Audiophiles and the Need to be Special

Dec 30 2011 Published by under Bad Physics, People, woo

I love laughing at audiophiles.

If you're not familiar with the term, audiophiles are people who are really into top-end audio equipment. In itself, that's fine. But there's a very active and vocal subset of the audiophile community that's built up their self-image around the idea that they're special. They don't just have better audio equipment than you do, but they have better appreciation of sound quality than you do. In fact, their hearing is better than yours. They can hear nuances in sound quality that you can't, because they're so very, very special. They've developed this ability, you see, because they care more about music than you do.

It's a very human thing. We all really want to be special. And when there's something that's really important to us - like music is for many people - there's a very natural desire to want to be able to appreciate it on a deep level, a special level reserved only for people who really value it. But what happens when you take that desire, and convince yourself that it's not just a desire? You wind up turning into a sucker who's easy to fleece for huge quantities of money on useless equipment that can't possibly work.

I first learned about these people from my old friend John Vlissides. John died of brain cancer about 5 years ago, which was incredibly sad. But back in the day, when we both worked at IBM Research, he and I were part of a group that ate lunch together every day. John was a reformed audiophile, and used to love talking about the crazy stuff he used to do.

Audiophiles get really nutty about things like cables. For example, John used to have the cables linking his speakers to his amp suspended from the ceiling using non-conductive cord. The idea behind that is that electrical signals are carried, primarily, on the outer surface of the wire. If the cable was sitting on the ground, it would deform slighly, and that would degrade the signal. Now, of course, there's no perceptible difference, but a dedicated audiophile can convince themselves that they can hear it. In fact, this is what convinced John that it was all craziness: he was trained as an electrical engineer, and he sat down and worked out how much the signal should change as a result of the deformation of the copper wire-core, and seeing the real numbers, realized that there was no way in hell that he was actually hearing that tiny difference. Right there, that's an example of the math aspect of this silliness: when you actually do the math, and see what's going on, even when there's a plausible explanation, the real magnitude of the supposed effect is so small that there's absolutely no way that it's perceptible. In the case of wire deformation, the magnitude of the effect on the sound produced by the signal carried by the wire is so small that it's essentially zero - we're talking about something smaller than the deformation of the sound waves caused by the motion of a mosquito's wings somewhere in the room.

John's epiphany was something like 20 years ago. But the crazy part of the audiophile community hasn't changed. I encountered two instances of it this week that reminded me of this silliness and inspired me to write this post. One was purely accidental: I just noticed it while going about my business. The other, I noticed on boing-boing because the first example was already in my mind.

First, I was looking for an HDMI video cable for my TV. At the moment, we've got both an AppleTV and a cable box hooked up to our TV set. We recently found out that under our cable contract, we could get a free upgrade of the cable box, and the new box has HDMI output - so we'd need a new cable to use it.

HDMI is a relatively new standard video cable for carrying digital signals. Instead of old-fashioned analog signals that emulate the signal recieved by a good-old TV antenna like we used to use, HDMI uses a digital stream for both audio and video. Compared to old-fashioned analog, the quality of both audio and video on a TV using HDMI is dramatically improved. Analog signals were designed way, way back in the '50s and '60s for the televisions that they were producing then - they're very low fidelity signals, which are designed to produce images on old TVs, which had exceedingly low resolution by modern standards.

The other really great thing about a digital system like HDMI is that digital signals don't degrade. A digital system takes a signal, and reduces it to a series of bits - signals that can be interpreted as 1s and 0s. That series of bits is divided into bundles called packets. Each packet is transmitted with a checksum - an additional number that allows the receiver to check that it received the packet correctly. So for a given packet of information, you've either received it correctly, or you didn't. If you didn't, you request the sender to re-send it. So you either got it, or you didn't. There's no in-between. In terms of video quality, what that means is that the cable really doesn't matter very much. It's either getting the signal there, or it isn't. If the cable is really terrible, then it just won't work - you'll get gaps in the signal where the bad packets dropped out - which will produce a gap in the audio or video.

In analog systems, you can have a lot of fuzz. The amplitude of the signal at any time is the signal - so noise effects that change the amplitude are changing the signal. There's a very real possibility that interference will create real changes in the signal, and that those changes will produce a perceptible result when the signal is turned into sound or video. For example, if you listen to AM radio during a thunderstorm, you'll hear a burst of noise whenever there's a bolt of lightning nearby.

But digital systems like HDMI don't have varying degrees of degradation. Because the signal is reduced to 1s and 0s - if you change the amplitude of a 1, it's still pretty much going to look like a one. And if the noise is severe enough to make a 1 look like a 0, the error will be detected because the checksum will be wrong. There's no gradual degradation.

But audiophiles... ah, audiophiles.

I was looking at these cables. A basic six-foot-long HDMI cable sells for between 15 and 25 dollars. But on the best-buy website, there's a clearance cable for just $12. Great! And right next to it, there's another cable. Also six feet long. For $240 dollars! 20-times higher, for a friggin' digital cable! I've heard, on various websites, the rants about these crazies, but I hadn't actually paid any attention. But now, I got to see it for myself, and I just about fell out of my chair laughing.

To prolong the entertainment, I went and looked at the reviews of this oh-so-amazing cable.

People who say there is NO difference between HDMI cables are just trying to justify to themselves to go cheap. Now it does depend on what you are connecting the cable between. If you put this Carbon HDMI on a Cable or Satellite box, you probably won't see that much of a difference compared to some middle grade cables.

I connected this cable from my PS3 to my Samsung to first test it, then to my receiver. It was a nice upgrade from my previous Cinnamon cable, which is already a great cable in it's own right. The picture's motion was a bit smoother with gaming and faster action. I also noticed that film grain looked a little cleaner, not sure why though.

The biggest upgrade was with my audio though. Everything sounded a little crisper with more detail. I also noticed that the sound fields were more distinct. Again not sure exactly why, but I will take the upgrade.

All and all if you want the best quality, go Audio Quest and specifically a Carbon HDMI. You never have to upgrade your HDMI again with one of these guys. Downfall though is that it is a little pricey.

What's great about it: Smooth motion and a little more definition in the picture

What's not so great: Price

It's a digital cable. The signal that it delivers to your TV and stereo is not the slightest bit different from the signal delivered by the $12 clearance cable. It's been reduced by the signal producing system to a string of 1s and 0s - the identical string of 1s and 0s on both cables - and that string of bits is getting interpreted by exactly the same equipment on the receiver, producing exactly the same audio and video. There's no difference. It has nothing to do with how good your ears are, or how perceptive you are. There is no difference.

But that's nothing. The same brand sells a $700 cable. From the reviews:

I really just bought 3 of these. So if you would like an honest review, here it is. Compared to other Audio Quest cables, like the Vodka, you do not see a difference unless you know what to look for and have the equipment that can actually show the difference. Everyone can see the difference in a standard HDMI to an HDMI with Silver in it if you compare, but the difference between higher level cables is more subtle. Audio is the night and day difference with these cables. My bluray has 2 HDMI outs and I put one directly to the TV and one to my processor. My cable box also goes directly to my TV and I use Optical out of the TV because broadcast audio is aweful. The DBS systems keeps the cable ready for anything and I can tell that my audio is clean instantly and my picture is always flawless. They are not cheap cables, they are 100% needed if you want the best quality. I am considering stepping up to Diamond cables for my theater room when I update it. Hope this helps!

