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$20M Project: Creating Acoustical Treatments from Scratch

Homeowner rejects paying for professional acoustical treatments for the theater, so the integrator has to create them. Also, woodworkers miss the mudrings.

Mark Sipe · June 22, 2012

Projects of this scale move both faster and slower. Dirt work, foundations and just getting the structure out of the ground seem to go quickly. Framing, sheetrock and paint seem to drag on and on. The final finishes like woodwork, stone, tile, custom glass and railings plod along at an almost painful speed.

It’s become a slow-motion movie with decisions being made for each foot of area covered with some of them removed and redone again and again. This client has an eye for detail, meaning nothing gets by him.

For all his volatile nature, the level of finish in the two homes I’ve worked on for him set the standard. Part of my job was to make sure we didn’t take the lowest bid and then either settle for a lesser product or later have to pay for a change order to make it right.
One of the final four integrators during the selection process was planning on doing just that, and even planning on changing the control system. Not that the change would have been lesser or the change orders wouldn’t have added to the project, I wanted to know up front, what my costs were, not the old “bid low, bill high” bidding process.

I mention this because, through the course of this project, I have come to rely and trust my subcontractors more and more. When a job like this drags out, it can sometimes be hard to get someone out to the jobsite to take care of the little things that come up. For that matter, big things can be hard to get someone’s attention. CineMagic has continually made themselves available for us whenever needed.

imageThe woodworkers missed the mud rings. (Click image to enlarge).

Creating Acoustical Treatments
We have had a few problems lately with the woodworkers missing our mud rings. How is that possible? There are three big holes in the wall, all they needed to do was cut the wood paneling to match. Instead, they cut the wood missing the holes by inches and left it as finished. Maybe I should have put an Xspot in every single opening, not just the prewire locations. We use them a lot for custom cabinetry.

The home theater acoustics was another big issue. I talked with the usual suspects of acoustical companies, thinking I was taking some burden off my sub. When the customer called them “pirates” for what I thought were reasonable bids, I went to CineMagic general manager Terry Kohler and asked what he would suggest. Much to my surprise, he wanted to jump right in and make use of the exceptional carpenters on site to build his own acoustical panels.

For the acoustics, we needed to be concerned about absorption, reflection and diffusion. There are subtleties to these, but looking at the big picture, every room in the home needs to address these in some way to create an acceptable sound. How many rooms just get treated with all absorption only to sound like a dead, anechoic chamber? How many rooms get no treatment at all so the first reflections hit you slightly behind the original sound creating a subtle echo? 

Much the same way a movie screen has become as important as the projector, acoustical treatments are equal in importance to the speakers in a room. They can bring out the best of the speakers. They can also be stylish, covered to add to the motif and in every way make for a better theater. Working with CineMagic we have eliminated a column that would have looked cool but added nightmarish reflections to one side, designed absorption to the front of the room to pick up first reflections. Absorption, diffusion and refection to the middle with weighted diffusion to the rear wall. Bass traps were designed and engineered.

Front columns were slightly angled for proper “toe in.” The screen was designed with a slight forward lift off the front wall to allow for some kind of treatment behind it and LED lighting behind the screen for effect. Finding subcontractors that you can work with is one of the most important parts of a project, so far, so good.

Subs like this actually make these projects fun again, since I don’t have to do my job, and theirs. My goal is to find the right tradesperson for each project and then translate between the home owner/builder and contractor, ensuring we finish the last 10 percent (always the hardest part) to the client’s satisfaction. 

As the job moves towards the final months, the pressure will ramp up again, but looks like it will only be a pain, not a full-fledged heart attack.

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  About the Author

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. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Mark at

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  Article Topics

News · Media · Slideshow · Home Theater · Installation · All Topics
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