In an early adventure as a sales rep in the eighth decade of the last century, I carried a briefcase of product lines that included car audio. It was customary to refer to ‘car audio’ as ‘car stereo’. I resisted that convention. I still do. Legitimate stereophonic audio is an unobtainable goal in a car. This viewpoint (more accurately audible-point) launched several summery warm but civil debates with the car stereo experts.
Stereophonic audio creates an illusion of musicians precisely placed on a stage in an enveloping acoustical environment. Car audio cannot achieve this outcome. For the sake of peace and closing a sale, I did eventually concede to the notion of a faux stereo-like objective for car audio. With varying degrees of limited success, many did deliver on this stereo-like car audio experience.
My most memorable car stereo-like experience of that period was delivered by a dealer in Fresno California. Although time has erased his name; my memory of his car audio system is still quite clear. His system included customary in-the-door left/right speakers with a very cool sub-woofer system in the rear. He also installed a plethora of hidden 2 inch speakers throughout the front of the vehicle. Each was cleverly concealed in the headliner, in and along the top of the dashboard, and in the door columns. In addition, each speaker was paired with a dedicated potentiometer. This allowed our California 12-volt audio dreamer to painstakingly ‘tweak’ the volume level of each speaker.
Tweaking in the world of audio refers to a symbolic screwdriver in the hands of a constantly experimenting audio enthusiast. In this particular case each screwdriver ‘tweak’ of a potentiometer affected the previously adjusted speaker. This process therefore required the ‘re-tweaking’ of each speaker again and again. This continued until our dealer was satisfied with the result. His ‘tweaking’ in and of itself had devoured two weeks of work that sometimes extended late into the night. He told me he would never attempt it again.
His installation alone was worthy of praise. But then I sat in the driver’s seat as he unveiled a surprising demonstration that received my standing ovation. He played several musical selections and concluded with the recording of a waterfall. The fidelity of the sound was impressive: deep tight bass, clean not harsh vocals. A stereo-like front acoustical stage with each selection was clearly achieved. Remarkably and unexpectedly the image of the waterfall extended from the ceiling to the floor. The effect was amazing. He had created a more than plausible stereo-like experience.
His demonstration was stereo-like. But I could not call it stereophonic. Its stereo imaging still could not challenge a classic mid-fi home stereo system of the day: a properly placed listener and pair of EPI bookshelf speakers, Thorens turntable, Grado cartridge, any Sheffield LP, and a Kenwood receiver.
This is not a ‘knock’ on the Fresno dealer. A better outcome was simply prevented by the unwavering physics of speaker and listener placement. He agreed. That is why we referred to what we offered as ‘car audio’ not ‘car stereo’.
Car audio cannot accurately create high fidelity stereophonic or surround sound audio. Desktop computer speakers can’t either. Home theaters in a box can’t. Dr. Dreadfuls can’t. Even if you include a sound bar; LCD TV’s of any size or resolution can’t. But an AV professional can in almost any home.
Here’s the good news. Most living rooms can accommodate good speaker and listener placement that can faithfully recreate the high fidelity stereophonic illusion. Many can even conform to a multi-channel audio blueprint. Although there are customers who may not want to see a speaker in their room, they do want what those speakers can provide: a musical toe-tapping breathtaking ‘wow’ life enhancing experience.
Here’s the bad news. Too many AV ‘experts’ acquiesce to the presumption of “no ugly speakers here” before they even begin to qualify their customers. This lackadaisical approach omits floor standing and stand mounted bookshelf speakers. They are not even considered. They default to an installation of ‘custom’ in-wall 6½ inch coax speakers mounted in sheet-rock. In-wall speakers may have a legitimate place in AV. But they are essentially car audio for the home. Why would anyone choose to work with this type of AV ‘expert’?
I close with the following statement. Aesthetics is more than visual perception. AV professionals must expand or confirm their understanding of the word aesthetic to include sound. I will amplify this thought in my next blog: Adventures in AV-land Part 2.