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Thursday, 21 May 2020

Comments

I believe that it is always better to say one is better than another to you, instead of declaring one the best. I respect your ear and commitment to audio. I am not in the market due to your great recommendations for computer speakers years ago.

I did start buying those Blue Jean cables based on your recommendation some time back. They aren't too expensive for custom audio. Recently ordered a long headphone cord from them so I can listen to LP's on my couch. I can't really say if the sound is different from what I had before. The records sound great through my amp and headphones though (Just a Marantz integrated amp, a late eighties automatic Denon turntable, a little Pro-Ject Phono Box S, and mid-range Sennheiser headphones).

In honesty though, I suspect most of us would rather have you do more print reviews. : )

Hi Mike -- just wanted to chime in with: very happy to read what you want to post in audio (OK, in whatever) and those are some nice looking floor standers.

I love the "lean back" design of that enclosure.

Here's an experiment, using 18ga zip cord versus gold & silver lux cables:

Strip the two parts ENTIRELY apart, and run each wire from the amp to the speaker separated at least 12", more if you can. Avoid parallel runs. 18ga, especially with short runs, should eliminate resistance effects, while separation should minimize distributive capacitance effects, while avoiding parallel runs should also minimize induced currents.

BTW, you will still need to watch out for phase mis-match.

If I ran a loudspeaker company I would sell loudspeakers with the cables permanently attached and say "These speakers and cables have been designed as a complete system with all parts optimized for each other's performance characteristics. Replacement by the user of drivers, crossovers, or cables will void the warranty."

Also, if audio interconnect cables can foul things up so badly, why aren't audiophiles buying integrated class D amps with built-in DACs instead of all those separate boxes attached by wires?

[Well, they are. Lots of lowel- to mid-level integrated amps these days have the DAC built in. Take a look at the Yamaha A-S801 as an example. That's not Class D, but the Technics SU-G700 is. It also has a phono input and a headphone jack, obviating the need for an outboard phono preamp and an outboard headphone amp--just like a '70s "silverface" receiver.

At the higher levels, flexibility and the ability to stay up to date are considered more desirable than one-box convenience, so higher-end amps have fewer add-ons. Besides, if you can afford a high-end amp you can afford the wires. --Mike]

Hmmm. Is this the audio equivalent of "pixel peeping?"

Mike, I really don't think it matters. You set up your system in a way that makes you happy, then ENJOY it.
If your 'Interconnects" end up being Garden hose thick , or Bi-Wired, or silver plated copper , or just heavy gauge copper, none of it translates to anyone else's system. Just Enjoy the music.
I have a son who was an Audio Engineer in one of NYC largest recording studios. While he was there the built a second location that could handle a full symphony Orchestra. No expense was spared. I got to watch. Of most importance was room isolation (from outside noise) and the sonic signature of the room.-Room tuning-- When it came to the control room all the cables were high quality, but generally 'off the shelf---things like Mogami for mics & patch bays. Where they paid lots of attention was that all cables were balanced connections, and balanced A/C power that was voltage regulated to reduce the noise floor and provide clean power. They made their own interconnects but with just a heavy gauge pure copper wire. So they paid a lot of attention to the details. But I never saw any of the 'Boutique" cables.
Part of what you pay for in good cables is quality control, if you have miles of wire you don't want to spend time tracing faults. But beyond that, they just didn't seem to think it was important.

Mike...l luv you, man. I am a daily reader since early days. But...

Even if the cables make a slight, audible difference, is that really a problem? Can the difference not be negated by a slight tweaking of the volume or eq controls?

I am a bass guitar player. Any decent amp I plug into sounds slightly different than my regular rig, but usually a slight tweak of the controls gets me where I want to be.

Finally, this is a lot of audio content for a photography blog. (I would insert a smiley emoji here if I knew how!)

Chico


". . . you can accept my conclusions, or accept them with provisos, or reject them"

Is ignore OK with you, as well?

Yes, I have a Hi End system, or what once was one; I have no idea what's happened since.

No, I care no more for your conclusions about interconnects, speaker or other, than about today's temperature in Ulanbator.

{Photography, he whispered.}

I need to invent an acoustically invisible blindfold to eliminate the curtain.

Stephen said: "So, here's my advice: Don't worry about it and don't fall prey to it. Your job is simple: just go with what creates an engaging and beguiling listening experience for you. You will be happy and content."

And "we don't know why but they do." I love it. So true.

It reminds me of the purists who want the record (or CD or digital file) to sound "just like it was recorded in the studio." They've likely never been in a recording studio and certainly have no idea how many components are between the recording artist and the final ears of the listener.

I'm not sure if we're supposed to do this, but I have a comment on Stephen Scharf's comment. He says scientists can't explain the sensation of being stared at. Maybe they can't, but I can. I can do it because I used to closely study people for news stories, so I could characterize them, but to blatantly stare at them is not only impolite, but makes them uneasy. Staring is what predators do. I had to find a way to examine people very closely, without disturbing them.

