The Audiophile Gala 2015

I debated whether to attend the Los Angeles and Orange County Audiophile Society annual holiday gala today. I’m a lifetime member and have participated in the gala for the past 5-6 years. Like many other hardware and software companies, I’m glad to make available a number of my AIX Records releases for the raffle. And when I say a raffle, I can tell that the society president Bob Levi knows how to shake the tree and get manufacturers to donate a wide variety of audiophile stuff. The display tables were overflowing with over $70,000 worth of cables, headphones, players, speakers, headphone amps, and software. I really wonder what the cost of the components for this stuff actually is. After getting up early to grade papers this morning, I managed to get to the Buena Park Holiday Inn for the first couple of hours of the event.

A few of the usual luminaries were there as well. I saw Michael Fremer, the vice president of analog, seated on the head table (funny that the society has a vice president of analog audio but no equivalent position for VP of digital audio…I ready to volunteer if asked). He was there to introduce the founder of VPI turntables. And Robert Harley of TAS was there as well with a table full of coffee table books from The Absolute Sound archives. This one is all about electronics. Dr. David Robinson, the editor of Positive Feedback Online, was also seated at the main table. I think he’s the vice president of DSD advocacy (just kidding). I always enjoy chatting with Bob Levi, Dr. Mark Katz, and Chuck Bruce when I get to the event.

I sat near the raffle area of the ballroom and watched as the UCLA sorority ladies packed the rotating basket full of tickets. It wasn’t hard to notice long strings of raffle tickets sticking out of the pockets of many attendees. Every one is hoping to take home some prize for a fraction of the retail price. Here’s a partial list of the stuff that ticket purchasers could win:

• E.A.R. 834P Tube Phono Stage designed by Tim de Paravicini. $1895.
• Zesto Audio Andros 1.2 Vacuum Tube Phonostage. New improved version. $4800.
• Kimber Select 1236 Silver Phono cables with silver WBT RCA connectors, one meter. $2500.
• Kubala-Sosna Elation! 1.5 meters, with custom RCA connectors. Perfect connection for low-level phono or any high level source. $6600.
• Excellent Merrill Audio ANAP Interconnects 1.5 meter XLR. $1149. Top Merrill Audio ANAP Speaker Cables. 12 AWG cable, ultra low inductance and low capacitance. 1.5 meter. $1149. Total: $2298.
• A pair of excellent M2 Monitor PBN Speakers. $2500.
• Astell&Kern AK380 Digital Audio Player, Top of the Line! Featuring 32bit 384kHz Bit to Bit Playback, Native DSD (up to 5.6 MHz) Playback, Parametric EQ with 20-band 0.1dB, 200 Femto Second VCXO Reference Clock, Scalable Amp, DNLA-based AK Connect App, Metal Touch Sensor Home Button. $3499.
• Liquid Crimson headphone amplifier. New hybrid design with advanced heat sinks, it can power any moving coil or planar headphones on earth. Powerful and elegant! $2850.
• Grado GH1 Limited Edition Heritage Headphones with Brooklyn raised all maple ear forms. Great live sound! $650.
• Newest Bybee Technology creation…they are called “Room Neutralizers”….a set consists of 8 pcs. that are positioned around the listening room walls. The “Room Neutralizers” retail for $2000. per set. Genius!


• Q2 Quantum Organizer $448, Q3 Quantum Organizer $750. From Stein Music for the dedicated audiophile. A combination of crystals and quantumphysics organizing the protons by a field of force with the result of a more organic and realistic sound. $1198.


• 2 superb AnnaLyric Systems PC-1 Power Cords and 2 USB-1s, all designed to deliver a musical performance that emotionally transports the listener to their most ‘passionate state”, where they are one with the music! They throw a large, deep, nuanced soundstage with precise layering and fully formed tactile images within it! Designed by the renowned Olu Sonuga. $350 each. $1400 total.
• 1 – 1.25 meter PATENTED SILVER-NICHROME XLR INTERCONNECT by Klee Acoustics handmade in CA for our Society. MSRP $1295.

