A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about an event that reported on some of the nonsense demos that happen at trade shows (you can visit the article by clicking here). I deliberately avoided naming the salesperson who demonstrated the “benefits” of expensive — very expensive — power cords and the name of his company out of respect for the hosts. His demo produced audible/measurable increases in the amplitude of identical music selections. A result that is impossible according to the laws of physics. Electrical engineers and those with even a casual knowledge of how electrical circuits and power supplies work know that a heavy twisted cable worth thousands of dollars cannot — and should not — increase the plus and minus voltages needed by the various circuits in the equipment in question.
So what does reporting on this sonic slight of hand this have to do with my “lifetime” membership in the Los Angeles and Orange County Audiophile Society? Apparently, the president of the society felt I was “out of line” by reporting negatively one of the presenters at his first AudioCon event. I received the following email from Bob Levi, the head of the organization:
“Mark, It has been brought to my attention that you may have slandered important manufactures in your blog. That you snuck into a Society event: hi-rez recording gear to record and analyze their claims and did all this without any permission from anyone. Plus, you attended and sold merchandise by the grace of the society at the event, gratis.
What in the world were you thinking?? [He copied the original article, which I have omitted]
I frankly do not care whether you discovered AQ or Nordost were using black magic or a hidden flux capacitor, you are way out of line Doctor!
I want this blog/article above eliminated by close of business today, July 2. If asked, you will apologize as necessary using best efforts to contain any damage to the Society or our relationships.
I am very disappointed in you Mark. We should suspend your membership in the Society and may still do so. We will see how this prodeeds going forward.
Sincerely yours, Bob”
I was completely surprised by his reaction and responded:
I am sorry that you found my report from the AudioCon event problematic. First, let me clarify a couple of points made in your email. I didn’t “sneak” into the event. I was invited and confirmed my participation with both you and Sunil:
‘Mark, Bring your books, AIX discs, and a ton of backup software both Saturday and Sunday 10:30-6pm to Sunny’s!!! Enjoy and sell and entertain and inform!
See you there! Bob’
I respectfully sat and listened to the presenters as they pitched their wares. I didn’t ask questions and I didn’t interrupt. However, I wasn’t the only audience member to question the reports of fidelity improvements made by the gentleman and his power cords — another society member also captured the loudness increase produced by the power cables, which I hope you would agree is simply not possible! I did not name the company or presenter. I simply reported the facts as I saw them. I believe that it is important that audiophiles get factual and unbiased information from independent third parties to counter the nonsense that colors a lot of the information provided by anxious sales people. I have been doing that for almost 5 years in my well-respected blog and in my very favorably reviewed book (including your own assessment).
When is telling the truth considered ‘out of line’? I didn’t slander anyone because I didn’t name the individual or his company. That was a conscious decision on my part and done so out of respect for your event. I simply reported on the generic issue of power cords and how unscrupulous vendors are falsely presenting their wares to the detriment of customers — your members. I would hope integrity would be desired in your audiophile organization. My report was no different than any other published show report by any other audiophile journalist. I reported facts. Would you contact John Atkinson or Robert Harley about altering one of their reports?
I will not be retracting the blog, I will not apologize for presenting the facts, and I will not restrict my reporting on false claims made by audiophile manufacturers. If this results in my membership being terminated, it is your decision. I have enjoyed my time and the friendships I have made in the society but have to maintain my own integrity. I very much appreciate your kindness, friendship, support, and your willingness to include me in your group over these last fews years. But I cannot agree to be censored by you or anyone else under any circumstances.
There is way too much hocus pocus in the audiophile marketplace. I believe people deserve to know the facts.
With respect, Mark”
Bob was unwilling to let it go and replied with a list:
1. You were invited to sell and listen, not do sudo scientific research.
2. You informed no one in charge, not asked permission, and concealed your test gear and intent.
3. I have been an audiophile for 50 years and have heard volume increases from ancillaties to the system for no apparent reason at the time. So, unless actual snake oil was involved you are out of line.
4. If I know about this, so do many others. You identified Sunny’s by name.
5. We recognize your right to print anything you want, of course.
6. We also have the right to withdraw your membership in the society until further notice which we do eff. Immediately.
7. I recall only one other time we withdrew membership in the last 15 years for acting with lack of consideration to your fellow audiophiles.
8. Taking advantage of an occasion arranged by a non profit whose only intent is to enhance communication and discussion for your own gains is a special sin in my book .
I have to say that I have enjoyed my years in the society and Bob, in particular, has shown great willingness to have me attend his events, speak at co-sponsored shows (I’ve given the keynote at T.H.E. Show more than once) and was instrumental in promoting my book to the group. I regarded Bob as a friend even if I disagreed with many of the audiophile “accessories” that he pitches. I wrote back:
“Bob, You have the right to revoke my membership. I’m sorry that you’ve decided to make that decision since I know I did nothing wrong — unless you accept fraud as a proper way to do business. I will be reporting on this exchange to my readers and let them know the nonsense that the LAOCAS condones and actually seems to encourage. The only real sin in this episode is your continued support for “snake oil” vendors and lack of fundamental knowledge behind the technology that makes audio recording and reproduction possible. I gain nothing by sharing the truth behind the BS artists — the only beneficiaries are those readers that realize they are being hosed by charlatan vendors.
Respectfully, Mark Waldrep
PS It has been a pleasure to interact with Dr. Mark Katz and many of the other members of your organization. I will miss those friendships.”
