|Posted on May 25, 2010 at 3:16 PM|
There comes a point when the area around my desk at home becomes so cluttered with discarded papers, random CDs disenfranchised from their jewel cases, strewn notebooks and villages of Lauryn's littlest pet people, that I just have to stop what I'm doing and fully clean. (This is usually preceded by a few moments of mumbled swearing and "Why can't I just have one place in this house that's all mine!") But when cleaning John shows up, it is all business. It is....business time. (Sadly, not that kind of business, though I usually do have business socks on....Though, quite often cleaning John is rewarded with business time, so perhaps there is some sweet correlation.) This means that drawers long forgotten are opened, folders gone through, mysteries uncovered.
As a writer, when I hear something that strikes my fancy, I'll jot it down hoping that I can one day use it later. This certainly helps to add to the piles of clutter that develop as you have lots of little "Oh! I need that!" notes left over and half-scribbled notebooks. Yesterday, as I was in the throes of a deep cleanin' I ran across something from several years ago that I'd written to myself. Apparently Dana and I had enjoyed a pretty nice bottle of wine (my notes say "a $60 bottle"), and for some reason I was telling a co-worker about it the next day at work. His response was, "Man! A $60 bottle of wine! That must get you *really* wasted!"
Of course, if you drink wine, you'll know that the price of wine and it's wasting abilities have absolutely nothing to do with each other. In fact, the alcohol content on a $5 bottle is likely to be identical to that of a $500 bottle. It's about everything else; the subtle flavors, the intense berries, the toasty oak.
This quote actually reminds me quite a bit of how people go shopping for audio/video gear. The fine points -- the flavor, the nose, the lingering finish -- are overlooked for the ultimate "will this or won't this get me hammered?" People seem to be so focused on specs and numbers that they lose often lose sight of the important things like: What does it frickin' look and sound like?
We don't see numbers and we don't listen to specs. We watch movies and listen to music. The black boxes are all just conduits to that end game, and yes, of course, specs are important but they are only some of the trees in the entire forest.
When shopping for a speaker, don't ask how many watts it will handle. Unless you are planning on using it for the (it will NEVER happen) Guns 'n Roses reunion tour, it doesn't matter. A speaker's ability to handle wattage is almost totally irrelevant (or SO far down the list of important things) that you would be FAR better asking "how porous is the grille cloth" or even better "if my hampster crawls into the bass port and makes babies, will that affect the sound?"
Also, don't ask about driver size. (OK. I will accept a driver size question that goes, "Wow! That bass is incredibly tight but still hit's me likea sneak-attack neck punch!! Is that running dual tens?" To which I'll smile and acknowledge appropriately.) Buying a sub based on driver size or getting a speaker with an 18-inch woofer is not going to make your pee-pee one millimeter bigger, no matter how much loud and horrible distortion you play through it. (OK, I guess medically, you might be able to blast your Johnson with SO much audio that some growth could occur, but I'm sure not nearly enough money has been allocated to fund this research.) In fact, the best subs in the world actually have moved away from these massive drivers. Why? Because they are too hard to control and sound fat and bloated. B&W's DB1? Two twelves. JL Audio's 5-figure Gotham? Dual thirteens. And the biggest pimp of all? Paradigm's SUB 2 rocks SIX twelves. (While this can't enlargen your junk, it probably could be a relatively effective alternative to lithotripsy.) Any one of these subs would take your 18-inch woofered Fisher speaker, slap it around, turn it out and make it turn tricks on the corner for $20. If you are looking for fat and bloated, just wait until Gilbert Grape comes out on Blu-ray and then enjoy.
Asking how many watts a receiver or amplifier has is *almost* as useless. Not that this isn't an important number, but unless you know how that rating was obtained (how much distortion, how many channels driven, at what frequency range, for what duration, at what impedance...) the wattage becomes nearly an arbitrary number, and seems to have become the audio shopping equivalent of kicking a tire on a used car. In our showroom we used to have a 100 x 7 Pioneer receiver and a 100 x 7 Lexicon amplifier. The Pioneer cost about $399 and weighed just slightly less than than BOX the Lexi came packed in. So when people asked me about watts, I would invite them to pick up the Pioneer. "Hmmm. Yes," they would say, nodding their heads like they totally understood. Then I would invite them to enjoy a hernia while trying to pick up the near 100-pound Lexicon. As their arms strained to even get the thing's front feet off the rack, I would say, "Both rated 100 watts. Think they are the same?"
And then there's video. Oh, sweet, so screwed up with daddy issues now you gotta become a stripper, video. I don't care if a set says it is 1 Quadrillion to 1 contrast, it doesn't matter! DOES....NOT....MATTER! Again, how is it measured? The ONLY acceptable answer is, "Hmmmm. You're right. I don't know..." So a bajillion to one contrast means that it has a super bright image. The Bat Signal is awfully bright, but I don't want to sit in front of it and watch for two hours until I catch my hair and brain on fire. Do you know that when the reference of reference 9-inch CRT projectors were on the scene -- I'm talking Volkswagen sized units that hung over your head like a mini Imperial Star Destroyer and cost more than many people make in a year (Oh, you wanted a line quadrupler with that, Mr. Rockefeller?) -- the best calibrators in the world were pissing themselves over contrast ratios of less than 1000:1. But these were REAL numbers.They had REAL blacks. It didn't matter that the peak white wasn't triple digit foot lamberts, it was that the black was cave-in-Africa black. And this doesn't even talk about color purity, greyscale tracking, scaling, image detail and ALL of the other things that make a good image actually good.
Look, if you're only wanting to get wasted, buy a box of wine or some kind of liquor that is sold in plastic gallon jugs. And if you just want a noise box that plays loud and looks bright, go to that big box store. But if you are looking for an experience and an emotional connection to what you watch and hear, then shop beyond the numbers. And once, just once, enjoy that $60 bottle.