AudioQuest Headquarters Tour

The Southern California headquarters of cable manufacturer AudioQuest, which includes their offices, a listening room, conference rooms, a very very large warehouse, assembly rooms, a graphic design room, a few kitchens and various and sundry other more mundane but just as important places, is within a few-minutes’ drive from T.H.E. Show at Newport Beach. Shane Buettner, AudioQuest's Director of Education who you will most likely recognize as the former Editor-In-Chief of Home Theater magazine, Joe Harley VP of AudioQuest (Joe Harley is also a recording engineer/producer responsible for among others the Blue Note 45rpm reissues from Music Matters and he's a musician), and Andrew Kissinger, Regional Sales Manager, gave a group of A/V journalists, including Tom Norton, Senior Editor and Video Technical Editor of Home Theater magazine, the full tour.

My comments on the tour/AudioQuest facility can be summed up by saying that this is one of the most organized, clean, neat and tidy places I've ever seen. And it's not the kind of organized, clean, neat and tidy you can fake for a tour. From the huge warehouse to the tiniest Ziplock baggy, everything had its place and label. Impressive.

We also partook of a few demonstrations that are meant to highlight the differences cables can make and I'll give you an overview of what we heard. I'm not going to get into describing sonic minutiae since a) it's my belief that you really need to experience this kind of thing for yourself, and b) those who believe cables do not and can not make a difference won't believe a word I have to say so I'm not going to waste my time gilding a dead lily. To get right down to it, the Emperor does in fact have clothes; you cable deniers just have dirty minds.

The first demo involved a simple setup and premise: one inexpensive micro-component system, different speaker cables—stock and AudioQuest—connected to each speaker and a balance control. As you listen you or someone else switches from one speaker/cable to the other using the balance control. And back again as many times as you'd like. It took one swap to hear a difference and few more to hear it again and again since it was not subtle—the AudioQuest speaker cable improved the presentation and the most obvious change can be described as lending the music a more natural voice. Or if you prefer, the micro system simply sounded better with the AudioQuest cable.

The next demo, and you'll notice that AudioQuest had cleverly setup these demos in order of least controversial on up, involved a B&W Zeppelin boombox and two power cords—stock and AudioQuest. Listen, swap, listen. You could also keep your eyes closed for this one, I didn't, but the improvement in sound quality was easily and readily apparent after the first swap. I'd characterize the most obvious improvement as a less constricted presentation—the sound was no longer tied so tightly to the box.

Next up was the new favorite bugaboo on the block—the HDMI audio cable. Yes, we're going there. One modest system, two HDMI cables—stock and AudioQuest. Listen, swap, listen. Blind or not your choice but I preferred to watch everyone's reaction, which was the same as mine—wow! The difference was not subtle and can be summed up as a lack of compression when the music was played using the AudioQuest HDMI cable as compared to the stock piece of crap. The change in the quality of the vocals stood out so much that it enhanced the emotional impact of the song.

Lastly, we moved to the big rig: Rockport Aquila loudspeakers, Ayre MX-R monoblocks, Ayre KX-R preamp, Ayre DX5 Universal A/V Engine, AudioQuest Oak speaker cables, Wild and William E. Low Signature interconnect and power cords. It's worth noting that the previous demos were intentionally set-up on moderate to damned-cheap gear to illustrate, in addition to the basic premise that cables do in fact make a difference, that you don't need to have fancy-assed audiophile stuff in order for cables to make a difference. This time we listened to HDMI audio cable's more popular cousin—the USB cable.

Listen, swap, listen. Shane swapped the USB cables from the external 2TB hard drive to the Mac mini and from that to the Ayre player from stock to AudioQuest and back again. He also introduced a few levels of AudioQuest USB cables—the Carbon, Cinnamon DBS, and the Diamond, as well as adding and taking away AudioQuest Q Feet isolation devices under the external hard drive and Mac mini. In each and every case, the improvement when moving up the USB cable line or adding isolation to things that spin was readily apparent to everyone. In fact swapping just one stock USB cable for an AudioQuest Carbon improved the sound quality to such an extent as to render the music more engrossing. More groovy, if you will, as if the band had just hired a better bass player or drummer or both and the lead singer had removed his scarf from covering the microphone.

(A Free AudioQuest Tip: If your external hard drive offers both Firewire and USB, you can improve the sound quality of your computer-based playback by using Firewire from your hard drive to your computer and USB from your computer to your DAC.)

