CRC Press, (2019),
346 pp., Hardbound, 160 USD, ISBN 9781138335417
Having started my audio career working for a high-end home theater company while studying audio engineering in graduate school. I was drawn to this title to see what a deep-dive, academic take on home audio and video reproduction might look like. Similar to the author, my love for music led me to discover and develop a passion for audio systems while I was in college, and that interest has stayed with me through various iterations of my career since I always have had some kind of high-end listening system at home.
2 ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In his biography, author Vincent Verdult may not sound like a typical author for an A/V textbook. His background is in systems and control engineering, and he currently works in information security. However, the “Qualified by Experience” designation is fair and valid when one has a passion for a subject and works to study, learn, and ultimately share their knowledge and passion. Also, with a citation provided for nearly every paragraph, the presentation feels a bit like an academic thesis leaving no question that Vincent has done his research.
3 TARGET AUDIENCE
With that said, it does beg the question: Who might be the target audience for this book? The title says, “At Home” and the first full chapter covers “Audio and Video Basics” which would suggest a home A/V enthusiast as the intended reader, yet the material is presented in a very academic manner. I would say Vincent has made accommodations for a broader audience and that a professional designer, architect, or consultant could find the text just as useful as an A/V integrator, a student, or an end-user. There is enough detailed information to inform the design of a high-end A/V room in a home, in a commercial business space, and even in a small production house. What is clear throughout is the author’s intent to serve those who want to enjoy a high-quality experience from an A/V system, particularly the aficionado who loves the arts of music and cinema and who employ technology to honor those art forms in the best way possible.
4 PRESENTATION STYLE
Throughout the text, Verdult breaks out details into three layers of information. Each chapter is split into numbered subject headings as might be expected in a reference text, with occasional figures, included illustrating graphic materials like block diagrams, graphs, or other images. At less regular intervals, a numbered “Box” is included to highlight a more mathematical feature such as a specific formula, and the reader is invited to skip these if calculations are not required for their application. The third layer is a series of “Recommendations” which appear primarily in chapters 4 to 8 and provide much more succinct declarations of a decision point, such as when to use a particular type of cable or select a specific option in a menu. For the novice end-user, these will help to peel away from the density of the underlying material, although even a seasoned pro likes a quick answer when one is available. One unfortunate decision is that all these layers are independently numbered sequentially and in the same format through each chapter. This can be confusing when, for example, Recommendation 5.21 is followed by chapter heading 5.3.5 which is followed by Box 5.10 all on a single page.
5 WHAT’S INSIDE
The accommodations for novices begin in Chapter 2, “Audio and Video Basics” which would likely be new information for some and a healthy refresher for more experienced readers. Basic terminology and features of audio/video systems are explained along with an introduction to acoustics and light. I particularly appreciate that information about auditory and visual perceptions is included. When a buyer is trying to understand why the same size and brand of television are available in a process ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars, understanding how light and sight and vision work may help sway the decision beyond price alone.
Continuing to chapter 3, we enter a discussion of “Optimal Reduction which is the central premise of the book and bridges the philosophical with the technical. Video and audio reproductions are each discussed in terms of quality, definition, and accuracy. Acknowledgment is given that perfect reproduction may not be possible outside of a studio control room, yet the home experience can still reference that standard to achieve the best recreation of the original, within reason.
Chapters 4 to 8 form the bulk of the essential information on how to achieve the goal of optimal reproduction, although the order of the chapters and some material within the chapters is curious. Chapter 4 dives into “Room Design” which is a critical consideration for those designing a complete environment from the ground up and for those working with existing rooms in their home, office, or studio space. The organization is curious about “The Need for Subwoofers” appearing before “Floor Plan,” but all the material presented is essential to a strong design.
Of particular value are the diagrams which overlay standardized speaker arrangements into the non-standard room shapes, as this is never really discussed in other texts on studio or control room design. This transition from theory to practice is what brings the topic out from the professional or academic space and into the real world of compromise.
Chapters 5, 6, and 7 discuss “Digital Sources,” “Video Equipment,” and “Audio Equipment,” respectively. Each dives into the unique terminology of the discipline and discusses key types of components, technologies, and considerations to use in choosing the various devices for a system. (Sorry audiophiles, but there’s no mention of analog tape or vinyl to be found here.) Images or mentions of specific brands and models are notably absent, unlike those that would typically dominate wide market A/V technology literature, which makes this the most clinical kind of buyer’s guide: “here are the criteria and you may decide what is best.” I truly respect this style and approach, although I can imagine that some readers may relate to it being sent off to buy a car knowing all of the relevant concepts of curb weight, fuel economy, and torque, but with no sense of the difference between a Freightliner, a Ford, or a Ferrari.
In an interesting twist, chapter 8 circles back around to “Room Acoustics” (which I would have expected to follow room design) and discusses topics from the basics of modes and nodes to constructing and placing homebuilt acoustical treatments. It is no doubt woefully short by the standards of an NCEJ reader, and we might shudder at the thought that performing your own acoustic measurements “is actually not that hard,” but remember the context of optimal A/V reproduction at home. I would have liked to see a little more on the topic of aesthetically congruous treatments such as creative ways to hide acoustical properties in architectural elements like wall coverings or bookshelves, but similar to the equipment selection, the concepts are presented so the reader may choose their own solution.
The book closes with chapter 9 as a “Summary” which is really nice addition since it serves as a conceptual index for the preceding chapters. In a few short pages of bullet-point presentation, concepts like “buying an amplifier” and “controlling ambient light” are highlighted with a few quick tips that each refers back to the recommendation number and page where more information can be found about the subject. The order is again peculiar with “Buying Equipment” recommendations appearing before “Designing the Room,” but the usefulness of this chapter is unquestionable. When you add this text to your shelf as a reference, be sure to put a bookmark at the start of chapter 9 to find a concept-based table of contents that will quickly connect your question to the page that holds the answer.
Biamp Systems|Cambridge Sound Management