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Ask OPRA - Hums, Glossary, and Experts, Oh My!

by December 05, 2005

In the continuing tradition of addressing the critical issues in Home Audio and Home Theater, OPRA returns with new wisdom, new suggestions, and new lists… all of stemming from a shockingly bad grasp of the basic functioning of speakers, amplifiers, and electricity in general. Read at your own risk.

What is the REAL reason for hums in a HT?

One of the most common problems in Home Theater's today is the dreaded hum. Fingers have been pointed, blame has been laid, and guilt has been assigned. Everything from the modulation of the electricity coming from the outlet, feedback loops from the cable, and "dirty power" have been culpable. But what is the REAL reason?

We here at OPRA's Institute for Advanced Electrasonic Research have been working on this problem for literally HOURS and we think we have hit upon the REAL culprit: George W. Bush. Apparently, Bush and Cheney have a vested interest in the movie theatre industry. Through a number of shell corporations, the Bush family has a near stranglehold on the licorice production both here and abroad. Cheap, Lebanese labor insures low cost while the captive population ensures high prices at the register. Next time you go to your local megaplex, check out the security guards frisking old women for supposed "dirty bombs." What they are really looking for is contraband candy.

The Cheney family, through a subsidiary of Halliburton, produces 98.6% of that special pseudo-butter flavored oil used to top popcorn at theaters. Many years ago, it was decided that the only place you could get that "movie popcorn" taste would be at the movies. That move, at first, encouraged the public to visit movie houses across America (nay, the world). Now, with the rising gas prices, the high cost of harvesting the oil (comes from the bark of trees found only in the African rainforests mixed oil found only in Alaska), and the soaring price of movie tickets (from the greed of the Quail family, but that's a different story), popcorn sales are at an all time low. Even Cheney's famous "get a large for only $.75 more, and free refills" hasn't halted the decline. Mostly because very few people have the ability to eat their body weight in popcorn, but also because even the most obese Jerry Springer reject can quickly deduce that they are not going to squeeze themselves out of that purgatorial seat for more popcorn.

Together, the Dastardly Duo has come up with a plot to sabotage many of the nation's power lines in an attempt to force people out of their home theaters (which, by all accounts, are more comfortable, have better sound, and you don't get thrown out for watching in your underwear) and back into the movie houses. A couple of noble companies have provided the consumer with ways of defeating the machinations of the Two Tyrants, but all fixes are only temporary. It is only a matter of time before they find a way to pump Rush Limbaugh directly into your system over the static electricity that your speaker cables create from lying on the carpet. All your base are belong to us .

How to read an Audio review.

There are a few terms common to audio reviews that the common man or woe-man may not be familiar with. OPRA leads you through the minefield of the modern speaker review:

  • Accurate - What you should NOT be when reporting the price of that new flagship receiver to your significant other, "Um, it was on sale or something…they practically gave it to me."
  • All Channels Driven - sucking as many watts as possible through every amp of a receiver to see if it will break (it will). No receiver passes this test. That's why separates are better - preamps don't have amps so they always pass.
  • Amplifier - to increase something - in my HT, this usually means static and/or humming.
  • B[l]OSE - The devil.
  • Base Isolation - Springs, bladders, hydraulics, and other such doodads and thingamajigs, that have been know to take any $100 HTiB and transform it into a $500k mind-bending theater of ultimate pleasure.
  • Boomy - usually in reference to woofers or subwoofers. A good thing. Does explosions well, can explode your eardrums if turned up too loud (also a good thing), known to drive neighbors into frothing rages.
  • Bright - Generally in reference to the finish on the speaker. Glossy or reflective finish.
  • Cable Risers - EXTREMELY expensive egg cartons. Sometimes toothpicks. Alleviates all kinds of HT problems. Cure-all. I've got some for sale, contact me at…
  • Chocolaty - The tweeter and/or the midrange contains extracts from the coco bean. Makes everything sound better and doubles as potpourri. High WAF.
  • Drivers - Morgan Freeman. Aluminum Drivers - see Bicentennial Man - or don't. It kinda sucked.
  • Grill - the fabric on the speaker covering the drivers. Totally useless piece of the speaker that does nothing but kill the sound coming out. Speaker companies put them on just so they can make fun of all those that don't remove them.
  • Holo-sonic - a sound field that is so perfectly formed, only dogs and certain magazine editors can appreciate it. This sound field is often so delicate that the listener's head must be secured in a vice in order to fully appreciate the musical experience.
  • Hospital Grade / Military Grade - Hey, if it is good enough for healing/killing people, it is good enough for your HT.
  • HTiB - Home Theater in a Box. Not really sure about this one. Doesn't all HT equipment come in boxes? Hmmm….
  • My wife, from the other room, even noticed the difference - I didn't open the box but I read all the material online. The manufacturers wouldn't lie would they?
  • Passive Radiators - the fins on a tub amp - helps cool the unit.
  • Ports - Holes in speakers. All good ones have them. The sound comes from there (see Soundstage). Regardless of where the "front" is, the ports should always be pointed to the listener.
  • Preamplifier - a piece of HT equipment more expensive and less functional than a receiver. Purchased to make others feel inferior.
  • Punchy - How a man feels after he informs his significant other he just purchased a center channel instead of that Lexus he was promising her.
  • Rolled Off - What happens to your drink when you try to disguise the new subwoofer as a coffee table.
  • Room Acoustics - Biggest audio myth. States that the size, dimensions, and objects within your room have some affect on sound. Complete poppycock.
  • Sibilance - What happens when you sit on your remote. Usually takes hours of reprogramming to undo.
  • Silk Dome Tweeters - Recycled bra cups used for tweeters. Some say they are not firm enough to recreate highs, but it really depends on how old they are. Check for sagging.
  • Soundstage - the small space within the speaker where the sound is stored before it is shot out those holes (see Ports). Bigger is generally better.
  • WAF - Whipped As Flint - The higher it is, the more whipped you can be and still get away with the purchase. Note: Non-scientific scale, results will vary.
  • Warm - What tube amps do to a room.

