Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Subs

When I started the theater project I was hell bent for leather to have the biggest, baddest subwoofer setup know to man. More bass than one could use, with subwoofers just loafing along. Remember my post on being obsessive? I like bass and it’s a critical element to a successful home theater. But not too much and never over bearing. As in a good music system, subwoofers should be felt and add to the music or film, never show themselves or point out their location. That’s sometimes hard to do and my initial thought was to populate the front of the theater with a horizontal array of woofers. Three in fact, 15″ each. The spread should help with room modes and simply overpower any issues I might have.

When we built the theater it turned out there was not enough room in the screen wall to place the subs so they might be flush with the screen, protruding out the back wall and into the garage. Turns out we unexpectedly ran into a damn fireplace the previous owners of my new, old, house had covered up. When we pulled the drywall off what we thought to be the dividing wall between the garage and the basement where the theater was to go, surprise! An ancient fireplace that wasn’t going anywhere. Here’s a picture of what we ran into.

You can see the problem. To solve this we decided we’d have to built a forward facing horizontal box to hide and house the subwoofers, which we did. Since the custom subs I contemplated using had yet to arrive when we finished the theater and wanted to try it out, I grabbed one of my favorites, the REL T9 which REL head John Hunter had sent me to try. Turns out the REL, a mere 10″ subwoofer, kicks butt big time. It’s wonderful and I question whether I need more. On my list is to bug John for a couple more just to be on the good side. REL is still by far my favorite subwoofer.

You can see the theater screen and room in this next picture. The long black box below the screen is the subwoofer enclosure we built to house many more subs than a single 10, but hey, there’s room to grow. Note the windows have fancy shades, called cardboard. Hopefully in time we can do better.

Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Sidewalls

One of my goals in the theater project was to not see the speakers in the room. Why? I want to see the movie, not the speakers. I have never been a fan of walking into a cool looking theater and seeing, in the front, a center channel flanked by a left and right floor stander on either side of the screen. Just not what I would want in my home. Speakers in the theater should be heard, not seen. Movies are to see.

I succeeded in this goal for 9.1 of the 11.1 speakers. For the rear channels I used Golden Ear Invisa 525 mounted on the rear wall. You can see what they look like in this photo.

Thier grills are painted and appear as small same-colored discs on either side of the gear door. You just never see them.
The two speakers I could not bring myself to put in the wall are the side surround speakers. These turn out to be quite important and here I wanted to match the ribbons of the BG Radias I have in the front, and behind the screen, of the theater. There simply are not many ribbon surround speakers that adhere to our old friend Tomlinson Holman’s requirements (of Apt Holman fame), known to most people in recent decades by his more famous acronym THX. THX requires the drivers to be proud mounted on wall and pointing at angles away from the listener. For this task I turned to our old friend Bob Carver and his ribbon based Sunfire Cinema Ribbon Bi-Pole surround.

These are a bit on the expensive side but worth every penny from what I hear.

This is what they look like installed in the theater.

Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Full range

In yesterday’s post I recommended treating all speakers in a theater setting as full range. Several readers objected, one suggested my choice of BR Radia was not full range. I think I must have done a poor job of explaining what I meant. Let me try again.

Very few speakers are actually full range. The IRSV in Music Room One are full range. The standard floor standing loudspeakers are not, unless they too have a built in subwoofer that works as well. So let’s dispel with the idea that you should only install ‘full range’ loudspeakers in your home theater or music room. They are rare enough that would be difficult. And yes, I know most speaker manufacturers would have you believe their products are full range – and I would argue they are not – so let us agree it is a matter of definitions. We can bring up the old subwoofer-needed debate again at a later date.

Here’s the deal. Imagine purchasing a pair of bookshelf speakers and connecting them to your system’s power amplifier. You play them, they sound great. Full range? Certainly not. No bookshelf speaker can be considered truly full range with a small 6.5″ driver. We know this and there can be little argument. They are physically too small to even look full range. But now that they are connected to your system and playing, should you then purchase an equalizer, place it before your power amplifier in an effort to remove those bass frequencies your bookshelf speaker cannot and is not reproducing? After all, you are sending that speaker signals from your amplifier it cannot reproduce. They are being wasted.

