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Wednesday, 20 May 2020


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I'm also an EE and I tend to agree with your customer. The only thing I can think of is that smaller gauge wires will have higher resistance so may degrade damping of the speakers. This could certainly affect the listener's reaction to the system, particularly transients.

I wonder if there's a connection between photography and audiophilism at some level, as many of my photographic friends seem to also suffer from the audiophilia. There's certainly some parables - lyrics waxed by lens afficionados about their glass magic properties rivals that of audiophiliac haikus that hi-fi gear reviews is made of. And it has just as much effect on the actual photography or music. Which is none, of course, for the lamp cord crowd. And is there a lamp cord equivalent in the photographic world, that creates bad photography, because doesn't want to cough up the ridiculous amount of dough for the Veblen camera gear?

I agree with your "empiricist" way of looking at the world, because it allows for the possibility that a person who says a 192k VBR mp3 sounds the same as a 192/24 bit flac is telling the truth, and someone else who says there is a huge difference is also telling the truth. I tried Amazon's HD service for a month, and on my equipment, with my ears, it just didn't make much of a difference. To me, with online music, the number one requirement is how they organize the catalog and present new music and playlists. The more human the better. I want an educational experience. So far I don't really like any of them that much. Mixcloud is a nice exception, but it has some quirks and of course the sound quality is very dependent on what the dj records and uploads. Good post!

To quote Richard Feynman:
"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool."

To quote Neil deGrasse Tyson:
"The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you."

The cable company you reference has 25 different speaker cables over $25,000! That's what you need, is a choice.

The other night I was doing some DAC rolling, swapping the two DACs I have back and forth through the same preamp/amp combo I use when listening with headphones. Same song, same headphones, just swapping as quick as I could. What do you know, I could hear a difference and ended up settling on the one I had not been using.

I’ve heard the same argument for DACs as for cables, that it’s just current and it only matters to hobbyists with a taste for snake oil. Maybe I do like snake oil after all, because I have heard differences in cables and also DACs.

I have also heard differences when plugging into the wall vs a power conditioner, so maybe I just have wolf ears. Or maybe I’m just a big chirpy pigeon with a taste for snake oil!

It always upsets me when a skilled communicator misuses their skills deliberately to convince someone of something they don't believe themselves to achieve some goal.

I remember Richard Dawkins writing about how he use to be invited to the Oxford debating society but one day he was talking to one of the speakers at dinner afterwards and she openly admitted she didn't believe one word of the thesis she had so eloquently presented. He said he has never been back since.

It also upsets me when someone whose views I respect (generally) uses those same skills to present an eloquent argument in which they do believe but which may in fact not be true and in the process of, dismiss non-believers using rhetorical skills, not evidence. It's a poor show.

It's well known that it is quite difficult to prove certain types of psycho-sensory perception. It is also very well known that there is an army of psychological biases that make it easy to fool ourselves.

That means that intelligent, well-informed people should not easily trust their perceptions unless supported by proper empirical evidence. The important thing in collecting evidence, is that it mustn't be any old evidence, but high quality controlled evidence, properly evaluated and controlled for bias.

The trouble with someone making a stand on how they don't trust measurements but do trust the evidence of their senses is the pile of evidence that tells us this is blatantly discarding the science. The science tells us that our senses are easily fooled, the brain takes shortcuts and creates artefacts that are not there. Not only should we not necessarily believe our senses, we should be very cautious about ever trusting them without outside verification (man in a gorilla suit bias, an exemplar).

Science is normally built on both theory and experimentation. Both support the other. It is difficult for an idea that is unsupported by both theory and experiment to gain traction. And idea supported by theory or evidence has a much better chance. Both working in tandem is best.

There is no known physical explanation for why a piece of copper conductor should act as a detail filter at audio frequencies. None.

The lack of theory is not definitive if there is compelling evidence, of course. We don't know everything. But it should raise our index of suspicion and make us be very cautious about interpreting the evidence.

We need to think carefully about possible alternative explanations. There are many reasons why someone selling expensive wire would claim it sounded different. Goes without saying. And the human biases kick in easily in such circumstances. The customer is ripe for plucking. This should make the index of suspicion very high indeed.

If we have any dreams of coming up with a general sense of truth, we cannot rely on our senses alone, they are too subject to bias. We need an objective means of obtaining the truth - and by that I don't just mean measurements for the reasons already discussed.

