By John E. Johnson, Jr.
Welcome to Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity in cyberspace! This magazine, dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and video entertainment, is published in primarily an electronic format. It will be available, free (for a while, anyway) to any who choose to read it on-line, and will be posted in several places, such as the Newsgroups rec.audio.misc, rec.audio.opinion, rec.audio.tech, rec.video, the CEVIDEO forum home theater library, and AOL. Secrets will contain articles by numerous specialists in the field of audio-video, as well as equipment reviews, and other items of interest. Volume 1, Number 1, 1994 is a monograph which explains the basics of home theater and high fidelity technology. It is under constant revision thanks to the many constructive comments I receive from Compuserve forum members and readers of the newsgroups. Version 3.0 has been posted, and I am sure there will be further suggestions by readers for the next level of improvement. When it is finally completed, it should be a valuable reference to those non-professionals who need a basic reference to the exploding field of home theater. You may also want to read the FAQ:rec.audio.* file on the Usenet Newsgroup rec.audio.misc. It contains a lot of useful information on setting up an audio system.
There are a number of things different about Secrets than other audio/video publications. For one thing, there are no graphics. Because it is electronic, downloading the magazine for reading takes enough time as it is, without the added wait for pictures. The entire text of the magazine may total 135 kilobytes or so. Just one small graphic alone could amount to 35 kilobytes. Later on, when the transmission speed of modems in home computers increases substantially - and this will happen soon - we may add graphics. However, what this means for the present, is that you won't see graphs showing frequency response or harmonic distortion curves. We will present measurements based on certain tests that don't require the presentation of such curves. In any case, the brain is a far better oscilloscope and the ears far better microphones for analysis, as the sensory and emotional experience outweigh and sometimes contradict what is seen on a waveform monitor.
Our staff consists mainly of people who are experienced with musical instruments. For example, we have those who have played the piano, flute, violin, trombone, percussion instruments, classical guitar, and electric bass guitar. Some have played orchestral music and hard rock. None of us expect any audio system to fool us into thinking we are actually listening to live music. Such a system does not exist. What we look for in an audio system is a sound that is pleasurable and has natural qualities to it. The violin solo can sound natural without us thinking that the musician and instrument are really in the room. If the sound raises the hair on the nape of the neck, or brings tears to the eyes, so much the better. Sometimes the brain can be fooled just a little bit with certain types of distortion, such as the even order harmonics that are added with tube amplifiers. Such distortions can be pleasurable, if not completely natural sounding (the brain may not detect that it is not natural), and we will be discussing these types of issues. The staff all contribute to the equipment reviews, but, for the time being, only my name will appear at the end of each review.
When you read the equipment reviews, you will notice something right away: We don't publish reviews that are negative. The reasons for this are several. For one thing, negative findings are not scientific facts, but rather, they are opinions. As Editor-in- Chief of two biomedical and technical journals, I do not accept articles for publication that represent negative findings. If for example, a scientist has a theory that "If A, then B" and does not find the connection, we do not publish the article, because the experiment has neither proved "If A, then B", nor has it disproved it. This approach, we feel, is even more important in listening to or viewing audio or video equipment. There is no real science here; we are simply reporting opinions on how we respond to the equipment, and our response depends on numerous factors such as the room, our mood, listening preferences, past experiences (which affect the emotional response), age (hearing capability), and so on. Secondly, we don't want to waste space that can otherwise be devoted to positive experiences. We feel that readers would rather spend time looking at a list of equipment that they should consider auditioning rather than a list of things that they shouldn't.
Thus, we have a rejection rate for equipment reviews. When we test equipment that we conclude would have a negative review, we return the equipment to the manufaturer with our comments. The manufacturer can do whatever they want with our comments - make some modifications and resubmit the equipment later, throw the comments away, or whatever.
The rejection rate for equipment to be reviewed in Secrets so far is about 35%. This is an interesting number, because the rejection rate for the biomedical journal I edit is 44% and has fluctuated only about plus or minus 2% from this number for several years. It will be interesting to see how the rejection rate for Secrets fluctuates during the coming years. I should reiterate that the rejection of material for the biomedical journal is based on scientific reasons, while the decision not to publish negative reviews is based on opinions about the products. These would include noticeable distortion, construction quality, ergonomics, overheating, lack of features, etc. That is not to say that we won't mention a caveat here and there, but the overall review would have to be negative before we would decide to pass on it. We do not contend that 35% of audio-video products out there are unsuitable, but rather, our own statements on them would not be flattering. Undoubtedly, some of these products will be reviewed in other magazines, and some will have positive reviews because their experiences with them are positive. On the other hand, some of the equipment we give a positive review to may receive a negative review in those magazines which publish negative findings. After all, we are only talking about opinions here. However, we feel it is easier to relate to a positive experience than a negative one and will be publishing the former and not the latter. A significant amount of the review text may be devoted to explaining fundamental principles governing the technology. This is part of our plan to discuss the "how" and "why" of good audio and video, rather than just the "what". Professionals in the field may want to just skip over these parts of the reviews.
Another factor regarding reviews is that you will see some equipment that has limited distribution in the United States, even though the magazine originates here in the U.S. Since Internet reaches the farthest corners of the planet, we feel that equipment from manufacturers in various countries deserves coverage.
There are many changes occurring in the audio-video industry right now. High Definition Television (HDTV) is almost upon us. Digital surround sound, with stereo in the rear channels as well as the front will accompany HDTV. Laser discs with this type of sound are being released in February of this year, with players to follow in the spring, and decoders (receivers) in the summer. Much controversy is involved, because of the data compression which is used to encode the sound. I heard the new digital surround sound (Dolby Surround AC-3) at the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, and it sounds great. Having stereo in the rear adds a terrific new dimension to the home theater experience, and I look forward to having this in our testing lab, as well as my own home.
Compact discs with surround sound encoding are becoming more and more common. Such things point to the increased probability that we will be incorporating music listening into our home theater systems. High-end audio manufacturers are rushing to produce preamplifiers, power amplifiers, and speakers for home theater use. There is controversy here too. Audio purists tend not to want any extra circuitry in the signal path. Home theater electronics necessitate additional such circuitry. So, there will be a concerted effort on the manufacturer's part to produce home theater equipment that has much higher standards than in the past. This is wonderful, because there is no real reason not to incorporate music listening with audio-video entertainment. In fact, there are many laser discs already with operas, orchestral works, jazz, and rock, which have digital audio as well as the accompanying video of the performers.
Manufacturers are also experimenting with increased density digital sound, as well as audio-video performances on smaller discs. We will have more and more choices for our sound and video systems in the very near future, and Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity will be there to keep you informed.
We welcome your comments and questions for publication. They should be submitted in the form of a letter to the editor, specifying which article you are referring to. We also welcome suggestions as to what you would like to see covered (article topics and equipment reviews) in future issues. For example, would you like to see reviews of new laser disc movies? All correspondence in this regard should be sent to the editor at [email protected] rather than tying up forum or bulletin board space with them. If you wish, you may open an active discussion in the forums and bulletin boards, but these discussions will not be published in the magazine.
If you read Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity on line, please drop us a note over Internet as to your technical background, the city and country where you live, and other audio/video publications that you read.
John E. Johnson Jr.
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