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A Tale of 5 Installs Part 3 - Best. Attic. Ever.

by September 23, 2008
Axiom Epic Midi 400 System

Axiom Epic Midi 400 System

What happens when a musician who is very much into music and live performance decides to finally step up his home to the world of 5.1 surround sound? "Adam" lives in a beautiful historic home and has to decide what kind of system to install - and more importantly - where to put it. His priorities are movies and the ability for him and his wife to be able to crank up the movies and enjoy feature films when the kids go to bed.

Vital Statistics:

 

  • Married with a three beautiful young children
  • Wife enthusiastic about watching movies in surround
  • Older home with huge attic and minimal crawl space
  • Small, wide room with short depth
  • A/V Knowledge Level: "I read the manual. Stand back - I got this."

Day 1 - The Waiting is the Hardest Part

If you want to do it right - you need to have a plan. You also have to make a decision for the home which understands the intent and purpose of the room as well as any limitations. In the case of Install #3, Adam - the "victim" and a real music and movie buff - had a real-world dilemma: Do I install the system in the most install-friendly room, or place them in a more usable location? The "best" room (acoustically-speaking) consisted of a large, open living area which could actually support 7.1 audio. The downside was that it was adjacent to the children's rooms, meaning that the late-night subwoofer action was certain to be minimal or nonexistent. An alternative was to utilize a shallower room, but one which was located in a remote office/bedroom. With the door shut, this room could get cranked to full volume.

 

M3-bracket3.jpgOnce we settled on the back room (we wanted to be able to crank up the movies), we then discussed how we would lay out and mount the speakers. Because of the 8 foot ceilings and the position of the room's door and windows, we decided on ceiling-mounting the front speakers - a pair of Axiom Audio M2s. The center channel, a VP100, would get set on a shelf to be placed just under the 32-inch Toshiba LCD TV, and a pair of QS4 speakers would have the pleasure of being mounted behind the listening positions. The Epic Midi 400 System came with an 8-inch, 500 watt EP400 subwoofer which we intended to set to the right of the equipment rack.

 

For the fronts and surrounds we simply planned to drill a hole in the ceiling and then route the cables to the tie-line drop point. The surrounds would be slightly more difficult than the fronts since they would come through an alcove which framed out the window at the rear of the room. The job was clear - now we just had to get the cables where we needed them.

Down Below

QS4-surrounds.jpgFrom below Adam and I drilled upward and created our holes for the front speakers. We also cut our box into the wall which would provide access to our tie-lines to the front and rear speakers. We couldn't drill into the ceiling for our surrounds because they were going to be mounted from a soffit. For that we planned to drill down from above and hoped to easily balance the holes for the left and right surround speakers. All that was left was to go into the attic and get to work on all that drilling.

Into the Great Wide Open

We pulled an 8-foot ladder (no, even after my last experience, I didn't buy a new ladder) and embarked into the attic, which was one of the largest, most spacious of any I've ever been in. With our point of entry, we needed to make our way to the complete opposite side in order to drop our lines. As you can gather from my description, there was nearly enough headroom to stand up in the middle of the space and getting from one place to another wasn't very difficult at all. Finding our bearings was a matter of locating the power drop which was adjacent to where we wanted to put our tie lines.

 

This didn’t take too long, though we initially got sidetracked by a "close-but-no-cigar" hole which wasn't exactly where we wanted it (it turned out we were drilling above the door). Re-adjusting, we were able to hit the area we wanted and we made sure that our front speaker positions were clear of any studs - noting their relative positions for mounting the brackets.

 

It's Not My Fault!

han-solo-cockpit.jpgThe first problem we ran into was not seeing light when we drilled into our header. To make absolutely certain, I had Adam shine a light directly into our tie-line hole from down below. Not seeing it meant there was a random piece of wood somewhere in the wall below. Yeah, it sounded familiar to me, as well. This was extremely unfortunate and I found that it was (of course) too low to hit with the drill bit, even if I used the extension attachment I kept around for exactly this type of situation (well, not exactly this type of situation, but one where it would actually work). I was dreading the thought of having to create another hole in the wall - especially since I didn't know if there might just be another piece of wood in our way. Fortunately, we didn't have to.

adam-closet.jpgAdam helpfully pointed out that a coat closet resided just behind the place we selected for our tie line location. What this meant was that we could drop our cables down into the closet, run them down along the corner, and then poke through into our listening room. Since the cables would be just inside the closet door, they would be impossible to see unless you actually climbed into the closet and turned your head to the right (an unlikely occurrence).

 

Almost There

adam-surrounds.jpgBack into the attic we dropped the cables down and drilled our rear surround speaker drops. The closet drop was easy, but getting the holes right for the surrounds proved to be more difficult. We used the 24-inch drill bit extension to make the job a bit more manageable (this was on an outside wall of the house and we found that the attic actually dropped down in back providing very difficult access to this area). With his arm sticking way down, Adam managed to secure two holes that worked... though we drilled a total of four holes (easily patched) to get it perfect. This time, keeping the entire roll of Impact Acoustics CL2-rated 12 gauge Speaker Cable in the attic proved to make the most sense as it allowed us to pull exactly how much we needed without having to measure or worry about over- or under-allocating.

 

Tying Up Loose Ends

Back downstairs we attached all of the cables to the 4-pair speaker wire binding posts and labeled them accordingly (very important). We tie-wrapped the cables in the closet to dress them up and made sure that everything was ready for mounting the speakers the following day.

