My speakers can beat up your TV

Investing in a great audio system makes a lot of sense, especially compared to cutting edge video.

As an "investment" video sucks. Before you plunk down big bucks on today's cutting edge video just ponder for a second that what you buy today will be tomorrow's landfill.

Pick up a good set of speakers and they'll stick around for a long, long time. Anybody who dropped $15K on an early generation plasma display has surely replaced it years ago, and is probably on their second or third set by now. So their total investment may be approaching twenty Gs! Remember too that early plasmas were standard definition sets and their picture quality was pretty awful. Last year's shiny new HD-DVD, Blu-ray and high-end DVD players are likewise doomed to early retirement, but they'll make excellent doorstops. Computers are even worse, they get old really, really fast so unless you're rich or a pro that needs the most up to date technology, investing in cutting edge gear is a fool's game. Seven years ago Nikon introduced its first professional digital SLR, the $5,500 D1 (body only). It's a beautifully made camera, but it goes for around $300 on eBay today. The big and bulky 2.7 megapixel SLR is hopelessly out of date.

High-end audio is by contrast remarkably stable; a ten-year old, Martin-Logan or Verity Audio speaker system still sounds killer today.

The video market has a serious size obsession, demanding ever-bigger screens. If The Sopranos is your thing, the dramatic effect is pretty much the same over an iPod or 65-inch screen. So unless you're living on a steady diet of eye-candy/special effects flicks, super-sized screens don't buy you much. Great movies are still all about well-written stories with complex characters.

Audio is a more emotional trip. Play tunes or movies that get your mojo workin' over a great system and you'll be in heaven. Play 'em over a desktop iPod speaker with 1-inch "woofers" and Jimi Hendrix's glorious Strat will get emasculated to the point it's mere background noise. Music, when it sounds really good, works on a deeper more blood and guts level. And not just because the big systems can play nice and loud, no, that's not necessarily the point, but they always have more soul. It's like comparing frozen pizza to a slice fresh out of the oven in NYC's Little Italy. If you really love music, don't you want to hear every precious drop of it? Hold off on that video upgrade and put the money where you'll hear it.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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