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Stereos, As They Relate to Indoor Sport

By Colin Flood

  Last night my daughter went out and bought a boom box from Sony for $179. Despite a living room dominated by two of the largest three way horn speakers ever made, she purchased a silver MHC-RXD2 for its CD player and dual cassette decks, with out any consultation from me. I knew that she would make a quick decision, but I was just beginning to re-read my Stereophile and Stereo Review back issues for boom box reviews! Nonetheless, the unit said that it put out 30 watts per side of power, from 7 to 20 kHz. And the specs admitted that this was at .9% THD - I was pleased that they had specs at all.

It was time to play, as she ran off for the evening, I hooked her separate speakers up to my front end (including the 200-watt Klipsch sub-woofer) and then hooked her boom box up to my old Klipsch Cornwalls with my Monster cables. I flipped from one to another with random selections from a newly purchased Michael Franks Blue Pacific CD to hear the contrasts and tone. The results were eye opening and revealing.

First the good news: The cheap little silver boom box plugged into my horn speakers sounded wonderful. There was lots of bass, even with the unit dialed about 1/4 of the way, to 15 on its digital dial. Distortion at that typical listening level was not as apparent as the fact that the high end was not pushy or strident, as it is on the Cornwalls. In fact, as I think this over, the impression I was left with was that with the cheap boom box front end, the listener hears the melody and the lyrics as the fore front of the sound. While with my total system, the listener hears the individual instruments up front; the melody and the singer become just another titillating part of the overall music.

Unlike my front-end electronics when powering the Sony speakers, the pianos appear on the Klipsch/boom box combination. Horns sang out as if they had just been added to the sound track. The high end tinkled like delicate Christmas crystal. My notes say" you could buy a boom box for your Cornwalls and save thousands of dollars!" Nothing magical, but not fatiguing either. There was no need for a long evaluation as the differences were clearly apparent.

Of course the boom box can not drive the Cornwalls loud without making them sound horrible, nor could they make the bass thump hard, but it was a pleasant sound. And so was the opposite system; plugging the cheap speaks into my $1500 front end (Rotel, Dynaco, Pioneer and Klipsch sub). In fact, the two systems pose the dilemma of our acoustic age: The small $179, inefficient but warm, boom box speakers with $1500 of clean front-end electronics versus the old and efficient, $500 used Cornwalls, powered by $179 of forgiving boom box.

Should one push the yellow cones of small B&Ws with powerful Adcom amps? Or power big Klipsch with tiny tubes? Both of these trail combinations sounded good, though neither sounded great. BUT, it was startling how close the two lower cost combinations came to good, but not great, sound. With my Rotel, Dynaco, Pioneer M-22 reference amp and the Klipsch subs, the little speakers sounded remarkable good. The sub helped enormously. Wide placement on top of my 2 1/2' high Cornwalls helped with the sound stage. Vocals were just as nice on the cheap boom box speakers as they were on the Cornwalls.

The silver Sony speakers are very modern looking with a curved black face piece covering 3/4 of the front and two comma shaped ports peeking out from either side like the ram jet intakes of some Ferrari sports car. They look powerful, but they are not. They are two way speakers with a 13cm (5") woofer and a 2cm (3/4") pizzo tweeter. They weigh only 6 pounds, but feel even lighter. With my front end, the little speaks had no sharp and sweet nuances, but it was almost there. There was no warmth or magic, but it was still very good. My wife, who does not like all the bass that I love, preferred that combination instead of my Cornwalls. Of course, she said she liked the "little system better" so I can not be sure what her motives were.

I did not need much adjustment on the Klipsch sub; almost any setting helped the spiffy little boxes out, but the highest amount of equalization (close to 120 Hz) helped fill out the low end the most. In fact I turned the sub's volume knob 3/4 of the way before the sub intruded on the low end of the boom boxes.

The imaging of the Sonys was a little better when they were placed on thin metal candlestick stands 5 1/2' apart, 32" high in front of the entertainment center, but it was not wonderful or great. I was able to turn the Dynaco volume up to 9:00 on the dial, (the type B potentiometer more closely approximates the amount of power the amp is using than most other pre-amp volume knobs). This volume level is hard to withstand for long on the super efficient Cornwalls. But even then, I can't say the silver boxes rocked. They did rattle with the bass output from the sub.

