A great home theatre is more than a big screen and quality sound system. Carpeting is essential to achieving the perfect sound and completing the look of the space. Joe Young reports.
In the last issue of Connected we gave an overview of the basics in home cinema seating.
The article stated that even though seating is a low-tech solution it can be lucrative for integrators.
Let’s take a step further in that direction to something even lower tech but still potentially lucrative – cinema carpeting.
And while we’re at it, it’s only natural to look at home theatre acoustics.
So, how much of a business opportunity is there in cinema carpeting, and what must integrators know in order to make the right choices?
Savvy integrators always look at ways of expanding their range to offer a more complete service.
However, Wavetrain Cinemas director David Moseley says many home cinema installers without the necessary knowledge have entered the carpeting sector, and most of them are missing the mark.
“Much of the stuff people are throwing into home theatres doesn’t properly address the room’s acoustics,” David says.
We’ll get into some tips on room acoustics later. For now, David believes that unless you know your stuff, you should probably stay away from cinema carpeting.
“You have to give good advice if you want to establish a long-term business,” David says.
“Winging it might make you some money in the short term, but if you want to establish a good name in the industry, it is important to understand what you are selling.”
The good news is that short courses are available. THX is running home theatre courses in mid-October in Melbourne, and Wavetrain runs courses that focus more specifically on acoustics.
There is also the perhaps less desirable way of doing your own research and experimenting to gain confidence in the field of acoustics.
If you are looking to add cinema carpeting to your repertoire, generally you have to partner with an Australian manufacturer. Most United States manufacturers find it economically unfeasible to ship carpet to the Australia and New Zealand region.
As for regional manufacturers, David mentions Tsar, Whitecliff Imports and Victoria Carpet as good options.
Did someone ever tell you as a child that you were unique and special?
Well, every room is unique and special too. A room has its acoustic signature, and anything that goes into it will have an effect.
Consequently, treatments for acoustics need to be specific, and unfortunately there is no simple formula to follow.
David says people visiting the acoustically engineered room at the WaveTrain sound studio usually remark on the absorption panels placed in a seemingly random manner.
“The panels are all there for a specific reason. Generally speaking, to get rooms right requires some engineering of the space.”
However, it isn’t as simple as avoiding bare floorboards or filling the room with absorption panels, as too much absorption can leave a room sounding ‘dead’.
In fact, David has completed a project in which the floors were concrete and the sound was excellent.
It takes a good ear to understand what sound is capable of, and how to manipulate it to achieve optimum results. And that comes with experience.
David says you can learn about acoustics by experimenting with sound in a home cinema space.
“Listen to stereo speakers with nothing in the room, then place big absorption panels at the first reflection points and note the difference. Can you hear the sound tighten up and become more focused in the centre? If you take the panels away, does the sound stage collapse?”
Over time, your ear should learn to pick up subtleties, and you will become better at shaping the sound.
There may not be a formula for getting it right, but there are many ways of stuffing it up.
“The biggest mistake most people make is that they aren’t using enough weight in their carpet when trying to increase absorption,” David says.
“Simply throwing a carpet on a floor isn’t necessarily going to produce adequate absorption. It’s based on factors such as density of the product and distance from the surface. Some absorbing products don’t absorb quite as well as they move closer to a surface.
“Then you have the coefficient of absorption, which changes based on those two factors and on what percentage of the sound is being absorbed at different frequencies.
“I’ve seen people put down a thin carpet and underlay, thinking that will deal with the problem. Well, no, it doesn’t. Because the carpet isn’t absorbing far enough down into the frequency range. There will still be voice intelligibility problems at the lower vocal frequency range.
“The crucial factor is the acoustic weight of the combination of carpet and underlay. The underlay is just as important as the carpet.
“Most of the underlays on the market are a closed-cell rubber or foam, and these are not designed for absorbing sound at all.
“For good absorption, it is better to use carpets and underlays made from fibrous materials such as polyester, wool or horsehair.
“Usually a heavy wool carpet is ideal, but synthetic will also work. You can use a thicker underlay and a thinner carpet or a heavier carpet and a thinner underlay. The idea is to get enough absorption qualities in the combination.”
For the complete package the carpet should also look the part.
The US has a large range of cinema carpet designs, but choices are quite limited in our regiion.
However, patterns of alternating popcorn boxes and drinks can look pretty tacky, so we might not be missing out on much.
A deep, rich colour is a safe choice because it will reflect minimum light and helps to hide stains.
If your client wants children to be able to lie on the floor, then the feel of the carpet also becomes important.
Just as long as the acoustics are right, picking a carpet your client likes the look and feel of should be relatively simple.