Dr. AIX's POSTS — 21 February 2015

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We need this in the United States (maybe we’ve already got something similar but I’ve never seen anything like what I found relating to audio foolery)! I came across a link to a British site that allows people to make a complaint against false advertising. It’s known as the ASA or Advertising Standards Authority and it describes itself as:

“The Advertising Standards Authority is the UK’s independent regulator of advertising across all media. We apply the Advertising Codes, which are written by the Committees of Advertising Practice. Our work includes acting on complaints and proactively checking the media to take action against misleading, harmful or offensive advertisements.”

Imagine if audio advertisers had to prove their claims? There would be huge shake up in the world of audiophile hardware, software, and especially the “accessories” area if manufacturers had to show that their esoteric and often very expensive products perform as advertised. I would love to see this idea expanded to the reviews and testimonials that publications and websites write about tweaky items. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the claimed dramatic improvements in “low level details” or “rhythmic and temporal coherence” were put to some sort of test…a reality check of sorts.

In the UK, the ASA tackles this task. And late last year they received a complaint against the Chord Company, a very UK-based manufacturer of cables (not to be mistaken for the maker of hardware). Apparently, the company’s website included a product description for the “Chord Sarum Tuned ARAY streaming cable (and Ethernet cable retailing at nearly $2500 for 1 meter)” with some pretty typical verbiage about how they work). Let me know if you’ve heard some of these claims before:

• Extraordinary level of detail, dynamics and coherence
• Music is simply more involving
• Stunning transformations of the sound of both WAV and FLAC files and high-resolution downloads
• Dramatic reduction in noise levels

The Chord Company responded to the ASA. They didn’t attempt to support their products with the results of technical tests, scientific studies, or empirical data. Instead, Chord said, “their cables were of a specialist nature and were sold by demonstration with customers normally trialling the cables first. They said the cables had been reviewed worldwide and had been tested by their worldwide distributors before they decided to stock the product. They provided copies of a number of positive industry and consumer reviews of their products, some of which were specifically in relation to the Sarum Tuned ARAY streaming cable. They also provided three videos from demonstrations to the public at a hi-fi show in which the audience was asked to raise their hands if they heard a difference in quality between their Ethernet cables and regular Ethernet cables. In each video everyone in the audience raised their hand.”

Retreating to the usual excuses for expensive tweaks, Chord explained, “that it was difficult to technically measure the improvement in sound quality which their Ethernet cables produced compared with standard Ethernet cables. They said the difference was by nature subjective, as listening to music was subjective and describing it in words was impossible.”

If their distributors and customers are happy in what they hear, that should be enough evidence that the cables are better than standard Ethernet cables.

What would you do if you were part of the ASA responsible for investigating the complaints against Chord? The complaint was upheld. The ASA acknowledged the positive reviews but felt that the company needed to support their claims with “objective testing”. They found the statements by Chord “misleading”. The ACTION taken by the ASA was to demand that, “The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told The Chord Company Ltd not to make objective claims about the performance capabilities of their cables unless they held substantiation.”

Can you imagine if the audiophile industry in the US were required to submit to “objective testing”? Of course, it will never happen…that kind of rigor might have an effect on the “commerce” of companies that peddle this sort of thing.

Sadly, a simple online search still finds these unfounded claims on the Chord website (and similar nonsense of dozens of other sites). There is no such thing as the truth in the world of audiophile accessories. At least the Chord Company’s 1-meter cable cost only on quarter the price of the AudioQuest product.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(14) Readers Comments

  1. I read the ASA decision some months ago and it does raise some interesting discussion points. I just want to make sure you are not mixing up Chord Electronics and Chord Company, as one makes DAC’s and amps., the other just cables.
    Cheers

    • Chord Electronics is also a high end UK company, I’ve used their equipment on a couple of occasions…good stuff.

  2. We do have the Federal Trade Commission who have stopped some misleading advertising by the likes of Slick 50 with their Teflon oil additives. They don’t seem to intervene very often and I don’t know what it takes to get them involved. Even when they issue a cease and desist ruling these shysters seem to find a way to go around it and keep separating fools from their money.

  3. Sadly, misleading advertising and statements have become part of our culture.
    After I read your article I checked the news app on my windows 8 “start” screen; the first news heading I saw said “Muslins form human ring around Oslo, Norway”. When I read the article it said that a human ring had been formed around a Synagogue in Oslo. Not around Oslo. This is only one sample of the irritating and misleading use of headings in the internet and everywhere on television.

  4. The FTC has this role for the United States. Here’s a link for a case about Sony making false claims in advertisements. This case was settled a few months ago.

    http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2014/11/sony-computer-entertainment-america-provide-consumer-refunds

    You can file complaints on the FTC web site, but I doubt audiophile complaints would rank very high in their priority list.

    • Interesting…thanks.

  5. Hi Mark,

    I do indeed imagine what would happen if there was a minimum of scientific accountability to the claims made by audio component manufacturers, and I can also imagine this being positive. One would think that with all the snake oil pushed by car manufacturers, pharmacological products, dietary supplements, etc., any agency would have, to say the least, trouble keeping up with all the false advertisement. But on the other hand, if the government agencies had the funds to at least try to keep up, they would collect huge amounts of money in favor of the state and the tax payers, which would serve to prevent the harm done to consumers, enrich the sate, keep BS and fraud in line, and ultimately rewrite the legislation needed to put a more definitive stop to BS and the misrepresentation of equipment or scientific facts..

