FEW ROOMS possess the perfect acoustical qualities necessary for a home theater system to achieve audio excellence. It’s not that the movie effects and dialogue will sound awful, but the audio can be so much clearer, crisper and engaging when a room has been designed with specialty acoustical materials and products. The application of acoustical treatments can start at the studs as a home theater is being built,and can end at the walls of the room when it’s finished. They can be mounted to the ceiling, be placed on the floor or tucked beneath the seats of your media room. There are styles galore and many of them can be customized to complement just about any type of room design, so it’s an addition that definitely won’t cramp your style.
As is the case with other parts of your home theater, you can tackle the design and installation of acoustical treatments yourself or leave it to a pro. There’s a lot of science involved in the proper selection and placement of these products, so be prepared to gather and decipher a good amount of information if you decide to DIY. The size of the room, its construction, the output of the surround-sound system, the position of the speakers and so many other variables can impact the quality of the movie soundtrack, but many manufacturers offer formulas to follow and guidance to theater owners during the design and installation of their treatments. As helpful as manufacturers and other sources can be, if getting the best audio possible out of your home theater system is a top priority, it’s advisable to let your home theater designer handle the project. Using special measurement tools and, of course, his knowledge and work experience as a guide,he’ll be able to tune your room perfectly.
One of the most common types of acoustical treatments is acoustical wall paneling. Its main job is to tame and absorb un- wanted audio reflections that occur as sound waves bounce off hard surfaces like the floor, windows and other highly reflective elements. Made of a fiberglass core (around 1 inch thick) and covered in fabric, these usually rectangular shaped panels attach directly to the wall surface, or they can be installed flush with the walls dur- ing the construction of a theater. Either way, they can make a big impact not only on the audio quality but the room design, as the size, shape and fabric color can be customized to suit your tastes. If you have a favorite photo or painting, you can even have the image printed onto a panel, or extended across several panels.
The ceiling is another surface that can be treated, and in many ways. If you’re refinishing a basement or building a new theater, the entire ceiling can be constructed of acoustical tiles that look just like standard ceiling tiles. If your budget allows and the effect will complement the design of your theater, consider having a fiber-optic star ceiling installed. In addition to minimizing audio reverberation, these acoustical panels are fitted with several tiny fiber-optic (or LED) “stars.” The stars can be arranged to form constellations and other shapes, can be programmed to twinkle or occasionally flash across the ceiling like a shooting star across the sky.
While some amount of absorption is necessary in a home theater, too much of it can dampen the sound to the point where it sounds “dead,” and the important audible parts of the movie may not even reach your ears. To preclude this from happening, you’ll want to incorporate treatments designed to help diffuse, or scatter, the sound evenly throughout the entire room. Again, manufacturers of acoustical treatments offer a variety of different styles of diffusors that can be applied to the walls and/or ceiling.
Finally, there are isolation materials to consider. Typically in- stalled behind the walls and above the ceiling as a home theater is being constructed, they prevent audio from the theater from leaking outside and noise (lawnmowers, dishwashers, kids, etc.) from coming in. Even the rattle of the speakers as they pump out sound from a movie and the hum of an active projector can be distracting, so be sure to treat these areas as well with the proper acoustical materials.