Book Review: "The Complete Guide to High-End Audio" Page 4

I also found the index inadequate. For example, in the middle of Chapter 5 ("Preamplifiers"), Harley discusses unbalanced vs balanced lines. As a beginner, I have no idea what either of these things are, and Harley doesn't offer any explanation at that point. I flipped to the index to look up "balanced" and "unbalanced," but found only "balanced interconnects" and "unbalanced interconnects," neither of which seemed to have anything to do with unbalanced or balanced lines—or are they the same thing? Again, Harley assumes either too much knowledge or too wide a vocabulary on the part of the nontechnical or neophyte reader.

This assumption leaves holes unfilled. The first sentence of Chapter 5's "How a Preamplifier Works" reads, "A preamplifier consists of several stages, each performing a different function." (What's a "stage"?) "The input stage is the first circuit element in the signal path. It acts as a buffer between the preamp's internal circuitry and the components driving it." (What's a "circuit element"? When or where does a "signal path" start and stop?) "The input stage presents a high input impedance to source components driving the preamp, and a low output impedance to the next preamplifier stage." The index informed me that "impedance" is defined on p.395. This turned out to be in the middle of Appendix B—a little late, I think: "Impedance is the opposition to current flow in an AC circuit, specified in ohms and represented by the symbol Z."

I started reading cover to cover, but I should have read from the beginning of Appendix B. This outlines and discusses voltage, current, resistance, power, Ohm's law, series and parallel circuits, alternating current, electromagnetic induction, inductance, capacitance, and filters—all before discussing impedance, and much of which you need to understand before comprehending Harley's definition of impedance. But I was still reading about preamplifiers on p.124 in the middle of Chapter 5, without a clue as to what was what.

Harley does a lot of this jumping about, storing bits of related information in different places throughout the book. Before you read any of the later chapters, you really need the basic understanding of the principles of audio and electronics outlined in the appendices. (It's a good idea, for example, to read Appendix C, "Digital Audio Basics," before you read Chapter 8, "The Digital Front End: CD Players, Digital Processors, and CD Transports.") It would have been more helpful had Harley offered, perhaps in the Preface, suggestions as to how to read the book: Should the reader read all the appendices first? Read in order the sections that interest her? Or read straight through, cover to cover? Or a combination of the three? He also should have included a glossary of terms.

As a beginning audiophile, I was disappointed by The Complete Guide to High-End Audio. The book seemed unable to take me from step one (the basics) to step two (greater understanding of reviews), and thus to step three (becoming highly informed about high-end audio). Harley's book needs more work before I, as a beginner, would fork out $29.95.
Kristen Weitz