There are those who would recommend this. The logic being that if you rolloff (remove) the bass frequencies your bookshelf or in-wall speaker cannot reproduce, it will be happier than having to struggle with them. I would not be among those making such suggestions. The vast, vast majority of loudspeakers built by responsible designers have this all figured out for you. They account for the fact you will be feeding their product a full range signal, complete with low frequencies the speaker cannot handle.

Inside each loudspeaker is a crossover. The crossover, if properly designed, fits perfectly the speaker’s needs for reproducing what it is capable of, and rejecting that which it cannot. The filter is built in. That’s how they work.

My point in yesterday’s post was simple. I recommend running any loudspeaker you might wish to use in your home theater setup full range. This means in the receiver configuration you choose large, for the speaker size, even if your speaker is small. Most loudspeakers do not require the addition of a separate rolloff supplied by an AV receiver.

I know this stirs controversy. So here’s my suggestion. Try it both ways. It’s always a good idea to trust what you hear.
Let us know.

Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Obsessive

When I started the theater project I had intended just a 7.1 surround system. After all, 80% of movies are recorded with the standard 5.1 system, the balance at 7.1, so why go to something exotic? The answer is simple. I, like many of my readers, am obsessive. Not all of us own up to being such, but I am finally at peace with it. Enjoying it actually. So what does obsessive look like? Dolby Atmos; instead of 5.1 or 7.1, we now have to have 11.1. A speaker and amp manufacturer’s best dreams come true.
But what of it? Where do these extra speakers go? In the ceiling for height affects. And the number of films with these heigh effects are… nearly none. Maybe some day. Obsessive. Ok, the Marantz prepro I bought, the 8802, has the ability to synthesize them if you want to drop another $350 for a software upgrade; which I did. Obsessive. And I have now heard these ceiling speakers in use perhaps twice in the ten or so movies I have watched since the theater went in.

For the task of adding speakers to the ceiling, I turned to Sandy Gross and he recommended the Golden Ear Invista HTR 7000. These gems are cool. In wall speakers that can be aimed at the listener and have the ability to play full range. Something I like very much.

To install these bad boys, my designer, Robert, went to some great lengths at making special boxes between the ceiling joists. Here’s what he did to get these installed. Note how the ‘walls’ he created for each of the speakers are angled? This is an attempt to rid the box of any parallel surfaces. Of course, you can’t get them all out, but this is a noble attempt at perfection. Or is it obsession?

Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Speaker menagerie

My home theater, which we have been discussing as of late, has a pretty eclectic mix of loudspeakers to make it sound and work the way I want. I chose this arrangement with great purpose. Many people believe it is critical to have exactly the same loudspeaker type, or at least from the same manufacturer, in every location a speaker is installed within the home theater. I am not one of those. Further, I never set the surround processor to anything other than full range for every speaker in the system. I choose, instead, to design the system such that the very best devices are used for the intended purpose. The center channel, for example, has a job to do that is very much different than that of the surround speaker. Thus, making sure the center is from the same manufacturer as the surround makes little sense unless that manufacturer really has each of them perfected. I have found no such manufacturer to date. Better, IMHO, to choose that which works best for the given purpose, adjust around those choices. And do not choose loudspeakers that cannot be fed a full range signal. The surround processor is a poor place to add a speaker roll off.

For the front three loudspeakers, left, center and right, I chose a ribbon based loudspeaker. The BG Radia SA-320 was what I wound up with. I have used these in an experimental loudspeaker I worked on and loved the way they sounded: quick, full, lifelike, non-directional. As a ribbon, their speed is hard to beat and my thought was I want clarity, non-fatiguing sound and the ability for the device to disappear above all else. Further, whatever I chose had to be an in-wall design as I have extremely limited space and did not want to chew up any room size.

To install these loudspeakers, my designer, Robert, built specially constructed in wall cavities. He slightly toed in the left and right to aim better at the center position, the center speaker itself of course pointing straight ahead.

Here’s some shots of how he built these speakers into the walls. Note the pains taken to get the rear of the speaker damped properly, important in this type of speaker. Tomorrow I’ll share the others.

Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Different options

In yesterdays post Breakout I discussed my decision to jailbreak an Apple TV to make an easy to use movie server similar to what Kaliedescape does. The reasons are rather simple. The idea of being able to scroll through ones library of movies, vs. having to go to the local video store to rent (are there any left?), renting online from the very limited selections available through most services, isn’t very appealing to me. I like the idea of scrolling through movie cover art and this hacked solution does the job, although it’s a real pain to make it all work.

