Skip to main content

Cabarrus Magazine

One More Thing...

Jun 11, 2014 02:47PM ● By Jason Huddle
The above title is a catchphrase often used

by Apple CEO Steve Jobs during product unveilings

and presentations. IT MAY WELL SUM UP

what it’s like to design the perfect home-theater.


More and more men are taking that unused space in the basement or the family home’s garage and converting it into a space they can call their own. Whether they’re a sports fanatic and feel the need to display their memorabilia, want a place to de-stress after a hard day at the office or indulge in their hobbies, each man cave reflects the personality of its owner.

There are some common denominators, though: a big TV with great sound, a bar, a pool table and maybe a fireplace. There’s even an official website for the cave dweller wanna-be: There, the site’s members post photos of their manly space. While taste is as individual as the homeowner, Cabarrus Magazine will attempt to sort out some of the electronic the home-theater system.

With the development of Dolby 5.1 – surround sound – in 1994, moviegoers enjoyed sound effects that rattled their teeth and brains, and transported them “inside” the movie.

It didn’t take long to realize the potential of an in-home product, and DVDs paved the way. A typical all-inclusive set – called HTIB: home-theater in a box – came with a receiver that sometimes housed a DVD player, as well as five small speakers and a subwoofer. As DVDs advanced, today’s systems might include a Blu-ray player.

There are perks to a built-in Blu-ray player, like its streaming capabilities (see the article: Cutting the Cord). This also includes Internet radio stations like Pandora and Napster/Rhapsody, and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

“You might want to route video as well as audio signals through the receiver so you can easily switch among sources such as a DVD or Blu-ray player, video game console, cable or satellite box, and DVR,” Consumer Reports shares.

The key to purchasing an HTIB is getting all the features that are important to you personally…whether they be an integrated Sirius XM satellite-radio tuner, a USB port, an iPhone/iPad/iPod dock, Bluetooth or wireless speakers. As it turns out, speakers are an important purchase.

Consumer Reports says, “Speakers are a critical component of any home-entertainment system, and their sound quality can make or break your listening experience. A passionate audiophile might spend well into five figures for speakers, but you don’t have to pay a fortune for decent sound. Any money you spend for good speakers is an investment, because they generally last a long time and are less likely to become outmoded than other home-theater gear.”

Regardless of the brand – B&W, Bose, Boston Acoustics, Definitive Technology, Infinity, JBL, Klipsch, Monitor, Paradigm, Polk Audio or PSB – or where they’re bought, it’s recommended that the consumer purchase the right and left speakers in pairs to keep the sound balanced.

“The center-channel speaker should be acoustically matched to the front speakers. Rear speakers should also sound similar to front speakers,” Consumer Reports says. “The front speakers are used for stereo music playback; in a home-theater setup, they provide front left and right sounds. A center-channel speaker delivers dialog and is usually placed atop or beneath the TV in a home-theater. Rear speakers, sometimes called surround speakers, deliver rear ambient effects such as crowd noise or special effects. A bass unit – colloquially known as a subwoofer – reproduces the lowest tones, such as bass instruments and action-movie explosions.”

Sound can also be affected by the size of the speakers. Bookshelf speakers typically stand less than 20 inches tall and are recognized for doing a good job with the buzzing or distortion associated with the bass. Investing in a subwoofer lessens this problem even more. Floor-standing speakers usually measure three to four feet in height and can handle the deep bass. They may also have subwoofers built into them. Another trend is the flat speaker.

“They can be wall-mounted or placed on a stand,” Consumer Reports says. “In-wall models have gotten better, and can virtually disappear in a room.”

At the end of the day, it’s what sounds best in your space, and it’s not always the most expensive. “Even speakers with similar scores can sound very different. One model might emphasize treble, while another de-emphasizes it. There’s no substitute for hearing speakers, so bring a few CDs or a portable music player, such as an iPod, with familiar pieces of music to the store. Speakers will sound different at home because of your room size, shape and furnishings, so see if the retailer will allow a home trial,” Consumer Reports explains.

With the growing popularity of the home-theater system, more homebuilders are wiring during construction, containing the cabling inside the walls and flush-mounting the speakers. Owning an older home, however, doesn’t mean a theater is impossible.

FireFold was founded in 2005 by Christopher Grouse. Originally an e-commerce store opened in 2001 called CompuNetTech that operated out of Grouse’s basement, the business still operates its website store, but also offers a variety of computer-related services as well as audio/visual sales and support for the home-theater system.

