Cable Challenges

I happened to be cruising through the Netflix documentary section a couple of weeks ago and happened on a film called “An Honest Liar”. It’s a 2014 feature documentary about the world-famous magician, escape artist, and skeptical educator James Randi. I had heard of “The Amazing Randi” and admired his work in exposing psychics, faith healer, and outright con-artists. Knowing that the audiophile world is full of charlatans and purveyors of snake oil type products, I was intrigued to discover that an IT guy turned writer named Lee Hutchinson had set up a challenge between an expensive AudioQuest “Vodka” Ethernet cable costing $350 for a meter and a half and a $2.50 ‘Cable Matters’ cable ordered from Amazon. You can read the results at the Ars Technica website (click here).

The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) agreed to host the actual “event”, which was held in Las Vegas in front of about 200 hundreds audience members. You can read about the test and the procedures and the objections to the test methodology at the Ars Technica site but the conclusion should come as no surprise to readers of this site, “…the overwhelming majority of subjects could not tell the difference between a $350 AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet cable and a $2.50 ‘Cable Matters’ cable from Amazon under our specific testing conditions”. OK, the debate should be over…at least for digital cables. It is a “digital bits out and digital bit in” world. I’ve done these sorts of test any number of times, except I don’t even bother doing the listening part…that way too subjective. If the bits that arrive from the expensive cable are identical to the bits that arrive from the inexpensive cable, then the resulting DAC converter will reproduced exactly the same fidelity.

The claim that an Ethernet cable (or a USB) cable that meets the specifications for a certain grade of transmission can produce audible (or numerical) changes to the fidelity of a music selection is a myth, pure and simple. And what happens when a believer is presented with evidence that their claims are exaggerated or non-existent? Their faith continues and they attack the person that challenged their belief. This is what happened when I challenged the gentleman in Australia that has a business “vivifying” the fidelity of CD by duplicating them bit for bit to recordable media. His final exchange with me was that either I was lying, my ears are shot, or my equipment was incapable of demonstrating the “dramatic” improvements that his process imparted to one of my recordings.

The people involved in this episode will continue believing as they had prior to the test and nothing will have been accomplished. It seems there is no way to change an audiophile’s beliefs, which is great news for AudioQuest, Synergistic Research, Shakti Systems, and Machina Dynamics (at least this guy admits that his products are snake oil…but he continues to sell things like his “teleportation tweak” process to unwitting audiophiles).

You might want to read an article from a few weeks ago by Tom Morgan that demonstrated that expensive HDMI cables make no difference in the delivery of digital video signals. Here’s the link to the piece titled, “Expensive HDMI cables make no difference – the absolute proof / Comprehensive, proper testing answers the question once and for all.”

Rather than reviewing and pushing audiophile tweaks of dubious merit, audio websites and magazines might better serve their readers by focusing on the things that really do make a difference…like securing great quality recordings.


I’m in the initial stages of launching my first KickStarter crowdsourcing campaign. It will be for a book titled, “Music & Audio: A Guide to Better Sound” and include a disc with some new high-res tracks from the AIX catalog. The launch date will be in the early fall and last for 30 days. It’s time I collected some of my posts (there are almost 1000 of them now) and organized some new thoughts into an easy to understand book filled with lots of illustrations. My good friend and Grammy-winning engineer Robert Margouleff has agreed to write the introduction and others have agreed to be interviewed for the book.

Here’s where I could use a little help from you. In telling the story of “Music and Audio” for the KS campaign, I think it would be helpful to have a few reader comments or testimonials to provide non-readers some assurance that I’m worthy of their support. If anyone would like to write a few lines, please send them to me. I really appreciate the support.

I’m working on the “rewards” but they will include studio visits, attendance at a one of my upcoming sessions, and access to the book for less than the retail price. More information when I get the website up. Thanks.


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.

47 thoughts on “Cable Challenges

  • Kazimierz

    Hi Mark,
    I must disagree at least in the case of the USB audio cables. The difference between USB cables is very noticeable. Have you really compared, say an Audioquest Diamond or Coffee with a standard USB cable?
    I can’t imagine that you don’t notice a difference even with the Meridian Explorer² and the Oppo headphones.

    • I have a $300 USB cable with separated power…and when comparing it to a standard issue USB cable, the digital files are identical to each other. When the polarity of one of the files is reversed and added back to the other, there is complete and perfect cancellation. That proves that the cables don’t make any difference. Analog cables for interconnects and speakers might be capable of changing the fidelity but not digital cables. Sorry.

      • Kazimierz

        Hi Mark,
        sorry, but it sounds strange…
        You have enough time to change the polarity and …do some tests, but you haven’t 5 minutes to listen some music.

        • Of course, I listen to music. But when challenged by someone advocating for an expensive digital process on an optical disc or digital cable, the bits coming through the other end are what matter. And it’s the only thing that matters. If you or other hear improvements then fine…but there is no way that a high quality DAV will respond differently to an identical stream of ones and zeros.

          When I asked around to my brainiac friends, they said, “Just more pseudo-science snake oil generating advertising dollars.” Enough said.

          • Here’s some food for thought regarding Ethernet. The most common “proof” critics of my review have made is it’s all just 1s and 0s.

            Here’s Kurt Denke of Blue Jeans Cable from the comments in the Ars article where they tested the AQ cable:

            …the relevant Ethernet specs do not use simple one-zero binary encoding. They’re multilevel — the most extreme example being 10GBaseT over Cat 6A, which uses PAM-16, a 16-level encoding scheme which results in something that looks a whole lot more like an analog waveform than the simple square-wave pattern that people imagine. In other words, instead of “all ones and zeros” the signal has sixteen different voltage levels, rapid transitions between which need to be correctly read.

