The Bunker: The Power and the Passion
Tony O'Brien tells the story of how The Digital Picture created an award-winning media room in Brisbane…
Brisbane's historic inner-city suburb of Paddington has more than a few hidden gems, one of which is The Bunker. The brainchild of CEDIA award-winning Gold Coast-based company, The Digital Picture, I recently had the chance to catch-up with its managing director, Scott Sauer. A self-professed perfectionist, he was more than happy to talk me through the design of this unique project.
He explained to me that he wanted to create a space that would not only indulge his client's love of cinema and poker but also showcase a collection of art. In addition to incorporating a poker-table with seating for five, the space needed to include a bar for entertaining. Furthermore, the cinema needed to be able to reach sound pressure levels above 105dB, without disturbing the rest of the home – not to mention the neighbours.
Scott says that the most significant challenges were not only soundproofing The Bunker but overcoming the unique acoustic characteristics of the room. The seating needed to be arranged in a fashion conducive to entertaining, but the electronics had to be as discreet as possible – including speakers and acoustic treatments, which needed to be worked around the room's various artworks.
Part of a new structure, the main floor of the house is accessed via stairs, with the carport and The Bunker located on the ground floor. Starting life as a concrete box, the team at The Digital Picture opted to build a room within a room, thereby isolating The Bunker from the rest of the home. Timber frames were attached to the concrete with resilient mounts, and covered with 13mm soundcheck plasterboard and 18mm plywood, sandwiched between a layer of green glue with staggered corner joints. The space between the concrete shell and The Bunker was filled with sound bats, the structure enclosed with a floating ceiling. This resulted in the final and planned area of 8x3.1x8.95 metres. A bulkhead was incorporated into the design, to lend the bar and poker table more of a sense of intimacy.
Working alongside builders, the team arranged for the bulkhead to be built as a self-contained structure which avoids unwanted sound entering the structure, thereby making its way into the home. The lighting of the room had to be carefully planned. While downlights may seem like an obvious choice, they would penetrate The Bunker's ceiling and in doing so, create a path for sound to escape the room. Track lighting was chosen for the task, along with cans that wouldn't penetrate the structure.
In addition to incorporating a purpose-built air-conditioning system, the bulkhead was also used to house a BenQ LK970 4K DPL projector, enclosed in a custom-built hush box. The bulkhead was then fitted with acoustic treatment to create what is a cleverly concealed bass trap. The front soundstage incorporates Krix PIX LCR speakers, powered by an Emotiva XPA DR3 amplifier rated at 450 watts RMS. The speakers were then enclosed with 50mm absorber board, cut to fit around them. Custom built and shipped from the USA is a Severtson 174” SAT 4k woven cinemascope screen, which was placed over the front stage. I'm told the screen is the largest that could be accommodated given the projector's throw distance.
Krix Megaphonix speakers were used for surround and Atmos speakers, with purpose-built Megaphonix centres used for the rear back channels – one of them even mounted into the bar's custom joinery. The Megaphonix were powered by Emotiva XPA amplifiers, rated at 250 watts RMS. Vicoustic sound absorbers were used on the walls next to the surround speakers. With the surround speakers opposite to one another, the sound absorbers absorb reflections from the opposing speaker, preventing them from entering the main listening position.
The low end is provided courtesy of two Krix Cyclonix 18” subs powered by a Yamaha PX10 amplifier generating 1,000 watts per channel. The subs were attached to the ceiling directly across from one another with resilient mounts to avoid vibration being transferred into the structure. Ceiling mounting the subs not only kept them mostly out of sight but also eliminated standing waves in both the length and width of the room, which Scott tells me resulted in extremely flat bass response.
As obvious acoustic treatments had to be kept to a minimum, along with the client wanting a hard-wearing surface, the front and side walls were lined with 10mm acoustic carpet. In addition to combating reverb, it also absorbed light reflecting from the projector screen. A 14mm acoustic underlay was installed underneath the carpet, and no less than 24 absorbers were placed throughout the ceiling to combat slap echo between the floor and the ceiling.
A Trinnov Audio Altitude16 was tasked with audio processing, the team using it to create a 'true 7.2.4' system with bass steering. This approach, explains Scott, presented some challenges for him and the team when it came to time-aligning the subs. The upside to the configuration is that low-frequency bass and LFE are sent to the sub on the corresponding side of the room – i.e. LFE and bass from left speaker to the left sub, etc.
Thanks to this careful placement of the subs – which all but eliminated any nulls and acoustic treatments, there was little left to do when it came to calibrating the audio. The system sounded fantastic even before this, Scott tells me. While the couch facing the screen is the obvious sweet spot, with some careful planning and tweaking of the placement of the Atmos speakers, the system can give its best from all the seating positions. The result after calibration, Scott says, is a system capable of running cleanly at 110 dB with low ear fatigue.
As the BenQ LK-970 is not HDR (High Dynamic Range) capable, a Lumagen Radiance Pro video processor was employed for HDR. Adding the Lumagen also gives it dynamic tone mapping in addition to other benefits such as scaling and sharpening of images. The BenQ and Lumagen combo was calibrated for both SDR and HDR playback. The gold-standard in calibration, a 1D greyscale LUT and 4,913 3D LUT colour calibration were performed, resulting in a calibrated light output of 84 nits. A Savant remote control system was used for system automation, with the client being able to choose between 16:9 and 2:35 as well as control the system from an iPad.
We're told that the client is ecstatic with the results, and so were CEDIA, with The Bunker winning the Level 1 Media Room Award in its recent awards event. After chatting with Scott and his team, and hearing the passion they have for their work, I wasn't at all surprised to discover that they also received awards for Best Home Cinema Level II and The Best Dressed Rack.
As the owner of Adelaide based ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.