Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In the beginning . . . there was only picture and sound to consider!

If someone were to ask you, "What is required to create the Ultimate Home Theater?" what would you tell them?

Is it the type of display (or projector), or perhaps something about the speakers or amplifiers; should it be about the interior room design or the comfort of the recliners, some of which cost more than a good looking display or even a whole Home Theater. Given how much has been said and written about Home Theater design over the last 40 years (starting with magazines like Stereo Review, High Fidelity, Video Review, and even Popular Mechanics), and along with the internet being so filled with everyone's facts (?!?), opinions, and reviews (even by well established names), how is an ordinary person (much less a professional expert) supposed to know what pieces of information are really important or even true (and how much is purely words for advertising's sake)?

If the goal is a Home Theater (or dedicated listening room) that sets the benchmark at or near the top of this field, which we now know of as Home Theater, how can one be certain not to be misled even by the most trustworthy of individuals, friends, and even well established experts?

This is why I have started this blog -- to demystify an extremely complex subject and to present my personal journey (beginning at the tender age of 4 - thanks to my parents and their parents). Over the coming months (and years), I will carefully elucidate many scientific and artistic principles that govern great and even sensational picture and sound quality, regardless of the time and monetary expense incurred or required. For example, it is well known that not every pair of speakers sounds the same even when manufactured using the same materials and methodologies, and heard under identical conditions. In fact, a great many terrific and musical sounding speaker designs can be found for a fraction of the cost of a new speaker utilizing the very same design (and materials), if only one knows what and where to look for it.

Here is a simple but key example:

All too often in this world, compromises are made based on assumptions (rather than valid testing: both empirical and subjective), and these have led many otherwise amazing and brilliant individuals to go down the wrong path at a critical juncture in the history of technology, particularly in terms of sound and picture reproduction. Does anyone remember when Thomas A. Edison was in the process of inventing the Lightbulb, way back in 1885? And his scientific conclusion was that Direct Current (DC - as from batteries) was THE WAY to transmit power across a distance! Well his employee at the time, Nikola Tesla, apparently knew a little better that Alternating Current = (AC Power) was a much more efficient choice when applied to transmitting power across great distances. Because they disagreed so vehemently (and in no small way because Edison was not willing to approve a much deserved raise), Tesla quit working for Edison. And later begin work for his competition, George Westinghouse Jr. Together, Tesla and Westinghouse pioneered and went on to prove the use of AC power to be a better, less costly, more efficient method of getting current to those lightbulbs, particularly at the World's Fair - World's Columbian Exhibition (1893) - the first pavilion to be lit entirely by light bulbs.

If Edison (a genius) couldn't see the future of AC power (and fought against its consideration in all kinds of political and social ways - many rather embarrassing), then who is to say which elements of audio and video have been compromised (or forgotten altogether) at some point in their journey? These are issues we will be covering in close detail as this blog unfolds.

Feel free to comment or ask any questions you may have. But be forewarned: I will delete anything that is of an argumentative or intolerant tone --- there is far too much of that, which can be found in droves on all the other blogs and forums on this particular topic, and who needs anymore of THAT kind of negativity, anyway!

Cheers -


Kipnis Studio Standard




  1. A good writer must consider his audience, must think who will be reading his material, to address them properly. Most HT designers seem to skip this discovery step, although a friendly consultation with the customer would allow suitable social criteria to develop. Here are some questions to ask.

    1) Is this installation primarily for yourself?

    2) Is this to be a family venue?

    3) Will you be entertaining more than two or three non-family guests at a time?

    4) Will these be informal social occasions or serious viewing?

    5) Will the bulk of program material be television or film?

    6) Will circumstances permit a darkened room?

    7) Will food and beverages be happening?

    8) Will persons besides the owner want to operate the system?

    Many HTs are way overdesigned, their creators never having considered the intended audience. Glamour is fine for when the Architectural Digest folks come in to do photography, but when friends and family sit down to enjoy themselves most such designs are rather woeful. HTs where less attention has been paid to elements such as theatre seats and elaborate decor tend to turn out better socially.

    Clark Johnsen

  2. This is an interesting concept, and a topic I know many customers do not even think about when they decide to add a media room to their home.

    This used to be my responsibility as a System Designer for a Custom Integration Company in NH.

    9.8 times out of 10, cost is the main motivator. It was a rarity to find that customer who was open to hearing options that are not available at Best Buy (or Magnolia).

    What I have found, is picture size is a primary need. "How big of a screen can I get in this room?" While this is an important question, there are other factors that shouldn't be forgotten. Lighting is a big one, as well as speaker placement, and finally, ease of operation.

    This is a very broad subject, and like you said, has been talked about at length for decades. Manufactures will attempt to change what 'Home Theater' means with advances in technology. Which is why this is considered one of those hobbies where you will never be satisfied with your system as a better display/remote/media will be available in 6-12 months that makes you want (read need) to upgrade.

    For me, the most important aspect of you home theater is the room itself. This can be as simple as controlling ambient light, or as complex as standing waves. You can spend your entire budget on equipment, but if your room is not conducive, performance will suffer!

    My question is, how soon do you think Mr. Lucas' idea of 10.2 will be available?

  3. Clark, your questions are answered as "all of the above" You cannot separate the ultimate experience in one catagory or another.

    Do not think within limits when the limitless is possible.

  4. Just this short addendum. What concerns me is the almost absurd degree of formality found in so many professional installations. These don't seem very family-friendly, or even friend-friendly. That's why the discovery questions suggested above should be asked. If the owner and/or designer just want to showcase their talents and budget, that's another matter.

  5. I can agree with that Clark. If you are designing the most humble or extravagant system, it would be advantagous to hire the person that has experience with the ultimate - as "they" certainly would be best qualified to install the right goods for the humble system. This only comes from hands on experience over decades of time. One cannot assume that the humble buyers financial status is in any way "fixed" or that they will not continue to earn and upgrade.

  6. Glad to hear that you are getting a blog up and running. I like the tone and look forward to learning from your experiences.

    The topic of who to believe in print and electronic media is a topic that we discuss quite a bit in our house. The last few years the lines between publishing (the business side) and editorial (the content side) have been almost completely blurred leaving me to wonder who really can be trusted. I am eager to find experts in audio and home theater that I can learn from and who will call it like they see and hear it. I don't need any more not watered down "for the money this is the finest piece of low quality gear that I have ever experienced" or " Since this costs and arm and a leg this product is fantastic" Tell me why it's good, why it might cost so much to make, teach me the subtlties of its performance and why I should care. But most of all just tell it like it is.

    Good luck with your blog.