By Mark L. Fischer
[Editor’s Note: The following comment deserved to be featured as a guest article…and was used with permission.]
Feel free to reprint this or do whatever you like with it. This is not a personal opinion, it is a professional opinion. Among the many jobs I’ve had in my career, I was for the last three of the twelve years I worked there, the chief electrical engineer of Bell Communications Research, at the time the largest research consortium in the world. Audio is just a hobby for me, something I don’t take very seriously. Good thing too, I’d be in a dither also if it were my profession instead.
Never have so many been so confused and misled by so few. To hear people who call themselves audiophiles and those who market products to them tell it, you’d think wire is a complete mystery, a black art. But the truth is that of all the things scientists and engineers understand about electricity, wire has to be at or near the top of the list. Does wire matter in an electrical circuit? You bet it does. That’s why industry has created so many kinds for different applications. What is its legitimate purpose. To connect circuit point A to circuit point B with an acceptable minimum of loss, induced noise, and radiated noise. What is the standard by which wire can be judged? A shunt, no wire at all, just a direct adjacent connection. What is not a legitimate function of wire? To act as a control to deliberately alter a signal. In that function it is absolutely awful, we have far better tools for that. So the first thing audiophile wire manufacturers have to do to sell you their product is to convince you not to use those tools and they have largely succeeded. That’s when the games begin and the money starts to flow from their customers’ bank accounts into theirs.
How then do wires actually work. Scientists understand electrical conductivity right down to the quantum mechanics level of how electrons escape the pull of nuclei and flow under the influence of an applied electrical field. They also know how to shield wire effectively both electrically and where necessary in rare occasions magnetically. Electrical engineers know how to model wire mathematically by creating equivalent lump sum filter parameters circuits from what is actually a distributed parameter filter. They also know how to integrate that model into network equations connecting the source to the load to accurately predict exactly how wire will function in any given circuit.
Mainstream wire manufacturers are not ignorant or stupid either. Then know how to design wire using various geometries, insulation and conducting materials and manufacturing processes such as annealing to create wire that is optimal for any conceivable electrical function at the lowest possible cost. They offer a staggering array of product for every application or problem they can think of. The products created for both professional and consumer audio systems are child’s play for them compared to really challenging problems.
The success of the audiophile wire industry is based entirely on the utter ignorance of the market.
The success of the audiophile wire industry is based entirely on the utter ignorance of the market. Notice that whenever these manufacturers advertise their products, they almost invariably discuss qualitative issues, they rarely if ever give hard numbers to their theories let alone put them in a technical context that will indicate to what degree what they say is significant. And so the whole thing is based on hope and fear among potential customers. That is why I think the whole thing is a fraud. Before this cottage industry got started, nobody thought audio equipment customers would be stupid enough to believe any of this. They were proven wrong.