            And here’s John Swenson from a comment on CA talking about signaling rates on gigabit Ethernet:

            “So each pair is seeing 125 million analog level changes per second, each level change represents 2 bits of original data, for a total of 8 bits of data 125 million times per second, which is the gigabit.

            The point being, when people talk about Ethernet being just 1s or 0s, they are oversimplifying the facts of the matter to the point of nonsense.

            In terms of ” generating advertising dollars.” your brainiac friends are wrong (and insulting).

          • I appreciate the additional detail and information but the encoding of the analog signals and the transmission of those signals to storage or a DAC is what matters. You’re not the first person to insist that digital signal are subjected to noise and other “analog” problems. It comes down to whether you can tell whether the lights are on or off…regardless of whether there’s smoke in the room (noise). I’m not blinded by the science and I don’t buy into the “125 million analog level changes per second” argument.

            We’ll continue to disagree, it seems. Have a nice evening.

          • Kazimierz

            Hi Mark,
            I’m really far away from what “the snake oil advertising” want me to believe. I was very skeptical, too. I’m physicist. My question was if you gave the “USB audio” cables a try and if you heard a difference between the cables.

          • I have listened to expensive USB cables, in fact the one that use was a gift and I use in my normal setup. But I have tested the bits and sound coming out of a normal USB cables and found no differences. Digital cables of reasonable quality deliver bits…that’s all. Those who would like to think that noise, jitter, impedance, and power separation make a difference subscribe to a different standard for proof than I do (and most of the EE guys that I know).

  • Thanks Mark and good for you. I will work on putting something together for you all though my writing skills are very poor.
    We really could use a site that tells the truth on the matters you brought up and supported those of us that have our eyes open to the snake oil side of high end audio. After 40+ years as an “audiophile” I was always either ignored or ridiculed in the manner you described earlier. How do you defend your self against being told that either your equipment isn’t good enough or you don’t know how to listen when you try to oppose lunatic fringe positions on cables, etc.
    I don’t mean to insult any one but I got to say I was so surprised when about 6 years ago I first started getting involved in computer/file based audio. When I retired and moved out of my fairly large home in Chicago and moved into a 800 square foot park model home in FL I needed to downsize the large volume of space my CD and Vinyl collection demanded. So I ripped all my CD’s and used Audacity and my best vinyl equipment to record all my LP’s to digital files. All in all I was very happy with the results, specially after I aquired a high quality DAC, a Emotiva Stealth DC-1. But that’s another story.
    What surprised me the most was that in the path of this transition was that I started running into some websites I had not been familiar with before. Number one on the list was Computer Audiophile. For some reason I was expecting the since the regulars on this site were (I thought) much more technology based that they would be a lot less into and accepting of, all the snake oil and anti-science positions of Stereophile, TAS, etc. Honestly I was shocked, if anything the “audiophiles” there were even more supportive of the craziness of different sounding digital transfer cables like USB and HDMI, etc. I’m just appalled by the total lack of real science in the audio world. The positions taken in the audiophile community would be laughed out of any other real scientific investigations. I was there and watched this all happen and still cant’ believe how what JGH started turned out this way? He wasn’t perfect but RIP Gordon, you are missed. There hasn’t been a truly objective audio magazine since the days of Audio and Anthony Cordesman. Thank goodness his genius is being directed at middle east foreign policy, the audio community doesn’t deserve his time.

  • Michael Kaufman

    One of my FAVOURITE T shirt or car bumper slogans for many years has been:
    So why NOT teleportation tweaks for cables? 😉

    Seriously, a great article. Not all of us have been swayed by snake oil hype, Mark.



  • Paul Keysell

    Finding the Real HD Audio website and the informative posts from Mark Waldrep (Dr. AIX) has been particularly timely for me… I can’t afford to spend lots of money on equipment or music, but I love that feeling of making contact with an honest and committed performance that quality equipment and a well recorded source can give.

    I got really excited by the Pono concept and became one of the early backers, receiving my limited edition CSNY player a few months ago… I have to say that although flawed, it is good enough to expose poorly recorded material and can sound great through my headphones or old Naim amp and Linn speakers with the good stuff. I also have a small Audioquest Dragonfly DAC connected to my laptop, which to my ears sounds better… I plan to invest in a better quality player/DAC etc. when funds allow and when I am sure that my hard earned money will be spent wisely!

    Which brings me to what ‘the good stuff’ is… I was sucked into the whole high resolution audio thing expecting an experience that was rarely (if ever) delivered. I started buying premium HR files from one of the current players in the market (no point in names as I expect all are the same) and was surprised to find myself preferring a lot of the CD resolution music that I had transferred over from my own discs…
    Then I came across Dr. AIX and his examination of what we are really paying for with a lot of this HR stuff…

    I just happen to be a multimedia designer and have Adobe Audition as part of my software suite, so I started to copy the Dr. AIX process by peeking into the HR files I was buying in good faith, only to find that most were lower resolution files in a HR container. I have now removed myself from this massive con…
    This website and posts have probably saved me quite a bit of money and given me an education into all things ‘High Resolution’ so Thank you.

    We need an independent voice to expose the tricks that certain companies use to manipulate and scam those individuals who have a commitment to search for that elusive experience, of a true connection to the music and to celebrate those companies and individuals who are honest players in the ‘Wild West’ of high resolution audio.

    • Thanks very much Paul.

  • Robert Buckner

    Hello Mark
    Twenty years ago I bought an expensive Basis Turntable, and the salesman brought out a collar or clamp that will tighten around the spindle and hold the record to the platter. The theory or course is to dampen the vibration of the record and reduce unwanted resonance. While I was listening to the music after installation of the clamp, the salesman talked about how he could hear greater detail and images. I heard nothing, but bought the clamp anyhow. It does look good though. Thanks for your work.

