Dr. AIX's POSTS TECH TALK — 21 February 2016

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The “HiFi+ Guide to Cables” is a 113 page advertorial piece sponsored by Crystal Cable and Siltech with interviews with fourteen cable designers, product reviews and announcements, articles on what’s next in high-end cables, and some editors’ choice recommendations. This type of publishing is done by most of the audiophile magazines. I’m sure the cable manufacturers have a love/hate relationship with electronic brochures of this type…I’m sure the advertising rates are healthy but the exposure is essential. I recently downloaded virtually an identical .PDF electronic brochure from the people behind The Absolute Sound. You can take a look at them both by clicking on the following links:

2015 TAS Buyer’s Guide to Cables, Power Products, Accessories, and Music

HiFi Guide To Cables

So here was have the online equivalent of an expensive glossy brochure/magazine chock full of product listings, very elegant products shots, and there’s not a single questioning word from any of the reviewers or contributors. If you’re purchasing an ad in any of these publications, I guess you can be assured of inclusion in the publication (there are a number of high-end cable companies that don’t get mentioned) AND that any review of your products will be positive.

Just how positive can a reviewer be about a digital interconnect cable? Well, here’s a quote from Jacob Heilbrunn about the Transparent Reference XL Digital Link Interconnect as compared to its predecessor:

“The improvement rendered by the new cables was not subtle or minor or difficult to detect. On the contrary, inserting them proved to be one of the most flabbergasting experiences I have ever had in the high end. The Reference line did not improve the sound; it took it into another realm. As good as the Vivaldi is—and it is superb—there can be doubt that ancillary equipment such as the digital cables employed on it not only can but do have a profound effect upon its reproduction of music.”

Later in the same review:

“But the greatest merit of the Reference XL is its supernatural ability to help deliver a kind of clarity on digital playback that I have never previously experienced. The slightest swish of the cymbals, a foot tapping on a piano pedal, the mildest brush of the bow on a cello—nothing is effaced by these cables. There is a limpidity and tranquility, a sense of ease to the sound, that are hard to forget once you’ve heard them. Whether on jazz, classical, rock, or rap, the Reference XL/Vivaldi possesses the ability to vanish from the signal chain, imposing no audible coloration.”

The sonic improvement afforded by this $3595 1-meter length of cable might be attributed by the new technological advances in the cable design. This quote from the company:

“Reference XL Digital Link uses Transparent Advanced Expanded Foam Technology for precise impedance control and low noise signal transmission. With a solid OFHC conductor that is significantly larger than the Reference 75-ohm Digital Link conductor, Reference XL Digital Link has far more surface area with which to transfer digital signals accurately.”

The outpouring of praise is uniform throughout both of these guides. I dare not quote anything from the HiFi+ publication because they state in rather emphatic terms that extracting even a single word would go against their policies. They don’t want any material taken out of context.

So go to their site and download their guide. Page through the document until you get to the interviews with the cable designers and read their answers to the question that asks them to respond to the claim that high-end cables can’t alter fidelity or sound because the signals are ones and zeros.

The responses are entertaining to say the least. I gathered them all in a single document but will honor the publisher’s wishes and not quote any of them here for fear that the context might be compromised.

Just remember my previous post…data errors don’t happen in 1-meter, jitter is a non issue because of reclocking, and noise doesn’t impact the successful retrieval of a data stream…that’s the whole advantage of digital!

We want digital cables that do absolutely nothing…no coloration, no alteration, no filtering, and no amplitude changes.

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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.

(35) Readers Comments

  1. Ah that’s right! I missed that class called “Discerning Limpidity In Audio Cables 101” when I went to audio reviewer school….

  2. In one review (pg 37), the suggestion that different results may be achieved with different equipment only supports that these specialty cables are being used to counteract a problem somewhere else.

  3. And just to be perfectly fair, if you have the means to afford any of these expensive and visually stunning products, more power to you. Your stereo systems will be the “Belles of the Ball'” All I know is that if I spent more money on wire than I did on my wife’s engagement ring, I would end up in divorce court, and rightfully so!

  4. I think better cables in Analog make a difference-purely subjective, but I could have put money into other things than “Better” digital cables. Thanks for your frankness. From what I see whistleblowers are not always loved. When getting help from Ayre Acoustics with a DAC problem, they suggested installing their USB cable, as even some high end cables didn’t work well with their asynchronous DAC. The Ayre cable is not Ultra high end. In the end, the cable was not the problem.