Several of my readers made suggestions of other solutions that I find quite appealing. One such suggestion is called Plex. I had never heard of Plex until yesterday, and what little I now know of it has me intrigued and ready to sell my ATV. Plex is firmware that runs on any number of devices. In my case, Plex is available on two of the devices I use for streaming: the Roku player and the Amazon Firestick. Between the two I prefer the Amazon product. It’s less expensive at $39 and the video quality is slightly better than that of the Roku device.

Using either, you can purchase Plex for $5, install it as an app, and connect with your hard drive full of movies. At least that’s what it appears to look like. I believe you also need to signup for their monthly service, or purchase a membership for $150. I haven’t found all the details yet but it’s very intriguing. I’ll keep you informed as to my progress with this software, but my little ATV might just be for sale.

I might mention that one of the great joys of investing the time and energy to write these daily posts is in the feedback and learning I get from my readers. Had I never written about the theater and shared my experiences, I perhaps would never know of Plex or, for that matter, a number of other things I have learned from you.

Thank you for sharing.

Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Breakout

I have a lot of DVDs amassed over the years on hard drives. In fact, several terabytes of DVDs. How to make them accessible, playable, easy to select, with cover art and bio information? If you look around, there aren’t that many options. I suppose one could build a Windows or Mac based video server, and many people with more knowledge, time and savvy than me probably have. But for my home theater I wanted easy, reliable, low cost. And even if I had wanted to, I would have been thwarted. I don’t permit Microsoft computers in my home. Not that I don’t like them (I don’t), it’s just that after years of being a Mac guy I doubt I could even run one, let alone build a server. And Mac is out of the question because of their silly walled garden approach to movies. If it ain’t ripped as a Mac acceptable movie, and none of mine are, Macs won’t even recognize them. What to do?

My good friend Doug answered the question for me. A series II Apple TV would be perfect. When first given this advice I immediately put up resistance, for the Apple TV won’t play ripped DVDs unless you first convert them to an Apple acceptable format. No problem said my friend, just jailbreak it and load new firmware. Huh? Turns out, the version II of the little $99 ATV from Apple is a hot commodity. No longer in production, this little gem sells for $300 to $400 on the used market because it is the only model that can be broken into and third party software installed. The newer Version III hasn’t been hacked yet. And what’s getting into its operating system do for you? It allows you to load third party software, like Infuse (which is also available as a bonafide Apple app). The third party software includes this special version of Infuse, an app that is a video player that can play DVDs ripped to a hard drive. No longer are you restricted to the M4 Quicktime formats Apple insists on. The Infuse program, installed on a series II ATV also goes out and locates cover art, meta data and the look and feel is exactly the same as the standard GUI on the ATV. So you scroll through the hundreds of video title covers, select one and it fetches all the data about that movie for you. Wanna watch it? Just touch play and it streams. Beautiful. It is a perfectly legal thing to do (at least in the United States). if you’re thinking of copying what I did, make sure it’s legal in your country.

The ATV sits in the gear rack, connected to my home network over Cat 5. In my littler home office sits the USB hard drive. I am currently just connecting it to an old Mac Mini I had retired and the ATV simply sees that device over the network and connects.

Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

The rest of the story

In yesterday’s post I showed you a picture of the home theater rack and described the two P10 Power Plants and the two Emotiva multi-channel power amps driving the system. Today let’s continue filling in the blanks. The main processor for the system is the surprisingly affordable and spectacularly good Marantz AV8802 Prepro. The new 8802 has fully balanced outputs, discrete electronics for each of its 11 channels of audio and really good processing. It’s a great match for the Emotiva amps and was recommended to me by their designer, Dan Laufman. Dan’s got an ear for such things and his recommendation is spot on.

Of course I went with the Oppo 103D BluRay player, there really aren’t any better choices I would consider. This is a great player and it too is affordable. I don’t have that many BluRays, and only a handful of DVDs to play, so the Oppo doesn’t get too much use. One of the first BluRays I purchased was the Director’s cut version of Avatar. In the opening sequence, before they land on Pandora, the shot of the spaceship with the planet reflected in its solar panels is nothing short of breathtaking. I do not run the BluRay through the Marantz video processor. At the insistence of my designer, Robert Dreher, the HDMI output of the Oppo is fed directly into the projector, a JVC DLA X700R 4K. The JVC has two HDMI inputs and the URC wireless remote control system we installed automatically selects the appropriate inputs. We went with the JVC for its stunning black levels and picture quality. And it was a great decision.

