This is a featured article by: Stereophile Guide to Home Theater, January 1999.
E·vo·lu·tion·ary
ACHIEVEMENT

Story by Maureen C. Jenson
Photography by George Heinrich

A Canadian businessman builds the home theater of his dreams... for now


 
A contemporary stairway descends to the 18x29-foot basement level home theater, which was formerly a billiards room.
 

"This home theatre will never really be finished," says homeowner Mark, a Canadian businessman who prefers to remain on a first-name-only basis. "A system is an evolution. Our theater has changed immensely from what it was two years ago."

What Mark and Irene's home theater has evolved into is truly breathtaking. At the basement level of the house is an 18x29-foot space that was previously an unused billiards room. Over the past two years the space has undergone a transformation to exacting specifications, and now it houses some of the finest audio and video components made.

A contemporary stairway descends to the 18x29-foot basement level home theater, which was formerly a billiards room. Mark is a perfectionist, so he surrounded himself with professionals who understood his home-theater vision and shared his high standards. His interest was piqued when he heard the home-theater system of Andrew Lam, a designer who specializes in room acoustics. Lam's system has been designed by Dennis Penner of American Hi-Fi, who was subsequently contracted to install Mark's system.
"The three of us are a great team," Mark says. "When I went to Andrew's home and watched a movie in his home theater, I knew we were on the same wavelength, and I wanted him to design my own home theater." Lam has a wealth of design experience, including concert-hall design, and he firmly believes that even the greatest equipment can perform at its best only in a room that has been acoustically treated.

Enter please

As you stroll through the house with Mark, good design is apparent everywhere. "My wife, Irene, has a major impact on the colors and fabrics, and she did an excellent job." As you approach the theater, you see a glass wall and door, elements not normally associated with a room used as a playback environment. According to Lam, "The windows and door on the left side wall facing the screen were necessary because Mark and Irene didn't want the theater to resemble a cave."

 
 
The theater's main left and right channels are reproduced by a pair of Wilson Audio X-1 Grand SLAMM System II loud-speakers powered by a Krell FPB 600 stereo power amplifier. A Martin-Logon Logos center-channel speaker is attached to the ceiling; the Stewart StudioTek screen descends behind it.

Of course, doors and windows can leak sound; Lam chose a three-layer concept to address the problem. "Inside the theater, I used ¼-inch tempered glass sealed tight against a glazing stop. If sound leaks through the glass, it is partially absorbed by two inches of air space. Then there is a sealed. double-pane glass panel that's a total of ¾-inch thick, including an air space between the panes. This three-layered concept greatly reduces the sound energy escaping into the rest of the home. I put the thickest glass inside because when the system is pushing a lot of air, thin glass can vibrate, resulting in a rattling noise."

Over the glass, Lam installed doubled-layered, retractable vertical blinds. The top layer is a fabric material with PVC behind it. The blinds are concave and behave like diffusers; the curved portion bounces the sound back into the room. On the right wall facing the screen , a wedge-shaped bass trap gives the room a more balanced tone. "Both materials are soft, and the bass trap reduces the standing-wave problem because it is a wedge shape."

 
The theater's main left and right channels are reproduced by a pair of Wilson Audio X-1 Grand SLAMM System II loud-speakers powered by a Krell FPB 600 stereo power amplifier. A Martin-Logon Logos center-channel speaker is attached to the ceiling; the Stewart StudioTek screen descends behind it.
 

Let's talk system

From the moment you step inside, you realize that this is the home theater of a serious enthusiast. A pair of Wilson Audio X-1 Grand SLAMM System II speakers, placed 9 feet apart, flank a retractable Stewart StudioTek 130 80x45-inch Electrimask screen. A Martin-Logan Logos center-channel speaker is mounted on the ceiling above the screen, and Martin-Logan Stylos speakers attached to the side and rear walls provide surround sound. A Velodyne FSR-18 subwoofer provides additional deep-bass response.

Krell amplifiers drive all speakers, and the CD player is a Krell KPS-20i that incorporates a unique dual suspension system to isolate the transport from vibration. The Krell Audio+Video Standard surround processor/preamp includes Dolby Digital and DTS capabilities.

When asked why he chose Krell amps, Penner doesn't hesitate: "Krell makes the best amplifiers around in terms of speed of reaction, resolution, and detail, yet they don't sound clinical or harsh, like some solid-state amps do. They also have tremendous reserve power, which is important for movie soundtracks; you have high power demands if you're playing the system at realistic levels. In music, you get short peaks that require large amounts of power for a short duration, but on movies soundtracks, some of the explosions and other sounds go on for extended periods of time. You need large, continuous amounts of power for that.

