SVS Featured Home Theater System: Michael S., Madison Heights, MI

Michael S. from Madison Heights, MI

Seeking an experience that was closer to “participating in a movie” than just watching and hearing, Not The Popular Opinion movie blogger, Michael from Michigan, upgraded to an SVS Prime Speaker and PB-2000 Pro subwoofer system. In this eloquent interview, he discusses the challenges of building an immersive home theater in a small room, why sound is so important to movies, and the impact of going from a home-theater-in-a-box to a 7.1.2 surround sound escape that makes his, “insides quiver.”

Questions And Answers:

When and why did you first start getting into high-performance audio?

I was always an avid movie lover. I loved going to the movies, I loved watching movies at home, I loved talking about movies. I wasn’t exactly an isolated kid in my middle class neighborhood, but I didn’t have any friends whose parents were, “those people”; the kind that were into really cool tech or music or anything like that. Hell; MY parents weren’t exactly those people. But from watching movies and TV shows I knew that people were somehow connecting their TV and VCR’s to big speakers and that idea intrigued me.

I started working at a movie theater in my early 20’s and going to the movies all the time, so I was really getting to know what good movie sound was. This wasn’t long after the internet started heating up and people were beginning to share a lot of information about a lot of things. So I just started absorbing everything I could find about movie production, and what it took to play it back. I learned about display technologies and, more importantly, I learned about sound formats and sound reproduction.

When I moved into my first apartment 20 or so years ago I bought myself a HTIB set up, an old Aiwa system - no sub - because I had seen these, “Home Theater” systems being advertised. About this time I joined a band and started to get into music production, and that just fed my thirst for knowledge about sound reproduction. The more I learned about studio monitors and the studio environment, the more I learned about how sound should be treated. Eventually, all of that found its way back into my home theater, which I had been carrying around from place to place and slowly upgrading for years.

When my wife and I bought our home, and I knew I would always have a hook to hang my hat on, I figured it was time to set aside some space and really start digging into how I could get the most out of the money and space we had. If we were going to spend as much time as we do sharing movies and music with one another, something that had really bonded us over all the years we had been together, I wanted us to get the most out of it that we could per dollar, per watt, and per hour we spent together.

How did you first hear of SVS?

When I first started researching our permanent installation and researching brands that might have been in my price range two names kept coming up; Klipsch and SVS. It seemed like everyone was trying to figure out which of these two was, “best”. Whenever I would find a conversation or user thread in an AV forum, SVS would always be part of the conversation about the best speakers that were considered, “affordable”. For financial reasons at the time I went with another brand, but I never let my interest in SVS slip.

What was the impact of upgrading to SVS speakers and subwoofer from your previous system?

The most noticeable impact has been in the sense of soundfield cohesion. Watching films in Dolby Atmos requires sounds to move effortlessly around the space. If there are any gaps in the sound field or mismatches in timbre, the sound will seem to jump from area to area and the sense of immersion will break. The wide soundstage and even dispersion of the SVS speakers helps facilitate that, “bubble of sound” effect I want without sacrificing the tactile sense of presence and texture of each sound. Instead of the sounds seeming to come from a speaker, they come from an area in space. When you’re dealing with complex sound mixes at high volumes, that’s an important distinction.

What was the most noticeable upgrade you made and why?

The most noticeable upgrade was most definitely the purchase of our PB-2000 Pro subwoofer; hands down. Our previous Box Store level sub did the job, but it was a boomy, shapeless rumble box that seemed designed to do the bare minimum job with the bare minimum amount of work. The first time we put on a film with the new Pro and I felt the sub bass race through the couch and crawl up my intestines, I knew that we had crossed a performance line. But it’s when we started really listening to our music collection, everything from Korn and Pink Floyd, to Sinatra and Debussey, that I really began to appreciate the musicality of the speaker.

I always thought if the low frequencies of a song didn’t rattle the walls, that I was doing something wrong. I’m now beginning to appreciate those tones for their integration into the total sound of the piece, not just as an effect. Though I admit it’s still a bit of a thrill when the low string on a stand up bass makes my insides quiver.

What was the greatest challenge of setting up your home theater and how did you overcome?

It would have to have been getting a good, high performance system into such a small space and still making it both presentable and comfortable. Our, “home theater” doesn’t exist in a dedicated space. Like a lot of people, we don’t have a room we can set aside just for home theater, so we’ve placed our home theater in our living room. The mistake too many people make is in thinking that, if they put their viewing space in a common room, they have to use all the space in the room. In our case, the house we bought is over 60 years old and just wasn’t intended to accommodate large installations. To add to that, the size limitations imposed on our display meant our seating area was going to be closer to the middle of the room.