For many psychological and perceptual claims, it's the double blind test. This is the way to remove biases and let the ears listen only to the music, unswayed by additional information (eg brand name, price ticket). The beauty of the DBT is that it removes all extraneous clues, leaving only the variable under consideration - in this case sound quality. In a DBT, the listener cannot be influenced by anything else.

If you can statistically demonstrate an effect exists repeatedly and independently, it is highly likely the effect really does exist. If you cannot beat chance under these conditions, it is highly likely that the effect is unconscious bias or placebo (never to be underestimated).

So, demonstrate an effect repeatedly under DBT and I'll take note. Claims supported only by personal conviction and eloquent rhetoric don't convince. Not taking sides here, but my money is on cables being placebo. I think, if I remember correctly, James Randi has a million dollars available to someone who could pass a DBT on the subject. A bit of an incentive there...

I'm pretty sure the guy you were annoyed with was my acquaintance: we used to play in a band and keep in touch. I think he will say that if you are an empiricist you will be prepared to hear (sorry) the results of the experiment. The only (I will repeat that: the only) approach to making experimental results credible when people are involved is to make them blind enough. That way no one knows enough to let them change their outcome, consciously or other. But before you have rejected the double-blind test. Which refuses the only approach to find out if something really exists or if it's all in your mind. Whatever it is you are it's not empiricist.

Sorry for bad English perhaps.

I think the real question in all this is, given your means, what is sufficient for your purposes?

Some are maximizers and have the resources to indulge that, always seeking the better outcome. Others are satisficers, who get to a certain point within their means and are done. Good enough.

I used to be more of a maximizer regarding things I was passionate about. As I've aged I've become more of a satisficer. And more contented and happier.

To me the real tragedy is to be in pursuit of outcomes beyond your means, financial or otherwise, thus never fulfilled.

(This assumes we're talking mostly hobbies, as I think we are, not something like brain surgery.)

I am very much of the skeptical camp when it comes to audio hardware: When I worked with folks who did signal transmission and processing work for the Dept. of Defense, the marketing claims of "audiophile" products were a common source of comedy.

That said, I am an empiricist. I would *jump* at the chance to compare some insanely overpriced speaker wires to zipcord. Indeed, I would ask an uninvolved (but competent) party to hook up my speakers with one set of cords, listen on several occasions over the course of a couple of days, have them switched out or not based on a random number generator, and continue this process for at least a couple of weeks, meticulously recording my observations. If I could also borrow a really good (calibrated) microphone and spectrum analyzer, I'd make measurements in various positions on a regular basis as well. My very strong suspicion is that other factors would predominate and I would not be able to systematically hear the difference between cables, nor would I be able to see a statistically meaningful distance with the measured spectra. If I was wrong, though, I'd find that *fascinating*; indeed, I'd probably fall down a deep rabbit hole trying to understand it.

So, I think you and your audiophile compatriots are likely wrong, and that much of your perceived experience is informed mostly by cognitive biases. I think your non-customer, though, was even more wrong, because turning down the chance to do a measurement (for free, for fun) like this strikes me as quite un-scientific.

Wel, well, isn't this interesting. Do you see the paralell between audio and photography? Most, and I hate to use this term, amateur photographers are forever in search of he magic camera and only occasionally the magic lens (guess which one makes the most difference). The Leicaman, as another blogger puts it, looks down his narrow nose with an air of complete disdain at those who use "inferior" cameras. As a former Leica owner (Twice to be honest) I can tell you The so called glow is all in the owner's mind. While not bad, there are other lenses than Leica that produce great results. The best lenses I've ever shot in any format were those for my Contax G2. I only wish the body wassn't as flaWed.

And I enjoy Roger Cicalia's writing immensely but his lens test make my eyes glaze over and my fillings to hurt.

Bill Pearce

"But Mr. Vandersteen-man was just expressing his belief system, in my view. His "science says" dogma and his "cannot make a difference" mantra was as much a true-believer mindset as any subjectivist's magic dust or harebrained marketing doublespeak.
It should be pointed out that the obstinate faith in his own analysis (or fantasy?) of the numbers displayed by your one-time customer is not specifically a 'science thing', but more of an engineering thing. The Engineering Mentality is, when it is combined with a lack of imagination, a dreary thing indeed.

