My Home Theatre consists of the following equipment:
The biggest problem with my current system is the room. The room is L shaped with the eating area to the right of my equipment. Then there is the doorway to the entry way and a doorway to a hallway that leads to the bedrooms, all of which I'm sure mucks with the sound. Next big problem is the windows to the left of my sub. Needless to say they rattled a bit. The wire and foam didn't help this much, however the bike tire inner tubes did. Music doesn't vibrate the windows anymore, but there is little I can do about the movie explosions when the whole house is shaking. My neighbors must think I'm nuts. But they are the only ones that see this window, and I always have the blinds drawn on it, so I don't care. Update: Got new windows! They don't rattle!
Any ways, if you are actually reading this I guess you would probably like to hear what I think of my equipment. So I guess I'll start at the top and work my way down the list.
What can I say, I think this thing now takes the crown as the largest improvement made to my home theater from the Tempest sub I built. Nothing quite like sitting 16' from a 8' wide screen in your living room. The image is clear, the colors are great, I don't notice any screen door and black levels are as good if not better than the 43" Sony I had.
I'm running this thing through a VGA cable off a PC I put together specifically because I was getting this projector. Details about this computer can be found below. The screen is 96"x48", 2:1 run in a constant area configuration. This configuration makes it equivalent to a 110" 16x9 screen for 2.35:1 movies and a 98" 16x9 screen for 1.85:1 movies. I built it myself. Details about it can be found in the DIY section of my site.
Movies are simply spectacular. Granted Saskatoon doesn't have much in the way of decent theaters, but I've now easily got every commercial theater in town matched in video, and in some ways beat. Audio I've had them beat for a long time. VCR (yes I stuck the original Star Wars in for kicks) is actually watchable, although I'm sure that has a lot to do with the HTPC and DScaler. Same goes for satellite, ranges from watchable to really quite good when ran through Dscaler.
If the bulk of your viewing is TV, and you don't want to run a HTPC, then I wouldn't recommend a projector. But if the bulk of your viewing is movies and/or you are willing to run a HTPC, IMO you'd have to be crazy to go with a RPTV over a projector with pricing the way it is right now.
Beware the below screenshots are ~200K in size each.
Here's a screen shot taken at an angle with ambient light in the room so you can get a better idea of scale with a standard door frame visible to the right of the screen:
Here are some screen shots of a few movies:
Here are some screen shots of DSS:
3 Way Adjustable Masking System
I decided some time ago that I was going to run a constant area screen setup if I ever got a projector. A constant area screen just made the most sense to me. I love having 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 movies appear to be the same size. For more details on what a constant area screen is and why it is so great (including some excellent comparison photos of the three main screen sizing options check this post out. Below are pictures of my masking in its three main positions. 2.35:1, 1.85:1 and 1.33:1. Details on how it was built can be found in the DIY section of my site.
Always having the image framed by a dark black boarder does make a noticable difference. Before I had the masking, I was always aware I was watching a screen. With the masking in place I don't notice the screen anymore, I just notice the picture. My system is only constant area between 2.35:1 and 1.78:1 foramts. It switches to a constant height setup between 1.78:1 and 1.33:1 formats. I don't mind this at all however since my 4:3 viewing is all DSS and the smaller image is a good thing given the image quality of DSS.
The next question is usually how can you run a constant area screen with only 3 adjustable masks, don't you need 4 of them. The reason I can get away with only 3 adustable masks is the way the zoom lens works on most projectors. With the projector ceiling mounted, as you zoom in on the picture, the center of the projected image will be shifted down. My system is configured such that I am zoomed almost all the way out for 1.85:1 material, with my projector placed the appropriate distance from my screen to make the bottom of this image line up with the fixed bottom mask and have the image almost tall enough to fill the full height of my 2:1 screen. I then use the other three variable masks to frame in this image.
For 2.35:1 material I zoom in until the image width is the same as the width of my 2:1 screen. Doing this will have shifted the center of the image down a fair bit. So much so that now only ~2" of the 2.35:1 bottom black bar is still on the screen the rest is onto the bottom fixed mask. In my case I now use TheaterTek to shift the image down further until the bottom of the 2.35:1 image lines up with the fixed bottom mask. If you aren't using a HTPC then you'll either need a projector with a lense shift feature, or a DVD player that will allow you to shift the image around. A final option would be to only zoom the image a little bigger than it should be until the bottom of the 2.35:1 image hits the bottom mask. This won't be true constant area, but it will be close and much better than a constant width setup. I then frame in the other 3 sides of the image with the other 3 variable masks.