 
 
The equipment rests on shelves along the left wall. Six custom speed-controlled fans built into the back of the shelves transfer heat into another room. Mark's home-theater system incorporates high-end components including a Krell Audio+Video Standard surround processor. Krell KPS-20i CD player, Faroudja DV-1000 DVD player and VP400A line quadrupler, EAD TheaterVision laserdisc transport, Sony R1000 S-VHS VCR, Nakamichi Dragon cassette deck, and Sequerra FM-1 tuner.
"Krell offers tremendous peak capability as well as lots of continuous-power capability. One of the ways you can gauge this is to look at an amp's power ratings into 8, 4 and 2W. Theoretically, the power rating should double every time the impedance goes down by half. In reality, though most amps cannot do that because their power supplies are limited. But Krell amps, particularly the Full Powered Balanced [FPB] series, are fully regulated from input to output. So the amp will always respond to the demand as long as you're able to feed it enough AC current."

The Wilson Grand SLAMM driver array consists of a 1-inch forward-firing tweeter, two 1-inch rear firing tweeters, two 6-inch mid-frequency drivers, a 12-inch woofer, and a 15-inch woofer. The massive system's frequency response is rated at 19.5 Hz - 22.5, +- 3 dB.

 
The Wilson Grand SLAMM driver array consists of a 1-inch forward-firing tweeter, two 1-inch rear firing tweeters, two 6-inch mid-frequency drivers, a 12-inch woofer, and a 15-inch woofer. The massive system's frequency response is rated at 19.5 Hz - 22.5, +- 3 dB.
 

A Krell FPB 600 amp supplies 600 Wpc to the Grand SLAMMs. Penner doubts if they ever use all 600W, but when they went from a 15-amp circuit to a separate 30-amp circuit just for the FPB 600, there was a noticeable improvement. "A second 30-amp circuit was also installed for future upgrades," Penner continues. "The side-and-rear channel Martin-Logan Stylos speakers are powered by two Krell KAV-250a stereo amps that are rated at 250 Wpc into 8Wand 500 Wpc into 4W. The Stylos is nominally rated at 6W, so there is no shortage of power here."

During one of the theater's recent upgrades, the Krell KAV-250a amp that had been powering the Martin-Logan Logos center-channel speaker was replaced by an FPB 250M. Even though it has the same power rating as the KAV-250a, the FPB 250M is a superior amplifier in the Full Powered Balanced series. "I've heard plenty of audiophiles say that the vacuum-tube equipment is more liquid and true to the music," Mark says, "but I disagree. You just can't beat a good solid state amplifier; it's more accurate and therefore more realistic."

To analyze the home theaters he designs, Penner uses a Goldline real-time analyzer connected to his computer, which offers measuring bands as fine as 1/12 octave from 800Hz down and 1/3 octave full-range. But an analysis of the theater is just a starting point. "The final, acid test is always in the listening," Penner says, "In Mark's system, there are no equalizers to change it. All we can do with his system is reposition the speakers. The Grand SLAMMs are actually in a fixed location and were tuned by Matt Tucker from Wilson Audio. They are in the ideal spot."

All the people involved in the design of this theater are enthusiastic proponents of high-end cable, and Straight Wire products were used throughout the system. According to Mark, there was a discernible difference in the sound quality after the cable had "burned in" over an extended listening period. (At the time of construction, 2-inch plastic conduit was used for all cable runs to allow for future additions and upgrades.) The video side of the system is just as impressive as its audio counterpart. A ceiling mounted Vidikron VPF-50HD video projector fires onto a Stewart StudioTek 130 screen from a distance of 12 ½ feet. The Vidikron is coupled with a Faroudja VP400A line quadrupler to provide film like quality. Source components such as Faroudja DV-1000 DVD transport, Enlightened Audio Designs (EAD) Theater Vision laserdisc transport, and Sony R1000 S-VHS VCR provide Mark with the best video reproduction money can buy.
 
 
The right wall of the theater supports a wedge-shaped bass trap. The ceiling features a curved treatment that offers both adsorption and diffusion similar to many professional concert halls.

"I have an outstanding array of components," Mark says with pride, "but if I had placed them in our living room, they would not have sounded as superb as they do in our home theater. What you do to improve the sound of a room acoustically is just an important as what you do electronically."

