Keeping Them Honest?
The upcoming Newport Audio show, which will be held in a couple of weeks in Southern California, might be a perfect opportunity to do a little investigative reporting into high-end cable demos (or other questionable equipment demos). I got thinking about my recent experience — and aftermath — in Chicago after a reader told he thought it would be good idea to document a few of the demos on video. In reality, I had planned to capture the AXPONA cable demo with my wife’s iPhone but failed. My inability to “substantiate” any of the claims I presented in my posts was where I got into trouble. If I had succeeded in properly documenting the demonstrations, perhaps the outcome would have been different.
But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try again, right? And the Newport Show might be just the opportunity to record audio and video of demos showing dramatic fidelity improvements attributed to power cords, digital interconnects, or expensive isolation “cones”. In reality, most of the vendors know who I am and will likely avoid doing anything to falsely hype their products if I walk in their demo room. But what about other visitors interested in getting to the bottom of these questions? Why not reach out to a few readers of this blog?
In the interest of understanding the “science” behind cable design and the search for the truth, I’m suggesting that show attendees take out their Smartphones and record both the audio and video of various demos. Then post them on YouTube or send them to me. If you want to step up the game a little, download a “sound pressure meter” or “spectrum analyzer” app for your device and have a friend video the readings as the various demos are played. An SPL meter, if held steady throughout the demo, should indicate the volume of sound. A meter with a digital readout would be best.
What should you see…the same volume regardless of which cable is inserted into the signal path. Power cords and digital interconnects should not change the volume level of optical players, music servers, preamplifiers, or power amps. They should also not alter the timbre or fidelity of any music being played. There are other pieces of equipment or software plug-ins that are used to accomplish those tasks. So be on the lookout. If you see a demo and something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You should enter every demo with a healthy amount of skepticism.
I believe it would be very good for show attendees to document everything they experience at the upcoming Newport Show. Let’s start to challenge the claims that company representatives make. Make them explain what they’re demoing, why their products “improve” fidelity, and the methodology behind their demos. If you hear something that doesn’t sound quite right, ask questions and challenge the “subjective” approach to high-end audio claims.
I read a report from a well know audio blog site about a demo he experienced at the last RMAF by a very familiar high-end cable company that claimed company X “busts cable myths”. Needless to say, the “review” read like a sales piece by the marketing department of the cable maker. In a clear case of “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”, there was a banner ad from another very high-end cable manufacturer adjacent to the ridiculous comments being made by the writer. How convenient.
See you in Newport Beach!
27 thoughts on “Keeping Them Honest?”
Ears hear best.
I’m not sure what you mean by “ears hear best”. Our sense of hearing delivers sound and music to our brains and we evaluate the fidelity based on subjective criteria. If a sound is pleasurable then great. But it’s equally important to evaluate and investigate the rigorous side of the equation. Science and technology contribute a great deal to better fidelity in an absolute and emotional way. Trusting only your ears is a very bad idea.
For once I think I can see what Craig is getting at here?
Essentially, there has always been a difference between subjective listening experience and measurements.
That, surely, is why cable manufacturers continue to survive and, indeed, thrive, because, especially with so many mail order money back options, it’s very easy to back out of a cable deal if the sound isn’t perceived to be better than what one already uses.
Indeed I recently purchased one of Benchmark’s own cables and it made a huge difference with the basic Monster Cable stuff I was using prior to that. I’ve had the same experience with the Star Quad speaker cable they favor using.
So while I remain a total exotic cable agnostic and deplore the methods used to demonstrate said products, I do think there is a grey area here. Whether it’s placebo effect or not, audiophiles will, for better or worse, always trust their ears.
But please keep up the good work Mark, in terms of exposing dubious demo practices.
Hope you don’t get escorted from the building! I think it would be smarter to be sneakier: put your smart phone on video record and slip it into your top pocket, with the lens peeping above the pocket’s lip. Sit in the front row or stand so you have a clear view.
Send our clips to Mark and he can do the SPL and spectrum analysis in the lab.
If the vendors are aware that serious people are watching them during their presentations, hopefully they will stick to the facts.
Mark as said previously, agree 100% on cable and other gimmicks issue. Imho one must guard to focus too much energy, money and time on opposition or non-sense issues. Don’t think you are going to have too much sway with general public that buy that stuff anyway, they don’t read your articles and don’t attend shows either. They can’t hear or care about the difference, it is all about the brag factor.
The MQA topic is crucial though, will play a role in streaming quality audio at more affordable bandwidth if i understand correctly. Maybe you should write something all can understand about MQA. It also should reduce online storage requirements. The emerging world is a big place where all these factors come at a premium, but still appreciate the difference.
Would love to hear your and friends views, on quality(with definition) comparison of some of your HD produced Audio tracks put through the MQA process.
luv your work
I was hoping to hear some of my own recording in MQA prior to addressing the topic. I have said that I don’t believe it will enhance my recordings and I’m not convinced that it solves a real problem. We’ll see.
