What annoys me today in marketing and media that too often today then talking on hi-fi, science is replaced by bizarre belief structures and marketing fluff, leading to a decades-long stagnation of the audiophile domain. Science makes progress, pseudo-science doesn’t. Hi-fi world is filled by pseudoscience, dogma and fruitloopery to the extent that it resembles a fundamentalist religion. Loudspeaker performance hasn’t tangibly improved in forty years and vast sums are spent addressing the wrong problems.
Business for Engineers: Marketers Lie article points tout that marketing tells lies — falsehoods — things that serve to convey a false impression. Marketing’s purpose is to determining how the product will be branded, positioned, and sold. It seems that there too many snake oil rubbish products marketed in the name of hifi. It is irritating to watch the stupid people in the world be fooled.
In EEVblog #29 – Audiophile Audiophoolery video David L. Jones (from EEVBlog) cuts loose on the Golden Ear Audiophiles and all their Audiophoolery snake oil rubbish. The information presented in Dave’s unique non-scripted overly enthusiastic style! He’s an enthusiastic chap, but couldn’t agree more with many of the opinions he expressed: Directional cables, thousand dollar IEC power cables, and all that rubbish. Monster Cable gets mostered. Note what he says right at the end: “If you pay ridiculous money for these cable you will hear a difference, but don’t expect your friends to”. If you want to believe, you will.
My points on hifi-nonsense:
One of the tenets of audiophile systems is that they are assembled from components, allegedly so that the user can “choose” the best combination. This is pretty largely a myth. The main advantage of component systems is that the dealer can sell ridiculously expensive cables, hand-knitted by Peruvian virgins and soaked in snake oil, to connect it all up. Say goodbye to the noughties: Yesterday’s hi-fi biz is BUSTED, bro article asks are the days of floorstanders and separates numbered? If traditional two-channel audio does have a future, then it could be as the preserve of high resolution audio. Sony has taken the industry lead in High-Res Audio.
HIFI Cable Humbug and Snake oil etc. blog posting rightly points out that there is too much emphasis placed on spending huge sums of money on HIFI cables. Most of what is written about this subject is complete tripe. HIFI magazines promote myths about the benefits of all sorts of equipment. I am as amazed as the writer that that so called audiophiles and HIFI journalists can be fooled into thinking that very expensive speaker cables etc. improve performance. I generally agree – most of this expensive interconnect cable stuff is just plain overpriced.
I can agree that in analogue interconnect cables there are few cases where better cables can really result in cleaner sound, but usually getting any noticeable difference needs that the one you compare with was very bad yo start with (clearly too thin speaker wires with resistance, interconnect that picks interference etc..) or the equipment in the systems are so that they are overly-sensitive to cable characteristics (generally bad equipment designs can make for example cable capacitance affect 100 times or more than it should). Definitely too much snake oil. Good solid engineering is all that is required (like keep LCR low, Teflon or other good insulation, shielding if required, proper gauge for application and the distance traveled). Geometry is a factor but not in the same sense these yahoos preach and deceive.
In digital interconnect cables story is different than on those analogue interconnect cables. Generally in digital interconnect cables the communication either works, does not work or sometimes work unreliably. The digital cable either gets the bits to the other end or not, it does not magically alter the sound that goes through the cable. You need to have active electronics like digital signal processor to change the tone of the audio signal traveling on the digital cable, cable will just not do that.
But this digital interconnect cables characteristics has not stopped hifi marketers to make very expensive cable products that are marketed with unbelievable claims. Ethernet has come to audio world, so there are hifi Ethernet cables. How about 500 dollar Ethernet cable? That’s ridiculous. And it’s only 1.5 meters. Then how about $10,000 audiophile ethernet cable? Bias your dielectrics with the Dielectric-Bias ethernet cable from AudioQuest: “When insulation is unbiased, it slows down parts of the signal differently, a big problem for very time-sensitive multi-octave audio.” I see this as complete marketing crap speak. It seems that they’re made for gullible idiots. No professional would EVER waste money on those cables. Audioquest even produces iPhone sync cables in similar price ranges.
