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Wire Wars, Volume 11.20.14: Noisy Negative Nancies

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I was scrolling through my Facebook feed because I had a million better things to do and came across a post by an industry figure. He’d found a advertorial from a vendor, where the pitch was for a very expensive power cord. His post carried the link, and the following comment:

Now THIS is a power cord, and it costs “only” $6,900! 

How can people be so gullible? The best line in this review is typical:

“They consist of conductors that are impregnated with a substance that when magnetized, aligns the signal flow at the atomic level.”

I didn’t realize that AC power cords pass “signal,” but what do I know?

Less than a week later, I saw this:

Cables are ruining high-end audio. It’s as simple as that.

I noticed that people who already “invested” in pricey cables staunchly defend their decisions.

I know it stings if I get suckered out of ten bucks. I can only imagine what it feels like to fall for the cable con, to the tune of three, four, or five figures.

I love seeing this kind of thing. And not because I’m snarking snarkily up my sleeve, either in agreement or in disagreement with the premises, however convoluted and however strident. I love them because they’re puzzles. And puzzles are fun.

So, anyway, since it was on my mind, I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts.

0.1, audio cables are not “The Enemy”. You’re thinking of apathy. Con men and con jobs have been around as long as there’s been commerce, so getting outraged about such happening in high-end audio is a little silly.

0.2, there’s a difference between advertising and reviewing. Admittedly, this isn’t as obvious as it ought to be (if you’re suffering from insomnia, feel free to see Part 1, 2.1, 2.2, 3, and 4 for more). But I think we can all agree that there’s a certain license taken in the act of advertising and that the onus, at least here in the US, isn’t on the purveyor to prove the truth of their claims. Sucks, but there it is. So, if you’re going to rail about a review, you really ought to be sure you’re referring to a review … and not an advert. Pretty rookie mistake.

0.3, audio cables are kinda necessary. Maybe less so, what with batteries and Bluetooth, but it’s still pretty unusual to find an audio system without them. So, they’re hardly “ruining” anything. I say that because generalized statements tend to be pointlessly inflammatory — if you have a particular beef, spit it out.

So, here’s my summary of the main specific issues that The Cable Indignant seem to have with “audiophile audio cables”.

  1. The price of the product
  2. The efficacy of the product
  3. The pitch used to sell the product

I’ll take all three of these in turn.

3-2

 

Pricing

1, First, about pricing. This is a bullshit complaint. Bitching about the price tag of a product says two things.

1.1, you don’t understand business. There’s no shame in this, that is, until you start showing your rear while railing. The problem is, very few of us really bother to take the time to peel this particular onion, so a lot of gut-reactions full of intuitive misinformation make the rounds, but no one bothers to stop and actually ask WTF? Of course, that’s not nearly as much fun as flipping the car over and setting it on fire, but that’s me, Captain Buzzkill.

Look, the cost of any product isn’t tied to wishful thinking. If a vendor makes products on the scale of Apple, they can achieve some remarkable cost-savings just on the economies of scale. They can do even more by outsourcing. But, if that’s true, they’re also likely to be spending tons of marketing and all of those other “hidden costs”. (Somewhere,) I’ve talked about how prices on cables get set, and yes, it’s true, they’re terrific money makers. Eventually. Maybe. Assuming the maker can get their sunk costs out of the rather hideous up-front charges (anybody want to buy a mile of copper — no? Then no new cable for you!), that is. Which is why the cables tend to have exorbitant costs — they need to make that money back. This is one of the reasons that crowd-funding is interesting — with that model, you only buy the materials you need (and have sold), so there’s no guessing about sales, which means you can recoup your costs predictably, which means you can keep your prices lower. None of that is true with traditional models, however. Sucks to be an entrepreneur sometimes. Especially a small scale one.

Trollface1.2, you can’t afford it. Again, there’s really no shame in this either, but aside from a rabble rousing the thronging hordes into a potential storm-the-Bastille endeavor, all you’re doing is trolling, whether for attention (whether clicks, Likes, page views, or clan-building), to create a polarizing moment (kind of a cheap move), or some kind of wannabe Jedi mind trick (sour grapes?) — doesn’t matter, still trolling. So, you can’t afford a BMW. That doesn’t mean your Honda sucks, that you’re a failure, or that Life is Unfair. Get over yourself and move on.

