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Extreme Makeover: Crutchfield Home A/V Edition

Providing a new sound for Carol Crawford Smith and her Center of Dance

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
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Extreme Makeover: Home Edition helps a professional dancer cope with Multiple Sclerosis

For much of her life, Carol Crawford Smith has lived a dancer's dream — she has studied, worked, and performed the works of such luminaries as George Balanchine, Alexandra Danilova, and Jerome Robbins. She has performed as a soloist with the internationally renowned Dance Theater of Harlem for 10 years, and even danced for world dignitaries including Princess Diana and President Ronald Reagan.

In 1994, Carol founded The Center of Dance in Blacksburg, Virginia, where she works as Artistic Director. Then about 5 years ago, she began developing symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. MS is a disease that affects the central nervous system. Among the symptoms MS sufferers develop is a gradual but severe loss of coordination and balance. As her MS has progressed, simple acts like climbing the concrete steps up to her home and demonstrating dance steps to her students have become excruciating challenges for Carol. Still, Carol continues to teach at The Center of Dance, and to raise her two young sons, Hunter (12) and Garland (9).

When the Executive Producers of ABC's Emmy-nominated reality show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (EM:HE) heard about Carol Crawford Smith they immediately decided she was a perfect candidate for a home makeover. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is a fast-paced, hour-long program in which a team of superstar carpenters and designers rebuild the home of a deserving family in just 7 days. On Sunday December 4, 2005 the show sent Carol and her sons on an all-expenses-paid vacation to La Jolla, California and then set about redesigning her house to better accommodate Carol's condition.

Scraping ice.
Icy weather plagued the Crutchfield team and the rest of the EM:HE volunteers all week.

It wasn't until Thursday morning, December 8 that John Haydock, Crutchfield's Senior Vice President of Marketing and Creative, received a phone call from the EM:HE Executive Producers asking if Crutchfield would be willing to donate electronics and installation expertise to the project. By 6PM that evening, Haydock and Crutchfield's Home Installation Consultants Matt Kennedy and Keith Christiansen were on their way down to Blacksburg, Virginia, battling a sleet storm and sub-freezing temperatures.

Because all volunteers are sworn to absolute secrecy regarding the exact nature of an EM:HE project until the show airs (usually a couple of months after all construction has been completed), the Crutchfield team wasn't given many details on what exactly they would be asked to do.

"We were told about Carol's condition and asked if we could help set up a multi-room audio system as part of celebrity host Ty Pennington's 'Special Project'," explained Matt Kennedy. "So we grabbed the van, loaded it up with 2 of everything we thought we might possibly need, and hit the road."

Loading up the Crutchfield van.
Keith Christiansen and Matt Kennedy, Crutchfield's Home Installation Consultants, unload the Crutchfield van.

Ty's Special Project: The Center of Dance

For each episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Pennington leads a small crew of volunteers on a special side project. Only after "The Reveal," when the family gets to see their new home for the first time, does Pennington then unveil his special project. For Carol Crawford Smith, Pennington decided to renovate her studios at The Center of Dance. Pennington's goal was two-fold: retrofit the studios to accommodate Carol's painful disability — she has to instruct from the center of the studio with the help of an assistant — and give the studios a new look and sound. Crutchfield eagerly stepped in and promised to deliver a first-class A/V system for the studios.

The Center of Dance
The Center of Dance: before and after.

Once Keith, Matt, and John learned the details of the project, they decided to design an A/V system that would meet both of Ty's goals: it would provide superior sound for the dance classes, and be easy for Carol to operate from virtually any part of the studio. To accomplish this, the team chose top-of-the-line products from Denon, Sony, Sharp, Polk Audio, Monster Cable, and Niles, and created a system customized for Carol.

Audio/Video receivers, DVD and CD Players, and LCD TV

Build Your Own Home Theater System
Do It Yourself Home A/V Installation

The Center of Dance has 2 studios: a large main studio and a smaller, secondary studio. Carol uses the larger, main studio at the center for most of her classes, so the Crutchfield team decided to start there and give it a truly exceptional A/V setup. They began with the Denon AVR-2106, a 7-channel home theater receiver, as the centerpiece of the system. The AVR-2106 was selected for its full feature package, which includes 100 watts of power for each of the 7 channels, exceptional digital-to-analog audio processing capability, component video switching, and on-screen display.

The AVR-2106's component video switching and on-screen display became especially important features for the team's system design. Because of Carol's increasingly limited mobility, Keith and Matt knew it was crucial that she be able to operate the music from the center of the studio without having to get up to change CDs or tracks. So they connected the receiver to a Sony 400-disc DVD/CD/SACD changer with a digital video output. With a library of 400 CDs at her command, chances are good that Carol will always have the music she needs on-demand.

The Sharp AQUOS 15
The Sharp AQUOS 15" LCD displays the CD track and title.

But the guys didn't stop there. The Sony DVD/CD player's display is not designed to be read from more than a few feet away, so the team connected a 15" Sharp AQUOS LCD TV to the player's component video output. Now, using the included wireless remote control, Carol can sit in the middle of the room and see at a glance which of the 400 CDs are playing.

The team didn't skimp on the smaller studio, either. A Denon DRA-685 stereo receiver (100 watts x 2 channels) and a Denon DCM-280 5-disc CD changer provide more than enough sound to fill the space.