And the list goes on. There’s a lot of great stuff on this list…things that I wouldn’t mind winning. A couple of years ago, I won a professional photography session with a guy in Orange County worth $3000. I would rather have won some vinyl LPs but that’s just my luck.

I marvel at the retail prices attached to the cables, but that’s the market for audiophile cables. Where I draw the line is with things called “Room Neutralizers” for $2000 from Jack Bybee and Q2 & Q3 Quantum Organizers from Stein Music. They retail for hundreds of dollars. What I saw on the table were pieces of foam core with short cables coming out of one end (Bybee) or small blocks of wood in the case of Stein Music. These products aren’t quite up to the “teleportation tweak” from Machina Dynamics but they’re close. If doubt the person that won these gems would be able to sell them for a penny on the dollar to any reasonable person. Do you buy this explanation? “A combination of crystals and quantum physics organizing the protons by a field of force with the result of a more organic and realistic sound.” I have to chuckle when I read stuff like this.

I had to leave the event early because I’m still moving boxes and boxes of stuff out of my large office to make room for the new studios. I’ve decided I have way too much stuff.


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.

32 thoughts on “The Audiophile Gala 2015

  • Rather than a room neutralizer I use a rabbit’s foot. It gives the same result but cost much less.

  • Oliver

    And we continue to wonder why music lovers go with steaming. It makes it seem like it just not affordable to get good sound. So why bother?

  • Rodrian Roadeye

    Other than the AK380, nope, nothing there grabs me. And even the AK would be just for the curiosity of hearing one. Everything else is just caviar for a tuna guy.

    • The Astell and Kern player is a very well engineered device and does all of the things you would want in a product in the portable high-res market…but for that kind of money, I’d think twice.

      • For listening to music while walking, exercising, and most other portable needs my Sansa Clip+ for $40, playing flac files ripped from CDs, sounds excellent thru my Grado SR80e and makes me happy as a clam.

  • James Oliver

    Perhaps they need a Vice President , Audio Woo, to properly explain the amazing properties of these veil lifting, stage expanding, organic devices!
    After 40 years in this “hobby” I’m still amazed at how easy it is to part people from their money!

    • There will always be audiophile accessories of the snake oil variety. All Jack Bybee needs to do is get a single good review (which isn’t hard if you purchase an ad) and then sell a dozen any of his products per year and he’s doing pretty well. I think it’s fraudulent…but what can you do?

  • Holy crap, it seems insane to mix the obviously ludicrous unethical products with the nice ones. Man alive.

    • Anyone can donate to the raffle…I’m not surprised. Many would consider $6600 for 1.5 meter of interconnect cables to be in the same category.

  • “What I saw on the table were pieces of foam core with short cables ”
    I noticed the cords in the pictures and wondered if they were catheters, and why they might need them?

    The cables were actually way to the low side of today’s high end market pricing.
    What, No Shakti Electro-Magnetic Stabilizer Stones or AQ Magic Bricks?

    “A combination of crystals and quantum physics organizing the protons by a field of force with the result of a more organic and realistic sound.”
    Oh boy, this stuff just gets better and better.
    A total comedy skit.

    • My neighbor is the Shakti guy…

  • Cormac

    I’m surprised we can’t yet buy Higgs boson purifiers. Now that we know for certain that this elusive particle exists, surely it is interfering with the clarity of our analog music.

    Sarcasm-aside, I’d really hate to be any audiophile that finally realises that he’s been had for all these years and spent ridiculous amounts of cash on cables, purifiers, pieces of wood/foam etc.

  • ‘Grado GH1 Limited Edition’ – I would not say no, if I won that 😉

    • Grado is a favorite of mine as well.

  • Barry Kirby

    At one point I bought Nordost ” Sort Cones”. I think they fall into this category. I found no sound improvement, but at least they provide better air circulation for my preamp.

    • Barry, elevating your gear will keep is cooler…but there will be no sound improvement. Thanks.

