Selecting a cinema

Sometimes when we build a system, it’s not a matter of comparing every single component at a price point. While we love to experiment to find the best possible combination, sometimes the challenge is really in finding out what type of system is going to suit the customer’s needs. This is especially prevalent when we’re building a home theatre system.

Joseph came in looking for a home theatre system to suit an open plan kitchen/lounge. He already has a 55” Samsung TV that he bought form a major retailer, but wants to get much more involvement from his music and movies. As displays have slimmed down to almost nothing, the quality of the sound that they produce has suffered. After considering theatre in a box options a friend suggested that he visit us and have a look at what a proper system can deliver.

Rab started by having a bit of a chat about how the system is going to be used. A Playstation 4 is going to be the primary source, along with a Foxtel box. Joseph noticed that we were playng the force awakens in the main demo lounge. He and rab noted a shared love for science fiction and Joseph mentioned that he just rewatched Akira. Rab reminisced for a moment, noting the similarities in specification to a fiction motorbike in Akira and his current vehicle – life imitating art.

As the room was open plan, Rab suggested trying a morel sub/satellite system. Joseph was unclear on what a sub/sat system was, so Rab took him upstairs to show him the Morel Sound spot system. “Oh, it’s like a Bose”, came reply – but noted the spherical satellites were very unique. So too is the build quality, with the very hefty metal construction, complete with integrated mounting stand. Rab notes their Israeli heritage, suggesting that Israeli weapon systems are similarly noted for their construction quality.

A few more questions follow – in particular subwoofer placement - Joseph is happy to learn that the subwoofer is quite flexible in its placement and doesn’t have to sit at the front of the room. He intends to hide in next to the couch. There’s also a question about how to get the playstation playing through the system. Luckily the modern AV receiver , such as the Marantz NR1607 rab is about to show off, has a multitude of inputs.

Before the demo starts, Joseph spies the much bigger Marantz Pre-power setup sitting next to the receiver. Rab explains the benefits of a split system – better separation, more power and the ability to upgrade to a different processor at a later stage. It comes at a price however, with a pre-power system being far more expensive that a standalone receiver, but the benefits of development in the pre-power combinations trickle down to improvements in the receiver. It’s a similar scenario to the way formula one R&D eventually makes its way into regular cars.

With some questions answered, Rab fires up the Epson TW9300. Even before the volume ramps up, Joseph exclaims that the picture is amazing. If you want impact in your movie experience, even the best flat panels still can’t touch a well calibrated projector. Rab explains that although it delivers the best results, you do need a room with good control over the light and as such, it’s not always suited to an open plan room. With that, the skips to Chapter 32 (Resistance to the Rescue) of the Force Awakens and ramps up the volume. After a few minutes of immersion, the lights are back on and the verdict is extremely positive.

Joseph talks about a recent experience at the Lido in Hawthorn. It’s a new micro cinema with individually designed boutique screening rooms, noted for their excellent sound quality. The system he has just heard compared very favourably to the Lido. Best of all rab explains, we can do this system (without projector ofcourse) for roughly $2k. This far out performs the all in one JVC Joseph‘s parent bought for $1500. When asked whether this is something he would consider for $2k, Joseph didn’t hesitate in answering yes.

As a point of comparison, Rab decides to go for the extreme wow factor. As you may note, it’s quite common during our demonstrations to take a bit of time to show how good things can really get. So Rab whisks Joseph around the corner to ‘65’, our Custom showroom. On the way, Rab talks a bit about music and Jospeh mentions he like to DJ. He’s got a pair of Technics SL1200s (naturally) and a ‘pretty crappy’ mixer. Rab mentions that this can be integrated with the system, a possibility which excites Joseph to no end, and changes the equation somewhat for Rab.

Arriving at 65, Rab explains that the theatre they are entering is managed by a Control4 control system. This talks to all the separate devices and give one simple way of controlling everything. To demonstrate, they recline in the chairs and Rab presses ‘Watch Bluray’ on the remote. In an instant, the lights dim. The drapes glide shut. A screen drops from the ceiling. The projector and receiver switch on and Mad Max Fury Road loads up. ‘That’, said Joseph, ‘was really cool’.

Rab skips to the convoy chase sequence and it immediately impresses. The theatre features a full dolby atmos setup with 11 Krix speakers positioned around the room. Joseph can’t believe how clear the sound is. Rab talks through the advantages of Dolby Atmos – it’s an object based system that mixes the films audio track on the fly to adapt for the number of speakers you have in the room. Joseph declares that this is the system he wants, unfortunately it’s a bit outside the budget at $35k. That said, having a listen to it helps to realise that as impressive as the Morel system was, he wants more.

On the way back to the shop, Rab decides to pop in to another room to test a theory by playing the Devialet Phantoms. The phantoms are a convenient way to play a bit of music to help gauge how important music replay is for the system. Rab says they are very suitable for people who like to DJ, and they impress straight away – high SPL and taut bass have the tendency to do that. It’s pretty clear that music is important to Joseph. Even though this is ostensibly a system for his television to watch movies and play games, in an open plan living space, it’s going to be used for music quite a bit too.

Back to the main showroom, Rab now had a pretty clear idea of the type of system that Jospeh is after. Looking at the Monitor Audio Bronze 5, Rab asks Joseph whether he can accommodate something of that size in the room. No problem, they would fit either side of the TV unit. He even likes the idea of having something a bit larger on display to show off the system. “I prefer the look of this as it makes more of a statement – the other one was too invisible”. Rab wires up the rest of the system complete with a REL t5 subwoofer and plays the Star Wars chapter again to show the system’s home theatre bonafides. Then to show what is can really do, he plays Nils Lofgren’s ‘Keith don’t go’ – a track familiar to anyone who has ever wandered past the shop.

“That’s really impressive” says Joseph, “it sounds much better than the first system”. At this point Martin appears and pops in ‘Kaguya Hime’ by Juno Reactor. Bass erupts from the system as notes dance across the room. You can tell by the look on Josephs face – this is the system for him. He confirms this, saying he is happy to pay the premium over the morel based system.

So all together, the final system is:
Monitor Audio Bronze 5 $1,225
Monitor Audio Bronze Centre $450
Monitor Audio Bronze FX $599
REL T5 $995
Denon AVRX1300W Receiver $1,099
RRP $4,368
Final system price - $3,750

In the end, we didn’t have to do too much experimentation at each price point – it’s really about finding a level of performance that the customer is happy with. There’s actually not a lot of competition at these price points – while we do have other options, customers overwhelming prefer the morel and monitor audio based systems. Things do get a bit more competitive when the budget goes up a little, but that’s a story for another time.

A few other things to note about the final system - Rab went with the REL T5 as its more adept at music than the matching Monitor Audio Bronze subwoofer at the same price. It's also quite handsome in gloss black and looks good in a living room. The Denon receiver was chosen over an equivalent Marantz due to the synergy with the monitor audio - they both sound good, but the Denon just suits the Monitor Audios a bit better.