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I have always viewed the term “Audio Visual” (A/V) as more of a two-sided coin descriptor as opposed to a singular one. For me, the “audio” part of A/V is for a system to which music may be listened and enjoyed. “Visual” is just that, watching a TV or movies in the great room or den.
We also have the concomitant term, “Home Theater” (HT) which unquestionably describes systems intended for movies and TV with an audio constituent. Very often, these systems are based on a large screen with multiple speakers all around the room. Subwoofers are almost always included. Dedicated HT rooms very often contain large, comfortable chairs, sometimes placed on tiered levels.
Home Theater systems are also, very commonly in fact, incorporated into the family room. They may only represent one or two components and a few speakers. It is not uncommon for a HT system to be hidden out of sight, thus leaving only the TV or movie experience on its own.
Our hobby, that being 2-channel audio, is the other side of the A/V coin.
Anyone with a dedicated audio room will generally use that room for audio only. Nothing else. Our equipment is most often proudly displayed. When I have a non-audiophile in my audio room, one of the first questions they usually ask is, “where is the TV?”
It is no secret Home Theater is the more utilized side of the A/V coin. There are more HT rooms, systems, and participants than 2-channel audio. There are even quite a few more dealers specializing in HT than 2-channel. Ever wonder why?
Builders even, will customarily construct homes with mostly square rooms for a HT setup. Many homes are advertised as having a room for HT. For many of us, the term “man cave” practically screams big screen and surround sound hooked up to the TV or projector. How many homes in real estate magazines have you ever seen advertising a “perfect space for a 2-channel audio system?” I bet very few. If any.
Wait now, there are those who will correctly point out that A/V does, in fact, contain an audio element to the overall operation. I also suspect there are many A/V enthusiasts who listen to music on their system as well as watch movies. And here’s the important aspect – they do those things separately as well as together. These systems are touted as having the best of both worlds – a means to listen to music when music is the only interest, and a way to watch movies and hear the plane fly around the room.
At a certain point, mostly system cost, 2-channel and HT begin to split the A/V coin in half. As the price of components rise, the end use becomes more singular in nature and not intended for any measure of dual duty. None of my components, not even one of them, have any means whatsoever for HT operation. My system is, in totality, singularly designed for 2-channel operation. Which is exactly as I want it to be.
Truly world class HT systems can play music but that is not principally their intended function. Their main goal is the inclusion of a video aspect with audio. Surround sound is always a multi-channel design element while 2-channel is just that – two channels. Pre pro processors have circuitry for all types of things 2-channel could care less about. My preamp, in fact, makes no provisions at all for a subwoofer or video. None.
There are, however, many audiophiles who enjoy, even prefer hearing music on surround sound systems. They enjoy a 5.1 recording, for example, and playback through a system capable of that type of recording. They probably prefer hearing part of the recording presented in front as well as behind where they are seated. And guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.
My only issue with surround sound music is this – of all the live music I have ever heard or seen, I cannot remember a time when any part of the music was presented behind where I was seated. If my goal is the potential replication of a live performance, music should be in front of me, not behind. But here again, this is a personal preference, not a declaration.
However, there is one discrepancy worth mentioning. How many audiophiles, those with dedicated 2-channel systems, have heard recordings on their systems not representative of the typical location of instruments on a live stage?
I have heard countless recordings with the drum kit scattered all over the place – kick drum in the middle, high hat on the far right, cymbals the far left, and tom toms, well they can be wherever. Recording engineers do that for any number of reasons but all live music I’ve ever seen with a drum kit had all the drum stuff together, in one place, not scattered all over the stage. Suffice it to say recording engineers like to be creative.
In the end, this boils down to several factors. One is how a system may best be used. For a family, having a dual duty system makes sense. Committing to the expense of an A/V system is more easily justified if the kids can enjoy a movie. Having a system only one household member will use is much harder to justify.
There is also a space aspect to the selection and desired use of an A/V system. Many families lack the space for a dedicated room for any audio system, let alone one or the other. Bonus rooms make much more sense for playrooms for kids than a stereo system.
I, myself, however, am a purist. I want a singular use system. My 2-channle audio room will always be just that – an audio room. I cannot ever see myself with a TV and cube speakers all over the space. While that is my choice, it is clearly not the only – or right or wrong choice.
Audio Visual is and will continue to be a multi-faceted term. It may represent the best the world can offer as a means to independently listen to music or watch a movie. It may also represent a system that enables doing both. Decisions on which commonly involve budget, space considerations and what is best for the family.
Fortunately, there is really no right or wrong here. Deciding which system is based on a variety of individual factors. We like what we like and not surprisingly, some like things one way, some another.