It has been about a year since I packed up and moved out of my house at the top of a West Los Angeles canyon. Dating back to my bachelor's pad above the old Spago restaurant in the West Hollywood Hills, I have always been very blessed to be able to own a lot of great audio and video products: speakers from companies like Wilson, Revel, Focal, and B&W; electronics from Meridian, Krell, Classe, Audio Research, and Mark Levinson; Transparent cables; Crestron control systems; and more. The gear performed well in acoustically treated, light-controlled rooms and provided more than a decade of enjoyment with both movies and music.
Today, things are different. I purchased a home that I am completely renovating, thus my family has been living in apartments and condos until the work is done. The living quarters are much smaller, and access to no-holds-barred AV installations are not only off-limits, but they make no sense because I don't own the space. I've been forced to find new ways to make my somewhat emasculated AV setup seem bigger and perform better in a smaller place, and I've learned some cool tricks that might help you in your system.
Deal With Acoustics First and Affordably
I know of many pairs of $300 to $500 bookshelf speakers that are very good performers; but, if you want to take the system to the next level of performance, you need to treat your room a little bit. I don't mean RPG treatments that make your living room look like a Capitol Records recording studio. I am talking about putting a shaggy rug (I like the stuff at Room & Board on the ground where an imaging-killing coffee table would have gone. Use thick drapes from Bed Bath & Beyond on simple, stock curtain rods to tame first-order reflections off the side walls. Look to someone like GIK Acoustics for some mild-colored and not-too-obtrusive treatments to stick on the ceiling above your speakers, just a few feet in front. If you can afford any bass traps that can be stashed beside a sofa or in a corner, you are only helping your cause. Spending $500 to $1,000 in acoustic treatments, be they DIY or professional products, can make your speakers or soundbar perform much better.
Hardwire First, Like a Pro
Assuming you are using a flat-panel TV, make sure that you hire an electrician to install a recessed "clock outlet" in the wall so that your thin HDTV can sit flush against the wall - the way that it's supposed to look. Look into Snap AV's VersaBox, which allows you to stash all sorts of little goodies between the studs behind your HDTV. This under-$100 part is so trick and is one of the coolest things that I saw at CEDIA last year. You can stick your Roku, AppleTV, DirecTV Mini Genie, or Dish Joey in the studs behind the wall while safely and neatly mounting your TV in front of them.
Run all of your cables in the wall to where they need to go. If you need to cut some holes in the old drywall, do it...even if you are a renter. It's both unsightly and unsafe to have your cables dangling around your gear. Toddlers, animals, or inebriated guests could create a disaster that is easily avoidable. Be sure to save the chunks of drywall for the painter, as they will want to use them to quickly patch your mess by sanding and painting. With the help of an electrician, cable guy, and painter, your system will look like it was professionally installed for about $400 to $500 total. Look to Yelp.com or AngiesList.com if you need help finding a good but affordable company, as their review systems make it pretty easy to see who gets the most love from customers. Through Yelp, I found an electrician who rocked my job for about $300 for two rooms.
Click on over to Page 2 for video, wireless, and lighting tips . . .