Here's what I learned:

People are extremely sensitive to the head position of others. For whatever reason (survival in a savannah filled with lions?) humans rarely hold their heads still. They're always checking around.

Now, stare at something. You'll find that your head stops moving. You hold it still. Your eyes may continue to move, but your head doesn't. People pick that up instantly -- that guy's aimed at me and his head isn't moving. He's staring at me.

Because the *observed* person's head is moving constantly, he'll notice that lack of movement even if the staring person is out at 90 or 100 degrees of his basic line of vision. You can try it yourself -- sit in a restaurant and try for a couple of minutes not to look 90 or 100 degrees to either side of yourself. That leaves people with the impression that they pick up the sensation of being stared at, *even from behind.* Actually, what they've done, is that they've unconsciously looked that way, and picked up somebody's lack of head movement.

So, you want to get a good surreptitious look at somebody (from reasonable distance?) You can move your eyes over the person, but keep your head moving, too. They'll never know.

(Actually, sitting here typing, I think I just figured out a double-blind experiment that would prove this.)

Is it just me, or am I missing something here?

If the enemy of good, is better. Why are you chasing cars (or even barking at them)?

Enjoy what you have. You have a bucket for of tickets with 'today' printed on each ticket. Each day you pull one out and it's gone forever. One day, you'll pull out your last ticket.

Do you really want to use up your valuable tickets on chasing down the ghost of the diminishing return, when you could be lying on the floor getting licked on your face or mauled by your lovely dog?

Have a good 'un Mike.

Boy, am I glad that an obsession with sophisticated audio setups for music listening is not amonng my (many) ailments. I can get excited about quality microphones and mic preamps for voice recordings, but those are for producing audio materials. When it comes to consuming audio, I am content with respectable core comprehension of the message. But then in photography too, I love to have a lens that has spirit but when viewing a photograph I am content with a rough print.

If you wish to know if cloth alters sound you do an experiment. A blind experiment. It is simple: you blindfold the subject, and you arrange device which either lowers or does not lower cloth, randomly, on throw of a switch. Device also records if it was lowered or not but that is concealed from everyone. Experimenter also needs to be blindfolded or not able to see the room: experimenter and subject must not know whether cloth is lowered or not except, for subject, by change in sound (experimenter can not know even this). Subject can listen for as long as he wishes between throws of switch – for days if he likes. Switch can be thrown as many times as wanted (perhaps subject must leave room so he can not hear sound of cloth being lowered or not lowered, perhaps other precautions are needed as well). Subject records whether he thinks cloth is lowered each throw.

At the end of experiment state of cloth each throw is revealed, correlations are checked. Now, you know if the cloth is transparent, or if it is not.

This is the only path to knowing: careful experiment.

And when you change the cables you will know which ones are there: experiment is meaningless. But of course you trust your senses: what colour is the dress? which way does the dancer spin? I feel sad for you that you can not understand this thing. Oh, well.

Zyni Moë, the small snake

[Sorry, but you're still not there. Because all I need to prove that the cloth makes a difference is one person who can tell accurately when it is in place or not. However, if you test three or ten or a hundred who can't tell, you have not proved that my one person doesn't exist.

There must be a name for this.... --Mike]

No doubt on the power cable being a difference maker. Some amps more than others.

Regarding inter-connects, I was at Holm Audio during a Nordost cables demo. Granted this was on very high end gear, but differences were noticeable.

"and yes, even Ethernet cables...sound different."

No, they don't.

The way the standard is written the best ethernet cable available will sound exactly the same as writing the signal onto paper and duct-taping it to carrier pigeons. see https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc1149 , aside from some obvious latency.

The whole point of ethernet is that the physical medium makes absolutely no difference. An audio signal sent over ethernet will be sent in bursts with long pauses with administrative overhead such as acknowledgment messages and maybe not even in the correct order.
Even the name "ethernet" was originally a joke about its non-physical nature.

I used to work at cisco writing this stuff despite having a masters in fine art.

Claiming otherwise makes me doubt everything else you claim.

this is actually a late to the party comment on the print critique...
I may have misunderstood, my expectations may have been off, but I'm not exactly sure what was being imparted here. My take was simply that:
1. It was inkjet - you don't like that so much or are fine with it(hard to convey what you describe online about the depth - I get that), but that's perhaps the only option for many(?) so hard to critique as such I would have thought.
2. The paper is expensive, you like that...but I'm not sure I learned anything about what that adds to the viewing or experience of the print. How might other papers done better, worse or different for this image in your experience?
3. you're not a fan of the image subject/nature itself, generally (not that you dislike the image)

That seems to be it.

This isn't intended as a harsh or angry criticism of your post! I love your blog, been reading for years and years now, but I sort of thought it would have been helpful to understand your view on how the print is realised, balanced etc as a print...maybe I'm confusing with the processing (digital or darkroom)? I'm not much of a printer myself, I have only a few large prints that I had made but that's all - I'd definitely like to do more, hence the interest. I love hearing your view and interpretations of work (Baker's Dozen, for example)

Anyway, sorry to be a downer - wasn't the intention, I know you can't please everyone!

