The experience economy?

I was listening to the Danish radio as experts discussed the next stage of human "progress" after the present information economy. Many people now spend their entire working lives staring at a computer screen and tapping on a keyboard in air-conditioned comfort. This is completely unlike the behaviour of most normal human beings in the past. Many of these "caged rats" are beginning to seek wildly different or extreme experiences to contrast with the total lack of stimulation in their daily working lives. Rather than lie on a beach sunbathing themselves to achieve second degree burns they jet away to more exotic locations. Hoping to discover maximum contrast with their everyday lives of monotony and lack of physical activity. Some seek ways to experience extreme levels of physical and mental stimulation. White water rafting, paint ball battles, war-gaming, sky diving, bungee jumping, car or motorcycle racing, mountain climbing or other extreme sports are tried to experience very high levels of perceived danger. Hopefully without actually killing themselves. The dangers are obviously psychological rather than real based on the very high survival rates.

Office work is obviously a very poor environment for those needing normal levels of stimulation previously provided by a combination of physical and mental exercise. No doubt there's an element of this in increasingly aggressive driving behaviour. The more comfortable and quiet the car the more distant from reality the driver feels in their cosy, yet indestructible, womb. The owners of such vehicles obviously feel they need to drive aggressively. Or much too fast. Just to lift their stimulation level within their mobile, sensory deprivation tanks.

As I listened to the radio programme I suddenly realised that many of us within the Hifi/AV/HT hobby had been actively seeking extreme experiences for years. We use our equipment to experience an alternative reality as close as possible to the original. By playing a DVD on our equipment we try to experience the full force of the sound and visual effects the director intended. We become one with the characters on the screen. Actively participating in their fights, their wars, their car chases and other violent activities. The more realistic our experiences the more we enjoy the film. It's all a far cry from the tiny 14" B&W TV with a small built-in elliptical speaker which managed to terrify us as kids. I wonder if our natural responses to stimuli have weakened over the years? We do sit rather close to our computer screens, don't we?

Now we aim for the largest screen we can fit, or afford, into our viewing room to increase the sense of reality. This is a comparatively recent phenomenon as plasma and LCD screens became generally available. The CRT was inevitably limited in size by the sheer weight and difficulty of construction of ever larger screens. Many AV fans now push the limits even further. Using projectors which allow huge screens to be enjoyed. Further extending the sense of reality provided the image is sharp enough. We try to spread the image as wide and high as possible to match our normal wrap-around view of real life as seen with our stereoscopic vision. We are obviously trying to emulate our normal field of view just as they do in commercial cinemas. Thankfully our vision works best under these circumstances by flicking between points of concentration. Just as we do in real life. The large field of vision allows us to experience the closest approach to the visual alternative reality being projected there. HD is a recent improvement providing increased sharpness of image with a much greater depth of field. A moving photograph the size of a wall seems like true immersion but sadly we must wait just a little longer for true 3D.

Having fulfilled our visual stimulation needs we add our surround sound systems to immerse ourselves in a realistic sound field. As we try to match what we hear to the events which occur on the screen. Despite our best (and often expensive) efforts by surrounding ourselves with umpteen speakers both sound and vision are still large scale models of the real thing. Which is probably just as well. Or we would be literally deafened within a very short time of being placed in a fully realistic battle scene or gunfight. It is not cowardice which puts ear defenders on those practising weapons training. It is a firm grasp of the dangers of real gunfire to the unprotected ears. Imagine how loud a real explosion is when experienced at close quarters! You wouldn't want to experience this or your ears would be bleeding and you would hear no more!

Despite the obvious dangers of very high sound levels we seem to be pushing the boundaries ever closer to reality. Multiple power amplifiers and huge speaker arrays give us the clean, undistorted headroom which would have been impossible before the age of the affordable power transistor. Particularly when Chinese mass sproduction have made them even more affordable in the last few years. Now, of course, we have our powerful subwoofers to provide a believable foundation of bass to the film's sound track via LFE . (Low Frequency Effects)

Many consider that thunderously loud bass is good enough and cheerfully ignore all sense of reality. It seems that a really loud rumble is all that is needed for many HT fans. Yet bass has many nuances and variations in real life. Even at very low frequencies sounds start and stop quite differently. It is how we can easily differentiate between a bomb and a gunshot. A volcano erupting and a wave crashing on the shore. A car in a violent collision and a passing train. All have their unique qualities of deep sounds even if we have never actually heard them in real life.

Harmonics matching the original sound are vitally important to give a sense of reality to the sound effects. False harmonics give a totally unrealistic sound effect and can become extremely monotonous. Many cheaper subwoofers make every bass effect sound exactly the same as the last. And the next. Attendances at AV shows suggest a cardboard box being beaten with a stick is the rule of the day with many smaller subwoofers. It doesn't matter whether a gun is fired, a karate kick is landed or a car door is slammed on-screen. It all sounds like a box (US carton?) being hit with a stick. Every, single, time.

Then we move onto the more upmarket subwoofers with greater power and usually much greater size. Getting these past one's partner is a trick which not all can accomplish. A partner may not bat an eyelid at a new wardrobe, cupboard, display cabinet, room divider, dining table or sideboard. But will faint at the prospect of a modestly large subwoofer entering their living quarters.

It is here that the True IB Subwoofer can fulfill a range of needs for the embattled HT/AV fan. The IB can be accommodated completely out of sight as a compact manifold behind a small grill of cloth screen in a partition wall. Or fitted under the floor. Or even above the ceiling. Whichever option best suits one's situation and one's partner's domestic sensibilities. Who is allowed to dominate the appearance of the nest when both are out all day at work and usually fast asleep when actually "at home" and not watching TV? Where does a modest grill (to hide an IB) fit into this common scenario? The nest has become a display cabinet instead of a place of rest and shelter.

While perfectly able to play very loudly on demand the True Infinite Baffle subwoofer does so with a greater sense of realism than many (or all?) other subwoofers. The output level can easily be adjusted to match the moment and the mood without loss of impact or detail. I have found that the higher the quality of the bass from a subwoofer the more easily the level can be adjusted up or down relative to the speakers. There is no monotony as the IB reproduces the sound with great fidelity at whatever level is set. There is no sense of overblown bass rumbling away when none is required. Which is a distinct weakness of many smaller subwoofers.

Even at low listening levels almost any subwoofer earns its keep. Not being pushed outside its operating envelope helps as harmonic distortion and compression are very much reduced. The IB suffers from none of these weakness but still manages to sound far more realistic even when playing quietly. There is a noticeably increased depth and realism to the sound denied to most other subwoofers. My big SVS cylinder is easily able to reproduce sounds down to well below my audible cut off point of approximately 22Hz. Below this barrier the infrasonics take over to flex their silent but powerful muscles. At low levels, harmonic distortion from the SVS should be very low indeed. Yet the cylinder still sounds shut in, congested, woolly and monotonous in comparison with the IB. The nice thing about this is that a modest IB will totally outperform the large box or cylinder which your partner detests. There's some leverage here for those who do not command total respect in their own home.
Good grief! The Firefox civilised English spelling checker is working again! It seems to come and go at random. I'm quite lost for words sometimes. ;-)