Steve Haas Tag

Every Room Deserves Great Acoustics

Every Room Deserves Great Acoustics

When most people think about good acoustics, the first area of a home that comes to mind is an entertainment room. The audio in this space should be pristine—from clear, intelligible dialogue to realistic, three-dimensional special effects. You feel as if you’re in the middle of the movie action, and proper acoustical engineering and treatment of the space contribute just as much as the equipment to delivering this experience. If the acoustics of the space are off, the listening experience will suffer.

 

To prevent this from happening, it’s important that a home theater include properly engineered and installed acoustics customized for the unique sonic attributes of the space. The floor, ceiling, walls, furnishings, etc. often require some level of modification to ensure that the movie audio sounds its very best, without reverberation, echo, or disruption from other sources of sound.

 

But why stop at the home theater? The same acoustical principles of a home theater can be applied in bedrooms, home offices, living rooms . . . really any space that suffers from unwanted external noise or acoustical conditions that conflict with the intelligibility of conversations. Just as a noisy heating and cooling unit can distract you from the plot of a movie, it can be a

literal nightmare when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep.

 

And that’s just brushing the surface of the annoying sounds that can plague a household. Homes of all sizes and designs can be affected by excessive noise, lack of sound privacy, and an abundance of sound propagation.

 

Think about the things you hear at home on a daily basis: A delivery truck backing out of a neighbor’s driveway, the lawn maintenance crew working at the park across the street, barking dogs, the thump of the home gym treadmill at 5 a.m., and the incessant beat of your son’s garage band are just some of the many examples. They all add up to a lot of racket—most of which you’d probably rather not hear or at least muffle a bit. An acoustical engineer can minimize these audible distractions from any area of the house—not just the home theater.

 

Years ago, all of this commotion may have fallen on deaf ears. Most people worked in an office outside of the home, went to the neighborhood cinema to catch a show, and worked out at the gym. Today, though, we are home a lot, 

using it for a myriad of activities besides just eating and sleeping. We work in home offices, exercise in home gyms, entertain in home theaters, dine in gourmet kitchens, and shop online—subject to all of the audible chaos in and around the home. We cringe when the kids arrive home during a conference call, cover our ears during our son’s gaming marathon, and wait until the baby wakes up from a nap to throw in a load of laundry. Noise can disrupt our lives in so many ways. Thankfully, proper acoustical treatments applied by a professional can help.

 

Often, the remedy necessitates a structural modification of the ceiling or walls. Most homes are built in a way that allows sound to easily transfer from one room to another. Sheetrock is attached directly to studs and joists, which allows sound to move from one material to the next, one room to another. Separating these surfaces through the addition of isolation clips and hangers mitigates the sound propagation. It’s an expense, certainly, and more easily implemented during the construction of a home, but there’s no better way to preserve your sleep and sanity.

 

Other, less extreme remedies to tame the propagation of sound throughout a home involve adding aesthetically pleasing sound absorption materials to a room, such as acoustical plaster on the ceiling surface, fabric on the walls, specialty ceiling tiles, and even furnishings. If it’s sound from outside that’s bothering you, thicker, double-pane windows and heavy draperies can help.

 

Sound quality has an impact on more than just our ability to become fully immersed in a movie. It’s part of our everyday life, in good ways and bad ways. We might like how our audio system sounds in our home theater, but we’d rather not hear it in the bedroom upstairs. The same goes for other noises. They’re a part of the house and our lifestyle, but left untreated, they can interfere with work, play, and even our health. A professionally trained and experienced acoustical engineer can make these issues disappear, creating a more peaceful and healthy home environment.

Steve Haas

Steve Haas is the Principal Consultant of SH Acoustics, with offices in the NYC & LA
areas. He has been a leading acoustic and audio design & calibration expert for more
than 25 years in high-end spaces ranging from home theaters, studios, and live music
rooms to major museums and performance venues.

Luxury Made Easy, Pt. 1

Cineluxe Showcase
THEATER PHOTOS BY Phillip Ennis

Legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis not only created the whole concept of home theater but has been the standard-bearer for luxury home cinema for his entire career. His two best-selling coffeetable booksPrivate Theaters and Great Escapesare filled with lavish theaters created in every imaginable style.

 

Seeing the interest in dedicated theater rooms decline over the past few years, Theo has helped form Rayva, a company devoted to dramatically simplifying the whole process of designing, engineering, and installing high-end theaters. Rayva recently completed a signature installation in Westchester County, north of New York City, that’s meant to show that the company’s streamlined approach to theater design can yield a luxury result.