    Robert Buckner

    • Thanks for sharing…I appreciate the honesty.

  • Hi Mark,

    The Ars/JREF test was completely flawed. This was supposed to be an ABX test but they neglected to make it a forced choice test (the definition of an ABX test). In addition, they did not pre-screen the subjects to determine if they could differentiate between real differences, the equipment used, a Dell laptop’s internal DAC and headphone amp running WMP to drive a pair of open back Grados in a room full of people, made the possibility of hearing any difference questionable, there were up to 30-second lapses between 30-second samples due to equipment malfunction, the subjects were told prior to the test that they essentially would not hear a difference, and they tested 7 people (only one passed).

    Yet people are suggesting this test “proves” something. It does not.

    In terms of ‘bits are bits’ and digital cables, I have repeatedly said that I would not look at data transmission as an explanation for perceived differences. It seems much more likely to me that we are dealing with noise and other known issues. I’m in the process of reviewing a number of UBS add-on devices that directly address these issues and you may find the most recent review of the USB REGEN of interest since the company behind the product offers a very detailed explanation of the problems and the way they went about addressing them.

    • Thanks Michael for the comment and perspective. As I said, I wouldn’t even bother with the listening part of the test. If a digital cable regardless of the type successfully transmits the ones and zeros (regardless of the background noise) to a high quality DAC, that’s enough. I’ve done the tests with expensive USB cables (a vendor gave me one at a trade show not long ago) although I didn’t post the results. Changing the polarity and adding the two files together zeros out everything. What else is there with regards to noise or or other known issues?

      I’ve seen the REGEN product and remain highly skeptical of its claims…once again, I’m a “bits are bits” guy.

      Would you agree that if the bits delivered by an expensive USB cable are the same as those delivered by a cheap cable are identical AND the DAC reclocks the digital data during reconstruction of the waveform, then the cables are succeeding at their job? If you other of other hear differences, it seems to me that it has to be something else.

      • Hi Mark,

        I’d recommend reading UpTone Audio’s explanation in my REGEN review. John Swenson, the engineer behind the product, “work[s] for a semiconductor company laying out large complex chips, with a specialty in internal power networks and how what is going on inside the chip disturbs its own power delivery network in the chip, the package and board.” So we’re hardly talking about someone without relevant knowledge or experience.

        “Would you agree that if the bits delivered by an expensive USB cable are the same as those delivered by a cheap cable are identical AND the DAC reclocks the digital data during reconstruction of the waveform, then the cables are succeeding at their job? If you other of other hear differences, it seems to me that it has to be something else.”

        Again, looking at just the data is missing the issue, imo. So I would not agree with your scenario since it does not address noise. If we need to talk in more detail about noise, again the Uptone explanation is a great place to start.

        • I will do some additional research and yes, John Swenson sounds like a guy with the right credentials.

          • I’m not in the camp that cables making a difference, but the Regen does make a noticeable difference. Michael’s experience in his review is exactly what I experienced in two different systems. you should give it a listen.

          • I’d love to get my hands on one and take a listen. You say it makes a noticeable difference but I want to know how it makes that perceived difference. My EE friends and my knowledge of how USB and digital signals work tells me that it’s snake oil. When I asked about the REGEN specifically, I go this back, “If this thing works, there is something wrong with your DAC!” I’ll reserve judgement but without an explanation that makes sense, I’m skeptical.

  • Camilo Rodriguez

    Hi Mark,

    First of all congratulations on your KS initiative, or as we say in Spanish, en hora buena, Mark!

    I will absolutely support your campaign and look forward to your book, and certainly write you a couple of decent lines as a long time reader and admirer of your work. Although to summarize the merits of your work and career in a few lines will be a challenge in itself.

    Thanks for the entertaining read at Ars Technica, and for the link to the cable debunking study at Expert Reviews, although some of Lee Hutchinson’s final words (“Still, folks like Audiostream’s Michael Lavorgna are going to hear what they hear—no amount of testing will replace subjective experience, and while more technologically minded folks might gain satisfaction from being right, people are going to hear what they hear.”) tests convincing – or not – by test results, are wise ones. Tests alone don’t appear to be enough to shake the false beliefs of most audiophiles, or better put, “believers” (that want and need to believe), and it only turns them into more hardheaded fanatics. I guess the psychology of belief is food for thought when we think about the effectiveness of arguments and rationality alone, when wanting to arrive at conclusions and prove a point. It introduces even further variables. But I guess we can’t discount the belief in tests, reason, logic, measurements and objectivity either, lol.


    • Hi Camilo,

      While Lee’s fiction is always a fun read, some clarification is in order. As I explained in my comment to Mark above, the Ars/Randi test was not a valid test. Period. So no, I won’t be swayed by meaningless test results from 7 people attending a skeptics conference.

      The very notion that audio tests are a breeze to pull off is simply not so. Just look at the responses to AES papers like the famous Meyer and Moran study or the more recent paper by Bob Stuart et al. regarding “The audibility of typical digital audio filters in a high fidelity playback system”. In the case of the latter, the paper was written by an AES fellow, it won the 2014 Audio Engineering Society’s award winning paper of the year, yet there are people questioning its merits. It appears that even AES papers at best act as stepping stones, not proof.

      People like Michael Fremer and John Atkinson of Stereophile have taken part in blind tests including a comparison between an expensive and inexpensive speaker cable. Both of them correctly identified the cables, Fremer scoring 100%. Their results were discounted because the larger group failed to hear a difference and people take issue with the number of samples, the test setup, etc. Fremer was also challenged to a blind test comparing different amplifiers which the tester claimed were sonically indistinguishable. Fremer scored 100% correct but his results were deemed invalid because the test only included 5 samples. Of course Fremer did not design the test, he just took it.

