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Sound Matters : Complete Home Theaters Set the Stage to Make an Authentic Event of Audio or Video Entertainment

February 06, 1993|KATHY BRYANT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For many, electronic entertainment equipment for the home represents a major investment--in time and energy as well as money.

Both large and small amounts have been spent creating places to enjoy movies, TV and music at home. And, because electronic equipment is being improved rapidly, more can always be spent. Cassettes are being surpassed by the better sound on compact discs and video tapes are giving way to clearer pictures on laser discs.

The good news is that a basic sound system's speakers, woofers and tweeters have not changed a lot, so previously bought speakers can still be used and perhaps added to, according to audio/video consultant Norm Middleton of Riverside.

Among the innovations on the horizon is liquid crystal technology, Middleton said. "(It) will allow for flat television screens where there will be no limit to the size of the picture. But, no matter how much money you spend on a television set, if you have cable TV, you are tied to the quality of the picture they transmit."

That may be changed by the development of the Thompson Electric System, which will be able to broadcast from satellites at lower altitudes than they can now, Middleton said. This system will require only an 18-inch dish to get an excellent picture, as opposed to the huge satellite dishes now needed.

Along with all this new technology comes the need for the homeowner to have a place to store the TVs, cassette and CD players, laser discs players and speakers--a place that's both functional and beautiful.

Some prefer the let-the-technology-show style, while others prefer all their equipment stored behind cabinets. TVs pop out of bedroom cadenzas or kitchen counters at the push of the button;stereo systems reside inside antique armoires or in sleek consoles; folding doors hide wide-screen televisions. Speakers are disguised as plant pedestals or even as canvases for minimalist paintings.

Home theaters or entertainment centers range in size from a family room off the kitchen equipped with a TV and video cassette player to a custom room worthy of a professional in the entertainment industry.

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When Frank and Jeanette Villalobos added a second story to their Santa Ana home 14 years ago, they constructed a 640-square-foot room as a family theater.

The room was set up to be a place for listening to music as true as possible to that heard in a concert hall. It has three feet of insulation between the ceiling and floor, with walls containing 3-inch insulation, half-inch particle board and 5/8-inch sheet rock covered with black walnut paneling.

An ideal sound room would have no parallel walls because they reflect sound and create standing waves, but that wasn't possible here. The Villaloboses used other methods for sound absorption: Staggered shelves contain sound-absorbing books; stones in the fireplace are randomly placed; the acoustic, cathedral ceiling is uneven; and the leather furniture and natural walnut paneling help absorb sound. Even with the sound system turned up full blast, the music does not penetrate into any other room in the house.

Most of the custom-designed audio equipment is from when the home theater was built. The system uses tubes, not transistors, because Frank Villalobos said tubes give truer musical sound. "I've improved and upgraded the audio system, but I haven't really changed it that much," he said.

What has changed is the addition two years ago of a 10-foot video screen with a front projector.

"Fourteen years ago I primarily worked with the audio system, and then two years ago I integrated the audio with the video. I needed to add speakers, because you need a channel speaker in front and surround-sound speakers."

According to Villalobos, most movies have Dolby surround-sound, and that sends most of the talking to the center speaker. When the movie is made, there can be sounds that go from left to right, or from back to front. It's an effect that can't be heard properly with only two speakers.

To demonstrate, Villalobos played a laser disc of "Top Gun," and the noise of the jets came from the back of the room to the front, with the sound getting correspondingly louder. "I have Pro Logic decoders that send the sound to the correct speaker so it comes from the right locations," he said.

Although the Villalobos' system is customized, there are receivers available that not only act as amplifiers and tuners but also have the Dolby Pro Logic built in with the surround-sound and center speaker.

It was Jeanette Villalobos' father, Jean Valentino, who got them interested in a sophisticated home sound system. He came to Hollywood from Italy with his uncle--silent-film great Rudolph Valentino--and became a sound specialist.

"My father was a sound engineer for movies and television for 40 years before he retired. He did custom sound rooms for Frank Sinatra, Hedy Lamaar, L.B. Mayer and Lana Turner, among others," Jeanette Villalobos said.

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