Just to back off a bit, what is the goal of high-end audio anyway?

Is it to have the recording sound

a) "Good" perhaps even "improved" in some way
b) Like an accurate representation of a live event
c) Like a faithful rendering of the recorded material with its flaws intact
d) Like the artist and recording engineers intended

These are three entirely different things and for the most part, unless you make your own live recordings, scenario b just isn't going to happen and you should be using headphones.

As for choice d. I once was working on an album cover and we were at a recording session where every time they did a mix they would dub it to a cassette tape and run out into the parking lot to listen to in on car stereos because that was the target they were mixing it for. A friend that worked on a project with Carla Bley said that she listened to the mixes on a boom box.

That said, the first three Roxy Music albums sound really good on an old pair of 1950s Altec Voice Of The Theater cabs and field recordings of flamenco dancing sounded pretty amazing on electrostatic panel speakers a literal rocket scientist father of a classmate built.

Mike. I love your blog. Support it monthly. Read it daily. I relate to your experiences and the relevant photographic knowledge you share. I mildly suffer through your opines on pool and coffee - less so on diet (those are days I just skip).

But audio... OK, I get that it’s a big part of your life. I enjoy music, and confess to the mortal sin of listening To different genres of music, which I do enjoy (if I’m the mood for it). I can’t imagine not having music in my life. I play (in a sucky way) guitar and piano, and they add to my enjoyment of MUSIC.

All this writing on wires and amps and speakers and strongly held opinions... really: yawn.

I visited a gallery owner years ago. He told me of a photographer who brought in a portfolio of exquisitely made and presented platinum prints. Gorgeous. But boring. The gallery owner politely declined to give the photographer a show in his gallery. “But.. but... Do you know HOW hard I worked on these prints?!?!”

“Yes. It’s very apparent you spent a lot of time to create this work. However, I don’t think I’d be able to find buyers for them. I’m sorry..,”

Right now I’m listening to Murder Most Foul by Bob Dylan via my iPhone, bluetoothed into a Harmon Kardon Bluetooth speaker. Could I listen to this on a higher priced “system” (form)? Sure. Would it make the song any more meaningful (content)? I seriously doubt it. The impact of Dylan’s prose regarding November 22,1963 would not be enhanced by using different wires, amps, speakers, soundproof rooms, etc..

Like the platinum prints photographer, the presentation may be pretty... but it’s the content that impacts the viewer or listener.

"Power cables have a bigger impact than speaker cables."

How do you deal with the miles of cheap cable behind the wall?

"even Ethernet cables...sound different."

Doesn't that mean something is broken? Ethernet cables transfer data (with error correction), you shouldn't really think of them as audio cables.

I haven't indulged in high-end audio, but I have perhaps overindulged in electric guitars. Many years ago, a new guitar cable appeared on the scene, George L's, which were touted as more transparent. "Whatever that means," I scoffed. I tried not to be seduced by the reviews, but eventually curiosity got the best of me and I relented. The sonic difference was not only immediately apparent, it was dramatic. Was it "more transparent"? Well, I could see using that word as a descriptor, but my take was that it simply passed through more high end frequencies that were otherwise getting bogged down (technical term) in garden variety cables. For guitars and amps that are already not lacking in high frequencies (a Fender Telecaster into a Deluxe Reverb, for example) the George L. cables were almost too spiky for my tastes. I do still use them to connect pedal chains in order not to lose high end through the additional signal path. And I do now use higher-end cables for the standard guitar plug-in. I'm a believer.

Oh my god. Please make it stop.

Ok, I like Stephen Scharf, because rarely do you find someone in this hobby who considers both the measurable and immeasurable aspects of audio quality. If I hear it...is it not real?

I don't mean to be unduly argumentative, but, you know, when "Someone is wrong on the Internet" it's essential to jump in.
https://m.xkcd.com/386/

Stephen Scharf is mistaken when he claims that ""Why do Vishay metal-film resistors sound notably better than carbon comp, or god forbid, sand-cast resitors? They all measure the same. Nobody knows why, but they do."

The Wikipedia article on resistors at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resistor#Nonideal_properties goes into numerous properties of different resistor types that are measurable, understandable, and affect the signals that pass through them.

And be careful about that one person. Suppose you test each person 10 times. Then each person has a 1/1024 chance of being right on all 10 trials. Test enough people and you'll get a positive result. I'm not saying the person doesn't exist, just that you have to be cautious in interpreting test results. It's sort of like those studies where the experimenter tries 100 different remedies, and finds that one of them is effective with less than a 5% chance of the result being due to randomness - a common level of significance testing. Well, if there's a 5% chance of randomness, you'd actually expect 5 remedies out of the 100 to be successful. It's something to keep in mind as we're bombarded with daily stats about cures, clinical trials, infection rates, and so on.

