We love designing and installing a small home theater, a large home theater, and everything in between. We have been fortunate to work on some fantastic projects. As you might imagine, the sky is the limit (literally- we install computerized star ceilings), and our work has encompassed some large and significant home theaters.
However, only some clients have the massive basement space to design and build a fantastic small home theater. Recently, one of our clients purchased a retirement home in the Carolina mountains and asked us to help him select a home theater system that would impress but not require a trust fund or home addition to do so. Let’s examine how this home theater came alive.
Like many clients, the room he wanted to transform was not very large, 12’x12’ in his situation. He also needed the room to function as a home office. His other requests included-
- Dolby® Atmos capability
- In-wall speakers (to offer storage and flexibility)
- Powerful but compact subwoofer
- 4K smart television (he prefers this to a projector)
- A reasonable investment but great performance
- The use of a sofa and ottoman, as opposed to theater seating
The Recommended System
- Anthem MRX 740 AVR, a 7.2-channel home theater receiver with 5 channels rated at 140 watts (class AB)
- Sony XR-77A80J 77” 4K Smart Television
- Bowers & Wilkins CWM 7.4 S2 Reference 5-way front channel speakers
- Bowers & Wilkins HTM72 S2 center channel speaker (client already owned this)
- Bowers & Wilkins CWM 663 2-way rear speakers
- Bowers & Wilkins CCM 664 in-ceiling effect speakers
- REL t/9x, a front-firing active driver with a down-firing passive driver subwoofer
- Sony UBP-X700/M 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player
- URC MX890 Universal Remote
- AudioQuest Cinnamon Ultra high-speed HDMI cables
- AudioQuest 16-gauge, 2-conductor speaker wire (ideal for in-wall use)
- Salamander Designs Archetype 5-shelf component stand
The system’s heart is the Anthem MRX 740, a high-performance home theater receiver designed to deliver an immersive audio experience for movie and music enthusiasts. With its advanced features, powerful amplification, and cutting-edge technology, the MRX 740 offers a comprehensive solution for those seeking a premium home theater setup. Like every Anthem AVR, the MX740 offers many key features.
- Channels and Power: The Anthem MRX 740 is a 7.2-channel receiver, providing up to 140 watts per channel with five channels driven. This allows you to power a 7.1 speaker setup or a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos configuration (such as in this system), offering flexibility for various home theater setups.
- Anthem Room Correction (ARC): One of the standout features of the MRX 740 is the inclusion of Anthem’s proprietary room correction technology, ARC Genesis.
For the output, we recommend Bowers & Wilkins, a British company specializing in high-quality audio equipment, including in-wall speakers. Founded in 1966 by John Bowers and Roy Wilkins, the company has established itself as a leader in the audio industry due to its commitment to innovation, design, and performance.
In-wall speakers are designed to be mounted directly into the wall, providing a seamless and unobtrusive listening experience. Bowers & Wilkins offers a range of in-wall speakers to cater to different requirements and budgets. Some of their popular in-wall speaker series include:
- CI600 Series: This series is known for its versatility and performance, featuring B&W’s signature technologies, such as Nautilus tube-loaded tweeters and Kevlar midrange drivers. The CI600 series is ideal for home theaters and multi-room audio systems.
- CI700 Series: These speakers offer higher performance and are designed for more demanding applications. They feature advanced driver technologies, including Carbon Dome tweeters and Continuum cone midrange drivers, which deliver exceptional clarity, detail, and dynamics.
- CI800 Series: As B&W’s flagship in-wall speaker line, the CI800 series delivers the ultimate in performance and luxury. It incorporates the company’s most advanced technologies, such as Diamond Dome tweeters and Aerofoil Profile bass drivers. These speakers are perfect for audiophiles seeking the best sound quality in an in-wall solution.
- Performance Series: This series is designed for custom installations and offers a balance of performance and value. The Performance Series features B&W’s core technologies, such as Nautilus tube-loaded tweeters and Kevlar midrange drivers, to deliver excellent sound quality in a compact and easy-to-install package.
