A Brief Guide to Audio for the Skeptical Consumer


…Or What I Wish I’d Known Before Ever Setting Foot in a Hi-fi Store

The following is my attempt to succinctly describe what audio skeptics believe about basic issues related to sound quality and consumer audio equipment. This may seem inconsequential to some, but then again music itself may seem inconsequential to some. Rather than focus on my own opinions—which matter little—I am trying to objectively describe what knowledgeable audio professionals and engineers of a skeptical—or just plain scientific—mindset believe about these issues.

I’ve come to understand that much of what is purported as truth in the audio industry is as objectively false as the alleged facts used to peddle most vitamins, new age mysticism, and cuckoo conspiracy theories. I find it baffling how much useless information there is online about audio issues, much of it written by professional writers or even recording engineers. (To paraphrase audio expert Ethan Winer, being a recording engineer is nothing like being virtually any other kinds of engineer, who might be responsible for, say, designing an airplane to carry hundreds of people over an ocean. Perfectly competent recording engineers often possess a minimal amount of education and may be wholly ignorant of the deeper science involved with what they do.)

To me, an “audio skeptic” is roughly synonymous with an “audio objectivist.” An “audio objectivist” believes that controlled experiment (e.g. double blind) offers the only effective method for getting around confirmation bias (similar to the placebo effect). This understanding can create doubt about most of what is written about audio products even by professionals. Unfortunately, it can also make one come across as rather arrogant, especially when interacting with individuals who adamantly insist that upgrading to an exotic brand of audio cable did, well, anything at all. Skeptics tend to favor legitimate science—with published studies and peer review—and distrust junk science. Skeptics debunk—sometimes gleefully—and in the audio world, there’s no shortage of easy targets. (Here and here are overviews of the subjectivist vs. objectivist holy war. Here and here are lists of double blind audio tests.)

But dude, how are a bunch of eggheads going to tell ME what sounds good to MY ears? This is a valid point, and of course everyone has preferences about what sounds good, and there are many areas where experts vehemently disagree. However, the assertions made here have nothing to do with preferences. No one legitimately prefers the sound of a one speaker cable to another, because barring some gross defect, those cables do not have their own sonic signature. The harsh truth is that when someone pays thousands of dollars for a speaker cable and then hears an “obvious” sonic improvement, they are deluding themselves, which can be easily demonstrated under bias controlled conditions and also deduced using the laws of physics.

My audience is someone like myself a few years ago first getting into this stuff and ignorant about all issues or controversies related to audio. I’d long ago worked out how I felt about homeopathy or astrology, but I was clueless at how skepticism might relate to audio issues. Perhaps if I’d read something like this it would have prevented a few expensive detours.

Again, these ideas don’t come from me. I am attempting to distill what the majority of credible professionals think about audio issues. I believe that most individuals of a skeptical mindset who get into this stuff will come to all the following conclusions:

1. Exotic cables, interconnects, or power cords don’t make your system sound better. Not even a little bit. And bi-wiring simply doesn’t make sense.

  • “Seven different songs were played, each time heard with the speaker hooked up to Monster Cables, and the other time, hooked up to coat hanger wire. Nobody could determine which was the Monster Cable and which was the coat hanger.”Do Coat Hangers Sound As Good Monster Cables? @ Cosumerist
  • “We will find that every topic Pear claims is important to cable design has been debunked as nonexistent, inaudible, or insignificant at audio frequencies. Coupled with the fact that exotic cable designs are not used by the professional broadcast and recording studios that produce the recordings in the first place, this non-issue of cables is further diminished in significance.”Pear Cable Redux: How to Combat Scam with Science @ Audioholics
  • “When confronted with the truth, believers do not want to hear about it. They want to remain in the magical world of fantasy where they think they can hear improvements in their wire, often arrived at by making listening tests without adequate controls or understanding of the problems involved including speaker impedance and amplifier stability.”Speaker Wire: A History by Roger Russell
  • “To justify claims of enhanced audio quality, many marketers of high-end speaker cables cite electrical properties such as skin effect, characteristic impedance or resonance; properties which are generally little understood by consumers. None of these have any measurable effect at audio frequencies.”Speaker Wire @ Wikipedia
  • In summary, I can say with assurance that sonic differences between speaker wire exist in the mind of the listener, not in the ‘sound’ of the cable.” – Wired Wisdom by Tom Nousaine

2. It is unlikely that expensive CD players or DACs improve sound quality. Many of the claims these manufacturers make do not stand up to scientific scrutiny.

  • “Some audiophile manufactures making jitter reduction claims are likely just touting the features built into whatever chip(s) they’re using and going off the datasheet for the part(s). Some, I know for a fact, don’t even have equipment to even properly measure jitter.”Jitter Does it Matter? @ NwAvGuy
  • “Virtually all of the after-market tweaks and expensive mods are aimed at wealthy gullible audiophiles who are easily persuaded to part with their money. Of course, lacking any proper blind A/B comparisons, if they’ve paid lots, they’ll hear a difference.”Does Digital Jitter Matter? @ eCoustics
  • “Every low-distortion electronic signal path sounds like every other. The equipment reviewers who hear differences in soundstaging, front-to-back depth, image height, separation of instruments, etc., etc., between this and that preamplifier, CD player, or power amplifier are totally delusional. Such differences belong strictly to the domain of loudspeakers.”Electronic Signal Paths Do Not Have a Personality! @ The Audio Critic

3. Under normal conditions, virtually all audio amplifiers/receivers sound the same (sans EQ). They do not have their own sonic signature that must be carefully paired with speakers.

  • “They may sound different if they are used at high volume levels as they approach the limits of their output ratings, when the amplifiers’ distortion is rising and nearing the clipping point. However, if two different transistor amplifiers have the same smooth, linear frequency response, low distortion, and are operated within their output ratings, then they will tend to sound identical until they are called upon to produce great quantities of clean, unclipped power.”10 Things about Audio Amplifiers You’ve Always Wanted to Know @ Audioholics
  • “Then I started to hear about some convincing blind tests and finally conducted my own. I was stunned at the results. I couldn’t tell a $300 amp from a $3000 in the store I was working at. Neither could anyone else who worked there. It was a major blow to my audio belief system.”Blind Listening Tests & Amplifiers @ DIY Audio forums
  • “His challenge is an offer of $10,000 of his own money to anyone who could identify which of two amplifiers was which, by listening only, under a set of rules that he conceived to make sure they both measure ‘good enough’ and are set up the same. Reports are that thousands of people have taken the test, and none has passed the test. Nobody has been able to show an audible difference between two amps under the test rules.”Richard Clark $10,000 Amplifier Challenge FAQ by Tom Morrow
  • “Any amplifier, regardless of topology, can be treated as a ‘black box’ for the purpose of listening comparisons. If amplifiers A and B both have flat frequency response, low noise floor, reasonably low distortion, high input impedance, low output impedance, and are not clipped, they will be indistinguishable in sound at matched levels no matter what’s inside them.” – Obsession with Amplifiers @ The Audio Critic
  • “The loudspeaker will determine how your music system sounds. Not the amplifier, not the preamplifier, not the CD or DVD player, nothing but the loudspeaker. Speakers, even the finest, are far less accurate in terms of output compared to input than any of those other components. The speaker will be invariably the weakest link in the chain, the link that limits the quality of sound reproduction.”A Note About Loudspeakers @ The Audio Critic
  • “But for now, the evidence would seem to suggest that distinctive amplifier sounds, if they exist at all, are so minute that they form a poor basis for choosing one amplifier over another. Certainly there are still differences between amps, but we are unlikely to hear them.” – Do All Amplifiers Sound the Same? @ Stereo Review
  • “No one has ever produced a scientifically controlled listening test showing that well-designed amplifiers (flat frequency response, no clipping), preamplifiers, integrated circuits, and speaker wires (16-guage and bigger) have the slightest effect on the sound being produced.” – Can You Trust Your Ears? by Tom Nousaine
  • “An apparently insurmountable objection to the existence of non-measurable amplifier quirks is that recorded sound of almost any pedigree has passed through a complex mixing console at least once; prominent parts like vocals or lead guitar will almost certainly have passed through at least twice, once for recording and once at mix-down. More significantly, it must have passed through the potential quality-bottleneck of an analogue tape machine or more likely the A-D converters of digital equipment. In its long path from here to ear the audio passes through at least a hundred op-amps, dozens of connectors and several hundred meters of ordinary screened cable. If mystical degradations can occur, it defies reason to insist that those introduced by the last 1% of the path are the critical ones.” Science and Subjectivism in Audio by Douglas Self
  • “Now that I have mentioned these various types of distortion, I think it’s safe to say a well designed amplifier will reduce these effects to the point of inaudibility. Because of this, and because of the conclusions from blind listening tests, it’s not clear why some people hear differences in how amplifiers sound.” Amplifier FAQ @ AVSForum

4. “Burn in” factor—the idea that speakers or electronics sound better after X hours of use—is likely a delusion.

  • “In this article we’ll look at a typical electrodynamic driver’s operation as seen largely from the mechanical side, with a view to assessing the validity of various claims frequently made regarding driver break in. We’ll also see why it’s in a manufacturer’s best interest to ensure their products are broken in long before leaving the factory warehouse and how that bears on subsequent attempts at burning a driver in.”Speaker Break In: Fact or Fiction? @ Audioholics
  • “Our audio memory is notoriously short, and it is simply impossible to hear a change that takes weeks to occur. What really happens is that we become ‘acclimatised’ to the sound – there is rarely any significant change at all. This is doubly true of cables – there isn’t any reason whatsoever to break-in an interconnect or speaker cable, because they don’t change enough to create a measurable change, let alone one that’s audible.” Audio Myths by Rod Elliott

5. Expensive vacuum tube electronics may add “character” (i.e. distortion) to your system, but if clarity (less distortion) and reliability is what you’re after, stick with transistors.

  • “As a general rule, tubes for mainstream audio folks are not inherently bad (though perhaps a bit high-maintenance). However, while tubes are very popular in guitar and other instrument amplifiers due to their unique sound (even-harmonic distortion resulting from asymmetric soft clipping), they are unnecessary in playback amplifiers. Skeptics of tube amplifiers argue that audiophiles prefer the inherent distortion provided in the antiquated technology while paradoxically claiming the sound is purer and more perfect.”Audio Woo @ Rational Wiki
  • “Even if you prefer the sound of tubes, please understand they simply cannot restore any quality that was lost earlier in the recording process. All a tube preamp can do is add an effect that you may find pleasing. Studio monitor amplifiers should never have a “sound;” if they do, they are in error. Tube circuits can affect the sound in a way that is similar to analog tape recorders, and you may in fact find that pleasing.”Dispelling Popular Audio Myths by Ethan Winer
  • “Purely audio considerations aside, many audiophiles prefer the aesthetics of a ‘warm,’ artistically designed (perhaps handcrafted) amplifier over the usual ‘high-tech’ appearance of most solid-state amplifiers. And many of us enjoy the ‘legacy’ feel of the equipment setup when operating vacuum tubes are visible. These are valid reasons to buy hollow-state equipment, if it appeals to you.”Differences in Amp Sound: What’s the Truth? @ audioeXpress

6. The look and feel of CDs or computers can’t compete with vinyl, which can sound amazing for what it is. But there is no music lost “between the bits.” High quality digital formats are sonically superior to vinyl in every measurable way.

