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Installation of the Year Awards 2009 - Best Audio Installation

November 3, 2009 By Charles Crowley



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The theater’s dark alder wood is warmed with gold-leaf hand carvings and garnet Belgian-velvet curtains. The fabric stretched across each oval, inset in the side walls, bears what the homeowner calls a “tempo Pompeii” pattern.
The screen draperies—black-velvet curtains with French pleats—are designed so they don’t detract from the elaborate side-wall curtains. The 26 high-back theater chairs are by Eminence Seating Co. Brazilian granite graces the countertop along the back row.
The concession area in the back of the room includes a soda-fountain with 12 different drinks as well as a popcorn popper, a glass-front candy display and a commercial ice-maker. The home theater’s equipment rack is proudly displayed behind curved glass.

Best Audio Installation

Carefree Electronics Inc. of Phoenix, Ariz.

Beating the Spread

The solution for an exceptionally large theater: towering speakers and towering amplifiers, all artfully concealed.

Any custom installer might cringe when hearing a client’s plan for a home theater with 23 seats set up in wide rows of seven and eight. But David Marsh, president of Carefree Electronics Inc., wasn’t fazed. “The client said he wanted it loud, he wanted it to sound good, he wanted it to make his ears bleed,” Marsh recalls.  “As soon as he said that, I knew exactly what I was going to use.”

Installation of the Year Awards 2009 - Best Audio InstallationMarsh based the theater’s system around the Focal Grande Utopia Beryllium, a speaker many audiophiles considered the best in the world at the time this installation was done. (The model has since been replaced by the Grande Utopia EM.)

A single Grande Utopia Be stands more than 6-1/2 feet tall and weighs 462 pounds. Each of the speaker’s five drivers is mounted in its own enclosure, and each enclosure is isolated from one another so their vibrations don’t mix.

Two Grande Utopia Be’s flank this home theater’s 19-foot-wide Stewart Filmscreen. Two Center Utopia speakers—one mounted high, one mounted low—handle the center channel.

“The dual center speakers fill the room better,” Marsh says. Mini Utopia speakers serve as the rear-surround speakers. To add sonic fill on the sides, Marsh installed four TruAudio BB 465 in-walls.

Focal enjoys a reputation for gorgeous wood finishes and outstanding industrial design, neither of which is visible in this project since Marsh’s client requested that all speakers be hidden. Acoustically transparent fabric covers the Focal speakers, and the TruAudio in-walls are concealed behind the fabric-covered ovals inset within the side walls.

The theater’s dark alder wood is warmed with gold-leaf hand carvings and garnet Belgian-velvet curtains. The fabric stretched across each oval, inset in the side walls, bears what the homeowner calls a “tempo Pompeii” pattern.

Anyone who has attended a hi-fi show in the last decade has probably heard how the Grande Utopias can fill a hotel ballroom with ease. But the speakers demand a robust power source to deliver the volume necessary for the crowds that this homeowner hosts. To go along with his client’s towering speakers, Marsh chose a towering amplifier: the Halcro dm68.

The dm68 stands 31 inches high, weighs 125 pounds and emits 225 watts of power. “It’s touted as the best amp made—the distortion is really, really low,” Marsh says. Three of the dm68s power the front speakers, while smaller dm38s power the surrounds.

Even the Grande Utopias’ 15-inch woofers cannot fill a home theater of this size, so Marsh augmented them with three subwoofers: two Sunfire HRS-12s in the front and a Solus SC-Richter-12 in the rear. But still the woofers could not deliver the visceral experience Marsh sought, so under each chair he placed a Buttkicker low-frequency audio transducer. The Buttkickers deliver shake but no sound, and according to Marsh can add considerable realism to DVD and Blu-ray soundtracks. A rack of QSC PL-380 amplifiers powers the squad of 23 Buttkickers.

Feeding and controlling all these amps and speakers is a Halcro SSP100 surround-sound processor. “It’s a good marriage,” Marsh says, “because the SSP100 was designed around the amplifiers.” Source devices include a Kaleidescape movie/music server and an LG Blu-ray player. Eight-inch touchscreens by Crestron control all devices, as well as lighting.

 The screen draperies—black-velvet curtains with French pleats—are designed so they don’t detract from the elaborate side-wall curtains. The 26 high-back theater chairs are by Eminence Seating Co. Brazilian granite graces the countertop along the back row.

Knowing that such esteemed audio gear deserves an appropriate working environment, Marsh specified acoustic treatment products from CinemaTech. Most of these products look as if they were borrowed from a recording studio, so Marsh’s crew concealed them
behind acoustic fabric.

Beyond great sound, the client had another concern: “He was worried that with all that power, you’d be able to hear the sound in the rest of the house,” Marsh says. Thus, he specified QuietRock 545THX drywall, the only drywall to earn THX certification for its acoustical isolation properties (it measures 1-3/8 inches thick, nearly three times the thickness of standard residential drywall). According to the manufacturer, the 11-layer sandwich construction of 545THX reduces sound transmission by 22 to 46 decibels (compared to its conventional gypsum board).

Although the focus in this private home cinema is on audio, the video gear also is over-the-top. The projector is a Digital Projection Lightning 30-1080p-C: a 15,000-lumen, 249-pound monster designed for use in large commercial venues. “This client likes high technology, and he really likes the fact that this projector is used in commercial theaters,” Marsh says.

The concession area in the back of the room includes a soda-fountain with 12 different drinks as well as a popcorn popper, a glass-front candy display and a commercial ice-maker. The home theater’s equipment rack is proudly displayed behind curved glass.

Elsewhere in the house, the client enjoys two Panasonic 103-inch plasma TVs—one in the family room and another in the home’s margarita bar. Another Digital Projection projector provides a big-screen picture in the outdoor bar area.

Marsh says that even though this theater is the biggest his company has built, spanning 2,318 square feet, he didn’t see it as a challenge. “Knowing how the equipment we speced performs, I knew the size of the room wouldn’t be an issue. The end result is pretty incredible.”

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