The following article originally appeared in Wide Screen Review (WSR) magazine and is being republished courtesy of the author, Terry Paullin.
It's a rare and fortunate "find" when you encounter a client who is willing (actually, more like insistent) to have you build three theaters for him. I've been favored with a few such patrons, but none so exacting, erudite and insightful as LD. Let's call him LD, as he is a private man and will appreciate the alias. Save to say, the demographic of this readership likely uses his product in some way, everyday. What follows is the saga of LD's theaters for which, by the time I am done with #3, I will have driven over 10,000 road miles to complete.
LD initially found me through this publication more than three years ago. He had his people call my people (that would be my answering machine and I) and we set at time for me to go down and survey his scene. I live in No. Cal. and LD at the time was in So. Cal. I have dozens of installations in the greater L.A. area, so I hardly saw this opportunity as out-of-range. Upon arrival, I walked into a well designed room (for acoustics) and, typical of the day, a 3-tube CRT front projector on the ceiling. LD, an accomplished photographer and musician, allowed the space to be shared with a mixing console, multiple guitars and keyboard, and a gallery of his favorite photographic work.
The Runco 1200 suspended there was quite long in the tooth, short on lumens and a tick out of convergence. He asked me if I could propose something that would be superior. I suppressed a giggle and said something like "... uh, yeah", displaying my command of the English language. Long story short, we got along, he hired me, and about three months later we installed a Vidikron 3-chip DLP projector with upgraded optics paired with a 2.35 anamorphic masking screen, and a boatload of new A/V gear to go with it. I think we bonded when, against my instincts, I let him keep his Laser Disc player and turntable. LD was also enamored with his Martin Logan speakers so, in a rare show of acquiescence (and after an audition), I allowed them to stay after augmenting the low end with an 18" Velodyne subwoofer. (I chronicled the final acoustic room tune in a WSR column years ago)
Sometimes, no matter the installer, no matter the physics of the room and no matter (within reason) the complement of high-end A/V gear, things just come together in an unusually fortuitous way. This was one of those. At the time, I ranked it as one of my best.
Fast forward 2+ years. I got the call again. Turns out LD had had his fill of California (told ya he was smart!) and was moving about as far away as possible, southern Florida, and needed another "Media Room". "Great", I said. "I know of a number of A-list H.T. people east of the Rockies" thinking of Joel Silver, Kevin Miller, Gerry LeMay and Adam Pelz, et. al. "No" he said. "I want you to do it".
Realizing it would be impossible to ship EVERYTHING, feelings of flattery were quickly replaced by anticipation of the perils that awaited my truck, my installation partner and I as we embarked on a 6,000 mile round trip. This time I WAS out of my comfortable radius. Lists had to be triple checked and timing was critical since I was bringing in four other people to perform tasks at specific times during the installation. This room was smaller, so we decided to go the full acoustic treatment route - computer analysis followed by acoustic panel specification followed by expert installation of said materials and finally a "rack and cloth" covering to finish the room in black. Raw acoustic treatments are NOT something you want to look at on a regular basis.
My partner Elmer and I had allowed 3 (long) days to do the A/V part before the "acoustic" team arrived. I've been around this stuff a long time, but hiring Adam Pelz and his assistant, Bob, to install Gerry Lemay's recommended materials proved to be the right move. Actual installation of "rack and cloth" finishing material is more complex than you might think, requiring special tools and even more special technique ... and worth every penny.
Before they arrived, however, there was a hurdle or seven to be overcome. When we arrived we were informed that the Condominium Gestapo would not allow any work to be performed before 9AM or after 5PM. What I assumed would be three 12 hour days were now shortened by 33%. O.K. we cheated a bit with non-wall banging tasks. Wrestling a 285lb, 85" plasma from a crate in the parking lot to a very specific spot on the wall in a 13x17 room, 22 stories up was a circus act worthy of a whole separate column. And why didn't those guys tell me that the Mega-Pany came with one of those goofy, sideways pronged power plugs. Quick, call an electrician!
Denon, bless their heart, in an effort to reduce costs in their new receiver line up, have removed a lot of "features" from everything but the highest end models. Having happily used their products for years, I was surprised to find the one I spec'ed did not have pre-outs to go to the commercial equalizer and then on to the Parasound 5x250 power amp. Quick, overnight the RIGHT product for the job! (Note to self: ALWAYS read the spec. sheet - assume nothing). Woops! New receiver DOA! No time for another shipment. Off to Best Buy to buy another at list price (Ouch!)
Next, turns out the special interface I had made to get in and out of the non-consumer oriented EQ had a short in one of the connections. Result: two fuses blown in the Power amp. Worse result: two hours wasted chasing down replacement fuses from a Radio Shack the GPS said was there - but wasn't. (Note to self: when not in known geography, ALWAYS add a day to the install plan). There were other surprises along the way, as there always will be, even if I were installing in my own zip code, but I'll spare you the agony.
All's well that ends well. Both LD and I were very happy with the final incarnation of the room. Post-calibration images on the 85" Panasonic remain the best I have ever seen on any flat panel at any price-point, period. Thanks to analysis and materials from Quest Acoustics and fine tuning from Adam Pelz, this is also the best room I have ever heard, east of George Lucas' Stag Theatre at Skywalker Ranch.
Now comes #3. LD has a summer residence in Montana. The location of the "Media Room" is even smaller, still it gets another 85" Pany, KEF speakers, the new DD 15+ subwoofer from Velodyne and yada yada in the equipment rack. Biggest obstacle here is (as in most installs) cable routing. Looks like we're going to have to tear up about 40ft. of drywall. (Note to readership: No matter what the contractor says, "Cat-5 everywhere" is not the answer).
After a preview trip (in the snow), more ordering, more shipping, more planning and reservation making, we are, next week, on the road again.
Still hoping LD has a Villa in the south of France he hasn't mentioned ...... yet!
Posted by Terry Paullin, July 5, 2011 7:18 AM
About Terry PaullinAfter 25+ years as a Silicon Valley Executive, most recently as President and C.O.O. of Crosscheck, Mr. Paullin decided to follow his passion to the emerging Home Theatre industry. In 1994 he formed Front Row Cinema to design, build and calibrate Home Theaters for private residences. Nearly 600 theaters later, he remains engaged in the Industry in the following ways.
Builds dedicated (single purpose) Home Theaters and "Theatre Environments" (rooms used for other purposes as well).
Teaches Imaging Science and other courses for the Imaging Science Foundation. Mr. Paullin has taught CEDIA accredited classes to the installation community at both AVAD and ADI.
Consults to Industry on the topic of Imaging Science (Pioneer, Optima, In-Focus and several others under non-disclosure). Mr. Paullin has served on the Board of two companies and the Advisory committee of two others.
Has written articles/product reviews for major industry publications, including Widescreen Review, The Perfect Vision, The Ultimate Guide to A/V, WIRED magazine and CEPro and has maintained a monthly column (One Installer's Opinion) in Widescreen Review for the past eight years.
Mr. Paullin has a B.S.E.E. degree from Long Beach State University and performs ISF monitor calibrations for private individuals.
Mr. Paullin also maintains 3 theaters in his home for testing, comparison, performance verification, and reference viewing.