Quality sound systems don't have to be expensive or hard to use.

Since most people think in terms of brand names, here's a list of web links with Best Values in bold.

SPEAKERS - Bose is still top dog in many respects. I'm particularly fond of their 402 columns for home listening (living room, patio, etc) and small auditoriums. If you love clean transparency, I recommend Infinity for critical listening in a small zone of coverage (i.e., aimed at a single chair). Power-hungry and indestructible, be sure to check out the professional Tannoy line.

POWER AMPS - If you need raw brute force to run a subwoofer, put QSC at the top of your spec sheet. For individually "zoned" listening areas, Crown offers a line of clean workhorses with remote I/O logic.

SIGNAL PROCESSING (EQ) - Anybody worth his salt in pro audio will equalize and tweak a system to compensate for acoustic and electronic characteristics that are inherent in the listening environment. Brick radiates lows, glass slaps the highs around, etc -- so your first line of attack is speaker placement (and hopefuly a polite word or two of consultation with the decorator or architect, if it's a new build). But somewhere along the line, all best efforts notwithstanding, there will be an awkward and unavoidable acoustic wrinkle in your system -- usually a mono phase cancellation problem that's a function of room size and shape. Sometimes, your amplifier/speaker configuration will introduce unwanted emphasis at various listening levels. For a clean solution, use Rane 1/3-octave EQ and rent a real-time analyzer. If the budget is tight, I often recommend Alesis audio products. A word of caution: Don't get carried away with EQ fixes. If you have a 12 dB dip somewhere in the high midrange frequencies, it's probably phase cancellation. Do not attempt to boost your way out of it. +6 dB is the absolute max, unless you want to wreck the noise floor. Phase cancellation is mainly a function of speaker placement. No stereo pair should ever be mounted or pointed exactly parallel. Best practice is often a 90-degree crossing pattern, aimed more or less at the center of the room. To extend the stereo image in a long room, you'll need digital delays (20ft = 1ms) and a willingness to experiment with the output level of the second pair of speakers until they blend seamlessly with the mains. Best practice is often a reversed secondary stereo image from above.

SURROUND SOUND - This brings us naturally to the subject of "home theater" sound and various approaches to multidimensional imaging -- most of which are highly unnatural. I can understand a center channel for spatial location of spoken dialog at or near the screen, which all "home theater" receivers offer and Kenwood implements as well as anyone else. But I never recommend a four-channel system with explosions suddenly erupting behind your back. When in doubt, go for a big, clean, wide stereo image that locates the experience at the screen. True subwoofers are nondirectional (and typically ineffective unless you ram 200W down their throats), so it's good to locate them front and center as well. If your subwoofer has a port opening, it should be pointed at a brick wall. Dolby Pro Logic is the only sane choice among "surround" decoder-synthesizer setups.

AUDIOPHILE SYSTEMS - If a professionally designed system is too much hassle, the next best thing is high-end matching components. Denon dominates the market, but in Europe you should also take a look at Linn Products. For excellent functionality and value for money, my advice is always Adcom.

My candid view of Hollywood ignited a brief, bitter flame war at Free Market Net and a much larger worldwide yawn of indifference in response to my Wolf DeVoon web domain. Traffic has collapsed to a trickle, so I've decided to let this pro bono stuff gracefully fade to black in July. After 25 years of fulminating about freedom, enough is enough. If you want to pick up where I left off and test-fly your own soapbox, the following were helpfully cogent resources:

Bryan Caplan's Anarchy FAQ
Political & Economic Isms
Laissez Faire City Times
The Idea Channel
Laissez Faire Books (links page)
Journal of Internet Banking
Wendy McElroy's Home Page
Far Eastern Economic Review
The Financial Times
Alta Vista Search Engine
Webmaster's Reference Library
Webopedia HTML Definitions
W3C HTML Validation Service
Virtual Promote

It was a grim disappointment to discover that Libertarians prefer to squabble about received doctrine, never asking a fresh question. If I hear one more American proclaim a "moral right" to something, I think I'm going to cry.

But all was not lost. Among the cranks and popes, like a diamond that sparkled in a mountain of darkness, I received a letter that I always hoped would be mine to cherish. Someone found The 51% Solution and wrote to thank me. There is no finer reward than the knowledge that I encouraged a young artist, who said...

Much of what you said rang true, especially the dichotomy between the Unknown and the boring/barren Known. This is something I thought through in my late teens, but have never had to put to the test. Now it is crunch time. I have been thinking of little else for the past few months. It has been extremely unsettling...

The past few years (I am almost 26) have been spent jostling for position/status with all the other ambitious graduates in London, as was expected. I will be diverging from the paths of most of my friends by making this choice, and some have already expressed incredulity... But of course there will be new friends on the way, and most of the old ones will support me, even if they think abandoning a career in the media was foolish. And thinking all this stuff through now, before I start, must be good. I'm feeling stronger and stronger with the knowledge that I am going to embark on an artistic career and see where it takes me.

I've always been excited by the unknown, and happiest when I'm able to act on new ideas immediately. Reading your letter a few times, I felt pretty sure I fitted into the niche of people who could cope with the uncertainty. I've got a deep-rooted faith in life, and art, which tends to surface when I need it most, reasserting the fundamental importance of spontaneity, structure and humanity. I like your stuff on "spiritual earthquake" and the way a shift in values is organic, not imposed. That must be true.

It is never certain that any of us can succeed in art. Nor can success be defined by the opinion of others. Approximately the least important test of an artist is his or her fame. So, to the artists I know and those who remain beloved strangers and distant comrades, I offer thanks of my own. In this lonely old world, your courage fuels mine and we share the wealth of discovery.

Current activities are winding up, after a year on the web and entirely too much time in front of a computer screen. But it's been worth the effort.

I rediscovered an abiding love of storytelling, the terrible burden of caring for new characters and honoring each moment of their fictional lives. I'm not entirely sure where fiction comes from. Harry and Laura sprang from depths that refused to obey anything I planned or contrived, bless them. The resulting novel Mars Shall Thunder is online here.

Months of design work launched a tribute to Nina's creativity and relentless scholarship. Her Cthonia website shot to the top of every search engine and rave reviews poured in.

Eighteen thousand people visited my alter ego Wolf DeVoon ...winner of the 1998 Best of the Web Bronze Award, reviewed by NetsurferDigest and voted Hot 100 E-zine, with top page links at FreedomFinder and PleasureNet.

You can order the book
"Isms: a Compendium of Theories, Doctrines & Beliefs" at amazon but why spend money for something you can read for free on the web? Yep, our online version is up and running, with hundreds of Philosophical, Religious, Political and Economic ideas hyperlinked for your convenience. Baylor University linked their students en masse, and the Libertarianz (New Zealand) sent a letter of appreciation.

Have brain, will travel.