A homeowner in Southern California has raised the bar for BBQ season by turning his outdoor living space into a nearly-commercial level amphitheatre, complete with a custom-built 220-inch (18 feet) motorised projection screen, 20 speakers, fully automated landscape lighting and a performance stage with 10 inputs, connected to a mixing board inside.

Not one to do things by halves, the homeowner also opted for a 15-foot-tall LED-lit sculpture of a question mark, intended to encourage meditation in the front garden.

“I wanted to create a space where the community could come together, where we could hold events and where my son could really get creative with his friends,” the homeowner (who asked to remain anonymous) says. “The last event we held was a children’s charity benefit where we hosted about 200 people. We had bands play on the stage and we can broadcast through every speaker both inside and outside the house. It’s been really great and it allows us to have fun without stressing because it’s so easy to use. Everything is basically plug-and-play and any adjustments are easy to make with the ELAN g! mobile App on my iPhone or iPad. My son has been using it since he was six years old.”

The project began two years ago when the owner had an ELAN g! system installed inside his home to run multi-room audio and five surveillance cameras. Since then, he and electronics integration firm, AM House have expanded the system to include automated lighting indoors and in the landscape, where there are six zones split between different levels as the property descends down the hillside – plus the entire amphitheatre setup, the spa controls and a total of 20 professional-grade Niles outdoor speakers in multiple zones.

“We have been working with the client for about 10 years,” Justin Brees, owner of AM House tells CE Pro Europe. “We completed another home for him about three years ago so he knew our work and called us back when he bought this home.”

Justin explains that the first phase of the installation took place over two years ago, where he installed a Maratnz Sr7003 home theatre amplifier and Niles Audio in-wall speakers into the family room, and a pair of Klipsch floor-standing speakers with a Parasound 2150 stereo amplifier into the living room.

“I imagine this backyard is the envy of the neighbourhood”

The outdoor patio also benefitted, receiving a pair of Niles OS6 outdoor speakers placed under the patio cover.

Approximately 12 months ago the client got back in touch, eager to share his new, grand plan. 

“He called me and did his best to relay his vision of building an amphitheatre in his backyard, which at the time was just a hillside with a steep slope leading to nowhere!” Justin exclaims.

“They began tiering the hillside to have different seating and listening areas. We ran about 150in of conduit from the yard to the house because we wanted to have the option of playing the same music source in the house and yard. We installed five pairs of speakers throughout the garden so when you are walking down the different levels you can have some background music playing.

“When he was building out the stage portion of the amphitheatre we were talking about projection screens and sizes. It started off as a 120in pull down screen (in the initial thoughts) because he wanted to have a great view of the screen from all the levels, so to create a statement he picked a 220in screen and obviously with a screen that size, it can not be opened up all of the time. So we came up with having the screen ascend from the stage from below so that when the screen was lowered he could have an unobstructed view of the mountains.”

Knowing that the client has a taste for development, Justin used an ELAN HC12, ELAN S86 and a 12-channel amplifier even though the install team were only using a few of the outputs in the beginning stages, allowing for future expansion.

The brain of the system is an ELAN controller and audio is run through an ELAN 16-channel amplifier.

The family controls the whole system through the ELAN g! mobile App on iPhones and iPads, allowing them to set all the lighting levels for the six landscape zones, the volume for the eight indoor zones and five outdoor zones and control the spa and projection system.

A challenging project

Understandably, turning a sloping back garden into a commercial-grade amphitheatre presented a unique set of challenges.

“That screen weighed 1200lbs and we had to carry it down the levels to the stage. It took 12 guys!” Justin emphasises. “Another challenge was marrying the professional audio system with the home audio system.

“The client wanted the mixing console to be able to play what was playing in the house and also have the live performances on stage played throughout the house and yard system. We accomplished this by using audio control balanced audio baluns on the output of the mixing board, then adding the mixer as a source on the ELAN S86 and another set of baluns from one of the zone outputs on the s86 to a stereo input on the mixing board.”

While the homeowner has to be mindful of windy conditions when watching a film on the 18-foot projection screen, the opportunities for enjoying the outdoor space are vast.

“I have to say that this is one of the coolest backyards I’ve ever seen, let alone designed and installed”

From viewing summer films and autumn football games, to arranging concerts, charity events and throwing parties, it’s an inviting space for the whole community, or for him and his son to enjoy a quiet night.

“All this is possible because of the stellar job that Jose Bermeo, the main builder on this job, did bringing my vision to life,” the owner adds. “I knew what I wanted and I hoped it was possible, but both Jose and Justin really knocked it out of the park with the execution. To me, this is part home improvement, part community building and part gift to my son. For two years it’s been a work-in-progress because I keep finding new things I want the system to do or new subsystems to integrate, so I’m sure this isn’t the last of it. It might be a unique space as far as technology goes, but for me and my son it’s really a way to fully enjoy the beautiful area we live in with our friends and the community.”

Justin admits that his favourite part of the install is the outdoor area – specifically the theatre and the way the music flows through the space using just the background speakers. “This bit posed the biggest challenge to us since there were no plans written – the client just trusted us to make it happen,” Justin adds.

“I have to say that this is one of the coolest backyards I’ve ever seen, let alone designed and installed. Between the custom-made Vutec projection screen, the super-bright 3,600 lumen Optoma 1080p projector and the Niles speakers and ELAN control, it’s more like a commercial entertainment space than a backyard. Having a stage to hold performances and play them throughout the entire property was a really cool idea and we were able to make it all very simple to operate with the ELAN system.

“He called me and did his best to relay his vision of building an amphitheatre in his backyard, which at the time was just a hillside with a steep slope leading to nowhere!”

“I imagine this backyard is the envy of the neighbourhood,” he grins, “and rightfully so. As he says, this is an on-going project, so I’m sure we’ll be adding more cool features over time and that’s why it’s such a good thing we used the ELAN system; it’s easy to expand and easy to use. ELAN allows my clients to start with a small system and grow it over time.”

ELAN is distributed in the UK by Indigo Distribution.

Equipment list

• S86
• Hc12
• Pioneer turntable

Living room

• Panasonic plasma
• Samsung bluray
• Wii
• Marantz sr8002 receiver
• Speakers
• Sub
• Tower speakers

• Mb
• Samsung plasma
• Niles speakers

• Outdoor yard speakers are Niles os6.5 with four spread throughout the yard

Pro setup

• 4 12in Yamaha studio monitors
• 10-channel Mackie mixing board
• Four-channel Mackie mixing board for on stage
• Two wireless Shure microphones
• Two wires Shure microphones
• FM transmitter
• 20 Sony Walkman am/fm radios used for listening to the theatre sound without having to use the external speakers


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