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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
July 2002

Goal!

The World Cup has just concluded, with Brazil winning for the fifth time. Here in the US, we watched the matches mostly because our national team was more successful than it has been in recent memory. In the Midwestern city in which I live, soccer is the most popular sport among children, and even adults are playing it in large numbers as part of the city's organized recreation program.

The difference between the number of soccer players and the number of watchers of big-time soccer has caused sports writers to wonder when soccer will "break out" in the US as a spectator sport. The answer is simple: Soccer will never attain even the popularity of hockey here in the US, which is the fourth-most-watched sport, let alone achieve the popularity of football. Why would this be given all of the children and adults playing soccer? For us in the US, soccer is a participatory sport, and a very good one at that. It requires skill and constant movement. The basic rules are relatively easy to understand -- put the ball into the goal without using your hands -- and the equipment is minimal: a ball and an open area in which to play. Yes, this assessment is overly simple, but the point remains: Soccer is accessible for those who want to play.

In terms of viewing, however, the story is different. We Americans like games with scoring and physical contact, which is why football is our most-beloved spectator sport. Basketball doesn't have as much contact, but there is more scoring. Baseball has no contact outside of a fight here or there, and while scoring is lower than in football or basketball, the baseball brain trust knows this and has been instituting subtle changes to increase scoring. Games with 12-8 outcomes are now more commonplace, and pitchers' duels are a rarity.

There is also a difference between those who participate in the audio hobby and those who "watch" -- find our hobby a curiosity at best. I truly believe our goal as believers should be to convert as many people as we can, although we know the going is tough. A high-end system costs more money than a mass-market equivalent, but we know the performance justifies the added cost. There's also the fact that so many non-audiophiles can recognize that our systems are better and can connect us with the music more readily. Is the answer greater access to high-end equipment? Lower prices? What are the equivalents of scoring and contact for high-end audio?

Oddly enough, I think the answer lies in home theater. Blasphemy, I know, but think about it for a second. What made the CD such a hit is that it offered things that analog couldn't. CDs were smaller, portable, less fragile, and able to accommodate more music. The advantages were obvious from the beginning (even if the sound quality wasn't). Nowadays, people are more than satisfied with CDs. They play them at home in boomboxes, when they're driving, even in portables when they're taking a stroll. People are satisfied with the sound quality too, as are we audiophiles.

But DVD has clear advantages over CD: the ability to mix pictures and music as well as offer more than two channels of high-quality sound. And people are supporting the format. DVD has become a consumer-electronics juggernaut and helped boost the sales of full-blown home-theater systems.

DVD also presents a way for non-audiophiles to experience better audio performance in the form of multichannel sound. I won't address here the debate of stereo versus its multichannel equivalent. That's another topic altogether. But as a gateway to better audio performance, home theater will probably do more than any marketing plan or high-resolution format could hope. Urge your friends to pick up a DVD-A or two, or if their systems can't accommodate these, a DTS recording. And as universal players become more prevalent, SACDs should begin to sell too.

I won't argue that soccer needs to allow more contact or increase the size of the goal to make scoring more prevalent. It's a beautiful game as it is -- and it already has a hold in terms of participation. High-end audio has a similar opportunity, and it comes in the form of home theater. There's room for more than one game in town, especially if they are in many ways the same game.

...Marc Mickelson
editor@soundstage.com


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