On Being Gizmodoed, Boing Boinged and Hydrogenated

This is Michael's response to our post Gizmodo mounted on maple blocks, sounds great, in which audiophile gear is made fun of. (See John Mahoney's original item at Gizmodo, Why We Need Audiophiles.) We thought Michael's post would languish at the bottom of a month-old post's comment thread, so he spruced it up as a guest feature, and here it is! — Rob

My wife handles our Cardigan Welsh Corgi in the show ring. I love the dog and though I'm not much into the "dog world," occasionally I go to a show to watch. The judge has to check each dog's confirmation to see how close it comes to the breed standard. If it's a male dog he's got to feel the dog's balls to be sure both have descended. That's part of his job. Do I think this guy's a pervert who stops people in the street walking their dogs so he can feel their dog's balls? Of course not, but judging by some of the hysterical reactions to Rob Beschizza's post "Gizmodo mounted on maple blocks, sounds great," I guess some of you would see the ball-handler doing his job and think feeling dog's balls is all that guy did. Such were the ridiculous, frequently irrational caricatures posted of audiophiles in general and me in particular, under Beschizza's post. Beschizza deserves part of the blame, tossing you red meat instead of truth by suggesting that writer John Mahoney's Giz piece hypothesized "...that even if normal people can't appreciate what makes ultra-expensive gear special, audiophiles can. This is a myth, and to honor it like this is to sell it."   Mahoney's piece hypothesized no such thing. In fact his piece concluded that anyone can hear how great an expensive high performance audio system can sound. Mahoney had visited so he could write, from first hand knowledge, the usual anti-audiophile tripe about clueless obsessives with expensive gear in bad rooms who repeatedly play the same five records or CDs. He was expecting to hear some loud, offensive assemblage of stupidly expensive, grotesque sounding "show off" gear--like the typical custom car stereo. I knew the agenda but I also knew what Mahoney would hear because literally hundreds of non-audiophiles--neighbors and many in the dog world who come to visit my wife--have sat in my listening chair and heard what anyone can hear: that a high performance rig can produce astonishing-sounding music , with the speakers literally disappearing, leaving a wall-to-wall, three-dimensional, physical presence. Listening to a very familiar tune of their choice, these non-audiophiles invariably react by saying things like "It's as if I've never heard the song before." "I heard instruments I never knew were there." "I can 'see' each instrument in space and follow the notes each musician plays." And, because the imaging is so palpable and precise, many invariably point to the amplifiers in the middle and say "Are those speakers too?" Or "I had no idea this was even possible! How come I didn't know about this!" Or they describe how listening made them feel--how listening to recorded music had never before elicited such strongly felt emotions. Everyone walks away in a pleasant daze--the way you do exiting a live concert. I still do, even though this is my job and I experience it daily. And that's what Mahoney immediately heard on the first tune, a song from the French synth duo Air. I didn't play "audiophile" crap, I played him regular music--which is what I listen to. After that first cut he said something like "I've never heard anything like that!" And "That was not what I was expecting." He got it. Anyone hearing such a system would "get it." One need not be an "audiophile" to get it. Mahoney had more trouble hearing differences when I swapped out some expensive speaker cables for some moderately priced Monster Cables, but that was to be expected. I once spent a few days driving an Aston-Martin around Scotland for a review of the car's sound system. It was an overwhelmingly pleasurable experience too and a much better one than driving my car and had the tires been switched I doubt I would have noticed much of a difference but I'm sure an automobile pro would be able to describe the handling changes in great detail. Contrary to Rob Beschizza's charge, Mahoney's hypothesis was not "...that even if normal people can't appreciate what makes ultra-expensive gear special, audiophiles can." As I demonstrated to Mahoney and could to Beschizza as well, anyone can hear and appreciate it. Mahoney's hypothesis was that even if inexperienced people can't hear some of the nuances that cables (and some other tweaks derided by doubters) can make in an audio system, they probably are audible to some. Audiophiles paying such close attention to the small details is a good thing--which happens to be a truism in any endeavor. Now, I didn't ask him, but I suspect Mahoney's generosity in believing that nuanced differences he couldn't distinguish probably were audible to me, grew out of listening to a high performance audio system that he'd been pre-conditioned to believe was bullshit and nothing more than (in Beschizza's own words) "...the telltale hiss of dead technology" (never mind that vinyl is the only physical format that's growing in sales and popularity, particularly among kids). What's "sad," to use another of Beschizza's bizarre choice of words, is that a skeptic who came to launch yet another anti-audiophile attack was in turn attacked by a fellow journalist for emerging "a believer," because he heard with his own ears just how spectacular, enriching and enjoyable a great high performance audio system can be. I didn't "hard sell" Mahoney. I just sat him down and played music for him. Whatever he wished to hear. That I "hard sold" him is insulting to me and to Mahoney. He wasn't conned, but judging by some of the ridiculous, actually hateful comments (change "audiophile" to the "N-word" and they read like posts on a skinhead site) left in the wake of Beschizza's piece, plenty of you have been conned. You're the suckers, not me, not Mahoney and certainly not high performance audio enthusiasts. There have been so many ridiculous comments left here, I don't know where to start but I guess I might as well: first of all, the guy who wrote about 'audiophiles' not understanding music and seeking to understand by throwing money out on expensive gear is about the most pathetic of the lot. One of the most dedicated audiophiles I know is legendary record producer Rick Rubin. Not a "music lover?" I could rattle off dozens of famous names I know personally in the music business and in the business of making music, to prove the utter stupidity of the "non music lover" charge, but then I'd be accused of "name dropping." So go to my music review website Music Angle and then accuse me of not being a music lover. The second stupidest comment was the one from the engineer speaking (out of his butt) on behalf of all recording engineers claiming that audiophiles are to engineers what astrologers are to astrophysicists. Really? Obviously, that poster doesn't know just how many engineers are audiophiles. Why don't you make that stupid argument to Roy Halee? He engineered all of Simon and Garfunkel's albums and albums by The Byrds, Bob Dylan and on and on. He's among the most dedicated audiophiles I know and he prefers listening to "dead technology"--he's a vinyl fanatic as are many, many other guys who know the master tapes (and master files) they've produced and think the vinyl, whatever the flaws, sound more like the tape than does the CD. Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that every engineer agrees. I can name dozens who prefer digital. What I'm saying is that in the real world, these differences of opinion are respected. In the cartoon world here, there's only one correct opinion and the other side is turned into a caricature. I love the "logic" of the guy who wrote about the electricity traveling through the grid all the way to someone's home and then ridiculed the idea that the last 3 feet of expensive AC cable could make a sonic difference. Well then, please, if you have a water filter on your faucet to remove heavy metals and other pollutants from your drinking water, remove it because it's idiotic to think the water could move from the reservoir to the treatment facility, through all the old pipes through the water main, into your home and that last little filter could do anything. AC cables do make an audible difference. There's a very well respected jazz recording engineer I know who brought AC cables to a session at the old Sony studios. The in-house engineers laughed at him until he did a demonstration for them....then they got it and stopped laughing. I know, they were "conned." As is usually the case, knowledge and experience are inversely proportional to glibness. The glibber the post here, the more ignorance is behind it. So many of the supposedly "logical, science grounded" posters here begin their hate-rants by making a series of outrageous, assumptions about me and about "audiophiles" and what they do or do not know or understand, and then after their hate-rants they end with something like "pathetic," or "sad," or whatever. They are the pathetic and sad ones, building and destroying straw men of their own creation, which is a cheap debating tactic closely related to masturbation. For some reason audio, not video, not automobiles, not wine, not clothing, not any other subject, seems to attract a gaggle of self-loathing supposed "enthusiasts" who make it their business to tear down quality and reduce it to the lowest common denominator by saying that none of these performance differences matter...that everything pretty much sounds the same. I don't get it. Getting back to "feeling balls." I've been doing my job for more than 20 years. Over time my system has gotten better and better and I've had more money to invest in what both pays the bills and gives me great pleasure. My readers expect me to have such a system, just as it's expected of Beschizza's readers that he shit all over people who appreciate good sound and mock their passion. As I said to Mahoney, when my system consisted of a pair of Spica TC-50 speakers ($550), a Hafler DH-200 amp and DH101 preamp (kits costing a few hundred bucks each) and a used Thorens TD-125 with a Luster GST-1 arm...total system cost of around $1500 (in 1981 dollars) I enjoyed listening to music as much then as I do today on a very expensive system. But did it sound as good? Of course not. Not even close. Were I to lose all my gear in a Bernie Madoff minute, I'd assemble a modestly priced system and continue listening with an equal amount of enjoyment because music got me into audio, not vice-versa. Writing about audio is my job. I try to review inexpensive gear as well, but of course in the effort to turn me into a cartoon, that's not mentioned here. Over the past 20 years or so, we've gone from 480i 4:3 crappy video to 16x9 1080p high definition. Were I to sit anyone reading this down in front of a good home theater projection system with a properly calibrated projector and 100" screen and were we to watch "Spiderman" or whatever movie you liked, and you walked away wowed and wrote about it, would another writer claim you were "conned" into seeing something that didn't exist? Of course not! I mean, how stupid would that be? Does that mean you couldn't enjoy the movie on an iPod? No. But you wouldn't claim the differences between an iPod and a 100" screen were delusional or that only a "snob" would want to watch on the big screen. In audio, we've gone backwards from real hi-fi to most people listening on crappy computer speakers to MP3s. That's progress? That's idiocy. You bet Mahoney heard how crappy his Bowie MP3s sounded compared to the "dead technology" of my original vinyl pressings I've been playing for 25 years. Friends bring their kids down and I let them hear how they've been cheated out of a worthwhile listening experience by MP3s--I don't care what the bit rate. They all get it and instantly. No wonder kids are buying turntables. They're rebelling. They always do when they realize they've been had. As for double blind challenges, let me give you my experience there. In the early nineties I challenged an audio writer who claimed that all amplifiers that measure the same sound the same to set up a double blind test that I would take. I guaranteed him that I'd be able to hear differences among the amplifiers. So he organized a double blind test at an AES convention (Audio Engineering Society) in Los Angeles. I took the test, along with dozens of others attending, many of them recording engineers. When the results were announced, the organizers said that I'd gotten 5 of 5 identifications correct. My editor at Stereophile, John Atkinson, got 4 of 5 correct. But the overall result was statistically insignificant. Most test takers could not distinguish among the amplifiers. Guess what? I was declared a "lucky coin" and my result was "thrown out!" Take the test and pass and they find a way to discredit you. When I relate this story on "objectivist" websites the response is always "Not enough samples!" Well, I didn't design the test, I just took it. I jumped through their hoop and I guaranty you had I been 0 for 5 it would have been deemed a very well designed test. Now, what amazed me about the result was that one of the amps was a vacuum tube amp that sounded way different from the others yet most test takers couldn't hear what was obvious to me. Why? Not because they're not good listeners. They couldn't hear it because they were inexperienced listeners, at least in terms of discerning differences among products. I don't do my testing "blind" but I understand the pitfalls of working that way, just as I know that railroad tracks really don't come to a point on the horizon. I work around that too. Don't you? As far as blind cable testing goes, please read this piece at the WSJ. I no longer have anything to "prove" to the skeptics. When I take and pass their "tests," they move the goalposts anyway. So, to all the snarky posters here, excuse me and other audiophiles for trying to popularize listening to music on a good (not necessarily expensive) audio system. If you enjoy listening to MP3s on computer speakers (and by "listening" I mean paying full attention to the music and not having it in the background while you do other stuff), well knock yourself out, but please stop accusing music lovers who want something better of being "snobs." The effete, look-down- their-nose, know-it-all posts that dominate here, written by people who clearly know very little, define "snob." If you're wondering about the "hydrogenated" reference in the title, there's a website called hydrogenaudio.com that picked up the Gizmodo story and began attacking me and audiophiles well before boing boing. These supposedly dispassionate rationalists couldn't complete a sentence without hurling personal attacks and when I joined the discussion they behaved as if I was an alien ant invading their colony. It was entertaining. Speaking of which, if you want to see a dweeby "audiophile' in action, go here. Michael Fremer is a senior contributing editor at Stereophile, editor of Music Angle, and the producer of "21st Century Vinyl: Michael Fremer's Practical Guide to Turntable Set-up DVD" and "It's a Vinyl World, After All."

