If you’ve noticed some changes in the weather in the South recently, you’re not alone. The number of severe storms and tornados striking Nashville and the rest of Middle TN has dramatically increased, resulting in a surge in storm shelter construction. While practically speaking, a storm shelter is a great thing to have; these spaces are often only used for a few hours a year.
The story of this build begins when our client approached us with the desire to reclaim his shelter space as a proper home theater while taking full advantage of the acoustic isolation provided by the 12″ thick poured concrete walls.
Home Theater in a (Concrete) box
With a pre-build width of only 96″, space was at an absolute premium. A design requirement of having at least five fixed seats led us to create staggered wall depths in each section of the theater to help squeeze both the seating and speakers in.
This layout opened the door to employing varying types of acoustic treatments and bass trapping while at the same time creating some visual interest through the use of diffused LED accent lighting.
The crown jewel of the build is a 104″ acoustically transparent projection screen by Screen Innovations. It’s paired with a light blasting HDR projector from LG that makes high-impact viewing possible, even with the lights on.
The room’s soundtrack is voiced by a full accouterment of seven 300 Series in-wall speakers from Focal. All of which are stealthily concealed behind the screen or in the walls around the room.
We wanted to find a way to provide illumination that would be fun but at the same time not distract too much from the theater’s prime directive. Several scenes were created including one inspired by “Stranger Things” (my personal favorite).
Our client chose a fully motorized option for home theater seating by Octane. Trimmed in top-grain leather and equipped with USB power outlets, underlighting, and plenty of storage, these home theater chairs make it easy to settle into a movie or binge your favorite show.
Lights can be controlled by the keypad on the wall or even turned on and off individually with the Elan remote control.
The process of working with a home technology integrator or AV company on your new home can seem daunting. So much so that even many builders avoid getting involved in the process altogether. While they have an entire army of subcontractors for pretty much anything else, when it comes to technology, you’re lucky to get a shortlist of contractor recommendations. Usually, you are sent off on a harrowing pilgrimage of discovery with nothing more than a prayer that you’ll find a trustworthy soul to enlighten you along the way.
Education is an essential part of our job. If you’ve never had the opportunity to build a custom home before, chances are you might not be aware of the technology that exists, and we try to at least inform you of all of the possibilities. While some things may not ultimately be in your budget, the worst thing that could happen is to find ourselves in a situation where we didn’t mention a product or solution, only for you to hear about it later when it’s too late to include it.
As integrators, we wear a lot of hats and can be involved in nearly every facet of the design of your home. If it’s not plumbing or basic electrical, there’s a chance you’ve entered a corner of our Pandora’s box. Whether it’s things that immediately come to mind like AV, home theater, and Wi-Fi, or more leading-edge systems like motorized shades, lighting control, and home automation, the possibilities are dizzyingly endless. Unfortunately, over time, we found there was so much scope to cover that most people didn’t completely understand what they were getting, let alone exactly where anything was going.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
When we first started the process of rethinking the template for our proposals, I was surprised to see there were no off-the-shelf options for making presentations to clients easy and understandable. So, with a background in graphic design, I decided to invest the time (which admittedly was an easier decision to make during the early days of the pandemic) and create an entirely custom set of icons and graphics that more effectively convey the design of our projects.
The main goal of this investment was to make sure people could easily see what was going where. This approach goes a long way towards ensuring clients understand what to expect when their home is complete and hopefully helps avoid some of those “I didn’t realize this is what you were talking about” moments.
While you don’t have to worry about how any of the magic works, I think it’s critical to provide a clear visual picture of where things are placed throughout the home. We got lots of feedback along the way from clients and family and have further streamlined the process as we’ve gone along. For example, each system is color-coded on the pricing proposal, matching our plans’ icon coloring. So if you see a blue security camera listed on the proposal, it makes it easy to look across and locate exactly where that piece is.