If the subject is already blindfolded, why bother with raising or lowering a cloth.

It's very much like tasting wine. Expert: "I get hints of dark fruit, chocolate, and leather." Me: "Hmm, yeah, I guess so..."

Mike,
I think it often comes down to personal preference as far as speakers are concerned. Some years ago I read your post about speakers (referencing, I think the speakers you pictured in today's post). I was looking for external speakers for my computer that had a good neutral sound. I bought some tower speakers that I have used for 4 years+ (130.00). I really like the sound they produce.
Recently I realized that with the gradual adding of things to my desk I had very little actual workspace left. I thought, "time to replace the speakers with a quality soundbar". I went shopping and ordered what the salesman recommended ($340.00). Got home and realized that the solution was to put the tower speakers under the desk. Wonderful result!
Received a full refund on my order which went back on the shelf at the store for sale. The store had been out of stock on the soundbar as it was a popular item.

I had a friend who became an audiophile. He told me all about his ongoing quest to build the perfect system.

"That must be great!", I said.
"Ehhh...", he replied, "The main thing I can hear now is the recording imperfections in all the music I used to just dumbly love."

I've always been curious, so I thought now is a good time to ask: Can the musicians on the recording hear the difference at the very high audiophile end?

For example, a few years ago I was printing an image on my inkjet printer. I got the basic print looking good after a few tries and then got it very close. Just a few subtle changes and I woudl be happy. So I made another print with those changes. No, not quite right. Print flung to the floor. Another print. No, that one was wrong, too. Flung to the floor. And another and another, very slight changes each time.

I spent hours and hours on this. When I had a pile of prints on the floor, maybe twenty images I was burned out, decided to walk away and come back to it fresh the next day.

The next day I go through the prints on the floor to refresh my memory of what I was trying to do. The looked identical. Even when I really studied them they looked identical. Couldn't believe it.

I *know* that if someone were to measure the tones they would find a difference. I really did print them slightly different. I think a technical expert might have spotted the difference. Bit not me, despite being the photographer and the printer.

Does that mean those differences didn't matter? I don't know but it seems whatever the differences were they were beyond my "resolution," so to speak (at least the next day). Some viewers might have been able to discern subtleties--and perhaps been very interested in those subtleties--which I didn't specifically include nor able to experience myself.

I mean, surely they can hear differences--I can hear the differences between speakers, wires and some of the rest even on my very humble set-up. But do musicians generally think that the stuff debated on audiophile boards matters?

[Musicians are rather notorious for not caring about audio quality in reproduction, but the reason is widely believed to be because of the fact that they experience the real thing all the time and thus are seldom very impressed with attempts at recreation. There are some musician audiophiles, but they seem to be a minority. Of course, that could just be because audiophiles are a minority of all listeners. Who knows.

And I know "next morning syndrome"--happened all the time in printing! That's one reason why the stepping-away period or let-it-rest period should ideally be part of the process. --Mike]

Mike, one of the names for this is The Tea Test, after the biologist Sir Ronald Fisher ran an experiment to test whether his colleague's claim was true. Dr Muriel Bristol-Roach maintained that she could tell whether, on tasting a cup of tea, the milk had been added before the tea or after. Lots about this online, of course.

I can probably help Stephen Scharf with the mysteries of canine (and feline) intuition... your dog or cat is waiting for you when you get home because you locked the house when you left. Oh, and they really do have a sense of time, within the day, partly due to hunger cycles. Also they hear your car from 200 metres away, your handbrake in the drive and finally - the real clincher - your key in the door. Smart, right? No reductionist science involved.