  5. A quick scan through these two PDFs was a surprise, in terms of the number of players now in this market. What’s really amusing is that all this wiring sophistication is hardly ever to be found in even the best speakers. They are generally all using what equates to bell wire. So no matter what exotic materials exist betwixt amplifier and loudspeaker, it all comes to a very abrupt end prior to the aural reproduction of any signal. I can’t think of a better way to put these vanity accessories in their true context. As I’ve written before on the pages, spend the cash on better components.

    • Some speaker companies advertise their use of high-end internal wiring. For example, B&W supposedly use Van Den Hul cables in some models, which almost put me off buying them.

    • Given all the players in the market, and the huge number of offerings the companies have, it continues to amaze me why I honestly never see these products installed anywhere in my part of the world. I can’t understand where in the world these are sold and who buys them. As a real estate professional I get in hundreds of homes a year in all price ranges and just never see high end wiring or interconnects anywhere (I make a point to look if I see anything other than basic home-theater-in-a-box stuff). Must be other parts of the country, but, Central Ohio seems to not have much call for these products that I can see.

      I have been told by others that, especially on the east or west coasts, these products are more prevalent, including speakers and components. In 30 years in the business here I have seen only one time a high end install in a home (monoblocks, wires on platforms and so on). I’ve been in million dollar homes where the home theater speaker system was a cube system from a well known manufacturer and they were so proud of the “B***” name there was no telling them otherwise. Sigh

  6. I love music. I love listening to music in my home. I love it when the music I listen to at home sounds good. I am an “audiophile” in the dictionary meaning of the word- someone who is interested in the art and technology of recording and reproducing sound. You have to part with some coin to do that really well, but you do NOT have to spend $695 for a power cable.

    I think many, if not most, people enjoy music as much as I do, and would be willing to spend a reasonable amount for a music system that does its job well. Unfortunately, the snake oil salesman have taken over. They have ruined it for everybody. John Q. Public isn’t going to spend $695 for the benefits of boutique cables, especially when those benefits don’t really exist. The tweakmeisters aren’t bringing people into the hobby- they’re driving them away. Phooey.

    I couldn’t help noticing that the first “benefit” listed in the first ad in the TAS guide was “OHNO continuous cast copper”. You can’t make that up.

  7. Mark, I couldn’t take it anymore, and decided I need to create an account on Medium and post my thoughts on this whole thing. I mention you and your blog in the posting, so thought I’d share the link with you.

    https://medium.com/@skikirkwood/truth-lies-and-fraud-in-the-audiophile-world-a365e56c97c4#.odzhhbh1u

    • Well done! And thanks…

    • Thanks Jim. Your path to the current state-of-affairs in high end audio is interesting and very telling. The truth has been abandoned in favor of “enterprise” and audiophiles are the losers. Audiostream and others have no interest in actually testing cables or audiophile tweaks. And Michael is very quick to attack and block dissenting points of view. It’s unfortunate that the mainstream audiophile press don’t see the erosion of credibility as meaningful.

  8. I have been willing to concede that the cable reviewers might hear something I don’t, but I noted this phrase from Jacob’s review: “….sending the bass plunging down another octave…”, and so I wondered, is it possible that the bass loses an entire octave on his high-end system just by using a lesser digital cable? That seems outrageous.

    • It is outrageous and the editor of the publication let it go…

  9. AV Showrooms has a new video up featuring Ansuz Acoustics Cables at CES 2016 where the company representative highlights their new digital cable and says “it offers a big improvement, nearly impossible to comprehend, really shocking”.

    • AV Showrooms is a business…I don’t think Peter has ever heard a cable or audiophile tweak he didn’t love.

  10. Kudos to a very truthful and well written article. Keep up being an advocate for the general public that only wants to get the most bang for their buck stereo system. Thank you

  11. Thanks for the cable up-date and all the controversy that takes place .
    Apriciate your point of view and it is a real eye-opener .
    Thanks
    Roland

  12. I don’t have a lot of arguments when it comes to the technical merits of cable architecture and such;i don’t have the expertise. Maybe some incremental differences in quality are possible. What I take umbrage at is that these products are largely over-expensive audio jewelry that make luxurious materials and exorbitant pricing the priority. As you started in a previous article, these cables can indeed, and usually are made on the cheap. I’m agnostic on the sound quality aspects, but evangelical on the ripoff aspect of it all.