A fresh take on TeCHNOLOGY PLANS
At this point, we’ve ended up with an entirely new process for presenting proposals that I feel provides plenty of easy-to-consume information. At the same time, it doesn’t require an electrical engineering degree or honorary Geek Squad nametag. When clients understand what they’re looking at, they can provide meaningful feedback and ask questions that help make us more effective members of your team. It’s been a worthwhile step and helps move us closer to our goal of delivering an experience that’s true “Audio Video Luxury“.
When you’re shopping for speakers or any other piece of AV gear, the internet is typically a great resource, with tons of review sites offering a vast diversity of opinions. You can aggregate all of that information and decide what you think the best option would be. Easy as pie.
Unfortunately, this is not the case with architectural speakers.
Some of this plight is caused by the fact that most custom install brands aren’t available for sale directly to the public. It’s also understandable that built-in speakers are a much smaller market than soundbars or even traditional Hi-Fi speakers that sit in the room.
There is an unmistakable void for honest opinions and unbiased reviews of architectural speakers. If you’re building a new home or dealing with a custom installer you’re pretty much flying blind.
Here at Audilux, we’re going to change that going forward. This post is the first of a series of in-wall and in-ceiling speaker reviews. I promise to do my best to avoid the typical audiophile sensory wankerism and offer clear and level-headed insights.
This is important since in all likelihood you won’t be able to demo any of these speakers yourself.
We’re going to start our new series near the very top of the food chain of in-wall speakers.
The Kef Ci-3160-RL: THX Ultra Certified
Kef speakers are manufactured in Tovil, England, just as they have been for the last sixty-plus years. While most of the industry’s component production has shifted to Asia, Kef is one of only a handful of companies to maintain control of every aspect of their supply chain by manufacturing custom drivers and electronics in-house.
If you’re not familiar with the rest of Kef’s Architectural offerings, they offer three different series that can be specified depending on the quality level desired; ER (Value), CR (Good), and QR (Best). The Ci-3160’s happily occupy a notch above the rest of the QR series and one rung below the flagship reference series.
Unboxing & First Impressions
The first thing that’s apparent when unboxing each speaker is the staggering build quality and weight. 25 lbs. is formidable by any standard, but even more so for a product that lacks a cabinet. Everything about the package exudes attention to detail and high-quality construction.
On a typical in-wall speaker a “dog” tab provides pressure at regular intervals surrounding the baffle. The tabs are tightened and sandwich the outer frame of the speaker with whatever substrate you are installing into. With the Extreme Series, KEF has opted to use a secondary frame that encompasses the entire perimeter of the unit.
This might seem like a subtle difference, but it’s one of the many details that add up to next-level performance.
Pro Tip: One side effect of this design is that the rear frame has to be slid into one side of the rough opening and then pulled back to the intended center location. This does limit how closely the speaker can be installed to any framing so I would suggest adding at least two inches of clearance space to either side in order to facilitate a smooth install.
Stunning Good Looks
It’s no coincidence that the Ci-3160RL made the top of our list of speakers your interior designer will love. The faceplates are machined from a solid piece of aluminum that provides an undeniable bit of visual interest to your decor.
If you’re passionate about hi-fi or an unrepentant audiophile, you’re going to love the look.
In their bare form, the Kefs are an elegant conversation starter and a great excuse to put on a record. Kef also includes paint-able magnetic grills in the box if incognito is more your style.
Sonic performance is a very subjective metric, but I would describe the overall tone of the Ci3160-RL as very focused, punchy, and smooth. One of the significant benefits of using 6″ bass drivers is the very fast transient response. Sure, you’re not going to get earth-shaking low frequencies (or frankly get much action below 60hz), but that would be a silly goal anyway.
When paired with a sub to handle ultra low-end duties, the Kefs offer an accurate representation of the frequency spectrum that’s sure to delight.
