AUDIO SHOWS Dr. AIX's POSTS NEWS — 20 June 2018

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Thanks so much to everyone that has participated in the High-Resolution Challenge. And thanks for being patient while attempting to download the files…there was a bit of a bottleneck when hundreds of people wanted to download the files on the same day. I hope we all recognize that the High-Resolution Challenge is not a rigorous study. However, it does remove one of the critical flaws in most other studies but remains imperfect nonetheless. There is no way to tell if people are cheating or not — although I have confidence that my readers won’t see any advantage in peeking at the files. I won’t be impressed if you get all of them right! So let’s try to keep this honest.

One participant analyzed the dynamic range of the files in Foobar and pointed out that there was an amplitude difference of 1.7 dB between Tune_3_A and Tune_3_B. I failed to apply the normalization to the quieter one. It’s been corrected and uploaded again. If you want to access the FTP site again, please feel free. Otherwise, any responses submitted prior to yesterday will have only 5 accepted answers. Sorry. I won’t be revealing the correct answers for several weeks. I’m hoping we can get several hundred responses before doing some analysis. The page has been viewed over 1000 times and there has been plenty of activity around the challenge.

Anyone interested in doing a true ABX test might want to look into using the ABX comparator in Foobar. If you go that route, you can simply send me that results.

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At the recent T.H.E. Show in Irvine, I met a young audio enthusiast who was carrying a couple of MC-0.5 Power Conditioners made by High Fidelity Cables. He had purchased these audiophile accessories a the show special price of $200 each. When I commented that he had fallen prey to an unscrupulous high-end cable/accessories vendor, he pushed back. “The sound definitely improved when the presented plugged in the conditioner,” he replied. I have no doubt that there was a perceptible difference in the demo room at the Marriot Hotel in Irvine. Having experienced — and exposed — some of the clever tricks that demonstrators use to hype their products, I urged him to take the MC-0.5 power conditioners home and test them using his system. He did. I received the following email from him:

“Hey Mark it was nice meeting you a few weeks back at THE Show. I don’t know if you remember me but i had purchased a pair of these magnetic power conditioners and i bought your book too! You asked me to email you an update on the items. Well it’s been a few weeks now and this is my update:

High Fidelity Cables MC-0.5 power conditioners are what i tested and i can confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt they did absolutely nothing! I have emailed them and will be using there return policy ASAP! I even did a blind test with a friend who has a good ear, i didn’t tell him what i was doing i just had him sit there with his eyes closed and i unplugged them and plugged them back in about 5 times. He repeated the same test for me. We both heard no difference. I’m sure they’ll say my humble system isn’t high end enough to take advantage of their product but that’s absolute bullshit, my system is amazing!”

I wasn’t surprised but I have to wonder how many customers don’t return a snake oil product?

The following weekend, I set up my sales table at AudioCon — the one held at Sunny Components in Covina. I was fortunate to be able to listen to the presentations by representatives from Bryston, MQA, and others. One guy was from a power cable company and spent 30 minutes talking about the importance of power cords on sound systems. He did the usual things including hooking up an audio circuit to a power outlet and showing us all the incredible amount of noise on the line — noise that never gets converted into the DC power sources used in your components. This is a red herring argument.

He then demonstrated 4 different power cords ranging in price from a few dollars (a typical IEC cable like the ones included in the box) to about $17,000 for the Nordost Odin 2 Power Cable. The two cables from his company were $750 and $4000 — a mere fraction of the price of the Nordost. I brought along a reference quality microphone and portable recording device which I kept out of view as I recorded the music selections powered through the different cables. Actually, I wasn’t the only one using this method to evaluate the presenter’s claims. As I looked to the right, another attendee was using the SPL meter app on his smartphone to do a less rigorous version of the same test! Apparently, I’m not the only skeptic in the audiophile world. Despite the presenter’s insistence that the sound was “much smoother, less harsh, and had a much lower noise floor” with the expensive power cords, my measurements showed otherwise.

