Project Description

Audiophile Grade Surround Sound System for a Multi-Purpose Living Space

Background

What constitutes an audiophile grade system? Is it the speakers you select? Is it what is powering the setup? For us it constitutes a serious listener who knows what they want from their system and does not want to compromise to achieve those results. 

When one of our existing clients approached us to design and elevate a wonderful stereo listening experience they already possessed in their upcoming new apartment space, we knew this would be a project we would truly enjoy. 

As a company we have trained and tried to perfect our craft to provide the highest quality audio and visual experiences to every project we participate in. But in actuality, there are always compromises due to design restrictions or clients who do not necessarily have the ear to appreciate the difference between a well-defined sound experience following industry standards and one which is simply positioned. 

In this project our clients took the time to understand the technicalities of speaker placement, seating position and what standards define a spectacular surround sound experience. One import factor was that our client also wanted a large screen visual experience which would work well with the Living Room space and not overcrowd the space. We certainly had our work cut out for us, but we were more than ready for the challenge. 

Audio/Video

Our client has already amassed a serious set of HiFi equipment for their existing setup. Harbeth bookshelf speakers with a powerful 2 channel stereo amplifier to match the Oppo BDP-105D CD/Blu Ray Player. What we needed to create a great surround experience, though, would be at the minimum a solid AV Receiver to power the front and surround speakers, and a solid subwoofer with good placement and calibration to ensure the experience is felt and not just heard no matter which seat our customer decides to sit in. After a lot of demos and testing our client and we were very content with choosing the Audiocontrol AVR-7 AV Receiver. With a true 100 watts per channel RMS along with Dirac Live Calibration in-built we could only imagine the final experience we would be able to produce for our clients. 

To round out the audio experience we had to choose a suitable center and surrounds along with a powerful subwoofer which would complement the Harbeth bookshelf speakers, while also be suitably powered by the Audiocontrol AVR-7. After many listening demonstrations including our client bringing their Harbeth speakers to our showroom and listening with different center channel speaker options, we were able to narrow down the RBH Signature Series SV-661C Center Channel Speaker along with the Visage Series VA-615 In-Ceiling speakers. Considering the space restrictions of the Living Room and placement options for the subwoofer we rounded out our 5.1 setup with the Rythmik L12 sealed subwoofer. The choice of the sealed sub was for two reasons, one is the compact size and secondly the L12 is also an amazing musical performer which would work well for our client’s two channel HiFi listening sessions. 

Visual Setup

The Visual Setup was equally as challenging to design as the audio. We had many back and forth and design iterations with our clients to choose what would best fit the room design wise but not compromise on the experience. One of the main criteria for this family was that they wanted a Native 4K experience. A long throw 4K Projector would be a complete eye soar in the Living Room as soon as you enter the space. A projection lift would also not be an option because the Interior Designer did not want to drop the ceiling so low. We showed our clients an existing project we had worked on in which we used the Ultra Short Throw projection option. They really liked the idea, but the challenge was finding a Native 4K Short Throw Projection System which could stay within budget and not compromise on the experience.

The Visual Setup was equally as challenging to design as the audio. We had many back and forth and design iterations with our clients to choose what would best fit the room design wise but not compromise on the experience. One of the main criteria for this family was that they wanted a Native 4K experience. A long throw 4K Projector would be a complete eye soar in the Living Room as soon as you enter the space. A projection lift would also not be an option because the Interior Designer did not want to drop the ceiling so low. We showed our clients an existing project we had worked on in which we used the Ultra Short Throw projection option. They really liked the idea, but the challenge was finding a Native 4K Short Throw Projection System which could stay within budget and not compromise on the experience.

After a lot of research and design iterations we were able to finalize on the Optoma P1 Ultra Short Throw Projector. The P1 was actually a perfect choice for this setup because it is a Living Room and there will definitely be ambient light in the room. But with upto 4000 lumens of brightness and 2 and a half million to 1 contrast ratio, we knew the Optoma was going to be a solid performer. Of course, the projector can only accomplish so much. In our opinion, the screen is actually the most important component in a projection system. Without a well-made projection screen, the true performance of a great projector is diminished, and frankly, wasted. 

