Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Techie's Dream Cinema - CEDIA 2016 Design Awards Winner

The life of an audiophile is driven by a relentless and unending pursuit of the idealized audio experience and the feeling of being transported to concert venues all over the world at the hit of the Play button. Sometimes this hobby also consumes the family living quarters and clutters them with large equipment, unsightly wiring, and seating arrangements that aren’t conducive to afternoon tea.
A living room in a luxurious Tuscan-style Southern California home was to be converted into a dedicated listening room and home cinema for an uncompromising audiophile client. It houses a concealed set of large Wisdom Audio LS4 speakers, matches the classical interiors of the residence, and serves as a soundproofed retreat. Exceptional picture quality with 4k UHD resolution and 2.35:1 projection screen, Dolby Atmos immersive audio playback, and fully integrated automation for access to the extensive collection of jazz, classical, and rock music, complement the stellar audio-video package.
Our client tried on his own to reach his dreams of audio excellence, swapping out several brands and models of speakers and amps, adding in tuning accessories, ultra-premium cabling, acoustical modules, changing rooms, and eventually throwing his hands up. When he reached out to our team, it was clear that he wanted it all: top-of-the-line audiophile sound; fully concealed loudspeakers that would give him back the beautiful ocean view from his living room window and the rustic Italian d├ęcor that permeates the whole residence; integrated and simple control; home theater functions with UHD video and Atmos immersive sound.
Our mission was to design and engineer an environment that could support and enhance the very sophisticated audiophile audio system, and instantly switch to movie studio-grade AV performance. The client wanted to spend a lot of time enjoying his passion for music and films, so the interior feel had to be comfortable and warm.
The project started with extensive engineering and planning six months before construction until all elements were carefully thought through. First off, the room itself was engineered for the right sound isolation and for interior acoustical sound reflection optimization. The room was closed off from the dining area with a resilient staggered stud sound isolation wall structure in the original archway. A front soffit system was built into the coffered ceiling in order to conceal the motorized screen and ductwork. We established the idealized speaker locations using computer modeling during the engineering phase and confirmed the locations of the front speakers and subwoofer with in-situ testing.
The theater was built as a remodel of this one wing of the home, and we had to do a lot of discovery and demolition to determine all the design and engineering parameters and specifications. Pre-wire from the equipment room to all the speakers had to include control of sound isolation leaks, vibration and rattles, and timing logistics. The project required some creative thinking from all in the team to figure out how to incorporate the drop down screen, conceal all the speakers, and apply acoustical tuning where there wasn’t stretched fabric. The front and back sections of the coffered ceiling were re-dimensioned so as to incorporate the screen mechanisms. A wideband absorber placed in front of the fireplace hearth is in fact dressed up as a fire screen. Artwork over the fireplace is in fact a LivingSound absorber module with custom artwork printing.
Aesthetic integration created the usual challenges for speaker placements, acoustical materials placements, etc. But the largest issue in this project was that the orientation of the room prevented easy integration of a Center speaker. The client wanted to be able to look out at the view at the front of the room between the Left and Right speakers, when listening to music. Also, the client picked a very large and effective speaker system, and concealing was tricky. We formulated the idea of recessing the L/R speakers in coves carved into the wall structures lateral to the large sliding glass doors. With proper baffling, acoustical damping of the cove surfaces, and carful tuning, we were able to achieve audiophile sound out of the pair of speakers, despite their location. Also, we were able to achieve a soundstage with a solid phantom center sound character and wide enough sweet spot, so as to forego the use of a Center speaker. We did prewire for a motorized unit in case it is decided to add it in per the plans.
The engineering team then specified a Dolby Atmos 6.4.2 speaker package, with large planar array LR speakers concealed behind stretched fabric coves flanking the acoustically transparent screen. The surround array consists of matched Side speakers along the lateral walls, two matching Back speakers, and four matching Top speakers to complete the immersive effect. Four highly efficient yet compact subwoofers were laid out in the Welti "four corner” configuration for smoothest response and maximum gain.
The display system features a 4K projector along with an acoustically transparent 2.35:1 screen. The projector was picked for appropriate light output and picture quality. The speaker package features a pair of large planar magnetic Wisdom Audio LS4 speakers, carefully integrated into acoustically damped coves and toed in for best imaging results. The speaker coves were essentially “carved out” of the false walls originally built out for the sliding section patio door system. We blocked out a portion of the slider travel limits, and appropriated the resulting space for the L/R speaker coves. A drop-down center speaker was planned into the design, and it was agreed that the client would first evaluate if he was happy enough with the phantom center character of the Wisdom LS4 speaker pair.
A Dimension4 Sonata acoustical tuning package was engineered, with the goal of achieving a target reflection decay time of 0.3 seconds across the audio spectrum - including appropriate 2D and 3D diffusion in the 500 Hz to  5 kHz region.
In this industry we often cater to clients that want nice audio and video, and understand the value of hiring a boutique operation. However, they don’t often have a reference of what is high performance sound or picture. So it is a thrill to work for real enthusiasts, and watch them be amazed at results that are so far beyond what they had ever expected.

The client now has a home cinema and audiophile listening room that rivals the best in the world and spends several hours a week enjoying it. He was so happy with the outcome, that he invited us to stay for an enjoyable evening of music listening paired with fine wines. Yum!

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