Home Theater vs High-End Audio Corey Greenberg Responds

Corey Greenberg Responds

After reading Ken Gould's anti–Home Theater "As We See It" in August (Vol.16 No.8, p.7), I feel I must clarify my position regarding Home Theater coverage in the pages of Stereophile.

With all due respect, JA mischaracterizes my position in his introduction to Mr. Gould's essay. In fact, I have never stated—privately or publicly, as JA implied that I had on the CEFORUM section of Compuserve—that I felt Stereophile should be reviewing video components. Never have, never will. Because, like JA, I think Stereophile should stick to covering what it knows best—audio—and leave video coverage to the 100 or so video-specific mags on the newsstand already.

What I do think Stereophile should be reviewing more of is the audio side of Home Theater—surround processors, speakers, multi-channel amplifiers, and anything else that makes up the sonic half of the Home Theater experience. Because, as I wrote in my Home Theater primer for Rolling Stone's June 10, 1993 issue, it's the audio advances in the Home Theater sector, not developments in video technology, that have sparked the incredible growth and public awareness of Home Theater in the past several years. The televisions that Home Theater nuts watch their movies on haven't radically improved in the past five years, but the recent advent of affordable, high-quality surround-sound is the reason that many audiophiles are now getting interested in Home Theater—and why many high-end manufacturers and dealers are gearing up to meet that demand.

I've been watching with amusement the unfolding drama between hardcore high-end audio fascists and audiophiles who would also like to experience their favorite movies in their homes with as much quality as possible. I've always been a music lover, but I've also always been a movie lover. Why the desire for high-quality movie reproduction in the home is considered heresy by some audiophiles is beyond me.

"Every dollar spent on a Home Theater is one less dollar spent on a high-end audio system," goes the familiar bleating refrain from the Down With Video crowd, but I just don't get it—does that mean that because every dollar I spend on my motorcycle is a dollar I'm not spending on my hi-fi rig, motorcycles are bad for high-end audio, too? And semiautomatic weapons? And Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream?

I believe that everybody wins with Home Theater. The general public—which thus far hasn't even been aware of high-end audio's existence—is now flocking to audio-specialist retailers to buy new speakers, amplifiers, cables, etc. for their new Home Theaters. It's the smart retailer who will take this opportunity to sit these high-end virgins down for a moment to hear, for the first time, their favorite music played on a high-end audio rig. The retailer can also point out that records and CDs sound significantly better on a high-end audio system than when played on even the best Home Theater system.

All it takes is this first listen to a really good system to awaken the general public to the virtues of high-end audio—something the High End has traditionally been largely unable to do. Home Theater is bringing new potential customers into the tent, and anyone in the High End—whether a dealer, manufacturer, or magazine—who ignores this growing consumer segment has got his or her head in the sand.

As always, the bottom line should be FUN. I dig Home Theater—who wouldn't want to experience favorite movies in the comfort of one's own home with higher quality than almost any commercial theater in the country? The same quality-driven impulses that lead audiophiles to high-end audio are behind Home Theater, and it's time the High End stops telling people what they should want, and starts listening to the people to find out what they do want. The smarter dealers, manufacturers, and magazines already realize this and accept Home Theater for what it really is—another source of fun which the people want and the business can sell to them.

For my part, I plan to continue reviewing the kinds of products I love: high-end audio gear. But I also plan to review the audio side of Home Theater, too: surround processors, video-specific speakers, multi-channel amps, and anything else that contributes to the audio side of the Home Theater experience. Many of my readers are clearly interested in these product categories, and that's all I need to hear. See you at the movies, Pee Wee!—Corey Greenberg