Tony Federici: Accurate in the USA Page 4

Atkinson: There's always the danger that, in an industry driven by the image, audio will take a back seat. "Well, we only need so much data space for the audio...it's only audio, who cares?" But when you experience a good Home Theater setup, what impresses you is not the picture, it's the way the sound drags you into the experience.

Federici: I've always been disturbed by the poor marketing that we've all done of audio. We've allowed "virtual reality" to be defined as something that isn't even close. The closest thing to a virtual-reality industry is the audio industry...We come closer to re-creating the live event than video is even dreaming about at this point. And we fail to communicate that to the public.

That's the importance of sound on film. The visual image of the film is clearly not real. A child will know it's not real. But with some audio recordings, at the right time, the sound can make your head spin around because you're positive it's the real thing. It's happened to all of us. You can't get that experience from video. You can only get it with the audio. The audio is really the most important aspect of the experience.

Atkinson: Opera on laserdisc is not as satisfying as opera on CD because, with opera on CD, the picture is better!

Federici: [laughs] Yes.

Atkinson: Do you think the high-end audio industry will remain separate from the home-entertainment industry?

Federici: No. I genuinely don't understand why the two are separate. However, there will be a split if Hollywood decides that they don't have to improve the sound quality, that they don't have to make things more realistic, that all of this doesn't matter really to the mass market, because then we can never get a truly satisfactory experience off of a movie. But if the sound quality begins to improve, and if they realize that they should try to make films sound as realistic as possible, then the two will merge. There's no reason to keep them separate. If you don't choose to watch videos, that's fine, but you don't need different types of speakers to reproduce the two experiences if you're going for the most accurate possible sound.

There's a lot of junk made by Hollywood. There are also good movies. Music has to do with evoking an emotional response. There are plenty of movies that also evoke an emotional response. Given that, how can the two art forms, in the end, be different? They both are designed to do the same thing. Some fail, some succeed. The same with music. Given that, how can we be snobbish and say that's not a valid emotional response, because there's video and sound involved compared to an emotional response that is purely based on sound? It's artificial.

Atkinson: One of the things that's changed in the nine years since you started Aragon has been the maturing of the high-end audio business. The mark of a true high-end product used to be that it was expensive, it was unreliable, and the company that made it went out of business very quickly. But if you look around at the exhibitors at this Show, they're serious companies. They've enjoyed growth, they employ people, they've become the Establishment, almost without realizing it. Some audiophiles would say that these companies are selling out because they are no longer producing amplifiers where you cut your fingers on the sharp edges of the heatsinks, they're not designing loudspeakers that break all the time. Do you think the soul of the High End is being lost?

Federici: No. In the end, the numbers are still small. Compared to the mass market, the High End is small. Sometimes we may act as if we're big and maybe sometimes we like to delude ourselves, but we're still at the level of handcrafted product. [Aragon and Acurus] have the largest dealer network of any of the electronic manufacturers in the United States. But that is still minor in overall sales compared to just one of the large Japanese companies.

The High End just can't get the message out. The problem is not that people can't afford what this industry produces. The problem is, we have all failed in getting the message out. People out there think that all they're supposed to spend for an audio system is $1000. Like you and I spent 20 years ago.

Atkinson: Part of the problem as I see it is that the combined circulation all the specialist audio magazines—Audio, Stereophile, The Abso!ute Sound, etc., etc.—is probably about a quarter of a million people. Compare that with Consumer Reports, which has a circulation of four million. In every issue in which Consumer Reports discusses audio products, they say, in effect, "You don't need to spend more than $400 for a pair of speakers, you don't need to spend more than $250 for a receiver." So, how can media with a circulation one sixteenth of that of Consumer Reports overturn that publication's negative message? And as you pointed out, the mass market has been sold the message very heavily that better sound quality doesn't exist, more price buys you more features, more bells and whistles, more lights, more complexity. How does the high-end industry—with a turnover a hundredth of that of, say, Matsushita—compete with Matsushita's message, which is repeated in advertising from every direction?

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