1.3, like any endeavor, there are the outliers in high-end audio and also in high-end audio cabling. So, yes, there will be products that do not have a linear relationship between cost-to-make and MSRP. Even when calculating the marketing, inventory management, distribution costs, and retail commissions, there are still some products that are wildly profitable. It happens. Welcome to capitalism. Go to Helen Waite, she’s handling all such complaints.

1.4, it’s worth separating out price from value. I think a lot of the complaints swap these inadvertently when the make say that something “isn’t worth that price” — deconstructing that, the weight seems to fall much more heavily on value.

For whatever it’s worth, I’m pretty crisp on the whole value thing. To me, value is a relationship between cost and performance in the context of some market segment. A product is “worth it” when I can’t meet or exceed its performance with a less expensive product. Not complicated, but that doesn’t mean it’s not wholly subjective — and worse, the whole notion rests squarely on performance. All I’ve done is move the goal posts around. But assuming we can make those kinds of judgments (see Section 2.3, below), and better, make them meaningful and relevant, I think we are still carrying the points made in Section 1.1, above. That is, if there are products that are clearly better at lower price points, and the price of the product in question cannot be lowered to below that of those superior products, the vendor has a real problem.

The corollary to that, of course, is that if the performance cannot be bettered, the vendor is pretty much free to charge whatever the hell they want for it — and it will still have value.

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Efficacy

ngbbs43ded1f5931e72, I think this issue of efficacy has the most teeth, but that said, they’re still not all that sharp. There are the “Radical Empiricists” that claim that there can be no value unless there is measurements. No claims, unless there is justification. And somewhere, someone is going to have to have sex with a squirrel perform a double-blind test.

2.1, about the whole measurements thing. This is a bit like handing someone a calculator and asking them about their favorite color, and then pounding them when they say “Alfredo Sauce”. There are so many smart people in the world. I believe that. I like to believe that I myself have a tolerably long head. I know many things. But I’m not your guy when it comes to structural analysis of a load-bearing support. I’m not going to be your guy when it comes to dosage-per-pound for anesthesia administration. I’m not going to be your guy when plotting the most fuel-efficient flight plans between Earth and Titan. I have limits. We all do.

Interestingly, Science does too, and I don’t need to get all “Mysterian” on you to make that claim. Like many of you, I’m an empiricist, and unlike many of you, I really mean that. If it’s in my ability (both in technical know-how, and in budget) to test something, I probably will. I also happen to know that failing-to-confirm is not the same as disproving something. Still, we soldier on. And when I don’t know, or don’t know why, I’ll say that too. I say all that, because I’m aware of certain weird little oddities. Like the fact that the Laws of Physics are false. I also know why. I also know that, while that’s absolutely true, it doesn’t matter a lick. It’s just weird. Science, like any set of tools, just happens to be a little bit limited. Oops.

2.2, As to why “cables matter”, I have several answers.

2.2.1, “Everything matters.” I’m not sure who first applied this to audio, but I adopted it from a contributor over at ComputerAudiophile.com named Barrows. To his adage, I appended: “But nothing matters very much.” Cables matter. But sonically, they matter less than the loudspeaker, the amplifier, the preamp and the source. They matter much less than the quality of the mastering and subsequent capture and/or encoding. But they also matter more than footers or your rack (usually). John Atkinson, the editor of Stereophile Magazine, has been quoted as saying that the most impact a set of cables can make to the overall sonic presentation is less than 5%. To me, this seems a wholly arbitrary number, but the point is that it’s small. After the “everything else” has been fully sorted, cables are left.

2.2.2, Personally, I think cables do matter. Not all. And not all the time. But with some very fancy systems, there seems a rather delicate balance to the overall system’s sound that can be affected by little shit. Like different cables. In such cases, I find that cables can make a system sound quite different, where “quite” = “clearly audible”. In my experience, cables will never “transform” a system, unless we’re talking about going from “not operational” to “operational”. But I do use them quite regularly to tune an overall presentation one way or another. Some cables seem to be tonally threadbare, like there’s something wrong with the presentation, something missing. Some cables seem to be tonally overblown, again, like there’s something wrong with the presentation, something gets tilted. Some cables seem to provide assistance to the lowest registers. Some to the highest. Some seem to obscure detail. Some don’t.

