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February 2005
Enjoy the Music.com Review MagazineThe Nearfield: An Introduction
Article By Steven Stone
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Audio Desk / Nearfield  What are you doing while you read this? Chances are good you're listening to music on your computer desktop. How does it sound? If it's coming through your run-of-the-mill computer loudspeakers it probably ranks as barely listenable. It doesn't have to be that way. The computer desktop listening environment can be the best place in your home for listening to two-channel music. Why? Let me count the ways.


Ten Reasons The Computer Desktop Makes
An Ideal Two-Channel Listening Space

1. Listening to music at your desktop can be a far more intimate experience than a full sized room.

2. Desktop loudspeakers can be set up to completely minimize early reflections.

3. You have precise control of your listening position.

4. Short distances make passive preamplifiers practical.

5. Cable runs are short so you can minimize their negative effects.

6. Subwoofers can be easily placed under the desktop.

7. Using subwoofers means you can use smaller, more sensitive loudspeakers that need only go down to 200Hz.

8. Nearfield placement makes it possible to drive loudspeakers with low power amplifiers.

9. With most amplifiers you will use five watts or less to drive your speakers to full levels, which reduces the amplifier's potential for distortion.

10. It is simpler and less expensive to set up the ultimate high-end desktop music system than to assemble a system in a full-size room.


The Death Of Two-Channel Listening Rooms In The United States
Since I began reviewing high-end home theater components for Stereophile's Guide to Home Theater in the early '90's I've watched the market for high-end two-channel products in the United States shrink dramatically. Multi-channel home theater has steadily eroded the two-channel universe. Why? The simple answer stems from the fact that in many homes the room once used for a dedicated two-channel music system has been co-opted into a home theater room. Even well healed audiophiles with families have succumbed to the Borg of home theater for the sake of domestic harmony. Audiophiles have surrendered their private musical sanctum so that everyone in the family can enjoy a complete theatrical experience. For most the trade-off is well worth the sacrifice. But even in the finest home theater, two-channel music often suffers. The special intimacy of a well-tweaked dedicated two-channel music room just can't be duplicated in a home theater environment. The public nature of a home theater runs counter to the private personality of a dedicated two-channel music room.

As a reviewer I have not one, but two top-flight home multi-channel home theater screening rooms in my home. Both do a fine job of reproducing two-channel sound, but even the smaller one lacks the intimacy of the best two-channel systems I assembled during the '70's and '80's using Quad ESL-57 loudspeakers and tube gear. I'd venture to say that both of my current systems are more accurate, but pure accuracy does not always equate to musical intimacy and emotional involvement. The ideal two-channel environment must allow the listener to emotionally bond with the music.


A Two Channel Solution
About a year ago I noticed that there were only two places I still listen to two-channel music -- in the gym through headphones and at my computer. With Shure's top of the line E5C in-ear phones connected to my Apple i-pod I can not only drown out my gym's awful elevator music, but also due to the E5C's excellent acoustic isolation I pay more attention to the music.

Listening to two-channel music at my computer desktop creates a similarly intimate and direct experience as with headphones, but with desktop speakers carefully triangulated with my listening chair and less than two feet away from my ears, music retains full dimensionality and proper spatial relationships. In short, the computer desktop is the ideal two-channel listening environment.

Until recently my computer desktop listening environment consisted of a pair of small active computer-grade speakers. I listened to many different models and brands before I settled on a pair that sounded tolerable. When set up properly they could image decently and at least had a tolerable midrange between 500Hz and 3000Hz. Like all computer-grade speakers housed in plastic boxes they had noticeable plastic resonances when you tried to play them at anything approaching satisfying volume levels. Also their pitiful little internal amplifiers produced audible distortion when driven hard. In short they were adequate for reproducing "You've got mail" and low-level background music, but little else.

One day I had an epiphany -- why not use small high-end monitors instead of computer speakers on my desktop? Why not, indeed?

Having been in the high-end audio reviewing game for decades, I've inevitably kept certain two-channel gear that I grew attached to, even though I've had no place to use it. It's been filling my closets for years. Explaining to my wife why I needed to keep it has often been an exercise in creative rationalization. "I might need it someday." Someday suddenly arrived.

Personally, I've come to the conclusion that a high-end desktop system has the potential to offer the dedicated audiophile the most intimate and fulfilling musical experience possible. The late great Harvey Rosenberg believed that musical ecstasy could only be obtained by using single ended triode tube amplifiers. I feel that the ultimate musical ecstasy lies right here in front of you, on your computer desktop. In the coming months I intend to explore the outer limits of the two-channel nearfield desktop listening experience. I hope you will join me.






























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