Music? Or Sound? JVS Elaborates

When I reread my February “As We See It,” Music? Or Sound?, my first thoughts about a piece I had written a while ago were: (1) I wish I’d devoted less space to telling the story and more to expanding upon my thesis; and (2) I’m afraid that my motivation will be misconstrued. Indeed, the flurry of furious comments makes clear that I failed to make the best case for my argument.

I regret that, to some, I came off as arrogant or condescending. It’s not that I have a golden ear; rather, I’ve had sufficient experience with the particular performers and compositions in the recordings used at the demo to have developed a set of expectations as to how those recordings should sound. The reason why others at our listening sessions weren’t immediately “able” to hear the imbalances I heard is that I had the advantage of hearing the recordings in widely varying contexts over years of blogging audio shows.

People tend to trust reviewers who have devoted considerable time to amassing a storehouse of listening experiences that enable them to make valuable critical calls about equipment and recordings. It’s not that these reviewers necessarily have superior judgment; it’s rather that they’ve established standards by which to evaluate the material at hand. They have learned how to both focus on specific elements, and to sit back and take in the big picture. IMHO, those reviewers who are equipped to assess how the entire listening experience makes them feel have an obligation to educated readers and elevate discourse by discussing how equipment can present music in ways that transcend the sum total of its parts.—Jason Victor Serinus

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
ChrisS's picture

My Pathfinder drove magically through two feet of snow! I did, however, encounter areas where there was only 1 foot or thereabouts. Was there a difference? Only slightly....

Bubbamike's picture

What this comes down to is that peasents had the nerve to disagree with Mr. Serinus's opinon. How dare they not hear what he thinks they should hear. After all he is a practiced listener and he has golden ears and these riff raff disagree and when he explains what they should hear they still don't hear it. My goodness, perhaps Jason should send them to block for their stupidity.

John Atkinson's picture

Bubbamike wrote:
What this comes down to is that peasents had the nerve to disagree with Mr. Serinus's opinon. How dare they not hear what he thinks they should hear.

Everyone appears to be forgetting about the role of mentoring in critical listening to audio. Jon Iverson wrote about this in June 2002 - see www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/588/index.html - and it is the case that until someone shows you what to listen for, you can be unaware of it. I wrote about this aspect of hearing and perception in my 2011 Richard Heyser Memorial Lecture that I presented to the Audio Engineering Society:

"I was auditioning an early orchestral CD with the late Raymond Cooke, founder of KEF. I remarked that the CD sounded pretty good to me—no surface noise or tracing distortion, the speed stability, the clarity of the low frequencies—when Raymond metaphorically shook me by the shoulders: "Can't you hear that quality of high frequencies? It sounds like grains of rice being dropped onto a taut paper sheet." And up to that point, no, I had not noticed anything amiss with the high frequencies."

So was I a "peasant" until the moment of shared listening with Raymond? Or was it simply that it took a more experienced listener to open my ears?

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

thecanman's picture

John,

You're missing the point here.  Two points, actually. (1) Many readers, including myself, found the original post to be extremely insulting. He basically said anyone who doesn't hear what he hears when it comes to cables is an unsophisticated, musically illiterate Neanderthal. (2) Despite your claims to the contrary, the Stereophile staff has not even come close to proving that they can hear the difference between cables in a properly constructed test. As I said in my earlier post, if cables make such a huge difference, you should be able to pick one system out of 20 or 30 where the only difference is a single cable--and do it immediately and consistently. Until you rise to that challenge, I stand by my opinion: hugely expensive cables are a scam.

John Atkinson's picture

thecanman wrote:
You're missing the point here.

I don't think so. It is inarguable that even though we all start out with the same hearing apparatus, people differ in their listening skills, as they do in every other skill. It is also inarguable that those skills can be improved by learning and mentoring. The anecdote I quoted was to illustrate that with the help of others, I am a better skilled, more perceptive listener than my younger self. And there is the fact that practicing something over a long period of time increases your skill at it - the "10,000 hours" theory.

Quote:
(1) Many readers, including myself, found the original post to be extremely insulting. He basically said anyone who doesn't hear what he hears when it comes to cables is an unsophisticated, musically illiterate Neanderthal.

He didn't say that, nor would he. And no insult was intended.

Quote:
(2) Despite your claims to the contrary, the Stereophile staff has not even come close to proving that they can hear the difference between cables in a properly constructed test.

In another comment today, I mentioned that Michael Fremer and I did just that. You are welcome to disagree with the results of that test, of course, but you can't pretend it didn't occur.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

eugovector's picture

A link to said test conditions and results?

John Atkinson's picture

eugovector wrote:
A link to said test conditions and results?

The test was designed and run by Lee Gomes in 2008, then of the Wall Street Journal, now of Forbes magazine. Lee doesn't give any detail of the test but he described the results at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120044692027492991.html?mod=hpp_us_inside_to:

"Using two identical CD players, I tested a $2,000, eight-foot pair of Sigma Retro Gold cables from Monster Cable, which are as thick as your thumb, against 14-gauge, hardware-store speaker cable. Many audiophiles say they are equally good. I couldn't hear a difference and was a wee bit suspicious that anyone else could. But of the 39 people who took this test, 61% said they preferred the expensive cable.