  • Ethan Winer

    Mark, I applaud you for exposing audio BS, but why address only the most blatant BS? You wrote, “I marvel at the retail prices attached to the cables, but that’s the market for audiophile cables. Where I draw the line is with things called ‘Room Neutralizers’ …”

    Expensive wires are BS too and I’m sure you know that! So why “draw the line” only at the most egregious nonsense? It’s a slippery slope from convincing people that imagined sound differences due to wires are real, then to imagined differences due to LP “demagnetizers” and quantum doohickeys. It’s *all* a load of crap designed to separate people from their money, and it all needs to be exposed for the sham it is.

    • Ethan, if you read through my posts…I’ve laid into the cable myth repeatedly. I do believe that sound can be changed by cables in the analog domain…albeit by a very small amount. But digital cables, Ethernet, USB, and most others are hocus pocus. It’s a racket and audiophiles are getting ripped off. I overheard a gentleman in the bathroom at the Holiday Inn say that he’s put his expensive power cord in three different spots in his system and didn’t like the result in any location. I just had to shrug.

      • “I do believe that sound can be changed by cables in the analog domain…albeit by a very small amount.”
        Mark, I’ve heard you make this statement before. I know there are many inferior cables on the market whose electrical properties can negatively effect sound.
        But to clarify, do you believe that a quality 12 gauge OFC speaker cable such as sold by Blue Jean cable can be sonicly improved upon by the more expensive spread?
        Also in interconnects Blue Jean sells the LC-1 ultra low capacitance cable with heavy double-braid shielding identical to Canare LV-77S. Do you think this can be bettered?

        • Admin

          There are poor quality cables out there but I think I’m safe in assuming the audio enthusiasts wouldn’t be purchasing really crappy cables. But I don’t consider a good 12-14 gauge zip cord a poor quality cable. I use them in my office and at home. Cables are sold on hype in the audiophile press and heavy marketing spends. I don’t believe expensive interconnects are worth the price and I would never purchase an expensive digital cable. I make my own cables here using digital cable that costs less than a dollar per foot with connectors from Canare. Cables are not going to make a poor recording sound fabulous. But a fabulous recording will sound great using standard cables.

          • I felt a bit of a tap dance there?
            How expensive- brand of speaker cables did you install in your studio. If better than a top notch quality zip, (maybe even a 10 gauge or better do to long needed lenghts) why?
            Same question for analog interconnects in the studio?

          • Admin

            The studio has Cardas and Audience cabling for the speakers. These were given to me by the companies. I built my own interconnects using standard Canare start quad cables and connectors. We use Elco multipin connectors with gold contacts but nothing fancy.

          • “These were given to me by the companies.”
            Understood, that’s kool, enjoy.

  • Russ Stratton

    I’ve attended this event for years and it’s interesting how the raffle prize mix has changed over time. It’s a reflection of what the high end audio industry wants to promote and sell. There have always been lots of cables and tweaks in the mix; that’s a given. For the first time ever, there were more phono stages (2) given away than amps (1) or DACs (0). I think the increase in headphones, headphone amps, and portable audio players in the mix of prizes is a cool trend.

    (Charlie Brown voice) All I got was a USB cable.

    • Thanks Russ. You’re right it is interesting…but you also have to consider what companies are willing to donate. If you got a USB cable, you won more than I ever have.

  • Soundmind

    I hate to state the obvious but……why differentiates hi rez from these other products of little or no value or that are not worth the kind of money asked for them? I have it on good authority that;

    “The honest truth is that at the end of the day if I played a 44.1,16 bit recording in here and I played my 96K 24 bit originals none of you could tell the difference. My friends in the mastering community can’t tell the difference.” But Mark you said earlier we don’t hear that. I don’t care. ….maybe, just maybe there is something going on in our brains…..”

    Creators of other products do claim their products make and audible difference and I think some do. Here’s an example.

