This elegant media room combines an understated install with stunning immersive audio and video performance. Captivating immersive performance is achievable in even a modest space, as shown in this media room project.
We look at:
- The Brief
- Media Room Design
- Processing and Amplification
- Controlling the Environment
- Music to His Ears
- In Conclusion – Client’s Final Word
This was a comfortable family lounge, used for entertaining, listening to music, reading, playing board games and watching TV. As the room was immediately going to be renovated, it was the perfect time to incorporate a media room setup, to provide an immersive home cinema experience.
As is very common, there were intelligent compromises to be made between the ideal design and placement of the home cinema elements, and the aesthetics and demands of the room. The client was sure he wanted an immersive home cinema experience, in terms of the picture and sound. But he also wanted the room to function as a multi-purpose space, for listening to music and the demands of usual family life. Specifically, the client wanted a multi-purpose room first and foremost, he didn’t want it to look like a traditional cinema. No dedicated screens or projection, but still performing at the highest levels that he was familiar with.
The home was built in the early 1900s, with solid brick walls and a fireplace in every room. Understandably, the client wanted to retain the open fireplace and the natural orientation of the room was towards it, as the main feature. The height of the mantel meant that the TV above would not be at the ideal height for viewing. Our client, therefore, asked us to find a compromise between the aesthetics and the placement of the TV. He wanted to ensure that the room looked great and performed brilliantly.
The client had expressed wishes for a Dolby Vision capable display and Dolby Atmos decoding for the audio. As big Apple TV fans, the family have an extensive movie collection. These were on streaming services as well as physical media (UHD 4K Blu-ray). Some members of the family also loved to play games, so the addition of a PlayStation 5 and XBOX Series X was vital. Superb sound and picture were top of the list.
Finally, they had a collection of legacy vinyl and an old record player, that they wished to use in the system.
Media Room Design
Applying our extensive knowledge and experience in media room and home cinema design, we set about the design and documentation. Firstly, we completed a quick CAD drawing to fully understand the space.
We then went on to a full acoustic analysis, focussing on the modal response of the room. This is because the acoustics in a small room are very challenging.
Using specialist software for room analysis and design, we ascertained the best layout with the least impactful compromises on performance. We ensured that we respectfully balanced the aesthetics in accordance with the client’s wishes.
Our client favours Bowers and Wilkins loudspeakers. He was keen to incorporate some of his own bookshelf loudspeakers into his new media room. To ensure that the system was timbre-matched to these, we elected to use further high performing B&W speakers, which would fit perfectly with the client’s brief and the budget.
The media room boasts a 5.1.4 immersive sound system. This means that there are 5 speakers at the lower listening positions (front left, centre, front right, surround left and surround right), 1 subwoofer handling the low frequencies, and 4 height channels in the ceiling.
To match the client’s existing 805 bookshelf speakers, which would serve as the front left and right, we added a set of Bowers and Wilkins freestanding 804 Diamond speakers at the surround left and right positions. We used four Bowers and Wilkins In-Ceiling Cinema 7 speakers as the height channels. These boast “steerable drivers”, for really good on-axis response and a predictable and appropriate directivity index.
It was clear from the room analysis that we would need to iron out some of the modal issues in the room. For plenty of “muscle”, we used one of Bowers and Wilkins legendary DBB1 Diamond subwoofers at the rear of the room and two Bowers & Wilkins PV1D subs at the front. All three subwoofers were expertly controlled by the small and mighty mini-DSP.
Finally, for beautifully crisp dialogue, we used a Bowers & Wilkins CCM8.5D centre speaker.
With one press of a button on the Crestron remote, the picture-frame 65″ LG OLED motors down to a much more acceptable, comfortable viewing height. This happens courtesy of a Future Automation display bracket.
This motorised display lifter really helped to solve a problem. The client wanted a display above the fireplace, which had already been chosen, but he understood the reasons why the TV would not be at an optimal height. This, from a technical perspective, was far too high for comfortable viewing. We, therefore, brought in a favourite product from our industry friends and “all things motorised” expert, Future Automation. The EAD (motorised advanced drop bracket) gave us the best of both worlds – a TV located above the fireplace, which would move into a comfortable and compelling position that would be perfect for viewing. By bringing the display down and forward the viewer would be more immersed in the most amazing picture.
At the end of the evening, the client would simply press a button on the Crestron remote, and the 65” LG OLED motored its way back to position above the fireplace. For times when the family wished to have the TV on, but not necessarily be in full “movie” mode, the TV could still be watched at the higher position, which would be perfect for “football on in the background” type occasions!
This is certainly what high-performance media rooms are all about. A balance of performance, aesthetics and comfort. In many ways, perfect performance is harder to achieve than in a dedicated theatre or home cinema. In contrast, within those spaces, you have more freedom and flexibility to drive the performance aspect. Consequently, little problems like these don’t tend to come up as much.