I loaded the audio into Adobe Audition and carefully edited each music section to identical lengths. Then I measured the amplitude and plotted the spectra of each. As if by magic, the IEC power cord measured 2.5 dB SPL lower than the others. The most expensive cable — the Nordost Odin 2 — was louder by a substantial amount than the Dragon and Thunder cables the competitors provided. When I asked the other person measuring the SPL in the room, he concurred with me. “I saw about 2 dB difference,” he whispered. I found it curious that the presenter had to kneel down in front of the rig each time after the cables had been switched. Maybe he was adjusting the level of the preamplifier, I can’t say for sure. But I can say with certainly that power cords do not cause a 2-3 dB increase in amplitude and we don’t want them to! The role of power cords is to deliver a raw 120 volts/60 Hz current to a power supply, which cleans, converts, and supplies the needed low DC voltages to the various parts of the component.

I recorded the entire event and will have some comments on the MQA presentation in my next post. Very interesting. I didn’t pester the presenter or even ask any questions — I was very polite and let him do his thing. It was the others that asked the tough questions.

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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.

(27) Readers Comments

  1. Up to your ole mischief again, hey Mark?
    You’re not supposed to actually measure what they present, that’s like revealing the secret door in the magicians cabinet. Not fair. 😉

    • I just got hit with a double whammy in the power department.

  2. Thanks for suggesting the ABX test to your readers – I hope I won’t be the only one using that method. Foobar is free, but you also have to download the separate ABX plugin (which is also free) to do an ABX test. I’m happy to help anybody with this :-).
    And keep exposing the power cord fraud! Your work here is very, very important. Let’s just hope it doesn’t have any repercussions :-).

    • I’ve already had repercussions due to my contributions to high-end audio foolery. The administrators of the CEA High-End Audio board unceremoniously uninvited me from their group because I wouldn’t subscribe to their hi-res music campaign. And just last week, the founder of HighResAudio in Germany attacked me with profanity on a FB group because I confirmed the finding of Paul Miller at HiFi News that one of his offerings was “not carefully analyzed and verified as hi-res music” by his “skilled German audio engineers”. The biggest push back came after the famed CableGate fiasco perpetrated on behalf of AudioQuest a few years ago. I showed that claims of increased fidelity due to their HDMI cables was faked. The email circulating among many — if not most — audiophile journalists attacked me for exposing the fraud.

      • Yeah, it’s sad it has come to this. I was specifically thinking about when you exposed another power cord as having used a faked demo with louder and louder music. That didn’t end well, and you were not the only one who were attacked by more than mere e-mails :-/

  3. I’m curious if you think these types of products make a difference under any type of circumstance. Same with cables? I thought of this as I read the editor’s comments in “Sound & Vision” magazine this month where they point out why they do not generally feature these types of products in their magazine. The editor feels that while they can make a difference, he feels they do so only in the very highly resolving systems that almost none of their readership would ever own, so that magazine chooses to profile other more mainstream products.

    I have heard some differences with products in the past, namely the AudioQuest Jitterbug. I introduced a few into my system computer, the NAS and router and felt the end sound of my music was improved. The one I plugged into the USB port of my car audio actually made the biggest difference (although in all cases the differences were subtle, not eye popping or other over the top descriptions). At $200 for a five pack at the time it was not a ripoff price even if it did nothing but look cool, in my mind. As I recall you did a test at the time of this type of product with friends you invited over, who also said they heard differences, but because you did not you discounted the test. This is why I ask again and just wonder if at any time, under any circumstance, so you ever think a tweak of this nature would have value?

    • Power cables and dummy plugs are among the worst of the worst in terms of snake oil audio accessories. Think about the 10 or 12 gauge cheap wire that the monster, braided, 99.9999 silver power cord is plugging into on the back of the component. Or the hundreds of feet of Romex the wound its way through your house from the breaker box — the 1.25 meters of $17,000 power cord isn’t going to increase the amplitude or subtly change frequencies and dynamics. Power supplies in modern high-end equipment takes care of all of the filtering you’ll ever need. The only reason to have “designer” cables is because you like the way they look — not the way they sound! I’ve actually thought of creating a line of cable “clothes” that would wrap around your basic cables and make them look expensive. What do you think?

