Years ago, I wrote a story for AudiophileReview.com about taking my buddy to Rocky Mountain Audio Fest at the end of a golf trip to play yet another of Golf Magazine's Top 100 courses in the United States. Matt has surged ahead of me in the golfing endeavor thanks to his aggressive travel schedule, and he's currently in the low-80s (score and number of courses played) and I am at 71 of the top 100 with 19 of the top 20 under my belt (I don't want to talk about my scores right now).
After we played this fantastic Tom Doak-designed course called Ballyneal in the middle-of-nowhere Sand Hills region of eastern Colorado, a good three hours driving very fast from Denver, we headed back to fly home to Southern California, but also stopped off for a quick visit to visit the audiophile-only RMAF show. As an audiophile newcomer, Matt was blown away by the sound of the gear on display. He is the person that most AV retailers should dream walks through their front door--a Gen-Xer with the means to buy the good stuff if he wanted and a taste for high performance and luxurious technology. What I found interesting was his follow comment in the car back to D.I.A., which was about the way the gear was installed. He said, "I know a lot of people who could afford this expensive gear, but I don't know one of them that has a home that could accommodate such a messy installation."
While certain considerations need to be made because RMAF is a show run by hobbyists and historically in a run-down Marriott with lots of wear between the early 1980s and now, Matt has a point. In the hotel room and ballroom displays, cables were strewn everywhere, looking worse than the after-effects of the most out-of-control Mötley Crüe recording session (at least the cable part). Amps were parked on the floor, often stacked and packed between the speakers. Lighting design of any meaningful kind was nowhere be found--even a simple dimmer for a temporary IKEA light.
Extra speakers lined the walls (not for use with any object-based surround setups, since those were nowhere to be found at RMAF). Video displays? You're kidding, right? Those things are practically Kryptonite at an audiophile show, despite the fact that people who can actually afford such awesome gear also might want to watch a movie, TV, or Netflix/Amazon in their $100,000-plus systems. The audiophile show system design is just hopefully out of touch with the way consumers with the money to buy them (not used on Audiogon.com) would actually want to use said system. Matt was just being polite with his pretty poignant comment.
Here is the very good news. No matter your budget, there is no reason in 2019 that you need to have a messy, poorly constructed AV or audiophile system. Allow me to make my case:
The replacement of a five-inch thick, 42-inch 720p Vizio TV from the long-long-ago has allowed us to remove an Apple TV and a Roku (despite my love for Roku), opening up even more space in her equipment rack. If I, someday, replace her Adcom FM Tuner, Adcom stereo preamp, and Anthem 5-channel amp (only using two channels of said amp) with a modest Denon or Marantz slim line receiver, we'd still have her non-ESL MartinLogans singing and her system would take up half the space, but I need to win what battles I can when I can.
For the rest of us, streamlining our systems doesn't need to be such a terrifying change. I recently ditched Apple TV and an Oppo player to make more room in my new Middle Atlantic rack and to have a simpler system.
For enthusiasts who change out and move in and out a lot of gear as part of the hobby, Velcro cable organizers are a super-affordable upgrade that will neaten your rack. Power cables can be replaced on many components not to improve on a "more flowery bloom to the midrange" (as that is total bullshit) but to reduce clutter and neaten your equipment rack. Excellent quality AV-grade power cabling of various lengths is a go-to item in the arsenal of any top custom installer and an easy trick for DYI AV enthusiasts to steal. Radio Shack, Amazon, Monoprice, or any number of sources can help you replace your power cable to help reduce clutter.
Heresy, you say? The truth is, most audiophiles couldn't care less about a center speaker--a lesson that I've learned on Audiogon.com over and over after investing in audiophile-grade center speakers. Aesthetically, the benefit of ditching the center speaker is undeniable, and today's AV receivers and AV preamps do such a good job making a center sound in phantom mode that it's a totally viable choice.
Another slick option that could help you dump your center speaker comes from Sony if you buy their top-of-the-line Master Series UHD TVs. They're designed such that you can use the TV panel (not the crappy internal speakers) as a legitimate center speaker, and believe it or not, it doesn't suck. The Sony Master Series OLED TVs are about as good as you could ever hope for and demand to be paired with an excellent, well-installed audiophile or home theater installation. The concept of dumping the center speaker is yet another way to get rid of clutter, making your room look more designer-tastic without hiring an interior designer.
Since making a mess is an everyday part of my life here in my new house, I went one step farther in my theater by using a somewhat new category of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers knows as invisibles. Simply put, these speakers use a different kind of transducer that allows for you (really your drywall guy) to cover them with a material that is most likely drywall "skim coat" (like drywall mud) but it could also could be fabric, wallpaper, or even thin wood. I know what you are thinking, because I thought it before I installed my first pair of invisible speakers at my last house, but these speakers do not suck. I had one pair of Sonance IS4 invisibles in my last house and I absolutely loved them. Loved, I say. Knowing what I know now, I am using them all over my house, including for height, side, and surround speakers thanks to Stealth Audio. I have my beloved Nakymatone Echt high-end invisibles going in my living room, dining room, kitchen, master bedroom, and office.
Here's one more trick that I am doing this time out: I'm using Gray Sound in-ceiling subwoofers in many of those applications. These subs can be cut into your ceiling, highly braced, and ported in a way that they look like a lighting fixture. How cool is that? There are other in-wall and in-ceiling sub options, but this one is so elegant that I can get roughly 20 Hz to 20 kHz performance in my distributed audio system in many key vignettes around my new house without having to see any speakers at all. Too many audiophile systems are shy in the bass department and sacrifice looks for edgy-performance. Now you can have it all without seeing it at all.
But even that option is likely too expensive for most installations. One again, though, there is good news. There are products like Lutron Caseta lights and switches that can be had at the likes of Home Depot, Lowe's, and Amazon.com for very little money. They are plug-and-play with the aforementioned Control4 system. They also give you the sort of smart-home functionality that a lot of expensive lighting systems don't, like quick and easy (and user programmable) geofencing, lights-on alerts, and more. A DIY project or a very simple project for your local electrician can make your home theater or audiophile room look and perform so much better. Even a few simple lighting scenes can make a gigantic difference in the way you watch and listen to your media. Don't think that lighting control is for rich guys only. It isn't.
I could go on and on but hopefully there are some inspirational tips here for you to run with to make your system look better, perform better, and perhaps better appeal to your family members who might not be as into the technology as we all are. Feel free to use the comments section below to share your ideas for creating a neater, tidier, and more user-friendly home entertainment space. We love to hear from you.
• AV Bliss Is About More Than Merely Audio and Video at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• One Thing We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Cord-Cutting at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Getting Started With Basic Home Automation: Control4 Edition at HomeTheaterReview.com.