Creating the ultimate chill-out room for a geek

, posted: 29-Sep-2011 11:40

Do you have a chill-out room where you unwind after a hard day's work? Do you have your own space in your house to escape to when your kids are being a pain?

With the Rugby World Cup on, I find myself spending more and more time in my chill-out room, and I thought it was time for an update of the hardware and sound gear. 

1. Hi-fi / Sound

I started with the Hi-Fi especially because it was the oldest component I had in my set up - especially the Mission Cyrus 782 main speakers and the JBL Control 2 surround speakers. After spending a lot of time listening to many new speakers in specialist Hi-Fi shops, I could not find any that sounded better than the ageing speakers I already had. More importantly, None of the speakers I listened to gave me that same excitement and emotion that I had when I chose the hand built Mission Cyrus 20 years earlier when I was a student. The new Mission speaker range (as well as some Audiolab, Wharfedale speakers I listened to) - all sounded clinical and mass produced.

A quick Google search revealed that many of the old British high end audiophile companies (including Audiolab, Quad, Mission, Wharfedale and Castle Acoustics) are now taken over and they all come from the same production line in Shenzhen, China. I do not have any problems with things made in China - but the speakers lacked the soul the older models from these brands used to have.

In the end I ended up at Harvey Norman and while my wife was looking for a furniture set, I sneaked out to the Electronics section and stumbled on the Theophany speakers. I have never heard of this Christchurch based speakers - it was not long before the surprisingly knowledgeable Harvey Norman sales guy had me standing in front of the speaker set up with a demo CD and I found my self rediscovering the same excitement I had when I chose my last speakers and Amp all those years ago.

The Theophany M3's I just bought is discontinued model. The new range they have are better looking and they don't have the up-pointing mid range drivers (checkout the Theophany web site). However, I kind of like the older design. If you are lucky you might still be able to find one from some of the bigger Harvey Norman's. 

Also the guys at Theophany are fantastic - and the founder, Garth Murray  talked to me on the phone about how best to set it up - including how I could bi-wire it to the amplifiers to get better sound and how to position it - which I did. He also gave me a three year warranty extension free and sent me some docs by email. [In the end I used separate outputs for from the Amp to drive the tweeters and the mid range]. 

With the sound stage set-up, I was somewhat constrained by the electronics / gadgets and furniture I had in my chill-out room - In the end I positioned the speakers so my seating was about 3 meters from my head - and it sounded absolutely amazing. I added the Rel Sub Woofer (black box under the table in the main picture at the top) I already had - and the deep bass complemented the extensive dynamic range of the Theophany's. It works great - regardless of whether I was pumping my music iTunes library, TV or Gaming.

2. Computers 

I thought it is time to retire the year old  i7 Dell Studio desktop running Windows 7 /8 Ultimate. I replaced it with Apple Mac Mini (2.7GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i7 / 8GB memory / 256GB SSD Drive / 750GB SATA Drive. The best thing about the Mac Mini is that it is really quiet compared to the Dell or my HP tablet.

The Mac Mini came with the new Lion operating system. Having been a Windows user for 20 years, I really struggled making the switch to Mac OS - but having had an iPad2 softened the learning curve a bit.

However, In the end I really missed my Outlook and Office 2010 - so I bought VMWare Fusion 4 ($48). It took about two hours to migrate my old Microsoft Virtual PC image on my Dell to the VMWAre on the Mac - all my old applications worked just as before - if not better. I like how the VM applications and Mac applications integrate in the same desktop unlike VM's under Windows. You can have it so when you click on a link in your Outlook email, it opens the link in Safari in the Mac so you can keep all your Web History / Favourites in one location.

The only thing I have not been able to get to work on the Mac is the  Hauppauge HVR-900H HD TV tuner. The EyeTV has issues recognizing my tuner on the Mac. The TV tuner is the only app I am running on the Dell - and as soon as I find a way to make the TV tuner work on the Mac, I will free up the Dell and put it in the living room so my teenage boys can play Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3.

And as for display - I wanted to buy the new Apple Thunderbolt monitor - but thought it was a bit overpriced. Given my head is about 1 m from the screen I wanted a 28: / 32" display. In the end I settled for a Sony Bravia HD TV, the display was perfect and have no issues and much better than the Dell monitor I had before. The good thing about the Sony is that it has built in Freeview tuner - so I can use it as a TV when ever I want to watch Sports or watch TV. Unlike the PC, the HDMI output from the Apple had both sound and picture - though you can bypass the sound going through your TV by plugging the sound output from the Apple directly to your Amp (the Apple intelligently detects this and turns off the HDMI sound).

3. Furniture

I replaced by OSH compliant desk chair with a more comfe leather electric chair with two buttons on the side that makes it feels like one of those seats in First Class flights.  

The Apple Wireless keyboard, wireless Magic Trackpad and the Apple remote means that there are no wires and they are a joy to use after a bit of practice with the gestures on the Trackpad.

I am absolutely delighted with the setup and it works really well for me. Comments welcome.

Other related posts:
Thank you, Paper Plus Parnell - the most honest shop I know
After the Tornado: How did Telecom help (and not help) to get my Internet back
New iPhone announced - but Not for preorder in New Zealand until 28th October

Comment by freitasm, on 29-Sep-2011 15:59

Just use a HDHomeRun as DVB-T tuner on your LAN and all computers will have TV...

Author's note by BlueToothKiwi, on 30-Sep-2011 14:41

Thanks, Mauricio,

Just checked out the HDHomeRun on the SiiconDust site - It seams similar to EyeTV - but seems to be way better - and definitley will solve all my problems if I can spare another $199.

I like the concept of being able to watch your TV from your iPad fron anywhere in your house within Wifi range.

In the mean time, I found why my Hauppauge HVR-900H and EyeTV was not working... in an older Geekzone thread. I am going to put the HVR-900H on Trademe - it is still a good tuner and even works with Windows laptops.

Comment by Skolink, on 1-Oct-2011 23:16

A place to escape to when the kids are being a pain? You make me laugh. My wife thinks that me going to work without the children is a luxury!

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BlueToothKiwi's profile

New Zealand

I am a project manager / consultant that specialises in implementing cloud computing and Customer Relationship Management Systems. I also develop applications and especially interested in Smart tablet interfaces and Clouds.

I live in Auckland with my partner and four children. For fun, I am into robotics - My children and I spend a lot of time building robots with LEGO MINDSTORMS. I am also one of the 30 people from around the world selected by LEGO as an MCP (Mindstorms Community Partner).

My other interests include mobile devices and mountain-biking.