Size doesn’t always matter

When it comes to home cinemas, the bigger the better. But this project proved that as long as you use the right equipment for the particular space, size isn’t an issue. Amy Wallington finds out more.

A luxury penthouse apartment in Israel is home to Yair, an audiophile and home cinema enthusiast. His passion for cinema was obvious when he agreed to purchase the penthouse based on an agreement with the building contractor to add another room for a cinema to be installed.

Using the same installer as he had for his old property, Yair called upon Dan Nagar, owner of home automation company, CINEMART to talk to him about his new property. “The client requested a no compromise audio solution throughout the house as well outside on the 250 sqm balcony. He loves music and movies and it’s a big part of his lifestyle. 

“In his previous house, I installed a JBL Synthesis System about eight years ago in a 70 sqm cinema room. I remember his phone call about three years ago asking me if it is possible to have a decent cinema experience in a 20 sqm room. I told him that with the right system, we can make it work. He was very concerned about having a ‘small sounding room’, coming from a cinema that was 3.5 times bigger, and it was a big challenge for us.”

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Nagar’s expertise led him to an Alcons Audio pro-ribbon system to provide cinema quality sound without enveloping the room. Based on trust and a small 2.1 demonstration of an Alcons CRMS-SRHV compact horizontal/vertical reference surround and two CRMS-LFE18 large-format reference subwoofers, Nagar knew it would be the perfect system to fit the brief. 

The Alcons system comprised three bi-amped CRMSCompact cinema reference monitor systems (RBN202 two-in pro-ribbon HF, 6.5-in MF, 12-in LF) as LCR across the front, with four CRMS-LFE18 18-in subs – two at the front and two at the back.

Four CRMSC-SRHV (RBN202 two-in pro-ribbon HF, 6.5-in LF) were used to provide the surround base layer, while four more were used for the top layer. The whole system was amplified and controlled by four Sentinel3 and one Sentinel10 amplified loudspeaker controllers. 

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The room was completed with a StormAudio ISP32 Immersive AV processor, Zappiti media player, a DreamScreen screen, a Sony VPL VW 760 projector, and a Moovia Custom Made Seating Solution. 

The size of the room meant that it required a lot more planning than usual as there is literally no room for error or changes to be made. Nagar continued: “As this is a small room, every element had to be calculated and tested before the installation. We actually brought the subwoofers in at the concrete stage and measured them as we needed to decide their exact position before installation. 

Challenges & constraints

Having such little room to play with brought more challenges than usual with regards to audio. Nagar recognised that bass is very challenging in such small rooms. “We wanted as much power and as low frequency extension as possible, but also for it to be very accurate – no bloated notes and inconsistent bass. Alcons’ CRMS-LFE18 18-in subwoofers were the perfect choice for us – they have all the dynamics expected, but they are also the fastest (unusually high damping factor) and the most accurate subs we have tested.”

The integrator also had to think about providing a wide and even soundstage to ensure all seating positions got the same 3D audio quality. Nagar added: “Alcons’ optimised dispersion pattern ensured that every seat gets the same 3D audio quality. You can also distinguish clearly the sound coming from the centre channel, even if you sit on one of the side seats, close to the left or right speaker. This cannot be achieved in such a small room with any other speaker that we know of.”

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He continued: “All the speakers are using the same pro ribbon driver, no speaker is taking too much attention to itself when not needed, ensuring a seamless transition between all speakers and a true 3D sound field which is usually very hard to achieve in a small room.”

Packing four big subwoofers and many other speakers into the small room meant that they were in need of an ultimate room correction and flexible bass management platform, and Storm Audio’s platform combined with the new DIRAC LIVE bass module was the perfect solution.

Acoustic design
Another task they had to think about was how they were going to isolate the room. Being a penthouse apartment, the integrators had to consider the neighbours on the floor below and therefore commissioned the help of acoustic designer, Omer K Acoustic Design.

Omer Karni, owner of Omer K Acoustic Design, said: “The only way to isolate a powerful Alcons CRMS system is by creating a floating room – a room within a room, fully detached from the original room and the rest of the apartment.”

The first steps in this process were to treat the floor and walls. “We started off by spreading acoustic dampers on the floor and then creating a wooden ‘pool’ on top of the dampers, preventing any physical contact with the room’s walls,” he explained. “We then poured eight centimetres of concrete to fill the ‘pool’. This floating floor was designed to attenuate the spread of vibrations caused by shocks and impacts of the massive four 18-in subwoofers and speaker system. We definitely did not want the neighbours downstairs knocking on the door to complain.”

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On top of the new floor, the company then built the new walls and a ceiling, which was supported by the original room with special acoustic springs to provide a higher damping factor in the mid/high frequencies towards the rest of the apartment. A new acoustic door and AC system were also installed in the new room. 

Once the new room within the room was built, attention turned towards the sound design. “As opposed to a studio environment where we want a very focused frequency response at a certain listening sweet spot, in a home theatre we want the opposite: a huge sound stage spreading throughout the whole room,” he added. “In this case, our obstacle was a fairly small room. How would we create huge and evenly dispersed sound in such a room?”

The first step to achieving this was to eliminate room modes by building an extremely heavy wooden baffle wall to host the three front speakers and the two front subwoofers, all detached from the baffle wall using isolating rubber. The new wall gave them 50 cm distance from the front wall to fill with high density acoustic foam. 

“After filling all the gaps, we covered the wooden construction with 17mm birch panels surrounding the speakers, black fabric and screen,” Karni continued. “Our back wall was a custom designed equipment cupboard hosting the two rear subwoofers and two rear speakers, as well as the AC vents and projector hush-box. 

“Finally, the cupboard was also filled with high density foam. This acoustic treatment resulted in an evenly dispersed bass response with 0.2 seconds reverberation time under 500Hz, resulting in very tight but detailed bass.”

Diffusion was the final step to completely isolate the room. They filled the side walls and ceiling with MDF QRD diffusers (vertical and horizontal), with some covered in fabric and some left uncovered for show. 

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Both the integrator and acoustic designer, and most importantly, the client, were pleasantly surprised by the end result. Karni commented: “We were all shocked by how the room sounded so much bigger than it actually was!”

Yair is ecstatic with his smaller cinema room: “Dan led a similar project in my previous house and, as good as it was, there is nothing to compare with the new room and the Alcons Audio system. Alcons is so far ahead of the crowd that you can’t even compare it to other systems. The solution that Dan designed for this room makes it absolutely unique.

“The overall experience is so overwhelming. It is the outcome of a highly professional and detailed design of the acoustic, matching components, placement of elements in the room, and perfect integration work with a precise calibration finish. 

“The sound is crisp, detailed and coherent. When you play Atmos, the sound experience becomes so vivid and precise, that you could pinpoint the location of every sound object.”

Nagar concluded: “People don’t get excited about high fidelity or very dynamic sound – people get excited when magic happens and the ‘real thing’ is reproduced through sound – it makes them smile, be excited, be in the moment, recharge themselves, and forget everything else. For us, this is the most important thing is making people’s lives more enjoyable.”

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