Therefore, for media rooms, creative engineering problem-solving is a must.
Processing and Amplification
In order to process the audio signals and to get the best performance from the loudspeakers, we installed a McIntosh MX100 audio processor, a McIntosh MI254 four-channel power amp and a McIntosh MI347 seven-channel power amp. These provide ample power to the array of loudspeakers, easily achieving all performance objectives.
The processing from the MX100 and the two superb power amplifiers give a room of this size, with a specific set of performance objectives, all it needs and much more.
McIntosh has a well-proven track record in audio processing and amplification, and it isn’t hard to see why. Once the room’s calibration was complete and the final setup files were stored safely away, the audio was fully tested.
The media room provides Dolby Vision (HDR), Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio.
Squeezing in 9 speakers and 3 subwoofers into the room was a challenge! There were also the technical issues of modal response, MSV (mean spatial variance) and seat-to-seat uniformity. Low frequencies in small rooms are notoriously difficult to tame. Therefore, it required a real understanding of the issues and proven engineering skills to solve them. Using the utterly fabulous McIntosh MX100, with room correction application Audyssey XT32, very careful planning, some great components and a whole lot of “calibration magic”, the results were sensational.
One of the significant inherent factors of this room was its very low noise floor. It is a house in the country, with little or no ambient noise. As a result, this helped with the overall dynamic range of the system.
Controlling the Environment
Convenient control of the environment was a very important consideration for the client. A Lutron Homeworks lighting control system was therefore a natural choice and allowed the beautiful Orluna light fixtures to really “shine”.
On this project, there were two Lutron QS processors and three individual Lutron lighting panels. Each panel housed multiple phase-adaptive dimming modules, plus several DALI and switched modules, for various other rooms and applications. This room, in particular, had DALI controlled shelf LED lighting, table lamps, a decorative pendant and a number of Orluna’s downlights.
Layering and controlling lighting like this allowed for the creation of lighting scenes for every application. “Movie”, “music”, “entertaining”, “gaming”, “relaxing” and “cleaning” are some of the lighting scenes that could be instantly recalled from the Crestron touch-panel and remote. The room also had one of the beautiful new Lutron Alisse keypads at the door.
In addition, for the ultimate in convenience and to create a brilliant environment for viewing, we installed Lutron Sivoia shades. This truly provided perfect control of the lighting, both natural and artificial.
The Orluna fixtures were blessed with a very high colour rendering index. Indeed, that was a firm request of the client – no red, green or blue lighting. Specifically, just warm white and high colour rendering indexes from high-quality fixtures.
With one press of the Crestron remote, the screen would motor forward, the lights would set to the desired scene, the blinds would motor down, the amplifiers and processor would trigger on. And thus, in no time at all, the movie would be ready to watch in the perfect environment!
Upon completion, the client would simply press a button, to tuck it all away as discretely as before.
Music To His Ears
For times that the client wanted to listen to music, whether that was Spotify, Tidal, CD, radio or vinyl, we installed a Naim Uniti together with his Pro-Ject turntable with a Rega preamp/soundstage. This provided the Naim Uniti with a beautiful, melodic and dare we say “analogue” warmth. This is a quality that this “digital age” seems to have mislaid. Vinyl has never sounded so good!
And with different lighting and room modes for listening to music, we ensured that the environment looked and felt as good as it sounded.
In Conclusion – The Client’s Final Word
Technically, the performance is stunning. We are really proud to have delivered such an immersive experience without compromising the client’s preferred aesthetics.
Using the wonderful Audyssey XT32 room calibration, RT60 over six octaves is just under 0.5secs. SPL is 102db at the main listing position, which provides enough dynamic range for most at this level.
The client himself is thrilled with the system and he says that it has reinvigorated his love of movies and music, giving him the perfect setup for both. He is rewatching his favourite films and shows, discovering that the immersive experience gives him so much enjoyment. The client says that with the screen down and the lights dimmed, he really feels as though he is “in” the film. He is loving the escapism that this provides. Additionally, the client’s wife is thrilled that the room could accommodate both her preference for a more discrete install and her husband’s wish for a “big” experience. She says that it is the best of both worlds.
One of the family members has reduced hearing and often found it difficult to follow the dialogue on standard TV speakers. With the new system providing amazing clarity from the centre channel, they can now hear and enjoy the dialogue like never before. An all-around success!
In conclusion, this modest elegant room may appear sheeplike, but appearances can be deceptive and there definitely lies a wolf within!
For further reading, please see our Media Rooms page or here for an example of a home cinema design. For something topical, please see Guy Singleton’s article on Spatial Audio. Here are some technical articles: LFE, Dynamic Range and Noise Foor and, finally, Dialogue and Speech Intelligibility.