And they even have a "professional quality" HDMI cable that sells for well over $1000. And the audiophiles are all going crazy, swearing that it really makes a difference.

Around the time I started writing this, I also saw a post on BoingBoing about another audiophile fraud. See, when you're dealing with this breed of twit who's so convinced of their own great superiority, you can sell them almost anything if you can cobble together a pseudoscientific explanation for why it will make things sound better.

This post talks about a very similar shtick to the superexpensive cable: it's a magic box which... well, let's let the manufacturer explain.

The Blackbody ambient field conditioner enhances audio playback quality by modifying the interaction of your gear’s circuitry with the ambient electromagnetic field. The Blackbody eliminates sonic smearing of high frequencies and lowers the noise floor, thus clarifying the stereo image.

This thing is particularly fascinating because it doesn't even pretend to hook in to your audio system. You just position it close to your system, and it magically knows what equipment it's close to and "harmonizes" everything. It's just... magic! But if you're really special, you'll be able to tell that it works!

89 responses so far

  • Brett says:

    The interesting thing is, this exact phenomenon extends to many other realms of human endeavour. A classic example involves an experiment with wine tasters. In the experiment, the tasters were offered two wines, one ostensibly fancy and expensive, as evidenced by the label on the bottom, and the other cheap. The majority of tasters stated that the more expensive wine was superior and cited various reasons why that was so.

    The problem is, both bottles contained the exact same wine.

    The tasters were then offered a red wine and asked to describe its flavour. In their descriptions, they used classic terms used to describe red wines.

    However, what the researchers didn't tell the tasters that they had actually received white wines that were dyed red.

    The truth is that our expectations *deeply* colour the way we experience things. As such, I'm not necessarily willing to attribute the audiophile experience to simple stupidity. I really do think they're experiencing *something*, but that effect is being produced by their own brain, and not the "ambient field conditioner" they placed in close proximity to their stereo.

    • Zuska says:

      The audiophile placebo effect?

      • Brett says:

        I wouldn't go quite that far... that's unfair to the placebo effect. 🙂

        Seriously, though, the placebo effect, while triggered by the mind, results in a real physical reaction (such as the release of endogenous opoids).

        The audiophile effect is slightly different. In this case, the brain is simply altering the way we perceive the world.

        • Scote says:

          "'Seriously, though, the placebo effect, while triggered by the mind, results in a real physical reaction (such as the release of endogenous opoids)."

          I don't know. A recent fMRI study on art, showing that people enjoyed paintings more when they thought they were by masters (regardless of whether they were or not) showed real differences in brain activity. Fooling yourself with a pill may have more in common with fooling yourself with a 16,000 speaker cable than is obvious.

          There is a hierarchy of placebos in medicine. An apparently expensive placebo pill works better than a cheap one. An injection works better than a pill. I wonder if the same is true of audiophile effects. Do 16,000 dollar Pear Audiowoo cables sound better to audiophiles than "ordinary" overpriced "low end" audiophile cables like monster cables?

  • Joe says:

    I can't think of any better example of the stuff audiophiles buy than this guy: including a phone call where he'll play magical sounds at your stereo to make it sound better, and a vial of rocks.

    • MarkCC says:

      I'm pretty sure that that site is a joke. You never know with crazy people, but the fact that he puts a picture of an EE Doc Smith novel at the top of his explanation of why his "intelligent chip" works sure seems like a giveaway.

  • Dave M says:

    What I always found amusing about audiophiles (some of them anyway) back in the day was that next to their fancy expensive stereos could be found their record collections: twenty or so LPs, fancy half-speed mastered Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab releases of ... Olivia Newton-John and Supertramp and Billy Joel.

    Of course in saying this I reveal myself to be a snob of a different sort, but there it is. At least there IS a difference between good music and lame crap (however we may disagree about what goes where).

  • Manuel Moe G says:

    The celebrated electrical engineer Bob Pease would torment audiophiles mercilessly - eventually his stock response was to demand they submit to a double-blind test: their glorified conductors vs. a tangle of cheap lamp cord. He never found a golden-eared taker.

    • Peter says:

      An audiophile explained to me that double blind testing isn't appropriate for elite audio equipment, because people can't tell the difference between the elite stuff and the cheaper stuff. But! the elite stuff is definitely worth having, because the cheap stuff sounds like crap, and audiophiles can totally hear the difference.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I love this topic!!!

    Audio fidelity is all about silver. because silver oxide conducts, you see. or some shit. also....purity.!%29

  • drugmonkey says:

    HIGH PRESSURE FUSION!!!!! Dude it's like everything goes to eleven!!!!!!

  • pinus says:

    I get all of my HDMI cables (all 2 of them I guess) from some online cable place for $2.00 each.

  • drugmonkey says:

    ...and you call yourself a scientist, pinus? what about FidELiteez??????

  • benjaminsa says:

    My favourite audiophile story is also on boingboing Delightful science fiction story in review of $6800 speaker cable. They are still available on Amazon, except they are now $8,450.00! With @Manuel Moe G said: all you need is a double blind test.

    However in a strange way people are actually getting what they pay for. If you think you have better sound, you actually have a better listening experience true or not. I am not defending the fraud and abuse of the ignorant, nor saying we shouldn't mock this idiocy, but it is not dissimilar from an expensive bottle of wine. We are all somewhat guilty of this behaviour, why aren't we happy with the smaller TV that we would have been ecstatic with 5 years ago? I now there are measurable differences (digital is identical) but in most situations we default to more expensive is better without thinking about it.

  • Scote says:

    "not the slightest bit different from the signal delivered by the $12 clearance cable. It's been reduced by the signal producing system to a string of 1s and 0s - the identical string of 1s and 0s on both cables "

    I have to disagree with you slightly. At one level, there are no ones or zeros being transmitted digitally across the cable, rather there is an analog square wave signal being transmitted across copper. That signal can and does degrade. And it can degrade enough that the error rate exceeds whatever error correction is available--as you pointed out. And you can get artifacts like quantization or dropouts when that happens. But, as you point out, signal degridation is fundamentally different between analog and digital signals. Digital signals are more prone to complete failure when the signal degrades beyond a certain point. So, I do generally agree with your thesis that, especially for short runs, shamncy HDMI cables are utter nonsense, as are almost all audiophile cables, especially short run speaker cables and, hard to believe, $1000 short run AC cables that run from the device to the wall. (Groan.)

    However, there can be a difference in performance between cables, especially in longer runs. And there is a difference between cables--which is why there are different certification levels between HDMI cables. So while audiophiles are full of it generally, we shouldn't let that over simplify the issue with cables to the point where people think that all cables are identical in performance. There is room for some nuance in the discussion, even if different digital cables don't do nuance when it comes to audio or video.

    And I'll second that the Double Blind test is the bane of delusional audiophiles everywhere, to the point that one Audiophile site has a forum for waxing on about fancy cables, and in which the mentioning of double blind testing is prohibited! Wouldn't want any empirical evidence to get in the way of imaging how well spent your cable money is.

  • I agree with Scote. Too many errors may lead to less pleasant experience. Nevertheless, this is very unlikely to happen due to the cable and most certainly, the extra money are not worth the trouble.

    (If the probability of a bit changing its value is p << 1 then, going to (p-ε) probably won't make any significant difference. Especially, given the technical difficulties to eliminate this p).