Dear Mike,
I've so enjoyed your blog recently, the printing issues discussed ad infinitum but in the end a photograph is not defined by all the pixel peeping photographers, it is defined by the significance of the print. One of mine adorns a wall, it is neither sharp, nor as accurate in colour as I'd like but the recipient doesn't care. For him it captures a time, a place, colleagues and for me it reminds me of the sheer hassle, and fun in a challenging way of getting the shot in the first place. It makes me stop, look and think which as Sir Don McCullin says is what a photo should do. I could go on but must not.
Now it’s music reproduction. In 1976 I listened to a Linn Sondek on a Naim six pack. It cost more than a house! 26 years later I bought my LP12 from the same place. Ivor Tiefenbraun, founder of Linn had the phrase “if it sounds better it is better” emblazoned on all his adverts. I can't argue with that all I can do is to decide upon a budget and stick to it. The willingness to dispose of income will be the final arbiter of your sound system. spend wisely and you'll need no more. My stereo was finalised over 20 years ago. nothing added until 3 years ago when a Cyrus streamer dac was introduced and tidal a month ago. It sounds glorious. I love it. I hanker after no more. Probably the only addition that has made an effective I improvement has been a swivelling reclining chair with matching footstool placed in the best position when listening alone. Syringing my ears may be the next improvement I could make!
And yes, I do have yellow mains leads, speaker cable which has a mind of its own, (about as pliable as barbed wire but not quite as dangerous KT) is rather conspicuously thick, defies my attempts to lay it neatly, rages against hiding along skirting boards but “sounds” special and interconnects which many would ridicule. Each item of expenditure was auditioned at home before deciding if the extra gained was worth the expense. It rarely was but when it was it was obvious.
About a decade ago, when the kids were still at home a DVD arrived in our back room and a flat telly long since having lost whatever degree of smartness it was deemed to have. Then I was informed that you just have to have surround sound. really? Seemed so, thus one weekend a bargain basement open box HiFi shop was clearing Sony amps with more knobs, buttons, modes and acronyms than I would ever understand, along with a set of Mission 5:1 flat panels that they were pretty much giving away which is exactly what I did after putting up with them for long enough. Thence random speakers from various free sources were pressed into service and although aesthetically awful sonically they weren't much better, either. A couple years ago an end of line sale from my local serious HiFi retailer saw a set of small B&W speakers installed. Wonderful. The Matrix never sounded so good. Music was OK, to a degree. Yesterday I added Tidal to my Roku stick. It sounded glorious compared to the usual. Well run in and supported speakers using various lengths of speaker cable that was given me in a carrier bag with the Sony and Hitachi freebie speakers we had for years
I listened for hours and got royally entertained. Then I went into the front room and made red LEDs turn green on power supplies, sources, monobloc amps, pre amps and well over 20 year old speakers do their thing.
The difference is amazing. I wouldn’t argue better or worse but certainly different cannot be ignored. No, it is better, it really is! Audio is all about how much are you prepared to spend to get what you want and is it possible that once satisfied you are content?
Therein lies the real problem. It’s not audio, it's contentment. If you're always looking for the next best thing you will never stop. My Canon 5D3 is the first camera I ever owned which I still do not fully understand or appreciate. Now I can't even lift it but I’ll not get rid of it. When I can use it I love doing so. But that's OK because my X100T is a delight and I am content with that.
Printers, too, my HP B9180 lasted a decade and was great but for printheads, my Canon pro something can do 13x19, beautifully as well. But it can do wifi. Prints adorn many places but now it is reduced to printing A5 cards for personal use and even some of those, I'm perplexed to say, find themselves framed in their recipients houses.
Printers, cameras, audio, it's never about better it's always about contentment however it is phrased, it's called marketing, advertising. I'm sure there are better, more expensive replacement items but I'm happy with what I have.
Just as well I remain delighted with our ageing SLK350, too. I sure there's better but it satisfies, exhilarates when needed to, cossets when required and pampers continually, handles beautifully, not totally down to Mercedes, and has ample but comfortable power which also delivers exceptional audio throughout the rev range but better nearer the top end! However, as the very wise James May once remarked, power? you hardly ever use what's there. Handling, ride, brakes and the seats you use all the time.
Once contentment overwhelms marketing and advertising we are free to get on with enjoying!
Surely that is what really matters. Do I enjoy using my camera/sound system/printer/car/whatever? To use such things whilst continually hankering after the next better thing cannot give much satisfaction to anyone bar tax collectors If our enjoyment of our goods is constantly undermined by the craving for new then what is the point of any of it?
Carry on with your blog, Mike........ It's all good! Like a decent piece of artwork it invariably makes me stop, think; sometimes deeply and frequently remember for which I’m grateful.
Apart from foodie stuff, pool antics and, y'know, the stuff I’m just not interested in. Just sayin'!

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up there, hoss. Acoustically invisible? Who says it is? How did you arrive at that? How did you test it? "

Erm, seriously? That's one of the easiest things to test. You set up a calibrated mic, running REW, take a measurement with the setup, leave the setup in place, and only add the curtain (only change), take another measurement, run a diff. Heck do five each, average, and run a diff.

But what if life itself is a simulation, and the simulation detects when you've put up a curtain, and adjusts the measurements, so that they're the same, but really it's still acoustically different....

If you have to veer into the absurd to sustain your argument, chances are...Occam's razor

"Mike replies: It made no effing sense to me that power cables should affect anything."

I think you have this whole argument backwards. It's not that any particular cable A and cable B on System C will always sound the same. You can always find a situation where that's not the case (one of the cables could be broken, they both could be broken, etc.). Do not use any single example to make it mystical.

The real argument is, that given say $100 (and for most cases even that's too much), and a competent build, you could always build a cable that is demonstrably the same or better than any multi hundred or thousand dollar cable. The argument is that you do not *need* to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a cable to get even an infinitesimal improvement in audio quality. The cable is the easiest component to test. It is a known and knowable component. You do not have to veer into the occult to explain it. Any argument that you need expensive cables for good audio is bunk. You do not. Again, it doesn't mean that cable A that costs $100 is always better than cable B that costs $10000. You can always find a situation where that's not the case.