Bowers & Wilkins in-wall speakers are renowned for their exceptional sound quality, sleek design, and reliable performance. They are popular for residential and commercial installations, providing an immersive audio experience while maintaining a clean and minimalistic aesthetic.
REL subwoofers are renowned for their exceptional performance and build quality. They have a laser-sharp focus on subs because that is all they design and manufacture. We love the power and accuracy of REL subs; here are some key factors that make them stand out:
- Design Philosophy: REL’s design philosophy focuses on producing deep, tight, and accurate bass. They believe that a great subwoofer should integrate seamlessly with the main speakers and enhance the overall audio experience without drawing attention to itself.
- High-Level Connectivity: One unique feature of REL subwoofers is their high-level input connection. This allows the subwoofer to be connected directly to the speaker terminals of your amplifier, ensuring that it receives the same signal as your main speakers. This results in better integration and superior sound quality.
- Flexible Configuration: REL subwoofers offer multiple connectivity options, including high-level, low-level, and LFE inputs. This flexibility allows you to connect the subwoofer to various types of audio systems and ensures optimal performance regardless of your setup.
- Build Quality: REL subwoofers are known for their exceptional build quality. They use premium materials and components, such as long-throw drivers, robust cabinets, and high-quality amplifiers, to ensure durability and reliability.
- Performance: REL subwoofers are designed to deliver deep, tight, and controlled bass, which adds depth and realism to music and movies. They are also known for their ability to reproduce low-frequency sounds with minimal distortion, resulting in a clean and natural bass response.
- Customization: Many REL subwoofers offer user-adjustable settings, such as crossover frequency, phase, and gain control, which allow you to fine-tune the subwoofer’s performance to match your room acoustics and personal preferences.
REL subwoofers are highly regarded for their design philosophy, connectivity options, build quality, performance, and customization, making them an excellent choice for those seeking to enhance their audio experience.
For viewing, it’s tough to beat the quality of Sony televisions. The performance and image quality these televisions deliver are superior to most other TV brands, and they have robust features. Here are some reasons why Sony 4K TVs stand out:
- Picture Quality: Sony is known for its exceptional picture quality, delivering lifelike and vibrant images with accurate colors, deep blacks, and excellent contrast. This is achieved through advanced display technologies, such as Triluminos Display, which offers a broader color gamut, and X-tended Dynamic Range, which enhances contrast and brightness.
- Image Processing: Sony’s powerful image processing engines, such as the X1 Ultimate and X1 Extreme, enhance the visual experience. These processors use advanced algorithms to upscale lower-resolution content to near-4K quality, reduce noise, and optimize color and contrast for each scene, ensuring a consistently stunning picture.
- Motion Handling: Sony 4K TVs excel at motion handling, providing smooth and clear images even during fast-paced action scenes or sports events. Technologies like X-Motion Clarity and Motionflow XR help reduce motion blur and judder, offering a more immersive viewing experience.
- HDR Support: Sony 4K TVs support various HDR formats, including HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma), which enable a more dynamic and realistic picture with improved brightness, contrast, and color reproduction. This allows viewers to enjoy the content as the creators intended.
- Smart Features: Sony’s Android TV platform offers a user-friendly interface with access to various apps and streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and more. The platform also supports built-in Google Assistant and Chromecast, allowing seamless integration with other smart devices in your home.
- Design and Build Quality: Sony is known for its sleek and minimalist designs, slim bezels, and premium materials that complement any living space. The build quality of Sony 4K TVs is also impressive, ensuring durability and longevity.
In summary, Sony 4K televisions are highly regarded for their excellent picture quality, advanced image processing, smooth motion handling, HDR support, smart features, and premium design. These factors offer a superior, immersive viewing experience that appeals to many customers.
The new home was 600 miles away, so our installation team could not provide the installation and setup, so we delivered the components to the client’s New Jersey home. He arranged for an NC-based installer to route the cables, mount the television, and ensure the main, surround, and height speakers worked correctly.