THE FINAL WORD BECAUSE IT'S OUR BLOG AND EVERYTHING Thank you, Mr. Fremer! And there was me thinking you guys sit there listening to the THX surround sound noise over and over again. Most high-end gear is audibly better than even decent equipment, and Fremer is right to point out that mainstream skepticism encourages listeners to be cynical about it. Moreover, it doesn't take an audiophile to prefer a good platter over joint-stereo 128kbps MP3 files and badly-mastered CDs. We skeptics also sometimes confuse those areas where extreme quality can make a difference (amps and long cable runs, for example), with those areas that are pure snake oil. (Such as little maple blocks placed strategically around the listening room.) My "attack" on John's piece was really about the lack of rigor involved in tests of specific gear, like AC cables, which I do think are snake oil. They're either (a) doing nothing worthwhile or (b) doing nothing that couldn't be accomplished with much cheaper stuff. Take the water filtration example Michael poses: as filthy as tap water can be, will a $4,000 filter clean it better than a $3,000 one?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

85 Responses to On Being Gizmodoed, Boing Boinged and Hydrogenated

  1. Bucket says:

    I would really like to see Chroma’s question in post #31 answered.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Although I found the response and the article on the whole well balanced, I do have a nitpick: if Rick Rubin is such an audiophile, why was the last Metallica album compressed to the point of clipping? It just doesn’t make any sense.

  3. MichaelFoody says:

    I would like to get really good speakers for not way too much money but the fact is that many self described audiophiles make it really difficult for me to do so. There is a mysticism out there in audiophile land. I don’t know enough to know whether it’s universal or not but it makes it really hard to get any sort of empirically grounded information on what is the most effective way to convert money into a great listening experience.

  4. echolocate chocolate says:

    #26 I’m pretty sure laserdiscs were analog video plus analog and digital audio. Wikipedia appears to agree with my memory. They look like CDs because they’re written to and read by laser; lasers aren’t inherently digital any more than lightbulbs are.

  5. Michael Fremer says:

    Make no mistake why it is this way: the _real_ problems of audio need real engineering to fix them. You need competence and skill to design speakers properly, or to record and replay a fully immersive sound field – whereas anyone can build snake oil products – especially the advertisers in the magazine that employs Michael.


    Most of the products advertised in Stereophile are designed by qualified engineers you dimwit. You are an imbecile.

  6. manitunc says:

    There seems to be some confusion over the difference between whether certain effects or concepts of audio exist and whether those effects or concepts are noticeable or worth the money. Just because I can’t describe or recognize a difference between various pieces of equipment heard back to back, doesnt mean there isnt a difference. I have certainly had my share of listening over a period of time and slowly realizing a nagging problem with the sound that either didnt bother me at first, or I couldnt put my finger on at the time. I may not even know what it is exactly that bothers me, I just find that it does. The solution may be a better quality product, or it may just be a different product that doesnt have the same distortions or emphasis as the one that bothers me. Whether the cure is and expensive one or not is unrelated to whether the problem exists. Every component has defects when compared to the original source and some manufacturers have spent inordinate amounts of time and money trying to address those defects which may be of importance to few, and even those few may not be willing to spend enough to make the manufacturers efforts profitable.

    Like any endevour, there is a point of diminshing return because of limited resources combined with a limited market. You can get 90% of the best at 50% of the cost, but getting that last 10% or 1% in any endevour cant be done efficiently or cheaply. Just ask any olymipic athlete how much effort it took to get within 90% of a world record time compared to how much effort it took to go from there to setting the world record. It doesnt mean the effort should be ridiculed or minimized, but it can never be deemed efficient or worth the money except to those few to which the best means something. For those few, there is no substitute.
    For me, I just try to get the best out of what I can afford. My system might not respond to 10K cables or power cords, but that does mean that a better system might not. Every layer that we remove between us and the original source lets us see things we couldnt before, and at some point cables and cords might make a difference. But not enough for me, at this point, price and system budget. But I wouldnt ridicule those for whom they might work.

    So my point is that something shouldnt be ridiculed just because it is expensive or inefficient or “on the edge”. No one is saying that putting $10k cables on your IPod is going to turn it into a high end system. But once you have taken care of basics of source, electronics and speaker, such tweeks may or may not be heard or be relevant.

  7. Michael Fremer says:

    Some of you are fixated with $4000 power cords. More so than am I or any audiophiles I know.

    It’s got nothing to do with the story. It is an idiotic distraction dwell upon by idiots.

    Anyone can hear that even the highest bitrate MP3 is degraded. The Gizmodo writer came over intending to write a story as angry and bitter as your comment.

    It took him two minutes to hear what you clam is inaudible. You’re an idiot.

    Keep the hate coming because it indicates just how bitter and demented you are.

    The angrier you guys get the more laughs you provide.

  8. Jack says:

    If there is one thing that kills my joy of music is listening to audiophiles yammer on about anything.

    It’s like listening to guys in a guitar store yammer on and on about how what you own is wrong and what you need to do is “this”.

    Sorry, but I think the most liberating thing about modern technology is folks like these can be tossed aside. I don’t want to hear about MP3s sounding “worse”… Unless you have truly high end audio gear they sound 100% fine.

    My $49 iPod shuffle and $39 headphones sound tons better than the hundreds of dollars worth of component audio gear I bought when I was a teen in the 1980s. And I’m not looking back wistfully. One of the greatest moments of my life was just dumping all that component audio crap into a dumpster… Literally…

    You know what’s another headache inducing conversation? People complaining about film versus digital in photography. Sorry folks but an average consumer camera that costs about $150 takes better shots digital now than a most cheap consumer cameras back in the day.

    All of this are the dying bleats of folks who based their career/fortunes on constantly “improving” things by telling other people what they know are wrong.

    Nuts to them!

  9. El Magnifico says:

    The only post here that makes sense is the one made by G Park. Training and more training: that’s what will make you an expert. Period. It doesn’t means that you are a “god”, it just means that you are an expert because of your dedicated training. That’s all. There’s no need for snake oil or subjective crap here. Just training and many years of specialized study. As simple as that…

  10. dculberson says:

    Jay Leno actually does drive his cars. A lot. Even the steam powered one, though I’m sure that one doesn’t see service on the interstate.

