James Randi Calls Out Audiophile: I’m Sure the Crickets Will Sound Fantastic

anjou_suckerbait.jpg

Nothing amuses me more than a dust-up with an audiophile. (I still haven’t mustered the gumption to ask MSNBC columnist Gary Krakow to give me a nugget of the stash he was sampling when he suggested the original Playstation is a world-class CD player after you leave it on for three days to warm up.) Now famed bullshit caller James Randi has put the screws to “Positive Feedback Online” editor Dave Clark, who claimed the “Anjou” cables from Pear Cable—just $7,250 for 12-feet!—are “very danceable.”

Randi has offered his now-mythical Million-Dollar Prize to anyone can prove the Anjou are any better than wires from Monster Cable, a company that also spews plenty of audiophilic marking dreck to hawk its cables, but at least sells products at a modest ten- or twenty-times mark up, instead of Pear’s hundreds.

More Cable Nonsense [Randi.org via Gizmodo]

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37 Responses to James Randi Calls Out Audiophile: I’m Sure the Crickets Will Sound Fantastic

  1. Karnuvap says:

    The best thing I saw with respect to digital cables was a device that sharpened-up the square wave from your fancy-pants CD player before it entered your equally over-priced amplifier. I even heard an audiophile swearing that it resulted in smoother base and sharper – I think he called them – “accents”. They showed the before and after digital streams on an oscillosope and everything.
    Audiophile nutjobs are ripe for ripping-off, they deserve everything they get.
    Anybody want to buy my antistatic wrist-strap? You need to earth yourself before touching any of your equipment’s knobs or else the static will infect your datastream. Only $399.95.

  2. Skep says:

    Randi has offered his now-mythical Million-Dollar Prize to anyone can prove the Anjou are any better than wires from Monster Cable

    Just a side note, I don’t think I’d use “mythical” to describe the JREF Prize. While the payoff may be of near mythic-proportions, calling the prize “mythical” plays into the hands of the Randi haters who know that their paranormal claims can’t be proven in a proper test and try to attack Randi’s credibility to deflect criticism from their inability to pass a legitimate test.

  3. Mister Staal says:

    The trick Mr. Dunlavy pulled in the previous comment is one used by studio engineers when dealing with demanding musicians who’ve long since blown their hearing by playing in loud rock clubs with no protection for their ears. You can appease a client simply by turning a knob that does nothing and waiting until they like how it sounds. This has extended into the software realm with the creation of plug-ins for major DAWs that do nothing but pass an unmodified audio stream. They do, however, have plenty of knobs and buttons and blinky lights to placate clients who insist on fiddling around with things or making uninformed demands.

    As a commercial audio installer I’ll back up what everyone is saying. We use appliance grade, oxygen free cable. Simply select a wire gauge which won’t have too high an impedance for the job you’re using it for (larger cable/smaller gauge = lower impedance).

  4. Drew Thaler says:

    “Legendary” is the proper term. Randi has some serious backers. (e.g. the James Randi Foundation was set up with a very large donation from a supporter.) I have no doubt that he can certainly deliver the money if he’s ever proven wrong.

    He won’t be, of course.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Cables are only the beginning.

    Check out this nonsense:mpingo discs
    http://www.shunmook.com/text1.htm

  6. bolamig says:

    It’s not just cables; even amplifiers are indistinguishable above a low threshold of quality. Richard Clark offers $10,000 to anyone who can show that they hear a difference in his test. Thousands have tried, none have succeeded.

  7. bolamig says:

    Here’s the link to the $10,000 challenge info:
    http://www.tom-morrow-land.com/tests/ampchall/index.htm

  8. Joel Johnson says:

    Yeah, that’s worded a bit confusingly. I only meant it’s mythical because nobody’s ever been able to win it. :)

  9. Anonymous says:

    I find it funny that so many people say “If you can’t measure it on an oscilloscope it can’t be heard”.
    I for one do not believe much of the hype surrounding audiophile products, but have heard first hand that there is a difference between two different sets of cables. The question of whether or not one is ‘better’ than the other is a subjective one – that is why many (if not most) reviewers will hold that their reviews are opinions.
    However, audio signals (especially anything beyond mono) carried through differing pieces of equipment (all with their associated elcetrical properties such as damping, input capacitance, resistance, etc) are extremely complex by the time they reach any ears and it would be difficult, if not impossible, for an engineer to come up with a proper list of the things that should be measured to give an accurate picture of what is going on.
    Maybe Randi could give the million dollar prize to the engineer who can definitively measure what some hears (and obviously prove that there is nothing else to measure) – that’s more akin to impossible than making a cable that ‘sounds’ different (and possibly better) than the standard monster cable.