Most people tend to leave the middle of the common room open for children and gatherings, but that wasn’t really a consideration we had to make. So the task became figuring out how to implement a full 7.1.2 system inside a 7’x8’ space within a 13’x15’ room in order to maintain the proper seating distance from our 55” display. The biggest challenge to that was finding a reliable method of seating and positioning the rear surround speakers in a way that gave us stable distance and spread but kept them out of the way of foot traffic AND made them more difficult for the cats to knock over. Some careful, measured placement of furniture resolved that issue and I think the results have been pretty successful.

Why is having a great home theater important to you?

Filmmakers put a lot of time, effort and energy into creating the movies we love. Every choice they make has a purpose in regards to creating the specific impact and experience they want the movie to have. Unfortunately, the standard they use for that design is the large scale auditorium environment, not the typical living room.

I wanted to get as close to recreating the theater experience as I could within the limits I have, both from a visual and audio perspective, so I could get as much of the intended experience as possible. Everything that goes on in the film from the twinkle of lights to the tinkle of glass in the background is all part of the film communicating with the audience, adding up to the total feeling that the film gives you. You can get the core of a film’s communication with just stereo audio and an OK TV. But if you really want to be inside the film the way it was designed, you need the reproductive capabilities to make that happen.

You write a blog about home theater, what is the URL and focus of the blog?

The blog I write, *NotThePopularOpinion (NotThePopularOpinion.Wordpress.Com) is film focused, specifically looking at quickly decompressing films and looking at how the film makers approach and effort combine to create the total effect it has on the audience. I’ve also done deep dives into specific films to decipher allegory or root out storytelling and, in some cases, detail why I feel the experience of the film breaks down for me. But within that, because of my love for the theatrical experience and my focus on the importance of good reproduction, I touch on various issues that have to do with different formats and the importance of calibration. In fact, I specifically wrote about the issue of why good home theater reproduction recently, and you can read that here:

This is one of my favorite posts, it deals with the importance of sound in movies and how film technicians have really elevated their game to help you cross the line from viewing a story, to participating in it, Listen up, OpinionNerds!

Anything else you’d like to share with the SVS community?

I think cinema is the lifeblood of our modern shared culture. Nothing else that we create right now has the reach or impact of film, and no other artform seems to have the flexibility to cross all the divisions humans have created, that we seem to think are so meaningful, to help us see and feel perspectives and experiences that we may not otherwise be privy to. Whether we’re talking about Fritz Lang’s commentary on the German cultural machine with Metropolis, John Carpenter’s satire of American consumerism in They Live or the way the characters in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake are able to put aside their differences to achieve a common goal, movies offer us a unique way to look at who we have been, who we are and who we wish ourselves to be. And they’re just really freaking fun! I think if you want to honor the work of the film makers, or if you just want to squeeze the most value out of the movies you love, you should put as much as you can into great sound. It’s taken movies a century to get to this point. The next century should be a blast!

As an addition to his featured system, we wanted to share an email Michael sent to SVS president Gary Yacoubian about his experience building a home theater speaker system.

Mr. Yacoubian,
I know this contact is supposedly reserved for direct complaints but I wanted to take this opportunity to personally inform you of the wonderful experiences I have had with both your company’s products and people. From the support and sales staff I have seen nothing but good, positive attitudes and a desire to help me get the most out of the products. From my initial sales inquiries with Ryan Wright, my direct sales experience with Scott Armstrong and a recent service call with Ted Tinkleman, all of your staff have been helpful and polite in a way that I unfortunately don’t always encounter.

And your products? Well they do speak from themselves, don’t they. I made the switch from initial Best Buy exclusive lower line of Klipsch speakers to your products by first adding front height speakers and that PB-2000 Pro. Form there I knew I had to go all out and ordered full replacements of my remaining 7 speakers.

I write a movie blog and my wife and I are avid theater and home theater enthusiasts, as well as huge music listeners with a diverse catalog of material we regularly plow through from old jazz to nu-metal to ambient and downtempo hip-hop. I have big demands for the quality of my home reproduction and I expect to put all of this new gear through its paces. But I have every expectation that my hopes will be met. Though I don’t know how much more gear I can possibly cram into this house I have been recommending SVS products heavily on my Twitter page and to all of my friends. Your products, your warranty and your people are worth the little extra it might cost some of us mere mortals. As long as your company stays true to its commitments to its products and its customers, and as long as you take care of the people who work for you by providing them with the support they need to live their own lives, you will always have an advocate in me.

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May 20, 2021