 
A pair of Martin-Logan Stylos electrostatic speaker reproduce rear-channel sound. Between them is a whisper-quiet Sanyo split-system air-conditioner over an 8-foot-long ART diffuser.
 

From basement to theater

The entry point of the theater--with its glass wall and door--could have been problematic. "Because the home theater was going to be in an existing basement space, we had lots of restrictions from the onset," Lam says.

"However, with the computer programs available today, there is no reason why any home theater cannot be designed with mathematical accuracy. In particular, I never want any two dimensions of the room to be equal, which can cause acoustical problems. “Supervision of the contracting team is also very important. When I’m building a home theater, I’m on the job site at least twice a day. I just can’t design a good theater and walk away from it hoping that my design specifications will be followed. I have to be diligent.

For Mark’s theater, I designed a sound-controlled room, not a room that is 100% soundproof. The sound transmission to other rooms is very low, even if we turn up the system to 99dB. The sound doesn’t leak through the walls or ceiling. Above the theater is the living room, so sound leakage could not be permitted. Lam had to design an attenuation-diffuser system in the ceiling not only to prevent sound leakage, but to provide more open sound. (The height from floor to ceiling is 9 feet.)

 
 
Shown here are the system's Goldmund Studio turntable. Krell FPB 250M monoblock amp (which powers the Martin-Logan Logos center-channel speaker), and two Krell KAV-205a stereo power amps (which drive the side and rear channel Martin-Logan Stylos speaker).

“As in many fine concert halls, I used a curved treatment that provides good sound diffusion and absorption. The finish is a special paint called Polomyx, which has thousands of tiny holes. Behind that is 4 inches of sound-absorbing insulation, then air space, aluminum sheeting, and another 8 inches of insulation. The metal sheeting is necessary because it is a very dense material, and it separates the floor joists for the from the insulation, which isolates sound transmission to the home theater.”

Because the theater was constructed within what had once been the basement, the walls were concrete. As a result, the front third of the room was treated with 3-inch-thick, fabric-covered Fiberglas absorptive panels, locally manufactured by Sound Concepts. As you face the screen, the right wall has three Acoustic Wedge bass traps by Systems Design Group (SDG) that weak measure 46 inches in length.

The rear wall is treated with ART Diffusors, which are also manufactured by SDG. These diffusers protrude 9 inches from the wall and are made of rigid 15x15-inch polyurethane panels. The nearly 8-foot-long diffuser takes up very little space, yet it distributes sound evenly throughout the theater.

“I tuned the room as neutral as possible so the wall reflections could not color the sound,” Lam says. “I basically eliminated the room’s parallel surfaces, minimizing the standing-wave problem. The walls and ceiling fan out from the front of the room to the back; the ceiling gas a 3-degree upward incline like a concert hall. This helps make the sound open and transparent”.

Heating up

One of the main problems in a dedicated home theater is often the ventilation. When you have a projector, several amplifiers, and a few people drinking and chatting, it takes only a few minutes for a home theater to heat up unbearable, and heat could have been a major problem in this room. Lam used a “split-system” air conditioner by Sanyo on the rear wall just above the diffuser. (In a split-system air-conditioner, the compressor and fan are separate, which allows them to be placed in separate locations to minimize noise.)

 
Reveling in Mark's home theater are Dennis Penner of American Hi-Fi (seated in front row), Designer Andrew Lam, and homeowner Mark (holding the dog, Winston).
 

“This unit is highly recommended for any application where extraneous noise would be a problem, because the compressor is mounted externally. It cools the room very quickly. and I have seen it used in many hi-fi stores in Hong Kong. Keeping the room comfortable is not only for the guests; it also helps keep the equipment working at peak performance.

Lam provided another cooling system behind the main shelves of components. Six 4-inch silent fans were installed behind the equipment rack to exhaust heated air from the equipment into another room. “My design is not like some you see, where you but and equipment rack, close it off, and put a fan in it. In addition to the fans behind the equipment rack, I also installed two ceiling fans over the main Krell 600 amp at the front of the theater; they pull the heat upward and out of the room, And all the ductwork in the theater had to be treated with particular care every inch had to be acoustically insulated. If you gave any frequency going into a metal duct, it’s going to ring like a bell.”

 
 
Designer Lam had a doubled-layered retractable vertical blinds installed over the glass windows and door on the left side of the theater. The curved blinds are said to behave like diffusers.