  • Hilarious post, holmes! Many of you are probably too young to remember this, but when CDs first came out, there was a huge amount of complaining that digital music encoding could never match the "warmth" of analog LPs.

    Here's a serious audio engineering question: I know that a lot of musicians prefer real vacuum tube amps because of the particular way in which they distort signals when amplifying them. Do there exist digital filters that can exactly replicate specific tube amp distortions to a level where the highest level experts can't tell the difference?

    • COMRADE PHYSIOPROF: Here's a serious audio engineering question: I know that a lot of musicians prefer real vacuum tube amps because of the particular way in which they distort signals when amplifying them. Do there exist digital filters that can exactly replicate specific tube amp distortions to a level where the highest level experts can't tell the difference?

      GEORGE: There's a bit of history to this. For a long time (say through the early to mid 90s), the digital emulation of tube distortion on things like VST plugins, and even ProTools plugins, was pretty crap, but that was because of the limitations of computers at that time - they just weren't powerful enough to work in real time. Some expensive digital standalone hardware units could do a better job, but still, the processing power just wasn't up to it.

      Nowadays, I think we are at a level where the difference isn't noticeable to the average listener, but might be noticeable to experts in double blind tests. Most of the commonly-used guitar rig emulators (e.g. Guitar Rig, Waves, Amplitube) really are very good indeed nowadays, so much so that it's hardly worth setting up real amps and going through all the palaver of miking them up and getting a sound. Those things are almost lost arts these days (although of course, as with all things, you can pay a lot more for a tiny increment of perfection, and if an artist can afford it, but more importantly has the TIME, they will naturally use the real thing).

      Similar situation with digital eq, digital compression, etc. - in order for those to work, you have to "upsample" the sample (i.e. to be able to emphasise or de-emphasise certain audio frequencies, you have to temporarily have the waveform be at a much higher resolution than 44.1Khz) and then the processor does its work and then it's output back at 44.1Khz. For the same mid-to-early 90s period, again, computers just weren't powerful enough to do that natively - which led to the rise of add-on cards (specialized processors with the necessary horsepower).

      Nowadays, the situation with "native" plugins (that work on the main CPU) is much better, but the addon cards still have an edge - especially in that they can work by modelling vintage gear (e.g. classic compressors like the 1176) rather than just modifying the waveform according to pure theory (which tends to result in a certain type of "characterless" compression, eq, or whatever - i.e. the irony is that the type of sound that we're all unconsciously familiar with on pop records, etc., got to be that way because the analogue gear used to make them only imperfectly did what digital equipment can actually do almost perfectly, but with a result that's sort of bland).

      The biggest irony about all this audiophile business is that if you've worked in the music industry, whether rock/pop/jazz/classical, you realize that the circumstances under which the music is made can sometimes be less than ideal anyway (e.g. for years people did a lot of mixing on relatively crappy little Yamah NS10s, precisely because - so the theory went - they emulated a moderately-priced home system).

      There are superb speakers and amps available in studios, of course, but they can be misleading to work with because they reproduce the sound in a way that sounds fantastic and flattering in the acoustically treated environment of a studio, but sounds utterly dull if you played the same mix at home.

      IOW, most music, even classical, is heavily processed in various ways, so that it can sound exciting on cheap home systems. And this was even more so in the days of vinyl - vinyl mastering was an arcane art, because of the physical nature of the transduction process (needle in plastic groove), and as a result, vinyl mastering extensively messed with the sound.

      IOW, what audophiles prefer about vinyl is usually that it's compressed and eq-d in a certain way that's specific to vinyl mastering.

      There was a certain point to audophiling in the days of vinyl, or even early CD days - e.g. solid stands for speakers, for record player or cd player, decent quality cable, etc., etc. Not that any of those things alone would make much of a difference on their own, but the combination could make a tiny difference that you might be willing to go to the effort and little extra expense of obtaining. Those basics are still worthwhile, and even a certain amount of care with high quality digital master clocks and long-run HDMI cables as someone said above - but beyond that, it's just funny and silly.

  • Scote says:

    ". Do there exist digital filters that can exactly replicate specific tube amp distortions to a level where the highest level experts can't tell the difference?'

    I believe the answer is "yes." Tubes just color sound in a way that is pleasing to many people. But it is just signal processing, which can be replicated by comparing the input to the output and creating a digital model. They even have processors to simulate various types of microphones.

    • Robert says:

      Two friends of mine, both sound engineers, were in heavy disagreement about this. One claims he can hear the difference, the other can't. In theory you can digitally reproduce the distortions by a good physical/mathematical model of the tube amp. A good model will actually take into account how the various parts of the device heat up (and thereby the conductivity changes) as current passes through it.

      But, of course, all models are wrong...

      • Scote says:

        Yes, models are not perfect. We can see that pretty well with attempts to synthesize woodwinds. Not all that great. But, the question is not whether we can make a perfect model but whether people will choose it as sounding like a tube when compared to a clean signal in a double blind test and being preferred. People might be able to tell the difference between the real tube and the digital model when compared to one another, but would they be able to tell which is which?

        Human perception is largely relative rather than absolute, so models don't necessarily have to be perfect, they have to be good enough.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Did someone say "microphones"????

  • drugmonkey says:

    PhysioProf, you are clearly a nondiscriminating Phillistine if you think CDs and (the horror) MP3s can replace the full experience of sound recorded on the LP! Vinyl is real!!!!!

  • Robert says:

    So how often do you get lost packets on these cables? If its anything like the ethernet cable (6m) I use between my computer and my modem it's gonna be none...

    Perhaps if you're worried about your sound quality while there's a nuclear war going on outside, there might be a slight difference between the cables.

  • Jon Fleming says:

    A friend of mine designed high end audio equipment back in the 70s and 80s. I used to glance at the high end audio magazines he subscribed to. There appeared to be general agreement that a real audiophile could tell the difference between an amp made with Oxygen Free High Conductivity (OFHC) copper traces on the PCBs and an amp made with plebeian copper traces.

  • Fergal Daly says:

    I just read The Emperor's New Clothes with my 5-yo. That magic box is as close as you can get to that in real life (at least the high end cables do actually carry your signal).

  • khan says:

    I vaguely recall ~25 years ago devices to physically compress audiovisual cassettes to 'balance' them and improve sound/picture.

  • Glenn Fleishman says:

    I mostly agree with you, especially on minute differences. But you are incorrect about HDMI and error correction. I had to go look this up, as I believe there was no packet retransmission.

    HDMI is an uncompressed format, which is sort of wasteful, as you can send vastly less data using H.264 and have essentially the same result. There is no retransmission. HDMI is an "unreliable" format, and the fallback is, as I understand it, that if the packet doesn't check out, there is some redundant data used that correct a certain percentage of bad data on the part of the receiver. If that fails, however, then the data is recoverable.

    In one technical forum I found, the suggestion was that you would see "twinkling," because specific lines of the received picture would be knocked out. However, you'd see this consistently. The picture wouldn't stop (unless the cable was in terrible shape) nor would it show artifacts, because HDMI uses full-frame transmission.

    Thus you could have a better or worse cable. The worse cable would produce a twinkly result. The better cable, a clear picture. But the worse cable and better cable might cost $5.

    (The compression issue is different for streaming video, of course, whether over a local network or the Internet. Streaming protocols are also unreliable and lack retransmission, and only send differences in frames (as well as some key frames of new data when required). A missing packet could show tracks of pixelated movement or other obvious artifacts.)