"That may not be much of a margin for two products with such drastically different prices, but I was struck by how the best-informed people at the show -- like John Atkinson and Michael Fremer of Stereophile Magazine -- easily picked the expensive cable."

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Scorpio69er's picture

 

This piece is interesting, although the tests, like the one you cite, are not as rigorous as would be needed to be scientifically conclusive:

 

http://www.nousaine.com/pdfs/Wired%20Wisdom.pdf

ChrisS's picture

Again, there's no science here.

John Atkinson's picture

Scorpio69er wrote:
This piece is interesting, although the tests, like the one you cite, are not as rigorous as would be needed to be scientifically conclusive:

http://www.nousaine.com/pdfs/Wired%20Wisdom.pdf

I am familiar with this decades-old article. "Not as rigorous" is the least of it. And Tom Nousaine and you both appear to have forgotten that in formal statistical analysis, null results as in these Canadian Sound & Vision tests cannot be taken as indicating that there was not a physicsl difference between the objects being tested. The correct formal conclusion was that if there were a real difference, it could not be detected under the specific conditions of the test. By contrast, a single verifiable positive result of a test does indeed suggest that a real difference exists.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Scorpio69er's picture

I do not claim to be an expert at these sorts of tests, so I cannot comment upon your remarks. Perhaps I can hunt up my old statistics professor and ask him. In the mean time, why not have an outside entity that is an expert set one up and subject you and the rest of the gang to it? Merely leveling criticism at one that I readily acknowledged was not rigorous proves nothing.

Or, better yet, make such tests an integral part of every single review published in Stereophile from now on. If the vast sonic differences you proclaim with any given piece of gear actually exist -- be it cables, DACs, amps, whatever -- it should be a piece of cake for you guys to prove it scientifically. Every time. 

Please understand, sir, that I like your publication, although I think you guys take yourselves way too seriously. But please also understand that when you're talking about spending hundreds of dollars on any piece of audio gear, for 99% of us hicks out here in Hooterville this gets serious, because we're going to have to scrimp and save to make the purchase. We need to be damn sure our audio $ are spent wisely, maximizing bang for the buck. I would wager that for the vast majority of us, finding a better pair of loudspeakers would make a bigger difference than spending the same $ on some piece of wire that one has to be "mentored" in order to discern any difference with Monoprice cables -- even assuming this is possible.

ChrisS's picture

You took Statistics, yet show no understanding of statistical significance in a testing situation...?

ChrisS's picture

If you test the reviewers, then who will test the tester? Consumer Reports?

Scorpio69er's picture

Your inane comments were initially amusing. Now, they're just boring.

ChrisS's picture

I often find the logic in the comments made by those who go on and on about how Stereophile should do blind testing to be rather interesting. The factual content of those comments is also quite scanty.... As are yours.

I take that back...There is no logic to your posts.

MVBC's picture

"and it is the case that until someone shows you what to listen for, you can be unaware of it."

Again, all this must have one reference, and that reference is the live performance. There is no such thing as "exceedingly airy", exceeding what? Airy? It is either airy or it is not. Gear can introduce pleasant, remarkable, mind boggling but ultimately false hyperdetails that would go well beyond what the real performance would sound like.

Thus in order to claim one cable is "truer" to the real world, the real world has to be heard first before making comparisons.

Finally an anecdote about who hears what: a certain Chinese pianist released a Rachmaninov recording with an Italian renowned maestro on the most prestigious label of classical music a couple years ago. It was trumpeted as a "live" recording. Many audiophile reviewers touted the great sound engineer's prowess... Except that my critical listening revealed interesting sound variations during the 2 pieces supposedly recorded during one single live concert: one mat sound versus one warmer, more haloed sound. And since applauses at the end of one piece had the latest sound character, one truly wondered how the same concert could sound differently...

Charting the switches revealed numerous changes, back and forth. In many classical violin recordings, it is customary to record the candenzas without orchestra musicians so no parasite noise, cracking chair etc... could interrupt the flow of the single sounding instrument. Usually the sound acoustical decay and reverb difference between a single occupant in the hall and a filled up place betrays the trick if one pays attention. Coming back to our pianist and maestro, the videos on the label website showed the usual rehearsals taking place before the concert. It is easy to figure that the mat sound was therefore linked to the more controlled environment of rehearsals. In consequence, the chart showed this "live" recording ended up being a 50/50 mix...

I have yet to read a recanted review by the audiophile crowd... try it yourself it's a fun game between friends, and you can hear the difference even with a 12 gauge copper!

Scorpio69er's picture

re: "all this must have one reference, and that reference is the live performance"

This brings up another interesting aspect in all of this. Most recordings we listen to are not live, and even if they are, they have been heavily tweaked as the recording is finalized, as you point out. There are really very few "pure" live recordings out there. I certainly don't listen to many of them. It gets even stickier when we try to figure out what is "accurate" when it comes to a studio recording. The only thing that could even begin to be construed as "accurate" in most recordings we listen to would be what the engineer heard on his studio monitors when the recording was finalized. 