  • There is no technical proof of the sonic superiority of the vinyl medium compared to CD. One vinyl record may sound better than its equivalent CD for extremely specific reasons. That does not mean the medium as a whole is superior…. There is nothing wrong with preferring vinyl to CDs, as long as the preference is honestly stated on emotional terms, or is precisely quantified and tied to subjective experience, and not obscured with (fallacious) technical appeals.”Myths (Vinyl) @ Hydrogen Audio Wiki
  • “The most ludicrous manifestation of the anti-digital fallacy is the preference for the obsolete LP over the CD. Not the analog master tape over the digital master tape, which remains a semi- respectable controversy, but the clicks, crackles and pops of the vinyl over the digital data bits’ background silence, which is a perverse rejection of reality.”10 Biggest Lies in Audio @ The Audio Critic
  • “I grew up listening to records up until about ’85, when the CD was already out. And I was involved in testing loudspeakers up at the National Research Council in Canada…. It was quite apparent that the amount of distortion coming out of these devices was very high compared to CD. So what we found was that vinyl was a limiting factor in our ability to do accurate and reliable listening tests on loudspeakers.”Why Vinyl Sounds Better Than CD, Or Not @ Talk of the Nation / Science Friday
  • “There’s no question that LPs and tubes sound different from CDs and solid state gear. But are they better? Not in any way you could possibly measure. Common to both is much higher distortion; LPs in particular have more inherent noise and a poorer high frequency response, especially when playing the inner grooves. I’m convinced that some people prefer tubes and vinyl because the subtle distortion they add sounds pleasing to them…. But clearly this is an effect, not higher fidelity.” – Audiophoolery by Ethan Winer
  • Hey, if you prefer the sound of vinyl that’s great. However that subjective judgment shouldn’t be confused with the objective facts, which show that CD/digital does a far more accurate job of reproducing the original musical signal.”Vinyl vs. CD myths refuse to die @ Electrical Engineering Times
  • I’d wager that there is not one single recording engineer at the peak of his powers in the late 50s who would not have sold his very soul to the devil at that time to get his hands on digital technology. He, and the performers, would have struggled against the chronic limitations of the technology, and we today would have a far richer and more faithful legacy had we jumped directly from 78 shellac to digital. And now those great artistes have departed the stage, and all we have is a shadow of their magnificence.” – Vinyl vs. CD – Harbeth’s owner Alan A. Shaw Compares @ YouTube
  • “Of vinyl’s inherent deficiencies, reproducing bass is one of its most glaring. The other is that the last track on each side of a record sounds worse than the first, due to the fact that the player’s stylus covers fewer inches of grooves per second as it gets closer to the center.” – Why CDs May Actually Sound Better Than Vinyl @ LA Weekly
  • “But here’s the reason why the entire debate is stupid: whether the music is stored on vinyl or a CD is just not that important a part of the overall system. It’s like deciding which of two different cars is best by comparing their spark plug wires. There are many, many variables in the process of playing recorded music that noticeably affect the sound, from the microphones, to the mixing, to the mastering, to the quality of the playback hardware, the amplifier, and (far and away most important) the quality of the speakers and characteristics of the listening room; whether the recording was vinyl or CD is simply not one of these important variables, with apologies to the zealots.”Are Vinyl Recordings Better than Digital? @ Skeptoid
  • “CDs reflect exactly what the artists recorded in the studio. Vinyl distorts it. Some listeners honestly feel that the defects vinyl introduces somehow make it more attractive or ‘warmer.’ But from any objective standpoint, there’s no justification in calling the sound of vinyl records ‘better.” – Does Music Sound Better on Vinyl or CD? @ Phys.org

7. “Audiophile” hi-res audio formats are not likely to offer audible improvements over compact disc 16 bit/44.1 kHz quality.

  • “Why push back against 24/192? Because it’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, a business model based on willful ignorance and scamming people. The more that pseudoscience goes unchecked in the world at large, the harder it is for truth to overcome truthiness… even if this is a small and relatively insignificant example.”24/192 Music Downloads (…and why they make no sense) @ xiph.org (See also Monty Mongomery’s superb videos explaining digital audio here.)
  • “The authors report on a series of double-blind tests comparing the analog output of high-resolution players playing high-resolution recordings with the same signal passed through a 16-bit/44.1-kHz “bottleneck.” The tests were conducted for over a year using different systems and a variety of subjects. The systems included expensive professional monitors and one high-end system with electrostatic loudspeakers and expensive components and cables. The subjects included professional recording engineers, students in a university recording program, and dedicated audiophiles. The test results show that the CD-quality A/D/A loop was undetectable at normal-to-loud listening levels, by any of the subjects, on any of the playback systems.” Audibility of a CD-Standard A/DA/A Loop Inserted into High-Resolution Audio Playback @ Audio Engineering Society (full text here)
  • “The Meyer/Moran test is persuasive, but I am open to the idea that some further research may prove it to be not the last word on the transparency of 16/44. Still, I’d expect the audible differences between 16/44 and higher resolutions to be subtle at best, and I am sceptical of any claims otherwise.”Is high-resolution audio (like SACD) audibly better than CD? by Tim Anderson
  • “The CD-quality standard—which Young and HRA proponents say isn’t sufficient—wasn’t adopted randomly. It’s not a number plucked out of thin air. It’s based on sampling theory and the actual limits of human hearing. To the human ear, audio sampled above 44.1 kHz/16-bit is inaudibly different.”  – Don’t Buy What Neil Young is Selling @ Gizmodo
  • “Please note that this is not just a disagreement with the cloud-cuckoo-land tweako audiophiles but also with the highest engineering authorities, such as the formidable J. Robert Stuart of England’s Meridian Audio and others with similar credentials. That the Meyer-Moran tests leave no room for continued disagreements is an occasion for the most delicious Schadenfreude on the part of electronic soundalike advocates like yours truly. I stated my suspicions that SACD was no improvement over CD seven years ago, in my review of the first Sony SACD player.”Proven: Good Old Redbook CD Sounds the Same as the Hi-Rez Formats @ The Audio Critic
  • Much of digital audio comes down to math. You take the sampling rate and divide it by two and that is the highest possible frequency that can be recorded (so 44.1 khz, the standard for CD audio, can go up to 22,000 hz—most adults can hear little above 15,000 hz or so). From the bit depth, you can calculate the theoretical limits of the dynamic range.” – The Myth and Reality of the $43 Download @ Pitchfork
  • “Without going too deeply into the sampling theory behind how they came up with those numbers, suffice it to say that to human ears 44.1/16 audio is mathematically perfect sound reproduction. The frequencies and dynamics that lie beyond might be there—but we cannot hear them.” – What is High-Resolution Audio? @ Gizmodo


See also my article on what DOES make a difference in audio: A Brief Guide to Audio for the Skeptical Consumer: Part II


106 Responses to “A Brief Guide to Audio for the Skeptical Consumer”

  1. 1 Arnold B, Krueger

    good Job

  2. Excellent job – good summaries and good links.

  3. 4 Jay Plesset

    I’ve always maintained that if you can hear a difference, then you should be able to measure it. If you’re not measuring any difference, then you’re not measuring the right thing.

    Conversely, if nobody can hear a difference, then measured differences don’t matter.

    • I like how you put this, Jay. I agree completely.

    • 6 What OP Already Said

      I almost completely disagree. The human ear is biased and fallible. If you can hear a difference, and you don’t measure any differences, it’s more likely you heard wrong.

      • Yes, and to add to the extremely ordinary characteristics of the human ear, the brain is the organ used to analyse audio, and of course if you THINK there should be a difference, you are very likely to hear a difference (that might not be there at all).

        This is the very reason for double blind tests, as it reduces the possibility of brain induced bias. It is not something you can control either – especially when it comes to the subtleties and nuances that audiophiles believe they can detect…

        I have worked in professional broadcasting all my working life, and some of the tripe I read in audio reviews is truly scary.

  4. 8 George

    Amazing. Well researched and compiled. But completely wrong on every point. Other than that, good job. You should probably stick with Bose.

    • Thank you for your comment, George. I look forward to hearing some specifics on what I’m wrong about. I strive to handle being wrong as gracefully as I can. And I’ve never owned (or even considered owning) anything by Bose, so I’m not too sure where you’re going with that.

    • Spent 42 years in broadcasting/ recording, You CAN NOT improve the sound with “expensive” cables. All Recording studios, Broadcast studios, Mixing rooms are wired with Balanced cables. YOU CAN ONLY CHANGE THE SOUND. I.E. THE TONE. Your expensive cables do not improve the sound of the original wiring. Broadcast,Recording, Mixing studios are specified to be: 20hz to 20,000hz with usually s/n @ 125db+ down.I only built and specked. out 4 television studios and 2 recording studios.The JUNK wire “science” is hooey, you can not make it “better” than how it was recorded. regardless of how much you spend.
      All interconnects in my home system are balanced microphone cables. As are ALL Audio cables in ALL studios.
      SAVE YOUR $$$$$$, All you get with them is loading up the wallet of the wire maker.

    • 13 Wayne

      George, what wrong with this blog. Just telling someone wrong without facts and data to prove is considered an oxymoron and an ignorance. I collect LPs, not because it sounds better than CD or even digital FLAC format. It is a matter of fact the sound quality from vinyl is worst. I collect vinyl because I like the arts on the covers and the feel of going thru the process of playing them on the TT. I’ve used all kind of TTs from hi-end (Clearaudio, Oracle, VPI, etc) to mid-end (Sony, Pioneer, Technics, etc) and swapped many cartridges from hi-end such as Dynavector, Clearaudio, Benz Micro, ect to mid end like Shure, Technics. etc and to be honest the sound from vinyl still terrible compare to CD.
      I even capture all the wave from vinyl and CD to compare and again CD is more superior. If you want I can show you how to analyse them for comparison.

  5. George, perhaps you could elaborate? Simply stating, “you’re wrong” doesn’t make it so…

  6. 15 Rob

    I have worked in the audio industry for near on 25 years in some shape, manner or form, from design to retail. Before going self-employed, I worked in retail for a Hi-Fi chain and I enjoyed it. I always said to customers if you can tell a pleasing difference between a more expensive piece of kit to another cheaper then consider it; as I’m sure you want to keep this kit for a good period of time. If you can’t tell any difference then don’t waste your money and enjoy your purchase and I shall be pleased that you’re happy. Some staff would go with tech rubbish and psuedo-science and I warned them “One of these days you are going to get caught out with a customer that knows slightly more about electronics, of which let’s face it isn’t going to take much is it if the rubbish you are coming out with is anything to go by, and will make you look a *****.” I also warned them that, perish the thought, there could be another 3 or 4 customers in the shop that will overhear the conversation and then turn on their heels and walk out the door. The staff listened and took it onboard but the manager didn’t. Well, my worries did transpire a few times unfortunately. Anyhow, I was fired after ten months as the manager needed my turnover figures that at the time were sailing 50% above his, as his were failing miserably. He got fired less than a year later bless him. Sometimes a customer would sensibly say that they would have a gander about elsewhere to compare. I would gladly recommend they check a couple of places available in the same town and then come back and let me know how they got on. Truly 95% of those peeps would return and even happier they were making the right choice with the kit I demonstrated of which I would say 80% of the time was the more expensive kit I ran past them to consider. Oh the funny ol’ world of Hi-Fi! Good fun it is……

  7. 16 Rob

    Just one particular instance for a chuckle….. A manager for a similar chain of Hi-Fi retail rang me up one day and asked if I would fill in for 5 weeks to look after the shop and staff as he was going to Oz for a wedding. One Saturday morning with I think about 4 or 5 other customers waiting patiently, the chap first in queue and very irate came to me and said “Yes. Right. You sold me these loudspeakers here and they have gone wrong again. This is the second time! Your guarantee is three years and these are already two years old. What am I going to do if they fail again and I thought you told me these were good loudspeakers!” I replied with, “Well, let’s get a few things straight. First off, I did not sell you these loudpspeakers and secondly, If I was here I wouldn’t sell them to you.” …. “So why did they keep failing if they were such good loudpspeakers?” …. I replied with “Would you like the global marketing “Fill in dealership chain name here” response or my honest opinion?”….. “Well I would like your opinion wouldn’t I..” “Well it’s simple really, these speakers are **** and always were. Flawed from conception to final sale. Yes they sound impressive when they are working but they soon rattle themselves to bits as they are not up to the task they were designed for. I would never have given them shop space let alone dream of selling a pair.”..(Cue 4 or 5 other customers pretending not to overhear confo and turning around to us wide-eyed with apparent shock and then listening intently as to outcome… Tumbleweed blows across shop floor during this elongated pause)… “Well!” he said, “That is the first time someone has been completely honest with me when I’ve ever had a complaint! Thank you. What do you suggest I do?” … “I will repair these for you and design in a small mod that will help them a little and then I suggest you sell them to someone else that wants them. Then, come back and I will happily entertain you with a pair of those (pointed to a bookshelf speaker and then 4-5 other patient customers all turn to look at them), and they will more than outperform these and if you can break those i will eat my hat.”…. Well, he did come back a week later and bought a set (£577/pair), with glee … As for the other speakers, I don’t know what he eventually did with them. Perhaps he used them as a pair of cheap axle-stands as that was all they were really good for. Sometimes there are jolly good reasons why a set of speakers, (in this case), are reduced from £799 to £399…. Mentioning no names of course but these broken loudspeakers had no, errrrm, Energy, would be a good descriptive word…… Ooooooh the world that is hi-fi world! It is great fun!…. I do miss full on retail and the buzz of it but on the flip-side, i also need to pay my bills…

  8. 17 TheSubaruGuru

    Again? The objectivist-subjectivist wars have more lives than the proverbial cat. Just check old Absolute Sound, et al, back issues….
    The human ear-brain is capable of discriminations that are as-yet unmeasurable. There’s no question that digital filters and some cables indeed have “flavors”, regardless of established technical causality.