    • evilDoug says:

      Using H264 in an attempt to reduce bandwidth has two notable bottlenecks - the source and the destination. The source must compress the data and the destination must decompress it. For movies, the compression is precooked at the factory (if you want to see how much compute power H264 compression takes, download Handbrake and try converting a DVD to H264). For other video types, such as what you see on your screen in front of you, it simply isn't practical yet. Decompression takes less compute horsepower, but still requires sufficient that it would significantly increase the cost of a monitor (not a big deal on a big screen, but too much for ordinary computer monitors).
      Reliable transmission protocols rely on "excess" bandwidth and buffering. If you want to retransmit a packet, you must have enough extra bandwidth to shove the retransmitted packet in, enough buffering to hold good packets that came after the bad one, while you stick the new good one into place, and enough compute power to manage all of this. The source, of course, must be capable of similar actions. If error rates are high due to poor transmission pathway, video will breakup, even with retransmission capability - unless you want to transmit the whole thing before beginning to display anything.

  • Lewikee says:

    I am curious - can anyone explain why these audiophiles don't submit themselves and their claims to a double blind study? To me it seems like a perfect way to validate themselves in front of the skeptics. I am not asking a hypothetical question here - I am curious if anyone has come across any of their arguments on why they don't do that.

    • Scote says:

      Probably for the same reason so few psychics take the JREF Million Dollar Challenge, because they know at some level that they will fail.

      I think many audiophiles are cognitively dissonant. They can't accept that their thousands and thousands of dollar investments in expensive interconnect cables, speaker cables, AC cables, magic sound-stage-enhancing wooden knobs, green-felt markers for CDs, and other audiophile woo were a total waste of money and that their identity as a Golden Ears Audiophile is nonsense. So their mind protects them with excuses, such as "double blind tests don't work."

      • Zeno says:

        Green-felt markers! Yes! Totally guaranteed to improve the sound of your digital CDs! It was very funny, but I knew people who swore by it. I also recall ads in "Stereo Review" and "High Fidelity" for weighted rings you could attach to your CD to "stabilize" them and improve their audio. In particular, there was an advertisement that said something like, "Are you hearing only 3/5 of Beethoven's Fifth?" So, so funny! So sad.

  • Firedrake says:

    I seem to recall a single-blind test comparing Monster Cables and coat-hanger wire where the audience couldn't tell the difference:

    But of course the dead cert way of spotting an audiophool is that he doesn't regard even single-blind tests, certainly not double-blind, as a valid means of learning about sound equipment.

  • Shadonis says:

    It's like when people claim to hear the difference between 320-quality and .flac quality. Most people just cannot tell the difference, and ABX studies almost always prove this.

    • Spencer Bliven says:

      That's not a great comparison. Any mp3, even at 320 kbps, truly does throw away information about the original signal, while FLAC preserves every bit. So at least the audiophiles have a foot to stand on, even if it seems very implausible that they could really distinguish compression artifacts from all the other infidelities (such as the original A-to-D conversion).

      With HDMI cables, no compression is used so the signal is literally identical regardless of the cable type. Any errors are glaringly obvious, as can be seen by comparing a badly tuned digital TV antenna (audio hiccups and whole-frame pixilation) with a badly tuned analogue antenna (static, but still generally recognizable).

      • Shadonis says:

        I've done a few double-blind tests for a school project with volunteer, self-proclaimed audiophiles. Most of them couldn't tell the difference between 320 and .flac unless the song was sufficiently high/complex/fast to really bring emphasis to details that would have otherwise been filtered out. And, at that, they typically had to listen hard for it (if you were to, say, switch out someone's .flac collection for 320's, most people wouldn't even notice).

        Yes, 320 throws away information. But the point is that the information loss is oftentimes negligible in terms of perceived quality.

        And yet, when we talk about any product where loss is negligible, you'll have your group of people who claim to be connoisseurs and experts. Negligible differences are suddenly not negligible and are worth huge price tags, etc. We see it constantly, and the myths always get exposed in double-blind tests.

  • Dave M says:

    I can confirm that I for one cannot tell 320 from flac. Anything below 256 does start to sound a little flat though. By 128 you can definitely tell something's not right.

    • Ulli P says:

      I ran a test on myself to see if I can tell the difference in compression levels from 128 to 320 plus the original wav file. I couldn't tell the difference in compressed files above 256 but could still tell the difference (just barely) between 320 and the wav file.

      I then ran the same test on my wife (now it is single blind). She correctly identified the tracks from lowest quality (128) to highest quality (wav). She has great hearing.

      Now I'm a bit of a snob (wouldn't call myself an audiophile though, too cheap) about qulaity and like my music in the best quality files that are reasonable even though my hearing is only adequate. My wife on the other hand doesn't care if have the music is missing even though she can hear every difference. She did however give my truck stereo kudos for quality when listening to Adele.

      Personally use CAT 5E for speaker wires even though I can't hear a difference.

  • MarkCC says:

    For most stuff, I can't even tell 256 from 320. A couple of classical clarinet pieces, the compression artifacts are extremely obvious, but for most basic rock type stuff, I can't hear it, and I daresay that neither can most audiophiles.

  • R Johnston says:

    High Fructose corn syrup is roughly 55% fructose, 42% glucose, and 3% other sugars. Sucrose breaks down into 50% fructose, 50% glucose in carbonated sodas long before you actually drink them. Sodas made with sucrose and sodas made with high fructose corn syrup, while not quite chemically identical, are close enough that there's no detectable difference by taste. I've tried bringing this up with a few people who swear by the versions of Coke made with sucrose, and the result is a whole lot of anger and denial.

    • Scote says:

      But did you do a double blind test?

      I believe, but haven't tried a double blind test, that I can taste the difference between cane sugar and HFC. Sugar may *break down* to the same components as HFC, but that doesn't mean it wont taste different before that happens, nor that there might be other flavor components present in table sugar, even after the refining process. Why not try a taste test of sugar water? Beat sugar, vs. cane sugar vs. HFC? Pretty easy to put together, and until you do, you may be the one making unfounded assertions.

      • MarkCC says:

        I have actually done a single blind test. I used to get bottles of cane-sugar coke when a local place got them every december, and I swore up and down that they really tasted different. So a friend got cans of coke from the local convenience shop, and put them in cups side by side with the cane sugar cokes. He knew which was which, but I didn't - so as I said, single blind.

        I couldn't tell the difference.

    • You're assuming that the recipes of Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Classic are identical other than the sweeteners.

  • Jim White says:

    As others have pointed out, your tirade against people who like perfection in video and audio reproduction would be a lot more valid if it were correct that the digital formats used didn't have forward error correction. In the case of HDMI, the TMDS format supports single bit error correction per 64 bit packet. That is why people who both care and compare side-by-side (as opposed to extrapolating a bit of irrelevant personal experience) can actually see the difference between HDMI cables on high quality displays. Note that this is an issue that usually arises only with longer cable runs, so if you want a good picture with a cheap cable, don't buy one more than a meter (or two at the most) long.

    Furthermore you're wrong about the way this type of ECC works. Just because an error is detected does not mean the packet is thrown out. The bit indicated by the ECC code is flipped, but if there is more than one error there is no way to know (at the packet level anyhow which is the only level used in these streaming decisions) and the payload is going to go through with those additional errors.

