As it might apply to audio, I sometimes feel as though I am peering into a dark room. This pervasive feeling comes, not surprisingly, when I try to explain the audiophile hobby to those who are otherwise unconcerned. I’ve written about this on more than one occasion. I’ve had philosophical discussions with other audiophiles in the vain attempt of trying to understand why most folks are not impressed. All audiophiles have faced this burden at some point. Maybe from a spouse, or a friend, or perhaps the wife of a friend, we have this abiding curiosity why they just don’t seem to grasp our high end passion.
We can bring them into our home, play music for them, see the expression on their face, ask them if they thought it sounded absolutely unbelievable, feel somehow redeemed when they tell you that “yes, that was fantastic,” and feel utter disbelief when they say, “but I’m still happy with an iPod.”
Sometimes the uninterested will be just that. Uninterested.
I was having one of my cars serviced not long ago when I struck up a conversation with a guy three chairs down in the waiting room. We talked about any number of subjects that two strangers might discuss during the boredom of waiting for their oil change and rotate & balance. Somehow, amid the variety of subjects discussed, the conversation turned to audio and home theater.
For me, home theater has always been the brother (or sister) to two channel audio. Also for me, home theater has never been something I’ve found particularly captivating. Yes, the room filling sonics can be impressive. Home theater can provide a very lifelike presentation, particularly with movies. In my my view, however myopic it may be, hearing the airplane fly around the room is simply not as captivating as a two channel system. Note also that my opinion on home theater is mine alone.
Oddly enough, this guy in the service department’s waiting room had an undeniable affection for home theater and an equal lack of interest in two channel – essentially my polar opposite. While neither of us would be overly critical of the other’s chosen hobby, clearly we both thought we were right and this other guy was wrong. Before too long, my car was ready and as we bade each other good day, I drove away with a sudden realization. I now believe that maybe I finally understand. I have a better idea why so many of my friends just don’t get it.
I’ve often asked myself how anyone who has heard a high performance audio system could ever listen to music in their home any other way. How could Mid Fi ever compare to a reference system? I’ve wondered if it was a product of the art of listening – or maybe the lack thereof. I am trying to hear the decay of a cymbal, fingers running up and down the fret board of an acoustic guitar, the soring vocals of an acclaimed singer, and most importantly, I want that feeling of disbelief that music reproduced in this manner provides. Is this a practice mostly lost to non audiophiles?
Driving from the auto shop that day, I was thinking that the guy to whom I was talking should give high performance audio a try. He’d certainly come to see what I routinely hear. And then it hit me. He was, quite possibly, perhaps even quite likely, thinking exactly the same thing about me and home theater.
I’ve heard some very exceptional home theater systems. Sure, I’ve heard the airplane fly around the room. Did I think it sounded pretty awesome? Absolutely. Did I think it was impressive to hear a well constructed theater system in someone’s home? Yes, absolutely impressive. Do I necessarily want one in my home? Well, okay, it might be nice but I’m just not tempered with the requisite motivation to have one. I’m fine with watching a movie or TV program on my wall mounted, flat panel television. I’m perfectly content in hearing the airplane fly around the room from the perspective of the TV’s internal speakers.
Could it be that my viewpoint of home theater is what the average non audiophile feels about high performance audio? Quite possibly. And yes, this seems so patently obvious I myself am asking the question, “you just now figuring that out?” Talking to the fellow in the auto shop that day has allowed me to understand that I was trying to make non audiophiles look at music in the same way as do I – from my own myopic viewpoint. And just as I find confusion in why anyone might willingly choose an iPod over a reference system, I am doing exactly that with home theater. My personal opinion of home theater is the same as some of the people who have heard my system and been unmoved. Therein lies the difference, and the answer.
I can’t say for sure that I’ll ever be inexorably drawn towards a home theater system. Anyone who follows such a path is obviously just as correct in their choice as I am in mine. This is not a right or wrong answer to a question that basically can’t be answered in the first place. We all have our own particular joys in life. However, I do think my own personal interest level in home theater has allowed me to see more clearly why the average person is either unmoved or uninterested in music reproduced to the highest level. Sometimes a song is really just a song. Sometimes a high performance system just isn’t your cup of tea.