    I’m a trained scientist who had a career in R&D and QA wherein discriminating reality from experimental bias (never mind placebo!) was my daily metier.
    I also became convinced that, for example, Teflon, used as a dielectric, can allow a resolution that is purer than that provided by less inert materials….even in power cables! Who’d a thought that was possible?

    I don’t bother with subtle comparisons much anymore, as my system has reached its holy grail, but I do remember that, for example, when playing with Nordost a decade ago, Red Dawn did indeed offer more rez than Blue Heaven (and so seemed uptilted), and that SPM offered the best of both.

    I decided following my efforts to voice a three-way speaker wherein I discovered I could hear a 1/3 dB change in 1.5 octaves in the upper mids that pair-matching was almost hopelessly costly to manufacture (bravo to those speaker makers who DO match mid drivers +/-0.25db!), and that attention to source MATERIAL and room acoustics were more important than anything else. I settled on a group of components that offer astonishing realism (calibrated “subjectively” by me at least weekly at Symphony or Jordan Hall in Boston), that are comfortable enough (spectral tilt preference?) to allow enjoyment of 80+% of my CD collection.

    So I suggest newbies calibrate often to LIVE music, then carefully cobble together a system that, trusting their now-learned ears, works for the majority of their hopefully-clean source material so that enjoyment potential is maximized.

    Enough proselytizing….

    • Sorry, the ear-brain system is not even remotely as sensitive as modern measurement techniques. You can assert that as often as you want, but that only goes to show you haven’t actually researched your claim.

      How you get to the idea that different filters are the same, which is the root suggestion of your “causality” claim is beyond me, as well.

      It is hard to interpret measurements, indeed, and the usual ones (SNR, THD, IMD) are ‘mostly harmless’ (As are power spectrum measurements), indeed. That does not, by any argument, mean that differences are not measured, it means that interpreting the measurements is a lot of work, and involves a lot of subjective verification.

      I’m not sure what you’re trying to insinuate with your comment about 1/3dB differences across about 4 or 5 ERB’s, but the audibility isn’t terribly surprising, and there are a host of other factors there that must be considered, like changes in polar pattern when gain from an L-Pad changes, and so on. Your experiment can be run, and should produce an audible effect (but not one of mere loudness sensation), but it’s not a simple job to separate out all of the various confounding issues at all.

  9. As an add to previous post. The last place I worked (major TV network studios), did a new instillation that involved over 1.5 million feet of balanced audio cable, and over 1 million feet of double shield co-ax. I personally know that ALL audio lines were standard balanced cable available in 1000 foot rolls. Most from Belden. No where in the whole 8 studio, 10 control room, 8 edit room, 4 audio mix rooms, were there any “Special/ custom/ expensive/broken in/ multiple special twist/ special metal wire used. You apply signal and the wire is broken in!!!!!
    How much $ does any body think an operation like this is willing to spend for a project of any size will invest??? What was installed was/is industry standard. No matter what you spend, YOU WILL NOT IMPROVE ON THE SOUND OVER WHAT IS USED INDUSTRY WIDE. My job was a Technical Director for over 20 years.

    • Absolutely correct. I am a systems engineer who designs and builds broadcast and production and post production facilities. We do not EVER use the so called “special cables”. What a load of complete rubbish – and as you stated, many facilities are built using typical balanced audio cable from the major manufcturers such as Belden, Drakar, Canare etc.

      It’s all industry standard stuff, so you can imagine my amusement, nay horror, when reading the bogus claims made by the audiophile side of the industry.

      My most recent rant was when I read about an ethernet cable that was supposedly made of special components (silver cable no less) and had very special high quality connectors (which, since you are not going to be plugging them in and out more than a couple of times, are a total waste of money – and do not achieve anything more than making the connection).

      The cable apparently had a special 70 volt “bias” to prevent the insulation from “absorbing energy and then later releasing it as distortion”…not kidding…

      A 12 metre length sold for something close to 7 THOUSAND POUNDS!

      And fools are soon parted from their money!

  10. 21 avGeek99

    Good article! Over the years I’ve learned to ignore most articles dealing with the objective vs subjective views on audio quality. This is mainly because most articles/comments no matter which side they support, as you mention in your article, have quite a bit of arrogance in their tone and the comment sections just turn into a flame war.
    I tend to believe that subjectivity can have an impact on what a person hears regardless of what the objective measurements say. Everyone’s brain is wired differently people react to stimuli in different ways. I am a true believer in science but I don’t fully agree that double blind a/b/x tests can prove that objective measurements are all that matter in determining quality of audio gear. However I would agree they do prove that most people can’t tell the difference between high end and cheap audio gear.
    Most people are not serious music listeners; they have no emotional connection to the music. To most people music is just something to have on in the background when they are doing something else. They would never sit in front of a system and listen critically to music because they don’t really care how it sounds. If someone doesn’t care about the music they will not have any emotional connection to it and they will not hear the detail (sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle) that separates higher end gear from lower end gear.
    To me (and I believe most audiophiles would agree) listening to music is an emotional experience. To truly hear everything, you need to remove as much external stimuli as possible. When I’m in my listening room with the lights off, my eyes closed, and listening to music that I really like I have an emotional connection to the music; this is when my system sounds the best. This is when I really notice the sound quality improvements after an upgrade.
    The typical scientific response to this is I’m hearing what I want to hear, and I COMPLETELY agree. If I truly like a piece of music then I want to hear as much detail as possible whether it can be measured or not. Obviously there’s no way to produce more detail on playback than what is captured in the studio master, but no matter how well they measure, low end systems aren’t capable of reproducing that level of detail.
    Most agree that room acoustics and speaker quality are the primary factors in overall sound quality of a given system. I definitely agree that this is true. I will admit the biggest improvements have come with room correction and speaker upgrades. But to a lesser degree pre-amp and amp upgrades have made (if not profound) at least a noticeable improvement to me.
    One thing odd I found about the article is that the lead in talked about how the audiophile argument is mostly if not all subjective, like my comments above. And the other side of the argument has all sorts of objective tests/measurements to back it up. But then most of the proof points for each topic are just subjective comments, some rather arrogant. Only a few mentioned objective tests to back up their points.
    Here are my subjective responses to each topic:
    1. I completely agree… exotic cables are a waste. The exotic cable industry was spawned by people trying to improve on the ridiculously cheap interconnects that come or used to come with stereo components, and then it was taken to the extreme. I do agree you need quality cables, but quality cables don’t need to cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Blue Jeans cables or equivalent are fine.
    2. I don’t really agree with this one. I guess it depends which DACs you’re comparing. If you’re comparing the DAC in a higher end receiver or a pre/pro to a high end disc player, then I would tend to agree, the difference is negligible. But if you’re comparing the DAC in a high end disc player to the DAC in most entry level players there will be noticeable difference
    3. I think as long as you have a reasonably high quality amp it is very difficult to hear any difference. For amplifiers I would say the inflection point in the Price to Performance ratio curve is somewhere between $1k and $2k, though brands like Emotiva are certainly pushing that point lower.
    4. If you’re talking about wires or electronics I completely agree, there is no burn in needed. At least some speakers do require burn in. A few years ago I bought a pair of Paradigm Studio 60 v5s. The sounded awesome in the store. I got them home and I couldn’t believe the harshness and brightness with some content (Mumford and Sons, Five for Fighting). After a couple days I gave up any attempt at critical listening and for a couple months I only listened to music I knew had a more rolled off top end. A couple months later I went back to Mumford and Sons for some critical listening and the difference was night and day. Yes, most will say I had become accustomed to the sound and there was truly no difference, but I disagree.
    5. I have no experience or desire to mess with tube equipment.
    6. You’ll get no argument from me.
    7. This one through me for a loop a little and got me intrigued. Though I’ll admit CDs are capable of sounding very good, in my experience well produced SACD/DVD-As sound superior in every way to CDs, though there is certainly no guarantee; if the original tapes/master sucks the SACD/DVD-A is going to suck. I read the full text behind bullet number 2 and was surprised that in controlled settings on high quality gear most people could tell no difference. Then I got to point 4, and I quote “…virtually all of the SACD and DVD-A recordings sounded better than most CDs? sometimes much better.” They go on to mention say “These recordings seem to have been made with great care and manifest affection, by engineers trying to please themselves and their peers.” This sounds plausible to me.

    • In general, I’m pretty much an objectivist, but . . . I do believe that we may be able to hear differences we’re not really measuring yet. I do know that many of our “standard measurements” aren’t enough. Many years ago, in the mid ’70s, I worked at an audio store. I remember a customer that could name which receiver I was switching to, blind, with near 100% accuracy. I couldn’t hear any difference, but his accuracy was amazing.

      As for speaker break-in, I can confirm that some speakers definitely do break in. 5 years ago, I carefully measured the in-box f/0 and q of my subwoofers. 42 hz at q=.52. Last month, I measured again, and found the same driver in the same box (no change, not even the screws out) to be 37 Hz with the q now at .76. Since I was re-doing the crossover, I’m very glad I ran the measurements.

    • Thank you for your response, avGeek99. I do have a couple thoughts on what you’ve written.

      > “One thing odd I found about the article is that the lead in talked about how the audiophile argument is mostly if not all subjective, like my comments above. And the other side of the argument has all sorts of objective tests/measurements to back it up. But then most of the proof points for each topic are just subjective comments, some rather arrogant.”

      I think if you get deeper into the conclusions made by Ethan Winer, Arny Krueger, Peter Aczel, and others, you may find that their arguments are based mostly on objective facts. Granted, this may not come through in all of the articles I’ve link to. And yes, these people may come across as rather arrogant at times, but they’ve got decades of experience and knowledge (and many DBTs) to back up their opinions. I see a profoundly greater level of arrogance in those who think their own limited experiences trump what legitimate experts say about audio equipment.

      > “Obviously there’s no way to produce more detail on playback than what is captured in the studio master, but no matter how well they measure, low end systems aren’t capable of reproducing that level of detail.”

      The more I read and experience, the more I suspect that much (or most) of what is believed about high end audio is based on expectation bias.

      > “I will admit the biggest improvements have come with room correction and speaker upgrades. But to a lesser degree pre-amp and amp upgrades have made (if not profound) at least a noticeable improvement to me.”

      Personally, what I’ve found makes a difference corresponds to the objectivist position. Pulling my speakers an additional foot from the wall was a revelation. Moving to different speakers and adding a subwoofer has made a huge difference. And I still can’t believe what a difference moving to an A/V receiver with Audyssey room correction made, and I can say absolutely that I will never again use an amplifier/receiver without digital room correction and dynamic equalization (which I see as equally important). (And one day I would like to get into REW and acoustical treatments, but my wife’s dead set against what it would do to our living room.) On the other hand, moving from different CD players and amplifiers hasn’t made any difference at all as far as I can tell.

      > “But if you’re comparing the DAC in a high end disc player to the DAC in most entry level players there will be noticeable difference.”

      My current understanding is that even the cheapest DACs are so good that there generally aren’t going to be audible differences between them and more expensive models.

      > “For amplifiers I would say the inflection point in the Price to Performance ratio curve is somewhere between $1k and $2k, though brands like Emotiva are certainly pushing that point lower.”

