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Tracking $20M Project: Grand Room Challenges

Curved walls in 3,200-square-foot grand room pose acoustical challenges for sound system.

The grand room, the largest room in the house, is larger than many homes at 3,200 square feet. Thirty-foot ceilings with a wood coffered ceiling. One wall is floor-to-ceiling glass, the elevator shaft is covered in offset glass panels, and the rest of the walls and floor are made of stone.

If this wasn’t enough, the room has curved walls that focus the acoustical energy back into the center. The original design of a Renkus Heinz audio system would have made our job easier, but it still didn’t ensure perfect sound. Due to budget restrictions, this was one of the first things the client cut out.

Curves in a room collect energy and send it back towards a single point. The master sitting room had just the right height and curve to the ceiling to make a terrible sweet spot in the center of the room. Standing there, you can hear the echo coming at you from all sides, kind of like a nightmarish fun house. Placing a table in the room killed the echo.

Totem was chosen in the home theater and the grand room, due to it’s unique acoustic properties, as well as performance and value. The budget only gave me so much to work with, and, in combination with all the acoustical challenges, we really had to get creative. I wanted to place the subs under the undulating balcony and create some bass loading against the wall. The ceiling is three levels and lots of curves, gotta’ love curves, except when it comes to mounting boxes.

The architect and client didn’t want too many penetrations and wanted to make sure we covered the whole room. I was more concerned about reflections and bass loading (I wanted some loading but not reflections). We ended up choosing the dead space under the curved floating stairs. I would get some bass loading and the subs would be closer to the primary seating area. The subs are Totem in-walls with dual 8-inch drivers, one passive and one active, giving us four total subs.

Four speakers under the balcony and two more of the Tribe in-wall in the upper soffit above the window will only kick in for large parties when we have lots of people to act as diffusers. I have other challenges coming up on the sound front, but at least we have a plan and are moving forward. Once the system is active, we’ll use an Audio Control amplifier with the ability to individually EQ and set the level of each speaker.

We continue to come up with creative ideas to make this a project we can all be proud of. But at this point, the end just seems a long way from where we are.

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About the Author

Mark Sipe, System Designer
Mark has been both a commercial and residential integrator and systems engineer for over 25 years. He works with Builders, Homeowners and Architects to design and support all types of projects around the world. He is also a software developer (SalezToolz) and mad scientist/inventor (Xspot Products) all developed around what he saw as a need for the businesses he works with and supports. He has been a CEA Mark of Excellence judge the last 6 years and CE Pro Best awards Judge.

31 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Joe Whitaker  on  04/19  at  10:57 AM

Don’t you hate it when high end architecture meets high end audio? Add budget constraints, “we are always cut before glass, tile, wood, and treatments” it can be a mess. What further drives me nuts is attempting to envelope a listener “among many” in a huge room. I have always wanted to tell them to change the color of floor tile in a 8’x8’ square and mark it as “sweet spot is here”! Good luck on the project Mark! Looks like to much fun! BTW I have Tylenol prepackaged and ready to ship for your headaches. Once again good luck and keep us posted!

Posted by Curt Hayes  on  04/19  at  11:27 AM

They may have cancelled “All My Children”, but at least we have “Tracking $20M Project” to fill the void!  Keep ‘em honest, Mark! wink

Posted by Norman Varney  on  04/19  at  12:23 PM

Unless the people are naked, they will act more like absorbers than diffusers, which is probably what’s needed for this large, hard surfaced room anyway. There are things that can be done to control the sound quality without breaking the budget or the decor.

Posted by Robin Ellis  on  04/19  at  12:51 PM

Hello Mark, 
You and I have talked in the past during the Madison & BG days so I am wondering if there is any space or flexabilities to mount a BG Radia line source speaker in a couple of the vertical columes by the windows facing back into the room?  That may be a nice alternative from the RH speakers, keeping the budget in mind, and maintain incredible sound quality while filling that space.  Just a thought…  Talk to ya soon, Robin

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  04/19  at  01:19 PM

Considering this is Scottsdale, they will be almost naked given the heat.  The amount of silicone and curves present at any party will give us equal amounts of reflection, absorption and diffusion.  Call me offline but there really isn’t anything left in the budget but I am always open to good ideas.