 

Day Two - Up and Running

 

I'm Too Late

adam-sub.jpgI love motivated homeowners. By the time I showed up for Day 2 I found that Adam and his dad had already mounted the speakers to the ceiling. That just left wire stripping and connecting the subwoofer and center channel. Life was good. After several minutes (actually, it took me almost thirty) I had all 4 cable ends ready and I'd stripped and cut the center channel wire plus jumper cables which we'd use to get from the Yamaha RX-V663 receiver to the 4-pairs of wall-mounted speaker binding posts. Connecting everything up was painless and it wasn't long before I was configuring the system for use with their new Toshiba 32-inch display and Axiom Audio 5.1 Epic Midi system. The key elements in the setup were getting the speaker distances correct as well as the bass management settings. We used an 80Hz crossover point since the Axiom Audio M2s had an extension of 70Hz (+/-3dB). Levels should, as always, be set with an SPL meter, however the Yamaha actually does a good job, provided you override the bass management settings. It thinks anything that can reproduce 60-70Hz is a 'Large' speaker.

 

Movie Time!

This is my favorite part. After putting in some movies and doing a thorough listening session I brought in the whole family to watch a scene from The Incredibles - in particular, the one where Dash escapes from the bad guys on the island. It's full of pans and surround material and will give any sub a run for its money. I found that we liked the bass cranked pretty high for movies - mostly because it sounded so good. The family seemed to enjoy it and it wasn't long before Adam had even programmed the other devices into his Yamaha receiver's remote control.

 

This was a job that had a few snags, but turned out extremely well. In fact, the system sounded better than I had hoped and Adam and crew really turned a simply office into a place where they can retreat after hours and crank up the movies for an in-house "date night." I learned that whether your room is large and open or small and confined doesn’t really matter - there's always a way to integrate 5.1 audio so that the sound and system meets your practical and aesthetic needs. Plan your system well and you'll eliminate as many hassles and mistakes up front and end up with impressive results - just ask Adam.

 

About the author:
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Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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Recent Forum Posts:

gene posts on September 29, 2008 20:19
Ceiling speakers should be avoided for critical music or hometheater as much as possible but given the choice between 5 in ceiling speakers or 0 speakers for a 5.1 system, I'd choose the former. If a compromise could be made, the installer should try to encourage their customer to use in-celing speakers for the surrounds and distributed audio only.
Alex2507 posts on September 29, 2008 16:50
cwall99, post: 460304
So, I'm confused. I've seen columns and postings on this site a number of times (and don't ask me to provide a URL; I'm far too lazy to do that) deriding the notion of putting your speakers on or in the ceiling.

I'm fine with that, but so far, you're 3 for 3 in putting speakers on the ceiling. What gives?

One thing to keep in mind is that not all ceiling speakers are created equal. They do have some well thought out products on the market, and they aren't cheap. Some people are just not willing to put up with speakers sucking up their space. Period. I tried that approach to a degree and finally gave in to the ‘there is no substitution for displacement’ approach.

Preaching to the choir is easy but you can talk till you're blue to normal people and watch them turn around and buy up 120 Hz TV's, cube speakers and extended warranties. Then they put the speakers where ever the wife says it's okay. Nutless wonders!

J/K Kind of.
dorokusai posts on September 25, 2008 21:02
JohnA, post: 460348
Clint….Not only do you need to get yourself a ladder, but pick up a 6 foot, 1/2" alarm bit, and then just go through the fire blocking that you keep running into…

I once tried to get my cable modem routed into my basement with a 3 ft., flexible bit and drilled thru all kinds of stuff in my house/wall/substructure, drill jerking sideways, hitting metal….that to this day, have no idea what it all was. Needless to say, I was never able to complete that task.

Mark
allargon posts on September 25, 2008 18:03
Boing, boing, boing…. That's what I thought when I saw all those wood paneled walls and hardwood floors. However, I know that room treatments and rugs probably weren't in the cards. I do like the painted (or was it just white) speaker cable going to the mains. I do want to know is there a particular reason you chose dipoles for the surrounds. The way the photo looks it is if the right surround will bounce right off the windowed wall. My apologies if this post sounds like I'm nagging/nitpicking, but I'm generally curious.

Oh… you can stand up in my attic with ease, too.
Haoleb posts on September 23, 2008 19:57
Most people dont want big speakers and components and wires and so on. They want something small and simple. The last house I did a full install for was for a couple where the husband wanted something that sounded good and was of good quality, The wife did not want to see speakers anywhere, no components taking up her closet space and so on. This house is in the area of around 9,000sq' and you would think they would have a little compromise…

Anyway I installed all in ceiling speakers for the multizone system and they have a 5.0 system where I had to install all 5 speakers in the ceiling as well. I had heard systems done like this previously but there was no way the wife was going to allow me to put the LCR in the wall that the tv was mounted on. I ordered some speakers with aimable tweeters and when all was said and done it looks extremely slick and sounds better than most most people have that arent into the hobby even with the speakers in the ceiling above the tv. Sometimes you just have to compromise to meet a clients demands. They dont have a subwoofer in the system but for them its great, They dont require the floor shaking exprience most of us desire.

I think we sometimes forget that the majority of the population has never had anything better than just a little minisystem and whatever is in their car. To them a system like this is the holy grail.

I should mention, That once the system was installed and they started using it the wife found out she actually loves everything and probably uses it more than her husband who was the one who wanted it. And I mean, When I was ordering gear and getting stuff she was getting so angry at him he actually threw his cell phone across the yard talking to her about it once…
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