      As far as I understand, no one has ever demonstrated that they can hear a difference in a double blind ABX test between *any* commercially produced audio amplifier not driven to clipping. Another way to think about this is that the technology has gotten so good in the last few decades that even the cheapest audio amplifiers perform extremely well (at least in terms of sound quality) regardless of what class they are from or what their wattage is.

      Here’s an article on blind tests of amplifiers I found recently that I’m going to add to my blog post. You may find it convincing:


      Again, thank you for your response.

      – Peter

  11. 24 Bruce Gelman

    Great site.I have been into this gear nuts thing for 40 years and The simple truth is almost everybody who sells snake oil gear knows it’s bullshit but the ego kick and the markup on things like vibration pucks and cables is so addictive they can’t help themselves.Basically addicts no different than alcoholics or dopers.Audioholics.Also the most significant change you can make in the audio chain is speakers because the difference in electronics is insignificant while the physics of say electrostatic versus 2way/3way speakers is absolutely scientifically understood and measurable.Speaker designers on balance have kept the audio world from descending into a complete insane asylum.I love tube gear and vinyl PRECISELY BECAUSE I LOVE THAT KIND OF DISTORTION.I know what I like and why and this should be everyone’s excuse for this wacky hobby.Stop all the hallucinations please.

    • Thank you for your response, Bruce. I wonder if people who sell high end snake oil gear actually know it’s BS. I actually think that a lot of people selling $1,000 CD players, monoblock amplifiers, or exotic interconnect truly believe that these products improve sound quality. Perhaps this is what makes them good salesmen. Then again, I find it difficult to get inside these people’s heads.

  12. A lot of this is just wrong. Jitter is a real, and audible, thing. It is measurable, quantifiable, and testable. Most professional DACs reclock the signal to eliminate transmission jitter, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a real issue and potential audible depending on the system design.

    DACs have real, and measurable, differences, primarily noise floor and phase response. These are both audible. There are other audible differences in the analog electronics of the DAC, such as channel crosstalk.

    Vinyl offers a higher phase linearity that CD quality audio, which is measurable and audible. A high-quality turntable and needle offer excellent frequency response and noise floor, but a good DAC will always be flatter and quieter. It is up to individual taste whether additional uncorrelated noise or phase distortion is more objectionable.

    All amplifiers have their own issues of noise, slew rate, and phase distortion. Class A/B amps have crossover distortion. This is easily measurable, and often audible.

    CD audio (16 bit, 44k1 sample rate) just barely covers the dynamic range of the ear when properly dithered, and just barely covers the frequency response but so closely that phase distortion is introduced in the audio band by the reconstruction filter. 20 bit, 60 kHz is sufficient for human hearing, but is not a standard format choice. 24/96 is a reasonable standard sampling rate to use, particularly with dynamic signals.

    Fancy cables are a total scam, though.

    • Thank you for your response. I absolutely believe that jitter is a real thing, but the research that I’ve done leads me to believe it is not audible in most circumstances. Here is an article on jitter audibility I found convincing:


      I do believe that there are measurable differences in amplifiers, but again my “google degree” (and limitted personal experience) leads me to believe these differences are not audible. Amplification is one aspect of modern audio reproduction that is essentially perfect from an audibility perspective. It just doesn’t make sense to me that minute differences in distortion or frequency response could possibly be audible, especially when you consider the massive differences that speakers or room acoustics can make.

      I’m not so familiar with phase linearity as it relates to vinyl. Do you have a source for this or could you explain this?

      • Certainly jitter is measurable, and enough can be extremely audible, but that does not detract from digital transmission, it detracts from crappy hardware. Of course there is crappy hardware out there, it can’t be prevented. Of course, as time goes on, it’s quite rare and unusual. As to 16/44, how does the person you respond to explain the use of constant delay filters. The argument to phase shift disappears with oversampling convertors, at least for any linear system arguments. As to the 16 bits, it’s potentially an issue if you have one of the quietest listening rooms around, and it’s STILL 20dB better than any consumer analog format, tape or LP, so why complain about CD?

    • 29 Greer Kemp

      Good grief! If an A/B class amplifier has audible distortion, it is broken!

  13. 30 Dan

    See also the chapter on hi-fi sound reproduction in Introduction to Psychology of Hearing by Brian Moore. He’s been debunking claims about hi-fi for decades.

  14. I agree with the conclusions of this article. Unfortunately there is too much snake oil in the hi fi industry which had given it a bad reputation. If you read some of the reviews of expensive equipment in the Hi Fi Comics they are clearly written as a result of the brown envelope culture that I’m certain exists. Certainly the law of diminishing returns kicks in at a certain point and the skill is to know the inflexion point is on the costs vs quality curve is and stop there!

  15. 32 Daril

    The problem with these claims (not yours, I’m talking about the ones you’re disproving) is that people tend to apply concepts which belongs to pre-recording to playing recorded music on their system.
    Every musician knows that while this things are crucial during recording sessions (in which you transform raw signal into high-quality) the only thing that really matters when tracks are done are the speakers.
    If you plug your phone, pc or whatever in a mixer and play the same song, it will sound exactly the same.

  16. 33 John

    What the hell …. all amplifiers sound the same?
    I had a B&W 685 and a NAD C370 setup. Running flat “eq” (bass/treble knobs).
    I changed to a Hegel H200 (has no bass/treble adjustment) and it sounded WAY “fatter” in the midrange. It made the 685’s like someone has turned the mid waay up, too much in fact. This is what I would call not a good match, but that depends on taste.

    I can agree to a lot here, but some of this is complete bullshit.

    • I suspect that you are not comparing apples with apples.

      Your comparison was between an amplifier that had no inserted equalisation circuitry, and one that did.

      No matter the fact that you set the EQ to “flat”, the circuitry STILL does affect the frequency response of the amplifier.

      Unless you ran a frequency response test and manually adjusted for the best flat response at the output (and I mean on a meter, not through speakers), then the “flat” setting may not necessarily be flat, and in any case the EQ will still have some effect.

      The comparisons that the article calls for, must, I have to assume, refer to like vs like testing, not two different types of device.

  17. Reblogged this on So What You're Saying Is… and commented:
    This is an excellent summary of the thoughts from multiple sources on the topic of high-tech voodoo in the audio industry, and how pretty much all of the gadgetry and gizmos are essentially just a way to make you part with your hard-earned money.

    • I had seen that before, and I do think the article made some good points (though mixed with junk science about vinyl and Pono).

      Personally I listen to CDs about 95% of the time. Partly because I find when listening to MP3s I get “iPod ADD,” whereas with CDs I’m more likely to listen all the way through (and then come back and try again).

  18. 38 nat

    why should we take any of the above as true when we can all walk into our individual homes and HEAR and SENSE an immediate difference in sound quality , if the speakers are so important why do i and millions of others know that a nad 3020i will sound rather poor next to a sugden a21 on any reasonable speaker you care to try them with .will that nad amp sound the same driving some harbeth monitors as those same speakers being driven by a krell ?.feed those two amps with a poor source component and they may well sound equally bad but will everyone like/dislike the sound equally?? The biggest issue with home audio today is not the lack of measurable evidence , its all those folks that are telling us that we are all deluded that is the real issue ! the end truth that is non disputable is we all individually have to live with our systems , NO ONE can tell us whats better or worse , it may measure worse according to someone in the pasts idea of ‘correct’ beyond that its all just personal opinion , to deny this makes anyone worse than the snake oil peddlers . at least the snake oil peddlers actually have a product for us to try so we can make up our own minds . just for reference , the best sounding system i have heard was a garrard 301 with decca cart driving a 3 watt SET amp driving some ridiculously large horn speakers . as to cables , try a cambridge audio atlantic IC then try a tellurium q black ic , if you cannot hear the difference you should see a doctor about your ears immediately , even non hi fi friends were taken aback with comments of ” oh my god , how does your hifi sound like that ?” , that type of unsolicited reaction from people that have sat listening with me many times before is better evidence than any measurement ! , however i try to accept the skeptics claims , it is repeatedly the end sound that wins, , if you feel that its ALL snake oil then grab an i pod dock with some £20 powered speakers and enjoy, i will enjoy the music from my chosen system. happy new year 😉

    • 39 Jono

      TL;DR: You couldn’t find a better real life example of Confirmation Bias if you even tried, than in this comment.

    • 40 batclerk

      Probably room and speaker differences which are critical in acoustic reproduction. Maybe properly tuned EQ to match the room too. My day job is network engineering and VoIP; I can think of 99 problems with sound quality but amplifiers and the usual audiophile stuff ain’t one them.

      As for cables, I cut, crimp and buy huge reels of cables to handle everything from phones to stock transactions. I also did broadcast engineering too.

      None of those fancy pants audiophile cables ever get a nod or nary a mention in my technical training manuals. Copper wiring is good enough for every other major industrial application, it’s good enough for the teeny, tiny amount of bandwidth audio files use.

      When i talk to pros, we debate weather to use Cat 5e or Cat 6, not which brand of cable is the best.

      I am however surprised more high end audio systems don’t use XLR cables like the pros….not that I think it will be noticeable to home users but it’s the next logical step.

  19. 41 Doug

    not sure if instrument cables fall within the scope of this blog post, but:

    Years ago, I was playing a gig on electric bass. Among SVT with monster instrument cable and speaker cable. A guy came up to me and suggested I try his Zaolla instrument cable and speaker cable – silver conductors. I did, and not only was the sound much more detailed and clear, but I had to turn by volume down by a third.

    I’m an extremely skeptical person, but I was so impressed by the sound of the cables that I bought a set.

  20. As a professional (and successful) sound designer, music composer and audio engineer of some 30+ years of experience, I can say unequivocally that the industry – particularly the hi-fi side of it – is full of the most egregious bullshit you can imagine. The simple fact is that those of us who work in high end audio don’t buy most of this crap. In other words, we make the sounds and if you think your system reproduces it better than we made it, you’ve been conned, like the man says.

    It also occurs to me that a number of commenters here really have no understanding of what a blind or double-blind test actually is, and what it’s meant to demonstrate. If you can’t tell the difference between two recordings in a blind test, then – pay attention here – there is no difference. If your claim is that the ‘subjectivity’ of knowing that you’re listening to a superior system somehow affects the perceived quality of the music, then you’re exactly the kind of person a hi-fi salesman wants in his shop (and an endorsement of what this blog post is saying: you’re being sold a bill of goods).

  21. Totally right, yet… Maybe the approach is not the one needed when you talk about something this emotional and subjective? Also, about LPs versus CDs, maybe fidelity-wise you are right, but I feel LPs age much better, I have 40+ year old LPs that still work perfectly, but most if not all my 10+ year old CDs are too damaged to work properly. Maybe you could check it out with the right scientific procedures?

    • I have a huge collection of 20+ year old CDs all of which still play perfectly. So, anecdotal evidence.

    • My experience is a bit different. I have CDs from 20 years ago that play perfectly. Sometimes they skip, but this is almost always because they are scratched or damaged in some way. Every time an LP plays there is measurably more distortion added by the needle digging into the soft plastic. I think new LPs sound fine, but I find it hard to listen to older LPs with all the noise and distortion.

      • I started buying CDs in the 1980s. My first CD was a remastering of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ which I purchased in 1982. I still have it, it still plays faultlessly. The soundtrack I composed for an Australian film ‘Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds’ was pressed to CD in 1985 and I have 3 copies of it, all of which have no audible defects of any kind. And I should know. As with my vinyl, I’ve kept my CDs as carefully as I’ve been able, and taking a few at random just now from my archive, they all appear visually to be in pristine shape. Spot checks don’t reveal any artefacts.

        I’m sure there are CDs of that vintage that are somewhat the worse for wear, but I do find it hard to swallow the idea that “most if not all” of Esteban’s 10 year old CDs are in non-usable condition. That is just not my experience with CDs. But, like I said. Anecdotal sample of one. Maybe I’m just super lucky.

      • 47 Greer Kemp

        In fact there is an issue with CD and DVD longevity. It is a fact that they do start to degrade due to the internal structure of the storage medium failing.