In short, they’re tone controls.

This may be anathema to some, and I can hear you hissing from here. Whatever. The idea that a cable is actually a filter is about as “out there” as saying “tubes sound different”. The notion that they’re all filters may be odd. Yes, the Romex in the wall is part of the system and yes, it’s a filter. Given that you can’t do much with the juice upstream from the box, your zone of control begins there. Everything that comes after that is “doing something”, but to be honest, it may not be doing much. But to say that it’s “doing nothing” is an entirely different sort of claim.

2.3, there’s a difference between “how we know” and “what we know”. Both fall in the Philosophy program of Epistemology, but it’s helpful to keep them separate, I think. We tend to talk about the latter as “knowledge” or “facts”, that is, as some kind of collectible, while the former are the tools used to extract such things from the world.

2.3.1, Double-blind tests (DBT), or any other kind of test, is not knowledge. It is, only and exactly, an epistemic tool for mining data. There’s nothing particularly privileged about it; it has its uses and its limits, its fans and its detractors. The success (or not) of any epistemic tool rests almost entirely on the methodology under which it’s used. That is, there are “good” DBTs, and “not good” ones. I say this because DBT is lifted up, rather routinely in this space, as some kind of holy grail. In fact, there were numerous “contributions” to the original Facebook post that said something to the effect of “Give me DBT, or give them Death!” A sentiment that I find particularly moronic, given what I’ve just said, and what follows in the next.

2.3.2, double-blind tests are terrifically useful — especially when you’re looking for really big, obvious stuff. As in, “did you die or not die”. But trying to tell shades of color apart from each other? Not a DBT kind of thing. What that tells you, at best, is that Average Joe fails or succeeds. But who cares about Average Joe? Is Joe particularly gifted at such tasks? Does he have eyes like a hawk? A nose like a hound? Ears like … something with particularly keen hearing that isn’t a dog because I just used that as an example in the last sentence? It doesn’t matter about Average Joe, because we’re not interested in a prediction of what some poor, randomly selected shrub is or isn’t going to hear. We’re interested in whether or not it’s possible to hear it. And that is an entirely different kind of test.

Please. Put the DBT thing to bed. Unless you’re testing drugs to combat cancer or Ebola or something similar, just stop.

2.3.3, do your own flipping tests. I really don’t understand why this is so hard. This is pretty much what “empiricist” implies, for whatever that’s worth — you actually do the experiment. If you’ve ever rested on your heels and said “no experiment is necessary”, you’ve pretty much hung up the lab coat and in favor of the surplice and white collar. Just sayin’.

So, if you have a good system, and you’re curious about the potential impact of cables, get some. Try them. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t buy them.

And … done!

Note that this is, at best, a “null result”. This is sufficient to abandon the project, if you see fit. But this is in no way a proof that cables do not have, or could not have, an effect. Making that jump is called “illicit transference”, and that’s a logical no-no.

2.4, which brings me to another, related problem — why did you get a null result? I mean, assuming you’re curious. This,  perhaps obviously, has three answers — because you did not hear it, you cannot hear it, or there is nothing to hear.

2.4.1, starting with the last one, there’s nothing to hear, we’ve just addressed this — a “null result” has no ontological weight. Said another way, just because you didn’t hear it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there to hear. There’s really no way out of this trap without making some sort of appeal to either methodological error, a corrupt data set, or a logical flaw. It’s interesting to note that all there have been attempted.

2.4.1.1, The methodological error is the most common complaint — someone screwed up the sampling or the test. I’d argue that this isn’t the case — that instead, we’re using the wrong tools, but put both aside as we’ve already discussed them. At some point you have to realize that you’re not going to be able to create “the perfect test” and get on with it. But even if you do have a great test, there’s still the question of what you do with the results. Which brings me to:

2.4.1.2, the issue of corrupt data, the second result, is rather interesting. To that little bonfire, I’ll reintroduce the term “outliers”. In statistics, we have many useful tools for making our data look more interesting than it is, but how we handle outliers is one of the first things that gets applied. Namely, we toss the suspicious ones — a curious move, if you think about it. Did someone get all the answers right? Out they go from the sample pool! Did someone get all the answers wrong? Out they go from the sample pool! Now, let’s normalize the rest — et voilà, a nice distribution curve! Wait — your curve is all wonky? Then dump some more outliers and repeat until smooth. Makes it sound like we’re making gravy, doesn’t it? The problem with this I already outlined in section 2.3.2 — you tossed the wrong respondents! The outliers are exactly the ones you want because, again, we’re not testing for “what Average Joe might hear”, but what’s possible to be heard. Outliers are wonderful indications that there’s someone in your sample pool able to tell you something really interesting. Dumping them is methodologically perverse.