When put back together, the boom box and the sleek speakers make barely pleasant, background Muzak together: The sum is far less than the parts. The role the sub played was huge: It added 200 watts of power, deep bass and a fullness to the sound. I could see daughters buying $150 boom boxes and $150 subs to give the system some meat and muscle, texture and tone.

Now the bad news: I will say that both combinations impressed me. They made me seriously consider the amount of spare change I keep adding to my sound system. As it is set-up now, my system reflects the law of diminishing returns: I keep investing more and more, yet get less and less dramatic sound improvements. Big, old horns warmed by a tube pre-amp from a plateau of power.

My sound system now costs three times more than the little boom box powering my big horns, but is it three times better? Hard to say - hard to admit, after spending all that money. I was perplexed and began to worry I was wasting money that I don't have to spend. I put my system back together, cleaned up the living room and sat down to listen to a big, wide dramatic presentation of all the tinkling highs, bopping lows and smooth mid range on the Michael Franks CD ...

Colin Flood


Your Music Is Worthless

  What would you do if while shopping for some speakers the shop owner refused to play your music? This behavior is considered unacceptable as, after all, you are the customer looking to buy speakers. What type of store refuses to allow you to try a product set up and ready to play music, yet refuses to allow you to play your music on it? Even more amazing is that some people find this almost acceptable behavior in various Hi-Fi Shops around the world! Sad isn't it? 

Now image you are a dealer at an all important audio show in "proper" British behavior London. You walk into a virtually empty room (just you and the product representative) and he refuses to play your music. Does a manufacture outwardly refusing to play the music the prospective buyer desired help a product thrive in today's market? Is this proper British behavior... or acceptable behavior at any show? 

To expand upon the above paragraph i would like to tell you a true story. It all began at the recent Hi-Fi News & Record Review show in London 1999. While enjoying the show as a member of the press i had the unfortunately opportunity to enter the ProAc room where their new line of speakers were playing. It wasn't the sound of the room that i found offending, but the behavior of their representative. Another music enthusiast besides myself was in the room with the product representative when he asked to play his beloved Clash CD. The ProAc representative refused to play the music! i asked which Clash CD it was and then told the ProAc representative that i have it on vinyl and found it very enjoyable. Still, the show attendee was not allowed to hear his music.

When i inquired as to why, the representative eventually  claimed that he would rather heard a great recording of good music than great music recorded ok. Upon further questioning the representative admitted that he doesn't like mono and in fact felt that any recording before approximately 1950 was unlistenable to him because the recording quality was not glorious stereo and then also needed to be recorded well. Yes, we all have our own preferences i admitted to him yet he was there to help sell the product and not make personal judgment calls on others musical preferences and therefore not play said music.

No matter what i tried he admitted he would not play the Clash CD and cared not about the person who came to the show to hear these new speaker. After i left the room i had a brief discussion with the offending Clash music lover and he said this is normal! What?!?!?!? Normal??? What industry in the world offends the prospective buyers of their products? Can you name any other than this industry? Simply amazing that here is an industry of which parts of it are outwardly struggling yet it still have the chutzpah to offend soon-to-be buyers of their products!

Needless to say i adamantly apologized to the show attendee for the various sectors of this industry and the way it treats people. The above story can be told time and time again. Add almost any woman in the scenario above and see what happens. i can tell you because i know a few female members of the press and they all hate the high-end. This is truly sad as one of them writes for Playboy and the other for Rolling Stone. Possibly the largest circulation magazines that could severely help bring awareness to this industry. i have a question to all manufactures reading this which i want answered: Do you allow your product representatives to behave as the one in the above article? If not, what would you do to the above employee who treated your clients in the above manner?

Click here to e-mail me your answers.


