I recently detailed a few system setups as examples of how to put together a truly great theater experience for the size of your home theater space, and let’s be honest, the size of your paycheck. However, I left one category out because complex home theatre design like this deserves its own post.
This high-end theatre category is for the truly well-heeled. But even if you never will rise to this standard, know that your investment in quality audio and video experiences benefit from the hard work and research that goes into developing true state of the art endeavors. In many cases, these high-end projects are where virtually all the core research and experience arises within a company, ones that fuel more affordably priced products later.
Please understand that a schism exists that is false within our industry; that ultra-high-quality speakers and amplifiers are not needed in theatre. Even more corrosive is the false notion that “theatre” speakers can have all sorts of non-linearities but still make “good” theatre speakers. What a load of nonsense. This is foisted upon the unwary public by mid-fi reviewers intent on keeping their magazines/webzines running by accepting ad money from manufacturers who build this mess and derive every benefit from keeping this lie running.
Great theatre does NOT exhaust you when sitting through a full length 2+ hour movie. Why is this so? Because great speakers are properly designed to reproduce sound in a manner consistent with the way sound is produced in every other aspect of our lives. In nature. And because of this quality of reproduction, ones’ brain can relax and take in dialogue and all the other sounds needed to sell the hyper-realism that allows one to sink into a movie.
Make no mistake, movies—especially the big special effects blockbusters are often about a hyped-up sense of imaginary reality. But the finest sound engineers on the planet already build in the tens of thousands of hours recording sound on set, and draw upon multiple lifetimes of knowledge to create the precise amount of hyper realism they are after. They don’t need inaccurately hyped up speakers to undo all their efforts; do that and you have a double helping that pushes the whole experience over a cliff. Foley effects (those thousands of often tiny sonic amendments and filigree that sell the realism of every scene; the rustle of cloth as a secret message is tucked into a pocket, the swish of air as a knife blade descends) rely on natural sound to work best.
Here, we’ll build a grand theatre that doubles as a state of the art listening studio, partly because there still exists so much misinformation out there on how to build and voice theatres properly. Done well, using high end audio setup, top notch equipment and listening procedures, not simply relying on DSP and room correction crutches, theatrical screening rooms can be utterly transportive, rising so far above muddling home theatre as to be virtually unrecognizable. And the benefit of doing so is that it will produce thousands of hours of musical enjoyment as an ultra-high-end two channel system.
Here’s one approach to show how high “up” theatre can go. Before everyone starts rushing to send emails decrying how wildly extravagant this system is, please note that the main speakers reside in the lower third of Wilson’s offerings and REL’s matching Carbon Specials are the midpoint in our offerings:
Wilson Audio Sascha DAW $38,000+/pr Main L-R
REL Carbon Special Array (6) x $4,000/ $24,000
REL HT/1508 pure .1/LFE subs x (2) $1800/ $3,600 total
REL Carbon Special (1) @ $4,000
Wilson Audio SabrinaX @ $18,500 Rear main surrounds
Additional Dolby Atmos speakers can and should be added as dictated by the scale of the room.
A system of this caliber deserves proper room construction, acoustical treatments, a/c power conditioners and seating, a first-rate projector capable of correctly and accurately driving a quality 13-16’ screen and room décor to match. This alone could easily add $100-150K to the total bill.
What should one expect for this? A system that, within any practical definition of remarkable, defines what one would dream of both theatre and music to deliver. And before one cries out “That’s ridiculous!”, please remember that in any endeavor the best costs a lot, partly because there are so few who can afford to purchase state of the art onslaughts so the cost per unit remains high because relatively few exist to support the pinnacle of any passion. A Hinckley Talaria 43 luxury cruising yacht, exquisitely built, will set one back roughly $250,000 before any customization takes place. The latest Porsche Turbo S? The same or higher without even getting into a deep options package. And Italian cars of a certain provenance start in the $300k range and expand upward relentlessly.
The point is the best costs money. Lots of it. But it can, and in our case does, pay fantastic rewards that can benefit the rest of us as lessons learnt battling the limits of designers’ imaginations. These dreams come back to earth later in the form of dramatic improvements to products closer to where the rest of us live. Our Serie S models that are taking the market by storm borrow heavily on lessons learnt designing our remarkable No.25 at three times the price.
So revel in the dreams, know that there are boundaries that exist out there that are meant to be pushed. That the wealthy among us often fund the research and improvements upon which the industry moves forward and then we take the approach to heart and apply this toward your own system. After all, as exquisite as the Talaria 43 picnic boat is, it likely will be used fewer than a dozen times a year by most owners, whereas a state of the art theatre constructed using the best in high end two channel products that does double duty as a high end 2-channel system will get used most evenings and provide their owners with years of joy.