Hi-Fi 101

I first heard about the project in an email, one of the dozens I receive every day and barely glance at. It said that the editor of a German hi-fi publication was crossing the ocean to talk about hi-fi audio to students and their parents at a junior/senior high school in Westchester County, New York, just 45 minutes or so by car from my Manhattan apartment. Interesting. And odd. I moved on to the next email.

I might have ignored it completely if not for Keith Pray, Stereophile's general manager. Keith lives in Westchester County, not far from the school in question, and has kids in a neighboring school. I forwarded the email. Keith loved the idea. I was too busy to get involved in any meaningful way, but on the appointed day, I got in my car and drove to Edgemont Junior-Senior High School. I located the auditorium, said hello to the organizers, took a seat in the eighth or ninth row, and waited for the kids to come.

Here's the backstory: Benjamin Rehberg, an audiophile and a German national, subscribes to German hi-fi magazine STEREO and lives in Westchester County. His son attends the Edgemont school there. In March 2020 he read, in STEREO, about hi-fi events put together and presented by Matthias Böde, STEREO's editor, at German schools. Rehberg got in touch with Böde and asked if he'd be willing to travel to the US to put on a similar event at his son's school. Böde said yes. Edgemont School Principal Kyle Hosier and music teacher John Catoliato also signed on. Then the pandemic hit, and the event was pushed back two years.

You can't do a presentation on hi-fi without a hi-fi system, so the organizers approached T+A, the German hi-fi company, about providing some equipment. T+A sent along a PA 3100 HV integrated amplifier ($24,500), a MP 3100 HV Multi Source Player ($22,000)—both from the company's flagship HV series—and a pair of Criterion S2200 CTL three-way transmission-line speakers ($12,300/pair). They also sent along Jim Shannon, T+A's head of export sales—or rather, he sent himself along.

This was a very serious system, yet the organizers feared, as I would have, that its sound would be swallowed up in that big auditorium. They needn't have worried. Moving around a bit, sitting in different seats, I found that wherever I sat, as long as it was in the middle section of the auditorium's front half, the sound was very good.

STEREO published an article about the event, in German of course (footnote 1); love how the system's sound was described in that article via Google's amusing English translation: "Maria Pihl's plump 'Malvina,' from which Böde knows exactly how to sound, showed no sallowness, rather offered a rich rolling bass, clear Mids, gentle highs without nerve factor and even a really three-dimensional one space mapping. Hard to believe, but true!"

It was true: The sound was distinctly un-sallow, with zero nerve factor. Thank you, Google.

Böde spent most of his presentation focusing on issues familiar to audiophiles but mostly unknown to laypeople, including these schoolkids: the dynamic compression and the "loudness wars"; that other kind of compression, the lossy kind; the sonic advantages of higher-rez recordings.

"What do you do when you're in a noisy group and you want to get noticed?" Böde asked, capturing the loudness-war controversy with a simple, clear metaphor. "You scream. That's exactly what happens in many pop productions." With Jim Shannon's assistance, Böde played examples, comparing, for example, Katelijne van Otterloo's well-recorded "Satin Doll," which has a wide dynamic range, with "Dani California," the Red Hot Chili Peppers' badly crushed scream. When Böde displayed waveforms from the two songs side by side projected on a screen, I heard gasps from some of the students.

Think that seems esoteric for a first hi-fi lesson? I thought so, too. I had other concerns. The gulf between our generations—our big systems; their smartphones and earbuds—was surely too wide to be so easily bridged. Plus, I thought a bunch of high school kids would be too cynical to appreciate a presentation about our peculiar hobby by a bunch of old folks.

I was wrong on all counts. Sitting among the kids, I detected little cynicism. The students were interested and engaged. They got it. They heard it. Their ears may be untrained, but their ears and minds are open, and their hearing is much better than our hearing.

In the last part of the presentation, students were invited to connect their smartphones to the T+A player via Bluetooth and play their own music, listening alongside their peers.

Some of the tracks the kids chose were dynamically crunched, and none of them were truly hi-fi, but I thought many of them sounded fabulous on the T+A system. An interesting moment came when Böde, hearing extreme bass distortion in one of the student-selected tracks, assumed something was wrong with the system and quickly lowered the volume. It took him only a few seconds to realize that the distortion he was hearing was baked into the music; transparency, apparently, takes many forms. When he realized his mistake and turned it back up, I found that baked-in distortion convincingly done and musically effective. I don't know what the track was, but I thought it sounded great.

