The sound is mind-boggling.
Mark Ontiveros, the man at the top of the organizational ladder at Audio Images, has instructed me to sit in the “sweet spot,” the middle of the couch in a room custom-designed for a client of his. The room — a 2016 CEDIA® Award-winning project — has no visible audio sources: “I think the best part about the room that we're in today is that people walk in and they have no idea that there's any technology whatsoever,” notes Ontiveros.
I’m getting a listen to Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen.” I’ve heard this cut hundreds of times — heck, maybe I’ve had over a thousand listens.
I’m hearing things I’ve never heard before.
There’s a distinct separation between the start of the beat of each kick-drum and the first attack of every note from the bass guitar. Although both sounds are occurring simultaneously (surely one of many things that the band ensured was utterly perfect in the production of the album that yielded this single), I swear I’m hearing two distinct aural impressions.
There are blackout shades and a movie screen that lowers from the ceiling. Raise the shades and screen, and there’s a wall of glass that reveals a coastal California landscape. Open the glass, and gentle breezes drift in.
And in every configuration — screen, glass, or open-air — the state of that wall doesn’t affect the sound. Not. One. Bit.
The Pain of an Audiophile
There’d originally been an open archway between this room and the family’s dining room. The room had been filled, emptied, and re-filled over the years, explains Ontiveros: “The client had been trying, through various purchases of hardware, audio hardware, cables, versus acoustical treatments, to get what he wanted.
“When I got here the first time, this room had a bunch of stuff in it.” The client’s wife was definitely not a fan of the “stuff.”
“His big complaint, other than his wife's complaint, was that he just couldn't seem to get it right, no matter what he did, no matter how much he read, no matter who sold him what. It just wouldn't come together the way that he always dreamed that it could.”
Ontiveros listened and then got to work: His recommendations included enclosing the room — isolating this oasis from the rest of the home — and stashing Wisdom Audio speakers behind the fabric that covers the walls. The rack housing the components would be hidden in a closet that shared a wall with the back of the room. Adding screens for movie viewing and a projector were on the wish list, and a little rectangle high up on a rear wall is the only indication that this room serves multiple functions.
“There's simply a small glass window in the back wall and you don't really notice it,” notes Ontiveros. “When you turn it on, it all comes to life. You're there, either in the concert, in the studio, or you're there in the middle of Africa or the football stadium or whatever the event may be.”
The Big Reveal
During four months of renovations, Ontiveros brought in Anthony Grimani for an assist. Grimani — who opened his own audio firm after a quarter-century with Dolby Laboratories and Lucasfilm — helped ensure that the sound was impeccable. The walls had been baffled and the speakers placed so that the left- and right-side sound image creates a distinct “center” channel even though there’s no dedicated speaker for the middle of the room. (There’s infrastructure hidden above the screen should one be added later.)
Finally, the time had arrived for Ontiveros and company to give their customer a listen.
“We had been tuning the room, finishing the room, myself and Mr. Grimani, and there was a bit of red wine involved. About 10:00 p.m., we were finally done, at the end of a long day, typical, and the client came in and Tony played some cuts.
“And the client literally just began to cry.
“He was sitting right there in the main spot and I was sitting behind him, the second-best seat in the house, and he was just so moved. As was I, but he just couldn't believe it.
“It's what he had been chasing for years.”