The pursuit of higher fidelity—be it video or audio—has its rewards. How do you know if your system delivers the goods?
AV enthusiasts tend to argue about all things audio and video using two approaches: subjectivism and objectivism. For example, when it comes to the science and art of sound reproduction, enthusiasts engage in endless arguments over what makes a difference in perceived quality. Specs can't tell you if a speaker is going to appeal to your individual taste, although they can point you in the right direction.
A lot of subjectivist writing waxes poetic about the virtues of various products using florid language—often crossing the line into purple prose. High-end audio rivals food and wine for the sheer volume of descriptive adjectives packed into a typical paragraph. The same is true for AV writing, especially when the topic turns to display devices. The current debate over flat versus curved screens is a great example of a feature that has recently received the subjectivist treatment—according to one manufacturer, curved-screen TVs are art.
Objectivist reviews focus more on measurements and less on subjective impressions. The best-known objectivist tool is the spec sheet, which provides a means to compare different pieces of gear based on performance measurements. Unfortunately, manufacturers' specs are frequently not as useful as they should be; often, there is no well-established standard for how to take those measurements.
What does this mean for someone shopping for AV gear? Typically, the search for the right device begins with reading reviews that provide a mix of both perspectives. These days, thanks to the Internet, reviews and photos might well be the only tools a buyer uses to decide on an AV-related product. Additionally, even when someone auditions gear in a showroom, there's no guarantee it'll perform the same way in the home. Then there's the matter of personal taste; no set of measurements can tell you if you are going to like how a piece of gear performs.
So, what's a good measure of quality for evaluating AV gear? The answer lies in recognizing the physiological signs of immersion and suspension of disbelief. Now, when I say immersion, I don't mean filling your field of view with an image or surrounding yourself with speakers. I mean falling into the movie, living it. I'm talking about an involuntary physiological reaction—goose bumps—that indicates your mind believes in the situation presented on screen. I'm also talking about getting lost in music, imagining you are at a concert, perhaps even achieving a meditative state. Ultimately, if an audio-only system or an AV rig gives you goose bumps, it's doing what it's supposed to do. In addition, goose bumps are different from other reactions such as laughter or tears—those reactions have more to do with the story than with the presentation.
Therefore, after you read reviews, audition gear, make your purchasing decision, and set up your new toys, remember to watch out for those goose bumps. If your new gear does not produce them on a regular basis, it might be wise to revisit the evaluation and purchase process again. After all, audio systems and TVs last a long time. It's worth putting the extra effort into acquiring gear that facilitates a bit of escapism. Ultimately, that means finding gear capable of causing goose bumps. Does your current system do it?
Like AVS Forum on Facebook
Follow AVS Forum on Twitter
+1 AVS Forum on Google+