I like Studio Six Digital’s app “SPL Graph”, and use it exactly for this sort of thing.
It’s really useful because you get a graph of SPL (Leq) over time, and can see when something changes, and measure the difference after the fact, save the data and chart and publish it. You can’t do that with the average SPL meter app. SPL Graph is a bit more expensive, but well worth it. My iPhone 6 will record video and audio and run SPL Graph concurrently. You can’t start recording video and SPL at the same time, so it’s useful to create some sort of marker, a clap-stick, if you will. I whacked my phone (somewhat gently), it recorded the whack visually, audibly, and put a nice spike on the SPL graph.
You might consider publishing a set of standardized app settings for this and any other SPL meter app people might want to use. Standardize weighting and response time at least for SPL meters, so measurements will be directly comparable, though not on an absolute scale.
The demos will be watching for “us” of course, and may not spin the demos like they allegedly may have at AXPONA, except to tell the audience what they will hear, dropping a heaping spoonful of expectation bias on everyone in the room.
I will check this out…very interesting tool. Thanks.
Your articles have saved me a lot of money. I believe in audio, about 90% of the sound comes from Speakers , source and room acoustics, room placement. Amplification takes maybe 9% and cables and other tweaks less than 1%. I believe in what you say wholeheartedly and have avoid buying expensive tweaks thanks to you.
I have a $90,000 system and my speaker cables are less than $500, yet I’m very pleased with my sound.
Most important to me is the engineering of the recording . I listen to mostly classical music with a Aurender music server, At 61 year old I would never ever go back to low fi records . I love your recordings, but I’m strictly a two channel guy.
Thanks Keith. Your percentages don’t account for the contribution of the source material…I would allocate at least 50% to the fidelity of the recordings.
For anyone using Android, a good quality simple recorder app is Pure Audio Recorder. It is free, and you can select sample rates up to 48 khz. Recordings are in uncompressed wav format. This is audio only not video.
I’m puzzled by this crusade to arrive at truth, justice, and the American way. All it’s likely to get you is indifference at best, more threats of lawsuits at worst. Why are you doing this? To those know nothing tyro audiophiles they’ll believe in anything, magic beans, magic pebbles, bricks on amplifiers, green ink on the edges of CDs. To those who are trained and KNOW the technology as professionals you are preaching to the choir.
But aren’t you really kidding yourself? There are as I see it two different industries here. There’s the pop culture industry that has devolved from the pleasant and even clever created back in the 1950s, 1940s and beyond to the increasingly trite which by the late 1960s and onward has become execrable. Who really cares what this trash sounds like? Even live, these performers need the help of whatever enhancements electronics can provide. Where was electronic pitch correction when Barbara Streisand needed it? I call this manufactured music. It is the lowest common denominator for generations that are almost entirely musical ignoramuses.
Then there is an entirely different market and industry, recreating musical sounds as a fine art performed by people who have studied and perfected the understanding and skills to create the most valuable music written by the most insightful composers who ever lived. Their product has lasted hundreds of years and will likely be kept so long as the entire human race doesn’t become completely mindless which is a distinct possibility. So what is the honest truth about that, recordings I call documented music? IMO it is that the technology has remained largely stagnant and very inadequate for about the last 50 years. When compared to the real thing and those attributes that make this art form distinct and desirable are taken into consideration, the best technological concepts falls flat on their face convincing no one with normal hearing let alone golden ears. It relies on the perfection of flawed ideas and concepts that can never be made to achieve their goal. And when you point this out to that decidedly inadequate lot of people who work on this problem, their most honest answer is “it can’t be done.” What they left out was the last part of the sentence “by them.” Understanding the problem let alone finding a satisfactory solution has intellectually beaten them to a pulp. In the larger world of science and technology they are far from the sharpest knives in the drawer.
Mark, I have a wider appreciation for music genres than you do. I was sitting in a chair at the Stub Hub Center Tennis Arena on late Tuesday afternoon waiting for a Bernie Sanders rally to begin (I had to leave before he arrived because I was giving a final exam that evening) when “America”, the song by Simon and Garfunkel was played. This song, their rendition, the production, and the recording are all superb. I can appreciate “America” and lots of other pop/rock/country music as much as a Bach Fugue or Elliot Carter’s String Quartets.
And our current technologies and production procedures do an amazing job of capturing the magic or music making…from a live performance or a studio production. We have the tools. However, I believe we lack the motivation to make better sounding recordings.
Been born into a steelworker’s family with five other children and meanwhile in the retirement age, I had to fight for my school and my university education.
A teenager in the 60s and an twen in the 70s I tried out a lot of things 😉 , belive me, but I’ve never forgotten what my parents and my favorite teachers have told me: ‘Stay curious!’
That’s why I make no distinction between the genres.
There is good and very good music, there is mediocre music and there is bad and very bad music too.
