When making a choice between a multi-use media room system and a dedicated home theater, it’s important to remember that each approach has its own upsides and downsides. With a dedicated home theater, every element of the room—from décor to seating to lighting and of course the AV gear itself—is selected, engineered, and installed with one goal in mind: An
optimized moving-watching experience.
With media rooms, that isn’t the case, of course. Movie night is just one among innumerable activities you’ll likely use the room for. So dialing in that Nth degree of performance isn’t always as predictable a process.
On the other hand, media rooms have one big benefit most dedicated home theaters lack: Easy expandability and upgradability. And that’s what we’re focusing on in this second installment of our ongoing series on complete media-room solutions.
Last time around, we started with the most basic media room system imaginable: A great TV, a high-performance soundbar, and a single source component. This time, the focus is on similar systems that leave you a little more room to grow.
Two Types of Expandability
What does that mean, though, “room to grow”? It’s an acknowledgment of the fact that many luxury soundbar solutions are designed as the starting point of a larger entertainment system.
But that manifests itself in two different ways. In some cases, the soundbar you install beneath your TV can be augmented with additional speakers to form a room-filling surround sound home cinema speaker system. In others,
the soundbar functions as the main speaker in a larger multiroom distributed music system. Which approach is right for you is a discussion you and your integrator should have, but we’ll be digging into both.
An Upgrade to Real Surround Sound
In our first post, we mentioned luxury manufacturers like James Loudspeakers and Leon Speakers, whose soundbars require external amplification and sound processing. This may seem like an unnecessary hassle, since most soundbars come
packing their own amps and decoding and such. But one big upside of the “passive” soundbar approach (so-called because speakers with built-in amps are referred to as “active”) is that you can grow the system exactly as you would any other speaker system.
Say you start with a Leon Horizon speaker custom-made to fit the exact dimensions and aesthetic of your TV. Since you’ll already be using a surround sound processor (like Anthem’s AVM 60 or Lyngdorf’s MP-50) and matching amps to power the soundbar, it’s not that difficult at all to add additional speakers now or down the road. You might want to add a couple of Leon’s Vault in-wall speakers near the back of the room for an elegant (and practically invisible) surround sound solution. You could also go one step further
and add two or four of the company’s Axis in-ceiling speakers for a complete Dolby Atmos speaker system, all without replacing the soundbar under your TV.
Granted, your system will start to get a little complicated to operate at this point, so you’ll likely want to add an advanced control system from one of the Big Three automation manufacturers—Control4, Savant, or Crestron—along with an accompanying remote control.
The Foundation of a Whole Home’s Worth of Music
If, on the other hand, you read all of the above and thought, “Nah, I’m shopping for soundbars because I want simplicity,” that doesn’t mean you’re totally cut off from future upgrades or expansions. With many luxury manufacturers—Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen, just to name two—the soundbar actually becomes the centerpiece of a wireless multiroom music-distribution system (think Sonos, just a lot fancier).
Andrew Robinson has already written extensively about his experience with B&W’s Formation Duo wireless speakers. The Formation Bar is part of that same line, which means you can not only link them together and share music in every room of the house at the touch of a button, but you can also mix and match components in the line. The same subwoofer Andrew used to augment his stereo speakers—dubbed the Formation Bass—can be paired with the Formation Bar to add a little extra kick to the bottom end.
What’s more, the Formation Flex—the smallest speaker in the Formation lineup—can be mated with the Formation Bar to create a complete surround sound setup without the need for any additional wires. Granted, it’s not as expandable as the surround sound configurations listed above, in that you can’t do Atmos or expand past 5.1 channels at all. But given the multiroom capabilities of the system, that may be a tradeoff worth you’re willing to make.
Putting It All Together
As you can see from all of the above, things start to get a little more complicated at this level, but not too much. So if you’re looking for a simple soundbar media room setup that’s a little more flexible and expandable than the system covered in our first post, you first need to decide whether you want to expand within the room you’re in or outward into the rest of the home.
If it’s the former, a top-tier OLED or LED TV plus a James Loudspeaker or Leon Speakers soundbar, paired with a good surround sound processor and amp, gives you plenty of room to add additional speakers as you see fit. Add an advanced control from the likes of Control4, Savant, or Crestron, and your movie nights will be better than ever.
If, on the other hand, multiroom music is more your speed, a good TV plus a Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bar and Formation Bass subwoofer (plus a couple of Formation Flex speakers, if you want surround sound) will not only elevate your movie-watching experience, but will also let you tap into one of the most sophisticated, stylish, and high-performance distributed-music systems on the market today.
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.