    And you must not hang out in car guy circles. People get made fun of plenty for ridiculous modifications that don’t do any good. Coffee can exhausts, splitters on a road car, bilge vent fans wired up as “electric turbos,” you name it. All laughed at incessantly.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I had forgotten the joy of listening to music through a quality system after going through my days passively hearing music in the background of my life. Last fall, for whatever reason, I was reminded how much I enjoyed actively listening to music I love, and I set about upgrading my system and learning how to improve the sound in my room. I read audio magazines to assist me in purchasing decisions, and to learn from the experience of others. It is easy to get excited about a well-reviewed component, but the most valuable lesson for me is to trust my own ears, because my tastes differ from the next person’s, even though we both love the music. I bought some so-called high-end speaker cables after the dealer let me audition them in my system and I heard the improvement. It was enough of an improvement to make the cost of the cables worth the price I paid. I know there is snake oil out there, and it is not sold exclusively in the audiophile industry. I’ve played golf a few times but I am not interested in pursuing it further; not my thing. If someone else thinks that wearing brand x of clothing and using brand y golf clubs increases their enjoyment of their hobby/sport, fine by me. I’m not trying to imply that there is snake oil in the golf industry; just that it doesn’t matter to me. I will use my own judgment to determine what I believe works best for me. As I have an older turntable that I have revived but still needs tweaking, I have ordered Michael’s DVD, because I value his experience and am glad he is providing guidance to me at a fair price. Am I an audiophile? Why should you care?

  12. Hugh says:

    Fremer’s anecdote about double-blind amp test at AES is telling: only two of the many who took the test were able to tell the difference. He suggests that many of the other participants were audio engineers. Who couldn’t tell the difference.

    I’m not saying there isn’t better and worse gear, just that most audiophile gear reviews are either by

    a) people like Michael Fremer, who can detect differences irrelevant to average people (and, if we are to believe the results of the test he mentioned, average audio engineers) or

    b) people who *claim* to be able to tell the difference between extremely expensive gear and even more extremely expensive gear, but can’t really.

    Neither of those perspectives are useful to me when I’m shopping for audio gear. Yes, there is audio equipment that sounds better and worse, even according to the perceptual range of typical listeners. Duh. I only wish there was an audio review literature that was useful in distinguishing among the better and the worse.

  13. TwoShort says:

    One guy once ran what he said was a double blind test (lousily by the sound of it) and on this basis you reject double blind tests?

    For anything involving the perceptions of human observers, double blind test are what science is. And in this case, they are really easy to do.

    If you’re doing real, responsible journalism evaluating audio equipment, you shouldn’t have one anecdote of a guy who cajoled you into a double blind test years back. You should be telling us about how you’ve always conducted such trials on everything you claim to speak authoritatively on.

    It’s not YOU that’s getting subjected to a double blind trial. It’s the equipment, which you would obviously be subjecting to a blind trial if you actually wanted to know if it was worthwhile.

    I’ll be the first to admit I know squat about what makes a difference in high end audio equipment. But I know what people do if they want to find stuff like that out, and every “audiophile” I’ve encountered studiously avoids doing it.

  14. Clif Marsiglio says:

    “I’ve sold 10,000 copies of my turntable set-up DVD…which amazes me. And it still sells…”

    Sadly, if you would have released this on Laserdisc, you could have stored the audio both digitally AND in the warm warm analogue we all wanted it on.

    Until the setup disc is available on LD, I ain’t buying it.

  15. blip says:

    It was obvious that Beschizza’s attack was over the top and I’m glad to see Michael’s response.

    “The effete, look-down- their-nose, know-it-all posts that dominate here, written by people who clearly know very little, define “snob.”

    So, so true.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Holy Christ close your tags somewhere!

  17. pork musket says:

    “The second stupidest comment was the one from the engineer speaking (out of his butt) on behalf of all recording engineers claiming that audiophiles are to engineers what astrologers are to astrophysicists.”

    That was my comment. First, I am not an audio engineer, and I did nothing to imply that I was. My comment was the analogy with no context, so I’m not sure why he thought I was an engineer. Mr. Fremer thinks I somehow spoke on behalf of a group I don’t represent? This just may be the second stupidest thing written in his post.

    I stand by my comment. I know there are audiophiles out there that actually use scientific approaches to improve what they listen to and know what they are doing. I’m not going to throw out my generalization based on a few specifics. The overarching whole of the audiophile world still strikes me as asinine. Does the dog ball guy ever grab someone’s nuts and declare them ‘danceable’?

  18. markfrei says:

    #20 MichaelFoody
    Use your ears, and let them decide. Really.

    Listen to a bunch of speakers with music you know and love. Don’t be scared into buying something that you can’t hear. Figure out your price point and listen to all the different speakers, paying attention to the whole spectrum of frequencies, detain, spatial imaging, etc.

    Everytime, I’ve done this myself I’ve ended liking the speakers outside of my budget, but needing speakers of some sort, I’ve usually ended up buying older used speakers that some audiophile sold cheap on their route to audio perfection. You can exploit someone else’s mania :-)

  19. andy o says:

    Oh yeah… WE are the angry ones.

    Surely you’re being sarcastic and satirical, huh, Fremer? You are the one laughing, I see!

    The powers of projection of pseudoscientists are indeed intriguing.

  20. andy o says:

    Just to clarify, the site Michael alludes to is hydrogenaudio.org, not “.com”, and this is the thread. Entertaining indeed. Even Stereophile’s editor stops by.

    hydrogenaudio is already very well known (especially for those who use superb players like foobar2000), but just in case, it is the best resource of no-nonsense audio information. You’ll be ridiculed without mercy if you go around there with ridiculous claims and no evidence (that is what weeds out the nonsense). Be it audiophools, creationists, Deepak Chopras (and Oprahs), Jenny McCarthys, The Secret, etc… some of us are just fed up with all the pseudoscience permeating everything. It’s about time to ridicule the ridiculous.

    That’s why Fremer is so flustered about that site.

  21. Anonymous says:


    “The effete, look-down- their-nose, know-it-all posts that dominate here, written by people who clearly know very little, define “snob.””

    welcome to Boingboing!

    (paging Dr. Takuan…)

  22. andy o says:

    Curious that you’re quoting that bible verse there “anonymous”. It’s a favorite of the Cathoholics I used to know. You know what it says to me and all who don’t believe in that bible crap?

    Keep thy precious religion to thyself. Don’t bother us with nonsense.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Micheal Fremre is nothing but a peddler of audiophile wares. His livelihood depends of it.
    Believing his theories is like believing a car salesman.

    Nobody can hear the difference between power cords in the double blind test and that has been proven here:


    quoting a silly WSJ article written by one reviewer against stacks of double blind tests to prove the validity of his own theories is just stupid. Nowhere in the WSJ mentions that the audio cables were double blind tested.

  24. andy o says:

    On the other hand, there are some claims made by Rob Beschizza that are inaccurate too (besides the 256 kbps claim in the original article that krabapple over there takes care of):

    Moreover, it doesn’t take an audiophile to prefer a good platter over joint-stereo 128kbps MP3 files and badly-mastered CDs.

    Actually, it does take an audiophile. 128kbps is perfectly OK, even transparent, for many of the audio hoi polloi (as opposed to the audio royalty of “audiophiles”, course). Many won’t be able to or even care to find a difference, though at 128kbps it’s still relatively easy to find one if you know what you’re looking for. The more dubious claim is the implication that any person knowledgeable in audio would prefer a “good platter” over “joint-stereo 128kbps” MP3.

    Another implication that’s just wrong is the “joint-stereo” one. Joint stereo can be lossless, and it being demonized is largely based on myths.

    We skeptics also sometimes confuse those areas where extreme quality can make a difference (amps and long cable runs, for example), with those areas that are pure snake oil.

    In those areas, “extreme” quality doesn’t make a difference. Adequate (non-crap) quality does. There’s no difference between $20 12 AWG speaker cable or multi-thousand dollar cable of the same gauge. Uber expensive amps, especially tube amps, are also just short of the snake oil category.

    Take the water filtration example Michael poses: as filthy as tap water can be, will a $4,000 filter clean it better than a $3,000 one?

    I don’t think that’s valid. I have no idea of the costs, but a $4000 filtration system may very well be better than a $3000. That claim is not extraordinary. The claim that a $4000 power cord would make a difference is not only extraordinary (demanding extraordinary evidence), but it also flies in the face of science. The thing is that the water example is measurable, and no one would disagree with a correctly done scientific assessment. The problem with audiophools is that they disregard all science and evidence.

  25. Bob W says:

    Wow, anger everywhere…

    @MF: I enjoy your analysis and writing, but Eveanna has a degree in Music from Columbia, not EE.

    @’Double-blind’ advocates: A properly-administered dbl-blind test is theoretically the ‘ultimate’ determinant of sonic differences. But psycho-acoustics and related factors make them notoriously difficult (and expensive) to pull off.

    But perhaps the more germane point is that most audiophiles – myself included – wouldn’t much care what they showed!

