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HT Mark (17 photos)(5.0) (54 ratings)
Mark's Dream Theater
Uploaded Jul 04, 2011 07:27:32
First post in this forum. This dedicated room was completed in 1999 but similar to others, it's been continuously upgraded since then. The room is around 45 square meters with a ceiling that slopes upwards from front to rear. The front ceiling is 10 feet high while the rear is around 14 feet. I think that the huge room volume helps improve sound quality through natural reverb but it also requires a lot of power.
The room has a lot of acoustic treatment which has been steadily improved, through experimentation, over the past dozen years.
My current equipment:
Screen: Da-Lite 133” High Power, 16:9 aspect ratio
Projector: SIM2 Grand Cinema Mico 50
Video processor: DVDO Duo
Bluray player: Oppo BDP-80
HD-DVD player: Toshiba HD-A35
DVD player: Sony DVP-NS50P
AV Receiver: Denon 4311CI
Emotiva XPA-1 (3)
Aragon 8008 BB
Aragon 4004 MkII
Front speakers: Focal Stella Utopia
Center speaker: Focal Viva Utopia
Height speakers: Focal Electra 1007 S
Wide speakers: Focal Electra IW 1003 Be
Surround and surround back speakers: Focal Profile 908
Subwoofers: SVS PB-13 Ultra (4) and Paradigm Servo-15 v2 (2)
NOTE: These photos were taken by a friend and the images on the screen are photoshopped inserts. I will post some screenshots in the future.
Focal Maestro Utopia fronts and a Focal Viva Center Utopia
Uploaded Jul 04, 2011 07:27:36
My main speakers are Focal Utopias. The 3 speakers have the same characteristics – incredible detail in the highs while retaining a smooth (not shrill) sound, clear and distinct vocals which seem to float in air and a tight and accurate bass. I would also describe the Utopia sound to be 3-dimensional.
This is a setup for both home theater and music, which has always been my dream (hence I call this a "dream" theater). The Focal Utopias are incredible for stereo. A huge soundstage, 3D imaging, incredible detail. When I have some friends with me, while listening to stereo music, it's not unusual for one of them to suddenly ask if we are listening to multi-channel music!
Another thing I like to do is to listen to a good stereo recording at a high level and walk around the room. Sound quality obviously changes but it still somehow retains its 3D quality.
The best part is when you walk right up to the front, in between the 2 front speakers. That's where you feel you are right in the middle of the band and can almost touch the performers and the instruments. The only problem is that the image of the performer is about 7 feet high! How does that happen? It's an incredible illusion.
Being good for music and giving them enough power through the Emotiva monoblocks + matching them with the Viva Center Utopia speaker, they are also perfect for home theater.
Behind the Utopias, you can see the 4 subwoofers - SVS Ultras and Paradigm Servo-15 v2's. They go down to 16 Hz and are very accurate, with the help of a lot of bass traps, Audyssey MultEQ XT32 and Audyssey pro calibration.
Uploaded Aug 19, 2012 21:49:36
I recently upgraded my front speakers from Focal Maestro Utopias to Focal Stella Utopia EM’s.
The flagship speakers of Focal are the Grande Utopia EM, they are nearly 7’ high and they weigh 573 pounds each. The Stella Utopia EM speakers are next in line and they are large but look small beside the Grand Utopia. They are 61” high and weigh 363 pounds each.
More important, the Stella Utopia EM speakers are the only other speakers that use the ground-breaking electromagnet (EM) technology. Instead of using a permanent magnet, the Grande and Stella Utopias use an electromagnet which is much more powerful than a standard magnet but lighter. This basically results in 2 to 4 times less distortion and in an incredibly detailed and tight bass. As is typical, this clean-up of the bass frequencies likewise results in clearer mids which are no longer masked by excessive bass ringing and distortion. The Stella speakers love drums and I honestly have never heard such a wonderful reproduction of drums from tympani and kick drum to snare to congas to tom-toms.
