Audio trends and snake oil

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 domainScience 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.




  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Furutech DeStat II removes dust and eliminates the popping sound, and the clicker in seconds from LPs. Thats seems to be reasonable claim that could be true. The device costs more than 400 USD.

    The following line in the article sounds like snake oil salesman talk though: According to Furutech the treatment not only benefit from the lp discs, but also CD / DVD drives, components, power cables, patch cords and speaker cables.


    • Brian6 says:

      This has been an ongoing phenomnena starting on internet forums. Many a guitarist has heard this untruthful lies written by some anonymous forum user, who knows all the guys on the forum. The Fender Telecaster is shrill. What. The Telecaster is the staple, the gold standard in country music, and rock. When forum users started using the internet. I think that many of us should have been suspicious. Isn’t in human nature to lie all the time about just about anything you can think of people lie.

      When you hear that about one of the most iconic guitars in rock something should have rang a bell in most peoples heads. It took me months maybe a year to figure it out.

      But I did.

      What’s wrong with picture is that a couple of kooks who basically are problemed and who do not go by the standards of music are hell bent on ruining Fender, Boss, BlackStar, Peavey.

      Heres the latest one. “Peavey uses Diode Clipping in the gain booster. Don’t they?”

      They even me going.

      So what kind of person does that. Spreading ill will and false rumors and why?

      That hasn’t been decided yet. But I’m onto your scam.

      Later we read the Mogami is selling $179.00 cables.

      With 6L6 tubes, 12AX7 tubes, KT66 creating the lush, sound scapes, Superdistorion, The Breed, Tone Zone, many other creating the tone of the guitar, the tone woods of the guitar, the speakers like Celestion Alnico Blue, your stings, and your guitar playing, your fingers, and solos, riffs.

      Big cable companies are taking credit for major contributotions to your sound. Lets not forget the circuit board, the reticifier. These are not small things in creating your guitars sound,

      Yet Big cable says this to guitarist. Your mids will be too fizzy. Your lows not tight. My cables will change all that.

      When a cable company tells you that your smoking hot sound is somehow wrong without them.

      You better run like hell. Because if you don’t. That con artist is going to try to destroy you step by step.

      Salesmen, or snakes oil sales men make false claims. The snake oil in history was nothing more than colored water. They claimed it would cure disease, insomnia, balding, near sigthedness.

      The Snake oil salesmen in music are back again.

      They don’t want to acknowledge that all the things I mentioned including my pro skills are making this happen.

      Do you know why?

      They disregarding what makes a great sounding guitar solo and lieing to very musicians that are making happen.

      Because they believe that your hypnotized by their sales pitch.

      They coming for you money.

      I buy Hosa cables that don’t cost more than 20 dollars,

      They do more than deliver great sound.

      They give me peace of mind.

  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Audio interconnect cables: Myths vs. truths

    A/V technicians at Youtube’s AudioholicsLIVE (a production of the online A/V magazine Audioholics) recently produced the following video, which investigates common myths vs. truths surrouding the purchase and deployment of audio interconnect cables.

    Professional opinions aired in the video include the following claims:

    – “For audio interconnects, shielded twisted pair or shielded coax work extremely well…Unshielded twisted pair is good for rejecting magnetic pickup but not so good at eliminating capacitive pickup (unless the interfaces between components are balanced). Shielded twisted pair provides excellent shielding for low frequency signals in which the magnetic pickup is the major concern. The effectiveness of the twisting increases as the number of twists per unit length increases.”

    – “Shielded twisted pair is more than enough for frequencies below 100kHz, , but above 1 MHz, the losses in the shielded twisted pair increases considerably. In addition, a twisted pair cable cannot maintain the proper impedance necessary for video applications (75 ohms).”

    – “Termination quality is also an important consideration. [We] don’t care for the turbine RCA connectors, as they tend to lock down too tightly on an RCA jack

    – “Bottom line: If a cable can pass video signals over long distances with no problems, it will easily handle any line-level audio signal.”

  3. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Oculus is now making its own virtual reality movies
    Story Studio is the company’s internal team exploring what it calls ‘VR cinema’

    The prominence of virtual reality has been one of the biggest stories of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and now Oculus itself is stepping into the fray to highlight the importance of storytelling in VR. The company has pulled back the curtain on Oculus Story Studio, an internal team focused on exploring the potential of what it calls “VR cinema” — and the group’s first movie is debuting this week.