Penner designed a unique speed control for the fans. A microphone monitors the sound level in the room; as the sound level increases, an automatic gain circuit increases the voltage to the fans, making them rotate faster. With all these fans in motion, you might wonder whether they add extraneous noise to the space.
“The NC [Noise Criterion] level of the theater is 38 dB to 40 dB, which means it is very quit,” says Lam. “Additional ventilation was needed because the moisture coming up from the concrete slab. If wood sits directly on the slab, it will eventually rot. So there are 2-inches of cross-ventilation space between the slab and flooring for that crucial air movement.

“The rise that gold the second tier of seating is insulated, like all the enclosed air spaces in the room. If we hadn’t insulated the rise, you would have heard a rumbling sound any time anyone walked on it. The riser is constructed of 2x6-inch framing and tongue-and-grove plywood, and it’s anchored to the concrete floor with glue and wood-based screws—again, to have as little sound as possible hitting a surface that would produce a ringing effect. Under the nosing of the riser step is a 15-foot, 8-inch continuous strip of low-voltage lighting to assist guests moving about in the darkened theater.”

 
A firm believer in premium wire and cable, the homeowner used Straight Wire and MIT cables throughout the home theater. Straight Wire Cresendo interconnects are paired with the KRell FPB 600 amp to power the Grand SLAMMs
 

Dedicated theater seating was selected after Mark and Irene saw Acoustic Innovations recliners with built-in cup-holders. The seven incredibly comfortable seats are offset from each other to eliminate sightline obstructions. (The front row of chairs is 14-feet from the screen.) “In a good concert hall, they cover every chair with a sound-absorbing material. If a chair is empty, that seat must react with the theater as if a sound-absorbing body was sitting in it,” Lam says.

Serious consideration was also given to the carpeting for the theater. Lam chose a very-high-density material that actually incorporates static control. “In Canada, we have to use a lot of heat, and the house gets very dry, so when you touch the equipment, there’s a spark problem. The fir in the carpet itself has a grounding system; each loop of carpet contains a grounding fiber. It helps eliminate friction, giving you minimum static, which is perfect for colder climates.”

Whether it’s cold or warm in their Canadian homeland, Mark and Irene derive tremendous pleasure from their home theater, enjoying everything from film classics such as Some Like it Hot to Elton John concert performances. When it’s time for music only, their eclectic tastes range from symphonies to rock ‘n roll. “A symphony really shows off what the system can do,” Mark says. “A symphony really runs the gamut.”

Their love of music and movies is not eclipsed by the home theater’s work-oriented duties. “I follow the stock market very closely,” says Mark. “With the Vidikron VPF-50HD projector, I can use my computer if I want to work down in the theater and see my spreadsheets on the screen. But it’s even more pun to watch CNBC to see how the markets are fluctuating on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. There’s nothing more exciting than watching the real life drama of fortunes being made and lost on an 80-inch screen.”




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Gear Guide
Video Sources

Faroudja DV-1000 DVD Player
Enlightened Audio Designs Theater Vison Transport
Sony R1000 S-VHS VCR

Audio Sources
Goldmund Stereo turntable
Goldmund T3F (RO) tonearm
Rowland Complement phone cartridge
Nakamichi Dragon cassette deck
Sequerra FM-1 tuner
Krell KPS-20i CD player
Genesis Digital Lens digial audio processor

Display
Vidikron VPF-50HD projector
Faroudja VP400A line quadrupler
Stewart Studiotek 130 (1.3 gain) 80” x 45” Electrimask screen

Preamps/Processors
Krell Audio+Video Standard surround processor/preamp
Krell KPE Reference phono stage
Krell KPA power supply for KPE

Power Amps
Krell FPB 600 stereo amp for front left/right channels
Krell FPB 250M mono amp for center channel
Krell KAV-250a stereo amps (2) for side and rear channels

Speakers
Wilson Audio X-1 Grand SLAMM System II front right and left
Martin-Logan Logos center channel
Martin-Logan Stylos side and rear channels (2 pairs)
Velodyne FSR-18 subwoofer

Cables
Straight Wire Crescendo, Maestro, Rhapsody, Encore, Chorus interconnects
Straight Wire Infolink, Silverlik video cables
Straight Wire Infolink digital bacles
Straight Wire Maestro, Rhapsody speaker cables
MIT speaker cable, interconnects
Cables terminated with WBT, MIT, and Neutrik connectors

Misc.
Bedini UltraClarifier CD enhancer
Sound Anchors amplifier stand
Teknasonic vibration-reducing component platform
Lexicon 500T touchscreen remote control
Custom-designed speed-control system for whisperfan cooling system


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TOLL FREE 1-888-503-1133 | Fax: (204) 943-5954 | info@americanhifi.com