Of course this wasn't a science experiment and I readily admit that all kinds of things could have influenced what I heard, especially the most obvious one which is that cables, even HDMI audio and USB, can make a difference in sound quality. If you remain skeptical, and some skeptics always do no matter what, I'd suggest that AudioQuest set up a series of demos for each and every cables-don't-matter skeptic. They could easily bus them in from nearby John Wayne Airport, let them listen for themselves and then put them back on the bus and drive them into the middle of the desert and leave them there to fend for themselves. At least that's what I'd do.

I don't know about you, but I was shocked to see the size of the AudioQuest warehouse. Shocked to discover that so many people buy so many cables. I had never given this matter much thought. But with fan blades larger than any helicopter, even one former-Governor Arnold would use in his next action flick Predator III, the Housekeeper, hanging over your head and row after row after row of cables stacked up to the ceiling, you have to accept the fact that cables make a difference to a lot of people.

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Comments
Caaables's picture
Simple Question...

I will start off by saying while I do believe cables can sound different, I do not believe that "exotic" cables can be audibly detected from one to another with such extreme and positive effects.

My question to the believers is this...

Typically when there is such controversy over a topic, one side will usually show as the victor unless it is truly up to opinion however, the believers claim it is not a matter of opinion but, fact that these cables do infact sound better.  If these cables DO sound BETTER, why is there such disbelief (and do not spoon feed me the idea that those who cannot afford it do not want to believe it because even those who make critically acclaimed products *MCINTOSH* do not belive in such lunacy) if the answer is apparent.

PS. There are numerous studies indicating that shows there is no significant difference between "exotic" to well made cables (that's using science ftr).  Also, there are numerous DBT that indicate, though previously suspected, no improvement could be detected.

RIDDLE ME THIS!?

John Atkinson's picture
Re: A Simple Question

Quote:
I will start off by saying while I do believe cables can sound different, I do not believe that "exotic" cables can be audibly detected from one to another with such extreme and positive effects.

Aren't these contradictory beliefs?

Quote:
There are numerous studies indicating that shows there is no significant difference between "exotic" to well made cables (that's using science ftr).  Also, there are numerous DBT that indicate, though previously suspected, no improvement could be detected.

You and Mr. Graves have referred to "numerous" DBTs that have published, for example, in the JAES. But I don't recall many if any that rise to the level of a peer-reviewed paper on this subject. For example, there was a test at an AES Convention that was proclaimed by some as "proving" that cable differences didn't exist.  But if you read our report of that test at www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/107 , you will see that the test had inadequate test conditions, including the fact that the moderator's mike was left live during the test.

Quote:
RIDDLE ME THIS!?

It comes down to whether you want to replace your own experience with the experience of others. As I said earlier, I took part in a blind test a few years back, the results of which indicated that I could distiguish between the cables. Why am I obliged to disregard that experience in favor of the results of a flawed test like the one described in the linked article?

Please note that I am not defending the extreme prices of some audiophile cables. That's why I used the phrase "silly-expensive" on the cover of the June 2011 issue. But in a free market, manufacturers can charge what they wish and if those prices are not justified by the benefit experience by customers, those manufacturers will fall by the wayside.

Stephen Mejias auditions very much less expensive cables in our August and September issues, BTW. I recommend read those columns.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Catch22's picture
Should the skeptics ask themselves a question?

Maybe they should ask themselves why they can't hear something that the experts in the field of audio, like JA, for example, can hear?

From an enthusiasts perspective, I wouldn't put any credence in a reviewer's opinion if they began every review with the proclamation that they can't hear very well, just as I wouldn't put much credence in a scientist who lacks the intellectual curiosity to learn things not yet known and takes the lazy way out  instead.

The best scientists are probably thrilled at the challenge of being proved wrong. If I were one, I would be because it would mean I learned something.

Audiogeek's picture
Yes,

they should. But at least in this case I believe your question should apply equally to the proponents as well as the skeptics. If it's good policy for one, then why not the other?

gmgraves2's picture
RE: Should the skeptics ask themselves a question?

This has little to do with experience or hearing acumen and everything to do with physics and expectational and sighted bias. DBTs remove those variables from the equation. It's really interesting to see how people change their minds after a DBT. They are SURE that they hear a difference in cables (and other things) only to find that these differences disappear when they don't know beforehand which of two test samples they are listening to.

I, myself, for instance, used to hear differences in cables (the more expensive one always sounds better than the cheap one) until I hear the same comparison in a DBT. Then they both sound the same. It stands to reason that one expects the fancy, expensive cable to sound better. and so it does....

Yes, there are many unknowns in science and physics. Wire behavior at audio frequencies is NOT one of them, however.   

BarrysConspiracyWorld's picture
Digital Cables

SPDIF digital cables make a difference in sound.  HDMI cables make a difference in the picture and sound (for those of you who use them for sound.  I prefer to run my HDMI's directly into my plasmas for best picture.)