You can easily test cables. Any first year electrical engineering student could do it. A signal is a signal. You can measure what you put in, and you can measure what you get out. You can measure jitter, You can very the frequency, you could run a full sweep. The cable is not going to magically change when being used in System A and in System B (again unless something is broken). It's not magic.

Let's look at it another way. If you're not going to trust an electrical engineer who's been bugging out on Maxwell's Equations for 4 years who has no vested interest, who are you going to trust? The high school dropout selling cables for comission, the vendor charging you multi-hundreds or thousands of dollars on a product that costs them under $20 to make, the reviewer who gets paid to hawk said products? Even if the subjectivist reviewer is honest, are you going to trust his opinion on this cable he tried on his system, that he listened to in his room, with his ears? If you're so afraid of unknown variables that can't be measured, how exactly are you choosing your cables? Are you getting the same exact system as the reviewer, are you getting his room, are you getting his ears and brain? Are you "auditioning" cables in your system? Do you audition them with every song? Do you audition them for weeks or months? Do you make sure the temperature and humidity and the moon align the same every time?

I don't get what the alternative is to getting an expert's opinion.

[Rant over]

I must admit to getting very sad about the prospects for a common approach to reasoned debate when the subject of audio and cables comes up. This whole debate seems to be about whether, or to what extent, an audio component contributes to the sound heard by the listener.

Cables is the component in question here. There are those that say that it has a minimal or zero effect, citing current scientific theories and measurement\experimentation based on those theories. Others say it is possible that there is a currently unknown scientific theory or a nuance in our current understanding of existing theory which is not being measured. But if it is an element of the cable we have no way of explaining it as yet or we are not giving sufficient credence to some aspect of the cable.

One the other hand, we know from countless evidence, experimentation and just general life observation that there is another component in the system – the brain – which can play fast and loose with measurement of just about any input it receives depending on the context. The best audio example I know of is the McGurk effect which is well illustrated in this short video from a BBC program.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2k8fHR9jKVM

I don’t know if cables play a greater role than hitherto suspected. But having seen that video, I know that before I relied on the opinion of the listener to drive my conclusion, I would first eliminate all the other irrelevant inputs (e.g. visual clues) that I could think of. If, once this had been done, there remained a statistically significant difference reported between one cable and another, then I’d give more credence to the “we don’t understand the science sufficiently” argument.

Could you not go one more step to do the best you can do Mike? To satisfy those amongst us who reckon that psychological bias plays a big part in sensory perception. Label the speaker wire sets with a number each. Get an assistant to throw a dice, install the set of wires corresponding to that number and then let you know from outside the room that the test is ready and you can now enter and listen. The two of you should not see each other, or communicate other than by an unemotional medium (a knock, a text message "ready") during the tests. You should not be able to see the wires. Record and repeat until you are both sick of it. Then get a stats person to calculate whether you guesses were better than chance.

Mike, I can tell you that having a dedicated power outlet from the electrical panel does indeed clean up the whole enchalada as in you can hear the music with less noise. I completed this task a year ago and listening to the same system with nothing else changed it made an immediate and dicernable sweetness to my ears. Mind you that yours and any others might vary. Life goes on! BTW when you get your kit together give JazzGroove.org a test.

Mike,

If you're installing a second home audio system, you really ought to take a look at Roon.

"What is Roon?" you previously asked. I see that no one has attempted to answer, and I won't either. It's an unusually difficult product to characterize, or even to describe. (Roon's own attampts on its website fall short.) But in the couple of years I've had it, it's truly changed my musical life.

If you do get interested, and have specific questions, I can probably help. Feel free to ask.

Chuck

(of course all this will prove is whether or not Mike can tell the difference between different speaker wires. Not that no difference exists in the event that you don't do better than chance)

Hi Mike, don't fall for the anti-science, anti-DBT, hearing-is-infinite, best-form-of-defence-is-attack commentary that is almost certain to arrive, and that has basically ruined audio as a hobby for rational beings.

Regarding your acoustically-transparent cloth, all you should need is high confidence, not proof that one superlative human hearer cannot possibly exist. They let potent drugs loose on the world without having the (basically impossible) proof that not one person anywhere will ever drop dead the first time they take a single dose. But the odds are so low that such will happen, everyone proceeds with due confidence. Some audiophiles think that their hobby is so much more important than human life, that they can't proceed on the same basis.

A decent audio scientist can even attain similar confidence without listening tests. The limits of human hearing are surprisingly well understood -- the infinite ear is a myth -- and if the measured impact of a certain cloth is small enough, the chances of it being audible are confidently dismiss-able.

Just make sure that you don't rely on sighted listening tests, if you want to draw conclusions about the sound waves themselves. Because, after all the heated debates about DBT being imperfect, for this purpose, sighted listening is truly 1000+ times worse.