I go to the opera one day to listenand see Tosca and the next time I go to a concert of Steven Wilson.
When I go to the theater to listen to a concert I am there from the very beginning to the end. I do not enter the auditorium after the piece by Berio, Xenakis or Berio has already been played like many others do to thereafter only hear Shostakovich and Schubert. Why should I limit myself?
It always takes me some time to listen to my stereo after I’ve been to a live performance.
Nevertheless I enjoy to listen to my record collection – from old 78rpm shellac records, vinyl, CDs, DVD-A and BluRays.
I do not like streaming, I admit – maybe I’m an old fashion guy.
Our differences and the flaw as I see it is not so much in the recording technique but in our definition of what constitutes music and what the ultimate goal is. By my definition some of your preferences are of no interest to me and by my expectations the current technology fails miserably. That is why I had to invent my own. To each his own. Personally I think there is a vast library out there of wonderful music excellently recorded. I can’t fault the recording engineer for the limitations of the recording or playback equipment. Many make the most of what they have available to them.
“IMO it is that the technology has remained largely stagnant and very inadequate for about the last 50 years. When compared to the real thing and those attributes that make this art form distinct and desirable are taken into consideration, the best technological concepts falls flat on their face convincing no one with normal hearing let alone golden ears.”
Wrong. Digital stereo recordings on CD were perfected circa 1995 and have not improved much since then, even with increased resolution. Multichannel hi-rez recordings on SACD, DVDA, and Blu-Ray are even better and were perfected circa 2005 (depending on the label) and haven’t improved much since.
Both technologies, but especially multichannel hi-rez, perfectly replicate the listening experience in every way: timbre, dynamic range, soundstage, ambience. In fact, at-home listening is superior to concerts in many respects: no coughs, no fussing with cell phones or programs, no whispering and other distractions, no idiots applauding before the musicians are done playing.
If your at-home listening is so utterly inferior to concerts, then that means either your equipment or your room acoustics are lousy, or you’re listening to ancient LPs or other such low-rez dinomedia.
Mark, If all this cable stuff was remotely real then could you imagine the spectacular change you could make to your recording studios just by changing a few cables. 🙂 )
I have been soldering new cables in the main studio because the new tenants replaced my digital console with an analog board. All of the signals go through a patch bay which consists of very small wires and very thin leaf switches…if only the audiophile community knew.
I don’t see why cable companies do these kind of tests, spurious or not, at shows. After all, they’re selling their wares to the subjectivist crowd where the school of thought is that any kind of a/b testing is invalid, and that only extended listening is a valid way to judge anything. We’re also being told on Audiostream, Analog Planet, etc. (sorry, I get them mixed up at this point) that accuracy is impossible, systems all sound different, and therefore it’s really all just a matter of a listener’s taste.
I’ve even seen sites admit that fancy power cords likely don’t do anything, but they make the owner “feel” better when listening to music, and therefore they are worth the money.
Cable designers are creating beautiful cables not better sounding cables.
The Newport show is not free so I assume there are some terms and conditions that go with the purchase of a ticket. Should you not check to see if it is legal to film at the show without permission of the owners / vendors? Otherwise you are putting your readers in potential legal jeopardy.
There are hundreds of YT videos from audio shows…I’m not aware of anyone ever being challenged by a vendor over recording their demos.
When visiting show booths, I would take the iPhone video idea a step further, especially in regards to power cords. Build a couple small boxes which serve as a ‘T’ connection with each end of the power cord. The tap is to feed a small oscilloscope which has identical x and y input circuitry. The pattern on the scope should be a 45 deg line indicating identical x-y inputs. If the cable is claimed to cause a change in the audio sound, then the cable is no longer a linear passive device. This can be determined easily with the Lissajous pattern on the scope. Proving a cord’s shielding properties is far more difficult as a noise source would be needed as well.
Even IF some non-linearity is observed on the screen, one must remember that the AC input voltage feeds power supplies whose purpose it is to change the AC (fluctuating voltage) into direct current. If it can do that with a 60 Hz input voltage crossing the zero axis and changing polarity, how could any “degradation” caused or permitted by the cable be significant?
If you unequivocally want to improve the sound from your system, use better source recordings. I would recommend music recorded at 96 kHz/24 bit sampling.
Great comment…this is what I will doing in my upcoming podcasts and Youtube channel.
It’s gonna be tough, i did synergistic research home demo analysis and getting solid numbers is going to be hard.. So much background noises and the difference between tested products should be in the scale of 0.5dB if they are using that trick.. More than that and some customers might hear the increased sound pressure even in those settings.
But this is a good idea 😉 semi-organized squad.. I would love to hit these shows, i’m completely unknown but alas, live in the other side of the world..
I’ve been invited to the WireWorld Demo on Thursday. They’ve agreed to be recorded and let me play my own material (I guess I should check if they can play high-res music). SR…don’t get me started.