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Home Audio
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Stereo is the most successful audio play back format in history, by far, while multi-channel systems have come and gone and loom on the horizon. Today, stereo embraces home audio with custom fitted sound systems for the optimum psycho-acoustical experience in music listening or for background music, whatever the homeowner wishes.

?Thirteen years ago, we were more of a high end audio boutique,? said Tom Kissell co-owner of Hillcrest High Fidelity. ?At that time a customer would come in and buy a pair of speakers and receiver or amplifier and take it home and hook it up in one room and that would be it. Today, that same customer will come in and bring a set of plans for construction, remodeling, or he?ll just come in and want speakers in that same room. But then he?ll want speakers in three or four other rooms.? And instead of taking the equipment home, a technician goes out to the home to retro-wire and install the system.

?The customer who appreciates audio being distributed about the home is of all ages and of all walks of life and likes all types of music from classical to light jazz to rock and roll,? Kissell said. It?s contagious once you?ve experienced music in one room. ?Here is a great example?we?ll put speakers out on the patio, a couple of months later, the homeowners will come back and say, ?Can we have that in our bedroom?? They?ve gotten used to the environment being enhanced by music?be it background music, be it for parties, be it for listening.? That?s in existing homes; new homes are almost expected to come wired for audio.

?The majority of the home builders that we do business with, in fact all of them, will wire the entire house for audio distribution. And when the client purchases the home, we go in and install it (audio system),? Kissell said. That?s in nine out of ten new custom homes, usually in six rooms?master bedroom, master bath, family room, study, living room, kitchen, and patio.

So what does a home audio system include? ?Audio source equipment, distribution equipment, and amplification, wire, cabling, speakers, controls, and remote control equipment. A zone is defined as one or more speaker pairs that play from the same audio source. When all the speaker pairs play from the same audio source, the house is said to have a single-zone system. Single-zone systems are often put in homes because they are less expensive than the multi-zone systems, where different audio sources can play in different areas of the house, all simultaneously. The cost runs roughly 50% higher for multi-zoned audio, according to Kissell. In general, new homes ?future proof? with wiring for single zone and multi-zone systems; homeowners choose the system they want with options to up grade at a later date if they choose the single zone system.

?It takes all types and all types of budgets,? said Kissell. ?We have customers who spend $300 and customers who spend $300,000. And a lot comes down to budget.?

Yet, fitting into many audio budgets is the latest?systems outdoors.

?Outdoor speakers have become a very high percentage of our business,? said Kissell. ?Almost 8% of our over all speaker business, which is quite high if you consider the number of rooms in a home?then all of a sudden outdoor speakers?almost every job we do there?s a pair of outdoor speakers?or two pair. Away from sound, look at what?s happening outside with outdoor fireplaces and chimineas; they?re improving the environment outside, and sound just plays into it.?

?You hear it, but you don?t see it,? Kissell said about the hidden speaker; for instance, the flush-mount speakers that disappear inside the wall, a very popular style. Still, a group of serious listeners prefer the floor standing speakers, which produce the best sounds although bookshelf speakers also provide excellent sound, especially with subwoofers, and they can be camouflaged.

The most popular home entertainment system sold today is home theater with its own set of channel and surround sound speakers, sold individually or as packages of pre-balanced speakers. These sets include?one or two center channel speakers placed on or near the TV for dialogue, satellite speakers placed around the room for ambience and tone, and, a subwoofer for bass. Audio recordings can be played on some home theater speakers?two front speakers and a subwoofer, but not the dialogue speaker, according to Andrew Turner, manager at Hillcrest High Fidelity. Still, serious listeners prefer the stereo speakers in a designated room.

?We find a lot of times there will be a listening room,? Kissell said. Depending upon who the listeners are, the room might be the study (or family room/game room) with a pair of bookshelf or floor standing speakers. Then, the rest of the house is equipped with flush mount speakers.

Regulating the ambience of the sound is as simple as adjusting volume control or as complex as designing the room?s acoustics. For instance, carpeting the floor and reducing glass surfaces of windows and cabinetry cut down on sound reflection. And a general rule of thumb is to locate the speakers equally distant from each other and from the seating?like an equilateral triangle, according to Turner. Other speakers, such as the Bose Direct/Reflecting speakers that aim sound toward the wall, require positioning away from the walls. And some speakers are designed to be against the wall.

?The whole purpose of stereo speakers is to create a sense of listening to a live performance,? said Turner. If you?re sitting in a performance, whether it?s a three-piece jazz group or a full symphony, you can tell where everybody is on the sound stage. ?A good set of speakers should allow you to close your eyes and still hear and perceive exactly where everybody is (psycho acoustical listening is perception). It (music) presents a sense of depth and a sense of spaciousness, without just bouncing sound everywhere. You want to be hearing what the speaker?s doing, which in turn makes the speaker disappear.?

?For stereo, all you need are two speakers,? Turner said. ?Music is not recorded in surround sound in 99% of the cases out there.?

In a few instances, music is recorded in surround sound?one such case is the Delos Virtual Reality Recordings of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, a project launched in May 1996 with a CD of compositions by Tchaikovsky. Over the years, Delos has produced other DSO recordings, and all of these CD?s were designed for playback on stereo and on new multi-channel audio equipment as they become available.

This year, Panasonic released two (digital versatile discs) DVD-Audio/Video (A/V) player models for audio and video surround sound recordings, i.e., DVD-Audio discs, DVD movies as well as audio and video CD?s. Like Dolby Laboratories, who introduced multi-channel surround sound to the home theater, the DVD-A/V players take audio into the realm of six-channel surround sound rather than two channel stereo. And these Panasonic DVD-A/V players make a great mix for DSO recordings.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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