It would seem to me in all such measurement battles that the standard "double blind" techniques need to be employed.

To be sure of anything, a reasonable sample of people need to listen to both configs: one with "magic cables" and one with "lamp cord" speaker wires. But of course, neither the subject nor the experimenter should know which they are actually listening to in advance of recording their observations.

Human bias is enormous and tricky as has been nicely demonstrated in so many ways. One relevant case for listening is when musicians begin to audition for symphony orchestras *without* the ability of the listener judges to also see the musicians. A measurable change in who was selected begin to occur.

Good, large sample, double-blind tests of anything are much harder to setup than simple comparisons tests. However, the nature of variance tells us that if we are to tease signal from noise, we must control for bias - of *all* kinds.

To quote sociologist William Bruce Cameron (though often attributed to Albert Einstein):
Not everything that can be counted counts.
Not everything that counts can be counted.

That's a very telling story about the engineer and the lamp cord. You send him home with good speaker wire, asking him to hear the difference himself. He does you one better and does the comparison on the $3000 speakers you just sold him and decides they are no better than what he had before so he returns both the speakers and the wire. Classic.

But if "listen for yourself" is the lesson, one can hardly fault the engineer for applying it to the more expensive speakers first.

More generally, you can take objective measurements of a subjective experience easily enough, but then you need a model to turn the measurements into a comparison. The model itself makes assumption about what matters, but we don't talk about that. The disagreement between a objective and subjective evaluation gets turned into science vs. emotion while the lousy model sneaks away unnoticed.

I used to be heavily into audio, it's what made me study electronic engineering and I even got a Masters in Audio Systems Engineering.

Cables aren't all the same, they will have differing resistance, inductance and capacitance. So I can see how cables might sound different. I've even heard expensive mains cables make a difference!

The one thing I never understood was 'directionality', i.e. cables (apparently) sounding better one way around as opposed the other. It's an AC signal...

Go figure!

I appreciate this followup, I was a bit put off by your comment in the last piece and started to write out a response but maybe internet maturity is settling in and I refrained. And of course your take here is reasonable.

The True Believers can reside on any side of an argument, and it does nothing to further one side or the other.

Personally I am highly skeptical I could hear the difference between any correctly gauged speaker wire. But I won't tell someone else they can't, unless some extensive double blind testing is done. And even then, thanks to the placebo effect you may still derive more pleasure from a cable that you can't actually hear the difference from just knowing it's hooked up.

So believe what you will, and do what works for you (when it comes to speaker wire. Please do not disregard science when it comes to national policy).

I almost didn't read this - I'm not in the market for new audio equipment. But I'm glad I did. I now want to read Ezra Pound.

Mike, I think drawing parallels to science-minded hifi and the processes involved in human nutrition is a "bit" of a stretch!

I believe it was Stereo Review's Larry Klein who said that in order to conduct proper ABX comparisons of hifi electronics (not transducers), levels must be matched within 0.1 dB of each other. And the way you know when you've got a match is that you stop hearing differences. Imagine if we likewise judged camera equipment based solely on the images they produced!

I have only a lay person's understanding of how human nutrition works, just enough to sense that it can be incredibly complex and subtle. So I follow Michael Pollan's oft-quoted advice: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants".


Like your customer, I'm an engineer, but I'm willing to believe that cable construction can have a slight difference to a highly discerning ear - especially if the cables differ substantially in electrical resistance. But I'm curious - you imply that you've made the test yourself with cheap vs. expensive cables. Is that true? Was the test conducted double-blind - i.e. neither you nor anyone else who communicated with you had any way of knowing which cables were in use? With something as subjective as sound quality, the listener's expectations can form part of the perception. Some of my curiosity on this point stems from my own very brief experience as a stereo salesman. It always seemed to me that customers invariably preferred whichever speaker was louder, and of course they all differ a bit in how much sound you get out for a given input. (I was a terrible salesman.)

I can make this photo-relevant ;-)

About twenty-five years ago I encountered the opinion of a well-known and highly respected photographer and platinum printer who insisted that the use of pyro developers was pure bunk—because densitometers didn't show a concrete, measurable difference between prints made from pyro developed negatives and prints made from non-pyro developed negatives. The first time I did a substantial amount of 8x10 work developed in PMK and ABC+ pyro and began printing them, I was totally sold on the superiority of the proportionally staining developers and have used pyro ever since. It may be important that I didn't have a densitometer to distract me from simply looking at the prints. I eventually decided that I preferred the results with PMK formula to the ABC+(designed for rotary processing). What a densitometer might say didn't interest me. The Jobo went into retirement and I've developed sheet film in trays using PMK ever since.