      As for devices like the Jitterbug or the Regen, they have to prove it to me. Your memory is correct, a couple of members of the LAOCAS came by the studio a few years ago with a Regen box and an ABX switcher. We used the same model Benchmark DAC to do the conversion. They claimed to hear an improvement but I didn’t. It was not a blind test however. The idea that the clock needs to be “regenerated” to minimize jitter (clocking errors) is ridiculous in a high-end DAC. As I explained extensively in my book, the incoming clock from the source device is ignored by the DAC. Any quality improvements done to the clock by the Jitterbug or Regen is thrown out at the DAC and replaced with an even higher quality clock. So it’s absolutely impossible for a Jitterbug or Regen to have any effect! What you’re hearing is based on expectation bias or subtle acoustic variations from listen to listen. Put you money elsewhere.

      • Ha, the “clothes” idea to dress up a standard cable is a novel one, I had not thought of that one before. You know people would buy it!

      • Mark, the Jitterbug is designed to eliminate noise generated by the computer. Depending on the DAC that noise can effect the sound.

        Not long ago, I read that you were given a demonstration where you admitted that you heard differences, but then refused to believe that it was for the reasons that the demo showed to you.
        Just as you accuse audiophiles of having expectation bias, I believe you suffer from the same. You are so sure certain things can’t change the sound, even when you hear it, you refuse to accept it.

        And with power cords you use the same old arguments that the power cord is at the end of line, when it is actually the first cord from the component. In some cases power cords have better shielding, eliminating noise. If you are using a power regenerator that power cord is now the only thing between the component and pure regenerated power. So all those miles of Romex and power line no longer matter.

        Snake oil is the telepathic telephone app, calling all cables and isolation devices snake oil is ridiculous. I would suggest you read the series of articles written by Galen Gareis from Belden that were in the online magazine Copper. It might give you a better understanding of how and why cables can change sound. Whether it is an improvement or not depends on the components and the listeners preferences, it is written with a lot of technical information that you should be able to understand. It may, if you have an open mind, give you some reasons you may not have considered. Whether you will admit it, well I guess we will have to see.
        The series starts here: https://www.psaudio.com/article/cables-time-is-of-the-essence-part-1/

        • Jeff…I think you’ve been given some misinformation. I never evaluated a Jitterbug. A couple of audiophiles from the LAOCAS did come to my studio to check out the claims of the Regen device. I wrote about that experience in a post a couple of years ago. Doing a careful A|B sited comparison, I heard no change in any aspect of the sound of one of my tracks in my studio. Initially, one of the others said he didn’t hear any change either. The third individual said he did. Knowing how the Benchmark DACs that we used handle clocking information, it was impossible for any sonic changes to be created by the Regen, which I regard as another useless ripoff.

          As for power cords, you need to take a serious look at the function of incoming voltage and current to a well-regulated power supply. The Romex and a simple IEC cable (and the 12 gauge stranded cable just inside the chassis) do the job just as well as any expensive cable. Measure the output DC power from the power supply and you’ll get exactly the same thing. So power cords and digital interconnects are off the table for me. For analog signals, cable quality can affect signals but not usually in a way to causes more “low level details” or “fluidity”, whatever that means. I’ll take a look at Galen’s post and see what he has to say. Thanks for the link.

  4. It is unfortunate that the hi-end arena of the audio industry has gone down this path. Having fallen into this hype I have weaned my way away from all the glitz and salesmanship and now live with two very good systems and spend more time worrying about my content. My systems use good basic cables and are plugged into a decent power strip and have never sounded better. “Buyer beware” has never been more appropriate than today in the audio industry.

    • It seems the accessories vendors and audiophile writers and their publications have a synergistic relationship. I’ve never seen a poorly reviewed power cord.