        The most important difference between one CDs status and another however, is the environment in which it has been stored.

        Yes, I have CDs from the mid-80’s which play fine, and I have some more recent (maybe 10 years old) that are worthless due to being incorrectly stored in a hot and humid space at one house I lived in here in Thailand.

        Obviously this also applies to data stored on CD and DVD, in fact even more so, as missing bits of files will likely make the file unreadable altogether, or the contents, when retrieved will be gobbledegook.

        As with every digital storage medium that we use at present (and this also applies to high end professional data tape such as LTO), each has a theoretical “shelf life” and as that date approaches, it is best to read the files (be they audio or computer data) and rewrite them to new media.

        In a properly maintained automated data archive, the data tapes are retrieved by the management system, read off and written to new tapes, and the old ones discarded, and the same should be done for ageing CDs and DVDs.

        I must admit that I don’t have the figures for typical CD/DVD shelf lives to hand right now, but I strongly suggest checking on line for the information, especially if you have critical music files or other data files stored on this sort of media.

  22. Reblogged this on LMGTFY.

  23. One of the things that do make a difference are FM Tuners . different brands from different eras do have a different sound . as do modifications that can be done to certain tuners . Also the new streaming service TIDAL has a definite improvement over Spotify . The higher price cables have better connectors and are more sturdy in their make up . one cable company swears it is directional and you can tell the difference , just try it . I haven’t paid to prove this right or wrong . Actually Emotiva has cables which are very well made and are at a modest price which I think is a happy compromise . I can hear a difference in sound improvement with SACD , by quite a bit . I haven’t tried enough blue ray to make a decision on that . The DAC’s do make a difference , even comparing the internal DAC on a very good CD player verses a Very Good external DAC, or for that matter playing music from your computer through a external DAC verses the computers internal DAC out the headphone jack . there is something to be said for a amplifier with more power than you need having a punch that a lower rated amplifier does not have . but the one thing I want to say , is that you listen to a so called high end stereo set up , the music is unreal . you can almost reach out and touch it . I could use a lot of subjective descriptions , but there is a major difference in sound say over a great system that cost a few thousand dollars . when all added up , high end stereo sells because the music is that much better .

    • Yes, I saw this rubbish about cables being directional in a commercial for the ethernet cable I mentioned above.

      For anyone to claim that an analogue audio or digital cable is directional shows that they have no understanding of electronics, or even basic electrical theory – maybe not their fault, but the manufacturers of these cables DO know, and yet they peddle this utter garbage.

      The signal that passes through an analogue audio cable is AC – alternating current – in other words the signal (made up of electrons) flows in one direction for half the cycle, then in the opposite direction for the other half of the cycle – if it didn’t, there would be no signal and therefore no EMF to cause the speaker to vibrate and produce sound.

      When discussing a digital cable, it is even more complex, as ethernet comprises not ONE signal path but FOUR BALANCED PATHS.

      There is a balanced pair of Transmit Data, a balanced pair of Receive Data, and two balanced pairs of Bidirectional Data (in Power Over Ethernet systems these lines are used for Ground and Supply voltages).

      Each of the balanced pair of data lines first sends a current flow in one direction, then in the reverse direction – simplistically speaking, this is eventually detected via circuitry at the receiving device as 1’s and 0’s.

      It should be noted that in ethernet, BOTH ends are both receiving AND transmitting devices since the TX Data at one end goes, obviously, to the RX Data at the other, and the TX Data at this end then return to the RX Data at the first.

      Ethernet communication basically depends on data being sent from one device to the other, and the receiving device replying with an acknowledgement – thus it cannot be directional, otherwise it simply wouldn’t work.

      Talk of directional cables in reality would imply that the cable is a non-linear device (meaning it is faulty), and this would cause signal error (distortion in analogue or missing data packets in digital).

      So…thousands of dollars/pounds to buy a cable that will cause errors in reproduction…good value..? Luckily it’s not true.

  24. 51 john

    Of course a dac or cd player sounds different (it’s a bloomin complex job converting accurately from digital to audio.

    2. Easy proof 44.1khz isn’t the be all and end all and can be proved… at 20khz 44.1 isn’t going to produce much better than two data points per wave (if at top and bottom of wave it produces a jaggy line (if not in time with top and bottom then less and less of wave will be seen). The filter then turns this jaggy or saw tooth wave into a smooth line.

    How exactly do you expect this filter to produce anything approaching the complex pattern of the real wave with only two datapoints at a random place in the wave????

    Ok ok so most of us can’t hear 20khz anyway… ok so 10khz (only 4 data points) again this isn’t enough to describe a complex wave with all sorts if harmonics (yes you’d get close if it was a sine wave but it isn’t)….

    Increase to 192khz gives you nearly 10 datapoints at 20khz and 20 at 10khz now that allows the shape of the wave to then be smoothed into something more accurate to the original wave form.

    At some point in sample rate you’d get close enough it won’t matter but 20khz isn’t it.

    The other issue here is bit depth… 16bit is quite limited as distortion increases massively as volume of signal reduces which means (apart from loudness wars in chart recordings they compress everything into louder/loudest part 16bit can describe. 24 is an improvement… What we really need is a system where there are enough bits to describe the quietest and loudest info without distortion so it’s actually possible to rid our recorded music of the compression we currently have and actually get some real dynamics back… (if people need quiet voiced buts made as loud as rest – due to fighting noise out and about – then build the compression ability into the portable players.

    Speaker cables can make a difference i’ve heard massive differences (though will never spend big bucks as don’t have it and increases in ability are much smaller). Bi-wire shouldn’t make any odds in a speaker with a perfect crossover but in a crap one it can reduce interactions (so it can help at cheaper end of market where things are built to cost) but at high end will make less difference.

    Perception is funny years ago i auditioned amps and ended up walking away with the make i didn’t want, wouldn’t have looked twice at and just tried for completeness (a sony and picked it over marantz and other more expensive items) due to fact on seriously revealing ATC monitor speakers it was loads better. I tried loads of recordings at all volumes (as my and my mate couldn’t and didn’t want to believe it). So you can say all you like about people hearing stuff in the, supposed, higher end stuff but then why do so many people after a long full day auditioning end up with a cheaper item or something they didn’t rate at all???? Now I can’t say what’s going on here and why but there are two camps (almost every person who has spent a ling day auditioning hi-fi can hear a difference and all the ones who can’t always shout double blind)…

    Well I don’t want to spend money and only do if something shows my last item a clean pair of heals… I don’t care what badge it wears or anything I just know in my ears how a piano, guitar etc should sound (as played a lot of music) and if it sounds closer I am happy…. forget double blind it may just be the old similar coloured cards (hold them apart at same time and you can’t tell if colour the same, hold together and you can) so it takes time with a large sample if music you really know to build up an opinion.

    • 52 jaava

      a well designed DAC can produce the original waveform with just 2 point perfectly. Those 2 points include all the information about the wave.

      What you need to understand is that the waveform is not complex. It is simple sine form. Audio signal is a linear combination of simple sine forms with different frequency and amplitude. Those complex “harmonics” you mention are sine forms in the higher frequencies and are filtered out anyways already at the production stage. All the harmonics people can hear are under 20kHz and are perfectly described by 44.1kHz sampling. More data points doesn’t produce smoother result in DAC. So the “harmonics” for 10kHz audio you speak of are sine with higher frequency and are perfectly captured if they are under 20kHz (BTW 10kHz sound doesn’t inherently have any “harmonics”. Natural sound has harmonics but then you can no longer say it is 10kHz).

      You are essentially right with the bits part. The quieter the signal is the more there is relative distortion compared to the sound signal (this distortion is usually converted to smoother noise using dither). However as most recordings have most of their stuff close to the maximum volume and very quiet recordings are extremely rare, the problem is demonstrably inaudable with 16 bits. The compression is not used because of the bit depth. Classical recordings for example use very little compression. Recording studios use 24bit sampling to have more freedom in recording volume levels but this doesn’t mean that 24bits would sound better in playback.

      “(almost every person who has spent a ling day auditioning hi-fi can hear a difference and all the ones who can’t always shout double blind)”.
      We shout double blind because that is the only way to reliably measure what you can and what you can not hear. And for some reason the huge difference you claim to hear seems to disappear in double blind environment. If you really can hear a difference, then you can hear it in a double blind test. If you can not hear it in a double blind test, then you never could hear it in the first place.

    • I would suggest that you go to http://www.aes.org/sections/pnw/ppt.htm and learn a bit about how ADC and DAC conversion work (there is a 3 hour tutorial deck there), and perhaps a bit about Fourier Analysis as well from the FFT workshop. Your mistaken comments about “jaggy” vs. “smooth” show a clear lack of understanding between the time and frequency domains, and your dismissal of digital is quite mistaken in that regard.

      You only need 2+delta data points, your arguments about 4 or 8 are simply wrong. Sampling is not a very intuitive process, and you’re making a classic elementary mistake. This will be clear if you read the convertor tutorial mentioned above.

      Finally, it is pure stuff and nonsense to say “distortion increases massively” as level drops. That, as well, is utter baloney. A dithered digital signal has a fixed noise floor, and no distortion. What’s more, an analog system ALSO has a noise floor, and one that is worse (for any consumer device at least) than standard 44/16 Redbook CD. Any argument you make here against 44/16 of necessity applies even more strongly to Vinyl or analog tape, so your comparison, as well as being wrong (saying “distortion” instead of “noise floor”), is inappropriate and argues against analog sources, not digital sources. Note, I said a DITHERED signal. Dither is required. It’s not a “good idea” it is expressly required in during quantization.

      • 54 john

        Ok if I give you two data points of a wave of unknown shape can you plot it on paper for me? No because you don’t have enough information 🙂 don’t think I said we had a jaggy wave as it goes through reconstruction filter and with two data points we would get a basic wave that doesn’t match shape or (unless timing is very lucky) amplitude of original.

        2 as volume of something reduces from maximum level to very low levels you’ll get less and less bits to available to describe it. Less bits more distortion and less accurate.

        My argument about increasing sample is correct as it does give increased info to give a more accurate recreation of the music.

        Increasing bits does help, but currently maybe not for sound quality so much. Delta Sigma conversion is cheap to produce a chip for but harder for good sound quality. R2R resistor ladders do produce much better sound but almost impossible to make one that will handle 24bit (though 16bit/192 on r2r is better than most delta sigma chips at 24/192).

        I don’t own any sacd’s but I have demoed them and similar (but not quite as pronounced) as jump from dts to dts hd master there is an improvement in what I can best describe as texture (the tangible tone/sound of instruments). I used to play music a lot and I know what a trumpet or piano should sound like and very quickly I’ll know if its wrong.

      • 55 john

        My other thing about vinyl is not available dynamics it’s how the music companies do it…

        Dynamics also mean the headroom left for kick drum and other things like that. Almost all cd releases these days have avg level compressed so high there is seriously little headroom left for peaks. The vinyl release is generally more dynamic as that’s what a vinyl customer expects….

      • 56 john

        Oh and explain for us all what dither is and does????
        Is it not effectively randomizing and error created by downsampling your master to 16bit? So if say a wave ends in between two values 16bit can offer it would always read high or low over and over which we can hear but apply some low level random noise and it randomized the data error so sometimes it’ll read to high and sometimes too low…

        Yes that’s a good thing. Surely offering us same or much higer bit depth as master would remove need for introducing a random error to stop a repeating error being noticed so much as distortion ????

      • John, apparently I can’t reply to your reply, but your entire rant is based on complete misinformation.

        Go read the tutorials I pointed you at, and you will find out that you only need 2+delta samples per cycle, and how dither works.

        You can rant all you want, but it doesn’t change the mathematics.

      • 58 john

        james D …. Was a rant was it??? Didn’t think it was…. just answer how you can describe the shape of a wave with two data points? Can you plot it on paper? That’s maths isn’t it…

        And i do know what dither is and how it works but you can assume all you like.

        Assuming you know better is also a pita but whatever you say you can’t describe size and shape of a wave with two points….

