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Response to the Times

July 16th, 2009

So I get an email about an article in the Times about surround sound. Eric Taub, I’m sure, is a very intelligent man who is just trying to educate the masses about the importance of surround sound. For that, I thank you. I do, however, have a few comments about your article…

But they have forgotten about another major advance in TV technology: the ability to transmit enveloping, crystal-clear digital surround sound.

Not exactly new since it has been going on in the home since the early eighties but I generally agree.

Once available only in movie theaters, 5.1 digital surround was conceived early on as part of the HDTV feature set

Actually, as discussed it was conceived LONG BEFORE HDTV. We had true surround sound long before anyone ever even dreamed of HDTV.

Early HDTVs came with decent front speakers; all you had to do was add some rear speakers and a receiver and you could complete the full audio experience

Umm… what? Show me the HDTV with “decent” front speakers. Maybe if you are comparing them to BLOSE or other cubed speakers but they’d never hold up to a real speaker.

At the beginning of this decade, good surround systems complete with a DVD player cost about $1,000. They can now be had for as little as $250.

OH MY GOD!?! He must be referring to HTiBs and NONE of them would EVER be classified as “good” by any standard. I’m not saying you can’t get a good system on a budget, but $250? Not unless it is some crazy deal or used. Or stolen.

To keep costs down, manufacturers offer passive, rather than active, subwoofers

This may be true but I’ve never heard of anyone using it as a way of making a purchase. Passive subs in HTiB setups are designed with particular equipment in mind. I’m not really sure you are saving any money that way. It’s just moving the amp from the sub to the receiver/DVD player.

Buy a system that offers 1,000 watts output; most now do. (The higher the wattage, the less distortion when playing movies at high volume.)

My head is about to explode. While the higher wattage statement is basically true, that only counts when you are looking at real amps with real power ratings. The 1,000 watts of your HTiB isn’t even close to the true wattage. Heck, if they are saying 100 watts per channel with a 500 watt sub, you’ll be lucky if each channel can push 25 watts continuously. Then again, the craptacular speakers that came in the box are going to distort long before you reach even 10 watts so who cares? What you should be looking for is a receiver that can be connected to any speakers (no specialized speaker connectors) and speakers that aren’t trying to be full range at 2″.

And if money is no object… Sony’s $2,000 BDP-S5000ES

Let me tell you something Eric, if “money is no object,” the LAST thing I’m reaching for is a Sony. Heck, I don’t know anyone that would. If you really look over the article, it is nothing but HTiBs by Samsung, Panasonic, Sony and a few others. I’m not saying that they don’t sell (or even that the article isn’t properly marketed) but if you are going to give advice about home theater, a few fact checks should be done. Or, hey, you could call me. I’ll let you know what is up. Thanks to Jonathan for pointing me to this article. His point was about the growth of soundbar sales:

I have to say this doesn’t make a lot of sense, except that I’ll bet the quote is true, but misleading. Always beware growth rates. Since there have been roughly 46 soundbars introduced in the last year and maybe 10 HTiBs and 5.1 systems, the growth rate is shipments is probably not the best metric. Still, it’s good to see that even in a recession, consumers seem to care somewhat about sound, since I tend to agree with you that it’s a tough sell to get people interested in sound once they’ve laid out $1500 for a TV, which they’re still doing.

I agree Jonathan. I agree.

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  1. Rob
    July 16th, 2009 at 21:59 | #1

    Yes, the only thing worse than ignorance is being misinformed! At least if people are ignorant, they might pause and search for some information, but if they are misinformed, they act confidently, but to their detriment.

    To be fair though, trying to provide any sort of truthful and comprehensive information about surround sound in a limited amount of writing space is extremely difficult! At this point, I’m almost happy for ANY mainstream talk that mentions something other than LCD displays! And the advice in this article isn’t necessarily all bad; after buying a HTiB and wondering why it doesn’t sound better, maybe at least a few people will seek out something better. Heck, I started with a HTiB, and look at me now! lol

  2. Spencer
    July 17th, 2009 at 00:18 | #2

    I agree with all of Tom’s comments, but I’ll also say that at least the masses have been told that they don’t have to listen to their TV’s speakers. Baby steps.

  3. July 18th, 2009 at 20:59 | #3

    I write this comment as I wear an old “BOSE” T-shirt, so, maybe it’s throwing off my AV sensabilities– I am glad this article was written, and is out there for public consumption in the NY Times.

    Any AV evangelism helps a little, despite having shocking comments like “great built-in TV speakers” that make our skin crawl.

    But clearly this article was written for folks like my father-in-law, who recently informed me he was looking to purchase a $300 HTiB.

    How such a system could sound anywhere close to good is beyond me, but you know what? He’s going to be content and frankly I’m thrilled he’ll be entering the world of Blu-Ray and 5.1 surround, even if it’s via what will probably be an unpalatable (to us afficiandos) Sony HTiB.

  4. Rob
    July 19th, 2009 at 15:04 | #4

    Yeah – as much as we would all like for people to listen to our advice, the fact remains that many, many people (perhaps even most people) still get their start with a rather poor sounding HTiB. I would like for people to learn from MY experience, save their money and skip straight ahead to a good entry-level system, but suffering through that first HTiB isn’t ALL bad. It’s how I learned my early lessons and I imagine it’s how many other people learn as well 🙂

  5. July 22nd, 2009 at 14:35 | #5

    All I can say about this Times article and its author is, “Someone pays you to write this?” Eric needs to follow some basic journalism principles and do his homework about the subject at hand. There is so much information out there regarding home theater that he really has no excuse.

    And although his audience might be the average HTIB buyer, his information is still misleading, at best. It’s the same kind of information one would expect to get from a Best Buy sales associate who throws in a few statements like “Buy a system that offers 1,000 watts output; most now do” to assure you he knows what he’s talking about.

    Am I bitter? Nah, but not as much as Tom is.

    I think I’m going to find a T-shirt that says BlOSE…

  6. Rob
    July 22nd, 2009 at 23:25 | #6

    Basic journalism, Ted? In today’s, “blogging is real journalism…just ask my mom (who is also my landlord)” / “we can’t afford to keep printing real newspapers” world?

    Methinks you ask FAR too much, Ted :p

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