Tony Federici: Accurate in the USA Page 3

So what's happened is that people no longer know what the live event sounds like. That's a serious problem, whether it's Home Theater or audio. That's in the US. In other countries, I still think that there is more knowledge of what the actual instruments sound like. But this country thinks if they go to a Broadway show and they hear all that noise and distortion coming out of loudspeakers that are cranked up like crazy with microphones right down the performer's throats, that's the live event.

Any good home audio system sounds better than that. So we've come around full circle where it is actually easier to get a good musical experience in your home than it is at a live event where you've paid money for a seat. That's weird. That's very strange. People don't know what things are supposed to sound like anymore.

What I like about Home Theater is at least there are sounds, whether they are a thunderclap or the phone that rings, that people have a reference to. The good news is that maybe we can get to a higher quality because now at least they know what certain things sound like live. That's the hope.

Atkinson: Interesting. Our generation sort of grew up with live music, real live music. We went to rock concerts and heard drums, but they were acoustic, unamplified drums. I wonder also if part of what is happening is the lack of music education in school. That's where I first heard acoustic instruments, playing violin in the school orchestra.

Federici: Yes...and besides which, the experience of the instrument up close is radically different. It's difficult for a child to get the experience of the live musical event as it's supposed to be portrayed, versus being the person playing it.

Atkinson: Home Theater as a concept has been around for almost two decades. What do you think have been the factors behind first its very slow growth, but then its explosion in the last four years?

Federici: I think there was definitely a marketing job done. And a good marketing job, by people such as Dolby. I also think that even prior to Home Theater coming to the forefront, part of the growth of Home Theater also had to do with the shift to three-piece systems, where a pair of smaller loudspeakers is used with a subwoofer. I think that's part of—it sort of fed on itself. What I also love about Home Theater is...the toughest thing I think high-end audio has always had is that somehow or other we've alienated wives from the audio experience.

Atkinson: Is that because of the "boys' club" atmosphere?

Federici: That may be it. I don't even know if it's been us. I think the mass-market contributed to it, with all the buttons and the lights. People perceive that as "audio," and it's intimidating. What our end of the industry manufactures is something completely different. You have a knob, you turn up the volume, anybody can operate it. But the public perception is that better stereo is almost impossible to operate because of how the mass-market wants them to perceive it. More buttons, more money, and therefore better. "Better" is made to appear as though it had to do with complexity, not quality. I think Home Theater is bringing the family into the enjoyment of the audio system. I think that's wonderful.

Atkinson: Having lived through the quadraphonics debacle in the '70s, I never thought I would actually see a return to surround-sound. But there is now an increasing base of people with surround-sound-based audio systems that were originally put together for Home Theater. Do you think that's going to cause major rethinking of the way people make records, and the way people like you make your products? Or will you just be selling more amplifier channels?

Federici: Part of the problem with quad was the battle of different systems, which is a problem that we still have to worry about today. But I think the problem also was that the industry assumed that the public could not understand quad unless they surrounded the listener with instruments and had things popping up all over the place. They assumed that the public could not understand being placed into a live atmosphere, as best as could possibly be done with four speakers, so that it sounded more realistic.

Today, because of Home Theater, what they're attempting to do is what should have been done with quad to begin with. People understand that the purpose of surround-sound is that when the jet moves off the screen and flies over your head, it's a smooth transition from front to rear. The visual is now letting people know that the purpose of the surround is to put them within the live envelop them rather than just overwhelm them with a ping-pong effect. If music goes in that direction, people will understand that the purpose of music being played in surround is to recapture the ambience and put you in a seat in the concert hall. The easiest demo in the world is when you put somebody in that position, give it about five minutes' worth of demonstration with surround-sound, then turn off the rear channels. They think somebody blew the back of their head off. It's not subtle!