        And if music was sold at same bit rate as you mastered you wouldn’t need dither 😉

      • 59 john

        I described it badly earlier but my point about two data points is thus… Waves in audio produced by different instruments have weird and wonderful shapes. They are not simple sin waves. With only two data points per complete wave there is not enough info to describe its amplitude and shape…

      • Again, you’re dead wrong about 2 samples/cycle. Please do look at those tutorials I’ve pointed you at, maybe it will help. You’re making an elementary mistake here in failing to understand just how “wiggly” a bandlimited signal can be.

        As to dither, dither has nothing whatsoever to do with sampling rate, NOTHING.

        I understand you are reiterating your belief, but your statement is testable, and the mere existence of your cell phone that works is absolute proof you’re dead wrong. The reason is non-trivial, but I don’t sense that you want to get beyond your argument from incredulity far enough to actually understand what’s going on there.

        Seriously, please go look at the tutorials. I don’t have a recording of the ADC tutorial (well, the AES does but you have to buy it, I think), but that would answer all of your questions pretty much completely.

      • 61 john

        Thd is introduced when you down convert higher bit rate studio master to 16bit. Which if really simplified meant a wave had a top value of 6.3 (on bit rate used in studio) but 16bit can only produce values at 6 and 7. It would end up with top of wave truncating at 6 bringing in thd… dither is added so instead of truncating to 6 it would sometimes be 6 and sometimes be 7 and avg nearer the original value (and reduce the thd). However if the music was released at same bit and sample as the master it wouldn’t need the dither as the truncating wouldn’t exist…

        Jitter is another issue entirely which can be introduced at lots of different stages of conversion and it’s effects can also be heard.

        Yes the signal can be wiggly but with two samples a wave it will be reconstructed as a shape that will not be same as original… the dac can’t magically find data to show a shape that there are not enough data points to show.

        I’ve already said it’s not theoretical maximum dynamics available it’s what is used… and more and more the headroom left for the dynamics of a kick drum are totally insufficient. Where as the same release on vinyl has more headroom left for those dynamics. That’s an issue of what’s put on the different formats (or even the market the format is aimed at) not the technical limitations of the format.

      • 62 john

        Anyway I don’t think I said i’d prefer 24bit or 32bit just if our converters could handle the same bit depth as the studio and we had the music to purchase we could avoid needing extra dither stage to reduce distortion.

        44.1 is flawed. Why did DAT use 48khz? Simple because it works and sounds better. And why did CD use 44.1? Well if story is to be believed it’s because one of the inventor company bosses wanted a cd to be able to hold the whole of a certain classical album without having to change discs.. although i think that isn’t true.

        I have a feeling at the very earliest point storage was the issue and repurposed vcr’s were used to store digital audio (before dat came along) and the best they could store onto the vcr tapes was 44.1 khz.

        48 was chosen for later video work for recording sound as it allowed more headroom for errors on the filter meaning the brickwall filter could be simpler and cause less problems to audio output.

        However I have no beef at all with 16bit use. Like i say on a good descrete circuit dac using 192khz at 16bit can kill a less good dac doing 192/24. It’s sampling rate I have an issue with and it’s is scientifically impossible to recreate an accurately shaped waveform at 20khz using 2 samples per wave. In fact shape has to be purely a complete fabrication by reconstruction filter.

        Ideally i’d like same bit depth as studio to save down converting bit depth (every conversion step saved is always good) and a high sample. To get close enough for me at reproducing nice approximations of the wave in high frequencies i’d want 192khz minimum but prefer 384khz.

        If I am wrong and your right then you could take a CD into a high end studio and play it then the play the (likely 32bit) master and they’ll both sound great 😉 or more likely the master will sound fantastic and the CD will sound ordinary and crap next to it.

        Nobody in digital photography world suddenly said 24bit colour is perfect they saw the banding in areas of close colour straight away. So now they have 10bit per colour and starting on 12bit per channel. Ok so in a £20-50 compact it would make no odds and the end user at this consumer level isn’t too fussed as long as their photos are pretty good (read mp3 player to couple of hundred consumer stereo). But you spend a few grand on camera or stereo you will notice this difference. Some peoples eyes are considerably better than others.. some ears are too (i am 40 now but unlike a lot of people over teenage I can still hear the bloody noise bats make). So just because some people are not so bothered or able to hear the issues with CD’s does not mean there isn’t one… Most people commenting on this probs can’t hear to 20khz anymore anyway lol.

        Wonder if any examples out there of people comparing diff formats (or even just cd) to master in a good studio (pref one it was recorded in) not to prove any point but i’m actually real curious to seen what consensus was.

        The understanding of digital workflow has come a long way and some aspects of cd sound have improved a huge amount but the massive reduction in headroom for dynamics on a lot of CD’s (even a lot of non mass market ones, even some blues ones) has robbed us with the other hand

      • John, you have just shown that you don’t understand the difference between sampling rate and quantization, and furthermore that you have no idea what dither does.

        When you reduce bit depth from 24 to 16, you dither. There is no distortion, only a noise floor. Well, that is, if you follow the well-established process that’s been used and confirmed to work properly since the 1950’s. If you don’t dither, you’re doing it wrong. I can’t stop people from doing it wrong, but reading through 1950’s Bell Labs Technical Journals will show just how far back we can go and see that the “2 sample” thing and the “dither” thing are both correct, tested, and verified.

        That’s really all there is to it. As to reproducing between the two points, you obviously don’t know what a reconstruction filter does. Again, I refer you to the ADC tutorial mentioned in one of my other comments, it will explain what a reconstruction filter is.

        If you won’t go do the work, I can’t help you, but it would be kind of you to stop making seemingly expert claims when you obviously haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. Sorry, but that’s where we are here. Do the work, learn the subject, and we’ll talk.

      • 64 john

        Ah sod off… You don’t read properly and assume you know it all….

        You brought up dithering (I said if music sold in same bit depth as master we avoid the need to add it) ummmm where was I wrong there??????????????

        I mentioned a reconstruction filter more than once but what exactly will I create with two data points????????????? Just answer how exactly I can create anything other than a non accurate accurate shape????? again exactly what I said all along…… It cant!!!!!!!!!!

        Now if your gonna just quote a link or condescend me with 1950’s books then just forget it. But you are either reading wrong or covering up for some misunderstandings yourself 😉

      • There’s clearly no reason to respond further until you educate yourself as to how sampling works. Your statements on “distortion” in reduction of bit depth are still just as wrong as they always have been, and your mental blindness to the ‘2-sample’ issue suggests you aren’t even willing to look at how things really work.

        For instance, your statement about reconstruction filters in your last insult ignores the fact that reconstruction filters have an impulse response between samples. That’s just a touch important, and when you understand just how much variation CAN exist between samples, there you have it, and THEN you will understand that 2+delta samples is all it takes. Note, the delta is due to the math, since you can get down to 2x only at infinite time delay. I will cheerfully agree we don’t go there.

      • 66 john

        Fine ignore the interesting questions does a CD sound as good as a master in the studio??? No….

        And last example if I take two photos (snapshots) of a moving object is there any info to tell me how it moved in between the two snapshots??? No there is not…. Just like there isn’t anybinfo to describe shape of wave at 20khz…. So the reconstruction is a totally inaccurate guess.. That is true and there is no scientific way to change that.

        Big words will not change those facts bit may make your argument look good 😉

        Have a good night because anyone on here is free to,google what I said about issues with low rate of samples at high freq if they like and they can look up why dither is added and see it for themselves.

        Night 🙂

      • John plainly doesn’t understand Zeno’s Paradox.

        In addition, he’s making the often-made elementary mistake of assuming that the reason that we master at higher resolutions is that it’s all dependant upon the frequency response, which is not true.

        Can people discern the difference between a well mastered CD and the original digital master if that was was 96k/24bit? Mostly not. As a 57 year old man, I can’t, and that’s basic biology. If you’re older than about 25, John, neither can you, no matter what you might think. And if you think you’re hearing *complex* activity in that range, then I’m sorry, you’re just not (unless you’re some kind of freak with bat-like hearing, and to be brutally honest, we don’t really care about people like you when we’re mastering).

        But a more interesting question is: can people discern the difference between a well mastered CD and a well mastered vinyl pressing. And the answer is yes. This I still can do, because frequency response is simply not the issue. The real issue is that you need to make many more compromises to get a good rendition of something onto vinyl, because vinyl is a very unforgiving medium. So while you’re fixated on high frequency rendition – which is something we don’t even worry about too much these days – your listening experience is changed in numerous other ways which you probably ascribe to a ‘better’ sound, but is simply just ‘a better sound *for vinyl*’. And here I reiterate what I said elsewhere: what you hear on a recording does not remotely approach the way your ears hear things in reality. A recording, no matter how well done, is artifice.

        To finish, why is it, do you think, that the huge majority of musicians, sound technicians, producers, sound designers and all the other people who create the sounds you listen to are so happy to embrace the digital paradigm? I’m talking about ALMOST ALL the people in the modern music & recorded-sound industry. Do you think we’re all cloth-eared morons who’ve somehow been slipped the digital Kool Aid? Or could it just possibly be that we actually know what we’re doing…?

      • 68 john

        There we go ignore the point and lots of big words…

        Most masters in big studios are a lot better than 24/96 these days.

        You assume I cant tell. I assure you I can. If I can still hear bats I’m damn sure I can hear high frequency.

        Your making huge mistake that two snapshots can describe a shape… They cant ever describe the original wave… They can produce a wave but cant produce the original or even close to it as you just don’t have the data (all the huge lengthy big word replies and if I was wrong a quick layman’s explanation would have shown you were right and taken what 20secs). But its easier to spend ages referring to other places, using big words and not actually addressing the point…

        And your next mistake is even with limited high frequency hearing you should find master to cd comparison a revelation. Because it truely is a revelation hearing a good master in a good studio, in fact crazy good.

        44.1 was picked because it was dictated by storage media of the time even then they knew it wasn’t perfect but for a lot of uses it was practical enough but it was never seen as perfect.

        There are people out there in double blind can identify the higher quality track over 44.1 every time so guess some ears are not as good as others (just the same as eyes)

        Just one line answer here… With two samples per wave can a reconstruction filter know if one set of samples came from a jaggy wave and another came from a smooth one??? If not, which it cant then there is no way for it to reconstruct correctly at 20khz

      • >>Just one line answer here… With two samples per wave can a reconstruction filter know if one set of samples came from a jaggy wave and another came from a smooth one??? If not, which it cant then there is no way for it to reconstruct correctly at 20khz<<

        Just a one line reply: you plainly *think* you know what you're talking about, but to anyone who actually does, the question sounds like "If I have an elephant, how many monkeys are in the tree?"

        But hey, what would I know? It's not like I've spent 30 years studying this stuff, or people pay me to do it or anything.

      • 70 john

        Are you a politician? Cos you’ve avoided that again…

        See there are plenty of people who have taken the output from a 44.1 files with 18-20khz test tones and looked at what the output from a reconstruction filter is. Guess what? it doesn’t look like the original wave? Not even very close!!!!!

        At 96 its quite close to original.

        Now you can avoid question all you like and throw your big words and superiority around but that doesn’t change the maths or real samples.

        I also know an audio electronics designer (and he knows more than most about reconstruction filters and how they work) and he did huge amounts of work actually researching reconstruction filters. Surprisingly most actually make some quite massive mistakes. One that does a better job than most is a PMD100. However most of the reconstruction mistakes were in the bass area. However all get it very wrong at HF but that was purely due to fact there was not enough accurate data to interpolate accurate points in between the snapshots (interpolate for layman readers is a guess at the line between the samples) with lots of points this fill between the dots with an interpolates line does an ok job when snapshots become fewer and there are too few points it is a complete fabrication.

        If you really want to keep up your superior stance and avoid the question I’ll go and find some real data of people who have researched and actually grabbed this very data and put it in graphs to demonstrate how bad it is.

      • Like I said, what would I know. You’re obviously the expert.

      • John, it would be good of you to stop spreading quackery. Your comment about “shape of a a wave at 20khz” shows again that you have no idea how sampling works. How many shapes can a 20kHz sine wave have, John? Do tell me.

        Don’t tell me triangle, square, etc, which have harmonics, all of them above 22,050 Hz, and which are therefore not reproduced because they are well over 20kHz.

