Name: Al MacDonald
Location: Squamish, B.C.
Occupation: Jack of All Trades
“It’s not just about how loud you can hear it, it’s about the immersion of the moment.”
Situated at the top of Howe Sound and north of Vancouver, British Columbia, the town of Squamish is home to resorts, fabulous skiing, and Klipsch Connoisseur Al MacDonald. We caught up with him to learn more about their set-up and whether he has pissed off the neighbors.
Tell us about your first experience hearing Klipsch speakers. How old were you? Where were you? What did it feel like?
Al: My first real experience was shopping for Bluetooth in-ear headphones, waiting for the cashier to return with the ones I wanted. While browsing through the Blu-ray titles on the rack, I heard a familiar sound from the listening room. It was ear-catching, much like a dog whiffing a hamburger patty by a BBQ stove. The store was playing a demo disk of an old Van Halen song and, followed with a trailer of a Star Wars movie. There was lots of bass and, to me, it sounded perfect, like hearing a golfer sink a hole-in-one. I knew the sound was accomplished by the speakers. I had played around with IR’s (impulse responses) on my guitar rig enough to hear the differences between speaker cabinets. I asked the vendor to switch receivers and play the same demo disk and sure enough, the speakers had the sound I wanted. That day I said, “Well, I am not going to buy a motorcycle anymore, I’m getting myself a new Klipsch Home Theater system.” I had spent decades searching for the familiar sound of my guitar rig reproduced raw in the form that I wanted to come from a cheap receiver and some awesome Klipsch speakers without even having to route miles of cables through countless effect boxes. I was sold on Klipsch that day.
“There was lots of bass and, to me, it sounded perfect, like hearing a golfer sink a hole-in-one.” - Al MacDonald
Would you classify yourself as a music lover, film lover, or binge-TV lover?
Al: I am a music and film lover. I have been playing electric guitar since my teenage years and for a short period of time was a professional musician. Home theater was simply a natural evolution. I always enjoyed playing the right note on guitar and hearing it loudly through the PA system (without clipping). I’ve spent decades perfecting guitar, adjusting every frequency with the right tone, color, and effects. I’ve spent a lot of money on gear throughout the years, but if it weren’t for music, I wouldn’t have the ear that I do today.
My home theater experience was so much easier. When I got the bug about building myself a sound system to listen to music and watch movies on my big projector screen, I wanted the same quality and feeling from it that I can get with my guitar rig. All I needed to do this time around was to find the sound that I wanted to hear without having to produce it, but instead just recreate how it is supposed to sound. I needed control over the shape of my sound. It’s not just about how loud you can hear it, it’s about the immersion of the moment.
How did you build out your Klipsch home theater system? What do you like most about it?
Al: The thing about building a great sound system is that it can be very exciting and I learned to control my enthusiasm through the years. What I needed to do first was to research the philosophy of Klipsch, learn about the history of the company, learn about the milestones and achievements, watch video on YouTube of Klipsch Pilgrimages, factory assembly, and so on.
Once I had a firm grasp on who Klipsch was, I then started researching comparable products and companies because I didn’t want to repeat what I went through when I was trying to build my guitar rig. The end of my six months of research revealed to me that Klipsch was the best all-around speakers I could get for the range I was looking for.
Once I knew I was getting Klipsch speakers, I did an acoustic test in the living room where this system would live. It had to sound good. So, I took my time to experiment with various method to control reverberation and low frequencies bounces. I hate the look of those foam dampers glued to the walls so I borrowed pictures frames from friends, gathered a mountain of cousins, blankets, pillows moved furniture around you name it. I then realized the best way to fix my living room sound was to build an entertainment center with soft barn wood, which did exactly what I wanted to achieve with the sound quality of the room. It controlled all bouncing of the various frequencies and totally took care of the low booming frequencies. It also matched the décor that we wanted to achieve. Klipsch aren’t just great sounding speakers, they look awesome too when you match them with this type of décor.
I had already purchased a set of RP-260F, RP-160M because to me they have the same timber. I then added the RP-250C for center and 1 SW-110. I had to power these speakers so I bought a temporary Onkyo receiver until I could research what I really wanted. In the end, I went with an Anthem MRX1120, which is a 7.2.4 capable receiver and an Oppo 203 Blu-ray player. There is no word to describe what I felt when I first connected my Klipsch speakers to the Anthem receiver. I knew it was going to sound great, but wasn’t prepared for the shock I got when I played the song I wanted to listen to for months at its best (I had tested the acoustics of my room with a song from Flo-rida - “Good Feeling.”) When I pressed play on the Oppo, I instantly was transported in this realm that floated me where I rarely have ever been before. My girlfriend saw that unique grin on my face. Only people who really know their sound and hit it exactly on the nose where it should be is a feeling that is hard to describe.