    Whether that difference is worth the cost is of course entirely a matter of taste. I'll also point out that because another person has difference values than yours does not in any way imply gullibility. There are many relevant cases, some studied in detail. Wine is a great example of this phenomenon because there have been some good published experimental results. Just because the vast majority of people can't discern the difference between wines based on how they taste, they have no trouble deciding they prefer the way consuming (which includes buying, collecting, serving, as well as tasting) more expensive wine makes them feel versus cheap wine.

    To bring the point back closer to home, I see that you're a server engineer. Why isn't this post about the gullibility of network engineers that insist on buying high category Ethernet cables? If what you think about cables and "digital" signals is true then we've all been massively scammed by everything since Cat 3.

    • Scote says:

      "Just because the vast majority of people can't discern the difference between wines based on how they taste, they have no trouble deciding they prefer the way consuming (which includes buying, collecting, serving, as well as tasting) more expensive wine makes them feel versus cheap wine."

      Which is their right, but even you seem to be admitting that they are delusional. The issue is that for many, perhaps most people, they *think* they are tasting the difference, but actually just tasting the price tag. They could enjoy a lot more wine if they knew they didn't have to pay so much for wine.

      I'm against being fooled, and I'm against fooling people. I have a hard time sitting back thinking, well, they are utterly fooled by the industry into thinking "well, they think can see/hear/taste the difference between the very good quality product and the Super Premium Fraud product so good for them!"

      While I think Mark is wrong on some of the details about HDMI cables (and really, he should have researched them before mocking others for being fools) I think he is more right than wrong. For most, probably all, short run cables there is no detectable audio or video difference between a high quality cable and a Super Premium Fraud cable. But, I also think that Mark erred in implying that there is no difference between various digital cables--there is or, as you noted, engineers wouldn't be using Cat 5 or 6 cable. It is just that and HDMI 1.3 cable is likely to be just as good at data as another HDMI 1.3 cable--regardless of whether it says MonoPrice, Monster or Pear on it. (Though there are some cert variations and such).

    • MarkCC says:

      To bring the point back closer to home, I see that you're a server engineer. Why isn't this post about the gullibility of network engineers that insist on buying high category Ethernet cables? If what you think about cables and "digital" signals is true then we've all been massively scammed by everything since Cat 3.

      Yes, I am a server engineer, but on the software side.

      But I have done network work in the past. And you know how often we worried about our cables? Never. At IBM, we used whatever ethernet cable was cheapest. It Google, we used whatever cable was cheapest. Back when I was a sysadmin at UD, we made our own cables. The only time we ever had a problem with cable quality was back when we were using the old yellow 10B5 cable with vampire taps.

      And you know how we *knew* that those cheap cables were perfectly adequate? Because we used network monitoring software to track error rates. We *knew*, from carefully gathered objective evidence, that the el-cheapo cables had the same error rate to within the limits of our ability to measure. We didn't claim that we could *tell* that they were the same because of our carefully honed ability to detect glitches in data transmission rates. We measured it.

      Why, do you suppose, that none of these fancy audiophile cables or conditioning devices can show a simple chart showing the difference? You've got the data about what the original sound being reproduced by the system is. Manufacturers could easily place their devices into a controlled soundspace, put a microphone in the optimum listening position, and show comparisons of the sound signal from the microphone with the sound signal from the original media. If there really is a difference, you should be able to show that the sound signal with their magic cables is better than the sound signal with a cheap cable.

      So why don't they do that? Why does every manufacturer of these silly things refuse to participate in any kind of test?

      Your whole argument is a perfect example of the whole "I'm special" garbage that I was mocking in the original post. You're arguing to justify spending insane amounts of money on a cable which can't make the slightest bit of difference - because you "like perfection in audio and video".

      But you can't actually show any evidence of any kind that these magic cables, or magic sound conditioners, make the slightest difference. Why, do you suppose, would that be?

      • Scote says:

        I suppose it is an important point that engineers are humans and are subject to the same cognitive illusions as regular people, including assuming the need for higher grade CAT, without actually checking the data to see if that is the case. Sigh.

        Do HDTVs have a menu setting that shows data errors? I suppose even if they do, that audiophiles will not go away.

        What I want is data--not signal data per se--but objective data on what works. In the absence of data, psychology studies show that humans look to price as a cue for quality. That is true for wine, audio cables and, perhaps even for CAT. So far, the data I've seen is that short run equivalently certified HDMI cables are pretty much the same in terms of data rates.

        • dr2chase says:

          There are actual engineering differences between CAT 3, 5, and 6. The design speed for Cat 3 is 10Mhz, Cat 5 is 100Mhz, Cat 6 is 250Mhz. For example, to reduce crosstalk, the wire twist lengths are precisely specified for Cat 5 and better. This is not woo; if the wires for two pairs have the same twist rate (and are close together), you can build a crappy transformer that is nonetheless a good source of crosstalk.

          And ethernet cable is relatively cheap, and relatively reliable. The half-assed wiring in my house (most of the connectors assembled by me, excess wire piled in loops) manages 245 errors in 55,429,140 packets. And I'm not sure, but the damn thing may be trying to run at gigabit rates. For a point-to-point, 6-foot HDMI cable, I'm just not going to worry too much.

  • Jun Mukai says:

    I got interested in knowing the fact that such people are not only in a specific area. I'm Japanese, and there are several crazy guys here, and they are called "audioccult" in the Ja net slang.
    Some crazy guy once published a book for those audiophiles in Japan, and the book said that even IP-address (!) of your computer has impact on quality of the sound. No one understand why.

  • Shadonis says:

    Audiophiles can justify it however they want, but at the end of the day, the data is unavoidable: You *won't be able to tell the difference* between the cheap stuff and the expensive stuff. It's all marketing gimmick and scamming.

    But here's the thing: Psychology IS a huge part of this. If I give you a cheap wine and charge you a killing for it, you'll probably enjoy it more than if I had told you its real price. Your expectation and frame of reference completely changes -- your attitude changes. And thus, your interpretation of the stimuli changes. If you enjoy it more, the money spent may be more worth it to you.

    That being said, the question then becomes "Are you willing to pay more money to buy into self-delusion? Are you willing to pay more for something even though it may give no actual boost in quality over a cheaper alternative?" For many people, the answer is unfortunately yes. It's easier to pay more and feel happier than it is to do research, be the skeptical "party pooper," and stick with the cheaper stuff that doesn't give you any bragging rights. People LIKE being able to show off their huge, expensive sound system to their friends even if it's loaded with a bunch of overpriced shit. The same phenomenon happens when people buy overpriced desktop computers from Alienware or Cyperpower, etc.

    It all comes down to perception, and we know perception is very loose-weave.

  • As others have pointed out, the cable is not unimportant. Recently while buying long HDMI cables, i had to sift through these claims and eventually reached these conclusions:

    Like ethernet, HDMI is digital, so the quality of the cable doesn't matter much, up to a point. Just as there is a difference between cat-2, cat-5 and cat 6 cables, there is a difference between HDMI cables. And like the cat-n cables, the quality of the cables is specified by the HDMI standard. Cheaper cables often skip the expensive certification, so there is no way to know with them were the threshold is going to be. They usually will work just fine for short runs, but are hit or miss the longer the run gets.

    Interestingly, I found more variation in the HDMI hardware at the endpoints than in the cables. Once over 40 feet, I found that some devices just wouldn't drive the signal, regardless of the cable I used.

