Sound & Vision - - CONTENTS - BY JOHN SCI­ACCA

Even more the­ater de­sign mis­takes— and how to avoid them.

IIn my pre­vi­ous two columns, I de­scribed ba­sic home the­ater/ me­dia room de­sign mis­takes that I’ve re­peat­edly en­coun­tered dur­ing my 20 years of do­ing cus­tom in­stal­la­tions. To con­clude the se­ries, I’ll take on four eas­ily fix­able is­sues that keep good sys­tems from be­ing great ones.

If you’ve hung with me so far, thanks. I hope that you’ve learned a few things along the way! If you missed part one or two, I tack­led these six mis­takes: too many seats; ris­ers too low; screen wall too light; try­ing to do too much in a space; us­ing a screen that’s too small; in­suf­fi­cient room light­ing. (Both columns are posted at soun­dand­vi­


When it comes to sub­woofers, my motto is sim­ple: buy the big­gest and best model you can af­ford, and prefer­ably more than one of them. (A com­mon mis­con­cep­tion is that adding

subs gets you more/louder bass, when ad­di­tional subs are ac­tu­ally used to de­liver smoother, more even bass so you get the same ex­pe­ri­ence from every seat.) A good sub­woofer raises the qual­ity of the en­tire speaker sys­tem. When things are blow­ing up on­screen, gun­shots are go­ing off, and cars are smash­ing into one an­other, noth­ing de­liv­ers emo­tion and im­pact like a mas­sive bass pres­sure wave punch­ing you in the chest. I’ve vis­ited some pretty large rooms that used a sin­gle, dinky sub­woofer when mul­ti­ple subs with 12-inch (or larger) driv­ers should have been em­ployed. In such sit­u­a­tions, what in­vari­ably hap­pens is that the small sub gets turned up too loud, which causes it to over­drive and pro­duce dis­torted sound.


Although your fo­cus should be en­tirely on the screen when it’s show time, I can’t tell you how many peo­ple feel a need to clut­ter up their movie space with ran­dom bits, ei­ther on the side­walls or di­rectly around the screen. Pic­tures and posters are big of­fend­ers as the glass and frames are of­ten highly re­flec­tive— both vis­ually and son­i­cally. In a dark­ened movie room, these can cre­ate a weird and dis­tract­ing “sec­ond screen” ef­fect. Bass-heavy sound­tracks can cause glass trin­kets and small items on shelves to rat­tle— an­other ma­jor pet peeve of mine. And while it of­ten isn’t pos­si­ble to lo­cate elec­tron­ics out of the view­ers’ eye­line, it helps to take what­ever steps nec­es­sary to di­min­ish the ci­tyscape of twin­kling blue, green, yel­low, and red LEDS at the front of the room.


It would be no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say Dolby Lab­o­ra­to­ries wrote the book on speaker place­ment for sur­round sound sys­tems, so its web­site is a great place to start if you’re won­der­ing where your speak­ers should go. (Here’s a pro tip: Google “Dolby Speaker Place­ment Guide.”) But even when op­ti­mal isn’t pos­si­ble, it’s pretty easy to avoid hor­ri­ble po­si­tion­ing. You should al­ways side­step plac­ing front left/right and cen­ter speak­ers in the ceil­ing. If you must in­stall them there, be sure to use mod­els specif­i­cally de­signed for the task like De­fin­i­tive Tech­nol­ogy’s UIW RSS or Triad’s In­ceil­ing mon­i­tors. While it should go with­out say­ing that speak­ers need to be out in the open with­out any­thing placed in front of them, I ap­par­ently still need to say it.

That means no can­dles, books, pic­tures, dec­o­ra­tive wreaths. Noth­ing. Also, don’t lo­cate sur­round speak­ers in front of the lis­ten­ing po­si­tion. And while your dec­o­ra­tor might hate the look of your sub­woofer (and other speak­ers), plac­ing it in cab­i­netry will com­pro­mise per­for­mance.


The fi­nal thing that I find re­peat­edly hin­ders new in­stal­la­tions is peo­ple’s in­sis­tence on reusing their old gear. While some com­po­nents like am­pli­fiers and speak­ers are “time­less” and can be reused if prop­erly cared for, sur­round re­ceivers and dis­plays don’t age grace­fully and should al­most al­ways be re­placed. Tech­nol­ogy ad­vance­ments like new HDMI formats make in­te­grat­ing older gear a com­pro­mised, jer­ryrigged af­fair. Now, I get that you paid good money for that stuff and want to use it un­til it dies. But that men­tal­ity doesn’t ap­ply to the cur­rent dig­i­tal era, so plac­ing a di­nosaur in a mod­ern in­stal­la­tion will not only com­pro­mise the ex­pe­ri­ence, it will mean miss­ing out on things like room cor­rec­tion, mu­sic stream­ing, high dy­namic range video, and more.

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