        You can insult others, but you admit, when you refuse to go study some basic tutorials, that you are determined to remain ignorant, and insulting, to boot.

        I suppose Bob Katz’ book wouldn’t matter to you, too, since I was the fact checker for the parts you’re arguing incorrectly about.

    • Seriously, what about format compression, why didn’t we talk about that? We should talk about FLAC and MP3 too… You see, hearing the difference now isn’t the reason to encode to FLAC. FLAC uses lossless compression, while MP3 is ‘lossy’. What this means is that for each year the MP3 sits on your hard drive, it will lose roughly 12kbps, assuming you have SATA – it’s about 15kbps on IDE, but only 7kbps on SCSI, due to rotational velocidensity. You don’t want to know how much worse it is on CD-ROM or other optical media. I started collecting MP3s in about 2001, and if I try to play any of the tracks I downloaded back then, even the stuff I grabbed at 320kbps, they just sound like crap. The bass is terrible, the midrange…well don’t get me started. Some of those albums have degraded down to 32 or even 16kbps. FLAC rips from the same period still sound great, even if they weren’t stored correctly, in a cool, dry place. Seriously, stick to FLAC, you may not be able to hear the difference now, but in a year or two, you’ll be glad you did.
      Rotational velocidensity affects all audio files encoded with lossy compression. These include mp3, aac, and ogg.
      The most notable effect of rotational velocidensity is the loss of bitrate in files. A lossy audio file will lose an average of 12kbps a year. But, this can vary greatly depending on the type of storage media used.
      SATA HDD: ~12kbps IDE HDD: ~15kbps SCSI HDD: ~7kbps DVD: ~16kbps CD-R/RW: >21kbps
      This can be overcome by compressing audio using lossless formats such as FLAC, APE, or TTA. These formats are designed to never lose quality over time, and will sound the same right now as they will in 10 years.”


      • 74 john

        Only ever use flac for digital music on my music server (the server happily transcodes on the fly for any network media device that can’t handle flac directly).

        If ripping my cd’s on PC I also use EAC (exact audio copy).

        Also use sound cards or digital outs with asio drivers so my music doesn’t get converted to a different bitrate sample frequency in windows mixer…

        However it is a misnomer that they loose quality over time. lossless v lossy terms are about the encoding algorithms used at time file is created. Lossy means it throws away some data which it can’t recreate later. Lossless means it can recreate the original exactly. The only time a lossy file will change from how it existed when it was encoded is if for some reason it’s re-encoded. It may just be on your current equipment mp3’s encoded with software that did a bad job encoding is more apparent than in the playback equipment you had at the time.


      • 75 batclerk


        I’m going to assume that was sarcastic….funny!

  25. 76 john

    Last thought… if all equipment was the same then good studios would not have amps, dac’s, master clocks and all sorts that cost a small fortune. And yes you could probably improve the sound quality in a studio if you spent some time auditioning products….

    At the engineer do you seriously think a pile of equipment bought to do a job with no auditioning can not be bettered with careful choosing of equipment and connectors (just because you recorded it does not mean there isn’t other equipment that can do a better job) and 2. you are listening to the original recording and master etc (do you use higher than 44.1 16bit for a master? Why if article is true???).

    • 77 jaava

      The higher bit depth and sampling frequency are used in the production phase for several reasons. Higher bit depth gives the engineer the freedom of not really minding the recording levels. This makes it easier to avoid clippings and such and makes the workflow smoother. The higher sampling rate is not actually widely used. Most recordings are done at 44.1kHz, but the higher sampling does help some digital processing plugins (not going to explain the technological reasons now).

      Studios do not generally “audiophile” with their ADC and DAC equipment. Reliability is the main parameter. For example behringer makes a very cheap 8 channel ad-da converter that is generally considered to have great sound quality but that has reliability problems. Also studios choose their equipment as a package. If studio chooses the Pro Tools as their DAW(as most bigger ones still do) they will use the Avid converters since it is part of the product. If they choose to use RME sound interface, they will probably have RME converters too. Also the market for multichannel ad-da systems is not very big and the price range is surprisingly small (most expensive 2 channel DAC in hifi world costs a lot more than most expensive 16 channel DAC in pro audio world. Studios usually do not use ADC that costs more than 250$ per channel).

      A quality master clock is important if using multiple converters at once (system needs an external clock, because all the converters have to get the same clock). Clock quality in the AD has some effect on conversion quality but this is usually inaudable. Also it has been shown that the converters usually perform better using their internal clock than any external. This in mind, studios usually just take the clock from the same brand than other converter equipment.

      Recording studios choose connectors again with only reliability and ease of maintenace in mind. Neutrik has almost a monopoly position in pro audio connectors these days. Neutrik connectors usually cost less than 1$ a piece. Engineers usually have very good information about how much the connector affects the sound (a hint: the answer is very close to 0).

    • Studios are trying to shape the sound into what the mixing engineer and producer need. They are not trying merely to reproduce things accurately. Your entire argument fails on its inappropriate range.

  26. 79 your mom

    I know these truths: All of the major brands such as Pioneer etc… used better parts in the 70’s because they were trying to make a name for their brands because they were brand new. In the 80’s, the ideology switched to let’s see who can make the most money and they started using cheaper parts / components. This is because the focus had shifted from outdoing each other’s quality to outdoing each other financially. I own tons of equipment and I am here to tell you that there are major differences between components. In addition, I can tell you that bigger gauge copper speaker wire places less strain on your amplifier. The best analogy that I can use is trying to push 5,000 gallons of water through a 3 inch pipe vs. trying to push that much through a 12″ pipe. More copper does matter. It can affect sound quality in terms of how much load your amp is processing. In addition, I am here to tell you that there is a definite difference between a $20 Audio Technica Needle and a $100 Grado Red. I have heard it. There are also audible differences in a DAC in an el-cheapo portable cd player and for instance my Teac with the Burr Brown 24bit / 192khz DAC…. did I pay big bucks for it? No. I bought it for $6.00 at Goodwill. But you can hear transients such as reverb trails / cymbal transients that you cannot hear with my other cd players. In addition, speaker quality also makes a difference. I had a set of Sony speakers for several years that were new and really good. I recently aqquired some Mirage speakers used for $40 and I can hear parts of the mix that were not there in the other speakers i.e. transients etc… In addition, with Digital Vs. Analog, 44,100 snap shots of a sound wave vs. the entire sound wave is different and you can hear degradation within the same track from Vinyl, to CD and then to MP3. You can even hear degradation within Mp3 if you go from 320kbps vs 128kbps because there is less data there and your ear can hear it. My girlfriend conducted blind taste test for me with Windows Media Lossless vs. Apple Lossless when she was looking at me getting a IPOD vs. ZUNE 4 or 5 years ago and I could hear the difference between algorhythms in WMA Lossless vs. Apple Lossless. She mixed up which one she was doing each time and we did it 10 times. I was able to hear the difference 7 out of 10 times on the song Fell on Black Days by Soundgarden. You can hear the difference in the intro when the drummer comes in boom boom chot – on the snare hit with higher grade algorithm / sample rate you can hear the transient sound of the reverb on the snare drum but with the lower bit rates / algorithms there is less of that transient.

    • 80 batclerk

      I used to repair vintage amplifiers and audio equipment as a hobby.

      Speaker quality is damn high(on the high end) for vintage but the actual amplifier tech is a non issue, infact….the reverse is true.

      The old amps sound worse or colored since the capacitors degrade over time unless one does a re-cap(pain in the ass and $$ if you hire somebody). Although the degrading caps can give the solid state amps a unique characteristic.

      Solid State Amplifiers are built to spec and aren’t “rocket” science. Dumping more money on amps isn’t going to improve quality..you can increase power but power isn’t a problem in home systems unless your system doubles as a DJ setup.

      Overall, the primary different I noticed digger around vintage equipment is cap choices and board layouts….if your a circuit board designer, there is some beautiful designs but it isn’t going to increase audio quality.

  27. Thank you very much for the article. This Christmas I re-evaluated my compulsive vinyl-collecting and after running my own A-B tests accepted the “colorization-vs-transparency” position of vinyl vs digital.

    My McIntosh C39 is on the fritz, and I’m thoroughly considering stepping down to a reliable black-box amp with a phono input (or even an affordable external phono stage) for my Denon DP-60L once it kicks the bucket.

    Again, my thanks for your article.

    • I also have lots of vinyl, although I play CD’s, and I found that I had to go to some work to get a decent Phono preamp. Most receivers nowdays either have none or a terrible phono input. Just a warning there.

  28. I have a nephew who is so obsessed with vinyl to the point that he believes that stacking them horizontally is detrimental to sound quality. I assume he thinks the grooves are somehow flattened out. He is a vegetarian.

    • 84 john

      Ummmm ask anyone who enjoys vinyl and you’ll find he’s quite correct… In fact just google it…

      Stacking records in a pile will warp them quite effectively 🙂

    • And how does being a vegetarian relate to this article?

      I’m a vegan and a very critical listener.

  29. 86 Kjim

    Vinyls often do have a different master from the cd version, usually with less compression. There’s some physical reason for this, but can’t remember it right now and don’t care enough to google it nor ask my friends in the mastering business. Anyway, that might explain some of the listening differences and preferences between CDs and vinyls, as the audio source material might not be the same. Other than that, great article; cheers!

    • That’s actually incorrect. Vinyl needs greater compression than CD for a number of reasons (and different kinds of compression too). There are also other constraints on vinyl, such as the restriction of where certain frequency content can go (low frequencies are constrained to center-ish, in order that over modulation does not ‘print’ across to the adjacent grooves). There are also numerous oddities to do with the cutting needle orientation, the ‘float’ of the needle, various resonances and damping and all kinds of other crap that need to be considered in modifying the content of the signal to be cut.

      Microgroove vinyl has a typical dynamic range of around 55-60db. CD has a typical dynamic range of 80-90db. So you can see that to get a good result on vinyl you need to employ a greater (and more judicious) amount of compression. CD is more forgiving – really, the only technical constraint on mastering to digital is that you don’t overmodulate the signal. That’s not to say there is no art in mastering digital – it just means that any old rubbish can make it successfully to a CD pressing without there being *technical* problems.

      But yes, there is almost *always* a different master for the vinyl to the CD version. In fact I know of no single instance in my whole career where the same master was used for both. You’re correct in saying that the listening experience is different. Many people who say that vinyl ‘is better’ are hearing a technically compromised version of the recording that’s been made simply to make sure it’s playable; they just ‘prefer’ it. What people often fail to realise is that we’ve been doing this shit for an awful long time, and we know how to make it sound good for whatever medium we choose to stick it on.

      • 88 john

        Technically dynamics are less on vinyl but almost all CD releases compress much more to make them LOUD… Dynamic range is not what range a format technically has but how far peeks in dynamics (like a kick drum) are from the avg rms measure….

        In modern (especially pop/rock cd’s this has become very low and on CD/download it’s usually worse…

        Look at this graphic http://productionadvice.co.uk/loudness-war-infographic/ and you’ll see what I mean about dynamic range (it’s not the possible difference between very loudest and quietest sounds but how much headroom the engineer had left for the natural dynamics of the instruments to be heard)…

        Most CD’s are so compressed in this respect you can’t feel the kick drum hit you in the chest or that sharp snap of the snare really pop through.

      • >>”almost all CD releases compress much more to make them LOUD… “<<

        That's a massive (and faulty) generalisation, and is pretty much rubbish. Yes, *some* CDs do that (particularly pop music) but the pursuit of 'loudness' is not generic to 'almost all' music on CD as you assert. And don't teach me how to suck eggs, please, I'm quite aware of what dynamic range is, and how it's constituted. You know that 'engineer' you speak of? That's me.

        What needs to be made quite clear is that NOTHING you hear on a recording is real, nor approaches real, nor is anything like the way you hear things in reality. It's all artifice. Our job is to make it palatable for your ear, in whatever manner that is achievable. What we do for vinyl is very different to what we do for CD (or for Blu-ray or for SHM-CD or UHQ for that matter). Most people have no idea how we go about preparing sound for different formats, and would most likely be horrified at the tricks we play on your ears.