    I am less sure about this, but my understanding is that some of the HDMI signals are bandwidth adjusted, so that if there is an excessive error rate, the HDMI hardware can signal the device to lower the data stream rate, possibly dropping to a lower quality signal. Again, probably only an issue on long runs.

    • evilDoug says:

      Fast ethernet isn't binary when transmitted over copper. It employs MLT-3 coding to transmit multiple bits per symbol as distinct analog levels. For example, 100Base-TX use 4-bit to 5-bit encoding, then MLT-3, so 100Mbps goes to 125Mbps with the 4:5, then down to a 31.25MHz fundamental frequency analog signal. This stuff is all quite complex, all in the interest of being able to shove it down reasonably inexpensive cable.
      ADSL is damned near unbelievable. (I get) 15Mbps over a transmission path that has an analog bandwidth of about 2700Hz. It would be completely impossible without the complex digital signal processing that is so cheap now.

  • Spin Echo says:

    Please leave wine out of this. Wine tastings for ordinary consumers are frequently conducted in a single-blind manner, and I've attended enough of them to know that the most popular wines are generally more expensive. Not only that, but if a cheaper wine is the favorite then it becomes even more sought after. When word gets out that a particular wine is "underpriced" it usually sells out quickly, which directly contradicts the notion that wine buyers mainly enjoy paying for wine.

    Also note that experiments based on deceiving wine tasters, including the fMRI study discussed above, have an acknowledged limitation: not everyone is comfortable telling the truth about a supposedly $90 bottle of wine. Self-delusion is not the same as tact.

    • Shadonis says:

      This just isn't true... which wine tastings have you gone to? I've been to tastings in both Napa and NYC (at least 50+ times each) and find it curious that you'd say this. The most popular wines are NOT generally more expensive unless they're told about price ahead of time, lol.

      Wine is very much a great analogy to this entire concept of perception. Super-cheap, low quality stuff is obviously easy to detect and reject, but past a certain point, price takes off but without the perception of the underlying attributes doing the same. Over and over again we see countless examples of the following:

      "In blind tests, Domaine Ste. Michelle Cuvee Brut, a $12 sparkling wine from Washington, is preferred nearly two to one to $150 Dom Perignon if you strip away the labels."

      Most people *cannot tell the difference*. No matter where you repeat these experiments and no matter how much you try to randomize your sampling, the eventualities are almost always 50/50, which is what we'd expect from random chance. In other words, when you rely on taste alone, the price doesn't correlate well at all. It's almost completely isolated past a certain point, and even then, that certain point is fairly low on the price scale.

      • Spin Echo says:

        You are contradicting yourself. If you can detect and reject super-cheap, low quality wine, then there is a non-random relationship between price and underlying quality.

        The relationship is admittedly complex, and I agree that it's very hard to detect differences past a certain point on the price scale. However, most people rarely buy wine past that point on the price scale. Thus, the wine purchases people commonly make are indeed rational.

        • Shadonis says:

          Please read what I said, again -- I'm not contradicting myself:

          "Super-cheap, low quality stuff is obviously easy to detect and reject, but past a certain point, price takes off but without the perception of the underlying attributes doing the same"

          The problem being discussed here is what happens past that inflection point. There IS a non-random relationship between price and quality, but it only lasts up until a certain point. Even at that point, price isn't particularly high. But people are still paying sums WELL past that point for quality that isn't increasing nearly at the same rate.

          This again goes back to my point against you, that we should NOT be leaving wine alone because it falls into the same categories of perceptual problems where quality and price is concerned. It's VERY well-understood that most wine choices are not rational (by rational I mean optimized for favorite qualities/tastes/etc); if this were true, price wouldn't have the influence that it does. We see it again, and again, and again, and again, and again in every single double-blind test you can point to.

  • Shane says:

    As a guitarist I have to say that there is a difference between valve amplification and valve modelling software..

    I dont know about the quality, but the dynamics are very different. With a valve amp you can control tone and sustain to a useful degree just by hitting the strings somewhat harder or softer.

    I have found with software modelled amps like native instruments its all or nothing - presumably because the waveform is trigerred by the input signal. I also find that if you hit two strings together, or bend one string up to match another plucked string the signal does degrade, and for long sustains I find the signal drops out - a little like the older fuzz boxes. I also think for some patches the background noise is very high.

    As a musician I have never been able to discriminate between moderate and top line audio equipment - I guess we are used to compensating and picking out notes etc whatever the quality.

  • Nick Johnson says:

    What Hi-Fi has a whole section on HDMI cable reviews:

    A few gems:

    "Compared with a ThatCable HDMI (£5), this served up a thin and brittle sound, while motion handling, picture noise and sharpness of images also fell woefully short of what we’d expect – even at this price."

    "The Lindy, by comparison, lacks bite and conviction. Its pictures are certainly watchable, but they're not as crisp or insightful, and it's audio flows nicely, but lacks any real dynamism or attack, and that makes it a three-star HDMI."

    "There's smooth and supple motion, crisply edged images, admirable detailing and contrast that offers a natural feel, especially with skin tones and rural scenes such as the opening credits of The Shining, with their rolling scenery and soaring camerawork.

    Sonically, the SuperShield provides a wide, open sound, with lots of colour and resolution, together with a taut, hard-hitting bass. In a nutshell, what's not to like?

    Some may baulk at paying £90, but you get so much for your money, it's impossible to complain."

  • Scote says:

    Turns out it isn't just Audiophiles who are deluded into spending a fortune but also violinists.

    A double blind study found that even experienced violinists can't hear the difference between million dollar Strads, Guarneris and high quality modern violins. 😮

    "First, the players were given random pairs of violins. They played each instrument for a minute, and said which they preferred. Unbeknownst to them, each pair contained an old violin and a new one. For the most part, there was nothing to separate the two, and the players preferred the new instrument as often as the old one. There was one exception: O1, the Stradivarius with the most illustrious history, was chosen far less often than any of the three new violins."

    • Venture Free says:

      There are a great many things that we can manufacture today that far surpass the quality of even the best craftsmen of old. The fact that Stradivarius' are still able to match, if not necessarily exceed, the quality of the violins that we make today is a testament to his skill and craftsmanship. Many would consider them a work of art for that reason alone, thus the greater price tag. I doubt that brand new audio cables are often thought of as collectors items in the same vein as Stradivarius'.

      Even if a musician is deluded into thinking a Strad sounds better than a modern violin just because it's a Strad, I still don't think it falls into the same category as someone who pays $1000 for digital audio cables that are objectively no better than their $5 counterpart.

      • Shadonis says:

        Technically, if a musician is deluded into thinking a Strad sounds better than a modern violin just because it's a Strad, it falls into the same category. When someone does this, they are attributing an increase in quality to something where it wouldn't likely exist had they NOT known it was a Strad. This is exactly the same as someone who thinks a $1000 audio cable is better than a $5 counterpart simply because it's more expensive, and exactly the same as someone who thinks a wine tastes better because it's more expensive, too.

        It doesn't really matter what the underlying reason is. The point is that some external attribute, that has no actual bearing on the underlying qualities, skews your perception of those qualities.

        • eric says:

          Technically, if a musician is deluded into thinking a Strad sounds better than a modern violin just because it's a Strad, it falls into the same category.

          No argument there. However, an instrument that still sounds as great as a modern instrument after 100-200 years is justifiably worth a lot more money than the modern one, for the simple reason that it (empirically) has no planned obsolesence. That modern one, on the other hand...