If you want to get picky, to do a true constant area between 2.35:1 and 1.85:1 your screen should be 2.08:1 and your 1.85:1 material should fill the entire height and 2.35:1 material the entire width. I've found however most movies have slight variances in their actual aspect ratios, so I haven't worried myself with getting an exactly constant area setup. Instead I'm happy with just being really close. No mater what the aspect ratio is, I simply make it as big as I can on my 2:1 screen with the bottom of the image matching up to the fixed bottom mask using a combination of the zoom lens and TheaterTek, then framing the image in with the other 3 adjustable masks.
Home Theatre Personal Computer
I believe this is a must have if you have a projector and/or a large music colletion. What it can do for the image on your projector and for managing a music collection is well worth the time required to get one setup. It consists of the following hardware and software:
TheaterTek has many very nice features. Extensive aspect ratio control being the biggest one. Other nice feature include remembering audio preferences on discs, global and per disc video settings, last played position resume, direct access to main, chapter and audio menus, jump forward and backward keys. You can visit their site to learn all about it.
Winamp 5 adds great media management controls that are a major improvement over Winamp 3. Install the Monkey Audio plugin for wav quality in half the space. I used EAC to do the ripping, Monkey Audio for compressing and then Winamp can act as a very capable jitter free transport ;)
Girder and the IRMan are a must. Would suck if you had to use a keyboard and mouse all the time. You'll still need one, but normal TV, movie and music habits can be fully satisfied with these two items and pretty much any remote control. The Gyration suite is a little expensive (I payed $129CDN) for the amount of use it is going to see, but it sure works great.
Oh, and here are the Powerstrip settings I'm currently using:
PowerStrip timing parameters:
Generic timing details for 952x518:
HFP=31 HSW=16 HBP=97 kHz=34 VFP=2 VSW=1 VBP=42 Hz=60
Linux modeline parameters:
"952x518" 37.157 952 983 999 1096 518 520 521 563 +hsync +vsync
I love this thing. The PVR (personal video recorder) has to be one of the greatest inventions ever. I'm not sure what is going to happen when these things become common place, but until then I'm definitely going to enjoy mine. PVRs had been around in the US for over 2 years before Canada finally got one. Canada's doesn't have half the features the US ones do, and it does have a few little bugs and glitches that show up from time to time. But they haven't been deal breakers. The live pause, commercial skip, watch a previously recorded show while you record a different show etc are just god sends. Although I can now watch hour shows in less than 45min, I do think I'm watching more TV than I was before. I have piles of event timers going, so I can now watch stuff when I want to. So buyer be ware, you may think this thing will save you time, but if you don't have other stuff to do, you'll end up watching more TV than you used to.
As a side note, my mother got one after she saw what mine could do. She loves it too. She however loves it because now she can actually watch a whole TV show. Normally she always falls asleep during a show. Now when this happens, she just rewinds and picks up where she fell asleep.
RCA 4-Head VCR
Nothing to say. Has served me well, I'll be happy when I can throw it in the trash can. VCRs suck!
Harman Kardon AVR-520
Sounds a bit better all around than the Onkyo TX-DS575 if replaces. Although the power ratings are the same it definately has more juice. The Onkyo had problems at 5dB below reference while the AVR520 doesn't. Don't much care for the Dolby Prologic II mode in comparison to the Logic 7 mode. Logic 7 adds a lot to television shows, I'm really liking it (huge improvement over plain Prologic on the Onkyo).
The unit has basically everything I want. 5 channels of amplification, all the surround modes I want, 80hz crossover on the bass management, Logic 7 for DSS viewing and enough power to drive my JBL speakers cleanly to the highest levels I'll want to watch a movie at. In the future though, there is one feature this receiver has that few others do, that I really dig (although the newer models have dropped this feature, dumb move). Besides the 6ch and 8ch inputs, there are a seperate set of 5 inputs (center, mains and surrounds) that are directly tied to one of the 5 channels of amplification in the receiver. So if I get that Parasound HCA-1205A I want and build the infinite baffle sub I want, I could split the sub preout on the receiver into 4 and plug those 4 cables into 4 of the direct couple inputs on the amp. One 75W into 8ohm channel for each of the 4 drivers in the planned IB. Sweet, more than tide me over until I get a really good quality 2ch amp for the IB.