  10. Vardyr says:

    Why wouldn’t a piece of equipment (a computer, perhaps?) with both output and input jacks be fully capable of testing for signal degradation in a purely scientific manner?

    Oh, wait, I work at a retailer that sells Monster cables. I know exactly why.

  11. Skep says:

    “Sisyphean?” :-)

  12. dculberson says:

    This is the coolest thing I’ve read all day. As sadistic as it seems, I love seeing audiophiles get their chains yanked. My position is, if you’re spending more than was spent on the original studio equipment, you’re spending far too much.

    I also think that any difference that won’t show up on a lab-grade high frequency oscilloscope won’t show up in your ears. And many differences that do represent a degradation in sound quality rather than an improvement. (For example, “warmth,” “presence,” etc.)

    Randi is one of my modern-day heroes.

  13. Skwid says:

    Ah…perhaps “legendary” would be a better choice, then? Mythical implies an inability to prove via direct evidence…legendary equates to little more than well known and well aged.

  14. Chris Tucker says:

    “Oxygen free copper cables”?

    Please. Don’t make me laugh. I have chapped lips.

    OK, is it oxygen free cables that sound better because the electrons don’t bump into the oxygen atoms and slow down and get all out of sequence, or is there some other BS about oxygen free copper I’m forgetting?

    I think my favorite audiophile money removing device is the Quantum Dot CD sound improving device.

    Read all about it

    http://www.machinadynamica.com/machina64.htm

    Warning! This BS WILL MAKE YOUR HEAD ASPLODE!

  15. bricology says:

    “Oxygen free copper cables”? Please. Don’t make me laugh. I have chapped lips. OK, is it oxygen free cables that sound better because the electrons don’t bump into the oxygen atoms and slow down and get all out of sequence, or is there some other BS about oxygen free copper I’m forgetting?”

    I believe that the name comes from the way that the cables are manufactured, with oxygen excluded from the process so that when the wire is coated, there’s no oxygen trapped, which could cause oxidation (corrosion) of the copper. It’s standard practice on good cables made of any metal that corrodes through reaction to oxygen.

  16. Skep says:

    “That being said, i have heard differences in cables many times – in fact, i just did a review of some and my results were the same as other reviewers.”

    It is important to note that nobody is saying that crappy cables can’t sound bad. What I’m saying is that above a certain level of quality speaker cables in short runs are not audibly discernible from one another in double blind test. The Pear cables are not audibly different from regular high quality cables. JREF has put $1,000,000 on the line to back that up. If you have magic hearing you could walk off with that prize, but you’d have to do some preliminary legwork, testing and publicity first. But for a $1,000,000 a small outlay would certainly be worth it.

    However, since you didn’t use a double blind test you can’t be sure that the differences you think you heard are actual audible differences rather then placebo.

    “I think that part of the problem is this: many people who naysay differences by changing cables, for example, may not be able to hear those differences. There may be (it’s likely, given our modern background noise levels) a significant portion of people who suffer from aural myopia, for lack of a better term…When without their glasses, a person that needs glasses does not automatically put into question what a person with ‘normal’ vision sees.
    yet we seem to be fine putting down what another person hears as bullsh*t.
    seems kinda contrary to logic, no?”

    Yes, I’m putting down what “another person hears as bullshit” because that person is a human being subject to errors in threshold of perception judgement and to placebo effect. Double bind tests prevent these errors from being a factor and allow us to separate what is true from what merely seems to be true.