  • MBR says:

    >Green-felt markers!
    And remember the Tice Power Block (the original one was simply a power-strip) and the Digital Clock that when plugged in to your system improved the sound?

    I also love the houses that were built with a special cement turntable stand tied in to the foundation of the house with de-coupled floors.

  • [...] Audiophiles and the Need to be Special (as someone who actually does have off-the-chart hearing, even at my advanced age, and is not an audiophile, this cracks me up. DIGITAL BABY!) Are genes the key to the Yankee Empire? Draft blog post cleanup #1: Divide and Conquer to Find Orthologs Our symbionts are death! Science Sunday: Dragonfly Accompanying Behavior [...]

  • WOR says:

    More of the US vs THEM. Pathetic.

  • evilDoug says:

    There absolutely are differences in the quality of cables used for digital transmission. Get out your $20000+ oscilloscope and your signal generator, set it all up to examine eye diagrams, and test some HDMI cables. Amplitude is only part of the equation. There are timing skew issues, common-mode to differential-mode conversion issues, and about a zillion places where things can go wrong. It is no small accomplishment to jam high bandwidth "digital" signals down cables that don't cost a fortune. It is NOT easy to make decent cable for HDMI or for ethernet. That said, the end result of short runs of crappy cable is often completely indistinguisable from that of the silly, grossly overpriced "phile" cables. Cheap cables can be, but aren't always, good cables. As others have said, digital works until it doesn't. Bad cables bring the doesn't threshold closer.
    I would refer anyone interested in these issues to papers published by Belden (an old and well-respected manufacturer of cable, though I don't think they are in the HDMI game) and by Intersil, who make ICs for HDMI. Also have a look at ap notes on cable testing from Agilent and other top-end electronic instrumentation manufactures.

    But yes, audiofools are fun to laugh at. Like many others, I will stop laughing at them when they start doing double blind testing.

  • sparc says:

    This reminds me of a colleague who used to put LPs into liquid nitrogen which was crazy nough. However, when they became available he did the same with CDs.

  • GrayGaffer says:

    Strange. Nobody has commented on possibly the most crical part of comparing the cables - the system that converts the signal delivered into sound pressure waves that impact your tympani. Amplifier and Speakers. And of course the characteristics of the listening environment.

    This is an area where not only are there objective measurements, but they are published, often in the user manual. And they can therefore be objectively compared. The question avoided is two part: can the equipment reproduce the initial waveform appropriately assuming perfect cabling, and second can the human ears distinguish the cabling difference if the equipment can reproduce the difference?

    So, if you want to actually do any A-B testing, eyes open, single, or double blind, if your gear is crappy your cables will be indistinguishable regardless. And speakers are the most common weak link here, as really good speakers are different and do cost, and since their impedance is non-lonear with frequency and so is the output stage of any real amplifier, you need speakers that match the amp.

    If you have top end gear, your cables are still pretty much indistinguishable, but what separates them (and the gear) is the quality of the connectors. And that usually takes time - months to years - to show up.

    Bottom line: dont fret the cables, unless they dont work in which case you only lost the cost of cheap ones. At the high end: yes, it does take some familiarity with criticial listening, but again if you have the training you also know how to choose your amp/spkrs. And by training I mean years experience with pro audio, where you have been exposed to multiple combos. And again its not the cables, so much. Its the connectors.

    Living rooms amd Best Buy demo rooms are not the places to do critical sound tests. Nor are headphones or your PC sound card. If these are your daily listening fare then don't bother with expensive crap anyway.

    And finally, yes,with proper setup and trained ears, there is a nasty difference between 16 bit 44.1 KHz digital audio, 24 bit 96 KHz digital, and half speed master vinyl on a pro table. What gets lost is the dynamic range, the whispering echoes after a climax, the rustling of the soprano's dress, etc. I 'll not bother listing the fail that is mp3 .

    If you don't fit the pro profile don't waste your money. Even if you do, don't bother trying to impress your friends, they won't get it.

    Oh, yes HDMI. Even the $2 25 footers from Amazon have worked fine for me. Ethernet, Standard Cat 5 for anything until a long Gb run is needed has also been quite acceptable.

    • Joster says:


      Which connector/specifications one should look for? Do you mean the quality of the connector only or both the connector and connecting type (soldering, crimp, etc.)


  • Alan says:

    Awesome post. It's a topic I've always laughed about but I've seen this behavior in many incarnations and I don't even bother arguing with the "philes" of the world. By definition they are irrational people. Audiophiles are just some of the more irrational because there are a lot of numbers in that game so it shouldn't come down to using adjectives like "Full, Tinny, Dynamic, Crisp, Clean, Flat, Dull". Just remember one thing, you can't reason with madness 😛

  • Morghan says:

    I can't tell the difference between HDMI cables and the only justification I can see for paying more than the bargain bin prices is if your devices support a later standard with additional channels. Some HDMI cables have a return channel, or a data channel that can network devices without running them through your router. Still, even those advanced cables run about $60, anyone spending more than that on a digital cable needs to get their head examined.

    • The advice I give people who are determined to buy a high quality cable is to follow the buying guide from the HDMI Licensing people:

      Basically, look for one of the 5 HDMI cable logos; buy "standard" for 1080i and below, "high speed" if you want 1080p or 3D, and a "with Ethernet" version if your devices support the Ethernet channel. Only buy the "automotive" version if your device is an in-car device that says it needs an automotive cable.

      Beyond that, you're into ripoff territory - any claims beyond the basic HDMI logos are suspect at best.

  • Jake says:

    I remember the "AA Battery" craze where the cables actually had little battery compartments that you'd put an AA battery into so it somehow "biased and de-fluxed" the core of the wire, and got all electrons standing at attention before the AC flowed. Huh?

    I think cables are harped on the most because they should be one of the simplest passive components of the system!

    I remember seeing some of these cable sets go for upwards of 5000 - 10,000 dollars!

    This was back in 2002, when you could have extruded two SOLID SILVER 1/2" x 1" x 12 foot bars and then some, and it still would have cost less than some of these cable setups.


  • Glen says:

    It's a statement of the times that people take to the web to write about what they hate - much more than about what the Love. And the kingdom of audiophilia is not spared the hate of those who try out one component and then obliterate the entire field.

    To address a point, cable DOES sound different when lifted above the floor, rather than laid on it. As a former audio writer, I could hear this for myself -- and my hearing was not damaged by years of sitting in a stadium, where the listening levels reach 100 db (do you even know that it kills the upper midrange in your ears to listen at that loud a listening level for more than say, 5 minutes -- at BEST??? I doubt it. Don't blame the field: get your hearing checked. Literally.

    The other issue is: if you have one great component and the others are mediocre, it's a bit like driving a Maserati on Costco tires. You're just not going to 'get it.'
    I have many friends, mostly non-audiophiles, who can hear the difference if I rotate a tube trap (that's a Helmholtz resonator to the lay person, a device designed to 'trap' certain frequencies [usually bass, which mucks up the sound] and smooth out the frequencies so they are more neutral.
    I mean, the original poster's scorn is absurd. Who among you could not go into a room, blindfolded, and just by walking around it, not be able to tell if it has a high ceiling or low ceiling, and if not by just walking, then clap your hands. If you have hearing -- and a brain -- you will easily be able to tell if you're in a large hall with a high ceiling (the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam) or Avery Fisher Hall (near the Metropolitan opera) in NYC. It's not about feeling you're more 'special,' (although it sounds like the original poster knows a bunch of snobs, who are probably snobs about many areas of life, audio just being one of the pack), it's about having trained ears, as I assume anyone who knows how to play an instruments knows the difference between the sound of different tubes used to power guitar amps - or do you think they're hallucinating too? Please, DO go up to Bruce Eddie Van Halen and tell him he can't tell the difference between a Mullard tube and a Telefunken. Just let me stand nearby and watch. Please. I beg of you.

