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Tips for Building a Home Theater in an Apartment

by February 06, 2005

You load up the latest and greatest action DVD into your home theater. You sit down with remote in hand and turn the volume up a bit so you can hear the wonderful special effects the movie sound track has to offer. All of a sudden you hear the familiar rapping on the wall of the elderly person that lives next door. This is your cue to turn the system down, being the polite individual that you are. You comply.

Living in an apartment or condo has its advantages; unfortunately, playing your home theater system at reasonable levels is not one of them. Here are some installation tips that will help you obtain a reasonable level of performance without offending the neighbors.

Low frequency information is generally the area that will garner the most complaints.

LFE information will shake and vibrate adjacent structures and it is transmitted very easily through wall and floors over long distances. It may even sound and feel louder in the other person’s apartment than in yours!

What is the solution? Move that subwoofer out of the corner. When a subwoofer is placed in a corner it will activate both walls and SPL levels will rise. This also can cause excessive lower-midrange frequencies. Place the subwoofer along the front wall farthest from the wall that you share with your neighbor. If possible, try to place it 1/3 the way across the front wall, positioned so that the side wall you are trying to avoid is 2/3 the distance away. This will create a nice smooth response.

Next you need to reduce the gain on the subwoofer. If you have a friendly neighbor, explain to your neighbor that you would like to calibrate your system so that it does not interfere with their quality of life. Ask them if you can take a few moments to observe how the subwoofer sounds in their apartment. If your receiver or pre-amp does not have a low frequency test generator built in, Avia Guide Home Theater has some useful low frequency tests on the disk that can help you.

Activate the low frequency generator and turn the volume up on your system to the level you would like to listen. With the subwoofer playing the low frequency tone, go to your neighbor’s apartment and observe the level of the subwoofer. Adjust the gain level on the subwoofer not the receiver or preamp until it satisfies your neighbor. Chances are after your subwoofer has been calibrated to meet the needs of your neighbor your subwoofer’s level will be substantially reduced, losing most of its slam and tactile generation in your room. If you don’t have a friendly neighbor or are too shy to ask, you will have to guess at the levels to adjust.

clip_image001_001.gifHere is a solution to regain some of that slam and tactile information that you lost to satisfy your neighbor. Installing a system like the one pictured below offers some clear advantages:

  • It is simple and cost effective.

  • It will give you most of the effect you lost when you turned your sub down.

  • You will get tactile response without bothering the neighbors.

  • The installation is straightforward.

You can use a Y connector at the receiver’s or pre amp’s subwoofer pre output. One interconnect would terminate at the subwoofer and one would terminate at the Buttkicker Amplifier.

Or, if your subwoofer has a set of LFE pass through pre-outs, you can daisy chain the connection. This Kit sells for about $599 and is a low price to pay for your home theater satisfaction and your neighbor’s peace of mind.

Yet another installation challenge is trying to incorporate the many speakers needed for home theater into a small space like an apartment living room. Wiring for the surround speakers can be a pain. In addition, some lower cost 1, 2, or 3 speaker surround solutions just don’t seem to do the job. Here is a simple solution for high performance Home Theater from a single source point.

The Yamaha YSP-1 houses 42 individual speakers and uses focused beams of directed and reflected sound; it uses sophisticated algorithms to create surround sound from a single source. The YSP-1 is very easy to install and requires minimal space. The unit measures 41” x 8” x 5” and weighs approximately 28 lbs. We heard this sytem at CES this year and found it to be very promising. A full review is scheduled to be on the site shortly after the published date of this article for our readers to examine



clip_image004.jpgNow that we have the audio part of your system figured out, how about the video? You have always wanted a large flat panel display in your room; but the thought of having a huge Audio/Video cabinet to accommodate such a display in an already small room turned you off to the idea.

Once again, living in an apartment or condo can be a little frustrating, if you want to install a large plasma on the wall. I doubt that the manager is going to give you permission to start cutting holes in the sheetrock to pre-wire.

Here is a simple solution for mounting a large front panel display on your apartment wall.

The picture below is a mounting system for a large flat panel display like a plasma. There is a place to mount your left and right speakers and your center channel. It also incorporates cable management. The installation is easy and straightforward. A cleat is attached to the wall studs in your room. The mounting system is then lifted into place and hangs on the cleat. When its time to remove the mounting system all you have to do is fill in the small screw holes in the sheetrock where the cleat was installed. This is no bigger than the average hole left by a screw holding a picture. All the cabling required for the plasma and speakers get installed in the provided raceway. The mount is available in several finishes or can be ordered unfinished and ready to paint.


 Hopefully the tips in this article will appease some of the frustrations a home theater aficionado must sometimes face while living in an apartment or a condo. The goal with these installation tips is to increase your level of enjoyment while respecting the privacy of your neighbors. Besides,, watching the latest and greatest DVD will be an excellent alternative on Sundays to mowing the lawn.


About the author:

RLA Home Theater and Hi-Fi began as a hobby and has expanded into a business. Ray took his love of music and movies and turned it into his personal business to bring movie theater sound and quality into the homes of his customers. Ray brought great knowledge and expertise to us from a custom installer/integrator's perspective.

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