Most of my sources, however, are not so spectacular. Over the years I’ve amassed a nice collection of ripped DVD movies that populate my hard drives. Playing them back has always been a challenge, not so much the playing of them but the equipment to select them and make it easy. One of the promises I made to Terri when the theater was installed was how easy it would be to operate, unlike every other TV contraption we’ve managed to have with multiple remote controls. How then to view and stream movies easily?

That’s tomorrow’s subject.

Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Nice rack!

I thought it might be interesting to describe a little about the theater we just finished building and what is in it. Here’s a picture of the rack with the equipment inside.

The first thing you’ll notice is the two P10 Power Plants on the bottom. I probably should have gotten black ones but I just so love the silver of our equipment… Besides, the rack sits in a closet at the rear of the theater with a door to isolate it from the room. The projector, which I’ll show you in another post, is housed in a custom-built box with its own ventilation system to cool it as well as a piece of optical glass on the front to isolate the noise. I simply cannot stand the noise these projectors make or, for that matter, anything but dead quiet. My designer, Robert, figured the entire quiet enclosure out and it works well. Dead quiet.

Moving up from the two P10s, which power the entire system, including the projector, I have a 7-channel and a 5-channel Emotiva power amplifier for a total of 12 channels. I have this many because we went with the new Dolby Atmos setup, so the height channels would be included. I am a little dubious about having done this, since nearly nothing has any height information and aside from the demo disc, I have never actually heard them in use. But, you know me, gotta have the latest greatest. Besides, someday there will be lots of movies with the height channel, or so I am told.

The Emotivas are designed and built by my friend Dan Laufman, an Audiophile and talented circuit designer. After spending years listening to great sound in the Music Rooms of PS Audio, the last thing I want is brightness to the sound of my theater. In my experience, and after having listened to many a bright theater, the class D amplifiers built into modern receivers suck. They are bright, harsh, and makes you want to simply turn them down. I can always spot their sound. They drive me from the room. No, unless you go with excellent Class D amps like those some our fellow high end designers have created, you’re better off with a classic A/B design like the Emotivas. And the Emotivas are a bloody bargain! Sound wise? Oh my gosh, I have the sweetest, best sounding theater I have yet heard. Not a vestige of harshness to be heard.

Terri and I watched the King’s Speech last night and the soundtrack was just extraordinary in DTS.

More tomorrow.

Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

My basement

I haven’t yet figured out what we’ll talk about next and in the meantime several of you have been asking about my home theater project. I’ll give you an update of what I’ve got going.

The good news is we’re watching movies on the screen. Amazing. In all the decades I have been playing with high-end audio and been in the industry I have never had a dedicated room in my home for anything. And now, I have a home theater, in a dedicated room, with a popcorn machine my son gave us for Christmas.

In a previous post I included the room dimensions and layout. I’ll maybe spend a few days telling you what we wound up with and why. Then we get get back to learnin’ stuff!

I designed this theater in concert with my friend Robert Dreher who made it all happen. The basic idea was to build a room in the basement of our home that could hold four to five people but be super comfortable with just the two of us. Neither Terri nor I like the theater seating style of theater. We prefer a couch where we can just curl up and watch a film. Neither of us really wanted this to even look like a theater. While I appreciate the grand theaters some people have in their homes, they just seem a little cold and intimidating to us. We wanted friendly, warm and inviting. Hell, we both would have added a fireplace if we could have…

The other goal was to recreate sound in the same manner a big theater does. That involves an acoustically transparent screen with the left, center and right loudspeakers behind the screen. The advantages are obvious. When the actor speaks a line on screen it sounds like it’s coming from him. In fact, it is. The downside is a slight loss in screen brightness and a supposed loss in audio fidelity, since the sound has to pass through a screen. I was warned, multiple times and by those in the know, not to go this way. Balderdash! Turns out I was right. The picture we have is simply stunning, the sound amazing. Best theater experience I have yet enjoyed, and I have seen a lot of theaters.

Tomorrow I’ll describe the setup for those of you interested in such things.