OTOH if sound waves are of no concern to you, and you just want to experience how much your mind 'kids itself' that the sound waves have audibly changed (independently of whether they actually have, or not), then the sighted listening test is the gold standard. And in the end, just as a personal experience, that is worthwhile. Maybe even worth spending money on -- for oneself only. But I plead for caution before jumping from that to a report on the component itself in terms of sound waves and audibility.

cheers

"...you have not proved that my one person doesn't exist.

There must be a name for this.... --Mike]"


religion

[No, no. You misunderstand me. I mean a logical case where one exception disproves a generalization. --Mike

One element of a system’s sonic quality that I’ve pondered over the years of Audio system experimentation and enjoyment, is the role of the Ears of the listener. How many enthusiasts get their hearing tested and a graph of their frequency range? Surely that must play a significant role in what sounds “better” to them. Peaks and valleys in the range must “color” the sound perception.

JimF's comment gets top marks for pithy humour.

Mike - at your suggestion I bought Blue Jeans cables and AudioEngine speakers and DAC. I have enjoyed streaming music in my office since and have not wanted for more in that setup. Thanks for that sound advice.

For my modest home stereo, I'd welcome any suggestion for a power cord in the $100-$200 range.

A lot of arguments about cables make no sense - and if they did the electronics in amplifiers would not work. It is possible to design cables that will affect the sound - but they then become a sort of equaliser and will affect different speakers in different ways. Such cables are badly designed, cables should simply transfer the signal without interfering with it.

A good place to start for information is here:

http://roger-russell.com/wire/wire.htm

Make sure to have large enough diameter - i.e low enough impedance. Bowers and Wilkins has one simple recommendation, less than 0.1 Ohm so it does not interfere with the internal electronics of the speaker.
And tighten the wires regularly.

Find a good placement for your speakers and listening chair, and spend your money and time on buying and listening to music.


Re: JG’s comment - my SET came with an 6N1P as the input tube. 6922s are listed as a substitute and so I rolled a Reflector 6922 from The Tube Store and ... it was different. I judged it “better”. I also rolled 7189s (EL84) for output, and again different and, to me, preferable.

Shall we talk about Shure V15 hyper elliptical vs Jico SAS stylii?

The different tubes just do “the same thing”, and the stylii just trace a groove. The difference is that in both cases they have significant differences that are relatively obvious. With cables, resistors, capacitors, etc., the measurements are those that we know about, and are not necessarily the whole story.

1 I really enjoy when your blog goes way off topic and gets people talking or arguing.

2 I wonder if women obsess over things like Leica "glow" or the sound resulting from using different power cables. I bet that number is around 0.

3 By the time must guys can afford the audio system of their dreams their hearing is not the best. Just aging makes most peoples hearing decline and money spent on something you can't hear is just wasted.

4 For me that whole idea of listening to music is pleasure, not wondering if I am getting every bit of sound. We listen to a lot of online radio stations on our Denon AVR-S900W in our living room. BTW the Denon will calibrate the speakers by plugging a mic into it. Genius! Have two small Polk satellite speakers and a powered Polk sub behind the couch. Is this the ultimate system? For me the answer is yes as my wife and I enjoy hearing curated online music picked by music fanatics. This is probably our favourite online station; https://womr.org/

The last time I checked, in science, you can start with a belief, but in order to be taken seriously, findings need to be precisely repeatable by others, which is why there was once a humor magazine by the name of Journal of Irreproducible Results!

I'm not sure what $7 Vishay bulk-foil resistors were created for, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't for hifi applications; at least I heard not one iota of sonic difference versus an inexpensive film resistor.

As for vacuum tubes, I've tested them in my TV7B/U tube tester, and make no claims for them other than the fact they've been so tested. But if someone wishes to pay me a substantial premium for being Western Electric clear-top something-or-other, who am I to argue?

"I mean a logical case where one exception disproves a generalization." Yes, it's "proof by counterexample". If I notice that 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, and then conjecture that all odd numbers are prime, I can disprove my conjecture by factoring the next odd number, 9, into 3 times 3. At that point, I've proved that not all odd numbers are prime. What you're trying to do, though, is essentially impossible. You want to show that no counterexample exists when the only way to prove it is to test every human being who ever lived. Proof by counterexample relies on actually finding a counterexample, and if there are enough people in the world, you'll never be able to test them all. Math doesn't rely solely or even mainly on counterexamples for proof or disproof. Find the golden ear, or proving that it doesn't exist aren't really tasks that can be solved by following a set of axioms and theorems to a logical conclusion.

Pixel peepers...cable acolytes...measurebators. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, all the same.

"Don't ya know that I love my music,
Ain't nothin' gonna change my tune."
-- Loggins & Messina

(Gotta go take some pictures now...no telling how awesome this sensor will be once it's broken in!)

Reading the comments without reading the post is so entertaining!

I'm going to try one more time because I am hearing so many straw man arguments that ignore basic, well understood, well tested psychology, as if the last hundred years of cognitive science simply doesn't exist.

Let me sum it up: you have to account for bias, you have to account for bias, you have to account for bias.

