Many words have been spilled on how to set-up and lay-out your dedicated home theatre. But what if there is no such a thing as a dedicated room for your dream set-up? What if you have to make do with a shared space called a living room that doubles up as a home theatre?
It probably means that you don’t have a nice rectangular shaped room at all; you may have to deal with an open plan space that also incorporates a kitchen and dining area. You may not have an entire wall space dedicated solely for your 5.1 or 7.1 front speaker set-up. Your other half might not be open to the idea of having a home theatre projector permanently hanging off the ceiling. Or the kids may display some early engineering skills and have a secret desire to remodel your brand new speakers.
We have a message: Don’t despair. It can be done and we have done it before. And it’s pretty amazing too, if we may say so.
Limitations are not the end of the story.
Does this mean you have to give up on the surround sound dream? That this 5.1 or 7.1 is not for you at the moment? Will you reluctantly have to make do with a television and a soundbar?
We would like to give that question a big fat ‘no’. I don’t know about you, but at Rapallo we love a good 5.1 or 7.1 and a few set-backs are not going to stop us from getting you a home theatre, even if that means you’ll have to share space. I say we give you some tips and tricks about how you can work around the limitations that come with a living room home theatre.
Here’s some initial wisdom: no matter what space and budget you have available, designing a home theatre will always involve some compromise at some level. Setting up your home theatre in the living area might simply mean being extra-smart about how you can make your surround sound dream work. But it can be done and we’ll prove it to you too!
Chances are that ‘how your room looks’ will be of more importance than it would be in the case of a dedicated room. After all it is a shared room. It might be that the balance between ‘functionality’ and ‘design’ that applies to any home theatre set-up, will shift slightly more towards the design side than it would in a dedicated home theatre room. There are plenty of families out there that don’t care about this design side at all, and that’s fine.
But for many people, it will be a consideration. The important thing is, you can work with it and it should not be the end of the story! Nor should it compromise the end result.
Strategies for a home theatre in a living room
Let’s take a look at how to tackle some practical limitations of not having a dedicated room.
Let’s have a look at speaker set-up first. The left, centre and right speakers are arguably the most important in your speaker set-up. By far the largest bulk of audio is channelled through these three. They are also the speakers that produce sound that needs to be localised. In other words: placement is pretty important.
No matter what your living room situation is, you will need to try to place the left and right front speaker at ear level so they fire directly at you. If that’s not possible, we will have to compensate and adjust for that.
If you are living with little fingers that need to be kept away from your speakers and therefore cannot be placed at ear height or your other half has put her/his veto on a pair of monster speakers in the living room, bookshelf speakers, on-wall speakers or in-wall speakers are the answer.
Simply choosing a white pair of speakers instead of the black ones could already paint a very different picture as far as fitting in with the rest of the room layout. Alternatively, the Klipsch Heritage series works really well with a more industrial look. If modern design is how you swing, have a look at the new Q Acoustics Concept 300’s (to be available in April)
But we’ll get into that a bit later.
Living with kiddies
For many people with pets or small children living with them, placing bookshelves at ear level is an ‘in your dreams’ situation. It means your speakers may need to be placed either above or below ear level. We highly recommend angling them up or down towards you. Auralex Mopads are a great and inexpensive tool for this as they place your speakers on a slope, but also stop the resonance transfer from the cabinet it is placed on.
Obviously the same reasoning applies to your center speaker.
The ELAC Debut on-wall speakers offer a budget friendly solution that won’t disappoint, as does Klipsch. ELAC also offers a higher end option, that we love to use. Obviously there is also the option of going in-wall with options from several quality brands like Definitive Technology, Earthquake, Goldenear, Speakercraft, Klipsch and ELAC.
In ceiling speakers for the LCR channels are a last resort option. If that’s what it needs to be, opt for the SpeakerCraft ACCUFIT in-ceilings . They are not the cheapest, but the quality of the sound they produce for your home theatre more than justifies their price tag. And if a home theatre is what you really want, they are worth the investment.
If you cannot place your left and right front speakers at the ideal equilateral triangle distance as we mentioned in our ideal situation blog, make sure you toe the speakers out (or in).