  5. I unfortunately purchased Nordost ” Sort Cones”. I don’t think they altered the sound of my surround sound processor a bit, but they are an expensive way to add better cooling.

    • You really spent money on something from Nordost? I spoke to guy that has plenty of Synergistic Research hocus pocus as well today…wonders never cease. I saw a guy put isolations devices under his hard drive to increase the fidelity of his playback. Amazing.

  6. The idea that a power cord can change the gain of an audio circuit is laughably absurd on its face.

    • But these voodoo companies sell millions of dollars worth of fake accessories or hope to corner the encoding market with myths about “time smear”. The current audio capture and delivery system has the potential to deliver all aspects of sound without spending a lot of money. A person could put together a state-of-the-art system for less than the cost of an expensive power cord from SR!

  7. Holy crap. Does that club have a board of directors? Does the charter say president can unilaterally kick people out?

  8. Please contact the State of California Atty Gen consumer fraud division

    https://oag.ca.gov/contact/consumer-complaint-against-business-or-company

  9. Hi Mark

    I received a copy of your newsletter and post regarding your untimely expulsion from LOCAS. As the owner of a HiFi store in Sydney, Australia (a not unsubstantial one – we are the largest single store outlet for Yamaha Audio and A/V in Australia) for the last 38 years, I was aghast when I read the missive sent by Bob Levi ranting about your “unfair” treatment of the “snake oil” salesman at the AudioCon event.
    Having tertiary qualifications in both electronics and metallurgy, I have some understanding of the physics involved with cables and, as you so rightly say, it is impossible for a change in power cables (assuming they are of commercial quality) to change the output volume of any amplification device.
    Keep up the good work in exposing these charlatans and remember – science is on your side.

    • I really have to wonder if the proprietor of the shop in Covina wouldn’t be better off focusing on hard information and demonstrating aspects to our hobby that actually do work. Does your business relay on selling crazy expensive cables and audiophile accessories? I know there’s huge margins in this stuff but doesn’t the ultimate sound matter the most.

      • WTF are you talking about. I’m trying to agree with you and you’re misrepresenting my efforts.
        If you’re that stupid that you can’t do due diligence then you deserve every piece of crap thrown at you.
        Get back into your hole.

        • Steve, I think you misunderstood my question. I was attempting to applaud your efforts to sell equipment to audio enthusiasts looking for solid advice. The mention of expensive cables was not meant to suggest that you did it or that you supported it. I was simply asking a question. Your indignant response is disappointing.

  10. Mark:

    I know that you have not necessarily viewed the Computer Audiophile community in a positive light, but you may be pleased to learn that you have considerable support in your dispute with LAOCAS and Robert Levi’s handling of your dismissal from the Society for publishing an article critical of industry manufacturers..

    • I wouldn’t say I have any problems with the CA site. I know Chris to be a fair and capable guy…we spoke about the Archimago MQA post when I saw him in Munich. I didn’t realize that my LAOCAS issue had made it to CA. Thanks for the heads up.

  11. I say well done Mark. I would not want to be a part of an audio club that went so low as to believe these cable ” salesmen” without any scientific proof.. Writers like you are what makes this hobby honorable. People wonder why is this Audiophile hobby dying, well the reason is these out of space clams being made on cables and slanted press writings on products by the audio press and out of control high prices. But lets not forget the snobby grumpy old guard that honors these items, saying believe and trust me, its ok. There has been way too many bias views by the audiophile press supporting the cable marketing dollars these days. Its time it stopped.

  12. I mean how appropriate is it to name one of those events AudioCON though lol.

  13. Keep up the good work Mark,

    Exposing these charlatans is good but please be safe, I still remember the way NvAvGuy was silenced when he exposed many fraudsters and scamming nature of audiophile industry and it’s salesmen.

    These types of fraud companies skim the cream out of the milk, rich are often dumb to see that and they are propelled by nothing but ego gratification to do a massive show-off. These so called audiophile societies are nothing but glimpse of hollow group of so called manufacturars who sponsor their products covertly.

    Cheers and Godspeed
    KAS

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