Located off Highway 73 in Concord, the company deals with builders, contractors and consumers in coming up with the most home-theater bang for the buck because, let’s face it, the cost of electronics can mushroom and most of us have a bad case of the “I wants.” Grouse recommends an at-home visit as a good first step. “By seeing the space and getting a chance to speak with you one-on-one, we can discuss your thoughts, ideas and expectations.

“Our basic TV mounting services start at $150,” Grouse says. “Adding a sound bar under your television typically costs about $400 and a full 5.1 surround sound system can be as little as $1,300.”

Dealing with someone that can recommend a system that will stay current longer is a source of peace for many. For example, “The most common set-up currently would be a 5.1 surround sound system. That’s five speakers and one subwoofer, but for the small price difference many people are choosing to upgrade to a 7.1,” Grouse explains.

So, what’s 7.1? In a nutshell, Dolby has implemented two more channels into its surround sound, expanding movies’ sound capabilities even further, making it more defined and explosive. The technology is relatively new, so some movie theaters aren’t yet equipped to show movies mixed in 7.1 like 2010’s Toy Story 3, the first. A 7.1 home-theater also adds two rear speakers to the system.

Up until 2003, the aforementioned all-inclusive HTIBs were the rage. Enter, the sound bar, a short, wide speaker that typically sits in front of or below your TV. As a cheaper purchase, it enhances the high and low sounds coming from your TV and may be a good financial alternative for those finding it difficult to hear the dialog in their favorite show.

That’s right. While our TVs are getting skinnier, there’s less physical space to accommodate good sound speaker technology and what is installed usually points down or to the rear. Sound bars point the audio out the front and most come equipped with a wireless subwoofer, which provides the truly deep “rumbles.”

Sound bars were also a popular feature at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2014, held in January in Las Vegas. “Sound platforms – also known as sound plates, sound bases, sound pedestals, etc. – are the new hotness in one-box audio solutions. These devices sit flat on an entertainment stand or cabinet and function as a base for a television. Their increased cabinet volume allows for richer sound with more bass, even without an external subwoofer,” says.

Other attention-grabbing exhibits at the show included high-resolution audio, whole-home wireless audio solutions and Bluetooth speakers.

For the serious home-theater buff, a television might not do. Instead, he opts for a projector…certainly not your grandmother’s 8mm home movie projector either. Lumens; contrast; 3LCD, 3-chip technology; 3D content support; HDMI inputs; and resolution play into creating a vivid high-definition image.

And if you’re yearning for that high-end system, Grouse says the sky is the limit. “You can spend as much as you’d like in multi-zone receivers, top-of-the-line speakers, and custom seating and lights. We’ve designed home-theater systems for $50,000 and more. We also provide full-service installations, including wall treatments, columns, lighting and remote control programming.”

Grouse ended up taking FireFold’s capabilities home…to his own bare basement. There, he installed a theater that prompted our own photographer to ask if he could move in.

First, sit in one of 11 recliners with cup holders by United Leather USA. In front of you hangs the Clarion fixed projection screen by Draper ($3,591); the movie will be shown on a JVC 3D projector mounted above the seating in the rear of the theater. says, “It features JVC’s new e-Shift technology capable of projecting images with 3840 x 2160 pixel resolution, four times that of full HD ($11,995).

For your sound enjoyment, the Marantz power amplifier “produces 140 watts of high current output from each of its five channels.” ($1,599)

Boost your Marantz with an Emotiva three-channel amplifier. “Add it to your system to power the critical left, center and right speakers, and let your receiver – or a lower-powered amp – take care of the surrounds,” says ($799 x 3).

Next, the speakers: Atlantic Technology’s three-way system with dual eight-inch woofers. This set has that all-important balance discussed earlier, using “identical drivers as left-right for ideal tonal and dispersion match. Acoustic controls optimize performance in any room,” according to ($12,000). The speakers are paired with an Atlantic Technology subwoofer: $1,250.

The recession saw more Americans staying home because of the cost savings in renting or streaming a movie. Now it might be the innovations available, plus being able to recoup the cost of a man cave, home-theater or media room in the form of home equity. Whatever the reason for wanting it, it’s worth the price of admission.


Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Cabarrus Magazine's free newsletter to catch every headline