Home Theater vs High-End Audio Letters


Video vs the high-end dinosaurs

Editor: I have been following the ongoing debate among your staff over Home Theater and Stereophile's review policy regarding video equipment. Long a connoisseur of high-definition audio, I am also a movie aficionado. I found video a natural addition to my existing audio system.

While the outcome of your review-or-not-to-review debate will have no impact on me, I believe it may have an impact on the future economic viability of your publication. With the advent of digital HDTV, the future of audio will become inextricably tied to video. The day may soon arrive when, due to the economic purposes of the recording industry (the same people who brought you the Compact Disc), audio will be perceived only as the soundtrack for the video performance. Future releases of audio-only signal sources may be relegated to the MiniDisc or the Digital Compact Cassette.

While I don't advocate this as the best outcome, we as audiophiles need to prepare for change. None of us can stop technological change: Hopefully, we will use the developments to achieve our goals.

Ken Gould's guest editorial in the August 1993 issue exhibits an unhealthy resistance to change. Mr. Gould's opinion is that his "Holy Trinity" of equipment designers, audio stores, and devoted listeners can be destroyed by the commercial drive that some high-end manufacturers are currently pursuing. Mr. Gould feels that economic success will cause manufacturers to ally themselves "with the dark side of the force," and that this will no doubt destroy the purity of the high-end designers. But wait! This is not religion. It's audio!

Contrary to Mr. Gould's religious belief, the future of high-end audio is determined by a branch of statistics known as demographics. The basic market demographics of the "typical" audiophile is a baby-boom male with above-median income level. Guess what, guys! We aren't making more baby-boom males. Unless we can develop new audio aficionados, the High End as we know it will die off just as surely as the baby-boom male.

High-end audio needs to expand its market niche, and if video is a viable route, then it should be pursued. To overlook the possibility is to accept the inevitable: High End as we know it will be another dinosaur, like Mr. Gould.—Mark Angioletti, Chicago, IL

A vote for video...

Editor: A vote for Home Theater, surround-sound, and video. Small doses are fine...the past contributions, particularly J. Gordon Holt's wonderful review a few issues ago, are sufficient in amount and most appreciated.—Sherm Clow, Salt Lake City, UT

...and a vote against

Editor: I am probably one of hundreds of people responding to Ken Gould's "As We See It" in August, so I'll try to keep it short.

I have always thought of listening to music and watching TV as separate activities. I agree that most television has very low-quality sound, and trying to upgrade it to high-fidelity sound is a hopeless venture. But we can try to make it sound better than it does when it comes over the airwaves. Although sound in television will never sound as good as a well-recorded piece of music, it's still worthwhile to improve the sound as best we can.

On the other hand, many movies are recorded with very good soundtracks. What would Star Trek VI be without the thunderous sound of Praxis exploding and the shockwaves roaring past the screen? (For all you non-Trekkers out there, Praxis is a Klingon moon that explodes and sets up the plot for the Klingons to start talking peace.) Top Gun (remember Top Gun?) is vastly improved when you add a subwoofer to let you feel the F-14 Tomcats fly by instead of just watching them. And who could forget Beauty and the Beast, a movie that sounds much better with a little equalization to accent slamming doors and all the other wonderful sound effects, not to mention music, in the movie.

As for Stereophile carrying articles concerning A/V systems, I say no. Most other electronics magazines have done so; it would be nice to have a magazine that keeps to audio. This sort of specialization is hard to come by, and is valuable when presented in its true form. Keep up the good work—and keep out the video.—David B. Shere, Cedar Falls, IA

Get with it, high-end retailers

Editor: In Ken Gould's "As We See It" in Vol.16 No.8, he bemoaned the attack of Home Theater product in the high-end audio marketplace.

High-end audio retailers have invited this attack on themselves. They retailers have never invested time in instructing customers in the proper ways to evaluate the quality of music emanating from an audio system, preferring instead to instruct them to listen to the "gee whiz" effects created by audio hardware. Even J. Gordon Holt, in his recent glossary of subjective terms, states "that hi-fi components should be judged on how good they sound." Good heavens, the important thing is how music sounds through that particular component. And those statements are not one and the same.

In the late 1960s and early '70s, as electrostatic, planar-magnetic, and high-quality compact dynamic loudspeaker designs started becoming popular, the high-end audio fraternity invented audio evaluation terms like "imaging," "ambience," "depth," "layering," "localization," and "openness" to describe the performance of these products. In time, as high-end audio retailers saw positive responses to these attributes translate into increased sales, they became the single most important sales tool utilized by high-end salespeople...

We have two three-dimensional senses: hearing and seeing. For me to tell people to evaluate a hi-fi system by listening for a life-size, three-dimensional image is like an art-appreciation instructor telling his pupils that life-size sculpture is the only worthy visual art, and then not instructing them how to tell if a bust by Rodin is more worthy than one created by a six-year-old! In visual art, the single most important thing is the communication of emotion from the artist to the viewer. In hi-fi, as in music generally, the single most important thing is the communication of emotion from the composer and performer to the listener. And, as anyone who has listened to a particularly moving performance on a monophonic recording knows, that communication has absolutely nothing to do with imaging, ambience, depth, or layering.

With the high-end audio retailer's emphasis on musically non-important attributes, is it any wonder that Asian manufacturers have found ways to attack this market with cheaper, more obnoxious electronic effects generators? Quadraphonic died, but surround-sound and a plethora of DSP effects have created consumers who are filled to the brim with "spacey" sound. This concept is now so ingrained into nearly all consumers that many audio manufacturers have no choice, if they are to survive, but to get involved in the manufacture of products that sport these special-effects technologies.

What high-end audio retailers have to do, if they choose to resist any "pact with the devil," is to start educating consumers in ways to evaluate music, not special effects. One additional benefit of the concentration on musical values is that many audio retailers may finally realize that some of the products they now sell are actually quite lousy when it comes to communicating the emotion of the performance. The high-end audio retailer is responsible for educating and "making" the high-end listener, just as he is also responsible for making or breaking the high-end audio designer, depending on how well the products the latter creates communicate the emotion of music.—Parker King, Indianapolis, IN

The word of God?

Editor: Mark my words! When J. Gordon Holt says something, you fools had better listen. In the long run, video is going to take over the High End. Period. Right, JGH? Right, God?—Ben E. Doughty, Cleveland, TN