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October 1999
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
The Complete Guide to High-End Audio - Second Edition
Written by Robert Harley, Acapella Publishing, 1998
Review By Rob Selina


The Complete Guide to High-End Audio by Robert Harley  One thing I hate about hi-fi is the lack of music lovers (Holy Dudes as my hero Gizmo would say) versus the techie, tweaky, anal audiophiles. I am not talking about the guy who loves music, and can appreciate a good system. I am talking about that guy who has $50k worth of equip, can talk about his silver cables for twelve hours straight and owns a total of 30 albums. The system should merely be a tool to enjoy music more. With this philosophy in mind, I think Robert Harley hit the nail on the head.

He describes Hi-fi as a "passion for music, and for how well it is reproduced…High-end audio isn't about equipment; it's about music." I am very happy that he took this approach. The Complete Guide to High-End Audio has a chapter devoted to describing the goals of the music-loving audiophiles and how the industry is philosophically different from mass-fi audio. I think this is an important thing to note. Those of us who love this hobby have a very different approach to music and stereo than your average Joe who wants the $199 DD receiver they have on sale at (name of lo-fi mass market store here) and the big speakers with four 22" woofers. Also, the people who make the equipment have different priorities. It's not about graphic equalizers and blinking LCD displays anymore (what? you mean disco is dead? :-{)  --ed).

Continuing with the goals of high-end, the theme of quality and neutrality persevere over the entire book. The system should be very neutral, conveying the emotion and purpose of the music. Bob Harley never lost sight of what appears to be his goal; conveying why we love our music and why this is such a great source of pleasure for us.

As far as target audience goes, it's pretty wide. If you are just getting into hi-fi, this book is excellent at covering the basics and later getting you into the more complex and technical side of audio. There is a large portion devoted to system synergy and construction that is a must for anyone, but especially perfect for those who are starting to build a system or just contemplating upgrading that old CD player. There is also plenty of technical information contained within for the more electronically inclined... or for those who want to know what makes that new $4,000 CD transport tick. 

There are three very important points to make about this book. First, it is incredibly easy to understand. You don't need to know the audio lingo because guess what, the book teaches it to you in chapter three! Point two is how the book is laid out and divided into chapters. If you don't care about loudspeakers, and want to go directly to digital equip, you can do it without getting lost. The book doesn't have to be read chronologically, but it does help to gather things in the right order if you ask me. Another advantage to the method used is that you basically delve into a subject as far as you want to go, and then when it's no longer fun, skip to the next chapter. Want to get a basic understanding of speaker construction? Read the first half of the chapter and then move on to turntables if that's what you're interested in.

Once the book covers the basics of a particular piece of equip, the next section usually describes what to listen to in a good piece. Most of us have to learn this the hard way, but if you can learn vicariously, please do. You can save a lot of money and time by taking this man's advice. Aside from covering product selection, the speaker placement information and tweak sections let you really optimize that well selected system you just bought. 

The Complete Guide to High-End Audio gives you a great foundation to start on, or even fills in the gaps for those of us who already have a decent amount of audio mumbo-jumbo in our heads. It is a must for anyone who wants to learn more about audio, and in the long run, get more bang for the buck. For $29.95, it would be false economy not to buy a copy.


Author's Reply
Dear Editor:

  Thank you for your thoughtful review of The Complete Guide to High-End Audio, Second Edition. I was gratified that Mr. Selina pointed out how the book is useful to both beginners and seasoned enthusiasts. The most basic information is at the beginning of each chapter, with the technical discussions toward the chapter end. Beginners can thus read the first half of every chapter and skip the technical content, while advanced readers can delve deeper into each topic. That's one reason the book ended up so big: 568 pages and more than 240 graphics and illustrations.

My goal in writing the book was to make high-quality music reproduction technology accessible to anyone who enjoys music, not just the technically oriented. A second goal was to help experienced audiophiles get the most performance and musical enjoyment from their systems, no matter what their budgets.

The new Second Edition reviewed by Mr. Selina has been completely updated, expanded, and revised from the original. The book grew by 110 pages, and about a third of it is new material. I included topics missing from the first edition: DVD-Audio and SACD, DSP room correction, single-ended amplifiers, portable high-end audio, digital amplifiers, and many other new technologies. The Complete Guide to High-End Audio now also includes a 530-term glossary and a much more extensive index.

Finally, I was happy that Mr. Selina recognized the book's fundamental principle: that the all the technology described exists merely in service of conveying the musicians' expression, and with it, our ability to more deeply enjoy the music.

Robert Harley






































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