    As to your point about some people having better hearing than others, that is irrelevant. Why? Because nobody, not even self-selected experts, audiophiles and “golden ears,” can hear the difference between regular high quality speaker cables and super premium cables in a double blind test. So, it isn’t about whether I can hear the difference, it is about whether anyone can hear a difference. Remember, $1,000,000 says it can’t be done–by anybody.

    The problem would seem to be that pesky lack of double blind testing for your reviews. You need to change that if you want to have valid results that are not colored by your subconscious. And excuses like “Oh, sure it was an open test but I didn’t read reviews first” are just that, excuses. Go back and do a proper DBT and see if your “review” still holds up. If it does, you could win $1,000,000… However, I what I think you will find is that those differences that were so obvious in “open” testing will completely disappear in double blind testing. There is a good chance that rather than accept the reality that you imagined the differences you will come up with some unjustified attack on double blind tests so that you won’t have to believe that you were self-deluded.

    PS
    As of 10:18 AM PST, Oct 3, 2007 the blockquote tag seems to have been retroactively disabled. This means that the quotes in some of my posts now appear without quotations. Please be careful in parsing my earlier posts due to this retroactive change in formatting.

  17. Tubman says:

    I’d suggest “paradoxical”: it’s only possible to win it by doing the impossible.

  18. pgee says:

    I have to challenge the idea of “superior cable” on two basic elements.

    The first, we don’t hear all frequencies uniformly. As we age, our hearing becomes impaired at various frequencies. The dynamic range of various cables could be altered by bad solder joints anywhere in the signal path. This could be measured as resistance with a multi meter or with sophisticated computer based measurement devices. How it translates in to a frequency waveform doesn’t mean that the listener involved will hear a uniform difference, because listeners aren’t uniform in their hearing.

    Secondly, if you check the AES, (Audio Engineering Society) website, you will find a white paper on “bad science” surrounding this very subject. In short, copper…. is copper. In most cases, a expert’s claim of superior listening prowess, the “golden ear” is at best questionable. In many cases it’s simply ego.

    In this case though, I wonder because most wire coat hangers aren’t made of copper simply because the price of copper has been higher than baling wire. The closest industrial (proper name) is Mechanic’s Wire (Soft Annealed Mechanic’s Wire , 18 AWG)

    Memory, the ability to have perfect pitch (recall),and the ability to perfectly recall the test material all could be factors not quantified in some-one’s claims of “better cable”.

    If you really want to get anal, consider Quincy Jones….with a head cold.

    If you want to take the decimal point to the extreme, I suggest you use the same cable and monitor speakers that the original artist used in the studio he signed off on the final mix.

    Even then, an artist like Sting would have different hearing at age 24 then he would at 60.

  19. schmod says:

    I seem to remember that they *did* get some of these audiophile nutjobs to do a double-blind test of a series of *insanely* expensive speaker wire against a spool of lamp cord from Home Depot.

    The results were evenly distributed between each of the wires, including the dirt cheap lamp cord. In other words, nobody could tell the difference.

    As long as you’ve got a good connection, and a heavy enough gauge to carry your signal, any moderately priced wire will be just fine. (Hint: Good connections are easy, even without gold-plated connectors, which serve only to protect against oxidation on the contacts which is pretty unlikely to begin with. Also, if you need to ask if your wire is a heavy enough gauge, it probably is.)

  20. Suburbancowboy says:

    I own an AV Store, featuring mainly entry level high-end product, not crazy high end stuff.
    With many cables, you will not hear a difference, but with video cables, especially HDMI, there are huge differences in their ability to actually carry a signal. Many cables simply don’t work on anything over 4 or 6 meters. They break up. If you bend them they don’t work right. Lots of problems.

  21. Skep says:

    Warning! This BS WILL MAKE YOUR HEAD ASPLODE!

    For a good collection of total Audiophile BS, just check out Positive Feedback Online’s Brutus awards. Winners include the Machina Dynamica “Clever Little Clock,” a cheap Timex travel alarm with an orange sticker on it.