The improvement in bass frequencies is confirmed by measurements. Using the XTZ Room Analyzer system, I have verified that the typical modal problems of my room have somehow been significantly tamed. This improvement may be attributed not only to the electromagnet of the Stella but also its passive EQ controls. There are 2 controls for the bass, 2 for the tweeter and 1 for the mid-range, each with 3 settings. This results in 243 possible combinations, which is an audiophile’s dream. Using these controls, combined with the acoustic treatment of the room and proper speaker placement, you can get very nice sound quality, which is then finally passed through the electronic EQ treatment of Audyssey MultEQ Pro that results in excellent frequency response and reduced ringing.
Fortunately, it is not only the bass frequencies which are superb but a lot of other things as well. One of the most striking features is the sweetness of its tweeter and mid-range, while retaining the Utopia characteristic of intricate detail. This allows you to jack up the volume, even all the way up to reference level without causing your ears to bleed. How has this been achieved? Maybe the extra mid-range tweeter? Maybe the new cabinet? I don’t know but it results in incredibly sweet sound, a deep soundstage and airiness surrounding the musical instruments. I would describe this as a 3D sound with instruments floating in the air.
Another incredible feature is its astounding dynamic range. It has beautiful detail in both the softest and loudest passages. Even more impressive, when you have a complicated musical passage with a lot of instruments, you can distinctly hear the sound of a tiny triangle piercing through a wall of heavy drum beats – both the heavy boom of big drums and the tiny sparkle of a triangle at the same moment.
Finally, all of this results in a beautifully balanced sound. From the top to the bottom, from violins to upright bass, from trombones to sax, from triangle to cymbals, from soprano to tenor, I have never heard a more accurate reproduction of sound than from the Focal Stella Utopia EM (but of course, I am biased ).
Focal Stella and Maestro Utopia speakers
Uploaded Dec 13, 2011 05:57:29
Before disposing my old Focal Maestro speakers, I tried using them as Wide speakers and took some photos. How did the Stella / Maestro combination sound? It was gorgeous!
Another angle of Stella / Maestro speakers
Uploaded Dec 13, 2011 05:57:30
Here’s another angle of the Stella / Maestro speakers before going back to regular programming.
Uploaded Jul 04, 2011 07:27:40
The speaker setup is an 11.1 system (with 4 subwoofers), using Audyssey DSX technology for the Wide and Height speakers. The Height speakers follow the Audyssey recommendation for their location, which places them around 13 feet high. The Audyssey DSX technology produces a very wide and deep soundstage.
All speakers are Focals which, together with the Audyssey technology, helps to provide seamless "Listener Envelopment". You are inside the movie.
Uploaded Jul 04, 2011 07:37:51
I have a reasonably large collection -- about 2000 movie DVD's and blurays, 500 concert DVD's and blurays and a 1000 CD's.
Uploaded Jul 04, 2011 07:37:53
I actually consider myself to be quite frugal in spending for equipment. My philosophy is "value for money". If I don't hear or see a difference, I'm not buying.
As examples of my frugality -
1. I have the cheapest Oppo bluray player. I believe that the more expensive models have better video processing but I don't want the player to do any video processing cuz my dedicated video processors are better!
2. I don't have a universal remote. I used to have one but it just doesn't work for me.
3. Pls don't ask me about cables. I have very good quality cables but they don't cost a fortune.
Uploaded Jul 04, 2011 08:02:03
As a true hobbyist, I do my own audio-video calibration. For video calibration, I use an i1Pro spectrophotometer, Calman software, a DVDO VP50 Pro and a Video EQ Pro. For audio calibration, I use an Audyssey MultEQ Pro kit, together with MultEQ XT32 on the Denon 4311 AVR.
A really complete video calibration takes me several hours while for audio, it takes around 2 hours and requires absolute quiet. My philosophy for good video is that it must look real, 3D and have "pop". For audio, it must sound "live".
I think that calibration is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying aspects of this hobby.
Previous center speaker
Uploaded Jul 04, 2011 09:49:59
The immediately previous center speaker (I've had a lot of center speakers over the years) was an Electra CC 1008 Be. It was incredibly good. We tested it vs an Electra 1028 Be (floorstander) and it was way better. If you played it by itself, it sounded like you were listening to multi-channel audio. Somehow, however, it didn't fit (too small, really different tweeter, weak bass).