2.4.1.3, the remaining possibility, that it was because of you that you did not hear anything, is not very kind. Being incendiary, it tends to not be terrifically helpful in a “discussion”, unless you’re actively trying to prove Godwin’s Law. The argument here is usually made contra-doubter in that it comes from the ones that are already “”invested in pricey cables” “that staunchly defend their decisions and views”.

The argument goes like this: “the reason you can’t hear the differences a cable can make is because you’re either deaf or your system is not resolving enough“.

Note that I’m going to put aside the issue of hearing loss — it’s a real, and perplexing problem especially for and amongst the aging pool of professional reviewers. But lets take on that “resolving” bit there.

As I mentioned, there’s this kernel of elitism that’s both as unnecessary as it is mean-spirited. I’m going to note that and move on.

The argument here can very well sound like cognitive dissonance to an outsider, that is, a subconscious need to justify a judgment that was expensive to make. That’s fair, and interesting and allows for a counter argument that can cite this as an insurmountable bias, and then dismiss any resulting claims made by “the duped” — even if those claims were made after rigorous methodological procedures had been conscientiously followed. Doesn’t matter — the perceived bias trumps, and the over-spender is vanquished.

It’s a load of crap, of course. It’s enough to put a pin in this and simply say that this is an ad hominem move, and out of bounds. Very much like the snide “you’re too poor to hear what I hear” subtext might be. Both are petty and stupid.

But getting back to the resolving thing — this is interesting.

It’s a truism that quality doesn’t entail cost. Said another way, a thing doesn’t have to be expensive to be good. But quality and cost do reverse-correlate — quality rarely improves with the less that you spend. There is a point after which this breaks down, but it’s almost always true when that curve is getting off the ground.

The problem is that the folks in high-end audio don’t always value the same stuff. Not in looks. Not in sound. Not by the consumer. Not by the designer.

Jeff Joseph, of Joseph Audio, once told me that all loudspeaker designers are likely to be chasing some kind of formative sound — that is their idea of an ideal and not a “flat response curve”. Whether universally true or not, it speaks to the potential for the large variation in the sound of the products you’ll find in audio’s high-end.

Some designers just like their products to sound a “certain way”. A certain way that, to some certain others, sounds hot. Or bass-heavy. Or treble-challenged. Or smooth. Sometimes, it comes down to a choice in materials or designs that forces a sonic characteristic, and the designer has decided (for better or worse) that the drawbacks of a given approach or a given material or component are fewer and less egregiously bad than the positives that it contributes. Given that every product is a series of compromises (or sonic preferences), it’s hardly a leap to assume that there will be some products that show differences better than others. It’s also hardly a leap to assume that many of us use such “sonically challenged” products.

So, if you cannot hear the differences between components, it might not be you. It might be your speaker. Or your source. Or your amp. There is no shame in this. It happens. I remember building several audio systems that sounded just marvelous but were absolute shit at dynamics. Or detail retrieval. That had obvious challenges in the bass.

In case you were wondering, this is the game of whack-a-mole that we call “being an audiophile”. And put that way, the whole elusiveness to any answer around “cable contribution” make a whole lot of sense.

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Pitch

3.0, when it comes to a sales pitch, all bets are off. What was it that PT Barnum said? Ah, who cares.

3.1, I think the EU now has some pretty good and interesting restrictions on what marketing departments are allowed to include and what they’re not allowed include. That is, it’s much more clear about what egregious nonsense is actionable in court, and what is merely shameless eyeball grabbery. Shame we don’t have anything like that in the US. But if you’re really upset about it, we do have these periodic events called “Election Day” where we’re able to express ourselves around this issue and others issues like it.