    Remember, this isn’t just audiophile BS, it’s Positive Feedback Online award-winning audiophile BS:
    http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue28/brutus.htm

    Machina Fraudica claims:

    “Remove the Clock from its clear bubble pack and place it anywhere in the listening room. The sound will be considerably more musical and live-sounding — there will be less distortion, more information and a deeper, more coherent soundstage. Low frequencies will be articulate, extended and dynamic, high frequencies exceptionally smooth with phenomenal inner detail. In other words, More of Everything. “

    More of everything??? Shouldn’t that mean there will be more distortion??? Like most magical audiophile products, the “Clever Little Clock” fraud only “improves” audio and magically never degrades it…

    This post is my opinion.

  22. Skep says:

    However, audio signals (especially anything beyond mono) carried through differing pieces of equipment (all with their associated elcetrical properties such as damping, input capacitance, resistance, etc) are extremely complex by the time they reach any ears and it would be difficult, if not impossible, for an engineer to come up with a proper list of the things that should be measured to give an accurate picture of what is going on

    Fortunately for all of us Randi’s test cuts through all of that BS:

    Well, we at the JREF are willing to be shown that these “no-compromise” cables perform better than, say, the equivalent Monster cables. While Pear rattles on about “capacitance,” “inductance,” “skin effect,” “mechanical integrity” and “radio frequency interface,” – all real qualities and concerns, and adored by the hi-fi nut-cases – we naively believe that a product should be judged by its actual performance, not by qualities that can only be perceived by attentive dogs or by hi-tech instrumentation. That said, we offer the JREF million-dollar prize to – for example – Dave Clark, Editor of the audio review publication Positive Feedback Online

    You see, Randi proposes that actual human ears be used to test whether Pear Cables make an audible difference as Clark proudly proclaims they do–and not just any ears, the ears of an “expert” who says he can definitely hear a profound difference. So it should be no problem for Clark to snap up that $1,000,000. Well, that is, unless he’s lying or self-deluded :-)

    You see, it is really simple. It isn’t about some subjective claim of whether Pear’s bs cables sound “better” than regular high quality cables, it is about whether they make any discernible difference in a proper test. Clark says the cables are the best he’s heard, danceable, with great “pace” and “swing.” He can totally hear the difference, he claims. Randi is simply offering Clark $1,000,0000 dollars to demonstrate that he can actually do what he already claims he can.

    You know that there is no way that someone hasn’t told Clark about the Giz post and Randi’s offer. He is probably plotting some excuse right now of how he doesn’t believe in “reductionist” science or monetary gain or other such claptrap. I think it will be pretty obvious why Clark won’t walk off with the prize…

  23. Anonymous says:

    i agree that there is a LOT of snake oil and hype, and that there is, as usual, a sucker born every minute.
    that being said, i have heard differences in cables many times – in fact, i just did a review of some and my results were the same as other reviewers. I realize that it was in an open thread where the reviews were posted, but i at least know that for myself i did not read any of the posts prior to my listening tests…
    I think that part of the problem is this: many people who naysay differences by changing cables, for example, may not be able to hear those differences. There may be (it’s likely, given our modern background noise levels) a significant portion of people who suffer from aural myopia, for lack of a better term…When without their glasses, a person that needs glasses does not automatically put into question what a person with ‘normal’ vision sees.
    yet we seem to be fine putting down what another person hears as bullsh*t.
    seems kinda contrary to logic, no?

  24. ROSSINDETROIT says:

    Audiophiles are always a good target for a few cheap laughs, aren’t they?
    Regarding the magic clock that some people claimed made their systems sound better, it turns out that in some cases it did measurable things that could be heard. Plugged into the same power circuit as the audio system, it acted as a shunt filter for HF powerline hash. If you don’t know what a shunt filter is, please refrain from telling me that its effects can’t be heard. Some audio circuits with poor power supply noise rejection ratios would couple noise from lamp dimmers, microwave ovens, industrial equipment and whatnot into the audio, amplify it and dirty up the sound of the music in irritating ways. Sometimes the clock reduced this effect. There are now products on the market for removing powerline noise for sensitive gear. They’re far more than the accidental effect of the magic clock, but basically the same.
    Laugh while you can, Monkey-Boys!

  25. Anonymous says:

    Bah, that’s nothing, PWB Electronics sell a crocodile clip for £500. Check out SciencePunk for a long conversation with its creators.

