Harmonic Technology CyberLight Wave & P2A interconnects Unpublished Letters #3
Editor: I was not surprised that Mr. Fremer expressed a strong preference for some "interconnects" that almost surely have audible linear and nonlinear distortions. Any dyed in the wool vinylphile clearly prefers music playback containing audible distortions. The same can be said of those who wax poetic about SET amplifiers.
There have been many instances of equipment reviews in your magazine wherein the equipment measured poorly but got a rave review. This just goes to show that listener preference (even a highly skilled professional listener) and high fidelity do not always correlate.
The common audio arguments about digital vs analog, cable vs cable, power cord vs power cord, etc. usually boil down to someone declaring "It is definitely higher fidelity because I like it better". This isn't always true. Without some sort of controlled listening test, we can't really be sure you can hear a difference at all. I know you guys mostly think that DBTs are useless, but given the fact that even skilled listeners can convince themselves that they are hearing all manner of things that don't exist (people reliably hear differences in A to A comparisons if they are told that they are AB comparisons) I don't know how else to separate the real from the imagined. And even when you do clearly hear a difference, how do I know that your impressions are due to fidelity or an idiosyncratic preference for some sort of distortion and will drive me out of the room?
The audiophile mantra of "trust your ears" is fine if you are spending your money, but when you are recommending components to others and trying to identify the true state of the audio art, I think more is required. I think a little DBT if for no reason other than separating the big differences from the subtle ones could be a useful tool.
A well-known speaker manufacturer has done a lot of work correlating measurements to trained listener preferences and using both measured performance and blind listening to develop their line of speakers. It is not surprising that the entire lineup has been successful and respected by the audio press. (I own what used to be their flagship model.)
I think it is admirable that you guys do both listening tests and measurements as well and that Mike stood up for his opinions even when the measurements didn't back him up. All I can really hope for in an audio reviewer is to read enough to think that their audio sensibilities are close to mine and use them to weed out the things I probably won't like so I don't have to audition everything in town before making an audio purchase.
For the most part I will look for items that measure well and sound good to me. I do have a tube preamp, tube output CD player and I listen to vinyl. The tube equipment does have pretty good specs and I am not sure that the tubes make them sound better or if I just get a warm glow from knowing that they are there. I think most decently made solid-state amps sound very much alike so I have a 20 year-old high quality Japanese one. I also think that a good CD player probably really has better fidelity to the source than any vinyl rig with its background noise and measurably higher distortion.
In my listening room, it doesn't really matter. When the lights are down, the volume is up, and I am in the right frame of mind, the music just takes me away. After all, isn't that why we buy this stuff?—Bob Wortman, New Milford, CT, firstname.lastname@example.org
Your last sentence sums it up, Mr. Wortman, but I don't think the distortions measured in the CyberLight cable are audible...you have to listen for yourself, though now that you know how they measured it's easier to conclude you hear them...that's one of the things I like about "observational" reviewing. I have no pre-conceived notion based on the measurements.
I also think that everything recorded and played back "distorts" from what live music sounds like--and that's especially true of CDs and digital in general, which while much better than analog when measuring by analog standards (ironically), clearly is doing other things wrong that to many ears makes the sound worse than whatever distortions vinyl and analog are adding to the signal. The idea is to arrive at something that sounds more like music, and I have to admit that there was an effortless quality to those CyberLight cables (and not just to my ears, but to the ears of some very good listeners, (including a well respected recording engineer) that made them sound less mechanical and more natural than the very good cables to which we compared them.
Looking at the measurements it's understandable that you'd say "yikes, that must sound terrible!" but were you to listen, I don't think that's the conclusion you'd come to.—Michael Fremer
Editor: I read with interest Michael Fremer's review of the Harmonic Technology CyberLight cables in the August issue. Mr. Fremer is my favorite Stereophile reviewer and so I tend to take his findings seriously. His comments were very consistent with other reviews and internet gossip I have seen regarding this product. The advantages he mentions such as avoidance of ground loops, etc. make sense on the face of it. Mr. Fremer was also consistent with other reports in his description of the CyberLight cable as a "technological breakthrough."
I, however, find this perplexing in that, as Mr. Fremer himself points out, this cable is based on "telecom/broadcast-quality analog laser technology" which has been around for decades. The only breakthrough I can see here is the application of this technology to home audio.
Additionally, I suspect that, as with other high end cable products, the price was arrived at completely independently of R&D, material and manufacturing costs and is based primarily on marketing strategy, especially in light of the price of the optional battery pack which could easily be sold for a quarter of the asking price. It ain't rocket surgery!
Speaking of R&D, it appears from Mr. Atkinson's measurement findings that Harmonic Technology didn't do nearly enough of that, particularly considering the retail price of these cables.
Also, conspicuously absent from any report I have seen previously regarding this product is outcry over the four conversion processes required to get the signal from source component to amplifier. I would have thought that audio purists of old would have been grousing about this. Instead it is implied that since it is an all-analog conversion process, it must be harmless. Basic tone controls in the signal path, though also analog, have long been considered compromising to the sound and have been out of fashion in the high end for some time.
I was particularly pleased to see a measurements section included with the review. Though I realize that this product represents a unique case, I having been wishing for some time that Stereophile would take cable reviewing more seriously and look for measurements that would back up manufacturer claims of improved sound. The number of cable companies probably comprise the single largest group in all the audio product categories. They're coming out of the woodwork! Profit margins must be outrageous. Get some cable, dress it up pretty, set the retail price at several thousand dollars, make outrageous claims and watch the customers line up. Such a deal!
Many of these cable products start life as readily available wire purchased in bulk and then dressed up for resale. Some companies don't even bother to deny this, saying instead that they listen to each piece of wire with alleged golden ears and grade it accordingly for use in their products. And if no one even attempts to call these cable purveyors to task for their claims, so much the better, eh?
If I had my wish, Stereophile would include measurements with all cable reviews and would rank cables in "Recommended Components" just as they do other products or, better yet, would leave cables out of "Recommended Components" altogether.—Will Wright, Seattle, WA