"My First Audio Meeting"
by a Woman

  For the past 5 years of my life, I have been in some way connected to the audio industry. It started off as a job in the catalog/publishing field at a time in my life when I was starting over. I packed it up headed north and little did I realize what I was getting into. Ask me if I understand it all, can’t say I do. Ask me why someone would spend so much energy, money, and breath on finding the ultimate sound gratification. Yes I do know it is more than that. I want to ask these men and yes some woman; "will you ever be satisfied?" Day after day of listening to these people whine about tone, pitch, sound that is better than most sex! The ultimate search for parts and pieces, and oh yea, "you outta come over and have listen some night". Well I have and it is nice, but I can go home actually not listen to music for days on end. I prefer conversation. Real people! Do I want to spend some much energy on this, NO!! I have better things to do. I find it so rude to be with someone a concert that can only sit there and criticize the whole show and sound quality. I have left those people to their own misery if that is the fault they are finding.

I have made some very dear friends through this industry. I think we have endured each other because I do not take them seriously and their quest. I laugh at the expense they go through on their search. Some laugh at themselves also.

About one month ago I was invited to an audio meeting in the city. I have been invited before, but have always found something else that needs my attention (ie. laundry). I did give in on this one. I went to hear what all the commotion was about, kept my eyes open, my mind clear. But it didn’t work out that way. Ok, so I had a doodle pad to write what had to be done for the upcoming week in my life; ok so it was not a busy week. This led to my other activity of observing these members. Usually I look at people through a lens; little did I realize how hard this was going to be.

7pm: O-MY-GOD, can I feel anymore uncomfortable. What are they talking about? HTML, ORG, WEBSITES. One person in particular just won’t give up on website facts, a little too strong. Meeting summary after 45 minutes = $100, 3-4 hours work. I now see why I never joined clubs. I hate to try and come to some conclusion. "I will do what I am going to do anyway."

God this is so incredibly boring. Will everyone just listen to his or her radio? Turn it on, turn it off. Simple!  Is the point to inform everyone else of information or further the good of ____? Actually, now that I think of it "What is their purpose?" "OMYGAWD can someone just kill me know!" Even coffee won’t help me through this one.

One man across from me looks like a woman I know, actually he is better looking. Frito man has been asleep for sometime now. Someone just gave him an elbow in the ribs, woke him up. Actually, the snoring he produced was a welcome snicker.

Ok, after 1 hour, here is the speaker. So much for thinking that it was over. He does not sound that bad, his voice is a little brighter than the other members who spoke. Why did I agree to come, my couch is a welcoming thought on this Sunday night. I have to get up early man!! Frito man is still snoring, everyone seems to let him be. The speaker keeps clapping loudly, I wonder if he is trying to wake Frito up or if it is part of his lecture.

So now we are up to 4 men sleeping. Total # of men in the room about 15, including the speaker and myself. Oh to close my eyes and join them……. Steven I will pay you never to go to another meeting again. I'm having a coffee dream. Do you realize how many coffee songs are out there? MUST NOT SLEEP MUST NOT SLEEP...

Frito man reminds me of someone I know…hmmm. I must stop obsessing on him. Ok, now we are up to 6 men sleeping, snoring is at an all time high. But the speaker is still going, what a guy considering that the man directly in front of the podium is a proud nose picker!

I mean, I understand the basics, but what the #^*&. Does everyone have a career in sound design here or do these men call this living life on the edge? Hey, the little man just woke up and said some very intelligent after sleeping for over an hour. I kinda like him.

I have a question "Can u hear the music? Can u hear the tones? FINE, there is no #@#$# phantom imaging. What is this phantom $@#&. Accept what you have and sit down and enjoy it. What if I lay on the floor naked with my back turned, where do you hear it? Where do you want to hear it? How much time can you spend on where you should sit when listening…..I have a few ideas. I am mentally telling Steve I want to leave, NOW..come on..you can do it. Lets go! MMMMmmmmm coffee and a cigarette would be delicious. Concentrate please!

Ok it has been 2 hours already….ooooooh lord! I have to leave now. MAN-O-MAN, must write out bills tomorrow. Must stay awake for the 2+ hour drive home.

Note to self: never attend an audio meeting/event again

Note to self: avoid audiophiles, bad vibes

Note to self: techy geeks…..say no more

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