      Arny Kruger, one of the co-inventors of the ABX Comparator, offered up some files for test. He took a 24/96 original recording of his, downsampled it to 44.1 and 32kHz, upsampled those files back to 24/96 and challenged anyone to see if they could hear a difference in an ABX test between these and the 24/96 original. Someone correctly identified the files using the recommended Foobar 2000 ABX Comparator software. He had a near-perfect score. His results are dismissed by the people who don’t believe you can hear a difference for a number of reasons.

      From everything I’ve read, there has never been an audio test that has been universally accepted as being a valid test. Believers from both sides, and make no mistake there are believers on both sides, are not swayed by test results when it comes to audio.

      • Camilo Rodriguez

        Hi Michael,

        I would agree that the beliefs that are behind, and that motivate some audio enthusiast’s, engineer’s and geek’s, reasoning and rejection of perhaps not valid tests results – according to the design and objective of the test – but at least interesting tests results, behave much like ideological, religious and political beliefs. There are believers who will not yield at nothing on both sides, although I don’t see Mark as one.

        From the mathematical and statistic perspective of test results I can imagine there to be some valid points, but not even test methodologies are homogenous when it comes to the conditions and sufficiency of tests and test results. There are indeed schools and factions within the methodological camp as well, and they are equally hardheaded and unwilling to yield.

        If we are ever going to come to terms on any of these questions, as well as regarding the means to formulate problems, hypothesis, test and experimental methodologies, we have to be open to come out as wrong when the results have the last word. We can of course question the tests, the results, etc., but not without admitting the merit they already have.

        If I saw that only one subject passes the test, I’d still be curious as to what happened, and how he could have a flawless test record, if he can repeat the same results, and how many times, under which circumstances, etc., before I entirely dismissed his score as luck or chance. Nevertheless, there is certainly a point to the fact that the majority of test subjects failed, since the difference that should or could be perceived, should be perceived by a majority of subjects, in order for there to be a conclusive result regarding perceptibility.

        We are all grown ups and should be able to come to terms in designing a test, being OK with how it is set up and handled, and then accept the results. Both camps should be able to agree on a specific test to be sufficient and valid and accept the results. The same goes for scientific facts.

        I took the test devised by Mark and Scott Wilkinson, and although my setup (Benchmark DAC2, with or without the Violectric HPA V281 headphone Amp, Sennheiser HD800 and Audeze LCD-X headphones) doesn’t really have the specs of Mark and John Siau’s setup at Axpona (DAC2, AHB2 power Amps and Revel Salon2 speakers), I think I’m at least a bit better than CD specs. I can’t say I heard night and day differences between A and B tracks, but I do hear a difference that is almost 90% consistent. A friend took care of swapping the tracks tracks back and forth, and I didn’t get to look at the screen at any time. I still haven’t sent Scott the e-mail with my results, so I don’t know if I’m identifying the CD or HRA track as the HRA version almost 90% of the time. Nevertheless, this was more an exercise of trying to identify differences than clearly hearing them and enjoying the impact they had on the recorded music.

        I have also previously tried to tell the difference with Mark’s recordings, from tracks he uploaded for this purpose (in MP3, CD and HRA specs), and I wasn’t able to tell the difference more than on specific passages of the tracks, which revealed the shortcomings of the MP3 version, but not reliably so between CD and HRA versions of the tracks. My experience was pretty much like bird watching, be dead still, dead silent and try to find the right angle for a shot at the bird when it moved from behind the branch that was covering a direct visual, and then it flew away so fast that I wasn’t even sure if it was the right bird I thought I was sneaking up on, until I could have a look at the shot.

        If I’m gonna be looking for a difference that isn’t itself apparent and evident as such, then at least me, with my hearing, won’t benefit from paying 5-15 extra bucks for 24 bit downloads. I would love to hear the difference as clear as others claim to hear it, but I don’t, and it’s not about trying to hear it, it’s about enjoying it.
        I have yet to take the test with speakers that can handle HRA as the Salon2, and with a DAC like the Benchmark DAC2, Resonessence Labs Mirus or Weiss 202, Amps like the AHB2 or Mola-Mola’s Kaluga monoblocks, so I haven’t totally given up. But for now, I get no benefit from paying more for what I perceive as the same.


  • Hi Mark,

    You say,

    “I’m not blinded by the science and I don’t buy into the ‘125 million analog level changes per second” argument.

    There’s no argument here. It’s simply a fact.

    • There are lot of places that shouldn’t have any arguments…but clearly in audio that turns out not to be true. Using big numbers and testimonials by experts doesn’t change my issue that the data is the data and expensive cables and cheap cables output the exact same data streams. I don’t care whether the man behind the curtain uses semiphore or smoke signals to get there.

      • I agree Mark. The data is the data. But that’s not the entire story. I’ll be curious to hear your take on the UpTone Audio explanation re. USB and why bits are bits misses the mark.

        • I’ll keep you posted. Right now it’s time to go home and play frisbee with the border collie…Charlie’s calling. Later.

        • Michael, if you agree that the data is the same (the bits are the same), and you believe that the issue is impedance mis-matching and poor signal integrity (I don’t know what this is supposed to be if the bits are the same.), then why don’t you just get rid of the cable and use a wireless connection between the media server and the DAC? With no cable there will be no possible way for the cable to introduce any issues.

          Also anyone who claims that all DACs have a problem, but that their device, the REGEN in this case, resolves the problem, has to explain why all other engineers are unable to design a solution to this problem.

          • Mark, good point. I’m going to be looking into the REGEN device and the information supplied by Michael and the inventor. My first reaction is that the REGEN is completely unnecessary. The statement I got back from a prominent designer of very high-end DACs was, “If this thing works, there is something wrong with your DAC!” It might be a solution in search of a problem, when there isn’t any problem to start with.