If towers are still high on the list, but space is at a premium, The ELAC Uni-Fi speakers, the Q Acoustics 3050i’s and the higher-end ELAC Vela FS407.2 have a small footprint, very neutral (if not attractive) design without the slightest compromise when it comes to sound. All three options come in variety of colours, including white.
But what if even bookshelves are out of the question?
Bottomline is that there are plenty of options to work with speakers as long as speaker cabling was installed or will be done. But what if that’s not the case and you have no desire to have a go at your gib walls?
The obvious answer is wireless speakers. These days there are wireless audiophile speakers available, although options are much more limited. Klipsch have their WISA speaker range (announced to be updated in the future) and ELAC just launched their ELAC Navis line. ELAC’s new Navis Series answers every minimalist audiophile’s dream of a no-compromise powered speaker driven by best-inclass amplifiers. The speakers truly deserving of the name “high end.” Add the Discovery Connect wireless transmitter to your system, and Navis becomes a wireless speaker that lets you enjoy streaming content without a cable in sight.They are said to be available by the end of 2019. (We have very high expectations on this one)
Neither the Klipsch WISA option nor the ELAC Navis option is cheap though. If Bookshelfs are fine, you also have the option of the Kef LS50 wireless speakers (still 2 pairs on sale at Rapallo).
We’ll discuss surround sound options a bit further down, but if they have to be wireless, the Yamaha MusicCast 50’s are excellent options for surround sound.
With the restriction of having to share your home theatre space with the living room space, a custom-built cabinet is an ideal way of keeping your audiovisual equipment safe and out of sight while still keeping peace on the design front. That is if the budget allows for it. Alternatively, a home theatre unit that matches the rest of your furniture or the Sonorous modular entertainment system cabinets are a straight forward, flexible and fairly economical option.
As far as subwoofers in the living room are concerned, it’s about being creative. If possible in any way, you do want them in your set-up, especially if you opted not to use floorstanders. The trick with subwoofers is to play around with placement, trying to get the nulls right. Tuck them in a corner or put them beside the couch so nobody stumbles over them.
Use them as a side table maybe.
Two smaller subwoofers are often easier to place than one big one. On top of that dual subwoofers also provide better optimal frequency response for all listening positions and are a lot harder to localize. In the case of a non-ideal set-up they are the go-to solution. A previous blog on subwoofer placement gives you guidelines on what the best subwoofer placement options are.
Also, consider a down firing subwoofer like the PC-2000 from SVS. They have a small footprint and are less fussy when it comes to placement.
And some surround sound, please
Luckily,surround channels are a lot easier. If you don’t want satellites on speakers stands or hanging on brackets (we love working with the SVS Prime elevation speakers), go in-wall (like the SpeakerCraft AIM Atmos Height speaker option) or on-wall if you can. In case of an open plan living area where there are no back walls for your rear speakers, in ceiling back channels are a very acceptable solution. After all, we don’t want these speakers to be localized anyway.
Home theatre projectors in a living room?
And then there is the final culprit: you really, really, really would like to have a home theatre projector. In the past we have worked with different solutions. It just depends on what people prefer. The easiest way and also the most cost effective is to insist on a white projector agains at white ceiling. Alternatively, you can work with a projector lift. And as a final answer, there is the option of a short throw projector like the Epson LS-UH100 short throw laser projector. The short-throw projector concept tracks back to board rooms, but it’s now spilling over to home theatres. The big bonus is that it only needs to be 5.6cm away from the screen, it handles ambient light and it is straight forward to set-up.
So, what about the screen? If you don’t want a screen that is visible when not in use, the most elegant answer is a motorised in-ceiling screen. If that doesn’t work for your set-up, a manual pull down screen or even a floor-up screen are options to consider. Also, there is no need to bypass a television for the sake of a projector screen. Sometimes you can have it all.
And so we leave you with some thinking to do about how you can still dream of a 5.1 or 7.1 set-up even if you don’t have the luxury of a dedicated ‘ideal’ home theatre room. Yes, there are some compromises to be made. After all it is not ‘ideal’. But then, is it ever? In our book it is a whole lot better than the alternative of pushing sound through your television speakers.
We hope these ideas will put you on the road to solving your home theatre dream hurdles. Give us a ring if you get stuck. Always happy to help, as you know.
Photos: Rapallo, Home Design ND, Let it dance, Centerfieldbar, Teresasdesk, Octaneseating, Q Acoustics