    You see, we are not all rich, lazy, self-centered, egalitarian bastards. Many of us have done similar tests in our homes. And we have had difficulty correlating the results against the metric of ‘sustained listening pleasure’ (our true, often-unstated goal). IOW, it may be impossible to discern a clear difference based on 10-sec sound bites, but the difference is quite apparent after sustained listening.

    Maddening, I know…

    And those of us not completely in denial know all about both expectation bias (e.g., ‘this thing looks so good it has to sound better’) and the male propensity to judge (first) with our eyes (ever wonder why the porn industry limits dialog?). :-)

    BTW, maybe the saddest aspect to all of this is that I am nearly certain that the correlation between great sonics and high prices is tenuous. The two do correlate, but there’s LOTS of noise, many outliers, and (of course) diminishing returns.

    OK, I gotta go back to adjusting my wood blocks. Ah, that’s better. Looks great too…


  26. Anonymous says:

    mr. fremer makes a very valid point: what’s the difference between people who invest in 100-inch LCD/plasma TVs and audiophiles who invest in a very good stereo?

    i also posted a similar comment in the previous post: car nuts do the same dance of tweaking everything down to the last bolt (platinum spark plugs, anyone?) and yet only audiophiles inspire the kind of vitriol i see above. mr. fremer is given a lot of grief for his audio equipment but jay leno is envied for his car collection; but fremer actually uses his audio gear while the last time i looked, jay leno isn’t driving around in a 1907 White Steam car.

    i have a humble denon unit with mission speakers. i can’t afford super expensive audiophile equipment, the same way i can’t afford a ferrari. but i benefit from the experience from audiophiles, the same way i benefit from the knowledge of the car junkies; their passion makes it possible for me to make informed decisions with my more humble resources.

    – chudez

  27. philipb says:

    …and I am the audio engineer who agreed with you last time. Michael fails to make the distinction between equipment of value (well designed, well executed) and equipment produced purely to support tenuous claims and ludicrous price tags. The professionals (including the ones he names) have no problems with the former and scorn for the latter.

  28. nixiebunny says:

    @26: As far as I can remember (Google is eerily silent on this): Laserdiscs are both analog and digital. They use pulse width modulation to encode the video. That is, there create an on-off pulse stream in which the length of each pulse is proportional of the analog voltage on the video signal at the sample time.

    So yes, it’s digital, and yes, it’s analog. You could call it a sampled analog signal.

  29. g.park says:

    I think that most of the ire against audiophiles is ire against the “golden ears” concept. Immerse yourself in something long enough, and you can pick out details that the average person never would. Dedicated “car guys” can feel differences in brake pads. This isn’t because they have a magical foot, it’s because they’ve been studying these things for years.

    I’ve been converted to the idea that an audiophile can hear things that I can’t. Does that justify $4000 AC cables? Maybe not. But then again, I’m a guitar player, and I claim to be able to tell the difference in sound between a .88mm pick and a .72mm pick. That’s because I’ve been studying the sound of guitars for long enough that I can decode all of that information.

    Long-time HTML coders can look at a sheet of bare code and visualize how it will render in a browser. This isn’t because they’re born with some kind of second sight, it’s because they’ve been staring at code for long enough that they can understand the language of it.

    “Golden ears” can seem like an offensive concept- the idea that some of us are born more able to appreciate sounds. But when I think of it as something that one develops over a lifetime of audio appreciation, I think it’s a believable concept.

    While each of us would like to poke fun at the idea of expensive speaker cables and special “listening chairs,” I can guarantee that we’d leap to defend something in our own hobby that begs incredulity from the outside world. PC gamers who tweak the weight of their mice with tiny metal disks. Writers who import special notebooks from France with paper texture that is just right. Film geeks who can watch a scene and deduce the type and brand of lens used to film it.

    When you immerse yourself in something, you do develop a heightened sense of it, and you can identify elements that a novice can’t.

    I think that in order to really regain respect among skeptics, audiophiles need to distance themselves from the snake oil salesmen, and avoid posturing that implies an audio ubermensch, or a “well, if you could afford as good a system as me, you’d understand, urchin” mentality. Because that’s often how audiophiles come off- which earns them the bile they receive. In order to not sound like a tool, the audiophile needs to emphasize that their super powers are the result of training, not genetics, and not equipment.

  30. pork musket says:

    In case anyone is wondering, the stupidest thing Mr. Fremer wrote is “moderately priced Monster Cables”.

    The second stupidest might be “never mind that vinyl is the only physical format that’s growing in sales and popularity, particularly among kids.” I don’t doubt that’s true, but I doubt that it’s because kids have an awesome vinyl system at home. It’s more the result of a desire for scene cred by having the vinyl. I know lots of kids that have vinyl copies of albums and no record player. And never mind the fact that all the other physical media formats are dying.

  31. Anonymous says:

    The reply is too long, I got tired of reading it half way through.
    For someone who likes to listen, he also likes to talk a lot.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Wow. Might want to trim this sucker down to the first few paragraphs and save the rest for click thru.

  33. insidethegod says:

    parrots please! $4000 power cord.. $4000 power cord. i specialize in portraying the opinions and communications of a specialist but only in fields i have zero specialization, like wire for instance. i’ve seen it before which could be an over qualification but, you know, without actually doing any tests or having an actual experience i am convinced with the convictions of an imaginative brain that there is no way a wire cable can make a difference… especially the world famous $4000 power cord.

    mind you, i am a specialist and this message is more about projecting the security and congruence of my self-image. don’t expect me to exercise beyond the oh-so-simple reason of logic. as i mentioned, i’m a specialist. i haven’t just heard these opinions elsewhere, lacking my own direct contact while assuming these plausible sounding arguments as my own. i know how electricity works and what ohms are. i meditate ohms all day so don’t be resistant. skepticism is for fools and so is any way of thought different from mine.

    $4000 power cord. can’t make a difference, right? i mean there might be a slight difference. maybe a slight difference out there results in a big difference in my head. that’s where i live. i’ll be making permanent residence in your head now. didn’t see that comin, huh?

    but seriously, can slight differences demand such a chunky price tag? obviously. some guys gotta have blondes. some guys pay $4000 for a blonde experience. humans are an eccentric bunch. for some it’s imported spices. for others it’s gotta be marble. but marble is a rock, a frickin rock… and maybe it makes a slight difference but why does it cost so much… ? don’t even start on the rocks they measure in carats. some humans think they are making some kind of difference by giving their “significant” other a stone. as if the size and cost of the stone means something. idiots. no really, in a broad enough spectrum we all are. just be a happy idiot without leaching all the other idiot’s happiness.

    it’s fine to not believe something. it’s ignorant to go on a ranting crusade against something which you know very little about. any questions.

    besides, be hands on and present a real f*ckin argument so growth may occur and you’ll be contributing more than the mere proud, chest-beating, “me ego” communication. it’s naked as all hell and very apparent when an emotional argument is being made devoid of much intelligent discovery or personally acquired insight.

    above all… live by love. engage your passions and you’ll not need to attack others harmless desires. who forced who to get the $4000 power cord. if your not in the market.. don’t shop it silly.

    snake oil bugs me too but cripes guys, the “as seen on tv” people are gonna hear from me if it’s the last thing i do. and i’ll never get around to it because i’m enrapt in some amazing things that most people can’t appreciate, understand or believe. pseudo-science is pure story. science science is as much a story albeit non-fictional.

    nevermind. you’ll never get it. until you do.. about something, which i’m sure you already do and are justified to do so but some half-knowing specialist with nothing absolutely magnifiscent to do is going to come and jump down your throat because they’re a specialist at coming across as a specialist.

    i think i hear the end of the record. but for the record it’s about the music. i’m not an audiophile. i’m a mean green mutha from outer space and i’m bad.

    goodness in- goodness out

  34. nixiebunny says:

    I just had to see what the guy was talking about when he mentioned the $4000 AC power cables. There was some discussion of water filters, so I figured it was more than a cable. I was right…


    is a $4000 AC cable. You will notice two things about it:

    1. It’s probably got a filter inside that big metal box.

    2. It’s designed as a fetish object, not as a utilitarian product.

    I work on helium-cooled radiotelescope receivers, which are built with absolute attention to performance, since they need to detect every last photon that arrives at the antenna. This AC cable gizmo is built with more attention to visible detail than our receivers.

    So the point that the Fremer guy is making is that one can get better sound by spending more money on an audio system. Unfortunately, the audiophile equipment providers have taken this to heart by making the stuff cost 30 times as much as it needs to cost!

    Fremer lives in a rarified world of people who think it’s reasonable to spend $4000 on an AC power line filter.

    I wonder if he considers the polishing job on the AC filter unit to add to the warmth of the sound.

    I’m still convinced that it’s snake oil.

  35. Anonymous says:

    I first saw Citizen Kane on a 17 inch television and it moved me. I first heard the White Album on a tape someone made for me, and it moved me.
    Also: why am I the first to say this: tl;dr?

  36. Rob Beschizza says:

    “2. It’s designed as a fetish object, not as a utilitarian product. ”

    I think that’s really it. I’ve been trying to rationalize the AC cables thing in my head, but its only job is to make sure that what hits the far end is nice clean 110v 13A juice, right? It can’t even add tasty impurities the way an amp or a water filter might!