As far as the top end is concerned, the equipped Uni-Q tweeter was enjoyable despite my militant preference towards smooth or warmer sounding tweeters. (Read: I Love Ribbon Tweeters) I found it to be very musical and articulate, but it never hinted at taking my head off even at very high volumes.
It’s very pleasantly detailed but mercifully lacks the skulking razor-sharp armament of a Babadook Klipsch horn threatening pain around every corner.
Home Theater Performance
Using the Kef CI3160’s for movies is a walk in the park. They’re capable of nonchalantly delivering soul-crushing volumes without breaking a sweat and then quietly retreating into dialog before you even know what happened.
My test install was in a room that measured 25′ x 30′ x 15′, which is far beyond the purview of the THX Ultra spec.
They easily filled the space at reference level.
It’s probably time I address the elephant in the room regarding the KEF Extreme THX in-wall speakers. They’re undoubtedly expensive.
At $2000 per speaker, the real question is are they worth it? That requires answering a few more questions.
Are you in a 8+ seat dedicated home theater, or a big open concept living space?
Do you want a speaker that offers audiophile performance but blends into your decor?
Are you someone who lives their life by the mantra “Buy the best, buy it once”?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions, I think not only are the CI-3160’s worth it, but they’re a great deal.
Keep in mind these are the install equivalent of the Kef R7, which will set you back an additional $300 each and a lot of floor space.
The Kef Ci3160-RL is one of the few circumstances where choosing in-wall is no compromise at all.
When someone mentions a “Home Theater,” what do you think of? We often think of “movie-themed” rooms cut off from the rest of the house that we retreat to when we want a real escape. However, if you’re someone who wants the best picture and sound, but doesn’t particularly want to slip into a void of total isolation (no matter how cool it may be!), don’t despair. There is a solution for you.
Believe it or not, the trend is moving away from dedicated home theater spaces and more towards lifestyle areas that can provide both a great place to hang out and a highly immersive cinematic experience when you’re ready to watch a movie. Of course, it does require some careful planning and coordination with your interior designer, but in 2021 it’s entirely possible to have your cake and eat it too.
Make the best of a beautiful situation.
The reality is that most dedicated home theater spaces can’t be the “perfect room” anyway for one reason or another. In all but the most extreme cases, some spatial or budgetary constraints will get in the way of a textbook layout. Things are no different than with a lifestyle theater. What’s important is knowing the environment you’re working with and designing a solution that overcomes the decorative and acoustic challenges. If you commit to doing things right, high performance is very attainable.
You’ve probably seen pictures online of some unique multi-use spaces; one of our favorites is a combination bar/theater area by Tym Homes. It’s not drab or dark and offers plenty of spots for both conversation and serious stargazing.
Anatomy of a “Lifestyle” home theater
PSA : Due to the need to conceal wiring and hide speakers inside of your walls and ceilings, pulling off these kinds of spaces is much easier when you’re pre-wiring with new construction or when your remodeling a room. It can still be done when you’re not in the midst of a large-scale project, but you’ll probably at the very least end up with some drywall work.
Step 1. Analyze the Space
There are two gremlins to contend with when designing your home theater area. The first is ambient light, and the second is acoustics.
Ambient Light :
Ambient light is the light that is already in the room. You need to pay close attention to where this light is coming from, how much there is of it, and what type of light it is. Not only can it affect the picture quality of your home theater system, but it can also cause eye strain and even headaches. So, what can you do about ambient light? Our go-to solution is installing motorized black-out shades for dealing with sunlight flooding a room through windows and skylights. Shades let you keep your space bright and airy while still effectively controlling the light during viewing.
We also need to make sure we have control of the artificial light in the room. This can be addressed with a basic dimmer switch, but we usually like to take things a step further. For example, implementing lighting control that triggers a “movie scene” lets you create the kind of “magic transformation” most people are looking after.