    Do audiophile wires make a difference? Based on my limited experience with them I’d say the answer is definitely yes, they’re junk. I was given a pair of brand M interconnects by a neighbor in return for a favor I did and put them in my sound system. I forgot about them. I had no end of problems until I remembered them and removed them. Curious, I used one of them for an NTSC signal from a DVD player output to a TV Video input to see what it would do. To my surprise it made no difference. I’m still trying to figure out why.

    I do have experience with other wire though. Lots of it. I’ve spent more of other peoples’ money on wire than anyone I know, at least 2 million dollar’s worth as far as I can reckon on every imaginable kind. There were times I seemed to have an endless parade of wire sales reps in and out of my office. The industry standard for signal wire is Belden. I asked their rep if there was anything about wire I need to know that is not in the Telegrapher’s Equation. The answer was of course not, audiophile wires are a waste of money. That came straight from Belden. Belden will make any kind of wire you specify even if it isn’t in their standard product lineup.

    What kind of wire do I buy for my sound systems? My supplier for speaker wire is Home Depot and my supplier for interconnects is the Dollar Store. They replaced Radio Shack for me years ago. I stick with Tri Sonic, China’s cheapest brand even though I could now get Acoustic Research wire for about the same price. I’m concerned I’d have the same problem with it I had with brand M. Wire does not make for a good control element in a network. It’s a bad idea, completely hit and miss and usually it winds up a very costly miss.

    • I don’t use crazy expensive cables. Sure, I’ve been given some wonderful cables by Cardas and Audience, but find their claims exaggerated to say the least. There are so many more important steps to consider than power cords, interconnects and speaker wire.

      • Soundmind

        A wire is a distributed parameter filter network. The Telegrapher’s Equation gives the lump sum parameter equivalent. To predict what a wire will do in a given circuit you need to know the complex impedance of the source, the load, and the wire. Then you solve the equations just like you would for any other filter network.

        The legitimate goal of a wire is to connect two points in a circuit without degrading the signal in any way that would matter to its required performance. Therefore the way to evaluate a wire in a particular installation is to compare its performance to a shunt, not which one sounds best to you. There are other far better, more predictable, more controllable, and less expensive ways to alter a signal than trial by wire.

        The mainstream wire industry is neither stupid nor insensitive to the needs of its markets. Quite the opposite, it creates products to solve problems that are proven to work and are cost effective. Large companies like Belden have technical support by applications engineers to help customers select the most appropriate wire for a given problem. In industrial installations, specifications for signal wire will often include something like “Belden catalog No. ABCD or approved equal.” Belden and its competitors cannot make ridiculous claims for the purpose of attracting a small niche market like audiophiles. They’d lose all credibility with their industrial customers, the bulk of their market if they tried.

        BTW, if you are concerned about skin effect resistance, VFD wire is a solution that was developed for minimizing losses due to harmonics from variable frequency drives used to control the speed of industrial motors. The wire is tinned along its entire length. Belden and its competitors offer a wide selection. They are also insulated to 2000 volts for 480 volt motors to prevent degradation due to corona effect, something audiophiles don’t have to worry about.

      • I’m still using 14 gauge zip code purchased in the 60’s for my speakers. Do you think it is “broken in” yet?

  • Ethan Winer

    For line level wires, unless it’s defective, or has more capacitance than normal and is driven from an output impedance higher than normal, there will be no difference between competent wires. No even the weasel word “sight difference” I hear all the time. If someone believes otherwise, they haven’t done a proper comparison.

    I just bought a 6-foot stereo wire with 3.5 mm mini-plugs at each end from Best Buy for $3.50. I will give $100 to anyone who visits me in western Connecticut and can distinguish this wire blind from any other wire they care to bring. It’s so incredibly simple to measure audio quality at both ends of a wire I’m astonished people are still arguing about this!

    • Admin

      Ethan, I in general agreement with you. However, I’m willing to concede that I’m not done enough testing of analog cables to be that emphatic. I agree that expensive cables are not the worth the price. It’s a high profit “feel good” item that audiophiles continue to believe in.


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