KFRT's Home Theater
Diggin' The Audio

JBL Venue Dye

I've been real lax in the persuit of loud (but clean) audio over the last few decades. As a kid, I helped my Dad build a 4-track recording studio in the basement -- he used this to make soundtracks for his many historical slide shows. In the late 70's, quality recording meant reel-to-reel and Dad had a pair of Teac 4-track Simul-Sync decks. Here is a picture of the console (still under construction when the picture was taken):

The Sony TC-630D on the right was replaced with a second Teac A-2340 and the empty slot above the equalizer held a Heathkit AR-1500A receiver. This all still works today, but hasn't seen much use since Dad retired.

Thirty years later, the bug is back. My wife has been "gently hinting" for some years that she'd like a flat-screen TV. Well, one really shouldn't undertake such a project halfway. To my way of thinking, the audio and infrastructure of such a project should come first. What we started with was a 32" JVC tube TV and a Pioneer rack stereo I bought in 1988.

When watching DVD's, we'd turn the stereo on, but other than that all audio played through the TV's speakers. In addition to this, our cable TV feed wasn't the best. Some years ago, I mounted a cable amp under the deck outside, but the cable feeding the living room went all the way around the house and had several splitters in-line. The signal wasn't very good, and it had to be split again to feed our VCR.

The first task was to order digital cable from Comcast. This was installed on the old wiring and worked okay, but there wasn't enough signal to make a split for the new DVD recorder. Two new direct lines were wired from the amp to the electronics. These went through the attic (shortest path) and with no splices, this cured the problem. We now have video that looks better than anything I've ever seen at home. No ghosts, no static, and I'm sure the digital feed doesn't hurt.

The next step is the audio. For this, I ordered a Yamaha RX-V1800 from Crutchfield and a set of JBL Venue series speakers from B&H. Stadium speakers for front L&R, Voice for center, a SUB12 subwoofer and Monitors for surround. While all this was in transit, I ran wire through the attic for the surrounds. The receiver arrived on September 20, and the speakers on September 21. The initial speaker delivery weighed in at about 200 pounds.

Why these components? I had never listened to any of it. The Yamaha was out of brand loyalty more than anything. Having owned a Yamaha stereo receiver for many years with no problems, I knew the quality would be there. Likewise, the JBL speakers have a solid name. Even though these are not completely "cool" in HT circles today, 60% of all speakers in real theaters are JBL's, and most recording studio monitors are JBL, even today. Plus, I always wanted a set of L100's as a kid. But, there was a lot of Internet research, too. Nothing led me to believe any of this would be a mistake.

I haven't been disappointed.

We encountered two problems with the JBL speakers. First, one of the Stadium grills was warped right out of the box. Not badly warped, but enough that it was easy to notice. And also, the silver color was just ugly. The second problem was that the Voice center channel just didn't seem to have much "punch." JBL replaced the warped grille (with a black one!) and that looked so good, I dyed the rest of them black. The center channel was replaced with a Studio-L series LC-1. MUCH better! A rack was built out of some old 3/4" plywood to hold the gear. Here are a couple of early photos (the "upper speakers" are Kenwood KL-55's left over from school daze in the mid-1970's):

Diggin' Some Video

Not too long after getting the audio set up, the bug bit again, this time for better video in the form of a Samsung 46F71 46" HD LCD flat-screen. We bought this just a couple days before Christmas, 2007. My son-in-law Danny helped me take the original set back to the store a couple times to get it replaced. With this, we also added the Comcast HD service with DVR.

At this point, the sound and picture are both excellent. But, I feel like I'm living in a slum still. Putting a $3K TV on an end table that cost $40 in 1978 just seems wrong. In May, 2008, we started the great painting project (paint the OUTSIDE of the house). This was completed in 6-7 weeks, but during one week, the weather was bad, so we moved inside and bought some furniture. For the record, this is where our $1200 "stimulus check" went. Thanks to a paint mixup at Home Despot, I bought 6 gallons of interior paint that was supposed to be exterior. What the hell, it's only a living room, right?

Add a little furniture, and it starts to take shape:

You can see the surround speakers here -- all ceiling mounted and wired through the attic. 7.1, driven by the Yamaha. The surrounds are JBL Monitors. Amazing for their size, but I'm not seeing a lot of advantage to 7.1 over 5.1. This is the "Ma and Pa" Kettle seating. Jean wasn't too interested in the recliner until it was delivered. I really wanted to buy another one, but it was no longer available, so I had to settle for something "close."

Diggin' Some Toys

Next, we branch into HTPC and other things, like how to put a serious stereo in your garage with all the leftover parts that got you this far. Movie jukebox? Oh, yeah.

With computer components being ultra cheap these days, it's quite possible to put together a HTPC for around $400 (not including terabytes of storage). I built this from all new parts:

This is a reasonably "stylish" PC that pretty much has it all, in a small case. No monitor needed obviously and in fact, the only card installed in the PC is a cheap Rosewill Wi-Fi card (you can see the antenna behind the thermometer). The PC is based on the Gigabyte GA-MA78SM-S2H motherboard with an AMD 6000+ 3.0 GHz dual-core processor and 4GB of RAM. The Rosewill chassis also holds a DVD burner and a 250GB hard drive. It's all controlled by an off-brand MCE remote control (the IR receiver is in front of the keyboard in this picture). The beauty of today's HTPC motherboards is that they output HD video via HDMI and surround sound all without the need for added hardware.

You could run this on Linux, but I have it running TinyXP for now. The Media Center software is XBMC (versions available for XBox, Linux and Windows).

At the moment, I have about 90 DVD's ripped to external USB drives connected to a machine elsewhere in the house. The HTPC has access via WiFi. LOTS of learning to do on this beast.

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Page last updated 29 Dec 2009