          • Hi Mark,

            The REGEN is not the only device of this type. There are products from LH Labs, AudioQuest, iFi, Schiit, totaldac, Empirical Audio, and others which address some of the same issues. In terms of the general issue of noise and data cables, I think if we simply look at the fact that some USB cables are sold with ferrite chokes, we don’t have to argue whether or not noise is an issue.

            If we rewind the clock and look at USB DACs when asynchronous USB was introduced, we could certainly ask the same question you are asking here – “…why all other engineers are unable to design a solution to this problem.” The first answer is you have to recognize that there is a problem. The second is you have to understand how to fix it. Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio offered the first consumer DAC to implement his Asynchronous USB Steamlength™ technology which other manufacturer’s have since licensed from Gordon. Gordon is also one of the people behind the AudioQuest JitterBug, a device similar to the REGEN. Part of the design of the JitterBug involved measurements and AQ claims their product, “Measurably reduces jitter and packet errors”.

            Back to the REGEN, if you look at the designer John Swenson’s credentials, you’ll see he specializes in internal power networks for large complex chips. I think it’s fair to suggest that his knowledge is not common knowledge among DAC designers.

          • I must admit that I don’t follow all of the companies you mentioned that are also supplying USB “regeneration” devices…I will do some investigation. I know the engineers at Schiit. I’m sure they can provide some additional information. I do know a fair amount about electronics and understand why a choke is helpful on certain types of cables. The JitterBug is a product that I’ve looked into. IMHO another useless piece of electronics that has no application to audiophiles. A properly designed DAC from Benchmark,Lavry, Berkeley Audio Designs, Light Harmonic, and the others ignores the clock that comes from the source device and reclocks the data output to remove or minimize any clocking errors…so fixing the jitter on the incoming signal is pointless. Sure less expensive machines do use the incoming clock. But my contention is that audiophiles don’t use this low fi gear.

            The designer of REGEN seems to be a smart guy and have appropriate skills, I promised to read the whole statement and I will. However, I always come back to the bits explanation. If the bits are delivered successfully to the inputs of a good DAC, I don’t care about any processing, noise, or skin effects along the way. As long as the data is passed to the inputs, everything that came before is moot. If an inexpensive USB cable can accomplish that task as well as a convoluted chain of REGEN, JitterBug, and expensive “directional” cables, then why would I spend my cash for any other that stuff?

            I’m continuously amused that audiophiles engage with this stuff…but professional engineers working in professional studio (where the music is produced) don’t buy any of this stuff? Don’t you find it curious?

  • No, I don’t find it curious at all Mark but I get your drift. I’m also glad you find this topic amusing.

    Since my job is to listen and write about what I hear, and you don’t listen to things you don’t believe can make a difference, even before understanding what it is they do, suggests to me we’d be better off talking about music.


    • Michael, I respect your efforts to listen and report. We certainly have a difference of opinion on the merits of some products and companies but I enjoy chatting and pushing back and forth on various points. I don’t get the opportunity to listen…and honestly as an active engineer and professor, I don’t have a great deal of time to try everything…but I do try to understand the theory behind a lot of the tweaks. I’m an engineer. Things have to pass the smell test for me….and a lot of audiophile accessories don’t pass. Later

      • Mark, I would enjoy the back and forth if you left out the derogatory remarks aimed at people you do not agree with 😉 I also think it’s unprofessional to criticize products and manufacturers before you understand what their product claims to do and how it goes about doing it.

        I see you don’t think jitter makes a difference, “Those who would like to think that noise, jitter…make a difference subscribe to a different standard for proof than I do (and most of the EE guys that I know).” Here’s Benchmark from their DAC 2 HGC page:

        UltraLock2™ is an improved version of the UltraLock™ system used in the DAC1 and ADC1 product families. DSP processing is 32-bits, DSP headroom is 3.5 dB, sample rate is 211 kHz, and jitter-induced distortion and noise is at least 140 dB below the level of the music – well below the threshold of hearing. Benchmark’s UltraLock2™ system eliminates all audible jitter artifacts.

        You’ll also note that the USB input on the Benchmark is asynchronous so it does not rely on the clock from the source. Interesting that they still employ additional means to deal with jitter.

        Since you don’t have time listen, here are 11 pages and counting of comments where people talk about what DAC they use with the REGEN. (http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f6-dac-digital-analog-conversion/uptone-regen-and-your-digital-analogue-converter-what-digital-analogue-converter-do-you-use-24410/)

        You’ll notice that among others the Benchmark II HGC is mentioned and the REGEN offered an improvement according to the DAC’s owner. Now it could very well be that all of the people who have the REGEN and hear an improvement are hearing things, are lying, or they are paid shills to sell a product that does nothing, which is your contention (UpTone sold over 1,000 of these in the first 3 months). On the JitterBug, there are already a few reviews and there are more coming. The ToneAudio review found the JitterBug even improved the sound of a dCS DAC.

        Again, my positive review and the Tone review could be due to the same reasons people ascribe to other tweaks and cables they do not believe do anything; we’re hearing things, we’re lying, or we’re paid shills to sell a product. I can easily discount the last two since I know for a fact they are not true for me. As far as the first goes, I believe my review process eliminates this possibility.

        On the review process, you wrote an article a while back, “A | B Testing At Home” wherein you raised the question, “Without identical systems from source to speaker that can easily switch from one cable to another without any re-plugging, I don’t think you can actually to a comparison that holds up. If I’m wrong please explain to me your approach.”