 

In Part 1 of our interview, Theo talks about some of the challenges and triumphs of creating this strikingly contemporary space.

—Michael Gaughn

 

Did this begin as a Rayva theater?

 

No. The client saw a custom theater I had designed for a friend of his and said, “Let’s do something like that for my house.” I told him, “We can come up with something based on one of the designs we are developing for Rayva. There is one I think would fit your house very well.”

 

The room was above the garage, in a new space, and it was ready for the theater. But it was perforated with windows on three sides. So I said, “It’s not good to put a home theater in a room with windows.The light creates a problem, but more importantly, the sound will bounce off the glass of the windows.” He said, “I don’t mind if you cover the windows. It’s the garage. We don’t need to touch them from the outside. You can close them from inside.”

 

That was an interesting challenge. I wanted to cover the windows but I wanted the client to still be able to have access to them. So the windows dictated the design. And because Rayva panels are in increments of four feet, I could place one in front of a window and have it removable if access to the window was needed.

 

I felt very vindicated that this process we have developed allows even difficult rooms to become theaters. Because of the flexibility of our design elements, we can deal with difficult design challenges.

 

What were the client’s expectations for this room?

 

He just wanted to have a great theater. He said, “Cost is not the issue. I would just like to have the best technology, the best design, the best seats.” I shared with him brochures with Cineak seating. He selected one of the best-looking seats, and picked the finest leather. He wanted the softest, more plush leather, which is what he got.

 

And then we selected the carpet. Usually that happens at the end of the design process, and the clients are overwhelmed with all the expenses of equipment and woodwork and everything. So I automatically suggested just a plain grey industrial-quality nylon carpet that in a room like that would cost, at most, five, six thousand dollars. But I also showed him something that was plusher, like wool. He immediately went with the wool. He said, “Listen—I’m not going to use a nylon carpet. I spent so much money on the theater, I want the carpet to match the quality of the rest.”

 

I was trying to protect his budget, but clients who know what they want are different from clients who do things just because they want to save a penny here and a penny there. I respect how the former type of clients focus on the ultimate quality.

 

What was the installation process like for this theater?

 

Rayva doesn’t do the actual installation, so when we started the project, we reached out to Nick Di Clemente, the owner of Elevated Integration. When Nick introduced himself to the client, it turned out the client had additional needs. This was a newly renovated house and he needed whole-house audio. So Nick got the contract for the rest of the house, and he was happy about that.

 

What are some of the highlights of the theater?

 

The client selected our Origami design. The good thing about the triangles of the Origami design is that they allow flexible placement. We were able to use Wisdom Audio speakers—and there were lots of them and they’re big—without any conflicts with the room design.

 

This theater has a very different, outside-the-box design. In home theater, you expect to see columns and panels repeating themselves. You expect moldings that are gilded, and walls panels that are upholstered with brocade fabric. With Rayva, we tried to move away from that aesthetic because we wanted to change the perception of what a home theater looks like.

 

That’s why we bring in artists and architects that are not related to home theater to create the Rayva designs. With our guidance, their visions can be turned it into something that’s functional and can work with a variety of room sizes.

 

Also, this theater used acoustical treatments specified by Steve Haas’s company, SH Acoustics. Steve worked to get the best possible distribution of acoustical treatments within the limitations of the design. When the theater was finished, he spent two days calibrating the Wisdom Audio speakers and made the theater sound unbelievable.

Luxury Made Easy, Pt. 1

What was the client’s reaction to the theater?

 

The client is very happy. He told me that his kids practically live in that space.

 

Was there anything else you wanted to mention about the theater?

 

I want to tell you something. We put pictures of the theater on Houzz, where we can monitor which pictures resonate with end users. We were surprised to find out that we got a lot of likes for the interior of the theater but got more likes for the marquee outside. Go figure. I didn’t take that as an insult but as an indication that clients still relate to having a marquee outside the theater. So we will be creating a marquee as a Rayva product and make it available as an accessory to the theater.

In Part 2, Theo talks about how Rayva is ramping up to offer luxury theaters that can go from ordering
to installation in just a week.

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.

Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater designs to his credit. He is also an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo is the Executive Director of Rayva.

