August 17, 2010

‘Peanut Butter and Jelly’ or ‘Oil and Water’?

Can two-channel hifi mix with multi-channel home theatre? Can they be harmonized to gel like peanut butter and jelly? Or are they like oil and water, never the twain shall 'mix'? I believe some audiophile purists will reply in the negative and take the latter stand. Home theatre enthusiasts, however, will be nonchalant about it. Me? I don’t know, but I am going to find out.

If one can afford the space, I think it would be best to separate the two, not least that such an arrangement would allow one to optimize the performance of each system. We audiophiles love to tinker with every little bit of positioning, what if the best sounding location for the ‘emperor’s throne’ (i.e,, the listening seat) is in the middle of the room and too close for viewing movie on the big screen? Well, the ‘emperor’ may then have to suffer the indignity of moving his ‘throne’ in and out of position depending on whether he wants to watch or to listen, no? (hahaha)

I don’t have the luxury at my new house to separate the two systems. I have a 15’x22’x9.5’ (wdh) room to place my existing hifi system in. At the same time, I would like to set up a home theatre system, which is a long standing personal desire and also to allow the whole family to have some good fun together. It would be unbecoming to hog the whole space for hifi alone, so the home theatre will go into the same room.

The empty room, awaiting its hifi/AV occupants

I am new to home theatre. Yes, I have read magazines and searched the net for information, but that was knowledge on paper, not real life hands-on experience. I decided to start the search with a professional installer.

For quite a long time now, I have admired the picture and sound quality that AV Designs achieved with its demos in the KLIAV shows. The picture had very natural and rich colour, it also had a rounded and analogue quality. Very attractive and comfortable for viewing for the long term (I would touch on how AV Designs achieved such picture quality in my future postings). The sound was equally excellent too - realistic, enveloping, and impactful or atmospheric as called for by the movie scene in question. Well, these demo systems were megabuck systems, way off my budget. I don’t expect the same level of performance from my budget, though I would still like to see how close AV Designs could get me there.

So I decided to talk with James Tan. Rather than straight jumping into designing and quoting for the HT system (i.e., the business stuff), James started with a few discussions to understand my needs and wishes. I liked this approach, I abhor jumping into something without understanding things myself. Since I am spending money, I like to spend it on the right stuff. If the vendor could provide me with advices and opinion and work things out, instead of just wanting to close a quick deal, so much the better.

James in fact ended the first discussion with an arrangement to come onsite to see my new room for himself, to gauge its possibilities and limitations, instead of just hearing it from me. He duly made the visit a week later. The room got his approval mostly. Its dimension was big enough, he said, and since the construction of the walls was concrete, bass performance, which was crucial to the visceral aspect of movies, should be fine. However, he pointed out that since it was not sound-proofed, the crash-bam-boom from a movie would leak from the room. That meant I had to watch the hours and the volume I played the movies (and I know that meant the hifi too, of course). He also did a rough plan of where the seating, speakers and projector will be.

Next, we went into deciding on the visual part of the system. As far as the projector resolution is concerned, it will be full HD. Given that the video standard has settled on Blu-ray and the software is widely available nowadays there was no reason to go for something of a lower resolution. It can be chosen from the brands that AV Designs carries – Sony, JVC, Sanyo. The screen size and format needed some consideration though… this I shall continue in my next post.

If you are interested to know, stay tuned...

16 comments:

Ng said...

I hope you do not mind if I add in some inputs in your set up - check with James if he agrees with me.
I saw the picture in your hifi/av room - the ceiling looks like plaster ceiling - it is definitely not good for sound. If possible place some diffusers. the side wall color and the ceiling best is to be monotone & dark color- grey to black. Since you started fresh not on the existing home like mine - place current supply as critical and first priority just like high end hifi. Ensure control current supply to projector as an example. Lucky guy you have a luxury & a very big dedicated room - I think you better save up for a bigger speakers like Wilson Alexandria and change your slow PASS LAB class A to a powerful fast/quick controlled powerful mono blocks- hah ha and do not forgat those imported chairs to enjoy yoour hifi and movies!!! - Your room do not match your hardwares!!!By the way can your amp have a BYPASS mode so that you can utilize your front hifi speakers. I concur with you, to separate hifi and Home AV - which I should but cannot be running around unless I buy up my neighbor house
Congrats!

HS said...

It is Oil and Water to me! I found out too late even with 7 nos in built wall speakers. Too expensive to rectify.

OdioSleuth said...

Ng,
Your observation is correct, the ceiling is plaster. Above it is the tiled roof. I have deliberately not do any acoustic treatment now as I agree with what a friend said, "If you don't know what the problem is, how can you know what are the right things to do?" I'll put the furniture and the system in first and see what the acoustic problems are, before I do anything (unless I could get the service of an acoustic consultant now, of course!).

I have heard a few mentions of acoustic problems with plaster ceiling, please share with us your observation on the negative aspect of plaster ceiling, I'll keep it in mind when I move in.

Thanks for your advice on the ideal colour scheme for the room, I agree. I hope I can do it eventually.

Power supply wise, I have pulled 2 dedicated 32A lines into the room, directly from the DB. Should be sufficient for the hifi and AV system.

Whow, I'd love to have a pair of Alexandria too... but they will wreck my finances. The class A Pass Labs amps have their strength and weaknesses. There are amps that are faster, but I wouldn't call them slow either, ymmv. What would be your amplifier suggestions?

Haha, You have jumped my gun on the front left-right channel. Yes, I do intend to use my current loudspeakers for L-R duty which I plan to mention in future post. It is James' suggestion too. I get to save some dosh with this setup. :-)


HS,
Regret to hear your negative experience.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Ken said...