        And here you are on this same subject when you compared Paul McGowan’s system to your own, “But whatever the 10X up conversion and DSD 5.6 conversion does to the sound, it didn’t eclipse the sound that I get in my B&W 801 Matrix III, Bryston powered studio when I play my tracks through my Benchmark DAC2 HGC or even the multichannel DACs positioned on the backside of my console (using Crystal Semiconductor chips and made by Euphonix).”

        My point being, on one hand you say that without the ability to quickly switch back and forth between samples, any comparison will not hold up. Yet on the other you feel comfortable comparing your system to Paul’s when they are about 1,000 miles apart.

        Finally, here you are talking about the review process more recently, “Rather than reviewing and pushing audiophile tweaks of dubious merit, audio websites and magazines might better serve their readers by focusing on the things that really do make a difference…like securing great quality recordings.”

        My job is to cover products of interest. The USB REGEN is one such product and the AudioQuest Ethernet cables certainly were when I reviewed them 3 years ago. The idea that I should ignore such products because some people do not believe they make a difference would be just be silly since there are plenty of people who don’t different DACs make a difference. On music, I post a recommended album every Friday and you’ll note that my focus here is on the music first and foremost.


        • Michael, I’ve done lots of listening and spent way too much time evaluating things that exist in the “accessories or tweaks” area of our hobby or profession. I’ve listened to and evaluated the Shakti Systems tweaks (Ben is my next door neighbor) and told him that I heard no improvement or differences in the sound of my recordings with his products in or out. I’ve used surface treatments, disc demagnetizers, $3000 powers cords, anti-static devices, and sent away a disc to Australia to be vivified…none of these tweaks made any difference…to my ears, playing my recordings, in my facility. I’ve also attended plenty of trade shows and experienced products made by Synergistic Research, AudioQuest, and other high-end audio manufacturers…again my ears failed to detect any fidelity change. So I guess it must be my fault for failing to appreciate these accessories.

          Your quote from Benchmark is appropriate. John is a very close friend of mine and he was the one that told me that clocking errors that come in on the USB cable are not a problem because the clock is completely redone (and jitter virtually removed…down 140 dB!) inside the DAC. And Benchmark is not alone in successfully removing jitter in their DACs. This makes me think that jitter reducing devices like the JitterBug and REGEN are not affecting what they claim to affect. Perhaps their customers are hearing something they like, but it’s unlikely to be reduced jitter or the removal of noise from the digital stream.

          The comments by owners of these devices don’t hold any sway with me. If I were engage once again and test the output of the REGEN against a direct digital connection, I’m confident that I wouldn’t be able to find any bits that have been improved or changed. And for me that’s the end of the story…the same bits going into the same DAC will result in the same sound. Period.

          As for my listening experience in Boulder with Paul McGowan, of course I can’t make a direct comparison. But I do trust my own ears when listening to my recordings. I’m an audio engineer and musician…there was nothing magical about the DirectStream DAC. I know how DSD works and I know that it can’t function in the commercial world of making records…nor would I want it to.

          It is preferred to be able to make instant comparisons…and I’ve done that at Snow Ghost in Montana with Peter McGrath and others. We compared analog tape, DSD 64, and 96 kHz/24-bits of a recording we did during out stay there. DSD sounded fine…but it was full of ultrasonic noise compared to the PCM….why would I want to send a bunch of uncorrelated noise to my electronics?

          I tell a different story at REALHD-Audio.com. It is not my job to cover products that lack a technical basis for their claims. And I don’t have a problem calling them out. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Machina Dynamics but he offers a whole line of tweaks. He has a long resume and boasts multiple degrees and credentials in exotic disciplines…AND he admits to being a “snake oil salesman”. However, he makes a lot of money from uninformed audio enthusiasts willing to spend big bucks on things that are pure and utter BS. People like this do exist.

          I don’t have to understand their products if they defy technical realities. I’ve done my homework and feel compelled to offer my opinion and criticism of products that seem too good to be true.


          • Hi Mark,

            On one hand, you feel very confident in your listening impressions, and rightfully so, imo. Yet you disregard other people’s listening impressions without knowing anything about them., wrongfully so, imo.

            Re. Benchmark, you’ve missed my point. You contention is that jitter and noise are not issues with USB transmission, “…the same bits going into the same DAC will result in the same sound. Period.” Now you are saying that jitter and noise are an issue but company’s like Benchmark know how to deal with them.

            Re. your site, of course! The same holds for everyone else.

            I don’t have to understand their products if they defy technical realities. I’ve done my homework and feel compelled to offer my opinion and criticism of products that seem too good to be true.

            If was a teacher, I’d give your homework on this subject of the REGEN and JitterBug an “F” 😉

          • Michael, I’m OK with others hearing things that I may not or preferring a particular sound. However, just because someone says they hear something subtle and report that it’s the result of a device that is supposed to “vivifY’ or “enhance” one’s experience when I can show that the bits are the same, I hesitate more than a little bit.

            As for Benchmark and other high-end makers of USB DACs, the point I was trying to make is that any device that claims its improvements are the result of them removing jitter prior to the DAC is nonsense because the clock coming in the line isn’t used. Clocking is a major issue in digital audio…that’s why we have an Atomic Clock in my studio. But telling someone that they can improve their fidelity by “regenerating” a new clock when the new clock isn’t going to be used in the conversion process strikes me as silliness.

            I am a teacher and if I can’t understand the technology or know things that make a product’s claims moot, I’m not going to present it until it’s proven through rigorous testing.

  • Let me try to better clarify what I’m saying about Benchmark. The Benchmark’s USB input is asynchronous so as you say, it does not rely on the source clock. This leads you to say, “..any device that claims its improvements are the result of them removing jitter prior to the DAC is nonsense because the clock coming in the line isn’t used.”