REVIEWS

Taylor Swift Reputation Stadium Tour
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
Venom
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

ALSO ON CINELUXE

Why You Have to Have Dolby Atmos
Luxury Made Easy, Pt. 2
The Rumors of the Death of Home Theater

CINELUXE SHOWCASE

Cineluxe Showcase: A Tribeca Trendsetter
The Cineluxe Hour

The Key to Home Theater Sound Quality–Pt. 2

home theater sound quality

In Pt. 1, I talked about how you can’t assume that something on a lossless source like a CD, DVD, Blu-ray Disc, or high-quality download will sound great just because it was recorded, mixed, and mastered by “name professionals.”

 

While I won’t publicly call out any aurally-disappointing disc titles out of respect for my colleagues in the recording industry, I did recently have an opportunity related to a friend who has grown into a world-famous Grammy-winning jazz vocalist but didn’t have a concert video yet. I encouraged him and his manager of the importance of not only having one but making sure the sound quality was top notch. (Of course, I told him I’d promote the heck out of it, if done well, in the world of CEDIA demo material.)

 

They agreed, and his label brought an A-list production team to the table to make the video during one of his concerts in Europe. When the time was right, the artist sent me the final edit of the surround mix to evaluate in some of my favorite local-area private theater rooms.

 

Much to my surprise (or maybe not), the balance between instruments was way off. Even more astounding, the editor had the same mono mix of all voices and instruments playing on the left, center, and right speakers! (Is this a new mode called Tri-ono?) No matter where you sat in the theater, the entire audio program was coming directly from the speaker in front of you, regardless of where the actual visual images of the voice and instruments were coming from!

 

Of course, I gave critical feedback to the production company, and the response I received from the lead engineer was:

 

My mix is essentially a 3.1 mix with some bled into the center speaker and the documentary
elements entirely in the centre speaker. This was deliberate, as 98% of people listen in their
living room on stereo or not well set up 5.1 systems and they will hear this mix as intended.
Those of us lucky enough to have full blown cinema rooms would possibly be better served
with a traditional 5.1 mix with the vocal in the centre speaker etc. as I would do if this were a
cinema release. The decision as to whether it should be a mix suitable for the majority or a
cinema-style mix I shall pass on to others. Happy to do either but would recommend the former.

 

This was the eureka moment that began to let me see first-hand just how disconnected the world of production can be from consumer audio. (I’m sure my video colleagues have many similar stories about video quality.) And why I always listen to new discs on known systems first, so I never have to wonder about the quality of what I’m evaluating.

 

Maybe it’s time we demand better recording/editing standardsespecially on consumer releases of media contentto ensure we all receive the best quality in our private theaters and listening environments.

—Steve Haas

Steve Haas is the Principal Consultant of SH Acoustics, with offices in the NYC & LA areas.
Steve has been a leading acoustic and audio design & calibration expert for over 25 years in
high-end spaces ranging from home theaters, studios, and live music rooms to major museums
and performance venues.

The Key to Home Theater Sound Quality–Pt. 1

Home Theater Sound Quality

You’re probably all thinking this is going to be another blog post about acoustics, right? Well . . . I guess it could be, but, no, we’ll have to save that for another entry.

 

There’s something beyond the room, the acoustics, the system, and the calibration that most people don’t realize can have a significant effect (positive or negative) on the experience of listening to music or movies in your theater—the quality of the source media itself!

 

While many people realize the compromised quality of compressed audio like MP3, the average consumer just assumes that a lossless source like a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray Disc must have the best tonal and level balances and spatial quality because it was recorded, mixed, and mastered by “name professionals.”

 

Most of the time, that’s true. But there are plenty of occasions where I’ve acquired a stack of new discs to try out on my reference system for my own listening/viewing pleasure and am incredibly surprised that the quality is all over the map. This seems to be especially true with concert videos, where the recordings of even well-known artists have turned out to be very underperforming when it comes to imaging, surround placement, noisiness, dialogue clarity, and other quality factors.

 

I’ve even been in the final stages of calibrating the audio of a theater and the client urges me to try out the concert-“X” Blu-ray that I’ve never listened to before. And after a few minutes of listening, we both sit there and look at each other in disbelief at how mediocre the system sounds. Fortunately, I know to quickly grab my Top 5 sound-quality reference movie and concert discs and play them so we can (hopefully) breathe a sigh of relief that everything is all good with the calibration and our ears!

 

In Pt. 2, I’ll tell the story of a Grammy-winning vocalist I know whose concert video didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.

—Steve Haas

Steve Haas is the Principal Consultant of SH Acoustics, with offices in the NYC & LA areas.
Steve has been a leading acoustic and audio design & calibration expert for over 25 years in
high-end spaces ranging from home theaters, studios, and live music rooms to major museums
and performance venues.