In the before photo (below), the previous homeowner used the space as a family room. The largest contiguous wall was to the rear of the room. The window provides much sunlight, and the bathroom door limits the placement of the left and right speakers.
The solution was to flip the room and use the longest wall for the television and the main and center channel speakers. The closet and bathroom door limited the surround speaker placement, but the chosen speakers fit the space nicely.
Because the house was unoccupied, cutting drywall to install the speakers and route the wiring was straightforward. We supplied a standard TV wall mount that allowed angle adjustment and could hide the power and HDMI cables inside the wall. And the cable internet provider had to run the cable to an access point in the room.
The equipment installation required one day. A handyman came in afterward and spent a day repairing and replacing the cuts to the drywall, then took a couple of days painting the entire room.
Small Home Theater Room Calibration
Fortunately, calibrating the audio-video receiver wasn’t an issue because we recommended an Anthem MRX Audio-Video Receiver (AVR). These AVRs are powerful, provide a clean, low-distortion sound, and support numerous playback modes, but also because they come equipped with ARC Genesis, Anthem’s proprietary room correction software.
When the speakers were installed, the wiring routed, and the drywall replaced, the speakers were connected to the Anthem AVR. ARC Genesis is a snap, running the Wi-Fi-connected software from a laptop. Anthem includes an excellent-quality microphone and stand, and the software tells the user where to place the microphone. When ARC is finished, it updates a new profile directly to the AVR, with each speaker (and subwoofer) perfectly balanced for the room. And when physical changes are made to the room (more on that later), you simply re-run the ARC Genesis program.
Room Acoustics in a Small Home Theater
While ARC Genesis does an excellent job balancing every channel, it cannot prevent echo or reverb, which significantly degrade the clarity and intelligibility of audio signals. These problems typically arise due to the reflection of sound waves off hard surfaces such as walls, windows, ceilings, and floors.
Before running the room calibration, the client placed an area rug and a fabric roller shade. Curtains and rugs help improve room acoustics by absorbing and diffusing sound waves, reducing unwanted echoes and reverberations. These soft, porous materials act as effective sound absorbers because they allow sound waves to penetrate their fibers, converting the acoustic energy into heat through friction. As a result, the overall level of reflected sound within the room is decreased, leading to a more balanced and pleasant listening environment. These decorative elements can also aid in minimizing sound transmission between rooms, providing the added benefit of enhanced privacy and noise isolation.
Anthem ARC had been run, and while the client observed an improvement, there was still too much reverb and echo. Dave, our founder, helped the client understand the most common reflection points. This led to installing several acoustic panels, a specially designed acoustic treatment product that helps reduce unwanted echoes, reverberations, and background noise by absorbing sound waves. These panels are typically made of porous materials such as foam, fiberglass, or mineral wool, which allow sound waves to enter and dissipate within the material’s fibers. As sound waves pass through the panel, the acoustic energy is converted into heat through friction, effectively reducing the overall level of reflected sound in the room. Installing sound-absorbing panels on walls, ceilings, or other surfaces makes it possible to create a more acoustically balanced environment with improved audio clarity and intelligibility, making them essential in spaces like recording studios, home theaters, conference rooms, and classrooms.
Summary: Small Home Theater
This was an exciting challenge. Designing a home theater is easier when budget and space are not a hindrance. But in smaller spaces achieving this level of performance is hugely gratifying. And while we haven’t yet paid a visit to this client, his feedback has put a smile on everyone’s face.
“The new home theater has exceeded every expectation, from high-definition movies on a disc to streamed colossal sporting events. Even musical concerts and theater come alive. The picture quality is impressive, and watching movies engineered for Dolby Atmos is more exciting and engrossing than anything I have ever experienced”.
Almost any home can enjoy a home theater. Our selection of quality components has never been broader, and we can accommodate a diverse budget range. Please stop in the shop, share your room plans with us, and let’s see where the conversation takes us.