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Buying High-End Audio Equipment

A High-End Retailer Offers His Top Tips on Buying Audio Equipment
Andrew Singer
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

(continued from page 2)

True, there is a fresh, invigorating atmosphere surrounding the high-end home theater market. And yet, as in the old Wild West or any other new frontier, excitement is often accompanied by an element of danger. This is an area where misinformation abounds, and where the professionalism of your dealer will be strained to the utmost, because myth and reality are often hard to categorize. For example, many consumers are aware that DVD--digital versatile disc--has made its debut. But how many realize that the player's introduction had been delayed for two years, while the motion picture industry engaged in copyguard squabbles? Furthermore, this new format had the capability to surpass the image quality of laserdisc--the best format available--but an eleventh-hour marketing decision to cram entire movies onto a single, video-impaired disc (action shots don't come out well) made its picture quality significantly inferior to that of the laserdisc. In addition, the new DVD discs are incompatible with many surround sound processors, and only a couple of dozen DVD titles have been made to date. The potential for this technology remains excellent, but until modifications are made to DVD players, anyone looking for audio-video capability during the next year or two might be better off buying a laserdisc player. How could a consumer be expected to know such things? That's simple: ask a dealer.

Andrew Singer is the owner of Sound by Singer in New York City. Glossary Of Audio Terms

Dynamic range: The difference between the softest and the loudest sound, measured in decibels, that a system is capable of reproducing. A distinction should be made between dynamic output, which refers to the maximum volume a system can safely generate, and instantaneous dynamic range, a measure of the speed with which the amplifier and the speakers produce that output.

Frequency response: The range of tones that a system or component can reproduce. Although the "audible spectrum"--the expanse of bass through treble frequencies that the human ear is capable of hearing--runs from a low of 20 Hz (hertz, or cycles per second) to a high of 20,000 Hz, there is little fundamental information of musical significance at either extreme. Judge a component, particularly loudspeakers, by the smoothness and accuracy with which it spans the majority of the frequency range and not by its ability to generate, for example, a 20 Hz test tone.

Imaging: A proper stereo will resolve focused, three-dimensional representations, or "images," of each individual performer--such as a vocalist or instrumental soloist--within the stereophonic soundstage.

Power: The ability of an amplifier to supply the energy necessary to drive a loudspeaker. Speakers make sound by moving air. The louder the sound, the greater the quantity of air that must be moved and the greater the amount of power required. Although a watt is the unit of measurement by which power is commonly defined, an amplifier's current and voltage capabilities are equally important. Remember, too, that while amplifiers are rated in terms of their continuous (RMS) output, peak power--also known as "dynamic headroom"--might be a more relevant measure of performance.

Soundstaging: The totality of spatial information retrieved by the system, including individual images, the airy spaces between these images and the ambience of the concert hall or recording venue.

Transparency: The ability of a component, through its lack of tonal, dynamic or spatial colorations, to disguise its presence in the playback chain. A truly transparent component is one that does not impose its own personality on the signal that passes through it. Such A Dealer!

Due to the excellence of their product mix, service and professionalism, the following dealers meet my stringent standards:

Ambrosia Audio
Bel Air, CA
Tim Duffy

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