    Also on SciencePunk:
    Magic pebbles to absorb unwanted sound… $129

    A $30,750 speaker cable by Aurant. Beat that.

    Sweet.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Until you’re ready for silver core or more, there’s http://www.monoprice.com.

    If you are really mad at the big box reality of overpriced cables, consider not playing the game.

  27. the specialist says:

    I LOVE to see products like this. Anyone with that much money and that little sense SHOULD spend it on useless items like these cables, fast dangerous cars, haircuts, jewelery, iPhones, and any other display of excess. It’s Darwinism, folks!

    It’s the essence of a trickle down economy. If the rich did NOT waste their resources and instead compiled their wealth, there would be a lot of Unique Whip (and AutoZone), fashion designers (and Macy’s) employees out of work. As well as the market for the not so rich (read poor) who try to EMULATE excessive consumption. How many phat gold chains are solid gold, eh??? If the members of this market niche were hungry, well they would allocate their resources differently.

    Target marketing this high $ audience makes perfect sense to me.

    Hey – are those cables MADE IN CHINA??????

  28. Anonymous says:

    I still haven’t mustered the gumption to ask MSNBC columnist Gary Krakow to give me a nugget of the stash he was sampling when he suggested the original Playstation is a world-class CD player after you leave it on for three days to warm up

    Hah! I hadn’t seen that. Probably because I don’t waste my time reading Krakow’s articles any more, after long ago (ten years? how can he stay employed for so long?) he wrote the absurd claim that a specific brand of “gold” MiniDisc blanks produced better sound than some other “non-premium” make (these are the digital recording media for Sony’s MiniDisc digital audio recorders, in case anyone has forgotten about them :) ).

    And yes it is amusing and frightening at the same time to see how people can be influenced by hocus-pocus, and arbitrarily claims not backed up by any scientific fact. If only the problem were limited to audio equipment, we might not have so much to worry about.

  29. ROSSINDETROIT says:

    Sorry. By bad. I thought this was about a different little clock to plug into your audio system. This one from Machina Dynamica is completely different and from my cursory scan of their website, utter and complete nonsense. Sorry.

  30. Skep says:

    I LOVE to see products like this. Anyone with that much money and that little sense SHOULD spend it on useless items like these cables, fast dangerous cars, haircuts, jewelery, iPhones, and any other display of excess. It’s Darwinism, folks!

    I’m afraid it is a little worse than mere natural selection of individuals, this kind of irrationality is infectious. If you revel in watching society descend into irrationality you may wish to remember that you are part of that society and will suffer the consequences. Maybe it will just be that all audio gear will come with Pear Audio bs cables and cost more. Maybe your local school will buy Pear CAT-6 cables that transmit data with greater Pace and Swing because Pear is such a reputable company since apathetic people never challenged them. Or, perhaps more and more doctors, including your doctor will, fall into the trap of magical thinking and start suggesting cures based on the “latest” knowledge of homeopathy and naturopathy.

    While it may fun to denigrate individuals for being gullible, that doesn’t mean those people are stupid. Belief in magic was common and still is because of human psychology. Fraudsters take advantage of people through psychological principles even if they don’t call them that. Convincing people that the magic cables work is based on principles of influence and on the psychology of perception and judgement. You don’t have to be an idiot or greedy to be fooled by a con man. In fact, smart people can be easier to fool because they are so certain they can’t be fooled. Their over confidence can lead them astray.

    As to the trickle down economy, it isn’t just money that trickles down (who can live off a trickle?) but the irrationality. If you don’t want irrationality to spread around society you should challenge it where ever you see it, be it magic pills at your doctor’s office or magic cables being sold for $7,250.

    BTW, it isn’t just rich people who buy this crap. It is obsessive audiophiles who spend all of their money on this kind of gear.

