Surround Sound Doesn't Mean You Have To Be Surrounded By Wires

Posted by Tom Hannaher , Saturday, December 20, 2008

Looking at the back panel of this surround sound receiver reminds us of those contests where you're supposed to guess how many jelly beans are in the giant jar. Quick, guess how many connecting jacks are there! We aren't really sure, because each time we try we lose count. But it looks like about 115 jacks - so you could connect 115 wires and cables to the back of the thing. That's a lot of wire. It's also a lot of copper. Industry experts now predict that in 2007 the world will use over 18 million tons of copper! 

The wire basketball in back of my TV

Several years ago, when I still had a 5.1 surround system, we had our living room repainted. So the painters had to unplug the TV and sound system and move everything into the middle of the room to be covered with tarps. What I discovered in back of the TV was a bale of speaker and connecting wires significantly larger than a basketball...all tangled up with each other in a frightening, dusty mass. There were two connecting cords in the wire-ball that weren't connected to anything at either end! I decided I had to clean things up, so I disconnected all the wires and started from scratch. Two and a half hours later I finally had everything put back together and working.

The experience was very instructional and very aggravating. It was one of the defining moments that lead to the creation of ZVOX Audio.

I never met anyone who looked in back of his or her TV and said "I don't have enough wires back here." Everybody hates wires. They're expensive ($100 for a 3-foot HDMI cable!!!). They're messy. And inevitably, the get plugged into the wrong thing. My current home theater setup is far, far simpler. I use a ZVOX 325 home theater system with one connecting cable. A DVD player with one (HDMI) connecting cable. And a cable box with one (HDMI) connecting cable. If you add in four power cords (TV, ZVOX, DVD, Cable Box), and one cable connecting wire, my system has a total of eight wires in the back. And I'm working on ways to cut that down. I'll let you know when I figure it out.

Great Speakers For The Price Of Good Speakers

Posted by Tom Hannaher , Friday, December 5, 2008

We exhibit at a number of shows each year, but our favorite is the Home Entertainment Show - sponsored by Home Theater and Stereophile magazines. We always see and hear things at the show that amaze us. But the most amazing things at the show are the prices. Most of the interconnect cables on exhibit sell for more than the price of our most expensive system (which, by the way, comes with two interconnect cables). For the price of a late-model car you can buy a high-end tube amplifiers. For the price of a brand new German sports car - 5-series - you can buy a three-part CD player or a component turntable.

And if you do - well good for you. We think it's probably a better way to spend your money than on the fancy car. But it all does seem just a bit silly. When I first got into this business, I was convinced that the expensive products were better. Until one day, in the listening room of a crowded stereo store in Dinkytown (a Minneapolis neighborhood near the University of Minnesota), I compared the Advent Loudspeaker to several competing models selling for over twice its price. I talked to Kenny, my store manager, about it, and he assured me I was wrong. The expensive speakers were better. But the more I listened, the more clear it became. The Advents were better.

I became fascinated by the idea that a company could pull off something like this. And later on I went to work for Advent, where I worked with Henry Kloss. I worked with him again at Cambridge SoundWorks. Henry really liked the idea of making great products that were really affordable. He was very, very good at it.
In the 1970s stereo dealers were always asking Henry to make a more expensive version of the Advent Loudspeaker. His response? "If you want better sound, buy two pairs and stack them on top of one another." As a result, hundreds of people - including myself - bought "Stacked Advents," perhaps the most ungainly looking speaker system ever sold. But boy did they sound good!

I'm not sure what my point is. I guess it all centers on my fascination with products that exceed one's expectations - products that sound great, for the price of good. I believe ZVOX home theater systems qualify. And so, apparently, do the large number of retailers who don't sell ZVOX for the simple reason that our systems cost too little. Over and over I've had retailers tell me we should sell our systems for twice the price, or more.

So the bad news is that a lot of retailers aren't interested in selling affordable, high-quality audio products. The good news is that real-world people - you guys - are apparently very interested in exactly that. Our sincere thanks to all our past and future customers.
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