All this bunk about "I know what I hear, measurements don't explain everything" is irrelevant.

Human beings suffer from cognitive and perceptual biases: they make us hear things that demonstrably don't exist. People make the most fundamental of errors in attributing things to equipment which is invented by their ears and brain.

When judging equipment, you literally cannot trust your ears. People have too much confidence in their own experience. It's really as simple as that.

You cannot, if you are intellectually honest, simply ignore this fact because you want to believe something.

The clearest demonstration of bias is found in
the blind test. "What!!", you say, "but you love the blind test".

Yes, it's the best way to remove biases. But it also exposes a fascinating fact: during blind listening tests, a proportion of listeners report with a high level of confidence differences that don't exist. We know this because we test for it explicitly. In blind testing, you need to quantify this proportion, as it biases the results.

You do this by lying to your testers and playing the same signal twice, while pretending that there are two different signals. And despite the brute fact that they are listening to the same thing, a significant proportion swear they heard differences, even though you just played them the same thing twice. It is literal proof that our brains make stuff up and yet we believe it, in an "on our grandma's life" way.

How stupid can people be, you might think. Not stupid at all - it's just another bias. It appears that the mental activity of listening intently for differences, creates those differences in the mind out of thin air. And blind testers have to account for this in a quantified way.

In fact, blind testers have to account for a whole load of things - which makes designing good quality tests challenging (but scientists manage to do it, just fine).

However, sighted testers, with their excessive confidence in their perceptual abilities, ignore all of these and fail to account for them at all. It is hardly a surprise to those who have performed well designed BT, that differences that are clearly audible in sighted tests, disappear in BT. Especially when you can repeat the tests and make the supposed differences appear and disappear at will simply by switching to blinded protocols.

Many differences reported by enthusiasts don't survive the BT, not because there is something wrong with BT, but because they are the invention of biases in our brains and BT removes the biases by disguising the cues that trigger the biases. Your brain can't be fooled into hearing a non existent difference by the sight of a gorgeous looking, hunky connecting cable, if you can't see it. The inner experience of sound quality is influenced by far more than the actual sound, you just don't realise it.

Conclusion: sighted listening tests do not work, cannot be trusted and should never be used in the assessment of sound quality in audio equipment. And yet, in the majority of cases, sighted testing is the primary method used.

The BT exists in many sciences for a reason: to remove biases caused by external cues that have nothing to do with the variable under test. And the main factions that decry the BT have always been snake oil salesmen whose livelihood is threatened by the evidence (homeopaths, I'm talking to you).

And they say we live in a post truth world...

[Dave...I really appreciate your contributions here and indeed in all your comments. However, I don't allow long drawn-out arguments in the Comments section here. That's a very longstanding rule and it's codified in my Comment Guidelines which you can access from the sidebar. As I've always said, this is not a forum. You actually begin this comment by violating another guideline, which is that I ask commenters to respond to the original post and not to other commenters. In any event I'll publish this, but that's it. Just so you know it's nothing personal. I hope you feel like you've had your say. --Mike]

Sounds like a fantastic recipe for not enjoying music any more.

I have been a guitarist for thirty years - and have a persistent issue with mid-range tonality. I use a valve amp; I have slowly removed effects pedals; I use four different guitars, and have the same problem with all of them. Maybe the audiophiles spending thousands are just trying to combat and tune for their own problematic physiology. I know I am, and it's a bitch when you realise that the your fingers themselves - your 'touch' - might be the issue. When other people pick up my guitar and play through the same set-up,it sounds totally different. I now know that I could spend tens of thousands chasing the sound I want, but it is me I would be compensating for, not an inherent lacking in the equipment.

Actually, this has a lot to do with the pursuit of digital photography, if you think about it...

Somewhere in the last few days I saw reference to Oxygen-free copper connectors -- which I can't find again. I didn't know there was such a thing but my favorite search engine sent me to this informative and entertaining post from 2004.

What About Gold Connectors and Oxygen Free Copper?
(C) 2004 Hank Wallace
I remember when solid state amplifiers first came onto the market in the 1970’s. We had Distortion Wars. First, harmonic distortion dropped to 0.1%. Next year it was 0.05%. The next it was 0.01%, and then a rash of 0.001% distortion amplifiers. No matter that humanoids cannot tell the difference between 0.05% and 0.001%!

After that, in the 1980’s started the Cable Wars. Copper wire was not good enough to connect amplifier A to speaker B. We had to have oxygen free copper and gold plated connectors, special insulators, and impedance controlled geometries.

http://zerocapcable.com/?page_id=213

I think this is all crazy. On the other hand I am a reasonable rationale person who drives a car that is capable of going over 160 miles per hour in a nation of 70 mph speed limits.

"If it measures good and sounds bad, it is bad. If it sounds good and measures bad, you've measured the wrong thing." Daniel von Recklinghausen, the designer of the EMIT tweeter among many other audio wonders.

Its a quote I think sums up photography gear as well.

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