  37. Rob Beschizza says:

    Also, here’s a comment from Michael (replying to Pork M) who’s having trouble with our horrible new log-in system.

    Well I if the best you can do is correct my mistaken belief you were a recording engineer, I happily stand corrected. Of course audiophiles use scientific approaches to improve what they listen to.

    That’s one reason Stereophile measures the equipment it reviews. The measurements are done after the review is handed in so the observational part, which is what the reviewers do, can be “measured” against the measurements.

    Audio is about LISTENING and measuring. Science and measurements are only part of the picture. Audiophiles lead around by the test instruments often end up with the same sorry results obtained by audiophiles who are complete “subjectivists.”
    I was lead down that “measurement” double blind path in the 1970s and if it’s not tempered with listening it leads to poor results.

    I can cite you numerous examples of where the observational reviews were actually more accurate than the measurements because of how the measurements were carried out. In the end, while human beings can be fooled, no measurement device can match our senses.

    I know that vinyl’s measured performance in some regards can’t match redbook CD, but overall, records still sound more like live music in my opinion and in the opinion of a growing number of music lovers. I don’t care what the measurements say. Not everything is measured anyway. If I don’t enjoy listening to CDs, I’m not going to do so because they “measure” better in some (but not all) ways. Many recording engineers are on my side, many are not. And that’s fine.

    My reviews and those of other Stereophile writers, attempt to specify what he hear without resorting to hyperbole. When I review a loudspeaker I attempt to predict how it will measure in terms of frequency balance. I try to be very specific. I can tell you I have a damn good track record in that respect. I’m not infallible and have made some mistakes as well. As for the ‘danceable’ line, which was an inept descriptor written by a somewhat inexperienced reviewer, do yourself a favor and let go of a stupid line—he was probably talking about “rhythm’n’pace” which is a more accurate way of talking about an audio product’s speed and articulation (which can be a result [measurable] of how the port is tuned in a loudspeaker, for example). People on all sides of a debate can say foolish things—like your comment about audiophiles vs engineers. Your own comment proves it’s a ludicrous (“I know audiophiles who use scientific approaches”) statement since you acknowledge that SOME audiophiles aren’t like astrologers, yet you stand by your broad stroke generalizations. Some of any population are lunatics, yet you insist upon a broad generalization…whatever. If you think being a sound enthusiast is “asinine,” well that’s all well and “danceable” with me.

  38. Michael Fremer says:

    if Porkmusket” thinks writing about inexpensive Monster cables is ‘stupid,’ then how stupid is it to think merely writing what he wrote is sufficient to make any point? Unless his point is that cables can’t possibly make any sonic difference, in which case perhaps he’s not stupid, just ignorant. Go to the WSJ link for instance.

    As for his vinyl comment, that’s just plain idiotic. First of all, who said kids have “awesome” vinyl systems other than Porkmusket?” His comment is the typical “strawman” comment I likened to um….. He’s in denial claiming kids buy records not to play them.

    Kids are buying vinyl to play it. Turntable sales—particularly entry level ones kids buy–are growing. ION sold a million over the past two years. That’s a pretty good number.

    I’ve sold 10,000 copies of my turntable set-up DVD…which amazes me. And it still sells…

    Philip B. writes to distinguish the gear owned by professionals…I know what Roy Halee has and what Rick Rubin owns too. I’m not sure where their gear falls in Philip B.’s continuum but I can tell you that Halee’s turntable costs close to $100K and his speakers even more. They are both worth the money if high performance is the goal. No “snake oil” involved.

  39. mzed says:

    In common internet fashion, so of this debate has rushed to the extremes. Also, it is impossible to make a determination of what sounds “good” — that is subjectively determined by the individual. For example:


    (NB: kids don’t “get it… instantly;” they prefer those MP3. Different generation, different artifacts.)

    I am on Mr. Fremer’s side in wanting to push back against the move towards lower fidelity. However, I think some in the audiophile community push too far. If a certain piece of gear is supposed to change your listening experience, then the difference should be objectively demonstrable.

    I also believe that detailed listing is something that must be learned. After a day at work mixing on Meyer HD-1’s, my home stereo system does not sound the same to me. I would expect somebody in his position to be more sensitive than me to differences in sound reproduction than most people.

    I wish Mr. Fremer would meet me half-way, though, in recognizing that some audiophile gear goes way beyond reasonable claims. The analogy of an AC cable to a water filter is typical of the kind of half-truth perpetrated by this industry. Yes, grid power is dirty and it can effect the quality of your audio. There are real products that can help with that (google: power conditioner) and they are found in every professional studio I have worked in. A three foot cable is not a power conditioner.

    I wish my friends who listen to MP3s through 3″ speakers would develop a bit more sensitivity towards sound. Similarly, I wish my friends who are audiophiles would develop a bit more skepticism. In either case, though, I’m glad that they are listing to music.

  40. Anonymous says:

    One of my closest friends is a tube amp guru, and he once took the time to show me that two of the same but different transistors (from the same bag, from the same factory)in a guitar pedal can make a discernible difference in the sound…and I am not a musician, I do not have a trained ear. Anyone calling an audiophile a snob has not made the effort to listen before pronouncing judgment. Perhaps for those of us born without perfect pitch, there is a point of diminishing return on investment, but without the audiophiles would there have been any improvement in the technology?

  41. Michael Fremer says:

    I am enjoying reading the comments whether or not you agree with me.

    If a guy thinks MP3s are just “fine,” well that’s fine with me. A lot of people like wine in a cardboard box and think The Olive Garden is fine Italian dining. And that’s fine with me too!

    What doesn’t seem fine with some is that others want something better. Yes, “better.”

    The fixation with that $4000 AC cable is ridiculous. Let go of it. However, when a poster says $4000 AC cables are not found in recording studios, just AC filtering devices, he’s wrong.

    The AC cables, made by Shunyata are found (along with their passive AC filtering devices) in many studios…not big ones, mind you, just places, among others, like George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch, where they’re clearly audiophile idiots.

    “The Anaconda PowerSnakes, have transformed our Sonoma system, used during the mastering process for the new 5.1 SACD mix of ‘The Dark Side of The Moon’.”

    — James Guthrie, Grammy award winning Producer/Engineer (Pink Floyd) CLICK FOR MORE INFO

    “We now use the Hydra’s on our Model 2 converters, AES router and main monitor system consisting of B&W 802 speakers and Chord Amps.“

    — Clayton Wood, Senior Engineer: SkyWalker Sound CLICK FOR MORE INFO

    “I could not recommend Shunyata Research products highly enough.”

    — Rick Rubin, Five-time Grammy nominated Record Producer

    “With digital sources it was almost as if we had switched from 44.1k/16 bit to96k/24 bit. We now run all our analogue machines, workstations and the mixing console from the Shunyata equipment.”

    — Andy Jackson, Senior Mastering Engineer: Astoria Studio UK

    “I would highly recommend Shunyata Research products to any professional audio/video facility.”

    — Vlado Meller, Senior Mastering Engineer: Sony Music Studios, New York

    “I can honestly say that Shunyata Power Systems do contribute to a more solid, focused and accurate sonic picture.”

    — Tom Jung, President: Digital Music Products Inc.

    “Shunyata Research’s power distribution products have provided me with an extremely clean and transparent foundation by which I can check test pressings with full confidence.”

    — Steven Epstein, Producer, 12 time Grammy winner

    Look of course a $4000 power cord is ridiculous in a $4000 audio system, as are high performance flat profile tires on a Ford Fusion. But before you dismiss the sonic value of such a cable, you’d need to hear (or NOT hear) such a cable in a $300K system. Again, PLEASE don’t take this to my extreme…however, when someone says he’s happy with a plastic computer speaker and MP3s, that’s taking it to the other extreme.!

    Of course there’s snake oil and overpriced products in audio and in every other field, for that matter. You can buy a perfectly fine car for $25,000 or buy an over the top one for a million. Who’d want that to drive in typical city traffic? But that’s not the point!

    My point is that sound quality has been devalued and denigrated for too long. The pendulum has swung too far in one direction and people are being cheated out of an excellent and valuable experience because of mis-information, cynicism and an obsession with the idiotic end of the audiophile spectrum. However, many of the things assumed “idiotic” like record demagnetization are not! That one, for instance is both audible and measurable and explainable, despite the snide comments from no-nothings who’d rather be dismissive than delve into the subject.

    As for what’s “snake-oil” in audio? Almost all of Bose’s products, which are overpriced and underwhelming sonically. Most of the names Bose invents and trademarks are simply well known design principles used, in many cases, for years, like their “Acoustimass” loading, which is little different than what my parents’ Stromberg Carlson console used to produce bass reinforcement.

    There’s a “device” containing a microchip you put on top of your CD player and it makes it sound better, but only for a limited number of plays. Yea, right. There are many overpriced products, but again, since good audio has been so seriously marginalized, the market is smaller than it once was, so there’s very little mass market high quality audio. There used to be. Therefore, each piece is more expensive, which is unfortunate. That’s one reason I work hard to promote good audio: the more popular it once again becomes, the more that will be produced so the economy of scale can bring prices down.