Now onto the second gremlin;
Have you ever wondered why movie theater walls are draped in fabric or some other kind of soft cushy materials? We’ve come to associate that with the intrinsic charm of a vintage movie house and probably assume it’s an aesthetic that’s rooted in nostalgic tradition.
In reality, the choice of those materials is very intentional. Hard surfaces like drywall or wood flooring reflect sound, while soft surfaces absorb sound. When sound bounces from surface to surface, this is called a “reflection.” Reflections impact the clarity of the soundtrack, make bass thin and muddy, and generally rain on your parade. Lousy acoustics will make even the most incredible speakers sound anemic.
We tackle these issues with thick fabric walls and huge corner traps in a dedicated theater, but we have to get creative in a lifestyle home theater. Addressing the issue of acoustics is a great touchpoint to coordinate with your interior designer. Ask them to incorporate soft surfaces into your design. If your room has hardwood or stone floors, an area rug under furniture is a significant first step. Furniture soaks up lots of sound, and there is even one more sneaky trick.
If you plan to have any canvases hanging in your room, you can order artwork printed directly on a sound-absorbing panel. No one will be the wiser, but you’ll be effectively taming the reflections in your room.
Lastly, don’t forget to pay attention to the rooms around your lifestyle theater. If bedrooms are nearby, adding a backbox to your in-wall speakers will help keep sound from transferring to adjacent spaces through walls and floors.
Pro Tip: Your neck is calling. If this will be your primary display or TV, don’t put it over your fireplace. Most of the time, a TV mounted high over the fireplace spells severe neck pain, even during casual viewing. However, we do grant an exception for a TV that will double as artwork, like Samsung’s “The Frame.”
Step 2. Projectors & Screens
I think the true cornerstone of these multi-use spaces is employing a projector system and a retractable motorized screen. There are a couple of ways we can make that happen.
Recessed projector lifts
The biggest advantage of a recessed model is that it takes up the least amount of room possible. The projector is tucked away into the ceiling when not in use and gracefully descends into its working position when called. This really does provide the ultimate “transformer” moment and allows you to completely conceal your room’s dual personality.
Ultra Short Throw Projectors (UST)
Another option for an incognito projector installation is something called an Ultra Short Throw projector. A UST can be placed inches from a wall and even recessed into a custom furniture piece. Due to their close proximity to the screen material, a UST can produce a much brighter than a similarly rated traditional projector. Just keep in mind UST’s require a particular type of screen to make the most of the technology.
Step 3. Speakers for your home theater
You have two choices when it comes to selecting speakers for your lifestyle theater. You can opt for very low-profile speakers that blend away into your design, or you can incorporate options that become a part of your design. (We’ve covered that in greater depth in our post “Top 4 In-wall Speakers Your Designer Will Love!“) Whatever you choose, there are options available that are sure to complement your design.
It’s always best to install your front speakers either directly beside or behind your projector screen. If space or materials don’t allow for that type of setup, When a wall install is not an option, we’re big fans of Focal’s “Invisible Speaker System.”
These are in-ceiling speakers that fire at an angle to very effectively create the illusion of sound coming from the screen rather than above. They also incorporate backboxes as standard and have a sexy trim-less bezel. Yes, please!
Step 4. Home Theater Seating & Furniture
I think most of us aren’t looking for colossal movie theater recliners in the middle of our living room. That would kind of defeat the whole purpose of a convertible space. Fortunately, several seating companies have stepped up to the plate and now offer home theater seating that’s virtually indistinguishable to even the most discerning taste. Look for “Media Room Furniture”.
Step 5. Bringing it all together.
Elan makes everything easy.
If you’ve made it this far, the pieces are all in place, and now it’s time to tie everything together. Here is where an Elan home automation system can take things to the next level. At this point, if you’ve followed our recipe, you have a Projector, Motorized Projection Screen, Receiver, Motorized Shades, and then, of course, the lights and climate in your room to control. My math tells me that it would require no less than six remote controls.