You know, Mike, calories ARE calories. Your error in that part of this very interesting post is that there are CALORIES and then there are NUTRIENTS. Broccoli has whole lot of the latter but hardly any of the former. Whereas something like lard has tons of the former but none of the latter. But sometimes there are foods, like avocados that have a good amount of both. SO, my point is that calories and nutrients are largely unrelated and a calorie (a measure of energy) doesn't change depending on the nutritional value of the food.

Unless you do a double blind test you cannot tell if one is better than another. People see, hear and taste what they expect. Does that .20 cent a foot wire sound worse than the $3000 a meter wire? No, because there is no difference.

When you look at some of the sites selling expensive wire it is laden with a lot of wo-wo talk. https://www.takefiveaudio.com/contents/66-burnin "This cable's negative conductors are covered with partially conductive Carbon-Loaded Polyethylene. This remarkable material reduces radio-frequency garbage being fed back into the amplifier. The sonic benefit is exactly the same reduction in "hash" and improved dimensionality that comes whenever RF interference is reduced in an audio circuit. In addition, a carbon layer damps interaction between positive and negative conductors, and an external Carbon-Based NDS System reduces external interference." "All AQ "Tree" Series cables have an inner circular array of positive conductors spiraling in one direction, around which the negative conductors spiral in the opposite direction. This makes possible the significant performance advantage of having the positive and negative conductors cross each other instead of being parallel. The critical need for positive and negative to have a fixed non-changing relationship is ensured as the negative and positive groups are in fact two tubes with a perfectly consistent relationship. The result is an astonishing clarity, like focusing a camera lens you had no idea was so far out of focus." Really? I wonder how they measure this? Oh and they only cost $1150 a pair. https://reverb.com/item/14439091-audioquest-aspen-6ft-speaker-cable-pair-w-banana-plugs-demo-retail-1860

There is so much fraud in the high end audio business that it is laughable. Did you know that if you "burn in" speaker wire that is sounds better? Pray tell how does that work? Oh and if you don't use the wire for some time they need to be burned in again?

Speaking of snake oil I remember buying my first CD player (a Denon) back in 1987 or so. The salesman tried to sell me some expensive cables with RCA connectors on them. He showed me a brochure from the manufacturer that stated that some of the wires were silver plated and others were just copper and that the high frequencies when down the silver plated wires and the lows went down the copper wires. I then asked him how do the frequencies know which wires to pick. He had no answer and I bought some cheap interconnects.

Until you do a double blind test you will pick the more expensive wire because you expect it to sound better. Humans have a unique capacity to deceive themselves that no other animal has.

That was a terrific story. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

There's some interesting psychology at play when it comes to things that some people claim they can perceive, but others cannot. Deep down, I suspect the people who can't hear, see or taste things that others claim they can may feel threatened or inadequate. Into the mix we throw the power and status that come from having a super-sensory power, confirmation bias, and lots of actual snake oil and magical thinking. No wonder the debates can be intense.

I have saved a fortune by not being able to hear the difference between the $20 speaker cable and the $1000 speaker cable. That's left more money for chocolate. Whether or not anyone else can, I can easily taste the flavours my favourite artisanal chocolate maker describes on the wrapper.

In the end, life is short. I'll enjoy the taste of my Ambrosia chocolate, and you enjoy the sound of your fancy stereo! It's all good.

I don't understand why Electrical Engineers would believe that all cables are equal. Surely cables have properties such as impedance, resistance and conductance that distinguishes how they transmit an electrical signal.

I was trained as an economist. Economists use the magic Latin phrase Ceteris Paribus that translates as "all other things being equal". We do this in order to isolate specific cause and effect relationships that help us understand complex phenomena. We all know what Ctein has to say about this...

Do Electric Engineers have a magic phrase of their own that translates as "lets pretend that all wires are perfect electrical conductors"?

In the spirit of civility I will admit right now that I have never had the chance to audition very high end equipment and cables of the type under discussion.

"As for me, when it comes to audio, I don't actually care about accurate reproduction and good measurements. I mean I don't care about those things for their own sake."

