By Dan Daley Residential Systems Magazine August 2010

Automated technology systems that light up the house and start the AC blowing are great to come home to after work, but what about those of us who never need to leave the house? According to statistics from a report released earlier this year by the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people who work from home increased from 9.5 million to 11.3 million between 1999 and 2005. All most of them will need are a laptop and a high-speed Internet connection. But there is a cohort, mainly within the media industries, that requires more advanced and integrated solutions.

Critical Listening

Music library Firstcom founder Jim Long is also still a music business executive, as CEO of One Music. When he purchased famed TV puppeteer Sherri Lewis’ former residence in Malibu, north of Los Angeles, he needed a media room that would double as both a family home theater center and as a critical listening environment for music. And he needed to have it fit into a relatively small — approximately 20 X 15 feet — space. Oh, and keep the window there, too. Nice view. That was the challenge Carl Tatz, principal of Nashville-based Carl Tatz Design, took on earlier this year. Long wanted a high-end system capable of 5.1 playback for critical music listening a well as a 7.1 surround system for theatrical applications, and there was only one space in the home where it made sense to locate it. “The room was a challenge,” says Tatz, a former recording studio owner who previously had designed a 5.1 production room for Long in Nashville and a media room in the CEO’s Beverly Hills residence. “One side had a window and the other was open to the rest of the house. Plus, there was a vaulted ceiling and 45-degree angles in all four corners, so there were a lot of acoustical and construction issues to deal with first.” Working with the renovation architect, Tatz had the open side of the room walled up, calculating it to symmetrically match the rest of the room. He designed and installed a tray-type ceiling with a hanging cloud-type acoustical membrane, packed with Owens-Corning 703 and 708 insulation, which floats above and down the sides of the ceiling, six inches from the sides. This addresses the acoustical issues and also acts as a ventless input from the air conditioning unit on the roof. (As per Malibu tradition, the home has no central AC.) Tatz said he got lucky with the flooring: “The house uses radiant heating and has bamboo-type flooring. That meant that there was a flexible floor, which really helps give a small room more bass resonance and response. When you hear the explosions in a film, you’ll also be able to feel them, too. At the same time, the ceiling treatment helped us with the issue of height-mode standing waves by giving us more low-end absorption.” The window was addressed by putting several ASC Tube Trap half-round absorbers along it, creating what Tatz describes as “an acoustic lens,” which blunts the reflective properties of the window with diffusion while still letting in natural light. He also mimicked the same type of acoustical array on the opposite wall to maintain acoustical symmetry. The room is fitted with an array of top-tier electronics and based around a JBL Synthesis SYN 2 system, customized for the dual music and home theater applications. In critical listening mode, the Synthesis’s tweeters turn on; in movie mode, the system switches to horns. To accommodate the 7.1 array, Tatz added four JBL dipole-type speakers, running through a pair of Bryston 3B-ST amplifiers and four channels of Symetrix 552E parametric equalizers, since the Synthesis system didn’t have enough channels to accommodate eight channels of playback. The system’s two subs are JBL SYN 3 systems. Long can toggle between the two environments (home theater and critical listening) using an X. Lobby system that replaced an Elan home system last year. In “music” mode, the tweeters engage; in “concert” mode, the tweeters and the dipole speakers work in tandem; in home theater mode, all eight channels play and the horns are engaged. The screen is a 100-inch-diagonal Stewart Ultimate four-way masking system using Greyhawk perforated screen fabric, allowing placement of the center speaker behind the screen. The projector is a JVC RS-35U. The image is sharp enough to be viewed in daylight. “The great thing is that there’s a lot of technology to draw on that can let you put a lot of theater in a relatively small amount of space,” Tatz said. “And you don’t have to compromise on the sound or the picture.” Jason Morgan, owner of Ultimate Installations, which installed the home’s automation systems, says that dealing with a recording studio designer (Tatz) was facilitated by the fact that his company has itself done several home-studio installs, so his crew is familiar with the additional wiring, HVAC and acoustical treatment that kind of space requires. But the important thing to keep in mind when residential systems integrators and professional media space designers are working on the same project, he believes, is to determine the boundaries between each and respect them. One boundary, for instance, is the multi-zone audio used for the home and the critical listening environment of Long’s media room. While both draw from the thousands of music titles stored on the X. Lobby system, the playback systems are completely separate. Yet Long can still control the house’s systems from the media room, including security monitoring, lighting and draperies, via a touch screen in the media room or from his laptop. Wes Black, v.p. of R&D at Calrad, maker of the X. Lobby, concurs. “To someone like Jim, the acoustic design and layout of the [media space] was the main focus; the rest of the house was an extension of that,” he says. Therefore, Black emphasizes, understand where the client is coming from. “Build around the [media space],” he advises. Matt Grant, director of sales for Aspen-based Paragon Technology Group’s new Nashville office, says it’s crucial that the designers of the home AV systems and the professional technology space get together early on in the process. One area of consistent overlap is in the sources that the home AV systems use and the fact that the users of the professional spaces generally want them available in that space, as well. That can include CD, DVD, media storage/management devices, satellite radio and input from security cameras and access-door intercoms. The professional space often becomes an alternate master control room, a counterpart to the master bedroom or kitchen family command center. The systems for each space should have their own separate head end rooms, but they need to be linked via cabling. “The plan has to call for enough cable of the appropriate type – coax, Cat-5, Cat-6, we’re pulling more fiber than before now, too – to be provided for in the designs of both spaces,” says Grant.

Ownership Of The Network

Evan Marty, CTO at Paragon Technology’s Group’s main office in Aspen, says high-tech professional spaces are not limited to entertainment industry types. He’s overseen the installation of several Bloomberg multi-screen trading systems in homes, where he says what’s paramount is keeping the professional and residential broadband as discrete from each other as possible. “The first thing to figure out is the Internet – who takes ownership of the network,” he says. He recommends a completely separate feed for the professional and residential space; he further suggests that the AV integrator defer to the client’s own IT technicians; in high-level trading systems set up in homes, he says, the client almost always has an IT department behind him or her. “In fact, you’ll find that a company like, say, a Goldman Sachs, isn’t going to let a residential AV installer work on their network,” he says. “They want the client’s PC connected to their network and nothing else, because you don’t want a video projector or media server accidentally wreaking havoc on a network or causing bandwidth issues; a PS3 [game console] on the network is very bandwidth-intensive, for instance. We let them determine the level of security they want to achieve, and that’s going to vary project to project.” The professional space is not just limited to homes, either. Marty recalls integrating an audio recording system into a Crestron touchscreen controller aboard a tour bus. Using a custom interface, he was able to let the client plug his guitar into one of several jacks located throughout the bus and, using the Crestron system as a routing switcher, send the signal to an amplifier. The Crestron was further able to be programmed to manipulate the guitarist’s effects pedal, choosing from reverbs, delays and other digital processing. Other clients have asked for performance stages built into their home theaters, with the residential automation system doubling as stage lighting and sound controller. “We see this integration of professional technology into residential spaces as something that’s really pushing the boundaries of the products themselves,” says Marty. “The telecommuter home is becoming more and more prominent in today’s workforce; working from home is becoming the norm in some industries, including music and financial. How well you can be connected to your work is more and more critical to these clients, but they also need to integrate that to varying extents with the rest of the house. The best advice I can give anyone working in that environment is, know your limitations.”