My only complaints are with the setup menu and the front display. The front display is too busy with too many lights and LEDs. There are two utterly pointless ones stuck in with the front input jacks. I really wish manufactures wouldn't do silly stuff like this. Then the on screen display, though sort of functional is goofy and a usability nightmare. Took be quite a while to get the thing setup, but after the pain of setup it works fine.
JBL S38 Mains
I use these oversized bookshelf speakers for my mains. They have a 89 dB/W/m sensitivity and a frequency response from 45hz to 20khz. Both of which work well with my Onkyo (80hz crossover). These speakers provide noticeably better imaging and sound staging than my old Klipsch Synergy Monitors did. I don't suffer from listening fatigue with longer listening sessions with them like I did with the KSB1.1 monitors. Their improvement to HT is a little more subtle though, but still there. Another benefit is I built some proper speaker stands for these and they are now placed much better than my old Klipsch were (but I did the sound comparisons with the Klipsch in the same position as the JBL). I also did a direct comparison of them to the PSB Image 2B at A&B Sound. I had a definite preference for the S38. And not for bass, for mids and highs. The Image 2B surprisingly sounded like it had more bass (I think because of its' higher efficiency).
JBL S26 Surrounds
I use these bookshelf speakers for my surrounds. They have a 87 dB/W/m sensitivity and a frequency response from 48hz to 20khz. Both of which work well with my Onkyo (80hz crossover). These speakers are mainly used for HT and like the S38 their improvement over the KSB1.1 is a little more subtle, but still there. My only 5ch music disc is the Blue Man Group "Audio" disc and the difference there is more noticeable. They extend lower and have better mid and high range clarity.
The S-Center is a very capable center channel. It has a 91dB/W/m sensitivity and a frequency response from 75hz-20khz. The nicest thing about this center is that it is a 3way design that doesn't suffer from the off axis response problems other horizontal MTM 2way centers suffer from. It also uses the exact same tweeter and 4" mid as the S38 making it a perfect timbre match to them and provides the same mid and high range detail and clarity the S38 does. Well except for color as the center and surrounds are Series II. This is of little concern as the differences are only cosmetic.
Adire Audio Tempest Sonosub
What can I say, I'm ear to ear grins. This is easily the best component in my system. It can rattle things just about everywhere in the house. Makes a lot of my favorite movies an entirely different experience. To my ear the bass is tight, defined and clean. There is nothing boomy or muddy about this thing. Mind you I haven't heard that many subs. Of the subs I've heard I like this one the best. Corner loaded in my room LspCAD predicts it can do 107dB at 18hz at my listening position. I've measured over 110dB from The Phantom Menace DVD.
In comparison to a set of Sennheiser HD600 headphones I have, the bass isn't as defined or clear (those phones are simply incredible). Mind you all you can do with the bass from the headphones is hear it, the sub you can feel. In comparison to the PDR10 I had previously. A fair bit cleaner, quicker and can go a whole bunch deeper and louder. I borrowed a CD with 100hz to 20hz sine wave in 10hz increment test tones a while ago. The PDR10 did ok on the 40hz, attenuated on the 30hz and was silent on the 20hz. My new Sonosub belted out the 40hz and the 30hz. Then I could hardly hear the 20hz, but ceiling tiles where jumping and things were shaking (this was done at my parents place where there were ceiling tiles).
I recently discovered a great group for testing the clarity of the bass your sub produces. Kodo. Kodo is a traditional Japanese drum group. Many of their tracks contain loads of fast, hard hitting drum rhythms over a broad range of frequencies. If your sub can keep up with this disc and still sound like drums you know you have a very capable sub. Simply put the Tempest brings a big grin to my face every time I pop this disc in.
With the addition of the JBL Studio series to my system I finally got around to trying the sub without the concrete patio block under it (mainly so I could put the one S38 where I wanted it). I don't notice any difference. I didn't pay close enough attention to the volume level setting on the sub amp so I'm not sure if that changed at all (from memory, maybe it's a little higher, but just a little), but sound wise I can't tell the difference.