Substitute the words "cameras & lenses" for "audio" in your quote and you have described why a Leica (Or Nikon, Canon, etc.) owner can be particularly emphatic regarding their chosen system.
Know what you like and find and use the tools that respond appropriately.

"I don't actually care about accurate reproduction and good measurements..." I don't actually care which camera brand has the most accurate colors either. I want my sounds, and my colors to be pleasing but I don't ask for more than that.

Mike, besides mixing metaphors willy-nilly, you are avoiding any science associated with the main topic. I have been in the vibration analysis business for 45 years and, as long as the wires are not restricting the magnitude of the signals (e.g. too small a gage of wire) then the type or gage of the signal wire does not, in any way shape or form, affect the delivered signal. Your reasoning is why people will choose a $40 bottle of wine over a $10 bottle of wine even though they're the exact same wine. You see, your EE guy was right all along. If your ears are better than my -120dB signal analyzer, I salute you!

Likewise, yet another reason I drink beer, and enjoy wine only if it actually tastes good:

"Frédéric Brochet of the University of Bordeaux did a test in 2001. He presented the same wine to 57 volunteers a week apart. In one test, the wine was labeled as a basic table wine; in the second go, it carried the label of an expensive, superior vintage. The critics were fooled into describing the same wine positively when it came out of a high-end bottle and negatively when they thought it was a vin ordinaire. Similarly, M. Brochet pranked 54 experts. None of them were able to tell that the one red and one white they were tasting was, in fact, the same wine. The white had been coloured by a flavourless and odourless dye. Numerous other tests have turned up similar results."

From "Reasons Why Wine-Tasting Is a Bit of a Hoax" at https://delishably.com/beverages/Pretentious-Wine-Snobs

Mike, I think everyone is conditioned now to assume that any add-on to a purchase (sexy cables, extended warranties, rust-proofing) are just the sales rep trying to sell you something that has a decent margin to overcome the fact that the margin on the original sale is very low. We go into the store suspicious and usually leave without buying the sales pitch even though it may be true.

BTW: the funniest thing to me is when someone tries to sell you an expensive cable for a digital signal. A square wave does not require anything over basic fidelity - the signal is reconstructed at the other end anyway.


You never need to apologize to folks who think they know everything about a given subject.


I sold high end audio in the early 70's to help pay for college. I will say that the issue of what sounds/tsstes/looks better really has tremendous psychological overlay and is highly influenced by environment, expectations, and other things. This has been well documented in well designed research trials. To have even a remote shot of a fair comparison you would need to do a truly double blind experiment where (while holding everything else equal) neither the listener (in this case a potential buyer) nor the experimenter knows which wires (or whatever) are being used and the listener must blindly make their choice. The salesman (or whoever is arranging this) must not be in the room during the demo, and ideally would never have mentioned anything about the choices ahead of time that might bias the listener. In my experience, nothing remotely like this ever happened at an audio store or even in a person's home because they know which cables they are hooking up. And I'm not talking about differences in measurable factors, I'm talking about differences in perception. This has been proven repeatedly when it comes to wine tastings. You can fool almost anyone (including wine experts) by pouring average wine into a high end bottle and serving it at a 3 star restaurant while the patron is on a date with someone they are really attracted to or in love with where they are expecting everything to be just perfect! So, I'm not saying that subjective empirical based judgement has no place or is totally invalid, but we are all pretty easy to fool! Read Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky's work (generated a Nobel prize while they were at it) if in doubt.

The opposite thing also happened to me when I sold audio. The best sounding amplifier we sold back then was made by a company called Crown. They were very spartan in appearance--just brushed chrome front with plain black knobs. I could almost never sell them over something like a Marantz with large glowing gauges or (gasp) an oscilloscope on the front! Very hard to sell smaller great sounding speakers over bigger sleeker looking but worse sounding ones. Many of the guys who bought this stuff were trying to impress the ladies whom they hoped would be visiting their apartments as much as anything. Just sayin....

Almost like an argument I had with a newly blessed PHD in Physics.

