The Home Theater Front

So how are consumers listening to your surround mixes when they get them home? Although (sadly) not your typical household, in Bernard Chiu’s case those mixes are treated to an exquisite and fine-tuned experience in a home theater designed by John Storyk and Beth Walters, of the world-renowned acoustical and architectural firm Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG).

Principal architect and acoustician John Storyk, who has been designing commercial, corporate, educational, and performance audio/video facilities around the world from his base in New York for many years, has been called upon by a number of people seeking to re-create the commercial movie theater experience in their homes. One such client is Chiu, who engaged Storyk, along with partner and interior designer, Beth Walters, to create a dedicated home theater for his family in their retreat on Nantucket, a small island off the coast of Massachusetts.

WSDG was called in during the early stages of construction of the Chiu’s 4000-sq.-ft. property, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. “This was a big project, two years in the building,” recalls Storyk. “The framing had been started, but we began design work in plenty of time to do what we had to do. Creating this type of environment is all about attention to detail at the beginning of the project.”

There has been an increase in the convergence of home and commercial theater technology, Storyk notes, with the former borrowing heavily from the latter: “We’re seeing more home theaters using professional audio equipment and technology, especially in the areas of speakers, wire management, and systems integration. Parallel with this trend is more and more attention to detailed room acoustic standards. Not only are clients paying attention to lighting and aesthetics, but they’re extremely concerned with high-quality room acoustics. We typically are not called in on projects unless people are at this level of attention.”

Of paramount importance is the isolation between the theater and the rest of the house. ”We see people very concerned about acoustic isolation and noise control, which was the case here,” Storyk comments. “Wood frame buildings are typically the most difficult to achieve these standards in. The Chiu residence is an example of this condition.”

Storyk considers a quiet room to be fundamental to a pleasant home theater experience, and at the Chiu residence that meant that the basement was the ideal location. The concrete block-walled theater, essentially a room within a room, was constructed on the basement slab, which was cut and isolated from the rest of the house. A rectangular room design was chosen to fit the house shape and construction, with the exact design determined by the application of a variety of techniques, including the calculation of frequency differences between modes and room ratio analysis.

Although Storyk’s involvement in the early stages of construction maximized the amount of physical headroom available for his home theater design, ductwork for the air conditioning system, the largest external contributor to noise levels, was run outside the room. Professional studios, notes Storyk, require target noise criteria values of NC 20 to 25; the Chiu’s home theater meets an NC 25 specification.

The theater is symmetrical along its longitudinal axis. “It’s a surround environment, so there’s no need not to have symmetry,” observes Storyk. “I think, for the most part, if someone says, ‘I’m going to make a dedicated home theater room,’ you don’t have too much argument talking people into making it symmetrical. People are used to going to movie theaters that are symmetrical.” Symmetry has been completely created, with the inclusion of two entrances — not really necessary for a room that seats seven — plus the addition of wooden panels on the rear left wall mirroring the equipment closet doors on the opposite side.

Seven luxurious reclining seats have been positioned so that there is no seating close to the room edge where acoustic response would be less satisfactory. Additional seating can be added at the rear or floor cushions for children at the front.

Media Systems of Boston, Massachusetts provided the audio/video equipment as well as systems design and integration for the theater. “They are one of the top half-a-dozen firms in the country,” says Storyk. “There are areas where we have to work together — particularly in the integration of items such as wire management. That becomes very complicated in rooms like this — there are a lot of systems going on.”

Borrowing from the pro audio world, Genelec speakers were used throughout. Three model 1032AM units are located behind the 9 ft. by 5 ft. Stewart screen, which is adjustable for all presentation formats, with their mid-high drivers approximately 2/3 up from the screen’s bottom edge. Two 1094 subwoofers are installed, and two pairs of HT208 surround speakers positioned at the sides and rear are included to accommodate the room size. A Lexicon MC-1 processor supports Logic 7, Dolby Digital, Pro Logic, DTS, and THX Ultra audio formats.

“For home theaters, we are more inclined to use THX room acoustic standards as well as theater industry ‘X-curve’ response curves for speaker placement and room responsiveness,” explains Storyk. Eight channels of 5-band parametric equalizers have been incorporated for room tuning. In fact, little equalization was required. The speaker boundary interference effect has been minimized through the use of ‘THX-style’ positioning of the front speakers in a rigid wall, rather than freestanding. The careful selection of room ratios and the application of membrane absorbers on the walls and ceiling have resulted in excellent and extended low-frequency response.

“Some people want to use their home theaters as places to listen to music,” Storyk notes. “Typically they are great sounding rooms, they’re quiet and they’re out of the way, so you can play it loud. If that’s the case, then we may change those curves a little bit and make them more musical. That was a little bit of the case in Bernard’s room — he does like to sit and listen to music.”

Storyk reports that the Chiu family’s home theater, a much appreciated addition to their residence, has become the centerpiece of their home, when they are not enjoying their ocean-side location and dramatic views.

Surround Professional Magazine