      • 90 Kjim

        Oops, thanks for the clarification – as I said I couldn’t remember what exactly is the difference between masters, now I know better.

  30. Just for kicks, you might also refer people who HEAR A DIFFERENCE to this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_LN7qUiTpo While it’s not a refereed paper or talk, it is based on results culled from about 100 years or so of study of human perception. I’ve also chimed in on the avsforum thread, and in closing, you should come visit your local AES chapter, you’ll find some birds of a feather there. I PM’ed you the web site for that on avsforums.

  31. 92 Lawrence Redfield

    Seems there is some pseudo science in the debunkers as well. I used to test capacitors for a living, for example, and the item quoted in the original article that caps are ready to go instantly (hence no warmup needed) is very untrue. Many caps I tested could not reach maximum specs until some 5 minutes of cycling.

  32. 93 Skeptic

    When I was younger I was cursed with the ability to clearly hear the sound made by TV flyback transformers (< 16kHz). My friends who argued (in the '80s) about fancy cables, CD vs. vinyl, tubes vs. transistors – none of them noticed the flyback sound. So I've been skeptical for a long time.

  33. Reblogged this on Section 18 and commented:
    i love this. Skeptically taking apart the audio industry

  34. Some interesting points, I’m a pro audio “engineer” and I wholeheartedly agree with the paraphrased comments about most us being about as much of an engineer as a rotten banana (I paraphrased a bit there hehe) I make light of the lack of scientific method only because of how infuriating I find it and how its basically driven me to retrain and leave the business. It makes me red hot angry on a daily basis. its bad for my blood pressure.

    As for matching speakers and amplifiers, here you’ve hit a bit of a worm filled can. Now you have something to talk about. I’m sure in your time you’ve come across impedance matching for tube amplifiers. For those of us in production side of the business we do this because we don’t want to royally F up a very expensive output tranny, and I’m sure Mr Hi-Fi Salesman claims it also makes your system sound less 3d, less danceable and less organic… In truth the impedances are never as cut and dry as the 4ohm, 8ohm, 16ohm. Nothing is that precise, and mismatching a speaker that’s actually one way from its stated rating and an amplifier that’s not good at driving that particular load may well cause a loss of power and may make things sound not quite the same. Guitarists find this out when they start matching speakers or whole cabinets and find a lack of headroom or a change in the way the amp seems to feel (and yes, a guitarist can feel an amp). I have an old Vox AC-50 with a valve rectifier and I can feel it tell me “Hey buddy, that’s it, i’m starting to clip and compress, that’s as loud as you, me, and that speaker are going tonight” and when you push against it, you just get more distorted, not much louder. Same thing happens with the impedance matching of guitar pickups to preamp, its part of the reason its often best to leave any FX pedals out of the line.

    In sort in some circumstances, speaker matching may be something to think about, only think about though, its not going to be a massive deal. A decent solid state amp is going to work very nicely under lots of conditions 🙂

    Thanks for the spirit of the article, and thanks for having to balls to post it in these circles, some of the audiophiles are very nasty and need to be caged at once.

  35. Greetings,

    Thanks for the nice write up.

    Agree exotic cables are laughable.

    Good cables of sufficient Gauge 12-14 should be sufficient to carry the energy and not contribute to resistance in a way that damping becomes and issue particularity with older SS amps. and I think tube amps in general.

    Agree, the source can’t be fixed on the back end. GIGO

    The Audio system can’t make the music sound better, not including any miracles from microprocessors, but it can degrade it.

    The Mastering process can do so much damage to the music, Loudness Wars and Quantization error. Some of the newer remastering jobs also include bass boost further damaging the source.

    Psycho-Acoustics where they add sounds to the music to trick the brain into hearing things that aren’t there to support the current I-player low bit rates.

    As to sampling rates, Quantization Error will always exist, there have been great improvements in computer processing since the 1970s, so why not go to the higher sampling rates?

    For the electronics part of the play back system, the question to ask is does any component or part degrade the source material?

    Lastly, what the systems do is push air, for home this means in a confined space with reflective and absorption surfaces. Improving the characteristics of a room must be taken into account, and can be done mostly with some thought and planning a little money.

    As to the speakers, can they generate the frequencies, do they do it accurately, how much energy does it take to make them push air, if bench tested against the THX requirements how do they perform?

    The argument for tubes is simplicity, the argument for horn-loaded-speakers is low output amplifiers that have fewer components which dramatically decreases the probability of something going wrong. The argument for vinyl records is the damage that has been done in the mastering rooms to the digital version, also greater frequency range of vinyl even if “inaudible”, waves in a room do interact.

    So if you have a vinyl record, a low output less than 20Watt tube amp with solid state rectification, and horn loaded speakers, the probability of something interfering with the source is drastically reduced, if all things are working properly.

    The argument for solid state is reliability over time, less drift over time, more robust in shipping, and can generate a lot of output power at a low cost. A high quality digital recording that isn’t intentionally vandalized in the mastering process can sound excellent when played and you get zero noise floor compared to vinyl, higher bit rates and different encoding schemes like DTS have a noticeable effect on the quality of the source.

    While tubes can color the sound of tube amps, the OP amps used in the pre-amplifers and other gear color the sound of the SS gear. The engineers that select the SS components ensure that they sound good on paper, then in the lab with audio tests, and can and do roll op amps and other components looking for the sound quality. Bell Labs had recordings they used to evaluate telco gear, recordings of male voices from the engineers who designed the telephone system, and co-incidentally the early sound systems used in every movie house the in US.

    As to the validity of the testing, the ear and the brain are funny things.

    I suggest that the measure should be “life like” and “non-fatiguing”.

    Nothing brings this out faster than a female voice, and a female voice with a quality piano.

    Not all encoding schemes and bit rates yield the same results.

  36. 97 Leon

    With regards to your points, I agree. mostly.
    1. Some coat hangers are wooden. they wont work. others are bare metal and if they are lying in a puddle of water might do some fun things with electricity or rust. then again if you have water where you have your hifi, you have bigger problems than audio quality.

    2) I just dont want my CD players sounding like they are about to take off like a Hercules aeroplane. and while people are at it, they dont have to snap shut. whats wrong with gentle soft closing?

    4) Burn might have nothing to do with audio quality, but anything that physically moves, specifically the rubber thingy around the speaker cone that allows the cone to move might need a bit lower volume action before letting them rip at full volume. I suspect really cold room temperatures might cause a stiffening of the rubber or age might make it perrish. I have no scientific backup for this tho. I’m just sucking my thumb here in no-audio kind of way.

    6) Vinyl sounds better like instagram looks better. its what i like to call fauxthenticity. people think it sounds more alive, rich, authentic because of for scratches. unless its a soundtrack of a film made to look back in time, scratches are useless unless you need to let someone know that the record was badly looked after.

  37. 98 Terry

    No.3 is the only one I can argue about. Maybe the one about vinyl v CD, but everything else, for the average punter is fairly sound advice. Excuse the pun.
    Amplifiers make no difference??? Everything makes a difference. If there’s a capacitor, resistor, transformer, polyswitch or any other electrical component in the signal path, it affects the sound quality.
    I am a sound technician, I work in a shop that hires pro audio equipment to bands and djs. I have been in the job for a mere ten years, so I know there are plenty more guys n gals out there with more experience, but through my experience of dealing with many different makes and models I can 100% state as fact, the amplifier has a DRAMATIC affect on sound quality. Would you put an engine from a mini into a Lamborghini?

    Mp3s also affect both volume level and sound quality. Some people hear a difference, some don’t. That’s down to interest and training. Some people just don’t care. That’s ok, but djs in particular should only use 320kb mp3s.

    Some connectors are more secure for touring, but if it’s going in and staying in with a short run, all should be well.

    My point is made.

  38. 99 Toby

    Great article.
    I’m a musician, sound engineer (with a Bsc in Science) and I own a large outdoor concert sound company.

    Having invested millions of dollars in sound equipment over the years to achieve the highest quality possible sound for concert goers, I can absolutely assure people that the crap that audiophiles pedal is absolute rubbish.

    I know exactly what makes a difference to the sound and it isn’t fancy cables or overpriced boutique gadgets.

    My recommendations are:

    Spend your money on good speakers they don’t have to be crazy expensive.

    Get a good amplifier with plenty of power. Again don’t go over the top. I’d recommend one that just amplifies and does nothing else, if it has a screen and has ‘sound modes’ it’s probably not great.

    Buy practically any CD player, just avoid the really cheap ones.

    Buy a reasonably decent preamp, simple is best, again if it has a screen it’s probably not great.

    There are a few numbers in audio that matter.

    Noise floor, but gear with a 100dB or better noise floor, this will mean you don’t end up with lots of hiss in your system.

    I’d recommend an amplifier that is 2 to 3 times more powerful than what your speakers can handle. This will improve your noise floor.

    Avoid gizmos, the more screens, modes and enhancement features a product offers, the more the manufacturer has added in order to overcome a products poor ability to do its actual job.

    The best amplifiers have one control, a volume knob.

  39. 100 jdwii

    Very nice article being a audiophile i agree with all of these statements.

  40. 101 God

    Vinyl has an analog representation of the audio. Digital guitar amps sound like utter shit compared to valve amps. It’s the same with digital recording and playback devices. So I disregard this article as it is very biased towards digital. You all talk about working for 30 years as though it makes you an expert. That puts you in the business at the start of the digital revolution. Of course you champion what you know but in the mid ’80s everything got so over processed. There is a reason most of the music sold now was made before the mid ’80s. It’s better music, but it also sounds better, extra noise and all, it sounds better! Recording studios care more about the silence of a lower noise floor than the notes nowadays. You all sicken me except for John.

    • Thank you for weighing in, God. Vinyl does contain an analog representation of the sound-waves, but it simply doesn’t follow that analog represents the sound-waves more accurately. Here are some informative videos made by an actual engineer that helped me to understand:
      Again, from the perspective of accuracy, transistor amps are objectively superior to valve amplifiers. Please understand that for a guitar amplifier, valve amplifiers are great precisely because they introduce noise/distortion of a very pleasing sort. Some people like this distortion as a kind of effect on their hi-fi systems, but what makes sense to me is accuracy. I want all the beautiful distortion of a band like Crazy Horse represented as accurately as possible in my listening room with a minimum amount of extra distortion added by my electronics.
      I am personally conflicted about older music being better, but do agree that noise/distortion inadvertently added during the recording process can sound great. But imagine if a recording engineer like Rudy Van Gelder had access to today’s technology to record a group like John Coltrane’s classic quartet. The more nuance that is captured from a group like that the better as far as I’m concerned. Van Gelder directly addresses digital technology in the below interview:
      And here is an informative website addressing your last statement:

  41. 103 CKD

    “It is unlikely that expensive CD players or DACs improve sound quality.” With respect – utter trash! If you can’t tell the difference between my Lyngdorf CD-1 and a mid-range £250-300 machine, then there is something seriously wrong with your hearing.

    With interconnects using the same interface, I agree. Not so speaker cables: I remember one particular cable I tried (sorry, but I don’t remember what make or model it was because I didn’t buy it), turned my Monopulse speakers into floorboard destroyers! And no, it wasn’t placebo effect either: the tonal change and bass uplift was clearly audible and absolutely consistent every time this cable was used.

    To sum up, I would say with most cables you really can’t tell any difference. But there are just the odd one or two which alter the presentation so drastically that you would have to be stone deaf not to notice.

  42. 104 Jamey

    This article is like the Marshall McLuhan scene from “Annie Hall” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRcMsqCbzWk. I avoid arguments about interconnects, tubes, digital v. analog recording, etc (the acoustics of a recording studio are FAR more significant a factor than recording equipment in creating warmth and depth of field.

    One minor nit to pick, however, re: speaker element burn-in, though: Materials–esp paper and elastomer/rubber surrounds DO need to break in to provide minimal elastic resistance to the motion generated by magnetic coils. Looser materials do permit greater accuracy. But the impact of this is debatable.

  1. 1 AVRant Home Theater Podcast » AV Rant #449: Have You Triple Checked Your Speaker Wire?
  2. 2 More Audio Upgrades – The Strange World of Axel Fendersson

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