof on the theater room was a boon for a few reasons. One, it meant we could control the light coming into the room. Two, it meant we could do an Atmos surround sound system, which was top on the client’s priority list. But it’s a pretty big step from figuring out, OK, yeah, we can do Atmos in this room, to actually deciding which components are going to come together and create such a system.

 

If you’ll indulge me some basic home theater ABCs here, I need to walk through the components of an 

In our sixth revision of the booth design, you can see how the shape of the demo room was defined by the needs of the booth exterior. The overhead view gives you a sense of what little space we had to work with, how the angled back walls ate into that precious space, and why in-room speakers were ruled out.

Atmos sound system, not because I assume you’re not familiar with them but to illustrate my thought process.

 

To do Atmos (or DTS:X) surround, you need to start with the components of a typical home theater system: Three speakers at the front of the room to deliver dialogue, music, and sound effects to the sides of the image, two or four speakers at the sides and/or rear of the room to deliver the offscreen ear-level sounds, and at least one subwoofer to deliver really deep bass.

 

To get from there to Atmos, you need to add two or four (or in some extreme cases six) channels of sound overhead.

 

Notice that I said “channels” there, not speakers. Because you can actually create those overhead sound effects by bouncing sound off the ceiling from little modules that sit atop your ear-level speakers. And that was certainly one possibility I explored for this room, since I wasn’t sure our ceiling would be strong enough to hold speakers.

Using sound reflections to create ceiling channels

This illustration shows a
driver on top of a soundbar
firing upward to create
sound reflections in order
to simulate Dolby Atmos
ceiling channels.

 

graphic courtesy of Dolby Labs

But at the same time, I also didn’t know how high the ceiling would be (it changed a few times) or if we would have room for physical speakers sitting out in the room. How many seats would we have in here? That question wasn’t going to be sufficiently answered until the last minute. So I decided that we needed to go with in-wall speakers all the way around, except for the subwoofers.

 

Mind you, there are some speaker manufacturers that make in-wall speaker modules designed to reflect off the ceiling to create those overhead effects. But while I was juggling all of the information above, I also had to consider the speakers in the back of the room. I needed a very specific type of speaker that would generate wide, immersive sound that would reach out into the room, no matter where people were seated. And I wanted all of our speakers to match in terms of the quality and character of sound. I quickly figured out GoldenEar Technology offered the ideal solutions.

 

We’ll dig into GoldenEar’s in-wall and in-ceiling speakers in the next post, explaining the exact problems their speakers solved, the guidance they gave us in terms of placement, and how I nearly had a nervous breakdown over the rotation of a single tweeter.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

So You Think Your Room’s Bad

We recently faced the challenge of trying to convert a clearly compromised—some would have said impossible—space into a reference-quality home cinema demo room. We’re going to tell our story over a series of posts, not because anyone should care about the innerworkings of a tradeshow but because we think anybody with a seemingly unusable room can learn from our experiences and will hopefully be inspired by them.

 

This series is an exercise in problem solving, meant to show that the technology and expertise now exist to take just about any room and turn it into a luxury entertainment space. In other words, don’t give up on the place you know you’ll be most comfortable just because it seems like a lost cause.

Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger

 

M.G. sets the stage:

 

Kaleidescape tasked the extraordinary designer Marcelo Murachovsky, the equally extraordinary project manager Melinda DeNicola (of Detail in Design), and me with creating a booth for a recent convention. The booth was meant to show that luxury entertainment rooms aren’t just about dedicated home theaters anymore but can be just as satisfying in den/family-room/living-room/communal/mixed-use/multi-use/whatever spaces too.

 

We devoted about half of our design to an intimate, inviting area that would have been clearly visible to anyone walking by. No, you couldn’t blast Baby Driver in there without having it heard across at least half of the convention center, but our super-luxe media room would have definitely intrigued the showgoers.

So You Think Your Room's Bad

An early sketch of the booth, before Marcelo came on board.

But then, two weeks before the booth had to go into production, we were told to work a completely enclosed reference-quality demo room into the middle of the, until then, wide-open space. After a blizzard of phone calls, Hangouts, emails, sketches, renderings, and texts, Melinda, Marcelo, and I decided there was no way it could be done. But, given that the alternative was to have no booth at all, we decided to take a shot at it anyway.

 

Dennis had been involved from early on, initially a sounding board. But, citing his civil engineering background, he soon volunteered to create 3D renderings, which would prove invaluable in figuring out how to incorporate the demo space.

 

The four of us quickly came up with a layout that retained key elements of the original design—like an entranceway meant to evoke a hyper-modern theater proscenium, and canted walls that allowed big flat-screen TVs featuring promotional videos to be easily seen by passersby—while carving out an area in the midst of the booth just big enough for a theater room—maybe. If we got really lucky.

 

It would be hard to pinpoint the exact moment Dennis shifted from doing drawings to figuring out what gear we could use for the system without embarrassing the manufacturers. But I was eager for him to take over the system design, since I knew he wouldn’t feel constrained by any traditional notions of home theater or media room spaces.

The original sketch revised, with dividers placed between the demo area & the rest of the booth.
This is the design we were asked to add an enclosed room to.

D.B. picks up the ball from here:

 

If you’re unfortunate enough to work in an office environment littered with cubicles, imagine taking one of those infernal things, sizing it up to the dimension of a decent living room, slapping some foam-core board on top of it for a ceiling, and then lopping a couple of corners off for good measure. Now imagine that your job is to turn that area into an unimpeachably high-performance movie-watching space.

 

That is, essentially, the puzzle we had to solve with our design for the Kaleidescape booth. My efforts were at first focused on the 3D engineering and CAD drafting of the space based on Marcelo’s 2D drawings and Mike’s vision, with Melinda’s design input. But as we approached our deadline, I was also tasked with engineering the AV system for this quickly built temporary structure in such a way that it would deliver an immersive, full-fidelity audiovisual experience. One good enough to make attendees forget that they were actually sitting inside a jumbo-sized Erector Set covered in essentially the same material that we all used to make our middle-school science projects from.

 

Even though we were tight on space, part of our mandate was to incorporate an Atmos sound system complete with ceiling speakers, so picking the right speakers was critical. And we needed to find electronics with digital room correction to deal with such unenviable room geometry and atypical surfaces. I also knew early on that acoustical treatments were a must, but I expected a bit of pushback here because our goal was to create a room that looked like a relatable living space, not a recording studio.

 

If we’d had months to figure out how to make all of this work, I probably would have panicked at the impossibility of it all. But as is the case with so many home entertainment installations—in which construction and design schedules create an unavoidable ticking clock—we didn’t have time to panic. So we spent many a sleepless night collaborating, arguing, doing complex math, arguing about the math, revising our designs, and realizing that every problem we solved created another problem, right up to the minute in which our designs were locked and we couldn’t make any more changes because the booth was literally being constructed.

 

In followup posts, Mike and I will be digging into the specifics of the decisions we made along the way, and how we ended up turning this weird overgrown cubicle into a beautiful and effective luxury home cinema environment. Because if we accomplished anything, it was to demonstrate that practically no room is completely untameable.

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.