    Much of what goes on in high performance audio that’s declared “snake oil” isn’t, based on my experience. Much of it does work to change the sound. Whether it’s worth the money to achieve that change is a personal value, which is something else.

    If you don’t think an audio product can be “tuned” to sound a particular way by being placed on various cones, pucks and pieces of wood, well, you haven’t subjected yourself to a demo. Are all the people who hear it being “fooled?” Well you’re entitled to think so but I don’t think they are, nor do people in recording studios who place such devices under tube compressors and tube equalizers and hear pretty big differences that make their way into recordings you probably own.

    My goal is not to turn music lovers into obsessive tweakers. I just want people to enjoy music on something that makes music, not something that produces noise and to a great degree that’s where mainstream listening is at…

    That said, I can also say that an iPod plugged into a docking music system playing even MP3s will sound better than what kids in my dorm in college listened through, which was a Sears Silvertone pull down record changer with flip-out crappy speakers. Those sounded awful! Which is why I tell my anti-iPod audifool friends that they’re crazy! That the iPod is the greatest thing ever to happen for high performance audio. It’s the first step in an upgrade path to a really good audio system…especially since it offers unlimited access to great music. When I sit on an airplane next to a kid with an iPod, I offer to trade to hear what he or she is listening to. I’m amazed that 15 year olds have Miles, and Coltrane and Nat Cole on their iPods and that they love the music.

    I swap out their cheap earbuds for my Shure E-500s ($500) (I bring along extra rubber inserts) and I have created an instant audiophile. They immediately hear how much better those sound than stock earbuds. Why, I bet some of the doubters here might (I said might) as well!

  42. Brutta Figura says:

    I would like to address the lack of knowledge on the part of the naysayers to audible differences in audio equipment. The “gold standard” of a listening test is not an A/B comparison or necessarily a blinded test (btw, there are many ways to design a blinded study). The A/B test is a remnant since the dawn of audio and I have been an audiophile since the early 1970s.

    There are many rigourous clinical protocols for testing human responses and an A/B test is at best a poorly designed pilot study with a simple crossover design (a blinded test does not by default make it a better study). An A/B test is not more valid than a subjective test. An A/B test does not account for listening time, magnitude of difference, washout period (time between swtiching), previous history, listening/perception skill, subject variability or even genetics (yes genetics).

    Even the most hardline anti-audiophiles would agree that there are real differences in the human population.

    Unblinded studies can a valid clinical study design; subject to proper protocol design and statistical power. These studies can also be designed to look at detectable audiophile differences (primary and secondary endpoints).

    A clinical study designed to measure a small “subjective” difference in general may require more test subjects than is feasible for audio equipment. My suggestion is to employ “patient enrichment” techniques to limit study size. Given that human listening skills is subject to variation, I suggest that audio employ an adaptive clinical study design where subjects that respond continue further in the study.

    For those out there that say this is skewing the study, adaptive design is used regularly in clinical studies of cancer drug and is supported by rigourous statistical analysis.

    If Mr. Bechizza and others like him truly believe that there are no audible differences, they are free to deploy your hard-earned cash elsewhere. Those that can hear a difference can choose to exercise their rights to buy better sounding equipment. I do no understand the need to expect other to agree of approve of their position(s)as I and other audiophiles are not responsible for your poor toilet training or other unresolved childhood issues.

    The position that an A/B test is the “gold standard” in determining audible difference is equipment is a position taken out of ignorance. Two pieces of equipment that measure the same but sound different to someone need not lead to a personal attack. It is rather arrogant to think that some arbitrary quantitative measurement can capture the complexity of human responses. An open mind will always be needed for human endeavours to improve.

  43. pork musket says:

    I’m saying that calling monster cables “moderately priced” shows out of tune with most of the folks here on boing boing you are. I’m fairly certain most people here would call them overpriced. By the way, I’m not speaking for audio engineers when I say that.

    The implication that vinyl sales are going up because kids are after better sound quality is not substantiated, that’s all I’m saying. Vinyl sales could go up for a variety of reasons. Anyway, nobody called vinyl a dead technology as far as I can tell.

    Anyway, I think I’ve made my point that a reply that reads like a list of why people are stupid is not effective, so I’ll bow out of this conversation now.

  44. Mark H says:

    I am an EE by training, a former hi-fi nut and Stereophile reader, and a skeptic by disposition.

    I am on the fence about a lot of this. I have sat in “the chair” of a top notch stereo system and know how jaw-droppingly good it can sound. The issue is where does one draw the line?

    We did a comparo once on AC cables. There was a definite difference between the $$$ one and the cheap-o computer power cord. However, there was almost as much of a difference between the cheap-o one and another inexpensive but heavy-gauge cord.

    My point is, start with some good engineering, fine. Add varying amounts of fit & finish, a pinch of snake oil, and a large jump in list price and you pass the point of diminishing returns for most people.

  45. czechguy says:

    my 2 cents.

    remember, the final filter on any audio system is the human ear.

    FACT: human ears are all different.

  46. willy the sump pump says:


    i know nothing about cremona italy, but i’m going to assume that it has a history with violin production and with awesome musicians playing those violins. not to say that cremona violins don’t sound amazing, just saying that the reason they are desired by musicians isn’t 100% about the sound, it’s also about the mojo (whether perceived or imagined). the psychological importance of provenance cannot be denied.

  47. ekppp says:

    A good, not so expensive hobby for one with astute ears would be bird watching. Often, experienced birders will identify birds by sound. This kind of listening is dynamic and challenging, demands focus, opens the mind to the perception of infinite beauty, and takes place out of doors. On the flip side, you can still spend sick money on binoculars, if you are so inclined.

  48. Rob Beschizza says:

    Pork, I made a remark about “the telltale hiss of dead technology” that probably qualifies :)

  49. mzed says:

    Also in common internet fashion, I made a typo.

    “…, *some* of this debate has rushed to the extremes.”

  50. dculberson says:

    Michael, thank you for taking the time to reply here. But also please take this advice: you’re not doing yourself any favors by calling people pathetic and sad, even if they called you that first. There’s a term for that type of arguing, and it’s “childish.” All you do is end up at the same level as the person you’re arguing with, and the rest of the people reading end up thinking less of you.

    I know it’s hard to remain dispassionate, especially when some people are impugning what you do for a living, but it’s important. No matter how unreasonable the other party is being, poor conduct on your part reflects poorly on you.

    The meat of your post, though, was very helpful. It seriously did help clarify some things, and now I truly do believe that you can hear specifics that would sound “better” to some people but they wouldn’t be able to point out what. I’ve had a similar experience with cars: my car had a whistle at high speed, but my wife didn’t notice it. I found a missing cowl seal under the hood, and put in a new one. My wife said the car sounded much better but just couldn’t put her finger on why or how. So your point makes sense to me.

    But I take issue with the comparison of a $4000 power cord to a water filter. If you mean a $4000 power conditioner, with some sort of components beyond just wire, then sure it could make a difference. But if you mean a 6′ length of cord with fancy shielding and conductors, then that is more like claiming that a specific $4000 faucet pours better water, despite it being a valve and a length of pipe in a decorative housing. And if Brita filters were $4000 then you can bet your ass that people wouldn’t buy them and would make fun of others that did.

    Many people also lump all audiophiles together. And seriously, there is a completely nutty contingent to the audiophile hobby – just like there is in any hobby. And the people that paint the edges of their CDs green, put their players up on mahogany blocks, and place special stones around their listening room are just plain nuts. Are you claiming they do not exist? Then how do the companies that manufacture those products stay in business? Are the forum posts by them made up in a clever trolling / astroturfing scheme?

    I would very much like to hear a system that you’ve set up. But I think that is unlikely to come to pass any time soon.

  51. peterbruells says:

    The part about wine enthusiast seems to be false. Wine enthusiast certainly get their fair share of ridicule and it has been shown that a lot of the *can* be fooled quite easily.

  52. Kimmo says:

    Nice defence there.

    A couple of points… as Nixiebunny pointed out, utilitarianism takes a back seat to fetishism at this price range. The construction and finish of some of this gear could conceivably amount to a quarter of the price. Which makes a certain amount of sense; that last 0.5% of fidelity is a pretty low priority for most people not rolling in dough, and when you’re not too bothered by dropping thousands of dollars on things you don’t need, the makers of these things can arbitrarily slap another $1000 on the sticker price and it makes you feel like you’ve made a more valuable purchase.

    Not that audiophile gear doesn’t sound significantly better; it’s just that it’s prolly kinda hard to carve a rep as maker of good value gear when your cheapest amp still costs like $1200. I’m guessing there aren’t too many companies in that space, although I seem to recall a few mobs like NAD having such a reputation.

    And the one about the kids getting into vinyl struck me as a bit of a stretch. Sure, some folks are walking the talk about how much cooler and more involving vinyl is despite the inconvenience, but how many of em are just scratching the crap out of their LPs on DJ turntables? I know a couple of DJs, but I don’t know any young vinyl freaks.