    These days, however, manufacturers and large corporations have huge influence over legislators and can easily buy politicians to write the legislation they need to keep selling crap to people, and misinform the public. This is so widespread that it seems impossible and unimaginable that it could ever be overturned. Maybe physics, maths and chemistry classes in schools should have specific curricula to prepare students as consumers, and turn the BS industry into an interesting motivation engine for students to carry out more interesting assignments and exercises by debunking BS on the web and media.

    There are nevertheless other organizations in which engineers and the like are evaluated and scrutinized by their peers, such as the AES. I don’t know if the AES reproduces the same corrupt structures of most institutions and institutional politics in the US, but it should be an instance of peer review, and also an instance for members to denounce scientific inaccuracies and false claims of fellow members or industry. The AES should have an open publication reviewing and testing equipment regularly, stimulating technological progress and actively promote industry towards raising current standards. It should be an independent publication, not subject to external funding, and should aspire to have International Standards and credibility.

    I know I’m still imagining things, but I still have hopes that there can be independent organizations that can live up to certain standards, protect the consumers, the science and at least strongly dissuade BS. I also think these organizations should not hold back when it comes to taking the necessary legal measures, especially if it helps finance the organization itself and help consumers who have been subject to fraud obtain compensations. The organizations we have today are formed by industry and largely serve industry interests, which sadly include snake oil, BS and fake pseudoscience, but more importantly, the impunity with which it goes on.

    The internet has turned itself to a big billboard for BS, but it can also serve as the very opposite when people get together and decide to take up their interests, and protect themselves where the state fails. Just like this Blog, or like the blog of the now disappeared blogger NwAvGuy, for example, which was sadly discontinued.

    I still hope for the independent effort of bloggers or websites that will obtain equipment from manufacturers or users and consumers, and submit it to tests and objective measurements, just like NwAvGuy did. We also saw the results and the disgusting push back NwAvGuy got from manufacturers and from HeadFi, from where he was banned just for making valid points and exposing the BS of the audio industry, as a result of ending up annoying the manufacturers in question who also happened to be the sponsors of HeadFi.

    Anyhow, I think we shouldn’t be pessimistic or grant BS, pseudoscience, false advertisement or fraud any impunity in advance, and seek the means to hold them accountable where both industry and institutions fail. You haven’t given up on educating people about High Resolution Audio – and so many other topics -, so let’s not give up on this fight either, before we give it a fair shot.

    Cheers!

    • “inexplicable black art characteristics” – classic!

  6. As much as I normally find myself in total agreement with the thoughts expressed this blog, I really don’t see why this cable provenance issue is taking up so much real estate. It’s not as if anyone is being forced to buy these products. From long experience, good dealers will have demo cables that they will happily loan to customers to trial in their own systems for a few days, maybe even a week. Regardless of manufacturer claims in ads, the cable producers rise or fall on the strength of auditions. This is even true in this age of mail order, with 60 day money back offers etc.

    And if there was ever a toothless body it is the ASA. They have little control over publicity as a whole and only comment on the promotional executions that a complaint has been made against. And, typically, they are so slow to react that it really is a case of acting after the horse has bolted. I speak as someone who has been involved in making complaints to them about misleading ads through my own industry associations.

    In this case I really can’t see why it is wrong to make subjective statements such as appeared in the Chord ad. In the final analysis, it’s up to their clients to evaluate Chord product offerings and decide if it is worth the investment. A journey, indeed, that I have undertaken a few time with the company in question and have been happy to part with the requisite cash.

    Mark I realise you are trying to inject some science into the cable conversation, but cables are not the only component to have inexplicable black art characteristics.

    Emphatically, it’s a case of caveat emptor and the freedom of the consumer to make what he/she considers to be a wise purchase – something we all view differently.

    I do agree, however, that there should be complaints against 16/44 rips being flogged as hi res audio. That is misleading – much more so than the subjective comments made by Chord in the “offending” ad.

    • Of course, no one is forced to purchase expensive audio accessories but there is…or there should be…a point at which fraud needs to be called to the carpet. This is clearly one of them in spite of those who claim that they hear a dramatic difference. I have to ask how did you compare the two cables? Can you set up a real A|B comparison or are you listening to a selection with one cable and then changing our the cable and listening again…not a really valid way to compare two things.

      • I have carried out a/b tests by switching inputs, but frankly this is not the best way to test. Anyone with decently trained ears will know their system’s sound so well that differences will be more apparent over an extended alternative compenent/cable audition. That may not be the scientific approach, but it works for me and other audiophile friends. Some will say it’s snake oil, and that’s fine too. You’ll never get everyone to like the same wine or cheese, and so it is with audio.

    • The problem is that manufacturers are trying to pull the wool by over the consumer by quoting pseudo-scientific bunkum as if it were established engineering principal. Here’s a classic example from Naim, initially, it looks plausible, until we get to the paragraph about directionality. Cables cannot be directional if they are conducting an AC voltage, otherwise they would exhibit semiconductor properties, ie a diode. This is not black art it’s simple science.

  7. In some respects the world of audiophilia is analogous to the world of high end jewelry: given a product a good deal of the satisfaction comes from the bragging rights. Some of us listen with our egos as much of our ears. These companies are simply catering to this cadre.
    As for the accompanying puffery?: Ego demands stroking!

  8. Here you go.. 1:01 minutes of Nonsense from High End Cable makers..
    RMAF10: The Snake Pit: Cables And Wire Explained
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3s7w1Rp9AlQ

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