    Here’s where I don’t follow your logic. Here’s Benchmark, again, on their UltraLock2™ the results of which are, “…jitter-induced distortion and noise is at least 140 dB below the level of the music – well below the threshold of hearing. Benchmark’s UltraLock2™ system eliminates all audible jitter artifacts.” Why would this step be necessary if what you say is true – “..any device that claims its improvements are the result of them removing jitter prior to the DAC is nonsense because the clock coming in the line isn’t used”?

    Just to put a finer point on it, Benchmark are clearly addressing jitter and noise in their DAC even though they discard the source clock. Why?

    My contention is – because an asynchronous USB input does not, in itself, completely eliminate the issue of jitter and noise. Since all DACs are clearly not the same in terms of how effectively they deal with noise and jitter, just look at John Atkinson’s DAC measurements, it would follow, in my mind anyway, that a device which measurably reduces “jitter and noise” in the signal being fed to the DAC can improve the performance of the connected DAC.

    I put “jitter and noise” in quotes because neither the REGEN nor the JitterBug limit their claims to jitter and noise. I pointed you to UpTone Audio’s explanation of their product and you have yet to address any of the points they make. Which is why I gave you an “F” on your homework 😉


    • I deserve the “F” for being delinquent in my homework…LOL. Once again, I’m working on a Saturday putting together the items to support my new book, “Music and Audio: A User Guide to Better Sound”. I’ll get back to you on the Benchmark thing…or perhaps pass this off to John, the designer of the unit.

      • Hey Mark, just a quick follow up/recap.

        The reason I got involved in this discussion in the first place is because this post is about me. The Ars/Randi “test” was intended to debunk my claims, not claims made by AudioQuest, of an audible difference between Ethernet cables. Ars/Randi failed to prove anything since their test was completely flawed in every way. Anyone with even a basic understanding of how to perform an ABX test recognizes this fact.

        Yet here’s your conclusion, “OK, the debate should be over…at least for digital cables. It is a ‘digital bits out and digital bit in’ world.”

        Of course this conclusion is nonsense since the test results are useless. Regarding “It is a ‘digital bits out and digital bit in’ world” and Ethernet, when shown that this is also not true, Ethernet is not ‘ones and zeros’ rather a signal carrying different voltage levels, your response is, “It comes down to whether you can tell whether the lights are on or off…” If this is the case, please explain why we have different CAT levels for Ethernet cables.

        You’ve also said that the concept behind the REGEN is “silly” and “The JitterBug is a product that I’ve looked into. IMHO another useless piece of electronics that has no application to audiophiles.” And then there’s this, “This makes me think that jitter reducing devices like the JitterBug and REGEN are not affecting what they claim to affect.”

        You base all of this on a ‘bit are bits’ argument yet you have not bothered to understand what the REGEN is or does, nor have you adressed any of the design aspects of the JitterBug. The only thing you are doing in any meaningful way is criticizing real engineers like John Swenson and Gordon Rankin, the people behind the REGEN and JitterBug, who clearly know more about this subject than you do. But this does not stop you from “calling them out”.

        You close your post re. me with this, “Rather than reviewing and pushing audiophile tweaks of dubious merit, audio websites and magazines might better serve their readers by focusing on the things that really do make a difference…like securing great quality recordings.”

        Here’s my take on this subject Mark – before you call someone out, you need to fully understand what you’re talking about. Repeating ‘bits are bits’ over and over again is not a refutation of anything. It is simply an admission of ignorance.


        • Michael, we’ll push this marble a little further down the road. Before I respond to all of the points you make in your comment. I would like to ask you a relevant and important question. Do you believe that there are any people or companies (regardless of their engineering prowess or academic degrees) that are promoting products or services that are knowingly selling “snake oil” audiophile tweaks? There has to be a line below which we don’t have to validate a claim and I’m wondering where that line is for you.

          For example, there is a company (really an individual named Geoff Kait) called Machina Dynamica that offers a variety of audiophile tweaks including the “teleportation tweak”, which is described this way: “Long-Distance Audio and Video System Enhancement – The Only Audio Product that doesn’t Require Shipping”. It comes with a 30-day money back guarantee and has plenty of very positive reviews, “I noted a vast improvement in depth and staging. The tone is pure, correct-sounding and natural. In fact, I have never heard sound so real. The Teleportation Tweak is a thing of indescribable beauty.” – Customer, Sept 2007. There are other testimonials including some from other vendors of high-end audiophile tweaks (how convenient?). It’s almost as if they got together to support each other.

          And Geoff certainly has the right credentials: “Geoff Kait — Aerospace Engineering (theoretical fluid dynamics and propulsion, statistical thermodynamics, nuclear physics, indeterminate structures). Undergrad thesis: Preliminary design of low-thrust engine for interplanetary travel utilizing momentum transfer mechanisms in highly magnetic metal crystal bombarded by high-energy ions. Work experience: satellite operations; radar data analysis; aerodynamics of high-performance aircraft; reentry vehicle dynamics; radio communications; satellite communications; spread spectrum communications. He incorporated Machina Dynamica in 1998; he designed Nimbus Sub-Hertz Isolation Platform, Promethean Base, Baby Promethean Mini Isolators, Brilliant Pebbles, Tru-Tone Duplex Covers, Codename Turquoise II CD Tray Masking Kit, Codename Top Banana II Blu Ray Tray Masking Kit, the Teleportation Tweak, Clever Little Clock, Codename White Poppy, Codename Blue Meanies, Frog Jump in Water Tweak, The Super Intelligent Chip, the Diamond Light Crystal High Frequency Clarifier, Spectrum Purifier CD Coloring System, Blu Spectrum Purifier Blu Ray Coloring System, Flying Saucers for Windows, Flying Saucers for Wall Outlets, Pretzel Logic Reef Knot Device, Dark Matter CD Optical Coating and the Ultra Signature Version of the Clever Little Clock. He is the Author of How the Intelligent Chip Works – The Definitive Explanation and The Real Story of How the Clever Little Clock Works.”

