Happiness. Short-term, stupid, self-interest.

Home Renovation – The Audience is Listening

July 2006

No, this is not going to be a THX certified room, but it is going to be my home theater. All my design, with decisions made to suit me and my family best. It is going to be great!

What you don’t see at this time is that along side of the detailed plans I have for building this room is a set of separate plans with just home theater equipment and configuration. It is a project of its own; and unfortunately, it will be just about as expensive.


I thought I had the plan for this all worked out, but some research on home theater design by Dolby became a little devil that had me sidetracked for a week. Specifically, speaker placement and speaker wire gage. Doing the wiring now meant that I had to choose exactly where the speakers would sit, because I wanted to hide all my wires in the wall.

dolby.gifI first read all about room layout and speaker placement from Dolby. (Dolby reference guide) I actually played around with my protractor for angles and distances to find the ideal locations. Unfortunately, the ideal setup is almost impossible unless you are making a real theater. The center channel speaker is supposed to be eye level in the center… but so is your TV. Theaters put the speakers behind the screen. For people like you and me, we do the best we can. But my real problem was the rear speakers. I had windows where the speakers would ideally be mounted on the wall. I had to pick the closest thing. I also planned for 7.1 surround, which for now can give me some flexibility with where I put 5.1 surround speakers.

My next challenge was the endless debate on speaker wire gauge. There are tons of opinions out there and everyone seems to feel very strongly about whatever opinion that happens to be. What I was able to determine is that the people who sell high-end speaker wire and the people who pay the high premium for such wire, are convinced they can hear better sound coming from super thick premium cable. I don’t buy it. (and I certainly won’t pay for it)

The scientific truth of the matter is that the gauge does matter, but in relation to the distance it is run which increases the resistance and thus the potential loss of frequencies we can hear. All the other things Monster Cable touts is negligible. For short runs, like 6’ to 12’ feet, even 22 AWG wire is fine. Remember, the lower the number, the thicker the wire – your household electrical wire is either 14 or 12 AWG solid for either a 15 amp, or 20 amp circuit. Speaker wire is stranded. But, I still wouldn’t go as thin as 22 AWG, especially if you are just going to buy a big spool of the stuff anyway.

I chose 16 AWG and just made sure my rear speaker runs were less than 50 feet; and they are going to be about 35 feet. I also made sure that it was CL2 (or CL3) rated for in-wall installation. All the other stuff about making better speaker wire is mostly vapor. People tried to convince me I needed 10 gauge wire…. 10 gauge! If you want to read all about debunking the myths of Monster Cable, read about the Truth of Speaker Wire.

I know the title of this entry is “the audience is listening”… I’m wondering though if I’ve lost you. Have you had enough? …because that’s just the speaker wire… there was also the electrical wire. That required a plan for the lighting, outdoor patio lights, switches, outlets, circuit load, etc. I also had to plan how to run all this wire. A detail I had to work out was that speaker wire could not be run within 12 inches of the electrical wire, or if it had to cross, it should at a 90 degree angle, or else you might picked noise in the speakers from electromagnetic interference.

I spent several weeks working all this out. I felt I wasn’t accomplishing anything, but it wasn’t going to work without a clear plan.


When I made my final decisions, I had the rear speaker wire run down into the basement to get around the french doors because of a very overbuilt header, then back up to the slab of the room and strung across the floor which would eventually be covered by a new floor. I had decided to run two new 20 amp circuits, one dedicated to the home theater, and the other to all of the outlets and lighting. I also added some additional framing within the studs to aid in mounting a flat panel TV on the wall.




I’m big on lighting, too. I wanted the room to be able to be lit without the need for additional lamps (though we are sure to have some), but I had some specific design goals. One was that I wanted to be able to dim the lights for movie watching, and on top of that, I wanted to be able to never see the actual bulb (or reflection of the bulb) so it is not a distraction. (e.g. the movie lighting had to all be indirect) But I also wanted some spot lighting. I also didn’t want anything recessed in the ceiling because that is just a plan for heat loss and ice dams in the spring. (I’ll save the details on lighting to that for a future post)


It was great when it was finally time to execute the plan. I have to say, though, that pulling 12-2 NM wire is much more difficult than it looks in a picture. And, turning the corners of the room with it was extremely tough.

In the end, I’m still not sure if I have my speakers where I want them to be, but I left myself some options and I will see what works out.

I loved the cement floor to work on, it was so easy to clean and sweep. It was one of those things that made my favorite activity cleaning the workspace while listening to tunes on my MP3 player and drinking a frosty mug of ale. I almost hated to move on to the next step, but I needed a real floor.


April 9, 2007 - Posted by | Home Improvement, Home Theater

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