    • I like the description of these cables as “audio jewelry” with appeal primarily for the look and feel. They certainly don’t make any difference to noise or fidelity.

  13. Thanks for this series of posts, but maybe time to move on to less sad and depressing topics?

    I wish there was a way to stop these dishonest merchants and their press enablers, but if they want to continue down such immoral and unethical paths we can’t really do anything without the FTC or other regulators paying attention and enforcing fair advertising laws.

    • Yep, it’s time to move on. You’re not the only one that has expressed this concern.

    • There was a case in the UK awhile back where some of these cable manufacturers were banned from making some of their ridiculous claims. I don’t know what became of it.

      • I’m not surprised…I seriously doubt that the companies have anything to worry about in the U.S. The only thing that will make a difference is to stop buying their products and stop supporting the associated advocates…websites, publications etc.

      • The only case that I recall is a complaint to the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) regarding claims made by Russ Andrews about some Kimber mains cables. https://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications/2014/1/Russ-Andrews-Accessories-Ltd/SHP_ADJ_228690.aspx#.VtA7QsenSc8 The complaint was not upheld. It seems that the claims were sufficiently qualified to avoid breaching the advertising code.

        • Thanks Nicolaus…very interesting. I read the complaint and ruling. What I took away from it was that in the lab the PowerKords were able to reduce or reject some of the RF interference but that in the real world, they clearly stated that they weren’t able to conclude that any benefits would realized.

          In addition, any competent equipment designer would make sure that the incoming power and their own power supply would filter any outside RF out. The nonsense of power cords is beyond belief. If anyone ever looked just inside the real panel of an AC powered device they would see regular stranded wire from the IEC input to the power supply.

  14. While there are all kinds of opinions about audio to be found on the net, it seems that subjectivism and uncritical acceptance of manufacturers’ claims dominates among the major influencers: those who buy ink by the barrel, or whose websites have administrators and run on server farms. We see it in the “reviews” of digital cables, in the overblown, gushing reports regarding MQA, and in the snide dismissal of folks like Mark and Archimago when they try to verify claims using measurements.

    We’re told by you-know-who that since it’s impossible for electronics to bring real-life sound into a room, concepts such as “accuracy” or “fidelity” are meaningless. All that counts is the listener’s emotional reaction and pleasure.

    What we’re not told is why, given this relativism, anyone needs to spend megabucks on a cable or any other audio component. If only pleasure is meaningful, then why not employ a monophonic transistor radio plus a 15-year-old Islay or some cannabis?

    And if so many components are just as good as one another, why should we pay any attention to the opinions of “reviewers” who measure nothing, blind-test nothing, and, so often, elucidate nothing?

    Ironically the subjectivists still love to use the late Julian Hirsch — an interesting appreciation is at http://www.soundandvision.com/content/reconsidering-julian-hirsch, for those too young to have read him — as their whipping boy. But Hirsch’s reports were instrumental in moving manufacturers away from inflated power ratings and frequency responses that got stated with no +/- dB qualifiers, as well as a lot more.

    Hirsch, and others like him who believed in honest ratings and “high fidelity,” built an industry. In contrast, today’s press — or at least the most well-funded chunk of it — is creating a situation where one must cringe when describing oneself as an audiophile. Given that, it would be nice to “move on from sad and depressing topics,” but it is not easy.

    Thanks for fighting the good fight!

  15. “the greatest merit of the Reference XL is its supernatural ability”

    LOL. The closest bit of truth in the blurb on Reference XL. With the emphasis on s-u-p-e-r-n-a-t-u-r-a-l.

  16. One thing that strikes me about all this “subjectivist” stuff is that you don’t need any technical knowledge to know that it is almost entirely nonsense.

    All you need to do is apply some very simple logic. Just look the descriptions, some quoted above. To take one example

    On the contrary, inserting them proved to be one of the most flabbergasting experiences I have ever had in the high end. The Reference line did not improve the sound; it took it into another realm

    Remember that this is in comparison, not to some cheap generic cable, but to the previous, already expensive, product from the same manufacturer. That previous product was clearly very inferior (just for a start, it was missing an octave at the bottom end!). In turn, other products must have been worse still. We have to wonder how any digital player could produce anything other than 99% noise and distortion if we go back a few steps to the days before these latest magic cables, or down a few rungs on the current cable “quality” ladder.