DBT's are a bore.  You could probably run a test which showed no difference in speakers (or amp, preamp, dac etc) when using a DBT.

 

Best regards,

 

BarrysConspiracyWorld

   

gmgraves2's picture
RE: Digital Cables

"BT's are a bore.  You could probably run a test which showed no difference in speakers (or amp, preamp, dac etc) when using a DBT."

If you believe that, then, were I you, I wouldn't ever take any prescription drugs because DBTs are the "Gold Standard" of science for testing drug efficacy, as well as new chemicals, and a thousand other hypothesis.

John Atkinson's picture
Blind Tests - the Gold Standard?

Quote:
Quote:
BT's are a bore.  You could probably run a test which showed no difference in speakers (or amp, preamp, dac etc) when using a DBT.

Quote:
If you believe that, then, were I you, I wouldn't ever take any prescription drugs because DBTs are the "Gold Standard" of science for testing drug efficacy, as well as new chemicals, and a thousand other hypothesis.

Just because a test is blind doesn't mean it isn't flawed. Designing such a test with the variables reduced to just the one you are investigating is not trivial. Remember the Coke vs New Coke tests in the mid-1980s that very expensively overlooked a hidden variable in favor of New Coke.

And many of the blind tests that have been published that purport to "prove" that, for example, that cables or amplifiers sound identical have been rigged in favor of producing a null result.  How do I know? Because I have been involved in many of them as a listener at, for example, as AES Conventions.

Here is a list of all the ways a blind test can be arranged to produce either a false positive result when no real difference exists or a false null result when a real difference _does_ exist.

When the tester desires a positive result, the tester makes the preferred device louder. Or, in a test with a large number of trials arranges for it to be presented more often. (I inadvertently made this error in the blind tests of amplifiers I organized at the 1989 Stereophile Show -- see www.stereophile.com/features/113 , which was corrected in a followup test also published in the magazine at www.stereophile.com/features/587 .)

When the tester desires a null result in an ABX test, the primary tactic is to withhold the switch from the test subjects. If you then switch between A and B far too quickly, allowing only very brief exposures to X, you can get a null result between components that actually sound _very_ different.

Here are some other tricks I have witnessed being practiced by dishonest testers to achieve a false null result:

Misidentify what the listeners are hearing so that they start to question what they are hearing.

Introduce arbitrary and unexpected delays in auditioning A, B, or X.

Stop the tests after a couple of presentations, ostensibly to "check" something but actually to change something else when the tests resume. Or merely to introduce a long enough delay to confuse the listeners.

Make noises whenever X is being auditioned. For example, in the infamous AES test I mentioned earlier in this thread that has since been quoted as "proving" cables sound the same, the sound of the test speakers was being picked up by the presenter's podium mike. The PA sound was louder than the test sound for many of the subjects. See www.stereophile.com/features/107 .

Arrange for there to be interfering noise from adjacent rooms or even, as in the late 1990s SDMI tests in London on watermarking, use a PC with a hard drive and fan louder than some of the passages of music,

Humiliate or confuse the test subjects. Or tell them that their individual results will be made public.

Insist on continuing the test long past the point where listener fatigue has set in.

Use inappropriate source material. For example, if there exists a real difference in the DUTs' low-frequency performance, use piccolo recordings.

These will all randomize the test subjects' responses _even if  readily audible difference exists between the devices under test really exists_.

And if the test still produces identification result, you can discard the positive scores or do some other data cooking in the subsequent analysis.

For example, at some 1990 AES tests on surround-sound decoders, the highest and lowest-scoring devices, with statistically significant identification, were two Dolby Pro-Logic decoders. The tester rejected the identication in the final analysis, and combined the scores for these two devices. He ended up with null results overall, which were presented as showing that Dolby Pro-Logic did not produce an improvement in surround reproduction.

Or you limit the trials to a small enough number so that even if a listener achieves a perfect score, that is still insufficient to reach the level of statistical significance deemed necessary. This was done in the 1988 AES tests on amplifiers and cables, where each listener was limited to 5 trials. 5 correct out of 5 does not reach the 95% confidence level, so the tester felt justified in proclaiming that the listeners who scored 5 out of 5 were still "guessing."

So no, just because a test is blind does _not_ mean in itself that the results are meaningful.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

 

gmgraves2's picture
RE: Blind Tests - the Gold Standard?

