Credibility Check

I got a newsletter from another audiophile record label the other day. I’m going to refrain from being specific about the company or the proprietor because the idea behind today’s post is not to fault an individual or company but to consider the credibility of a company or individual that does interesting things on one hand and then peddles snake oil on the other. The newsletter was simply the trigger because in reality there are other companies and people doing exactly the same thing. I guess it’s standard operating procedure in the audiophile marketplace but it continues to trouble me.


Figure 1 – A nicely packaged collection of “snake oil” for only $150!

Here’s the gist of the story. A company is capable of producing and releasing very fine recordings. At the same time as they’re saying how rigorous their production standards are or how much dislike PCM encoded audio, they promote, sell and provide testimonials for ‘snake oil” products like optical disc “enhancement” potions…for hundreds of dollars OR they include PCM processes in their production flow and sell PCM products.

They sell high quality recordings and digital music downloads on their site AND have a few pages dedicated to audiophile accessories that have no benefit other than to their bank account.

Reading statements like this makes me doubt the integrity of the whole operation:

“Essence of Music two-step CD cleaner and treatment is an essential product for preparing your CD and Blu-ray discs for upload and playback. Ripping following Essence of Music application reveals and permanently captures visceral details, spatial cues, and ambient intimacies of a live event to your media server – delicacies always present, but obscured within your disc, prior to Essence of Music application.”

And they back up their claims with testimonials and scientific tests:

“During single blind listening tests that followed, with the company’s reference audio test system, two identical copies of 8 different CDs were played randomly. Participants selected the Essence of Music treated disc every time. Audible improvements noted were additional detail retrieval and an improved spatial presentation.”

I would like to be one of the participants in those listening sessions. I’ve actually done this with products that several companies have sworn have real benefits. I still have my Auric Illuminator special sauce and cleaning towels from Audience. They’re friends and I fully endorse their cables (I have them in my studio) but when John insisted that I try the Auric Illuminator (which was positively reviewed in The Absolute Sound magazine…again it makes me doubt the integrity of the publication), I agreed.

I tried the solution on one of my samplers. I have the ability to instantly and noiselessly switch between two identical sources (two Oppo optical disc players) and listen through the same DACs, amplifiers and speakers. I did the test. I coated one disc and not the other. Switching between them made no different at all. I had everyone in the studio come in a listen… no one could tell any difference. Perhaps if I were getting paid for this flim flam, I would get different results.

There’s a new twist to this stuff these days. And it’s one that I can test, when I get a chance. We’ll take the digital output from a reference player and capture it into a file. Then we’ll do what ridiculous process the snake oil peddlers want us to do and capture the output once again. If we compare the digital files, they will be the same…and thus if they are the same then they will reproduce exactly the same electrical output to the amps and speakers. Stay tuned…I’ll get to this soon.

In the meantime, I would plead with my fellow audiophile vendors and consumers to focus on real products and avoid confusing people with false ones.


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.

5 thoughts on “Credibility Check

  • Hugh Lewis

    I guess you will find there is a difference. The disc that has been treated will be either cleaner and therefore have less error correction or scratched by the application and have more. I bet the second.

    • Admin

      Hugh, these applications are not “disc cleaners”. They make the claim that they will improve low level details etc…not merely ensure that the bits are transferred accurately from the disc to the DAC. Don’t you think that the developers of the CD and other disc formats would have made these “snake oil” processes a part of their specification if they actually did anything? Of course, there are ways to restore discs that have been damaged, scratched or otherwise mistreated…but we’re talking about new discs that will mysteriously benefit from a coating of some sort of magic potion. It’s absolutely nonsense and I’ll be doing a followup with the Auric Illuminator stuff that I still have to show what a crock this things are.

      I know Cookie and consider her a friend. She is good engineer although focused on equipment, processes and technologies that I find inadequate for advancing the recording of real HD-Audio. She is business woman and is challenged just like all of the rest of us small but dedicated vendors. I only wish that she would omit the hockus pockus stuff from her inventory. She is certainly not alone in selling the essense products.

  • I haven’t found anyone in the industry with the guts to call out Cookie Marenco directly for her shameless pseudoscience and audiophoolery marketing, and I have no real or apparent authority to do so, so I’ll merely point out a 100% alignment of the observations in this blog entry with an item sold on her website.

    Why has she taken this path? Only she can answer that. I look forward to the day someone in a position to ask her directly does so, on the record (so to speak). Why do people in the industry who by their own admission are obviously aware of what she’s doing, still defend her with appeals to authority and red herring fallacies? (i.e., defend and deflect her dubious claims on digital technology by pointing out her past efforts in producing music). Only those who do that can answer for that.

  • Oliver

    I revisited this entry after I rad your follow-up today. What I find particularly hilarious is the following claim from the marketing statement: “Ripping following Essence of Music application reveals and permanently captures visceral details, spatial cues, and ambient intimacies of a live event to your media server”

    While it is true that the CD audio format on the physical disc is not organised in sectors like data CDs, which can make it a challenge to construct a drive that can reliably read everything bit-perfect in real-time, the ripping process has all the time in the world to do it right (although most rips will be much faster than the total playing time of a disc, which makes it a problem only in rare corner cases). So it would not even require a listening test to debunk the claims of this company. Just rip the disc as is and then again with the snake oil applied. Then do a binary diff of the resulting wav files. I’m willing to bet that for an undamaged disc without any copy protection the files will be identical and therefore cannot sound any different when played back.

    BTW, I hope by now everyone uses Accurate Rip enabled software to ensure that there is no read error when ripping your CDs…

    Best regards

    • Stand by Oliver…that’s exactly what I did.


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