    • The reviews make very entertaining reading…but the fact is plenty audio magazines and website stand in lock step with them. And the readers of these sites and publications tend to trust the reviews.

  17. Just found this via the Hi-Fi+ PDF. http://bybeetech.com/?page_id=136 .

    BYBEE – QUANTUM SIGNAL ENHANCER (CRYSTAL SERIES)

    The Bybee – Quantum Signal Enhancer by Bybee Technologies will transform any audio or video component to a higher level of performance with Quantum proton alignment Signal Enhancer 1jeffwellstechnology. When placed in a room, it also functions as one of the most economical and effective room treatment devices on the market.

    What is it? Jack Bybee, a Quantum physicist, has created a new and simple to use device that when placed under/over components, speaker wire, interconnects and power cords it purifies the electron flow, thereby reducing noise and hash to dramatically improve performance. Additionally, the unit effects surrounding air molecules to allow the sound to travel less impeded, resulting in a larger, more dynamic sound stage. The Bybee-Signal Enhancer is a compact (4 X 6 X 1/4 Inch) cast acrylic panel, with a felt-covered bottom. The active elements are specially engineered crystals suspended in epoxy to ensure long life and freedom from damage. The Signal Enhancer is completely passive, requiring no battery or other power source. The crystals in the Signal Enhancer absorb energy from the signal-carrying wire or component, and align the electrons flowing through the wire or component to enhance the purity and energy of the video or audio signal. The Signal Enhancer works even with heavily shielded audio cables designed to withstand RFI/EMF noise from the electrical grid.

    That’s pseudoscience on an epic level!

    • Oh boy, don’t get me started with the Jack Bybee stuff. He was given a slot at a past LA&OC Audiophile Society Christmas Gala to talk about his latest accessories. He told the very large group that he couldn’t talk about the science behind his innovations because it was all top secret. Unbelievable.

  18. “Just remember my previous post…data errors don’t happen in 1-meter, jitter is a non issue because of reclocking, and noise doesn’t impact the successful retrieval of a data stream…that’s the whole advantage of digital!”

    i believe in objective data

    your contention is just as dubious as many manufacturers….

    where is the data to support your contention?

    i would totally agree that asynchronous will in some circumstances mitigate the issue but?

    what data rates r we talking about?

    what type of digital transmission

    this sort of blanket statement is just as dubious as some audio manufacturers

    Digital data transmission is mature engineering exercise

    And measurable

    What are you boundary conditions?

    • I believe in objective data as well. However, the facts that I stated are not dubious as you say. Any high-end DAC ignores the incoming clock as a standard method of ensuring the best possible and most accurate clock. Jitter not a factor coming through a cable because it isn’t used. This information was provided by John Siau the designer of Benchmark DACs and confirmed by several others (including Mytek). The data rate is that required for high-resolution digital audio to be delivered in packets from the server to the DAC. As these are packets the actual data rate of the audio in the DAC is not dependent on the transmission rate of the signal in the USB transmission. Any analog noise is also ignored as the digital to analog converter only addresses needs to be able to discern the difference between two voltages…but not by how much.

      These are the basic engineering parameters and methods used in electronics design and are objective facts commonly accepted by the EE community.

  19. You would think that by now the objectivists and the subjectivists would have got together and combined their vast experience with audio cables and come to some sort of unified conclusion as to what characteristics a cable must have to present the signal in its best configuration to wherever it is going. I mean it either has a pronounced effect on the musicality of the signal or it doesn’t, and to what degree. The objectivists surely are not deaf, and if there is a difference in cables, Im sure they must hear it as do the subjectivists. Conversely, the subjectivists, cannot be so stubborn as to believe that a cable can make or break a well designed sound system, and that their hearing abilities are not superior to the objectivists. I have come to the conclusion, without even having to listen to hundreds of different cables that the differences are only that, -differences-not improvements. Oh I’ll grant that a single crystal off copper wire could possibly make some minuscule improvement in the sound, but I doubt that it would be worth paying the exorbitant amounts of money some cables cost. To put it in perspective, I think expensive cables are like adding 1 horsepower to an already overpowered v10 Chrysler viper. Yeah it does add 1 HP, but does it really matter?

    • Nicely stated.

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