With great gear, it's all about the "something special."
Reviewers at Home Theater have a near-impossible task. Their job is to communicate, with words on a page accompanied by a few photographs, an experience with an audio or video component that can only be rightly conveyed viscerally. That is to say, in real life we don’t just listen to or view components, we react to them: physically, emotionally, intuitively. To suggest that we can make you feel what we feel when we get hands on with a piece of kit (as the Brits like to call it) is folly. At best we can convey some of the personal excitement and enthusiasm—or disappointment—our reviewer felt. That is very different than having you experience the component for yourself.
The irony here is that the parts of our experience that are hardest to communicate and most likely to make you lust for the product under test often have nothing to do with the sound or image. I’m speaking of intangibles like build quality, visual appeal, and tactile sensations. By way of example, let me recount what you might have experienced the last time you unpacked a shiny new high-end A/V receiver.
Step 1: Box arrives in your listening room, either by friendly UPS guy or your own muscle. You plop it on the floor, examine the factory tape seal and good condition of the crate, and feel a small ripple of satisfaction that all appears well as you reach for your key or cutter to slice it open. Ahh…the excitement builds.
Step 2: The flaps come up, and the game begins. Pull out the extra little boxes and bags stuffed into or between the Styrofoam packing materials: the accessories, cables, remote, documents, etc. You set these aside quickly—no time for that now. This box needs to give birth! You examine the piece like a rock climber searching for his next move: Do I grab the two exposed sides of the cabinet and lift, or try to squeeze my hands between the foam ears and the box wall? And how will I hold the box down while I try to pry the receiver from it? Your heart is beating a little faster now, eager with anticipation. Almost there…
Step 3: Out it comes, and you place it on the floor or coffee table so you can remove its protective plastic or foam wrap. You get your first unfettered look at your new receiver. It’s a boy! But seriously, this is where your love affair begins. You touch the faceplate and feel the texture and cool temperature of its brushed-metal finish. You rap the cover with your knuckles to gauge the solidity of the cabinet. Time to spin the knobs on the front panel—and since you bought a premium AVR, these too are metal and not cheap plastic; you can feel the soft indents of the input selector as you turn it and the way the velvety volume knob pushes back when it spins. You press one or two of the front-panel buttons, which react with a subtle but satisfying click. And you haven’t even plugged it in yet.
Space prevents me from going on, but I could do so at length. Every step leading up to the actual listening session speaks to us about what makes this component special. Maybe it’s an impressive little detail like positioning the speaker posts in a way that simplifies hookup, or a graphically elegant menu that’s intuitive and engaging. Add it all up, throw in top-notch performance, and you get something that, for lack of a better phrase, we call pride of ownership. It’s elusive, even among expensive gear. But finding it from time to time is what makes this such a rewarding hobby.
Got any gear in your house that makes you feel that way? Post up a note and share what it is.