“Is the Water Running?”
Watching movies has long been an event for our family. My love of movies and cinema has passed on to my children – we regularly go to the cinema and watch movies at home – it’s always been a fun time to set aside, to engage and share in a common experience.
My children have all grown up with fairly state-of the-art surround systems in the home. They often accompanied me on robust home theater projects and enjoyed being my test audience. When they were little, they hated going to friends’ houses to watch movies, felt they were sub-par efforts. I raised snobs, apparently. One late night, my daughter, then in college, called me, frantic, “Dad? How the hell do you shut of the motion setting on a TV? I’m at a friend’s watching a movie and it looks terrible. I can’t watch it. I made them pause the movie so I could call you.” I laughed and walked her through what to look for to disable it. After getting off the phone, my wife asked what the call was about and as I explained, she looked crossly at me for a moment, then cracked a smirk. “Your children.”
My wife, God bless her, despite her limitless love for me, tunes me out when I talk about A/V stuff. She has tolerated my endless pursuit of audio perfection over the years, and although she has enjoyed what we have at home, she’s never been over-the-moon about any of it. She has, though, been very supportive of my desire to get involved in A/V again, recognizing how my knowledge, skill, and passion can benefit others..
With her blessing, earlier this year, in preparation for launching Ekho Home Theater Group, I upgraded our family room to an aggressive Dolby Atmos 3.1.2 system, ideally suited for rooms where surround sound is not possible, feasible, or even practical. After a very solid day spent installing hardware, integrating and programming, and breaking in the speakers with some energetic music, my children voted to inaugurate the system with Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, arguably one of the finest surround mixes ever produced, winner of the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing, and deservedly so. The track on the Blu-ray, however, is a standard 5.1 mix, not Dolby Atmos encoded, so this choice would prove a test of the system’s ability to virtualize with a more common soundtrack.
I can’t possibly cover every amazing audio event during our screening. For that, you just need to come over – we’ll watch it together. I will tell you that the soundstage was massive; the front of the room was a full left-to-right, floor-to-ceiling wall of sound that realized itself fully three-dimensionally into the space. Every wave, every creak of the ship and ropes, every footfall from the sailors walking on deck rang true. At one point in the movie, after a major ship-to-ship cannon battle, as the sailors hurried to stop the flooding below deck, my wife turns to me and quietly asks, “Is the water running?” It was a fair question. The sound of rushing water was so enveloping and convincing, and beneath it a tone not unlike the sound one hears in our house when a bath is being run upstairs, or someone is doing laundry. I turned to her, smiled, and whispered back, “No, dear, that’s the movie.” And her eyes lit up. And in that moment, I realized she finally understood what I had been trying to do for so many years.
We have been rewatching movies we know well, all because every one of them now feels new, different, better. My children and I, and even my wife, get excited every time some little nuance in the soundtrack grabs our attention. We watch everything on this system, TV, streaming, and Blu-rays. We all play music on it. CDs sound cleaner and more lifelike. We’ve even bought a record player and started listening to vinyl again. The experience is everything.