Mr. Atkinson, you are quite right, DBTs can be haphazardly or even fraudulently set up. Sometimes it's due to incompetence, sometimes it's the result of a need to support some agenda. In the latter case, it's also a two edged sword. For instance, one can easily rig a DBT to make one cable sound "different", or even superior to another simply by having one cable rigged so that the level of the signal is just that little bit louder than the other. One could also cheat the other way by making both cables exactly the same make, model, and length as the other and there are surely other ways to stack that particular deck as well.

I've never been a party to a rigged cable DBT because the DBTs with which I have been associated as well as those peer-reviewed DBT papers in professional journals that I have read about have been scrupulously set up and conducted. Where I would expect chicanery would be where those conducting the tests have an agenda to "prove". Those would be cable manufacturers, of course, high-end stereo stores, and audio "buff" magazines who have advertisers to protect.

Every cable DBT that I have been involved with has been performed by audio clubs and ad hoc groups of audiophile friends who just wanted to know the truth.

Logically, those who believe in cable sound haven't a leg to stand on. None of them can offer any legitimate theory that explains how simple wire can affect such a low-frequency signal such as audio, and even more importantly, why these differing cable characteristics show up in no other AC signal applications except audio. They have never been detected in RF signals, they have never been detected in digital bit streams, in fact only audiophiles have ever noticed any such anomalies. Until someone comes up with some real science that actually applies to the audio passband (and while possible, that's not very likely), the question is pretty moot and the actual verdict is in. Above and beyond that, the question becomes one of religious belief - and there is no argument for that. 

John Atkinson's picture
Citations please

Quote:
I've never been a party to a rigged cable DBT because the DBTs with which I have been associated as well as those peer-reviewed DBT papers in professional journals that I have read about have been scrupulously set up and conducted

Again you refer to "peer-reviewed DBT papers in professional journals" with respect to cables, and again I am requesting you for citations to those papers. I have no objection to "arguing from authority" but those authorities do need to be identified.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

gmgraves2's picture
RE:Citations please

Glad to. It will take a day or two, though. I have about 25 years worth of AES Journals in my garage to go through in order to find the exact citations. It would be nice to use the AES Internet search, but since I let my membership lapse, I no longer have that privilege without paying a goodly amount of money for it. 

michaelavorgna's picture
Truth and religious belief "buffs"

> “Above and beyond that, the question becomes one of religious belief - and there is no argument for that. ”

Some beliefs, especially those based on personal experience and perception (like whether or not we hear a difference between cables), have no real consequence to anyone other than the person doing the perceiving. So we don’t need to rely on a supernatural explanation when personal preference is more than adequate. In other words, what cable people choose to buy and use in their hi-fi is of absolutely no consequence to you but it is of consequence to them - and there is no argument for that.

gmgraves2's picture
RE: Truth and religious belief "buffs"

"Some beliefs, especially those based on personal experience and perception (like whether or not we hear a difference between cables), have no real consequence to anyone other than the person doing the perceiving."

That's absolutely true. But there is a higher "truth" at work here. For example, suppose some "pharmaceutical" company was selling sugar pills as a cure for cancer, were advertising the pills to the hilt, paying for testimonials in their ads and publishing gobblydegook white papers explaining what these sugar pills are supposed to do and why. Let's say that you or a loved one took these pills instead of taking accepted treatments for the disease, and when they found out that the pills don't work, it's too late for their lives to be saved (I'm not suggesting, of course, that there is any relationship, other than a parallel causality between a bogus "snake oil" cancer cure and expensive cables that do nothing that a cheap cable couldn't do. It's just an analogy). Now supposed that I or others KNOW for a fact that this  cancer cure product was bogus. Would it not be criminal of me not to blow the whistle on the company that makes and sells this product? Remember, the only real difference here is that the "cancer cure" results in people dying, while the cable manufacturers are merely defrauding the public. Still, people need to know and understand what the science says about this claim. Now, here's the rub. If you KNOW that cables make no difference other than an imagined one, and you still wish to purchase them (perhaps for their "bling value" - after all some of them ARE really cool looking. Or, perhaps the buyer feels that no matter what the science tells them, that they still believe fervently that cables improve the sound of their hi-fis) THEN I agree that no one has any right or responsibility to save these people from themselves. It's those who believe in these things blindly that are getting bilked, and since the industry itself (or the government) won't regulate this kind of chicanery, someone has to raise the level of skepticism in consumers about this kind of thing and it might as well be fellow audiophiles.

Besides, I enjoy debating the subject. After all, that's what forums like this are about: having fun discussing these issues. 8^)

michaelavorgna's picture
The Hi-Fi Savior

So your mission is to save audiophiles from spending more money than you think they should.