Viva Center Utopia
Uploaded Jul 04, 2011 09:50:02
Visually, the Viva Center Utopia is a much better match to the Maestro Utopias. More importantly, it has the same characteristics of the Maestro Utopias -- to-die-for highs, a tight bass and incredible vocals. Voices seem to float. In "Saving Private Ryan", the dialog of the opening scene has always been so hard to understand because of all of the noise but with the Viva, you suddenly hear what the actors are saying.
Uploaded Jul 12, 2011 09:00:07
One of my fav photos - the Focal Profile 908 upside down. It's naturally tilted upwards. However, since I use it as a surround speaker and it is mounted high, it must be tilted downwards. It sounds great even when its upside down.
Uploaded Jul 12, 2011 09:00:07
An artistic shot of the Focal Electra CC 1008 Be. This is truly an amazing center speaker but the Focal Viva Center Utopia is in a different league.
Uploaded Aug 13, 2011 05:05:02
I finally got my 3rd Emotiva XPA-1 monoblock. The monoblocks are driving the 3 Focal Utopias (LCR speakers). How does it sound? Maybe you can describe it as transparent. Most important, it gives me peace of mind. I don't think the amps for my LCR speakers will ever run out of steam (which would result in the worst distortion). They are rated at 1000 watts @ 4 ohms and they have huge capacitors.
In-wall speakers as Wides
Uploaded Sep 02, 2012 07:48:01
I recently got a pair of Focal Electra IW 1003 Be In-wall speakers to be my Wide speakers, replacing a pair of Focal Electra 1037 Be floorstanders. The 1037's were huge and they kept getting bumped. The in-wall speakers have freed up a lot of floor space and for their function as Wide speakers, they are doing their job very well. In a word, I would describe them as transparent. You don't notice them until you switch them off. They don't call attention to themselves, which is exactly what you want them to do.
Similar to my main speakers, they have the same W-cone technology for the woofer and mid-range. The tweeters are also beryllium, though the Utopias have a more advanced version. Nonetheless, the timbre match is very good because the Wide speakers "disappear".
It was quite impressive that in-wall speakers could perform as well as these but I'm aware of someone who has 5 of these in his home theater and they're supposed to perform excellently. I never thought I would ever use in-wall speakers but here they are and I love them.
SIM2 Grand Cinema Mico 50
Uploaded Sep 25, 2012 08:52:04
SIM2 is not a well-known brand among projectors, unlike Panasonic, Epson, Optoma, etc. but I guess you could look at it like the Ferrari of projectors. It's an elite brand which has been at the cutting-edge of projector technology for a long time. One of their innovative products was the Mico 50, which was among the first LED projectors to be sold to the consumer market.
One of the main selling points of the Mico 50 has been that it does not have a lamp. For those who are familiar with projectors, that is quite a big convenience (as well as savings). As lamps are used, their quality deteriorates. Not only do they become more dim, their overall image quality gets worse. In the first 500 hours of use, projector lamps usually lose about 50% of their brightness level. Picture quality deteriorates and even if you had a perfect video calibration at the start, you will need a new one. Some videophiles redo their calibration after every 100 hours of lamp usage. This is one of the features that attracted me most to the Mico -- a stable image which does not need constant re-calibration over time.
The projector is huge, similar in size to the older and huge CRT projectors. It weighs 55 pounds and you need a very strong mount. Fortunately, my main mount used to carry a CRT projector so it is quite capable. The supplier of the projector provided a custom-made bracket that they bolted to the main mount. Installation literally took 15 minutes.
Similar to other SIM2 products (and a lot of Italian products), the projector is aesthetically beautiful, with a gun-metal finish. If you look at it, it looks like it is equal to its price. It's like looking at a Ferrari.
One of the things which will stun you is the time it takes to switch on and off. Switching on takes about 10 seconds while switching off takes around 3 seconds. Normal projectors may take a few minutes. Also, since there is no lamp, you don't need to worry about reducing lamp life through frequent switching on and off. You can switch it off and in a few seconds, switch it on again without worry. That's not true for other projectors. It takes time for them to cool down when you switch them off and lamp life is reduced as you frequently switch them off.