How to Become an Online Expert

While OPRA generally limits his musings to the realm audio, sometimes a topic is so universal, so profound, that it touches on many if not all of facets of life. Many people attend school for years, study under the masters, and work in a field all their lives, simply to say that they are an expert in their field. With the advent of the Internet, such dedication has been relegated to the purview of fools and madmen. Why should you spend all that time, money, sweat, and tears when you can become an expert nearly instantly on the Internet? Of course, you assume I'm referring to those diploma mills such as the United University of Alabama in Exile, Calcutta Campus, but not so. Find a forum, become a member, and with a little time, effort, and quick fingers, you too can be viewed by countless faceless surfers as the wellspring of knowledge for all things ________ (fill in the blank). But how? A step by step tutorial:

Step 1: Find something you care about…or care to talk about. This step is not all that important to someone who is really dedicated to becoming an Online Expert. The really dedicated individual can become an Online Expert on any subject, no matter how mundane or tedious.

Step 2: Find an online forum about the topic and lurk. Lurking is only as important as your ignorance of the topic. The more ignorant, the more lurking.

Step 3: Become a member and post a couple, "I agree with that" posts. It's important that you lurk first, join later. Having a high post-per-day stat is the sign of an Online Expert. If you sign up, then lurk for a long time before posting, you may never get your post count up.

Step 4: Begin to recognize how the majority of people on the site will answer a particular question, and when that question comes up, answer it first. Soon, you'll have a legion of online accolades posting, "Yeah, OPRA is the man, what he said."

Step 5: You know you've made it when people start posting, "When OPRA shows up, he'll fill you in." Pre-agreement posts are the sign of a true Online Expert.

Notice that none of the above is predicated on any notion of the truth. One can be viewed as Online Expert in a field as long as others agree with them. Going to a website with actual knowledge can be a detriment to being viewed as an Online Expert as you will feel the need to correct misconceptions. If you ever find yourself in the position of wanting to correct someone online make sure of a few things:

  1. The vast majority of people on the site will agree with you
  2. The person you are correcting has a lower post or post-per-day stat than you
  3. You are correcting them before any other forum member
  4. You are PATIENT and KIND

Trolls and jerks are mean to people online. Online Experts use rational (if misguided or based on faulty premises) arguments and let others do the yelling. Then, they come back with, "Now everyone, let's play nice. Just 'cause doesn't understand the truth doesn't mean we have to be impolite." This is sure to drive the actual expert into a rabid frenzy at which point he/she will be banned from the site for using foul language, and you'll be proven absolutely right. Now if you REALLY want to become an Online Expert, you'll do this at EVERY forum even tangentially related to your chosen field of "expertise." Next thing you know, you'll be on CNN…or maybe even Oprah!


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About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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