I was working for my brother who's gas station was a U-Haul franchise holder in a University town. This PHD dude came into the station to pick up his U-Haul reservation so he could move out of town. I set the temporary hitch to the car/trailer. The dude started yelling at me that I needed to "weld" a ground wire so the lights (tapped into the ones on his car and working) would work. I took him to the back of the trailer and showed him that the stop lights and turn signals were working. He yelled, literally, that the lights would not work until I "welded" a ground wire between the car and trailer and he said "I have just recieved a PHD in Physics and I KNOW THAT THE LIGHTS WILL NOT WORK WITHOUT A GROUND WIRE WELDED BETWEEN THE CAR AND THE TRAILER".
A little while later, after he had threatened to call the Police, my brother showed up and basically said that if he didn't "Shut up / Look and Learn" that he would cancel the reservation and the guy could carry his trailer load of "stuff" in the back seat of his car - for at least 10 trips.

Sometimes science is just not understood, even by the "educated". As for my part, I have spent a modicum of money on "wires". I basically went down to Radio Shack and bought a decent quality speaker wire and built my own. Works great and the "Audio" Managers can blow a gasket because "I don't care".

When it comes to audio testing, I definitely sit on the fence. Double blind testing is best; if not, then at least I should not be allowed to know which component has changed (if either) when testing. I always have two questions (a) can I reliably and repeatedly hear any difference and (b) if so, do I have a reliable and repeated opinion whether either sounds better. If the answer is Yes to both, then I ask a third question, (c) is the "better" worth the cost to me. In consequence of this approach, I'm not a member of the all speaker wire is equal club - I have convinced myself to my own satisfaction that that is not so - but certainly most wire is sufficiently equal to my ears that any scientific explanation one way or the other is irrelevant to me.

Interestingly, there is a clear distinction between audio and photography because, by definition (at least to a consumer not a production lab) it is simply not possible to blind test anything in photography - hence, inputs vs outcomes and cause vs effect is all a lot more subjective.

There are first-order effects, fourth-order effects, tenth-order effects. Matching speakers to the idiosyncrasies of the room using equalizers and specialized equipment really matters, whereas zip cord of sufficient thickness vs fancy cables is at best tenth-order.

Many years ago I once heard a demonstration where a dummy head with properly shaped ears containing quality microphones was placed in the 10th row during an orchestral performance, and the resulting recording played back through excellent headphones driven by excellent equipment. This was the most realistic audio I have ever heard that matched the real thing. After this, I never felt the need to overdo it when purchasing an audio system, since I always have to make mental adjustments due to faults in the entire audio chain. These distortions begin in the recording process and continue with the engineering adjustments made to produce decent sound on inexpensive sound systems. That's where the market is.

Almost ninety large for three meters of wire. Words fail me.

Quite a rant! I'm impressed.

Back in the day when I actually could tell a difference, (years and abuse take their toll on the highs), I tried swapping cheapo audio cables for Monster, and also using purpose-made wires instead of lamp cord for speaker hookup. I wanted to notice how much better it all sounded, but alas, 'twas still the same. However, I did make sure to always use the fattest gauge cord for the speakers, to avoid the higher resistance of smaller gauges, and subsequent distributed power loss (copper loss) in the deep bass range. [P = I²R]

Your customer's thinking, however, reminds me of the novel "Jurassic Park," wherein the accuracy of monitoring the population of genetically revived animals was thrown off by the decision in programming to discard "impossible" or "unreasonable" results.

You think the high end audio world is rife with magical thinking you should try getting the electric guitar community talking about why guitars and amps sound the way they do. All of the components could easily be measured for impedance, signal response, capacitance etc. but no one publishes specs on anything. Instead they use terms like dark, thick, or beefy as opposed to hi-fi (a bad thing) , ice picky, or thin. Then there is quacky (a good thing sometimes ). It’s like reading wine reviews except not nearly as comprehensible.

In the 1980s I was acquainted with a guitarist who always played through a 50 foot long guitar cable.and a rats nest of wire between his stomp boxes.
An unbalanced cable that long has a lot of capacitance a certain amount of resistance and since the impedance is unmatched the signal is reflecting from each end. All generally bad hard to correct things.
He claimed that he was doing a sound check in a club with whatever cables were at hand and the 50 foot cable was borrowed from a band who’s guitarist would solo while crowd surfing. Anyway he got a sound he really liked with the crazy long cable and couldn’t replicate it with a normal cable.

I’ve been building some guitars doing things “everybody knows won’t work” just to figure out what actually happens, and they work just fine sometimes.

Can you explain that in cameras please.

