[SoundStage!]The Traveler
Back Issue Article

April 2003

High-End Audio 101

Glenn in the sound room.

In 1981 I was a grade 11 student shopping for my first stereo system, doing it the old-fashioned way: I got on the bus and went store to store to learn all I could. And, like many, even today, I almost gut sucked into a system from a mass-market, box-moving retailer that had so many bells’n’whistles and flashing lights that my bedroom would have looked like the control room on the Enterprise if I had bought it. I was lucky, though, that along the way I found a boutique-type place called Custom Stereo, and it was there a good salesman changed forever the way I look at audio. I became an audiophile, something they don’t teach at school -- until now, that is.

South Carleton High School’s Glenn Ellis may not be a household name among audiophiles, but after you finish reading this article, you’ll realize that he may well go down in the audio record books as a school teacher who has done the near-impossible: he’s managed to get high-end audio into the school curriculum and is teaching his grade 11 and 12 students that the world of good sound goes far beyond what they see lining the shelves at the mass-market retail stores.

Glenn’s "Communication Technology" is not solely dedicated to audio, but audio does encompass a good chunk of the program -- and for Glenn it’s a passion he enjoys pursuing. His success to-date is quite astonishing, replicated nowhere else in the world that I know of. He hasn't been alone, though. On his quest, he's received plenty of help from his department as well as the school's administration.

On premises he has a dedicated two-channel listening room with equipment from Athena Technologies, Blue Circle, Bryston, Mirage, NAD, PSB, Sony and others. Students are encouraged to come with their own music, but everyone who enters the listening room must remove their shoes, and that makes for a refined and tidy atmosphere. To goal is to let students hear music on equipment they might not otherwise be exposed to. And, the expansion is continuing.

Next door Glenn’s building a home theater, and although the equipment is not all acquired yet, he has managed to secure and install 25 real theater seats from one of the movie-theater chains. When finished, it’s anticipated students will be privy to a topnotch home-theater experience every bit the equal of the two-channel room, and, more importantly, be armed with knowledge when they go shopping for systems of their own.

The program is enough of a success that Glenn has taken the class offsite. The highlight so far, he said, was the class’ tour of Audio Products International (API) in Toronto -- API is the maker of the Mirage, Energy, and Athena brands, some of the products that are now in the sound room. At the end of March he’s taking the class for one day to Montreal’s annual Son & Image show, where they’ll see plenty more cutting edge high-end audio. And to drum up more support for the program, Glenn last went to CES 2003 in Las Vegas to visit more audio companies and invite their participation in his program. As can be expected with something as original as this, Glenn’s presentation was met with mixed results. Some, frankly, didn’t know what to think -- not surprising since there probably isn’t a program in the world like this one. Other companies, though, saw the value and the opportunity to work with Glenn and the school system.

Blue Circle's Gilbert Yeung speaks to the class.

One of the companies that saw the benefit was Blue Circle Audio, led by eccentric designer and president Gilbert Yeung. In fact, his company’s Music Pumps and Music Purse products are now in the South Carleton sound room (according to Gilbert, those products were what he wanted to see in there to "show that above all audio is supposed to be fun!"), along with a Music Ring, to show the benefits of power conditioning. And on March 7th Gilbert became the first manufacturer to visit and speak to the class. I accompanied Gilbert and together we gave an hour-long talk about the basics of high-end audio; the components in the system chain; the different sound formats, along with the emerging trends of SACD and DVD-Audio; and from Gilbert’s point of view, how to start up a company and the approach you must take to make it a success.

While one hopes that with all Glenn’s work at least some of the students will become dedicated audiophiles, I’d say that’s not the deciding factor for whether the course is a success or not. What’s important is the message that Glenn is trying to get across: that there is plenty more equipment out there than what most people are exposed to in the traditional shopping venues. As a result, when these students make a two-channel or home-theater system investment, they’ll be armed with knowledge and experience. Let’s hope Glenn Ellis’ High-End Audio 101 will see its way into other schools soon.

...Doug Schneider


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