Good luck with that ;-)

gmgraves2's picture
RE: The Hi-Fi Savior

"So your mission is to save audiophiles from spending more money than you think they should."

I don't give a damn what audiophiles spend their money on, but I do think that they should have the option of seeing this issue from a perspective other than that they get from reading cable reviews in subjective audiophile magazines. Also, I enjoy debating this issue with "true believers".

I really, probably, shouldn't have lingered this long in this debate, but, well, I'm enjoying it too much.   

michaelavorgna's picture
You’re welcome, George.

I’m not surprised, and I frankly expected to see, that after a few decades this “debate” still rages on. I’m also pleased to see that people from not only “both sides” but what I see as a more reasonable stance have chimed in.

On a personal note, when accusing people and an entire industry of fraud, I’d have a pang of discomfort and I would not get the same level of enjoyment from making such a claim as you do, especially seeing as you used to see things, and proselytize as evangelically from and for the other side.

But why stop now? The more you comment, the more you tell us about yourself which is the fun part for me.

augustk's picture
Statistical significance

In fact five correct answers out of five is statistically significant with a confidence interval of 95 percent - the probability of correctly guessing five trials is (1/2)^5 = 0.03125 which is less than 5 percent.

Anyway, I think the ideal situation would be a test where the subject gets to decide the conditions under which the test is performed (as long as it is a true blind test that is).

ST's picture
Why DBT?

Why do we need DBT to pick out a better cable? If someone is absolutely sure that $2000 cable is superior to a $100 cable then he should be able to identify the par excellence cable without even doing the DBT.



I once asked a dealer who sells only one type of brand for the last 20 or so years if he could positively identify his cables or CD players without a DBT to which he said he could. We did a small experiment to see if he could but to his dismay, he could not recognize his CD Player even once in five attempts.



So, if the sound is already good enough, and if you were unable to tell which player, cables, amplifiers or anything else was at work then does it really matter if one cable or any other thing better than the other?



Oh, one more thing. He called again after a few weeks to inform that the earlier "experiment" was flawed because apparently his player had some fault in it. Mmmm.....that makes it worse! He couldn't even tell if his player was broken in the first place. So much for those with golden ears that could hear the microscopic difference in cables.



ST



 

gmgraves2's picture
RE Why DBT?

"Why do we need DBT to pick out a better cable? If someone is absolutely sure that $2000 cable is superior to a $100 cable then he should be able to identify the par excellence cable without even doing the DBT."

Humans are NOT test instruments. Test instruments measure whatever parameters they are designed to measure and present the measured results. They do not interpret those results, they do not have biases, and they do not objectify their results. Human senses are fraught with biases. and they color everything we see and hear. (that's one reason why "eye witnesses" to crimes are so unreliable). The bottom line is that you and I (or anyone else) CAN'T be "absolutely sure that a $2000 cable is superior to a $100 cable". DBTs remove those biases from the equation. If you don't know what you are listening to, you won't let your sighted or expectational biases (and we all have them) sway your decision making processes.  

 

OTOH, the rest of your post is exactly what many would have predicted.  

bikepedlar1's picture
Stop It!!!!

Ok guys this is ridiculous. If you don't want to believe better cables exist or facts or theories about them then for God's sake DON'T BELIEVE IT! Don't you have a lawn to mow, a car to wash, or double blind test for the best ketchup to get to or something? Get out of the house, go watch a movie but for the love of might SHUT UP arguing to this extent about cables. Consult a psychiatrist and try to get on with your lives. Thanks

gmgraves2's picture
RE: Stop It!!!!

Methinks you are taking this much too seriously. I debate these issues because it is fun (for me). I can't speak for others, here, though. 

bikepedlar1's picture
Really?

Well it doesn't seem like you guys are taking it seriously at all. :)  I'll paraphrase a line from one of my favorite movies Sling Blade. It was Dwight Yoakam's character Doyle that said, "If y'all don't shut up I'm goin to go outta my mind." Please continue in my absence.

Catch22's picture
We don't need tests to determine the superior cable

The only issue is that of sounding different. The claim is that cables can't sound different. That's the hurdle to get over...or trip on. However, the value equation does seem to be the motivation for most of the skeptics. That's ironic if you think about it.

ST's picture
Why we hear what we hear?

 

Cables do sound different but only with some amplifiers and speakers (like electrostatics). Under such circumstances, the math can explain why certain cables with different impedance sound different. 

 

It is also possible that we to perceive certain cables to sound superior than others. In this case, we have to understand why we hear what we hear. I am unable to find the actual papers but this short snippet of the talk may interest you.

 

http://www.aes.org/sections/pnw/ppt/jj/highlevelnobg.ppt

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