    Anyone can be trained to hear a difference, but that's the difference between an audiophile and the average person, just the same as it is between the average runner and Ursain Bolt, who can tell you which shoes are better for running. Could I myself tell the difference? Not if my life depended on it. But he knows running shoes. And SOME audiophiles can tell if a frequency is distorted, grungy, missing or fuzzy. Just because YOU can't do something doesn't mean the person next to you cannot.

    A bit less scorn, Marc, and a little more scientific curiosity. As Einstein said, when you stop being curious about how things work and about life itself, you are already dead. You seem to be proving his point.

    • Elliot Gainway says:

      If you really can hear he difference of cables off the floor then you better get over to the James Randi Foundation and claim your $1,000,000.00 dollar prize!

    • fuzzychaos says:

      Firstly, I agree there is no reason for scorn. However, there is no way you can tell a difference with lifted cable, you just can''s claims like this that invite scorn and ridicule. Submit to s double blind study to prove yourself right. Not all audiophiles are foo, but those that are and their money are soon parted.

      I get a kick out of the cable thing, mostly because, the studios in which all this music is recorded uses rather inexpensive cables to record with, they would never use this expensive junk. If the source, which is as good as it will get, uses good, but not "audiophile" cable , why should we use anything else?

  • Comma says:

    Its such a product of a Western society so out of touch with the real world. What human in their right mind would spend 1000 on a fancy wire? As a producer, I appreciate high quality music, but for me all the fun is creating the best system with a smallest amount of money.

  • RoadTripBoy says:

    Yes, audiophiles can overstate their case and I believe you did here as well with this post. When you're talking about HDMI and video, you're no longer talking about audiophiles since you've brought video into the discussion. 2 channel stereo (which is what true audiophiles listen to consists of analogue signals which can degrade as they travel through the signal path. And I'm here to tell you that cables *DO* make a difference with audio. But I'm also here to tell you that you should always listen for yourself when purchasing audio equipment. If you can't hear a difference between more expensive gear and less expensive gear in an A/B comparison then there is no need to spend the additional money. Audiophiles probably don't have better hearing than other folks but I'll bet they do care more about music than casual listeners. There is probably a range for people on the music spectrum from "just like the background noise" to "want to hear every single note, sound, utterance in highest possible fidelity". Most audiophiles would probably fall somewhere in the middle of that range. I'm typing this now listening to Sarah Vaughan singing the Duke Ellington songbook on my 2-channel "audiophile" stereo system consisting of: Rega P2 turntable, Rega Brio-R integrated amp and GoldenEar Aon 3 bookshelf monitors (Audioquest Type 4 cables). Is this the best system in the world? No, not by a long shot. But the best system is highly subjective. It is what my budget allows me at this time and I think I will be satisfied with my system for a long time. Yet there is no question in my mind that it is head and shoulders above any system one can purchase at a "Best Buy". But again, if you like the Best Buy system just as well, buy it and save the money.

  • JJ says:

    Well said Glenn. Shame most others have failed to examine these topics in any detail. 1s and 0s aren't the issue in digital audio - that's obvious - the timing of those are aka jitter. As to listening, how about a little training:

    As to what some can and can't hear, this is educational:

  • Angela says:

    I love music, and I love nice equipment, but I also use common sense, and have never heard a difference between cables/interconnects. Funny how all these golden-eared audiophools are mostly stubborn old men with too much hair in their ears.

  • Bromo Ivory says:

    Eh ... I think it is really easy to build up a straw-man to knock it down. Having swum in the waters of high end audio, generally I have found people wanting as lifelike a presentation of their favorite music as possible. Can't fault them for that. It is a quest for perfection which is unattainable, so they will likely be searching their entire lives, with long periods of relative satisfaction.

    Some fall prey to snake-oil. Most do not. Just like anything in life. Easy to poke fun at what you don't understand, though ...

  • hifijohn says:

    they shouldnt be laughed at but pitied, Ive spent years dealing with them and yes they are completely out of their mind, most are trying to compensate for some hole they have in their life.tying to compensate for a miserable childhood.

  • Another chimera:
    By wrapping the enclosed 1 and 0's in a "superior" plastic, CD's magically sound better. Something has to replace religion in people's lives and audiophilia, modern cults, socialism and the paranormal all offer up themselves as myth replacing agencies.

  • Reith says:

    No one has yet mentioned the most important part of any audio system; The ear.
    By the time most people can afford to waste $10,000 on a set of cables their hearing, particularly in the higher frequency bands, will have deteriorated just by virtue of their age.
    At this point the whole business of buying very expensive rubbish becomes purely academic.

  • Sorry but this article is B-S "In fact, their hearing is better than yours. They can hear nuances in sound quality that you can't, because they're so very, very special. They've developed this ability, you see, because they care more about music than you do." this only show why this article is incompetent. They dont have better hearing but they brain have better sound perception they have the same amount of hair cells but their brain better processes and with trainig you can also increase your brain auditory processing.

    • MarkCC says:

      No amount of training, no amount of better sound perception will ever give you the ability to hear things that don't exist.

      People who tell you that a special ethernet cable will produce better sound quality are either lying, or they've been deceived. They may well *believe* that they're hearing a difference - but belief is not reality.

      There's lots of stuff that audiophiles fall for that's silly, but ethernet cables is one of the easiest to disprove. Ethernet is transmitting a digital signal. It takes all data, breaks it into packets, and sends them one at a time. For each packet, either it's received or it isn't. There is no "received with degraded quality": it's either perfect reception or no reception at all.

      The only way that sound quality carried over a digital cable can be degraded is if entire packets are lost. That's really easy to check: just put a computer on the same network, and watch for packet errors. You'll see exactly how many occur.

      On a typical ethernet cable, with 2 endpoints (the signal source, and the speaker), you should see an error rate that's barely more than 0.

      It doesn't matter if you buy a basic $10 cable at Radio Shack, or a $1000 magic super-quality gold cable. As far as the digital signal goes, the error rate should be damned near 0.

      Same goes for HDMI, or whatever other digital system you chose. Unless you've got a highly defective cable which is dropping packets left and right, there is no difference to be heard.

      Back in the day, I used to eat lunch with a guy named John Vlissides. If you're in software development, you've probably read one of John's books. He used to go off on rants about audiophiles, because he used to be one. But he was also an electrical engineer, and at one point, he wanted to prove to someone that the sound differences he was talking about really existed. So he sat down and did the math. In particular, he did the math on the "suspend your cables instead of letting them sit on a surface" which was all the rage at the time. As it turned out, the maximum amount of signal degradation on copper wires do to deformation, even dramatically over-estimating the amount of deformation, was so small that a mosquito in the room - not a mosquito's wings buzzing, but just a mosquito *in the air* between you and the speaker would produce more of an effect on the sound that the cable.

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