The past week has been an amazing experience! Imagine being thrust into a Formula Dodge open wheel spec car and driving at breakneck speeds around one of America's street tracks. After three days you have racked up well over 125 miles on the racetrack! Better still, after three days in the Formula Dodge you get two additional days — over 200 more track miles — in a race prepped Ferrari! By now you are saying, "That sounds like fun Steven, but what does it have to do with being an audiophile?" During the past week there were moments where these two hobbies (or professions) has many similarities.
From Monday through Wednesday i attended the Skip Barber three-day Race School at Lime Rock Park. The first day begins with basic theory in a classroom from a professional driver/instructor. This covered vehicle dynamics and whatnot for those unfamiliar with driving a car at the limits. Later that morning we were able to directly apply classroom learning with seat time to become more familiar with the car. Audiophiles, on the other hand, have no such formal type of training available. Sadly, we are not given a classroom opportunity to learn the basic skills of sound reproduction as taught by professionals. A few years back there was the Academy Advancing High Performance Audio & Video (AAHPAV) who held classroom-type educational seminars during a yearly audiophile show. These seminars first started with the basics and attendees earned an Ambassador degree at the end of the event. The following year the AAHPAV had more advanced classes and graduates merited a Masters Degree. Sadly, there is no more AAHPAV and no one has offered to bring about a formal educational experience to audiophiles.
What amazed me was the sheer lack of reviewers and press members who attended these classroom events! Sessions were taught by some of the best names and most knowledgeable men in their field including Dr. Floyd Tool of Harman International, Joe Kane of Joe Kane Productions, Bob Stuart of Meridian Audio Ltd., and Joe Kellogg of Dolby Labs (to name a few). One can only speculate concerning ego, or perhaps a feeling of (misguided) self-confidence that kept other reviewers and press members from attending such educational events. In the race scene there are a few drivers who have been known to be less than receptive to more established professionals' advice. So let us do a comparison and contrast...
Warm Up Lap... The Basics
There are quite a few books covering acoustics such as Robert Harley's The Complete Guide To High-End Audio (reviewed here) and a plethora of recording studio guides. The main reasons for Enjoy the Music.com's Manufacturer Articles section is to educate our readership. Within this section are articles from leading experts on room acoustics and loudspeaker setup. Fellow journalist A. Colin Flood reviewed RealTraps' Corner Room Reflections and is a must read. Books alone may help to mentally understand the basics, yet applied knowledge is key! Do not be afraid to ask your local high-end audio dealer, or a professional acoustician, to analyze your listening room and make suggestions. Odds are these professionals, besides years of experience, have various electronic devices that can measure your room to aid in attaining excellent results. This comparison is easy as every Formula 1 team — considered the highest form of road course open wheel racing worldwide — has full time professionals looking at the data acquired from their cars during driving sessions and can make quantified suggestions to optimize either the driver's actions and/or the car's setup.
More Moneys Equals Better Results
Like a racecar, a more expensive part may not achieve better results. There is a synergy as each part works in concert with another. As a whole, the entire chain of parts makes a whole. This 'whole' also must perform within a known space, albeit a specific racetrack or for us audiophiles, our listening room. Huge and expensive horns may not sound best in a 9 foot by 12 foot dorm room, though much less costly minimonitors can be just what the doctor ordered. It is only through understanding your room, loudspeakers, and the remainder of your system that have a chance to make significant improvements. Very small incremental improvements may take less understanding.
Adaptation Is Key
Experience Is Another Key
Do not be timid, as audiophiles generally do not suffer bodily injury (or death) from the 'sport' of musical enjoyment. On the other hand, upon entering Lime Rock Park i had to sign a waiver with some strong wording. The regional club has me sign a form with equally strong wording (injury, death, loss of life, property damage, etc. were used many times). With quite a few more powerful cars on the track the car at my disposal stood little chance as it was underpowered. Sure as the sun rises in the East i was passed on the track, but not as often as you would have thought! i found myself passing quite a few cars on the track that were of much higher performance. In this case it was not the system more than the person at the wheel with capabilities and risk taking. i am not saying to take a risk by changing out a part on your tube amplifier where you, by accident, may touch the 1,000 volt heater wires of your 211-based amplifier while the unit is powered on. Turn off the amplifier and make the change. A bit of common sense can go a long way. What i am saying is that intelligent and calculated 'risks' (read: avant-garde tweaks) might yield higher performance. If there is no major loss at trying something new...
The Cool Off Lap
Now go out and buy some books concerning room acoustics, and Robert Harley's The Complete Guide To High-End Audio. If you ask your friends or a high-end dealer for their assessment of your system, do not take their criticisms as a personal attack! They are merely making suggestions to boost your musical enjoyment. Life is a journey and we are always learning.
Beware those who proclaim know it all, as you should wonder are they really trying to help you or are simply concerned with their self-image and ego. Welcome those who readily admit to having overcome certain obstacles, yet are willing to learn new solutions. Of course in the end what really matters is that we all....