soundbars Tag

Expandable Media Room Systems

Expandable Media Room Systems
The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms

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

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.

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

photo by John Frattasi

It’s easy to think of a media room as a low-performance or “good enough” entertainment space with a cheap TV and a Best Buy soundbar—a sort of glorified version of the old family den or man cave. To put it another way, there’s this pervasive notion that to enjoy movies at home to the fullest, you need to either install a dedicated home theater or you can settle for 

second best.

 

That doesn’t have to be the case, though. As I’ve argued plenty of times in the pages of Cineluxe, you can actually build a high-quality media room space that legitimately qualifies as a home cinema experience. If you have a home office, master bedroom, kids room, or communal living space that you want to upgrade into a fantastic moving-watching space, you can totally do that.

 

 

In our ongoing Cineluxe Basics series, I’ve covered all of the things you need to keep in mind when doing so, but those articles deconstruct the modern media room a piece at a time, i.e., what you should think about when picking a TV and what you need to know about surround sound preamps. They don’t really give you a holistic overview of what a complete media room system looks like. So, if you’re looking to convert your home office or kids’ room into a top-notch movie-watching space for the entire family without ripping out all of the walls and starting from scratch, you may be left wondering how far you need to go.

That’s where this new series comes in. Over the next few posts, I’ll be painting a picture of what a complete media room system looks like in terms of electronics, starting with the simplest of all high-performance luxury media room systems. In other words, a system that will have minimal impact on your décor, but maximal impact on your movie-watching enjoyment. And despite the pithy intro, I think a great TV and a really high-end soundbar is a great basis for such an essential system.

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics
WHAT KIND OF TV, EXACTLY?

That depends, really. We at Cineluxe consider home cinema to be a shared experience, so we think any good media room display should be big enough to give at least two people a viewing angle of 40 to 45 degrees. So, if you’ll just be watching your movies with your significant other, and assuming you’ll be sitting no further than six or seven feet from the screen, a 75-inch TV should be sufficient. If you have more viewers on a regular basis or you sit further away, it’s probably better to upgrade to an 85- or even 98-inch class display.

 

Splitting the difference, we think something like Sony’s Z9G Master Series 8K LED TV is a good recommendation. In terms of technology, it’s ahead of the curve. In terms of design, it’s the leader of the pack, and with its built-in Android TV operating 

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

the Kaleidescape Strato S movie player

system, the only source device you’ll really need for a complete luxury entertainment system is a Kaleidescape movie player.

 

Of course, your local integrator may not be a Sony dealer, but if not, chances are good they sell 

LG instead, whose Signature Z9 88-inch OLED is a step up in terms of design and technology, but also a big step up in price.

 

 

IS A SOUNDBAR REALLY ENOUGH?

There’s this pervasive myth that soundbars are nothing more than a compromise for people on a budget looking for a down-and-dirty surround sound solution. And that’s still largely true in the $200-and-below range. But these days, there are any number of truly high-performance soundbars that can deliver shockingly good sound.

 

If you’re simply looking for big, room-filling, impactful Dolby Atmos/DTS:X surround sound without running wires through the walls or around the perimeter of the room, Sennheiser has been turning heads in recent months with its new Ambeo Soundbar, an all-in-one sound solution that delivers 5.1.4-channel audio for $2,499. You might consider adding a subwoofer 

to the mix if you just can’t abide anything less than the deepest, hardest-hitting bass, but it’s not necessary. And if your local integrator doesn’t carry the Ambeo, the Yamaha YSP-5600 and Sony HT-ST5000 soundbars also deliver cinematic sound in a simple package. (Although, to be fair, neither of those is quite as technologically advanced as the Sennheiser.)

 

Luxury speaker manufacturers like James

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

the Leon Speakers Horizon soundbar

Loudspeaker and Leon Speakers also make some truly gorgeous soundbars that, in some cases, can even be custom-made to perfectly match the width of your TV. They may be a little more complicated to set up, since they do require amplification, but if utter aesthetic sophistication is important to you, they’re definitely worth a look.

 

In my next post, I’ll start digging into what a slightly more elaborate—and indeed expandable—media room system looks like. But if you’re just looking for the basics, and if you’re looking to minimize the disruption to your design aesthetic, the Sony Z9G Master Series paired with a Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar and a Kaleidescape movie player, properly installed and calibrated, will give you one heck of a movie-watching experience at home.

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.