3.2, I’m not sure that “modest claims” of performance enhancement will really do a whole lot to sell expensive products. Again, please refer to Section 1, above. Given that the entrepreneurs have been, in large part, trapped into a pricing structure due to their size (no economy of scale) and their go-to-market strategy (“channel distribution” means significant mark-ups to cut those middle-men into the sale), they might have a lot less wiggle room than either you — or they — are happy with when it comes to final MSRP.

3.3, while I’m a big fan of hyperbole-busting, hyperbole is different from what many cable vendors are doing. Instead, a cable vendor advert tends to read a lot like one for a Swiss watch, and for good reason. The use of rare and exotic materials may not (or may) have impact on the sonic characteristics that are audible within the context of a large and complicated audio system, but they do still have appeal. Your audio system may not cost thousands of dollars. It almost certainly does not cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But if it does, chances are that you have a really fancy watch too, and one that keeps significantly worse time than the toy that my seven-year-old son “forgot” under my bed with the alarm set to 1:34AM. Why do we buy such crap (where “crap” = “obviously inferior-performing products”)? Well, because of advertising, most likely. The entire segment was defined by the idea that precision was not preferred, but instead, what was to be sought out and valued was artisanship. And that’s where we are now. Again, welcome to capitalism. As I mentioned, you are free to go to Helen Waite, as she’s handling that department these days.

3.4, note that this is not to say that, occasionally, some lunatic doesn’t take a dive off the crack pipe, seize the keyboard and vomit nonsense; but if we’re charitable, we can assume that that’s not really what they’re usually going for. Not usually.

Chances are, they’re just bad. Bad writers. Bad sales people. Crack will mess with your judgement and that’s a fact, Jack.

3.5, it’s another truism that good sales people are generally not engineers. Or scientists. That’s how you get nonsense like “quantum tunneling” being singled out as the key sonic differentiator in a given product’s design. The claim makes absolutely no sense in any possible universe — quantum tunneling is a real thing, it’s a bizarre feature of our quantum universe, but to say that by bypassing the device entirely (quantum tunneling is also called “quantum teleportation”) has any effect at all on the device in question is the logical of equivalent of a non sequitur. You could just as easily have said — and had it be exactly as true — “This device is superior precisely because the moon is a banana.” It’s nonsense. But it happens.

In all fairness, engineers really ought not to be allowed near consumers for similar reasons. When asked if a given feature will address a given performance gap, the answers an engineer might be likely to give may have some relationship to the question at hand, but will almost definitely not be in the format requested, which was “yes” or “no”, and may require an advanced degree to untangle. Welcome to the corporate world.

Those observances made, we have to cut marketing some slack. They’re neither sales nor engineers, but professionals that synthesize aspects of both. When a real marketing person is involved, the chances of pure fantasy invading the literature are lower.

The prior comments about “crack pipe diving” still apply, however.

3.6, if you want to talk about how reviewers go off the deep end … because it happens … let me refer you back to the links in Section 0.2, above.

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About Scot Hull (979 Articles)

Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.

18 Comments on Wire Wars, Volume 11.20.14: Noisy Negative Nancies

  1. Gabriel Bisson // February 5, 2015 at 5:36 PM //

    Yeah, science has limits. We don’t know everything, but there’s an antidote to ignorance in general: education. On the subject of cables, read Richard A. Greiner. Ph.D. , was a professor in electrical and computer engineering, an obvious authority, extensively covered the cable scene, etc.

    Complexity should not be an excuse for ignorance, and the complex subject of our understanding of fundamental physic laws should not be an excuse for ignorance on the not so fundamental subject of audio cables. Why do we always have to endure the “our knowledge of the universe is small” or other kind of metaphysic talking when speaking of audio signal carriers? Maybe because physic and empirical knowledge do not support any conclusion made by the cables fanatics… Think about it. You would not need that much rhetorical fireworks if actual data existed to prove what, it seems, is your these here..

    Your epistemologic concerns about double blind testing are the next logical step leading to the intellectual mess-up necessary to eradicate any notion of “truth”. If, no doubt about that, there exist “good DBT” and “bad DBT”, I fail to understand the logic behind the “we should abandon them” part of your reasoning.

    Your assumption that DBT obliterate small differences is fabulously unsupported. If anything, they allow us to hear with our ears, not with our preconceptions of what we should hear. The reason why they are so disorienting is because we’re accustomed to interpret and judge what we hear with many things other than sound alone.

