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Positive Feedback ISSUE 6
april/may 2003


… and Steve says…

Have you ever tried to get a friend or relative interested in better quality hi-fi? Or more specifically, have you ever had a non-audio buddy over for the big demonstration of your system? How did it go? Were they wowed by the cool looking equipment, amazed by the size, design and expense? Were they bowled over for a few minutes by the big sound, that their home rack system (or these days more likely home-cinema-in-a-box) could possibly compete with? But what happened after that? What happened after the first five or ten minutes? They probably started talking, or asked to turn it down, or wanted to go back to the other room to see what the score of the big game was. In other words, chances are most likely that after a very brief time, they lost interest. They had enough, and they weren't sold on the idea of ever improving the quality of their own system.

Why is that?

I read about these big demos on various internet discussions from time to time. I always cringe when I read the description of the event. It usually goes something like ‘then I played Cantate Domino, but they still didn't seam to appreciate the deep soundstage. So I tried Pictures at an Exhibition (the famous Dorian release) but those low organ notes didn't work either.'

Then the discussion usually tends towards requests for the "best demonstration CD" to impress other people in these types of home demonstrations. Everyone has their own favorite recording to show off their system. "I always start with…" or something like that. Doomed to failure at the start if you ask me.

I'll admit in my younger days (not that I'm old or anything these days) I fell into this routine of senseless listening sessions to try to both show off my system (easy with the four panel Acoustats I had at the time) and get friends into this hobby. I'd dish out all the standard shaded dog RCA LP's, had several records from HP's Bakers Dozen list. Actually bought a copy of Dafos just to have for demonstrations. To this day, I have not listened to that record completely in one sitting. Haven't played it all in at least fifteen years. But you what? It never worked. Sure they'd be impressed by the bass, or the clarity, or impact, but not by the music, and not enough to ever want to even entertain the thoughts of replacing their department store rack system. After all, on "their music" they figured it wouldn't make much difference.

So what should you use to demonstrate your system to non-audio hobbyists? How do you pick something to get other people interested in this hobby? I'll tell you what works, but I don't think you'll like it. In fact, you'll probably think I'm crazy. That's okay, even my wife thinks that sometimes.

How about starting with nothing that you have in your own collection? How about starting with asking what your guest has in their car? How about suggesting before hand that they bring their favorite music with them? I emphasize music, so that they don't think that they need to hunt down special selections from their collection for their sound. Just bring whatever their favorite tunes are?

Amazingly, no matter what they bring, it works.

Over the past several years (since coming out of audio retirement six years ago) I have done this several times. Though it usually means spending an evening listening to music I otherwise would choose not to listen to, I have to say, that minor point aside, I have seen the seeds planted for potential future audio fans.

Examples? How about a friend who used to think we were all a bunch of science and engineering deficient geeks suffering from aural delusions? He is now looking into building a high efficiency horn system (probably Fostex based, as Lowthers cost too much) and a set of tube amps. He no longer thinks we're crazy at all. All that took was a few evenings listening to Keiko Matsui and George Winston. Now granted both of these artists are far better than those on the standard audiophile reference disks, but they are not my favorites, and I would not have thought to demonstrate my system with them.

Another case? How about a neighbor who always said that he probably couldn't hear the difference anyway (we've all had people tell us that). Well, an evening of listening to Styx and Kansasof all things solved that. No, he hasn't run out and bought any new equipment yet, and maybe he won't, but, he now knows that he can hear the difference, and that the difference he hears is pretty darn nice. In other words, he no longer thinks we're crazy either.

I have many more examples, but I think you get the point. We hopefully got into this hobby so that we could hear our favorite music and enjoy it more. I doubt that we originally got into it so we could hear bad jazz or drum solos or a bigger sound stage or relative levels of imaging specificity. So why would show these characteristics off to try to get someone else into it?

Manufacturers and distributors often don't get this either. I was at CES two years ago covering the show for Listener magazine. One manufacturer of otherwise nice speakers insisted that I come in to their suite to hear their SACD surround system. He asked if there was anything I would like to hear. As he was already holding a disk in his hand, I indicated that whatever he had would be fine as long as "it wasn't bad jazz or a drum solo." There was a brief pause, after which he indicated that "it's a very well recorded drum solo." Not a very well played drum solo, mind you, but a well recorded drum solo. I couldn't get out of that room quick enough.

I have also been involved in demonstrations where the manufacturer or dealer wouldn't even play my music, as they felt it wouldn't show off their system properly. If it couldn't play the music I brought and would choose to listen to, then why would I care how it played some standard audiophile crap.

Well, there it is. Do you want to get a friend, co-worker, or other acquaintance into audio as a hobby? Or do you simply want to puff out your chest and show off your killer megabuck rig (there's nothing wrong with that, by the way, if that's what you're into)? Fine, but if you want it to go well, remember that the music chosen has to fit the listener, and nothing else.

Copyright Steve Lefkowicz March 2003