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From the Forums: The Subterranean Cinema

Your Mission: to build a home cinema for under £1,000

by Mark Hodgkinson Oct 14, 2015


  • Our member Dr Benway has been in the hi-fi/home cinema ‘game’ for some 15 years, or so, and can remember a time when a 42-inch plasma would cost you the best part of £7,000.
    At heart he remains a two channel guy, so that's what really gets his attention but, like us all, Dr Benway has always appreciated a well-built cinema system. Fast forward some years and Dr Benway is buying his first house with his fiancé. To put it in his own words, ‘It's nothing flash and very modest' but it’s unique in many ways and is focused to serve all of his hobbies; as well as being a project in its own right. The house was previously owned by someone who ran their business from it and, as such, the garage had been extended, over some 10 years, to incorporate two new buildings that annex each other to satisfy their requirements. It was this space which helped seal the deal as it provided what they needed - a generous garage space with room to extend for the Doc and a very sizeable space for an art studio for his wife-to-be.

    The Project:

    After three years of knocking the house into shape, and many other distractions, Dr B started to gravitate towards working on what was affectionately called 'The Bunker'. The room was basically comprised of a set of (very rickety) stairs on the rear wall that led into a room that is 23' long and 13.5' wide. There were two small, boxed off areas that housed a compressor and materials, and home-made workbenches flank the walls on the longest axis. Soggy carpet tiles furnished the floor and there was a huge amount of mess and waste materials left over from the previous owner. To top it off, the room was also letting in water, which clearly needed to be resolved. Thanks to a leaky roof, the floor of the studio above was shot to pieces

    The Realisation:

    The idea of a home cinema, which had been occupying a part of the back of his brain, started to work its way into his consciousness. The Doc decides that, as this project could potentially fail due to a number of reasons and that it may get vetoed altogether, he will do all of the work himself; re-purpose any existing materials he has and keep the cost of the build as low as possible. Ideally, that sum was set at less than £1,000, including equipment, which would be an unbelievable achievement if he can pull it off. As the Doc puts it, “I do like a challenge.”

    After extending the garage, replacing the roof and refurbishing the inside of the building, it's time to replace the suspended floor that separates his wife's studio from ‘The Bunker.’ The floor was akin to one massive soggy biscuit, so it ended up breaking into many, many small pieces during removal.


    After tearing up the carpet tiles, clearing up most of the mess from the broken floor above and multiple runs to fill up the skip, they reached this stage after the first day...

    Whilst pulling out the last of the floorboards, the Doc realises that that the walls are double skinned breezeblock; he’s sure that will come in handy at some juncture. After many hours of carrying, fiddling, coercion and swearing - not to mention the power-drill slipping and skewering the middle finger of his left hand - the floor was complete and fixed.


    The next thing to tackle was the hole in the wall and the plastic polypipe that came through it. In their wisdom the previous owners elected to put a water supply into the building. Instead of employing thought and a smattering of sense, they decided to do this by popping a block from the wall (which is underground) and use a drainpipe to feed the pipe though, unimpeded but the substrate of the garden. Screwing an MDF panel with some judicious use of expanding foam was then considered a suitable barrier to the elements on the other side of the wall.

    After prepping and cleaning all of the walls and drilling some of the blocks in the small portion of the room which is above ground to improve airflow, the walls were treated with a ‘cementious’ slurry which stops any residual moisture ingress, yet allows the walls to breathe.

    The Kit

    Front left & right speakers arrive, which Dr Benway admits were a ‘bit of a punt’ and he fully expects to change them but, going on past experience with Mission, they offer credible performance for their price-point and will serve as a foundation to help him set the room up. Plus, it helps with the restrictive, self-imposed budget challenge.


    The Doc also cobbled together some electronics; an Onkyo TX-SR606 and an old-school Imerge Soundserver S1000. This is rather redundant in this day and age but nostalgia got the better of him especially for just £50 delivered. He used to install these when they retailed for £1.5k!


    As he was mocking cables up, it was deemed prudent to start work on all of the other areas that will be hidden in the ceiling - such as the lights. This small change made a huge difference but before he gets too carried away, he started running the cable for the speakers.

    Having the equipment on-line to test did reveal some flaws in the cables so new HDMI cables were sourced and everything starts to get dressed properly with all electrical cables fully fitted to the beams and all signal cables isolated from them. The paint eventually turned up so it was time to put some colour in the room. With freshly dried plaster and judicious use of a paint roller, early on, Dr B got back to playing with the fun stuff - more kit!


    The Humax turned up which was all well and good but without a signal, it wasjust a box taking up rack space. Following a number of visits, throughout the week, with subsequent quotes to fit an aerial to the building which came in between £180 to a 'frankly ridiculous' £325. As this was a sizeable portion of the overall budget and he hates paying for jobs he can do himself, Dr Benway figured he'd take a gamble on his own abilities. A princely £27 on an aerial and an hour spent faffing around with positioning resulted in this:

    Really taking shape now

    With the impending carpet installation, it was time to clear out all of the leftover material and tools and give the place a good clean.


    According to Dr Benway, the change it made to the room is huge; not only from a comfort perspective, but it also damped down sound reflections. After a bit of wrestling, he got the sofa down there (thankfully in three separate pieces) as well as some other bits and set about reconnecting the system and doing a proper setup, for once. Two hours later, they were ready to use it for the first time. Even though it doesn't look it from this angle, the viewing point is 13' 6' away from the screen to attain the desired viewing angle.

    The aim now (asides from finishing the final details) is to fine tune speaker placement and experiment with possible room treatments. Then, of course, it will be the slippery slope of upgrades.

    And the final tally for all this? An unbelievably parsimonious £1,380! It just goes to show what a lot of hard work can get you.

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