The projector has a built-in 2-point RGB adjustment for white balance, similar to other projectors. It was at first disappointing that the projector did not have a 10-point RGB adjustment, though I have a DVDO Duo Video Processor connected to the projector and this does have the 10-point adjustment. I adjusted the white balance at the projector and to my surprise, all that was needed was to adjust one point, not even 2, and both white balance and gamma were so good that we didn't need to do any further adjustment with the DVDO video processor. I have calibrated a lot of projectors and sometimes, it is easy to calibrate the white balance (which is the balanced mix of red, green and blue) but then it will be a torture to adjust gamma (which is the proper shading of the image from darkest to lightest, so that shadows are properly captured and have a smooth gradation, thus providing the illusion of a 3-dimensional image). Some of the most notorious for gamma calibration are the Panasonic projectors, which have a 10-point adjustment but they are so difficult to calibrate that it takes me 2 hours or more. With the Mico, when the white balance was done, the gamma was perfect.
Color calibration (Hue, Saturation and Luminance) was a little more involved and it took me and a friend maybe 1.5 hours, but that was mainly because we were not familiar with the projector calibration features. At the end, we did get the color calibration perfect and it is, in fact, the most perfect color calibration I have seen. Most projectors will have a problem with a few colors and you will be unable to calibrate them properly. That's just the limitation of most projectors. The Mico was perfect.
Picture quality is quite stunning. Many modern projectors have deep blacks and high contrast ratio and the Mico has these qualities as well but what it beats others is in color accuracy and sharpness. In most well-calibrated projectors, you sometimes get stunned by the realism of an image and this invariably is a facial close-up where you can see the pores, hair strands, skin blemishes, etc. With the Mico, this is the first time I see this stunning realism in half-body and even full-body images. People come alive.
The Celine Dion show in Las Vegas is among the best tests for projectors and the Mico produced an image which was incredibly beautiful. Skin tones are so realistic and the many colorful costumes and sets somehow come alive too. Motion flow was no problem, it was very smooth too.
In short, the Mico produces a picture quality which is among the best I have ever seen. Probably the only one that is better was a Sim2 Lumis that I have seen, projecting to a huge screen which may have been 14 to 15 feet wide.
Originally, I had been thinking of getting the new Sony VPL-VW 1000 projector, which has 4k. After reading a lot of reviews and following the threads at AVS Forum, I decided not to buy it, mainly because of the view that you can only appreciate 4k if you sit really close to the screen. I can't do that. I'd get dizzy.
Thus, my attention went to the Mico for which I was offered a very good deal. I think it was a good decision. One of my overriding philosophies in this Audio-Video hobby is that whatever upgrade I have must be so good that you have to be blind not to see the improved picture or deaf to not hear the better audio. The Mico certainly meets this requirement. The picture quality improvement is pretty stunning.
2 more SVS PB-13 Ultras to make 6 giant subs
Uploaded Sep 25, 2012 09:03:37
These SVS Ultras are pretty huge but when they are placed behind the Focal Utopias, they look quite small.
I moved my 2 x Paradigm Servo-15 subs to the back of the room while the 4 SVS subs were in the front. I have long wanted to do this but it's a pretty back-breaking effort so it's been delayed up to now. Placing the 2 subs at the back helps to flatten the frequency response of all the subs combined. This is based on theory, on the readings I took with the Audyssey Pro equipment and by ear as well.
The integration and calibration of the 6 subs together was not that difficult. The 2 subs in the rear act as one and the 4 subs in front act as one. All the individual subs were set at around 66 to 67 db at the main listening position, which provided a summed total of around 75 db. This meant that volume levels were balanced.
The distances of the front and the rear subs are not exactly the same to the main listening position but I have come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter that much. Given the long wavelengths of the bass frequencies, it seems that slight differences don't matter. This is also the view of many well-respected audio professionals.
My main objective in getting 2 more Ultras was to experience a similar "massage" effect as in the home theaters of some friends which are much smaller than mine - my room volume is 6000 cubic feet. The massage effect has improved, especially if I run the subs hot, which I'm no longer afraid to do.
Nonetheless, there's been a massive improvement.
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