Paul McGowan: High-End Survivor Page 6

McGowan: [laughs] I was one of the worst! But we all come around full circle, and before I ride off into the sunset, I would like to make a beautiful, limited-production, all-in-one box that was done right. That's what I would like to have at home. I'd like to have a one-box wonder that properly incorporated everything I needed. I hit a button, a door opens, I put my DVD in, I close it, and it sounds better than anything that I've heard.

If you think about it, it would be easier from a number of standpoints to do such a thing in one box. You've eliminated all the interconnects, you've eliminated all the jacks, and all the clocking problems you get when trying to connect disparate boxes. The downsides, of course, are the noise issues, etc., but I think that with the technology we have and that we will have, those issues will be easier to get around than the issues that people now have to get around connecting all these damn boxes up. That's ultimately where I'd like to go—plug and play! Hook it up and go!

Atkinson: Currently, if you're going to have audio separates, they have dedicated connections to one another. But what if your audio system were more like a computer network? It would be so much easier if all your components just plugged into your home network and you didn't have to worry about impedances and sensitivities and getting the right plugs and the right connectors and the right cables . . .

McGowan: Life would be good!

Atkinson: Life would be easy.

McGowan: And if it made music in the way that you and I and your readers and our customers want to hear it, perhaps in a way that's better. What a joy it would be. I remember when I first went over to Windows from DOS. After I got rid of the initial horror of it all, man, what a joy. You plug a new device in, and Windows comes on and says, "Hey, I found a new device. Do you want me to install it?"

"Sure!" [laughs] "Hell of a deal!" I like that. That's good stuff. Why make it difficult? I understand why we did [make it difficult]. Receivers, integrateds—they were lousy. You know, PS Audio made the first audiophile integrated years and years ago, the Elite?

Atkinson: I remember it. What triggered my question was thinking about the audiophile paradigm we grew up with, which seems totally natural to fiftysomethings like us. We have a system that we go to, and we sit in the sweet spot and we listen to our music. It's something we do completely automatically, we don't even think about it. But what I've been finding out talking to Generation X—and, more important, Generation Y people—is that they don't do this.

McGowan: You're right, Generation X thinks that's pretty goofy.

Atkinson: It's an alien activity because they expect the music to be where they are, not where it is. Which is why boomboxes sell to these music lovers in such large numbers. How does the high-end audio industry adapt to a whole new generation who don't do or want to do what came naturally to its current customers?

McGowan: What am I, Generation L? [laughs] The problem is, of course, the loudspeaker. I don't know how that could be, because in order to get the kind of audible experience that we have takes careful setup by our customers and your readers. I suspect DSP would have to enter into this. I imagine, for instance, that it would be possible to build an in-wall affair using DSP that could somehow get rid of the room boundaries and the problems that you have. And perhaps there could be something like the Canon camera that follows your eye in focusing—perhaps we could have some kind of infrared device that adapts the system's response to where the listener is in the room.

Atkinson: You could go for in-wall speakers, because in-wall is an environment that is ideal for DSP correction. Then you could make the system adaptive, so that wherever the people are, that's where the sweet spot is.

McGowan: That could be very cool. And add that to your audio Ethernet idea . . .

Atkinson: You bring home a new DVD player and your room says, "New hardware recognized. Would you like me to install it?"

McGowan: Of course, by that time we'll all be hooked up to the information pipe, and there won't be any more DVD! There'll be a keypad on your wall and you just tell your room you want to listen to the new David Bowie . . .

Atkinson: You'll key in your credit-card number . . .

McGowan: Your credit card? It's already got all that. Boom, it downloads the music and you're listening to it.

I think that within the next five years, computers will basically be gone and [all information] is going to be accessed through our televisions. It's not going to be a far cry for us to watch a television show coming over a high-speed dataline, through the cable, and hey, that guy's sweater looks pretty nice, you pick up your remote, you point it at the guy, click on him, and tomorrow by FedEx the sweater's going to arrive at your house—and show up on your credit card. Or you'll like the soundtrack to the show, it's gonna come through the pipe.

I think all of that could be combined to provide what people want. And what I've also found is that when you take a Generation Xer or Yer like my son . . . When he sat down for the first time at Genesis and heard the Genesis Ones, I mean, I gotta tell ya, his little winger went wang. His jaw dropped. He had no clue that anything could be that unbelievable, that emotional, because most kids don't associate the emotional experience that they get at a live experience with [listening to music] at home. When they sit in front of a pair of Gen. Ones, a speaker system that they're not able to experience on a normal basis, they get the spark. They say, "I'd like to have that."

But you're right—they'd like to have that sitting down in front of the fireplace, or as they walk around. And they don't want to have a 1.2-ton loudspeaker consuming their room and their pocketbook.

If we could come up with some way for the system to actually follow the person around—which I don't think would be that difficult—perhaps the sweet spot could pretty much move in real time. That would be my cut on it. I'll start work on it tomorrow! [laughs]