  2. To those who complain about cables being too pricey; They pay for part of the rent of your dealer’s building. Would you rather them charging more for your amp, speakers, source? The money has to come from somewhere so if there are a bunch of people out there ‘subsidising’ my audio equipment then thank you very much! No complaints here.

  3. Scot, apologies for the extra ‘t’ on the end of your name in the earlier post!

  4. Hello Scott. I don’t quite agree with your summaries of rationalism vs. empiricism. But having looked up the conventional definition of “rationalist” I think that I am being quite true to my blog’s name.

    The comments I made earlier were textbook rationalist: the idea that the world can be fathomed through deductive reasoning rather than needing to carry out endless experiments; that experience in itself is not knowledge (- now there’s a common misconception in the audio world). In my blog, in an article I wrote on Science and Audio, I specifically dismissed listening tests as flawed science and a waste of considerable effort, so I think I am being quite consistent.

    My rationalist stance on cables is that differences are real, but minuscule, and that we don’t have to waste any effort or money in a doomed attempt to prove it. I don’t see that as a negative stance, but one that is rather positive!

    • Part-Time Audiophile // November 26, 2014 at 2:50 PM //

      Well, it certainly would be cheaper! I call that a win.

      The problem I have with rationalism is that it tends to lead toward an academic fascination with abstraction. It also leads to crazy ass nonsense — Hegelian Idealism and pretty much all of 20th century “Continental” Philosophy, for examples.

      As for my own bent, I’m more Logical Positivist than not, though I suppose the label “Quasi Realist” is probably the most accurate. Unpacking that, however, is a dissertation that I don’t think I’m really able to defend anymore — grad school was simply too long ago.

      As for the efficacy of wire, I will say that I started off agreeing with the vehement rationalists. My experience — and believe me, I tried — could lend no credence to the supposition that different wire made any difference whatsoever. Because, in my system, it did not. The Cable Lending Library was really helpful, here. So, given my tests and the set of null results that fell out of that, I was done. I bought cables from Blue Jeans, and was happy.

      I played whack-a-mole for a few years, with this as my back story.

      At some point, however, I decided to upgrade my loudspeakers. These new ones just sounded better, I thought, to my old ones. I tried them out at the dealer, loved them, bought them, brought them home and wired them up and bored myself to sleep. I took them back. Complained. My dealer, being wise, told me to bring my amp and source to the store. I did. The system, with my new speakers, sounded okay. He swapped gear. Sound quality improved. He swapped more gear. Sound quality improved a lot more. I was impressed. He swapped more gear. Sound quality took a huge, obvious, and terrific nose dive. More swapping. SQ jumped back to where it was, maybe took steps ahead.

      I asked WTF he did. “Your cables,” he said. “Fuck,” I said.

      I’ve noticed that the better my gear, the more it reacts to new things thrown in. A new DAC, a new cartridge, a new motor for the turntable — all matter more now than they ever did, way back when.

      Unfortunately for me, cables matter in this same way.

      That isn’t to say that all systems respond the same way — I use the Blue Jeans cables for quite a bit, including my AV setup. Works fantastic. But in my super-duper system, other cables work better.

      Shouldn’t matter, perhaps, but it does.

  5. Great article ! well written and entertaining, too. Loved it.

  6. I agree it’s well reasoned, but I it won’t be accepted by the ones who started this ‘discussion.’ See the long response above as a mild example.

    • Hello Brian. Very interesting that you see people like me as having “started the discussion”, as if audiophile cables have always existed, and we tin-eared (which is partly the implication) rationalists only came along later and tried to spoil the party. The reality is that professional engineers and scientists started off regarding cables as pieces of wire*, and they *still* regard them as pieces of wire*. The hobbyist high end audiophile cable thing didn’t start until the 80s (or 90s..?).

      *see the disclaimer below.

      • I don’t know where the pin on the timeline falls, but I’m pretty sure Polk Audio was at the leading edge with their “Cobra” cable. A twisted array with a much larger total gauge, IIRC, but the upshot (according to Sandy Gross) was that the amps saw a much different load. Some went into oscillation. Pretty interesting result, but they started adding Zobels, and the temperamental amps managed to keep their composure. Net-net, there was a dramatic difference in sound quality with the new wires (or so the anecdotes go). Anyway, the proof was in the pudding, apparently, and Cobra led to a lot more experimentation, even as controversy happened right along side. IIRC, it was TAS that was one of the first to loudly ridicule the notion of “audiophile cables”. Interesting, given the current stance over there.