These two pillars of consumerism may apply here. The right to pursue happiness and never give a sucker an even break. The former requires some compassion. The latter consumer protective legislation.

Cheers Pierre

Whilst I am prepared to accept some of this talk of “magic” in relation to analogue cables, like speaker cable, I can’t believe that people fall for this with digital cables. The whole selling point of digital whether in audio or video is that it isn’t susceptible to degradation in transmission -you either have the signal or you don’t. But you still wander into the store and see the sales people telling you you need that $200 gold plated HDMI cable when a $10 one will give just as good results.

I was good friends with a guy who worked at an audio store. We used to do a three way test with $3000 wire, lamp cord, and lamp cord plus the bass control turned to 2 o'clock.

To make a long story short, everyone chose the lamp cord with the bass turned up a little. Why would you spend $3000 when a little extra bass (for free) would make the system sound the best to virtually everyone who listened.

Skip the wires and adjust something that really makes a difference. Maybe add a sub-woofer. (Remember when audiophiles said the a sub-woofer ruined the purity of the recording?) Maybe so, but it also made it sound better.

Expensive wire manufacturers must know that they are committing fraud.

You reader Zach above wrote, "Humans have a unique capacity to deceive themselves that no other animal has." Well-written!

I'd say the camera world is even more full of magical thinking coupled with GAS. The photo dweebs write with complete sincerity, "Leica lenses give me a special unique glow (yes, on a small processed jpeg displayed on an internet web page being projected on a mainstream monitor). No, Leica lenses are no better then my brand XYZ lenses that cost 1/4 as much. But my Sony/Cannikon/Sigma has so many pixels, I can see the improvement (on that jpeg displayed on a consumer monitor). I tested the "sharpness" of my lens (yes, hand-held. Duuh.) My Sony/Canikon/Sigma has mastered "color science." The color is absolutely "accurate" (on that jpeg on a consumer monitor). This drivel goes on and on on that infamous D reviewing site. I can't tell if any of them actually take pictures? I suppose that is similar to audiophiles not listening to much music with those great wires....

I feel like this whenever I read that digital color “far exceeds” the quality of film color - something I’ve seen often on this blog.


While you are undoubtedly right about systems sounding different, it's also clearly true that the music is more important than audio components. And therein lies my beef with higher quality Hifi.

Not only will no hifi ever sound better than the jukebox in the art school bar but better than middle of the road systems can even get in the way by exposing poor recordings. This makes some music sound relatively worse to the point where, for example, some 60s stereo mixes got to be near unlistenable when I had a 'good' system.

Thankfully that system was stolen in a break-in a few years ago and I've never wanted to go down that rabbit hole again.

The guy brings his own cables, but leaves his amps at home?

You were being played.

[Oh, we did have people who brought their amps to the store to audition speakers with. We accommodated them. --Mike]

Mike, so many above have suggested a blind test, which is hard to argue against. I assume you have done a few with different cables in the past? If so, what was the outcome?

[DBT is very difficult to administrate with audio, and on the contrary, it's easy to argue against. John Atkinson has argued against it persuasively. The only manufacturer I know of that does it as part of its research is Revel, the speaker manufacturer owned by Harman International. --Mike]

If interconnects make such a difference why aren't they balanced? Anyway, to digress back to the original discussion..

A long time ago a Hi-Fi magazine I bought claimed that losslessly compressed audio files sounded inferior to wav files. The industry does itself no favours. Maybe there was a difference, an audible CPU fan running only while decompressing perhaps, but it couldn't have been the audio format.

There's good well understood reasons for using high bit-depth and high sample rates in the studio. More latitude when processing, as a photographer might say. But insisting the final print must preserve frequencies beyond our hearing seems.... unnecessary.

I've read that like vinyl before it, HD audio releases often go through a different mastering process to the equivalent CD. I'm going to guess that like the lossless compression case, when there is a difference it is often not due to the audio format. I'd be interested in a proper test, down-sample an HD audio file to CD quality then up-sample again and compare the results. Anything else introduces too many variables. But having said that...

I did some ABX testing with mp3 a long time ago, and yes some recordings were easy to spot. But very few recordings seemed worthy of the difference. With modest equipment we can hear microphone distortion, loudness war compression, tape hiss, performance errors and a host of other artifacts. Not to mention, my personal bug bear, the dominance of 12 tone equal temperament with sharp major thirds and flat minor thirds. All in all, HD audio seems like such a minor upgrade if there's a difference at all.