You have 2 choices.

1. You have a separate AV and hifi systems in different rooms/place in your house. Place the hifi setup in your room and the AV in your living room where the whole family can congregate to watch TV/movie.
If you do this, you have family time and also your own hifi time.

2. You can put them both together but you cannot use a TV. You have to get a projector and a screen. The letter will have to be rolled up when you listen to hifi.

My suggestion is to go for the first choice as the dimensions of the room for hifi is great. But watch out for the bass because when it kicks in, the ceiling will rumble along as well ;-)

OdioSleuth said...

Ken,

Good suggestions.

I think it is more difficult to control ambient light in my living room for a projection system, so I am planning to put a plasma tv there instead.

The home theatre in the new room will definitely be projector based just like you suggested.

Ng said...

Odiosleuth,
Plaster ceiling is not very rigid and strong material and brittle. The sound waves hit and "vibrate" more than say a "armstrong" ceilings (used mainly in the office environment), more prominent if you have a low ceiling height. Secondly it is a health issues especially when you are playing music 24/7 and one will get micro dusts coming out from the plasters as time goes by. Placing a commercial diffusers or you can build one- uneven surfaces at the first ceiling sound reflection is excellent choice, make your sound waves bounce unevenly and "trick" the ceiling of your audio room to be higher - similar like placing diffusers on the
walls.Aesthetically may not be very "pleasant" looking but lucky guy you have a dedicated room. Ken suggestion on separating hifi and Av is good on a long term. With regrads to the control of lighting in the living hall - one can solve this with some imagination and ingenuity , normally with "darkened curtains ( that can be hidden) and some designs adjustment. If you do not separate both, in addition you have issue of a Preamp with a bypass in order for your front speakers do do dual duty unless one compromised the sonics with switches.
I guess you got to do the ceilings first as it gets very messy and dusty if you decided do it after you move in. AMPS = Mono block - how about the new more affordable Mark Levinson 531H?- light , quick , powerful new technology design.

OdioSleuth said...

Ng,

Thank you for your feedback on the plaster ceiling bit, looks like I may have to put an air filter in the room already. The acoustic treatment bit i'll look into when I move in.

My Pass Labs x2.5 preamp does have a bypass, so running the stereo speakers as L-R front channels is possible in this regard.

Mark Levinson? I sure love to listen to them, never had the chance, see whether I'd be so lucky.

Btw, Ng, if you are whom I think you are, the HT I am putting together does not even close to what you have, you have my envy.

mikelau.2 said...

Hi Odiosleuth,

Having made up your mind to have the av/hifi in the same room I think it would pay to consider asking yourself this - Which of the 2 would you sacrifice more ? Av or hifi ? If its the former then you may want to consider the roll-up screen. Suggest you go listen out with speakers placed infront of the fixed screen. Maybe you already done that ?

Cheers, Mike

OdioSleuth said...

Mike,

Performance quality wise, music/hifi is more important to me.

I also think that HT has a higher 'tolerant' level, in that it is easier to get the setup into an acceptable/good level than hifi. For example, the picture quality - there are some standards to follow (I'd like to write about what I learned later), and for the set up for sound, there is recommended positioning of the speakers, for example, from Dolby.

You have some observations on listening to hifi with a fixed frame screen sitting in between? Can share? I am yet to confirm on my set up's final config yet.

Ng said...

Odeosleuth,
I agree with Mike, a fixed screen in front of your two speakers that is made of vinyl will affect slightly the imaging to some degree although some opinion may differ. A roll up screen is a good long term choice. To play HT on a very high levels is as critical as two channel hifi and in fact has more variables because the involvement of many speakers.
All the best to your set up. I am sure our inputs has cause you more headaches than good!

mikelau.2 said...

Hi Odiosleuth,

My observations may not be accurate or conclusive as these attributes (focus and imaging) are dependant on proper system setup or combination of psychoacoustics arising from the huge white screen ?

I am not aware of the dolby setup.

Cheers, Mike

mikelau.2 said...

Odiosleuth,

From the observations I made the speakers were placed 2 and 3 ft away from the screen.

Maybe if the speakers are placed further out the focus and imaging could be improved ?

In the dolby method do they advise on placing the speakers further out ?

cheers, Mike

Ng said...

Just to elaborate ;
In stereo hifi listening one is playing with two speakers to create the overall sound - guess what? the sound are mostly portrayed in between the two speakers which one is placing a screen which can absorb to some degree of high and low frequencies, unless one needs to absorb !!!
In my experience unless one have other components that are famous for their incredible, powerful yet refined abilities to create a solid yet precise image and a solid bass one would think that placing the screen is ok, But long term this could turn out to be a possible weak area.

OdioSleuth said...

Ng, Mike,

Inputs are always welcomed. It is all a learning process for me especially as I am new to HT.

Thanks for your observations on fixed frame screen.

For HT speaker positioning, Dolby recommends the placement of the speakers (2.1 / 5.1 / 7.1) in terms of their listening angles, but I do not see them suggesting on placement distance from the front wall.
If you are interested, you can check out http://www.dolby.com/consumer/setup/speaker-setup-guide/index.html

My current thinking is that I'd prioritize on optimizing the front speakers and listening position for hifi, the rest of the speakers will be installed around these positions.

David said...

To everyone, I don't think av and hifi are a question of oil and water! Do you think that you have the professional qualification? Do you have real experience? What profession are you in, is it av or hifi related? i won't say it is very easy to do both, but you can't make conclusion based on imagination.

HS said...

Hi David,
Could you please elaborate.