        All that aside, what strikes me as particularly perplexing, however, is how logically obtuse both sides are.

        -The philosophical empiricists (aka, “objectivisits”) claim that “cable differences” are impossible — to support that, they cite physical Law and dismiss empirical (a posteriori) results.
        -The philosophical rationalists (aka, “subjectivists”) claim that “cable differences” are real — to support that, they cite empirical tests and dismiss rationalist (a priori) conclusions.

        It’s bizarro world.

  7. Austin, TX // November 24, 2014 at 1:26 AM //

    Monoprice is all ya’ll need – suckers.

  8. I thought this article was great. I myself strongly believe that cables make a huge difference and a lot more than just 5%. Fantastic way of fine tuning your systems performance. And if you don’t believe me, just think of all the money you save. And yes it does suck that if a cable/cables can improve the system to my ears by even as little as 5% ( I believe the percentage can be higher) that I have to pay the price that the manufacturer has set. It is what it is.

  9. We recently set-up a new Krell system with all AudioQuest interconnects and power cords. I can’t say if they made any difference as we did not test the system with the stock power cords or low cost interconnects, but I can say the beefy and ultra high quality cables and connectors look great and are a pleasure to work with.

    The final results are a great high quality look, fit and finish and the system is true reference quality performance.

    -Robert

  10. John Toste // November 23, 2014 at 2:40 PM //

    Live and let live, I always say. But… lately the horde of venomous cable-phobics stinking up the internet has become difficult to ignore.

    As stated in this article; try ’em at home if you’re interested. If you don’t like them, don’t buy them.

    Just don’t act like I insulted your religion because I choose something that you “don’t have to try to know that it can’t make a difference. “

  11. What a wonderfully concise (, even,) and well argued perspective!

  12. I am firmly in the “cables make no difference” camp*, but I have long since given up trying to argue the point directly. My only points are:

    1. Just supposing, hypothetically, that cables really do make no difference*. Could the current state of the hi fi industry still be explained? (e.g. Intelligent people spending $100, $1000, $10000 on pieces of wire that strongly resemble other pieces of wire that cost $10; swearing that they can hear “night and day” differences when, scientifically, that is really very unlikely etc.). And the answer is, yes of course. It is all entirely consistent with well-known psychological phenomena: placebo, expectation bias etc. (Maybe the participants even actually know this, but are still happy to pay for the placebo). Not only that, but could the original idea of marketing ‘audiophile cable’ have been a bit of a wheeze by some jokers who thought they’d have a laugh and see if they could play a bit of a game with the hi fi fraternity? Yes. No proof, but it’s possible.

    2. While I think it is a fact that all cables really are different from each other in terms of R, L and C (and maybe some minuscule traces of nonlinearity and other weirdness in the insulation, connector interfaces – who knows?), the key question is: proportionally, how large are any audible effects from these variations likely to be? There’s an awful lot of cable, switches, contacts, electronic components between the microphone and the speakers, so what makes us think that the few inches of wire that are ‘exposed’ for the audiophile’s attention are going to make any significant difference at all? There are genuine, measurable, highly audible, weird things going on in most speakers (not at all natural or benign) that dwarf any effects of the cable. Fix those first, I would say.

    Just my personal view. No offence intended. Carry on as you were.

    * It is usual to accompany that basic statement with a disclaimer of course: the cables have to be adequate in terms of electrical performance and mechanical construction, but $5 per foot should cover it. And by “no difference” I mean “minuscule, insignificant difference”.

  13. It has been proven scientifically that different cables sound different. A paper by David Salz of Wireworld was delivered to the AES last year. Oh, ever try that thing called listening?

  14. I concur cables and power cords make a difference….the best thing about AGING is I get to sell all the expensive one’s I have and go buy new ones at the Hardware Store because my ears don’t work anymore…it was like winning the Lotto, $8500 back in my pocket and it sounds just as good to me!!!

  15. This is a thoughtful and well-reasoned article. Audio enthusiasts who think cables don’t matter or are over-priced should read it.

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