When a customer requests this type of setup, we create a “Movie Mode” button that simplifies this entire ballet into a single button press. From their Elan remote control, touchscreen, or smartphone, the projector lowers into position and powers on, the screen drops down, the room’s lights dim, the sound turns on, and you’re dropped straight to your favorite channel or streaming service. That same Elan remote can control your Apple TV and even adjust the temperature in the room. This is a killer app for home automation—no switching inputs, no modes, and no digging remotes out of the couch.
When movie time is over, press that same “movie time” button, and everything disappears. Finally, the lights fade up, and you’re ready to make memories with your friends.
We love home automation and the way it makes our lives easier. Smart homes are undoubtedly the trend du jour, but once you have a completed system installed, it can be tough to wrap your head around some of the best uses for automation. Automating is an entirely new concept for most people. So I usually tell clients to start by making a list of routines around the house that are repetitive and you find yourself doing over and over.
For example, If you’re always making the rounds turning out the lights on the way out the door, that can be a great chance to put your home control system to work.
While we can’t automate loading the dishes in the dishwasher yet, there are plenty of instances where your smart home can save you time.
Here are five Home Automation Ideas toget you started.
#1 – Welcome Home
Trigger: The garage door opening, your individual presence is detected by your phone or Apple Watch.
What happens: That’s entirely up to you, but our welcome home goes something like this. Dim the main hallway lights to 50% with warm light, start my “Chill” playlist on Spotify, and turn on the local news, (but only with captions) and lastly, drop the temperature on the thermostat 2 degrees.
Why?: Yes, we know having your four-legged friend attack you at the door is the ultimate, but who doesn’t want to get a jump on settling in for the evening? Instead of walking around doing your evening routine, let your home control system take care of everything. Some people have vastly more exotic sequences, so more or less is entirely up to you!
Just pay attention to what you do when you get home, and ask your integrator to “make that happen”.
#2 – The Effortless Exit
Trigger: All occupants leave the house or pressing an “away” button
What happens: All the lights in your home turn off, the security system is armed, and your home goes into “eco mode”
Why?: We mentioned this earlier, but this automation can pretty much save any one time, particularly in a larger home. If you’re a parent, we don’t have to explain any further. This scene can be as simple as having a push-button marked “away” or automatically triggered after an allotted time with no motion detected.
#3 – Popcorn Time
Trigger: A button on your universal remote or touch panel.
What happens: Motorized Shades begin to lower in unison surrounding the living room, the projector and screen lower from the ceiling, the surround sound system goes into movie mode, Netflix pops up on the screen, and the room lights dim to 10%.
Why?: Talk about having a huge impact! With the press of a single button, you’ve effortlessly transformed your living room from an elegant conversational space into a big-screen home cinema. When the movie’s over, press the button again and kick back into social hour.
#4 – Scheduled Scenes
This one doesn’t really fall into the category of a particular “program” but it’s the most universal use case for home control. Set a morning and evening mode for your home.
You can automate the temperature, and trigger certain lighting events based solely on the schedule. This is a great way to make your home evolve and change as the day progresses. Scheduling lighting can even be good for your health.
Perhaps between the hours of midnight and 5AM you only want your lights to turn on at 50% power.
#5 – In case of emergency
Trigger: If a fire alarm is detected
What Happens: all lights fade up to 25%, any audio that’s playing is muted, ceiling fans and ventilation are immediately turned off.
Why?: If a fire is detected in the middle of the night, not fumbling around looking for light switches could save you a lot of time. If the fire is severe, that time could even save your life. We shut off all sounds to make sure everyone can hear the alarm. Turning off the ventilation system in the event of fire helps prevent the flames’ spread and limits the smoke’s ability to travel to other parts of the home. Safety first!
At Audilux we specialize home control & automation by Elan. If you’d like to find out more about the difference between a DIY system and a professionally installed system, start with our blog post “From DIY to Dealer”!