          You can visit the website for yourself and read the theory upon which the teleportation tweak is based…“quantum teleportation and mind-matter interaction”. It seems real enough to me…or perhaps this guy is selling a service that is so ridiculous that we don’t need to test it.

          It might be of interest that he describes himself on a Linked In audio group as a, “snake oil purveyor”. No kidding!

          My point is that there are people and companies that are frauds. Geoff is at least honest enough to admit that he’s nothing but voodoo. Yes, he’s still in business and as far as I know he generates a substantial income from his products.

          So back to your comments. The exact details of the Ars/Randi challenge are not important to me. I think a more rigorous test might be worthwhile but I don’t believe the results would be any different. My position on “bits are bits” is based on at least three thorough tests that I’ve done personally and information from people (“real” engineers) who have as much if not more expertise and practical experience than the engineers behind REGEN and JitterBug. I’ve compared the data output from a treated “vivified” CD and an untreated disc…the data and fidelity were exactly the same. If the bits delivered to the DAC are the same, then the sound is the same. I’ve compared an expensive USB cable to a standard issue USB cable…same results. The data nulls when the polarity is reversed and the fidelity didn’t change.

          As for the reforming of the data traveling through a USB cable as the JitterBug and REGEN claim to do, again my expert engineer with over 30 years designing and building state-of-the-art analog and digital equipment tells me, “If these thing work, there is something wrong with your DAC!” And that’s good enough for me. If you and others want to spend the money and feel you hear an improvement in the fidelity of your systems, that’s great. The explanations (and yes, I did read through them) are nice but they don’t change the conclusion for me. The same data is present without the tweaks…and therefore “calling someone out” is warranted. I’ve done my homework and read the explanations, talked to respected experts, done rigorous evaluations myself, and listened in a state-of-the-art studio – nothing in the bits changed! If doing all of that qualifies me as “ignorant” then we have a different definition of the word. I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else to be able to speak with some authority about my personal experience.

          So there has to be some audiophile tweak that you just know is BS, right? Would you spend $60 on the “Teleportation Tweak” (remember there is a money back guarantee)? I don’t have time for tweaks that defy the “bits are bits” logic. I guess you do.

          • If you are saying that the REGEN and JitterBug are “snake oil” I say you’re wrong. Gordon Rankin, John Swenson, and Mike Moffat (who designed the Schiit Wyrd) are knowledgeable engineers. Period. Skirting around this fact by bringing up the teleportation tweak is nonsense. Bringing up your anonymous engineer to back up your claims is meaningless. You are saying these products are “snake oil”. The burden of proof is one you.

            Bringing up your experience with other tweaks is irrelevant. If you were to offer measurements that counter the claims made by UpTone Audio and AudioQuest I’d begin to take you seriously.

            I have actual experience with these devices in my system, which outweighs the incomplete theory you have offered.

            So yea, I agree. This is a pointless exercise. My opinion, again, is you are wrong Mark. You may take some pleasure in calling people out when you don’t what know you’re talking about, but I find that a reprehensible trait.

          • My intent is not to get under your skin Michael. I would have appreciated a response to my point…is everything offered for sale to audiophiles worthy of validation or are there some products that can be safely ignored? If you would like me to evaluate the JitterBug or REGEN, then send one along. I will do a careful listen of my material and I will do a reverse polarity test on the digital output. However, I’m not going to spend my own dollars on these devices.

            You may disagree…I’m OK with that…but calling me “ignorant” or possessing a “reprehensible trait” strikes me as a bit personal. Having worked in this business for 40 years, having graduate degrees in music and computer science, and knowing a whole bunch of very smart people that know plenty about this subject, I’m reasonably confident that your opinion is merely that…your opinion. Plenty of people think that I do know what I’m talking about and have expressed thanks that I share my knowledge with them through this blog.

            I can’t know for sure that the REGEN and Jitterbug are “snake oil” for sure until I test them. But knowing how digital signals are passed from one device to another and having previous experience with products that make similar claims and knowing a highly experienced expert, I’m willing to express my doubts.

  • …is everything offered for sale to audiophiles worthy of validation or are there some products that can be safely ignored?

    Nope. But who said anything about “validation” besides you? You can get a very clear idea of what I believe to be worth reviewing by looking at what I review.

    You are calling John Swenson, Gordon Rankin, and Mike Moffat snake oil salesmen. You don’t find that to be…personal? I do.

    Now you say you “can’t know for sure” until you test the REGEN and JitterBug (and why not throw the Wyrd in as well) but you’re still calling these people snake oil salesmen. Yea, that’s a) personal and b) reprehensible, imo.

    The claim that an Ethernet cable (or a USB) cable that meets the specifications for a certain grade of transmission can produce audible (or numerical) changes to the fidelity of a music selection is a myth, pure and simple. And what happens when a believer is presented with evidence that their claims are exaggerated or non-existent? Their faith continues and they attack the person that challenged their belief.

    You’re talking about me. You don’t find this…personal? I do. You are as much of a believer as anyone I’v ever met Mark. Nothing personal 😉

    And no, I have zero interest in your listening impressions.

    • We each our respective experts…I’m sure that those you mentioned are skilled engineers and have a great deal of knowledge. I’ve cast doubts on their products not their abilities…there’s a difference IMHO.

      I stand my assessment about Ethernet cables for the reasons that I’ve outlined previously. And yes, without identifying you personally…I explained what many people already know, digital cables changing the sound or fidelity of a sound file is a myth. That cables have directionality is also a myth. This is my position. It’s not personal. You believe otherwise. That’s the way of the world.


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