Q After several decades of renting and townhome ownership, I’m finally at a point where I’m looking to buy a single-family home. When I look at houses, I’m trying to find an area that will eventually become a dedicated home theater. What factors should I be looking at when I look at houses? What sizes and shapes of rooms are best? Should I be considering what materials the walls (and maybe the floor?) are made from? Are there modifications that are best done before we move in for sound isolation purposes or to improve the acoustics of a room? —Michael Brown
A I went through a similar conundrum 20 years ago when we bought our home; I tried to find the perfect home theater room in every house we looked at, but, ultimately, we just settled on finding the best house for us…
First, we need to define “dedicated home theater” to see how realistic your quest is. If you’re talking about a room with a couch or some chairs that can support a big screen and a reasonable Atmos audio system, that’s one thing. If you’re looking to do a full-blown, six-figure, 16-plus-channel system plus multiple rows of seating, that’s another.
The truth is, unless you are buying a home that already has a dedicated theater room, it will likely be tricky to find one that will work, especially if you are interested in sound isolation. While proper sound isolation after construction is possible, it is tricky and expensive.
Bedrooms and offices are usually on the smaller side, but often only have one entrance that can be closed for light control. Homes featuring a FROG (Finished Room Over Garage) can be another candidate, but they often have weird roof angles and pitches that can severely limit screen size or seating. If you’re really serious, you could look into converting the garage, which is often a “blank slate” and can be the easiest for sound isolation. Basements also offer a ton of options where you could frame in a room to your exact specifications.
There are literally books on acoustics and room design, but there are some “Golden Ratios” that are generally considered best for acoustics, and they are always rectangular. (The worst possible room would be a cube.) One of these ratios is 1 x 1.6 x 2.33 (h x w x l). So, if the room has a 10-foot ceiling, it would be 16-feet wide and 23.3-feet long. These dimensions will yield smooth in-room response and avoid piling up modal frequencies, and also allow for great speaker placement and rows of seating.
You can definitely improve the acoustics of an existing room. Adding a heavy carpet is a good start. You can also use bass traps along with absorption/diffusion panels on the walls. The room correction built into AVRs and processors (Audyssey, Dirac, ARC, etc.) can also do a good job of taming problem frequencies. Another option is to use something like a MiniDSP and UMIK-2 microphone to take in-room measurements and make adjustments.
Perhaps the most “important” question to answer when you find a room that appears to be suitable as a theater space is, how easy would it be to run wiring in the existing room? You would need to figure out where the electronics and speakers would be located and then map out where the cables would run for each of the speakers, subwoofers, and video display. Having attic access or a crawl space can be invaluable. Best of luck on house hunting!
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