I of course remember you well and like the BG speakers.  We are too far along for any changes and they would have let me put something in those columns I would already.

We don’t have any of the beautiful women in our little story, that will come after the house is done, we’re more PBS than CBS.

Posted by srankin  on  04/19  at  01:25 PM

Would there be any benefit in running the room using a mono signal?

Posted by Mark Coxon  on  04/19  at  01:31 PM


Sounds like you and Cinemagic are having fun.  I know when CineMagic fielded questions on the last post, this was one I asked them.  Especially with this space being an oval, you get two focal points, which can really screw things up if you mic the piano at some point and the placement of the Grand is not well thought out.

It sounds like you have a plan that meets the budget.  I know that our proposal for this area was slightly different, but I acknowledge that there can be several approaches, and since client satisfaction involves $$ spent, at the end of the day, total outlay can trump technical precision.

Best to you and Cinemagic, good to see an update!!!

Mark C

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  04/19  at  01:31 PM

That is already one of the plans to be able to switch back and forth depending on the event.  Most of the time it will be high end background music.

Posted by jdsjoe  on  04/19  at  02:10 PM

Off topic, but has anyone ever been inside the globe at the Christian Science Museum in Boston?  At the end of the tour they let you experiment with the unusual acoustics of being inside a perfect sphere.  If you stand at one end, you can barely hear the person next to you but you can hear someone at the far end loud and clear no matter how softly they whisper!  And if you stand in the middle and talk you hear yourself in stereo and people at either end cannot hear you…  its wild!

Posted by justsimple simon  on  04/19  at  03:34 PM

Mark I have been looking at the comments as this project unfolded and I wonder at the phrase first thing client removed due to budget. If he is spending 20million and the first place he exercised budget cuts is the sound in the grand room , did he cut the aircon , the finish or any of the things that will not give him lasting and continual pleasure. I remember being called in some years ago to tell the owner what was wrong with sound , this had been installed by a bigger and as far as i knew a very capable firm. When I saw the system my first reaction was this is way underspecced ( i contacted the installer and queried as to whether this was what was installed to be told that the owner and project manager rang 5 days before install of system to say budget was to be cut in half, owner of firm drove 120 miles to a meeting to be told that he had overspecced he got them to sign a change order giving this reason went away and fitted a system within the budget) I now found myself being asked to give evidence that the system was not suitable when I informed legal team of change order info case was dropped.

Posted by Joe Whitaker  on  04/19  at  03:53 PM

“If he is
spending 20million and the first place he exercised budget cuts is the sound
in the grand room , did he cut the aircon , the finish or any of the things
that will not give him lasting and continual pleasure.”

Ah if only our integration world was perfect. For the perfect client of course we aren’t fist on the chopping block.

But in the real world of new construction CI A/V is more times thqan not cut. I am with you on the long lasting pleasure comment. I have often been known to ask a client which they think they would be looking at more, the high end display, or Faux Finishes.

But in a real world electronics are NOT considered a need, they are considered a want. And in the skewed vision of construction, faux finishes, custom trim, marble tiles are some how percieved as a larger priority because they are viewed as “part of the house”. The paint is faux or Sherman Williams they are still going to get paint. The floor is marble or linoleum they are still going to get flooring.

It is a battle I think we all face. Clients cannot usual the perceive the difference between good and best with electronics even with a quality showroom that most times is built around prime conditions. BUT they can definitely right away tell Formica from Granite.

Posted by Joe Whitaker  on  04/19  at  03:55 PM

Sorry about the spelling….... multi tasking a little too much today.

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  04/19  at  04:15 PM

The client cut out Bronze Stair rails, glass steps and any number of things along with our products.  We weren’t all that special when it came to being cut, everyone had their head on the chopping block at one point or another.

Posted by Ron Callis  on  04/19  at  04:55 PM

Great update Mark. Keep’m coming.

Posted by Mr. Stanley  on  04/19  at  05:54 PM

Reminds me of the Lehaye project & Log home you and I were involved in… It seems like as soon as the start-up honeymoon is over, things start getting cut and the sh*t starts hitting the fan.
If these projects were on much faster time lines, there would be fewer cuts, I’m sure!

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