    Called Lost, the project is a real-time computer generated VR experience for the Crescent Bay prototype, and is directed by Saschka Unseld, a former Pixar animator who created the 2013 short The Blue Umbrella. Lost runs roughly five minutes in length, but in what Unseld touts as one of the project’s innovations, it changes the pace of its storytelling based on the action taken by the viewer. “It could be three-and-a-half minutes and it could be 10,” he says. “It all depends on you.”

    Oculus’ First In-House VR Film “Lost” Is Cute, Immersive, But Hardly Interactive

    Oculus just premiered its Story Studio’s first virtual reality cinema experience “Lost” that’s designed to demonstrate the narrative potential of VR to filmmakers. The experience features a massive robotic hand traipsing around a darkened forest in search of its body. It proves that a simple, character driven story can be told in an immersive environment. Yet while adorable, the film doesn’t push the limits of VR much.

    All the action takes place in front of you, with just one scene overhead.

    While the forest feels immersive in VR, the film could work just fine as a film, and that’s somewhat of a failure considering the point of Story Studio.

  4. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Full HD technology for managing a great Blu-Ray Disc Consortium estimates that as early as next Christmas can be purchased 4K playback capable Blu-ray players.

    Consortium, the Blu-ray will support 3840 x 2160 dots resolution, the screen updates in 60 times per second, and the color space, which covers 75 percent of the human eye vision.

    Future discs suitable for 66 or 100 gigabytes of data. Also, the data writing speed will increase from the current and H.264 compression technology will be updated to a newer H.265


  5. Tomi Engdahl says:

    YouTube now defaults to HTML5

    Four years ago, we wrote about YouTube’s early support for the HTML5 tag and how it performed compared to Flash. At the time, there were limitations that held it back from becoming our preferred platform for video delivery. Most critically, HTML5 lacked support for Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) that lets us show you more videos with less buffering.

    Over the last four years, we’ve worked with browser vendors and the broader community to close those gaps, and now, YouTube uses HTML5 by default in Chrome, IE 11, Safari 8 and in beta versions of Firefox.

    The benefits of HTML5 extend beyond web browsers, and it’s now also used in smart TVs and other streaming devices. Here are a few key technologies that have enabled this critical step forward:

    Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) streaming is critical for providing a quality video experience for viewers
    ABR has reduced buffering by more than 50 percent globally and as much as 80 percent on heavily-congested networks.

    HTML5 lets you take advantage of the open VP9 codec, which gives you higher quality video resolution with an average bandwidth reduction of 35 percent. These smaller files allow more people to access 4K and HD at 60FPS

    In the past, the choice of delivery platform (Flash, Silverlight, etc) and content protection technology.
    Encrypted Media Extensions separate the work of content protection from delivery, enabling content providers like YouTube to use a single HTML5 video player across a wide range of platforms.

    YouTube enables everyone to share their videos with the world, whether uploading pre-recorded videos or broadcasting live. WebRTC allows us to build on the same technology that enables plugin-free Google Hangouts to provide broadcasting tools from within the browser.

    Using the new fullscreen APIs in HTML5, YouTube is able to provide an immersive fullscreen viewing experience (perfect for those 4K videos), all with standard HTML UI.

    Given the progress we’ve made with HTML5 , we’re now defaulting to the HTML5 player on the web. We’re also deprecating the “old style” of Flash embeds and our Flash API. We encourage all embedders to use the API, which can intelligently use whichever technology the client supports.

  6. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Kyle Russell / TechCrunch:
    Prynt, a case that turns your phone into a Polaroid camera, is now available for pre-order on Kickstarter for $49

    The Case That Turns Your Phone Into A Polaroid Camera Is Now On Kickstarter

    The Prynt case, which lets you print photos directly from your phone, is now available for pre-order on Kickstarter. While the startup still plans for its case to retail for $99, early backers can get it for $49.

    When it arrives this summer, the Prynt will support the iPhone 5/s/c/6 and the Samsung Galaxy S4/S5. Along with printing photos as you take them or from your camera roll, it’ll also come with an app that brings a nifty augmented reality feature

    “When you take a photo with Prynt’s app, it actually records a video of the moments around when you clicked the button and sends it to the cloud. When you hold up the physical photo to your phone’s camera with the app open, it is overlaid with a Play button that shows that video in place of the picture itself.”

  7. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Music piracy has been ‘virtually eliminated’ in Norway

    The latest full-year music sales stats out of Norway show that the Scandinavian country’s revenues from recorded music were flat in 2014.

    Even better for the worldwide industry, less than 1% of people under 30 years said that file-sharing was their main source of obtaining music.