After a great deal of convincing, we were able to justify to our clients the need of a tab tensioned screen for the ultra short throw projector, to ensure there will be no waves in the fabric due to the stretching in a tab tensioned system, and the ideal fabric and motorized system to ensure the screen can remain hidden when not in use. The clients confirmed the Screen Innovations Solo 2 100 inch Diagonal Tab Tensioned projection screen with Pure Grey .85 gain fabric. 

Along with the electronics to enhance the movie watching experience, we chose to add an Apple TV 4K as the source. Since the Oppo does not provide a native 4K signal the Apple TV was the ideal choice to ensure our clients could take advantage of 4K content and make the most of the Optoma projector and Screen Innovations Screen. 

Networking and WiFi

Though this project may not have multi zone audio, automation and many of the features which are commonplace on the projects we work on, one staple has always been a solid network. Almost all Audio/Visual solutions now depend on a solid network, and the components chosen in this project were no exception. 

We stuck with our go-to brand, Ubiquiti, for all our WiFi and Networking needs. With the US-8 8 port Gigabit Network Switch and the UAP-AC-Lite WiFi Access Point we were able to give a robust wired and wireless network to all the connected devices throughout the residence. 

The customer also asked us to integrate their Synology DS218+ into the project. Housing the NAS in the same space as the other network components, we were able to easily configure the NAS on the network and our client was able to stream his HiFI music collection and collection of movies to their Oppo Player using DLNA and Apple TV using Plex. 

Final Verdict

Remember how we mentioned earlier our definition of audiophile is a serious listener, well our client was just that. We spent many hours trying to first perfect the two-channel listening experience to try and reach a level beyond what they were used to listening to in their previous environment. After the instruction of a MiniDSP 2×4 we were able to effectively calibrate the two channel HiFi setup using a MiniDSP UMIK-1 and REW calibration software. After application of the REW auto eq in the low frequency response of the Harbeth bookshelf speakers we found a significant improvement in the sound stage and reverb in the reflective living room space. Take a look at how we were able to really smoothen the low frequency response and time align the main speakers to ensure a superfluous listening experience which even left the client overwhelmed. 

We were certainly not done, though. A great surround experience also requires a high-end calibration process, and in our opinion, Dirac Live is one of the best in the world. After every Dirac calibration, we seem to be left in a state of awe at how much of a difference this magical process can actually work in the most difficult of listening environments. Dirac actually works to compensate for the listening room, not so much your speakers, to ensure you hear the best possible results from your system. 

Needless to say, we and our customer were completely blown away after the Dirac Calibration. The bass was on a different level and so well time aligned with our main speakers. The subwoofer played effortlessly and gave amazing low frequency response across the listening sofa. The mains were masterful and played with fullness and vibrance the client had never heard from his speakers after owning them for so many years. The surround experience truly felt like a cinematic journey and would make the listening feel as though they were participating in the visual experience on screen.

Speaking of visual experiences, the Optoma P1 with the Screen Innovations Solo 2 was not short of visual bliss. Whether the client was watching the Formula 1 racing documentary on Netflix in 4K or even a tennis match on cable tv, the colors were bright and vibrant and the black levels truly blended with the room once darkened.

The client managed the construction of a special AV unit to house all the AV equipment including the ultra short throw projector so that it did not overcrowd the room. The Screen Innovations Solo 2 was neatly mounted inside a niche in the ceiling to tuck away when it was not in use. We felt truly accomplished after listening to the final sound stage and picture quality we were able to accomplish to deliver our goal at the outset, delivering the best cinematic experience we could for this space with the tools we enabled with.

You can refer to the following list to understand which products were used for this particular project. 

  • Optoma P1 Ultra HD Short Throw 4K Projector 
  • Screen Innovations Solo 2 100 inch Diagonal Tab Tensioned projection screen with Pure Grey .85 gain fabric
  • RBH Signature Series SV-661C Center Channel Speaker
  • RBH Visage Series VA-615 In-Ceiling speakers
  • Rythmik L12 sealed subwoofer
  • Audiocontrol AVR-7 AV Receiver
  • Ubiquiti UAP-AC-LITE Wi-Fi Access Points 
  • Ubiquiti US-8 Port Gigabit Network Switch

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