I'll hopefully eventually get to compare this beast to some other subs, any time I do, I'll be sure to update this page with my thoughts.
Behringer FeedBack Destroyer 1124P
Most people don't realize how much effect the room can have on your subs response. There are a few things you can do to solve this problem. Positioning can partly solve the problem. Positioning combined with appropriate room treatments can also (this is also the ideal solution). However, few people can provide appropriate room treatments (cost and appearance constraints) and even positioning options are often very limited, as is true for me. So this leads to the next best option, the EQ. The BFD is supposed to be used to prevent feedback on stage mics. To do this it has a bunch of digital parametric filters which the Behringer engineers where nice enough to allow you to control manually as well as let the BFD control the filters to seek out and destoy feedback. The result is a good quality inexpensive parametric EQ that works great with subwoofers.
The draw back is this isn't the easiest thing in the world to setup. It can take a long time to get the settings right. I used the NCH Tone Generator to make 12th octave (forumula is start with 16hz and then repeatedly multiply the result by 2^1/12; change the 12 to 6 if you want 6th octave) test tones and my Radio Shack SPL meter to get the needed frequency response graphs. A big thank you goes out to Anthony Gomez. Without his BFD Excel program I don't know if I ever would have gotten this thing setup. It gave a great starting point and let me see better what the changes I was making where doing.
Above is a graph of the various phase response tests I did before EQing. I decided the 112 setting gave the best response from which to start EQing. The next graph has the before and after EQ frequency responses. The sub sounded great before, but it's even better now that the nasty 40hz peak is gone. If you decide to pick one of these up the Comprehensive BFD Setup Guide is an invaluable resource.
I considered my old One For All Cinema 6 the best value in my system. I consider this remote the worst value but I still love it. Although I miss all hard buttons sometimes the infinite flexibility of the Pronto allows me to have every button actually do what is says. I can create task centric, device centric or any combination pages with as many macros as I want that are as complicated as I want. The software isn't the greatest and makes some tasks very tedious, but once you have it setup the remote works wonderfully.
These phones are simply incredible. Whenever I want to do some really critical listening, I use these. They are the only piece of my current equipment I can honestly say produce audiophile quality sound. They sounded really quite good with my Harman Kardon AVR520 and so so with a Sound Blaster. I've started to realize their potential with the purchase of the HeadRoom Total BitHead though. I hear things with these phones I just can't with my JBL S38/KSB1.1 mains and Sonosub. They produce a very open and natural sound that is incredibly detailed. If you are in the market for a great set of phones I highly recommend them.
HeadRoom Total BitHead
I was so happy when I found out HeadRoom was making this thing. It's exactly what I needed to get my HD600 headphones to start realizing their potential and to get some great sound quality at work. The Total BitHead is a headphone amp with a built in Burr Brown DAC and USB sound card. Plug it into a USB port, it downloads a driver to the computer and you're set to go. Feed it with some lossless compressed music from a nice big USB harddrive and you can have sonic bliss from your entire music collection at work.
My opinion of the difference between my AVR520 and the BitHead for powering my HD600 headphones is there is not a night and day difference between the two. However, the BitHead does consistently remove what I would describe as a slight vail to the sound in comparison to the AVR520. With the BitHead there's just more detail. The bass is tighter and slightly better defined. The highs are crisper and the midrange is clearer. Not by huge margins, but enough to be noticable. It's not a wow, this sounds sooo much better. It's more of a hey, something isn't quite right when you switch back to the AVR520. Compared to a Sound Blaster the difference is much closer to night and day though.
Another feature I love on this amp is it's crossfeed circuit. This feeds a little of the right channel to the left channel with a slight time delay and the same with the left channel to the right channel. This gets ride of the three blobs in your head effect headphones have with stereo recordings and eliminates headphone listener fatigue. It also has an analog input and space for 4 AAA bateries allowing you to use it with any portal audio device.
My tedious tasks at work now pass much faster. Have to be care though, as with the right songs, you can get drawn in and sort of forget about what you should be doing at work ;)
Avia and SPL Meter
These two items are a must have. It is impossible to properly calibrate a stereo by ear and a TV set without the proper test patterns. Both these items are simple to use and make a huge improvement to your system for minimal cost. If you have even a modest Home Theatre go pick these up now. I guarantee you'll be glad you did.