At the start of my teaching career, I discovered that it was more difficult to maintain order in a sixth-grade classroom early in the day than at any other time. First thing in the morning the kids were noisy and aimless, and banging my open palm on the chalkboard for their attention worked only once. So I gave my students that which most children crave, consciously or un-: a simple, clear explanation of what I expected of them.
What I expected of themin the short term, at leastwas this: They were required to answer three new questions, written for their benefit on that still-vibrating chalkboard, at the beginning of each and every school day. If the children didn't hand in their answers before the first-period classes began, I would not accept their homework from the night before, thus earning them a score of nothing. On the other hand, a good record of correct or at least entertaining answers to those morning questions would, I promised, be used to nudge upward any borderline report-card grade at the end of each quarter.
It worked. From that day forward, my kids rushed to their desks every morning and set to work. They did so partly because it really mattered, and partly because, like most intelligent, civilized beings, they were eager to please, and were grateful to be told how such a thing might be done.
The questions spanned all subjects in the curriculummath, science, current eventsand a few that had yet to be described. Extra points were given for: finding misspellings in the questions (I have unleashed scores of new proofreaders upon the world); devising original ways in which to present their answers (songs, poems, rebuses); and coming up with useful and interesting new questions of their own.
The real idea, of course, was to keep my students busy as they conditioned themselves to regard the gathering of information as useful and pleasant. With that thought in mind, here are the questions I've devised for you this morning. Please simmer down, keep your hands to yourselves, and get to work:
The favorite color
Everyone seems to agree: In order to reproduce the sound of an instrument playing a 30Hz tone, a loudspeaker must itself be capable of playing a 30Hz tone at the same perceived loudness level, albeit in a (presumably) smaller space. In order to reproduce the sound of a 94dB drumstroke, a loudspeaker must be capable of playing a 94dB drumstroke. In order to simultaneously play a flute melody and a vigorous bass-drum improvisation, a loudspeaker must be capable of playing both in such a way that the former is thoroughly unaffected by the latter. And so forth.
But it isn't enough. Industry can't declare, nor consumers assume, that by engineering a speaker that can do all of thatie, a speaker whose output is scientifically "proven" to duplicate its inputthere is nothing left to be done. That sort of thinking has, throughout the years, given us a lot of unstirring, undramatic, overdamped, constricted, constipated, uninvolving, dull, mechanical-sounding rubbish.
Not that I harbor an opinion on the matter.
At least one performance factor remains, which many of us tend to forget, ignore, or otherwise disregard: As some see it, in order to reproduce the unique sound of instruments or voices driving the boundaries of a room and the volume of air that they enclose, a loudspeaker must itself be capable of driving that space in an identical manner. Say what you will and wish what you want, it isn't nearly enough for a speaker to insert within a new setting a recorded suggestion of instruments and voices energizing a room: It must be able to do that job itself. (By the way, and with respect for those who take a very different approach, that's why I mostly eschew the use of room-treatment products: While often enhancing a system's ability to place within a domestic space some finite cloud of sound, howsoever faithful to an original signal. they may be, they tend to confound a system's ability to simply drive the room itself. Obviously, I guess.)
Today's audio enthusiast can select from hundreds if not thousands of loudspeakers ostensibly designed for optimal performance in an acoustically dead space. Some of thesemost dipolar panels, along with some Harbeths, Spendors, and various recent Wilsonscan also be set up to drive a domestic space to at least a fair extent. But current speakers specifically designed to emulate musical instruments in that regard are limited to a few dozen models from a relative handful of manufacturers: Audio Note, Auditorium 23, Bose, Classic Audio, Duevel, Klipsch, Shahinian, and Shindo. The question is, Why should such a thing be so?
The hated color
What do Klipsch, Linn, Naim, Quad, and any number of other companies have in common? As manufacturers of domestic loudspeakers, all have made names for themselves by pioneering and promoting certain narrowly defined technologieswide-baffle, up-against-the-wall speakers for Linn and Naim, full-range electrostatic panels for Quad, compression-driver horn speakers for Klipschand then veering off course and adding products to their lines that not only entirely ignore those technologies, but often refute them altogether.
Case in point: In the 1970s and '80s, Linn Products Ltd. marketed loudspeakers that were designed to be installed near room boundaries. Not only that: Linn made a point of declaring, in the parlance their acolytes were required to parrot, that other sorts of loudspeakers lacked merit, and that anyone who would design, manufacture, buy, sell, or positively review a loudspeaker made to be installed away from room boundaries was a fool. Fair enough: Linn's marketing model at the time was to be as in-your-face as possible in promoting their ideasmany of which, it must be said, were insightful and usefulapparently in hopes that dissenters would be bullied into silence. To a surprisingly large degree, it worked.
But as they entered the 1990s, Linn quietly began dropping from their line the Isobarik, Sara, and other up-against-the-wall models, and started making speakers that were . . . well, very much like the speakers everyone else was making at the time. You know: the ones we were wrong to like.
I won't pick on only Linn. Quad essentially told everyone that loudspeakers-in-boxes were inferior, right up until the time they started making and selling loudspeakers-in-boxes, apparently in order to increase profits by growing their share of the domestic audio market. For pretty much the same reasons, one assumes, Klipsch started making speakers that weren't hornsjust as Audio Research started making amplifiers that used the hated transistor in place of the beloved tube, and Naim went from sneering at RCA sockets to putting them on their preamps, and Linn contradicted their anti-digital stance by beginning to make CD players and music servers, products that now far outnumber the LP players in their product line. (There I go, picking on Linn again, footnote 1).
Footnote 1: But other companies stuck to their guns. Magnepan continued making only planar magnetic loudspeakers. Atma-Sphere continued to make only output-transformerless (OTL) amplifiers, and the same can be said of Joule-Electra. All of Stax's headphones endure as electrostatic headphones, throughout a time when many an easy dollar could have been made by putting their badge on other, cheaper types.Art Dudley