There's always the intangible 'pride of ownership.'

As seductive as the wire is wire approach is, I think it is bad science to think we know all there is to know about why audio sounds as it does.

The biggest influence on home audio is the room - unless you have done some work on optimizing your room and equipment placement, subtle differences will be swamped by the room interactions.

I wonder how many of the wire is wire club drive the most most basic car available because a car is just a car!

I was talking to my physician wife about this last night. She's Native American and works in tribal health. She said it is common among physicians these days is to practice what is called "evidence based medicine," consulting the best available evidence as presented in studies. There is a little push-back from some of the people with knowledge of traditional medicine, though, that one should also use "practice-based evidence."

Cable is cable and calories are calories like f/2.8 is f/2.8 ;)

[No. --Mike]

Just because it's not there does't mean you can't hear it. There's tons of audiophile stuff that will absolutely make a difference to the way it sounds.

Sure, they perform exactly the same whether they're hooked up, or whether you merely think they're hooked up, but so what?

With all of the conversation regarding double blind testing, I have not heard or read anything about the baseline for such an experiment. I am red-green deficient. I can see some red and some green, but I would not qualify for a double blind test related to differences in color due to my lack of sensitivity. My visual acuity is 20/15. Unless the baseline is acuity at better than 20/20, I would perceive things that others would not, which could effect the mean response, or the standard error of the mean for the group. For a double blind test to be meaningful on things that are heard, I would want to know the standard for hearing for the subject pool. Are there tests for acoustical perception that are comparable to visual tests, and if they are available, are they being used to establish a baseline so that we can have an informed discussion? Double blind tests are very useful ways to gain knowledge, but the sensitivity of the measuring device is as important as the thing being measured for the test to be valid.

Can I hear the difference between an mp3 file and a full resolution file of something well recorded - I think I can. If I mistakenly play an mp3 file, upon hearing the first few bars, I am aware that something is not right. When I change to the higher resolution file, it sounds more correct, less harsh, more open. I know that is inexact. I don't know how to make the difference objective for someone else. I can demonstrate the two files to someone, but if they are not sensitive to what is being presented, they don't hear a difference.

I really am interested in knowing if baseline hearing standards exist for the kind of measurement that is being discussed. This is only a feeling, but I don't think we are there yet. This void makes people uncomfortable because they want an answer, especially if it involves allocating large resources (time, money) to acquire something. The void for me means that I have to be curious and experience what is available. Then it becomes a value proposition.

I wrote "Cable is cable and calories are calories like f/2.8 is f/2.8 ;) "

You can measure that f/2.8 is f/2.8 ... the aperture on either lens is 1/2.8 the focal length. I can't argue with that.

But I can see in pictures what an f/2.8 on one camera can do and what an f/2.8 on another camera can do. And as long as I can see that difference, they'll never be the same.

Malcolm Myers: Directionality matters when a cable’s shield is grounded only at one end. In that case, the shield’s ground needs to be at the source component. And FWIW, apparently shielding at only one end of the cable can make a difference versus grounding the shield at both ends. I haven’t tried comparing, and I don’t know that one is universally better than the other. Given differing grounding topologies of components, it may be dependent on the entire chain.

Have to admit, I've seen so much snake-oil selling about cables that I'm solidly in the "I know it doesn't make a difference" camp. Why should I waste my time and give expert influencers a chance to to trick me?

Especially when the high-end golden-ears have all learned they must not, ever engage in any kind of blind trial. This proves to me they know it's snake oil, they know they can't tell the difference.

I started with hi-fi decades ago. Not having a lot of money, changes and additions had to be inexpensive.

During the many changes in the system, a particular CD that I liked, sounded better for each change. But then I reached a point where that CD started sounding worse for each change, while other CDs continued sounding better. CD mastering is important.

I only ever bought one pair of (inexpensive) speaker cables. Then I started experimenting with CAT5 ethernet cable, and made many variations over the years. The set I use now is probably as good as anything you can buy without spending silly money. I made a instruction page on how to build these cables: http://mejiatryti.com/SpeakerCable/fivebraid.html

I also made my own interconnects, another area where you can spend silly money if you want to: http://mejiatryti.com/SpeakerCable/interconnect.html

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