My system wasn’t complete yet, as I was in the process of saving to buy a projection screen, projector and 3 pairs of RP-160M for back channel and 4 height speakers. I had a chance to test drive the RP-140SA Atmos speakers, but since I have a cathedral ceiling and popcorn finish, I figured it would be best to get the same RP-160M all around and basically have the same timber all around. After a while, it was evident the RP-250C was lagging. The beauty of the Anthem receiver is you can turn up or down the center channel. I found I was playing with the center channel volume each time I changed channel or while watching sport or a movie. So, I decided to put the RP-250C in the bedroom and bought the RP-450C and that worked perfectly.
What I like best about my setup is I ended up getting “exactly” what I wanted and at a price I could afford. Bragging rights doesn’t hurt a bit either lol.
“Klipsch aren’t just great sounding speakers, they look awesome too when you match them with this type of décor.”
Is there a spouse or roommate (s) in the picture? What do they think?
Al: My girlfriend loves the way I could build the living room to fit all these pretty speakers she said. She says she enjoys watching a good movie at home and is very proud of her home and how the home theater adds to it. She often refers to our home theater as a Lamborghini when she talks about it to her friends. Music has always been a huge part of her life as well.
How do you want people to feel when they come over for a gathering? Do you put music on? A movie? The big game?
Al: Every time someone new enters the living room for the first time, everyone has the same head jerk and open mouth expression followed by a “Wow” or “Holy shit!!!” It is very funny to watch their reaction. It’s almost like taking them on a virtual reality ride at Walt Disney for the first time. The expression on their faces is priceless. If I ever ask them if they would be interested in coming over and watch a movie one evening, it doesn’t take more than 0.000001 second before they say, “Hell Yeah, I would love it!”
I am a general contractor who is winding down into simple “handyman tasks” and while on the road I often deal with homeowners who have a home theater. I often take the opportunity to educate them about their home theater and how they can get better usage and sound out of their setup. I invited a few customers to my home to experience what it is to have a great sound with my setup and sold them into buying Klipsch for their next upgrade. They clearly hear the difference. It’s not the loud boom and explosions that make a great sounding movie, it’s the little birds flying overhead, it’s the wind compressing on an old house and makes it creek, it’s the water droplets falling behind you or from overhead when it’s raining in a scene.
What do you suspect your neighbors think?
Al: Although our houses are close together, we give each other room to play and have fun without too much complaining. One thing is for sure - everyone tells me I have the best setup in the neighborhood. The most common question I get is how can I get this sound. Some of my acquaintances do have nice home theaters. But, none can reproduce the quality that I have and feel depressed because they thought they had a nice setup that cost thousands of dollars. I often say there is a lot more to a home theater than just a good amp and speakers. Your interior will play a major role in how the sound bounces and reaches your ears. It’s not just about a good set of Klipsch that will make it work for you, you need to get the right line of Klipsch speakers. With Klipsch, you know you are cruising most of the time, but if you ever need to push the pedal - there is always a lot of juice available left for that special ride.
Saturday rolls around and it's just you and your Klipsch home theater system. What do you do? What do you play? What do you watch?
Well, it all depends on the mood of the morning. If it is a dark morning with rain and no need to open the blinds, I usually go for something soft jazz while making coffee and set myself up on Netflix and see if there is anything I would like to watch that morning. It’s doesn’t take too much time that I need to get my fix of surround sound while nobody else is at home – I can crank it up as much as I want and that is usually damn loud.
If I can’t find anything to watch I usually default to a playlist of music covering a wide range of styles. It doesn’t matter if it rains, snows, or if the sun is out, I can listen to music and watch movies year-round. I chose this over buying a motorcycle. I am happy I made the right choice.
So, what's next in your Klipsch system? Any items you've been eyeing? Any items you’re really pumped for?
Al: I can’t add anymore since I already have a 7.2.4 system. Size-wise, I am at the limit of what my living room can take and it would be a waste to overdo. But, I already had this talk with one of my customers who wants me to help them set up their next system with them. They were looking at something that was too big for their home. I tried explaining to them how they can achieve the same with smaller, higher quality speakers better suited for their needs.
What I am eyeing more is for other people I think. I’ve heard enough Klipsch speakers from different lines that I can recommend a good match to the people who come to my place to watch a movie or come have a casual drink and listen to music while we enjoy ourselves. Music has been a life-long passion of mine and I like to help other people achieve their goals from the mistakes and success I had in my days.
Have a killer Klipsch set-up? Share it with us on social media with the hashtag #MondayShowcase and we might feature you!