    Compare that to a 2009 survey by the IFPI and GramArt, which showed that 70% of the population under 30 years who had internet access were illegally downloading music.

    The reason for this near-complete erosion of piracy in the region is clear: young people now have a better option.

    75% of Norway’s recorded music industry income now comes from streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal/WiMP.

    The IFPI’s December survey concluded that 80% of people under 30 in the country chose streaming services as their primary source of music.

    “Younger audiences are using streaming services to the greatest extent. When older audiences [start] embracing these services we will probably see a somewhat different distribution of revenues.”

  8. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Sometimes in reading those reviews is sometimes hard to say if they are real or parody (like Onion)…

    Audioquest Cinnamon USB review
    A fine cable in every sense of the word Tested at £59

    The Cinnamon is a subtle cable, conveying details with a lightness of touch.

    The sound is a little restrained, but not enough to be considered downbeat. Far from it: there’s an assertiveness to the proceedings that allows a little panache to come through.

  9. Tomi Engdahl says:

    AudioQuest Carbon, Cinnamon, and Forest USB Cables


    I don’t know why better-built USB cables sound better. In fact, before I began my listening for this review, I was convinced that there was no way one USB cable could sound different from another USB cable in this particular application. It took me more than six months to gain enough confidence in what I heard to be able to write this review.

  10. Tomi Engdahl says:

    CAMdrive is an Open Source Time-lapse Photography Controller

    You may already be familiar with the idea of time-lapse photography. The principal is that your camera takes a photo automatically at a set interval. An example may be once per minute. This can be a good way to get see gradual changes over a long period of time. While this is interesting in itself, time-lapse videos can often be made more interesting by having the camera move slightly each time a photo is taken. CAMdrive aims to aid in this process by providing a framework for building systems that can pan, tilt, and slide all automatically.

  11. Tomi Engdahl says:

    IANAL, so maybe someone who is can comment: surely this is flat-out illegal?

    The vendor claims that

    1.’All audio cables are ‘directional’

    2.’When insulation is unbiased, it slows down parts of the signal differently, a big problem for very time-sensitive multi-octave audio.’

    That’s two verifiably untrue or misleading statements with reference to a data cable, putting all subjective sound-quality fluff aside.

    Puts me in mind of the claims of homeopaths, etc.


  12. Tomi Engdahl says:

    But most of these comments are about cables carrying digital signals, a class of devices which only have two real operating modes: “working perfectly” and “catastrophic failure”. Instead of respecting the principles of the physics and information encoding associated with this layout, though, we see outlandish claims of frequencies traveling at different speeds and damaging your multi-octave audio.

    USB has error checking (there are checksums on every USB packet).

    Isochronous USB has no error recovery (so if that packet arrives with a mangled checksum, you have a data dropout).

    However, cables are the least of your worries; it’s the driver stack (USB, ethernet, whatever) and the audio software feeding it that are the main sources of error. Unfortunately for Monster (et al) it is far harder for them to sell a $5,000 piece of software that does nothing than it is for them to sell a $5K piece of snake-oil-class hardware; the software is objectively analyzable without expensive tools, for instance.


  13. Tomi Engdahl says:

    This £6899.00 Ethernet cable looks like HIFI snake oil to me:

    AudioQuest Diamond RJ/E Ethernet Cable 12m

  14. Tomi Engdahl says:

    $10,000 Ethernet cable promises BONKERS MP3 audio experience
    Audiophile nonsense turned up to 11

    Got £6,899 (US$10,500) to spare and worried that a Cat-6 Ethernet cable is keeping you from hearing the very best of your NAS-stored collection of MP3s?

    Fear not, your moment has come, with this work of wonder from Audio Quest.

    El Reg notes that the advertisement indicates the age of Audio Quest’s engineers. Since the super-Ethernet cable represents “a lifetime’s research”, and the first twisted pair Ethernet standard, 10Base-T, was published in 1990, the relevant engineers are 25 years old, max.

    “This really is a ‘money no object’ cable for the dedicated Hi-Fi enthusiast that has extended into a world of digital audio sources,” the puffery continues.

    The insulation generates an electrostatic field “which reduces energy storage and non-linear time delays to a minimum,”

  15. Tomi Engdahl says:

    There are plenty of products in the audiophile industry that can match or exceed this in craziness level. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a glorifying review of this in a hi-fi magazine.

    $10K Ethernet Cable Claims Audio Fidelity, If You’re Stupid Enough To Buy It

  16. Matti Rissanen says:

    Unbelievable claims on AudioQuest Diamond RJ/E Features:
    Finnish HIFInews, The king of cables found :


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