Book Review: "High Fidelity Audio/Video Systems: A Critical Guide for Owners"

High Fidelity Audio/Video Systems: A Critical Guide for Owners
by Howard Ferstler
253 pages, $23.50 softcover. Published by McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640. Tel: (919) 246-4460.

The year is 1976; it's the Bicentennial, and the whole country is rediscovering its roots in a one-fisted love affair of red, white, and blue. It's a time of wood-paneled station wagons, Jimmy Carter, and great globe-shaped afros, of hourly interruptions during "M*A*S*H" and "All In The Family" by Harry Reasoner with yet another "Bicentennial Minute." Everyone's got big sloppy sideburns, even the women. Life is good.

Now, let's pretend you're a typical 1976 neophyte audiophile; several trips to the local Hi-Fi Hut have left you more confused then when you began. Watts? THD? Maybe what you need is a good book to learn about all this stuff first. You hit your local bookstore...hmmm...High Anxiety...High Colonics...Ah! High Fidelity Audio/Video Systems: A Critical Guide for Owners, by Howard Ferstler. Perfect! So you begin thumbing through it ($23.50 being a lot of money for a softcover book in 1976), glancing at the numerous photos of current products by AR, Allison, Bose, and Radio Shack. "Now here's a book that'll steer me right!" you cheer. on p.9 is a picture of the author standing proudly in his rumpus room, leaning against the biggest TV you ever saw! Twice as big as any 1976 TV, in fact! It looks like something out of the...the future! What's this?! "Laserdiscs"?! And what the hell is a "CD player"?! Suddenly you become frightened—JUST WHAT'S GOING ON HERE, ANYWAY?!!

"Honey...wake up; you'll be late for work," your wife tells you as you groggily wipe sleep from your eyes. Ha ha, what a dream that was! But as you get up, you notice the book on the night table: High Fidelity Audio/Video Systems, by Howard Ferstler!! You grab it off the table and flip through it; it's just like in the dream! But what's a hi-fi book from the mid-'70s doing in my bedroom?

It's then that you read the copyright: 1991! And in 1991, $23.50 is still a lot of money for a 253-page softcover book.

Florida State University librarian Howard Ferstler has written a book about audio that has about as much to do with audio reality in the '90s as bell-bottom pants and "Laugh-In"; High Fidelity Audio/Video Systems is about as dated and uninformative a how-to book on hi-fi as I've ever read.

Where to begin? How about with the author: in describing himself as an audiophile and videophile on p.4, Ferstler proudly states that he would not collect many recordings if it were to be at the expense of building a fine audio/video system. No, he "would rather listen to a great recording of a good performance than to a simply good recording of a great one." To him, "a poor recording ruins the performance, no matter how good the latter might be. Indeed, how can anyone tell if it was a fine performance at all if the recording is so muddled that important characteristics are obscured?" (emphases added).

It would be enough if he were simply a technophile who preferred sound to performance, but Ferstler's got an axe to grind as well, and that axe is US! His book is chock full o' insulting, unsupported, and erroneous accusations about what he calls "the little magazines." "There is a tendency in some of the underground writers to trash items that are clearly fine performers, just because of some personal whim or temporary biorhythmic state," he says on p.8, going on, without offering any evidence or examples, to explain that the audio writers for what he calls the underground journals "sometimes come up short in the common sense or integrity department," reaching their value judgments "often...after a casual audition."