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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
September 2005

Are You Ready for Some Audio?

Writing about consumer electronics has its perks, but these wither in comparison to those of sportswriters. Maybe the grass only looks greener on the other side of the fence, but it seems to me that getting passes for all manner of sporting events has to rate higher than a closed-door listening session at CES for some new CD cleaner.

With this in mind, I used the fact that I write about audio equipment to worm my way into the training camp of an NFL team (whose identity I will keep a secret so as not to blow my cover). This gave me access to press conferences, practices and scrimmages, all from the front row or the sidelines.

Seeing football from the stands or on TV skews your understanding of the physical stature and abilities of the players, but seeing the beef from a few feet away brings it all into focus. The running backs, receivers and defensive backs move in a way that we mere mortals can recognize as human but requiring a distinctly different kind of coordination than we possess. The linebackers have seemingly maximized the ratio of speed and strength. They are built to move in relatively short, intense bursts of velocity and power, and I pity anything that gets in their way.

I vividly remember seeing a football coming right at me -- it was thrown on a sideline pattern, and I was, not coincidentally, standing on the sideline. I played football in high school, so I have some residual memories of how a tight spiral can cut through the air. This ball was coming my way like a fighter jet. As I reached to catch it, a receiver glided in from out of nowhere to make the grab, both feet a few inches from the sideline. Talk about a wow factor.

As I watched the newspaper and TV crews trudging around the field, I began to think about the ways in which football and high-end audio are alike. Football fans are used to a certain amount of subjectivity -- many root for teams that are perpetual losers, not caring about the team's record and supporting it no matter what anyone writes about it. The same is true of audiophiles -- we have our teams as well. There are the Solid-State Stormtroopers, the Tubeheads, the SET-tlers, and the Analog Addicts (also known as the Digital Doubters). Some audiophiles follow single-driver and horn speakers (e-mail me your catchy names for this squad) for a reason other than that they make realistic-sounding music, even with writers like me railing against them. Fan is short for fanatic -- and how.

But what if the audiophile mentality were magically transferred to all football fans? The very foundations of the game would have to be reassessed. Take the first down. The ten yards that constitute a first down would be the subject of constant debate, with some fans believing that measurements of the distance mean everything and others that they are as overrated as Terrell Owens. Measurements would hold little sway with the true football lover; only the most misguided would believe that a first down is exactly ten yards, especially given the antiquated measurement equipment that's used. The eye is more accurate.

To some, all quarterbacks would be the same, while others would assign titanic proportions to nearly imperceptible differences. Brett Favre is pure tube, while Tom Brady is definitely solid state (as is the entire New England Patriots team). The Chicago Bears are analog (great in their day), and the Indianapolis Colts digital (all promise and no delivery).

Ultimately, all of the bickering about minutiae would wring the fun right out of football, except for those whose true love is bickering about minutiae, not watching the games. The bettors would persist: "Does anybody know the spread for Audio Research vs. Conrad-Johnson? Is it true that Lew Johnson is out with a torn ACL?"

As an audiophile, I'm glad I have football to fall back on. It's civilized.

...Marc Mickelson
editor@soundstage.com


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