HIFI Cable insulators/supports (expensive blocks that keep cables few centimeters off the floor) are a product category I don’t get. They typically claim to offer incredible performance as well as appealing appearance. Conventional cable isolation theory holds that optimal cable performance can be achieved by elevating cables from the floor in an attempt to control vibrations and manage static fields. Typical cable elevators are made from electrically insulating materials such as wood, glass, plastic or ceramics. Most of these products claim superior performance based upon the materials or methods of elevation. I don’t get those claims.
Along with green magic markers on CDs and audio bricks is another item called the wire conditioner. The claim is that unused wires do not sound the same as wires that have been used for a period of time. I don’t get this product category. And I don’t believe claims in the line like “Natural Quartz crystals along with proprietary materials cause a molecular restructuring of the media, which reduces stress, and significantly improves its mechanical, acoustic, electric, and optical characteristics.” All sounds like just pure marketing with no real benefits.
CD no evil, hear no evil. But the key thing about the CD was that it represented an obvious leap from earlier recording media that simply weren’t good enough for delivery of post-produced material to the consumer to one that was. Once you have made that leap, there is no requirement to go further. The 16 bits of CD were effectively extended to 18 bits by the development of noise shaping, which allows over 100dB signal to noise ratio. That falls a bit short of the 140dB maximum range of human hearing, but that has never been a real goal. If you improve the digital media, the sound quality limiting problem became the transducers; the headphones and the speakers.
We need to talk about SPEAKERS: Soz, ‘audiophiles’, only IT will break the sound barrier article says that today’s loudspeakers are nowhere near as good as they could be, due in no small measure to the presence of “traditional” audiophile products. that today’s loudspeakers are nowhere near as good as they could be, due in no small measure to the presence of “traditional” audiophile products. I can agree with this. Loudspeaker performance hasn’t tangibly improved in forty years and vast sums are spent addressing the wrong problems.
We need to talk about SPEAKERS: Soz, ‘audiophiles’, only IT will break the sound barrier article makes good points on design, DSPs and the debunking of traditional hi-fi. Science makes progress, pseudo-science doesn’t. Legacy loudspeakers are omni-directional at low frequencies, but as frequency rises, the radiation becomes more directional until at the highest frequencies the sound only emerges directly forwards. Thus to enjoy the full frequency range, the listener has to sit in the so-called sweet spot. As a result legacy loudspeakers with sweet spots need extensive room treatment to soak up the deficient off-axis sound. New tools that can change speaker system designs in the future are omni-directional speakers and DSP-based room correction. It’s a scenario ripe for “disruption”.
Computers have become an integrated part of many audio setups. Back in the day integrated audio solutions in PCs had trouble earning respect. Ode To Sound Blaster: Are Discrete Audio Cards Still Worth the Investment? posting tells that it’s been 25 years since the first Sound Blaster card was introduced (a pretty remarkable feat considering the diminished reliance on discrete audio in PCs) and many enthusiasts still consider a sound card an essential piece to the PC building puzzle. It seems that in general onboard sound is finally “Good Enough”, and has been “Good Enough” for a long time now. For most users it is hard to justify the high price of special sound card on PC anymore. There are still some PCs with bad sound hardware on motherboard and buttload of cheap USB adapters with very poor performance. However, what if you want the best sound possible, the lowest noise possible, and don’t really game or use the various audio enhancements? You just want a plain-vanilla sound card, but with the highest quality audio (products typically made for music makers). You can find some really good USB solutions that will blow on-board audio out of the water for about $100 or so.
Although solid-state technology overwhelmingly dominates today’s world of electronics, vacuum tubes are holding out in two small but vibrant areas. Some people like the sound of tubes. The Cool Sound of Tubes article says that a commercially viable number of people find that they prefer the sound produced by tubed equipment in three areas: musical-instrument (MI) amplifiers (mainly guitar amps), some processing devices used in recording studios, and a small but growing percentage of high-fidelity equipment at the high end of the audiophile market. Keep those filaments lit, Design your own Vacuum Tube Audio Equipment article claims that vacuum tubes do sound better than transistors (before you hate in the comments check out this scholarly article on the topic). The difficulty is cost; tube gear is very expensive because it uses lots of copper, iron, often point-to-point wired by hand, and requires a heavy metal chassis to support all of these parts. With this high cost and relative simplicity of circuitry (compared to modern electronics) comes good justification for building your own gear. Maybe this is one of the last frontiers of do-it-yourself that is actually worth doing.