And Bob wrote again:
If we 2700 Members of the Society sat in front of vendors from renowned companies with hidden microphones etc. to later comdemn their presentations with our own theories and preconceptions, we would have very very lonely events. You are still out of line and owe the vendors and Sunil an apology.
With you around, no wonder so many manufacturers refuse to divulge information and point to trade secrets. Snake oil? Fraud? Made up entirely by you to feel important. Hey, next time ask questions instead of hatching plots.
Knowing there’s never any reason to rant or get angry, I reached out one more time trying to bring some reason to the discussion:
So the point of holding meetings is to shill for the vendors of products of questionable value? I would have thought that greater service and benefit would be to educate, inform, and advance the enjoyment of reproduced music through explanations and demonstrations. When an individual company plays loose with the facts, cheats during their presentations, makes videos that defy physics, and pushes pseudoscience to uninformed audio enthusiasts — with the support of publications, reviewers, and organizations — there is a need to counterbalance the BS with facts and reasoned discussion/demonstrations. Your members would be able to make better decisions, save lots of money, and enhance their listening with more information. When a charlatan cable vendor turns up the volume — and that’s what he did during the presentation — to fool attendees into believing that spending thousands of dollars on a 99.99999% pure silver twisted power cord, it’s time to say time out. That’s what I did.
If you knew more about the physics of electricity and how analog and digital systems actually work, you would understand that my “own theories and preconceptions” are what has allowed fidelity to advance and has spread our hobby to the masses. I don’t make this stuff up Bob. Even the CEO of AudioQuest finally acknowledged that I was right about the falsification of his promotional video of high priced HDMI cables. Facts are sometimes inconvenient but mandatory in a marketplace prone to hyperbole, ripoffs, and ridiculous product claims.
I will not apologize for presenting the truth — I never have and I never will. The vendor that lies about the laws of electricity should be apologizing and you should open your meetings up to include alternative points of view. A healthy debate would only increase the number of people coming to the meetings.
Manufacturers need not reveal trade secrets nor should they hide behind techno jargon and discredited theories. If you really deny that there are “snake oil” products in audio or that unscrupulous vendors haven’t fraudulently promoted their wares, then you need to redouble your efforts into learning the nature of how things work. That’s what I do.
It’s regrettable that you side with a sales person caught cheating during a public event sponsored by the LAOCAS rather than embracing facts. You choose to terminate my participation in your group — a source of honest, unbiased, and intelligent information — instead of taking a hard look at your process. You made your choice. I believe you missed a tremendous opportunity.
And the final exchange:
“Mark, Just because you believe something whole heartedly and passionately does not mean it is true.
President and CEO
Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society”
I finished the conversation with:
Doesn’t the same statement more appropriately apply to audiophiles like yourself that take it on faith the power cords somehow increase amplitude or that isolating a hard drive with expensive “cones” magically alters the flow of data bytes being transferred to a digital playback system. It would be far more interesting, educational, and productive to have BOTH sides of the issue presented during one of your events. If a particular vendor can unambiguously demonstrate that power cords or digital interconnects or small adhesive patches can change the fidelity to a group without manipulating the volume or otherwise cheating — I would sign on immediately.
At the present time, I have been offering a casual test of high-resolution vs. standard-resolution audio to my readers. As you know, I’m a strong advocate for high-resolution digital recordings made with no processing or mastering. I’ve won numerous awards for my work. It’s indisputable that a high-resolution PCM recording offers more potential fidelity than another other audio format. Whether the “sound” rivals vinyl LPs or analog tape is preferred is a matter of personal taste. The results of the HD Challenge have been inconclusive. It turns out the audiophiles — even those with fabulous, highly resolving systems — have done no better than chance in determining the difference between CD spec and real high-resolution. So I may have to change my position on the merits of high-resolution audio. I can accept that. When a rigorous study is ultimately performed using double blind ABX testing AND real high-resolution content, the truth may show that I’ve been wrong.
To present only one side of an issue to your members does them a great disservice. I would be very interested in working with you to bring both sides of issues of interest to audiophiles to the group. To let Ken Forsythe of MQA give a 30 minute pep talk for a process that is hotly debated is another example of one-side thinking. Many of the LAOCAS members would show up to an event that presents both sides of a picture. Or course it’s your call, but restricting information to only the message carefully crafted by vendors of expensive cords or purveyors of processes of dubious merit is wrong IMHO.
I have always balanced science and faith, left and right brain thinking. In this case of expensive power cords, there is no debate among qualified audio and educated electrical engineers. When the truth becomes cast as “fake news” we’re all worse off.
So once again, I got myself kicked out of an organization (the CEA Audio Board didn’t like that I wrote the truth about their high-res audio campaign several years ago). Do you really want to be part of a group that supports “snake oil” salesmen and excludes healthy debate? I guess the LAOCAS — at lease under the direction of Bob Levi — would rather cater to the companies that provide the raffle prizes (I was one of them BTW) than offer accurate and beneficial information to its members.
I know I’ll miss my friendships with Chuck Bruce, Chip, Mark, Doug, and others but I was deemed “out of line” for telling the truth and refusing to retract my reporting. BTW Slander requires that the person being slandered prove that what was stated is not true. I’m pretty confident that I’m on solid ground here.
So for the overly long post. I felt it was necessary to include everything and not edit the statements made by Bob or myself.