Headphones get pretty short shrift in much of the hi-fi press, which is puzzlingthe headphone market is burgeoning. I don't know what the equivalent US figures are, but in recent years the UK headphone market has increased by an annual 1520% in both units sold and overall revenue. It's easy to dismiss this as a natural byproduct of the Apple iPod phenomenon, but 20% of the market value is now accounted for by headphones costing over $120; a significant subset of consumers would seem to be looking for quality. When you also consider that many people's first exposure to higher-quality audio comes via headphones, there is ample reason for treating them more seriously.
High-quality digital audio systems require that all digital interfaces in the signal path exhibit signal transparency. The widely adopted AES/EBU and S/PDIF interfaces have been criticized for a lack of signal transparency; here we (footnote 1) address possible problems with such interfaces and present methods for improving the interface standard.
The Complete Guide to High-End Audio by Robert Harley 450+xxiv pp., $29.95 softcover, $39.95 signed hardcover. Published by Acapella Publishing, P.O. Box 80805, Albuquerque, NM 87198-0805. Credit-card orders: (800) 848-5099.
High Fidelity Audio/Video Systems: A Critical Guide for Owners by Howard Ferstler 253 pages, $23.50 softcover. Published by McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640. Tel: (919) 246-4460.
Surround Sound: Up and Running (Second Edition)
by Tomlinson Holman. Published by Focal Press, an imprint of Elsevier (footnote 1) (Oxford, England, UK; www.elsevier.com). 2008. Paperback, 248 pages, ISBN 978-0240808291. $44.95.
Swiss Precision: The Story of the Thorens TD 124 and Other Classic Turntables Swiss Precision: The Story of the Thorens TD 124 and Other Classic Turntables
by Joachim Bung. Published by Joachim and Angelika Bung, Schmitten, Germany (firstname.lastname@example.org), 2008. Hardcover, 288 pages, four-color, ISBN 978-3-00-021162-1. Price: €59 plus overseas mailing.
Anyone who's ever looked for it knows how rare audio-friendly living space is. Perhaps someday an enterprising developer will build Audiophile Acres---a whole subdivision of audio houses or soundproofed condos that'll meet these needs---then stand by while hordes of long-suffering audiophiles stampede the sales office, frantically waving down-payments in their sweaty hands.
The promise of "perfect sound forever," successfully foisted on an unwitting public by the Compact Disc's promoters, at first seemed to put an end to the audiophile's inexorable need to tweak a playback system's front end at the point of information retrieval. Several factors contributed to the demise of tweaking during the period when CD players began replacing turntables as the primary front-end signal source. First, the binary nature (ones and zeros) of digital audio would apparently preclude variations in playback sound quality due to imperfections in the recording medium. Second, if CD's sound was indeed "perfect," how could digital tweaking improve on perfection? Finally, CD players and discs presented an enigma to audiophiles accustomed to the more easily understood concept of a stylus wiggling in a phonograph groove. These conditions created a climate in which it was assumed that nothing in the optical and mechanical systems of a CD player could affect digital playback's musicality.
When I decided to write a piece on the subject of concert-hall acoustics, I realized that almost all discussion concerning this topic is based on the viewpoint of the listener in the audience. While this is important (since the primary purpose of any hall is to bring audience and performance together), the criteria that musicians employ in concert-hall evaluation address sonic parameters that are probably not obvious to the casual listener, and may often be at odds with conclusions reached from the other side of the footlights. Some readers might feel that any discussion of concert halls has no place in a publication such as Stereophile; they may have a point, especially if their sole aim through audio is to produce sonic spectacle, rather than to recreate an artistic event. I believe, however, that there are some readers who would like to gain some insights into the specific problems and acoustical considerations presented to performing musicians, and possibly come away with some fresh ideas to incorporate in their listening criteria.
If there is one thing I've learned in almost 28 years (ouch) of audio writing, it's that audience reaction is fickle. Sometimes readers will swallow the most contentious pronouncements without indigestion, only to choke on throwaway lines you've invested with little importance. It just goes to confirm that human communication involves senders and receivers, and they aren't always in synchrony.
The introduction in 1982 of the compact disc ushered in the age of digital audio. Audiophiles now have lots of new digital toys and technologies at their disposal, including SACD, DVD-Audio, MP3 players, hard-drive–based CD players, and digital equalization and room correction, to name a few. Videophiles have similarly benefited from digital technology, with an armamentarium that includes high-definition television, DVD-Video, Blu-ray, HD DVD (the latter two still on the horizon), DLP, LCoS, and D-ILA, among others. Action-based films have also benefited from breathtaking, digitally enhanced special effects. Even those of us who still prefer LPs must acknowledge—reluctantly, perhaps—the incredible impact that digital has had on our hobby (footnote 1).
Until the Recording Industry Association of America hit the headlines in recent years with its antipiracy campaign, the initials RIAA meant one thing to seasoned audiophiles: the vinyl-disc equalization characteristic introduced in the 1950s to standardize what had previously been an anarchy of different EQs. Three decades later, as CD gained ascendance, a large proportion of audiophiles still knew what RIAA equalization was, and a good number of them had some idea or better of what the RIAA EQ curve looked like, and why it was applied.
If anyone ever thinks to compile a list of the 100 seminal audio papers that should be found in every tech-aware audiophile's filing cabinet, Harry Olson's "Direct Radiator Loudspeaker Enclosures" deserves to feature in it. Originally presented at the second Audio Engineering Society Convention, in October 1950, it was published in Audio Engineering in 1951. In 1969—in a rare and certain acknowledgement of its classic status—the AES republished it in its Journal (footnote 1).