  31. ROSSINDETROIT says:

    Audiophiles laugh harder than anyone at audio nonsense. $14,000 oil filled cables. Interconnect wires with battery packs. Check a site like Audio Karma to see audiogeeks calling BS on the more egregious forms of consumer abuse. Keep in mind, however, that although many (most?) of the ‘advances’ in audio turn out to be useless or worse, it’s the enthusiasts who are out there inventing and evaluating new hardware that advance the field of audio reproduction for everyone. Stereophonic sound was once thought to be a gimmick for nerds. Ditto multichannel, and even electrical recording and reproduction of sound. Sure, the failures like Quadrophonic become punchlines, but when the technology became mature, it evolved into the Home Theater multichannel that so many people use and take for granted.
    But does anyone thank us for experimenting with Tate processing and primitive 8-bit digital delays back in the ’70s? NOOOOOOO!

  32. Skep says:

    It is a strange day when Monster Cable, that venerable high-margin profit center of audio and video retailers everywhere, seems like the the fair-minded, reasonably priced alternative :-)

    In the case of the Pear Cables that Giz posted about, Kevin Lee (son of Monster founder Noel Lee) stopped by an earlier thread to comment. Rather than being critical of Pear and their outrageous BS cables, Kevin actually commiserated with them, saying “Hey Pear, welcome to the firing line :)

    Kevin generously offered to come to a San Francisco area Gizmodo reader’s home and let them audition fine Monster speaker cables, but when asked said that offer was not to include the opportunity to double blind test the Monster Cables, adding:

    “Scientifically, we know audible differences in cables are difficult if not impossible to measure. That’s what started the whole idea in my father’s head to make the first Monster Cable. As an engineer he was taught they don’t make a difference beyond gauge and as an audiophile he knew it did.”

    While this could represent the triumph of the lone genius over the orthodoxy of science, I take it to represent someone who realized that he could leverage the fact that audiophiles think they can hear a difference even when engineering science says they can’t by providing audiophiles with a range of high quality, vanity-priced products that audiophiles will “know” sounds better.

    The only difference between Pear and Monster is one of degrees. They are both in the overpriced, over-hyped cable business. Pear, however, is completely shameless. But, neither Pear or monster will go anywhere a proper double blind test.

    This post is my opinion (er, well, except for the quotes and stuff :-) ).

  33. ernie says:

    RE Home Depot cables: It wasn’t lamp cord, it was the plain-jane 14 gauge orange extension cord.

    Google “Home Depot HD-14 speaker cable” and follow the hilarity.

    (Paul Seydor and Neil Gader took a two-part speaker cable survey in The Absolute Sound magazine, issues 146 and 147. The HD-14s were slipped in and the emperor’s clothes were much admired)

  34. Skwid says:

    What pisses me off more than anything are the HDMI and DVI cables that Monster and several others sell for obscene markups. Cables carrying a digital signal need only minimally carry the signal! If they accomplish that modest goal, then there can be no possible improvement via the fancy material components that typically are used to justify the markup.

    Makes me spitting mad.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Ross in detroit, does this mean I can keep laughing?

  36. Skep says:

    I love the classics, like this NY Times article:

    John Dunlavy, who manufactures audiophile loudspeakers and wire to go with it, does think questioning is valid. A musician and engineer, Mr. Dunlavy said as an academic exercise he used principles of physics relating to transmission line and network theory to produce a high-end cable. ”People ask if they will hear a difference, and I tell them no,” he said.

    Mr. Dunlavy has often gathered audio critics in his Colorado Springs lab for a demonstration.

    ”What we do is kind of dirty and stinky,” he said. ”We say we are starting with a 12 WAG zip cord, and we position a technician behind each speaker to change the cables out.”

    The technicians hold up fancy-looking cables before they disappear behind the speakers. The critics debate the sound characteristics of each wire.

    ”They describe huge changes and they say, ‘Oh my God, John, tell me you can hear that difference,’ ” Mr. Dunlavy said. The trick is the technicians never actually change the cables, he said, adding, ”It’s the placebo effect.”

  37. Skep says:

    “What pisses me off more than anything are the HDMI and DVI cables that Monster and several others sell for obscene markups.”

    …especially since HDMI cables are **certified**, so the cheapest cable that meets the cert you need will work just fine.

    However, digital cable transmission isn’t quite as simple as “either it works or it doesn’t” since digital signals are subject to errors. A bad cable may still transmit enough data to display but be degraded enough that more data is lost than error correction can make up for and errors may be visible in the form of quantizing.

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