It’s easy to browse through galleries of gorgeous home theaters and convince yourself that you need to have that 150-inch projection screen for the ultimate viewing experience. Although photos can provide inspiration to let your imagine run wild with the possibilities for your dream theater, they can’t really give you a complete picture, so to speak. That’s because, as some experts will stress, half the home theater experience comes from audio.
Audio performance is a big part of what elevated Max Hockenberry’s home theater from great to golden. Perhaps it’s fitting that it took some convincing by a custom electronics firm called Audio Advice—not to mention renowned theater designer Theo Kalomirakis—to bring the sound system up to par with the spectacular video system.
When asked if Hockenberry watches many concert videos, besides all of the movies he has stored in his three Sony 400-disc Blu-ray changers, “He certainly does now,” notes Audio Advice general manager Jim Williamson.
It’s not like the firm, which operates out of North Carolina locations in Raleigh and Charlotte, had to twist Hockenberry’s arm on much of anything else regarding his home theater build, which took over a renovated basement room. According to Williamson, the homeowner had pored through pages of examples to define what he envisioned for the room, especially since it would be replacing an existing theater.
“From the first meetings it was very clear that he dreamed of having a great theater. He had a space in his existing home with a projector and screen … video was very important to him, and he had a pretty easy time accepting recommendations for the projector and screen, like going anamorphic,” Williamson recalls. That led to deciding on a 150-inch, curved screen in 2.35:1 aspect ratio from Stewart Filmscreen, which would offer incredibly immersive super-wide images fed by the SIM2 Mico 50 LED projector (as well as motorized masking on the sides for seamless transition to 16:9-formatted HDTV content).
Of course, the visuals are an enormous part of how Audio Advice and Kalomirakis turned Hockenberry’s dreams into reality. There are the rich colors and textures that abound between the carpeting, curtains, acoustical fabric and columns on the walls, and leather theater seats; the intricate details in all the molding and trim work, plus slick architectural elements like the projector hush box or the panel door that opens to reveal shelves full of Blu-ray cases; and the star-field ceiling oval, which the homeowner was actually discouraged from doing and would require three attempts to construct perfectly. In fact, Audio Advice had to bring the entire ceiling down a few inches to accommodate the HVAC system for the main floor above (a separate, dedicated HVAC unit was installed for the theater).
(View images of this home theater here)
“But he was absolutely convinced his current audio system was perfectly adequate. We gave him a new surround-sound processor and amplifier and new subs—all we’re really talking about are the seven speakers,” says Williamson, before getting to the crux of what changed Hockenberry’s mind. When Kalomirakis, often considered the father of home theater and whom Audio Advice consulted with on the engineering designs, visited for the big reveal he “went on and on about how gorgeous the room was, how the detail and construction went above and beyond, and was very complimentary,” according to Williamson, but also suggested that the audio really didn’t match up with what it should for a theater of that caliber. “There was just something missing.”
What was missing would soon be filled in by a powerfully enveloping JBL Synthesis surround package, as recommended by Audio Advice founder and industry veteran Leon Shaw, calibrated for the room by a JBL factory engineer. It did require some re-tooling of the electronics, like having to stow the three JBL amps (two for the speakers, one for the dual 18-inch subwoofers) by the front speakers below the screen and re-routing the wiring to the surround speakers. “There was no room left in the rack for that kind of horsepower,” says Williamson, who notes that fortunately the equipment closet is adjacent to the screen by the left corner where the new amps went, easing the changes.
During a second big reveal after the JBL system was finalized, Kalomirakis was not in attendance but he didn’t need to be for Hockenberry to feel justifiably giddy with the updated results. “Now he talks about sitting in the room just listening to music, in addition to his love affair with movies,” Williamson says. “Now he’s blown away by it, and he gets it.”
HD Music, Too
Theater owner Max Hockenberry knew plenty about high-definition video, but after Audio Advice installed a rockin’ audio system he was also introduced to high-resolution audio. Audio Advice’s Dustin Clemens showed him how to download from online music store HDtracks.com, which specializes in better-than-CD-quality offerings in 24-bit/96kHz or higher files (CDs are 16/44.1, for comparison’s sake). Downloads go to his server from Cinemar, whose control system allows Hockenberry to command movie and music selections, plus lighting scenes, from an iPad interface. “The combination of high-resolution music on that JBL [Synthesis] system … you just kind of melt,” says Audio Advice’s Jim Williamson. “You hear so many little subtle details, ‘I’m not sure I’ve even heard that before’ (listening to songs you know) is a common comment we get.”
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Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.