  53. Anonymous says:

    I think that the very few public, respected audiophiles like Michael and John A suffer tremendously from the bad rap that all audiophiles get from the general public. I have been reading Stereophile for years and Michaels other outlets, I am an audiophile, I can hear the difference between good, very good, great, and excellent gear and I don’t doubt that there remains a lot of subtleties that I cannot hear. I am also an engineer by trade and that makes me a skeptic, but despite that, I have a lot of expensive audio gear.

    The problem with audiophiles in general however is that the true audiophiles don’t do enough to discredit the snake oil that is out there. They allow the nutcases to hide behind the alter of the golden ear. By allowing these people to claim that they can hear something that clearly is BS (wood volume knobs anyone), they discredit their own industry. By not actively squashing the utter crap out of the crap thats out there, very few people can make sense of what is and what isn’t true audiophile quality.

    Michael, you and John, and the rest really need to address this probolem before its too late. And there is a ‘too late’ question here. Its not about gear, its about content. At some point it will simply not be in the interest of music content owners to create, market, and sell anything that can be considered remotely high quality. yes there will always be some content out there but it will be reduced to the far corners of everyones musical tastes, essentially creating a 5 album problem for everyone, and then it will be too late. Seriously, you guys need to do a better job marketing audio, and what it could mean for everyone to have access to this artform in its most reasonably accessible, most pure form. Go to apple, go to Microsoft, get out of your listening room and from behind the editors desk and go start promoting audio with the people that matter, before its too late.

  54. Anonymous says:

    I am truly amazed at the ignorance of some people. And the ignorance level goes hand in hand with hate and spite. Have you ever met a “white trash” person who was kind and understanding? Michael, why do you let it bother you? There is a type of people out there that, if you show them something good and pure, they immediately have to tear it apart… Or could it be just jealousy?

  55. Branfeast says:


    Also, heavy handed N-Word referencing. Eep.

  56. Anonymous says:

    The vitriol is because audiophiles and their big imaginations cause the (dying) industry to focus on non-improvements.

    Given that real improvements are possible and needed (most speakers are poor, 2-channel and 5.1-channel reproduction don’t really re-create the original sound field) it’s tragic that the industry is led down the blind alley of 2-channel vinyl replay.

    Make no mistake why it is this way: the _real_ problems of audio need real engineering to fix them. You need competence and skill to design speakers properly, or to record and replay a fully immersive sound field – whereas anyone can build snake oil products – especially the advertisers in the magazine that employs Michael.


  57. pork musket says:

    @Rob – Yeah I just caught that, didn’t realize it was referring to a line in the Gizmodo article. My apologies.

    Polemic vitriol aside, I do enjoy vinyl and don’t think it’s going anywhere. It’s gone beyond a media format and is now a piece of an instrument with a sound and style to match.

    I’m all about fighting the lossy codecs and lack of dynamic range. The trick is in finding a way to do these things without putting people on the defensive.

  58. Anonymous says:

    People, do yourselves a favor. Go to your local hifi shop and listen to the stuff they sell. Listen to power cables, conditioners, wood blocks, whatever. Then talk all you want about snake oil.

    Not saying there isn’t snake oil out there, just saying check it out for yourselves before you dismiss products on ‘principle’. I mean come on people, we are living in a big circle in the middle of no where, but you are sure ac cables can’t make a difference in a hi-end system.

  59. ekppp says:

    I have a good stereo I bought in 1987 and 1988. It has a record player, and it sounds pretty good.

    My wife and I merged our record collections, and compared her all-analog “Let it Bleed” with my LP made from digitized master tapes. Her’s sounded better, with more hiss, but also with warmer, fuller sounds (I know, but it sounded that way, to both of us).

    The problem is, Hobbes is right: it is never going to sound as good as the clarinet. Also, when you play a record, you are choosing an experience, as opposed to listening to either live music or music on the radio, where you are exploring something new. To get the music I love to sound fresh, I have to hear it in a different way, or listen to new music. There’s no upside in better equipment for me.

    One thing I know, though, MP3’s sound bad.

  60. Anonymous says:

    What I don’t understand is why so many comments here and on many other sites are so vitriolic. To audiophiles, regardless of budget, chasing a better sound from their equipment is just a hobby. My speakers and amp didn’t cost a fortune and are over 20 years old, but by spending around $500 on some new power cables, interconnects and speaker cables they sound better than ever. If the cynics think it’s all “snake oil” and don’t believe me, or think I have been conned by a salesman, fine, I really don’t mind. The point is, I think it sounds better. Come on guys, lighten up.

  61. chroma says:

    Question for Michael Fremer:

    What products or practices do you consider to be audio snake oil? Is there anything that people spend real money on that doesn’t make a bit of difference to the sound?

  62. KeithIrwin says:

    @21 You think that laserdiscs were analog? Have you never looked at one? They’re like CDs but larger. They had digital video and digital audio. If you want analog video and audio on twelve inch discs, then you have to go with RCA’s SelectaVision CEDs.

  63. M says:

    This piece reminds me of my field, violin making. People, including other makers, with limited experience with fine old instruments maintain their superiority is an illusion. Still, the players who need a good instrument very consistently prefer an old violin, preferably from 1700 or so, made in Cremona, Italy, to a new one. The contrarians point to the two or three players who play new instruments as being the only ones who know what’s REALLY what. They’re wrong, but you can’t tell them that: their ears are already sealed shut.

  64. Gainclone says:

    Heheh… balls…

  65. echolocate chocolate says:

    Like in any pursuit, there are passionate enthusiasts who get a little carried away, and there are poseurs who use all the jargon but don’t know what they’re talking about. Again, with the car analogy, the people who buy expensive tyres because they improve traction in specific situations, versus those who slap a spoiler on the back of their front-wheel-drive car for “downforce”.

    re power cables, I could see how a cheaper one with dodgy shielding might cause 50/60Hz hum in poorly shielded components… but we’re not talking about cheap equipment here.

  66. Johnny says:

    Fremer you are the idiot and imbecile and a well paid one at Stereophile it seems. John A used to have my respect somewhat until I read his rants at hydrogenaudio.org in the link Andy O provided. You both have way too much money and free time on your hands it seems. Try going back to school and learning some physics.

  67. chris357 says:

    in my home theater I have experienced one of the biggest improvements in sound just from upgrading my power cables. but its proportionate I spent a couple hundred not thousands. in the over all sceme a few hundred was pretty inexpensive compared to the rest of my system.

    I have some pretty decent quality equipment and some stuff that I consider average. I upgrade as I can afford it and have bought beyond my budget because I buy used.. yes even power cables the upgrade chain is a great thing..

    sometimes I try things that may be snake oil.. I make a choice to try it and if it does not make a difference then my bad.. I can sell it or maybe return it.. and no harm no faul.

    I just go by my own ear.. i’m not a sound engineer or a highly trained individual.

    i also think that they guy with the clarinet has missed the point.. audiophiles know all to well that we dont have the live band in front of us.. but the goal is to get as close as we can to the real experience and I blieve with the right sound system and set up (not always expensive) you get real close and WOW is it fun and a pleasure to listen to.

  68. Anonymous says:

    I am as yet unaware of any properly conducted, double blind, ABX study in which any person has ever been capable of reliably (as opposed to through random chance) discerning a difference in the audio properties of different speaker cables or power cables.

    There was a test in which several people where unable to tell the difference between Monster speaker cable and a series of coat hangers soldered together.
    Here we go:

    Considering the well known and well documented fallibility of human perception, and the ability of the human brain to heavily process inputs, it is not at all surprising that people are capable of convincing themselves that they hear a difference which is not, objectively speaking, there.

    None of this means that a high quality audio equipment doesn’t make a difference. But seriously. Buy generic speaker cable in bulk. Spend the difference on your speakers and room treatment.

  69. jitrobug says:

    I was going to make this comment the first time around, but the thread seemed dead and I moved on..

    A little bit ago a friend of mine who plays classical music professionally needed to rehearse for an audition, so he came over and played some clarinet in front of me, so he couldn’t cheat and start over.

    I went through an mild audiophile stage long ago, I have stuff from Rotel & B&W, but I would never go above that, and I’m not sure I’d care about the difference anymore with new stuff. I understand the hobby of listening intently with your eyes closed..

    Anyway, so when my friend was playing, it occurred to me that by definition, no stereo I could buy would ever sound as good in my living room as an actual clarinet.

    It made audiophilia seem silly and beside the point.

  70. strider_mt2k says:

    When I was a kid I would play the CRAP out of my brother’s albums.

    It was all well and good until that fateful day that he pointed out all the scratches in the background.
    I simply hadn’t paid any attention to them until then, and I might not to this day had he not pointed them out.

    Thanks for nothing, Jim. :p

    My point is that all I heard was the music when left to my own, uh…devices.

  71. haineux says:

    There’s a saying on http://www.head-fi.org/ — “Welcome to Head-Fi, sorry about your wallet.”

    The point is that if you go to a Head-Fi meetup, and listen to the fancy audio gear, even if you are a tin-eared cheapskate, you inevitably have the kind of reaction that Mr Fremer outlines — “Wow, there’s someone playing a dobro off in the corner — I never heard that before.”

    And you end up spending a lot of money on audio stuff.

    And you are very happy re-listening to your music, discovering new dimensions.

    It’s extremely common. And that’s why it’s a slogan.