Speakers

Keith and Matt chose Polk's Atrium60 indoor/outdoor speakers to provide the sound for Carol's dance classes. These compact but powerful speakers have 2 particular advantages for the dance studio: they sport a paintable white finish, and so blend in easily with the room decor; and they include brackets for mounting on the wall or ceiling. Once mounted, you can even rotate the speakers up to 90° for the best sound.

Running speaker wire along the ceiling back to the receiver.
Running speaker wire.

The Crutchfield team mounted six Atrium60 speakers in the main dance studio — one in each of the four corners, and one centered on the near and far walls. Another 2 pairs of speakers went in the smaller studio. With an available 125 watts RMS of power handling, the Atrium60s easily handle the 100 watts of power fed to each by the Denon receivers. Needless to say, there's no danger of Carol's dancers not feeling the music.

Subwoofers

A pair of Polk Audio powered subwoofers — one for each room — were installed to provide the low-frequency sound. Each features a 200-watt built-in amplifier that drives a 10" front-firing subwoofer. These subs kick out impressive, accurate bass, and ought to do a superb job of producing the all-important rhythmic foundation for Carol's dance tracks. Each subwoofer is finished in a handsome lacquered wood veneer.

John working on the stereo rack.
John tapes around the built-in stereo rack prior to painting.

Wiring

One of the more challenging aspects of the installation — aside from avoiding the many other volunteers scampering around the studios with paint brushes and power drills — was the wiring of the speakers. The team used Monster Cable in-wall speaker cable, which features a smooth outer jacket that is designed to pull easily through holes in wall studs. Fortunately for the team, the ceiling in each studio is an open, steel beam design. Running the speaker wires along the ceiling was fairly straightforward — Keith and Matt used wire ties to keep the wires as unobtrusive as possible. The stereos, however, were mounted on custom wood shelves built into the wall, so the speaker wires had to be run down from the ceiling and fished through the wall to the rear of each receiver. In the main studio, Keith used a Niles Audio 8-post wall outlet to give a clean, professional look to the installation. In the smaller studio, the wires were connected directly to the back of the receiver.

The final product.
The finished studio.

Sound check

Once the installation was complete, the team still needed to set the EQ levels and tweak the sound to best fill the rooms. The Denon AVR-2106 receiver in the main studio features an Auto Setup and Room Equalization function, which calibrates the output for the most ideal sound field for the room. Matt and Keith placed the included microphone in the center of the studio, and let the receiver do the rest of the work. The 32-point DSP automatically and accurately analyzed, adjusted and set the speaker configurations, delay time, and volume level of the system. The receiver also analyzed and adjusted the frequency response of the speakers to the room with an 8-band parametric equalizer. In just a few minutes, the system was ready to go.

After manually adjusting the sound in the smaller studio, the team cleaned up and help put on the finishing touches of paint. It was now late Saturday afternoon. After 2 full days on the job, Matt and Keith drove back home. John, meanwhile, stayed for another night to train the Center's other dance instructors on the new equipment, and to ensure that everything worked properly when Carol was presented with her new studio sound system.

The Reveal

As the sun rose on Sunday, December 11, the Crawford Smith home was abuzz with an intense level of activity. Once again, crews had worked non-stop throughout a frigid night. And they carried on into the afternoon, making last-minute touches, cleaning the grounds around the house, and planting flowers, shrubs, and trees. Finally, the time had come for The Reveal, the part of the show in which the family is brought to the house in a stretch limo and a large bus blocking the street is moved to reveal their new home. Fittingly, snow began to fall. Ty and the other Extreme Makeover hosts took Carol and her sons inside for a tour of their new home, and a large crowd outside cheered.

Stairs at the dance studios.
Carol had to negotiate these stairs until the Extreme Makeover team installed a chair lift.

Later that evening, after the family had explored all the features of their new home and the cheering crowds had dispersed, Ty presented Carol with one more surprise. After what had already been a long, emotion-filled day, Carol was feeling understandably tired and about ready to call it a day. But, she was then taken to her newly renovated Center of Dance. An electronic chair lift had been installed on the steep, narrow stairway leading up to the studios, a stairway that had been a painful trial for Carol everyday she went to work. Carol gratefully accepted a ride up to her studios.

A lot of work, and a lot of fun

All told, Matt, Keith, and John spent nearly 20 hours installing and setting up the donated A/V system in The Center of Dance, plus many more hours helping in other areas. Matt summed up the team's experience well: "It was a lot of work, a lot of fun, and extremely gratifying to see and hear the results," he said. For his part, Keith noted that, "After working nearly 7 years in home A/V equipment, I can't think of a more satisfying experience. It was a real honor to have participated in this project."

The team.
John, Keith, and Matt in front of the new stereo system in Carol's main dance studio.

One more surprise

For her final surprise of the evening, Carol was treated to a private performance by an ensemble from The Dance Theater of Harlem. "To see how the new stereo system, the new paint, and all the work we'd done on the studio was put to use by professional dancers was just amazing," Haydock noted. "But witnessing Carol's reaction to it all was overwhelming. We are extremely proud that we were able to help her in some small way. This project has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us, and we wish the very best for Carol Crawford Smith, her family, and her students."

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