After the presentation, I asked a gathered group of students if they'd ever before listened to music with their friends. One answered, "Yes, at concerts." But what about sitting down to listen to records together? Not a single student answered yes.

Footnote 1: An English translation has now been posted.

rt66indierock's picture

I’ve had pretty good success with letting kids listen to my iPhone with an Apple headphone dongle and AKG K450 headphones and my LG V60 ThinQ with AKG K371 headphones. You guys should review the Apple headphone dongle. Amir went looking for drink afterward.

As for people of any age listening to music together, we used to. Thank goodness Paul Klipsch blew up the logic of pinpoint imaging decades ago. Time to expand the stereo image in listening rooms. More the merrier I say.

Anton's picture

My son told me that iPhones can only drive the high end EKG and Sennheiser headphones to about 85 DB Peak.

If true, great feature.

Jack L's picture


Children up to 18 are still considered as "kids". That being the case, we should not overlook the musical involvement/achievement of so many "kids" out there. You would be surprised !

Again, like my elder son who started his classcal piano lessons when he was only 4, too short to get up onto the piano bench by himself without a lift. Should I be thankful to my wife who started it ?

Thanks goodness, he finally got graduated classical piano in theory & practice with first class honour from our city's Royal Conservatory of Music when he was still a grown up "kid" of 18 before entering university for his prfessional degree.

That said, he enjoys bigtime his labtop minispeaker music at home & earbud music from his Apple cellphone on-the-go! He never owns any HiFi at all.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Jack L's picture


Sorry, the above quote by P. Klipsch is sooo out-dated even by Klipsch loudspeaker standard today though he got awarded the Silver Medal by the Audio Engineering Society 1978.

FYI, Klipsch advances with time with modern models of much smaller size to fit smaller modern homes to replace oold horn/large bass boxes design/built by P. Klipsch half century back !

Compression/the-like horns, like Klipsch, JBL, Altec etc feature wide dispersion, very high acoustiscal efficiency (designed for low-power tube amps back then) at the expense of "pinpoint imaging" & realistic image sizing.

That's explained why P. Klipsch "blew up the logic of pinpint imaging" as he knew too well horns primariry catered for auditoriums & outdoor PA functions, & just could not deliver fine "pinpoint imaging" feature for much smaller home environment.

Another 'feature' of such horns is colouration. IMO, everything sound horny. Even a soprano will sound horny with her mouth size larger than real.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Herb Reichert's picture

smartly composed vivid evenly-lit photo !!

nice work Jim


Jim Austin's picture

... not my photo.


orfeo_monteverdi's picture

[please forgive my poor English]

As van den Hul -the Dutch physicist who founded the brand- states it in an
interview on a hifi show: "what is being passed on, is called culture; what is not passed on disappears."

I recently bought a lightweight class D combo in order to make demos at friends' place with my Harbeth M30.2 Anniversary monitors.
(not yet tried though).
I think they will be amazed.


NB: I posted a message over the Genelec G Three, reviewed by Herb Reichert. The website displayed that my message had to be validated.
But it is not yet displayed (posted last week).
The message is long (but no warning about its length), embeds a link to a document hosted on my Googlge drive (but I finally managed to paste the curves I refered to in the message thanks to the awckward HTML tags, so the link is actually no longer necessary).

What should I expect? No message either in my mailbox.
Thanks for a clarification.

Kind regards from Europe.


John Atkinson's picture
orfeo_monteverdi wrote:
I posted a message over the Genelec G Three, reviewed by Herb Reichert. The website displayed that my message had to be validated. But it is not yet displayed (posted last week)...

I checked the unpublished posts folder and your message is not there. It must have been inadvertently deleted as possible spam. Our apologies.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

orfeo_monteverdi's picture

No worries, John, I have a copy of that post.
I will submit it again tomorrow.

rschryer's picture

"...and none of them were truly hi-fi, but I thought many of them sounded fabulous on the T+A system."

That's the magic of good audio.

JRT's picture

It is very nice to see that this event happened. And far from a casual occurance, it is interesting to see the seemingly largely unselfish intercontinental efforts by willing participants to make it all happen.

All of that said... I would suggest that the T+A Elektroakustik Criterion S2200 CTL three way loudspeakers with some sort of as-yet underdescribed TL alignment on the woofer pairs would be an interesting subject for review and measurements. A cursory websearch indicates those are advertised by at least one online vendor at $12.3k/pair, plus sub-$77 3-day shipping.