    Now, can YOU justify spending $100 to have your headphone cables dipped in liquid nitrogen, or your speakers mounted on mpingo wood spikes? I can’t, or rather, I won’t. “There but for the grace of God go I.”

    I spent about $1000 on some headphones, an amp, and a DAC, and I’ve had hundreds of “oh my goodness” moments. So that’s a few dollars per moment.

    I’ve had food that was “oh my goodness” — the headphones last longer, and are comparatively cheaper.

    But you have to be a grown up and decide for yourself.

    Grown ups typically don’t make fun of each others. Except, maybe, for furries and people who spend $10,000 on an AC power cable.

  72. Al Bellg says:

    Don’t think these sonic differences exist? It’s not about how much something costs, it’s about how it’s designed. Check it out yourself. Get some cheap solid copper 2-conductor house wiring cable at Home Depot and substitute it for your multistranded Radio Shack speaker wire. Listen to the difference. Put some pieces of hard maple under your CD player and see if there’s a difference in how it sounds. Then try some oak. Or some pieces of acrylic. And so on.

    Once you’ve heard what such simple and low-cost modifications can do, might you then allow that people who spend their careers optimizing such changes might actually be doing something worth hearing?

    This isn’t a philosophical question. It’s an empirical one. When you hear the difference, you’ll know what Fremer is talking about.

  73. Anonymous says:

    This was a good reminder why why I got left the land of audiophiles. While Mr Fremmer has evidence to support his case, most of the other drivel written here are so many unsupported opinions.

    I am so tired of the people who live by the credo that anyone who spent less than me, just doesn’t know any better, and whoever spent more than me is the most ignorant tin-eared fool who ever lived in the history of the entire world!!!

    Just because you can’t hear something doesn’t mean it’s not there! I have friends with systems in the six figure range that sound awful to me, not because they can’t hear, but because they prefer different things than me. I have other friends in the same price range that have systems that sound fantastic. Each of them can justify their investments, and are completely happy with what they own.

    I refrain from making comments that would be insulting to some of the posters here, but they really do deserve to be insulted!

    Nate Kern

  74. Michael Fremer says:

    Yes I am well paid. Not only that, but the two DVDs I produced have sold and continue to sell well all around the world and they are making me a nice amount of money, so I can continue buying all of the “bogus” products advertised in Stereophile that are also purchased by folks a lot smarter, richer, and probably far more accomplished in their fields than are you in yours, whatever it is that you do.

    People love the DVDs and find them very useful and technically correct. And apparently that must bug you. I have no need to go back to school to learn physics, since the physics I need to know regarding analog playback, I know quite well.

    My comment to the imbecile claiming that Stereophile advertisers aren’t “real” engineers. I really don’t care what that guy calls me or what you call me but after reading his imbecilic comment I started thinking about some of the advertisers he’s libeled. Like EveAnna Manley who runs Manley Labs. Now EveAnna has a degree in Electrical Engineering from Columbia University so I suppose we can agree she’s qualified to solve real engineering problems and that “snake oil” is not her stock in trade. She and her engineering team build electronics for “audiofools” like me and she builds extremely well respected studio gear you’ll find in the finest studios world wide. So when this putz writes about the advertisers in Stereophile not being qualified to solve real engineering problems, you’ll pardon me for responding lest the most gullible Boing Boing readers get the wrong impression. However as someone posted here, why waste your time responding to imbeciles? So, buh bye!

  75. therevengor says:

    This post was the “Stairway to Heaven” of complaining about commentors.

  76. Viadd says:

    The WSJ link, used to support the audiophile claim, is especially enlightening. In a double blind test, the flogger of a $2800 power conditioner picked the cheap power cord once and his cash cow twice. You can’t get more random than that.

    24 out of 39 picked the $2000 Monster cables over zip cord, which has a probability level by chance of 10%.

    Most people picked the iPod over the $3000 CD player for uncompressed audio, but only at a level indistinguishable from chance.

    If that is the most favorable example of a double-blind test he could come up with, then the point is made.

  77. Anonymous says:

    Us kids are buying vinyl for scratching & calling, homes.

  78. chroma says:

    I’m glad Mr. Fremer was able to respond to my question. His responses were very helpful, definitely the sort of advise I was looking for.

    I will definitely agree that the amplified sound can be modified by various pieces of wood placed in the environment. I should think that this would be obvious. The problem I see, though, is that just about anything, including 2x4s from Home Depot, would have a similar effect. So it is pointless to spend money on “audiophile grade wood” in order to “improve” the sound. Also, I can guarantee that the musicians and producers don’t expect people to have a particular setup for listening, and thus the best you can say is that the music will sound different with these sorts of things.

    For me, convenience makes a good listening experience. I’d rather hit a button and hear some good music playing rather then spend time fiddling with my stereo or managing vinyl LPs. Less frustration leads to a better perception of the music.

  79. Anonymous says:

    “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and rend you” (Matt. 7:6).

  80. Anonymous says:

    You appear to be presenting a false dichotomy.

    The people who disagree with you, Michael, are not saying that everyone should listen to cruddy mp3s on cheesy plastic speakers.

    It’s obvious that someone would hear an awe-inspiring difference between the earbuds that come bundled with their iPod and In Ear Monitors.
    The mechanism of higher fidelity is well understood and explained by solid physical and psycho-acoustic principles.

    Large, heavy, speakers with high quality components. Room treatments. Massive amplifiers constructed with minimal tolerances. A ferro-resonant line conditioner to feed it power. Active cross-overs and bi/tri-amplification. These are all expensive and, moreover, USEFUL additions to a stereo system.
    A fetishistic attention to build-quality and stylish design is also something I desire in my equipment.

    I’ve spent a significant amount of my time, money, and energy on this stereo system. But the cables connecting it all together came from monoprice.com, and I certainly will not be spending an iota more on power cables or speaker lines (or little wooden stands, or “quantum molecular disks” or etc) until I see sound, reliable data that it will make the slightest difference to my audio reproduction.

    No matter how many anecdotes you have, that doesn’t constitute evidence. Being wrong en masse does not make a group any less wrong.

  81. Vincent G. says:

    I don’t understand the mob mentality against audiophiles. I often pick up a copy of Stereophile to read about the new toys and audio technologies. Many a times I giggle and titter, or even shake my head wondering whether Stereophile’s target market are the fabulously affluent, older white men. Upon finishing each magazine, I glean many pertinent tips from many articles that are relevant to my own personal quest of audio nirvana.

    So why is everyone here so quick to lynch Fremer, Mahoney, or any audiophile (or enthusiast, if the word “audiophile” is not palatable to any of you)? No one is taking a gun to your head, and telling you to purchase a turntable or this retarded 4K power cable that everyone is flogging to death.

    And yes Virgina, interconnects and power cables do indeed make a difference. Don’t take my word for it, go to an audio store and ask the owner to lend you a cable or an interconnect for a home audition. If you don’t trust the word of an “audiophile”, surely you’ll at least trust your own ears?

    I doubt very much that I’ll ever be able to enjoy the quality of Fremer’s gear and remain married. I still agree with his main point that it’s not about the gear, but about the love of music. My turntable, interconnects (made from woven unicorn hair), wooden blocks (whatever…) shouldn’t take away from the pleasure that you derive from your ipods or mp3/flac file servers, right?

    Best Regards,


  82. chroma says:

    By the way, “I could not recommend X highly enough” means the same as “I could not recommend X”.

  83. M says:

    #52, and everyone else for that matter, would do well to remember that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Repeating back to my field, violins, what everyone doesn’t see on the instrumentation is still very widely recognized by players hearing the instruments, and every year some of it becomes revealed visible on instrumentation. That doesn’t, however, mean it didn’t exist before some lab drone showed it was there. If you limit yourself to what your instrumentation tells you, it’s a very thin world.

  84. Spanimal says:

    I was going to give up the audio crap because it was full of metrosexual type super softies (all internet nerds?) that keep banning me from audio forums.

    I don’t believe that these wire supports make a difference – I have never been able to differentiate between digital cables – they all sound the same to me – I must be correct and others are tripping.

    Until I just read the original article with Michael Fremer and the converted sceptic. I saw pictures of these cable lifters – the stuff that won’t make any meaningful differences – and I saw pictures of Micael Fremer.

    I study faces and my analysis of faces and psychology – This mans face is not of a liar or fool. It is intelligent with reason and very artistic. Upon reading the article I now believe that there are “snake oil” devices that either my hearing or my equipment cannot reveal to me as geniune enhancements. All I know is that Michael has a character that knows what he is talking about – an honest character by nature. The photo’s are all the evidence I need.

    Thankyou Michael for demonstrating to me that not all audio enthusiasts are a bunch of morons.

    administrators can ban me now.

  85. Jeff G says:

    NONE of the naysayers here will EVER know what the hell you are talking about, until you get off yr butts and go and listen to a real high-performance system, analog or digitally sourced. Period. Dont act like YOU know what you are talking about, ’cause none of you have any experience LISTENING to a high-performance audio system. IGNORANCE governs your judgments, NOT KNOWLEDGE.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution. Boing Boing is a trademark of Happy Mutants LLC in the United States and other countries.

FM Tech