There is also the problem that, if components can only be judged as "accurate" in terms of how well they reproduce a pure live recording (still a very subjective judgement), they may sound less than stellar with the other 99.9% of music we actually listen to. 

Maybe it's just me, but somehow in all of the obsessing about minute sonic differences between mega-expensive cables and multi-thousand dollar amps, it seems that we've lost sight of what this hobby is really all about -- enjoying the music. I think I had more fun back in the day with my ESS Heil AMT-1A speakers and NAD receiver than anything I've heard since. It was gear a working man could afford and actually enjoy, without worrying about whether his cables gave him as much "air" as the Ruy Lopez Golden Twists™ that cost $500/ft.

 

 

MVBC's picture

Many jazz studio recordings bring for instance a closely miked piano over a voice. There is no way in real life anyone will hear the voice from his seat and put his head inside the piano. Thus the ability to hear or not the piano microdetails is a false problem. In fact there is little need for imaging etc... to reproduce those made up recordings!

As far as live recordings are concerned, to me the Mercury Living Presence approach was the closest to feeling like one person in the best seat of the concert hall. Multimiking may be pleasant, technically advanced etc... but ultimately is also a made up product. A previous commenter pointed out how some orchestral instruments are often artificially enhanced by mixing engineers.

I'd argue that "high fidelity" means firstly fidelity to reality. A system able to reproduce the reality of a properly positioned group, dynamic, tonal color etc... will likely come out a winner when playing a Bjork purely created sound landscape.

In any case, I always smile when these people advise spending $1000s in speaker cables to simply feed the same ordinary Vifa, ScanSpeak 8" drivers just because some manufacturer packaged them in gorgeous veneered boxes, especially when they'll claim amazing basses... Notwithstanding the fact that if the internal cabling of the speaker is not made up of the Asian Forest TM $50,000/m cable, the final result will always depend on the lesser component...

In fact the dichotomy between professional sound and the high end is troubling, as if the self anointed appear uninterested in the upstream aspect of the product that will feed their niche industry and their endless esoteric pursuit. Between a $12k DeVore soap box and a retooled pair of Hosoken JBL 4343, the choice is in fact very simple for anyone who experienced pro sound.  

Scorpio69er's picture

re: "if the internal cabling of the speaker is not made up of the Asian Forest TM $50,000/m cable, the final result will always depend on the lesser component"

I was thinking the same thing! All of this esoteric cable is, first of all, terminated using the same spade lugs or bananna plugs as my Monoprice cables. So whatever "magic" they possess is ultimately routed not only through these everyday connectors, which should utterly negate their magical properties, but there is the additional issue of, as you point out, the speaker's internal cabling. I have a pair of nice Dynaudio speakers that sound great, but I'm sure if I were to crack them open the connection from the speaker connector terminal to the drivers is basic copper wire sheathed in plastic.

Joe8423's picture

It could provide some credibility and perspective.  I know that most reviewers don't believe that db tests can uncover all differences but they would certainly help readers understand how big differences really are.  If reviewers love a component but can't tell it from another component in a blind test the differences must be subtle.  Nobody has to admit that there is no difference, just that it isn't obvious enough to be heard in a dbt.  There certainly ought to be differences that can be discerned by a dbt.  A class A speaker should sound enough different from a class C speaker that the differences can be consistently heard in a dbt.  If tests were done a couple of times a year on various components, over time the data could help people make good decisions about what types of components make the biggest differences and therefore deserve the most attention.

MVBC's picture

Right on!enlightened

Scorpio69er's picture

Re: Double blind testing

I doubt Stereophile would ever do this, since they rely on advertising revenue. If such tests revealed little or no difference bewteen mega $ cables or amps and actual affordable gear, there goes the whole shebang. What would the maker of that fabulous $1000/ft Capablanca Emerald™ speaker cable do when it was revealed that no one could actually discern its wonderfulness compared to this week's special at Radio Shack? Oh, the humanity!

John Atkinson's picture

Scorpio69er wrote:

I doubt Stereophile would ever do [double blind testing], since they rely on advertising revenue. If such tests revealed little or no difference between mega $ cables or amps and actual affordable gear, there goes the whole shebang.

And now we get the inevitable insult to our integrity when someone's statements are not accepted as fact. No, advertising does not rule what we do and write at this magazine. And, of course, your implication that double-blind tests inherently prove a negative suggests that for you, that there be no differences "between mega $ cables or amps and actual affordable gear" is a matter of faith, not fact.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Scorpio69er's picture

Get over yourself, dude. Seriously. No one is attacking your integrity. But we are not sheep that are willing to be herded into spending hundreds or thousands of $ based solely upon your utterances from on high. If we ask for scientific verification of, particularly, your claims regarding pieces of wire that can run into the thousands of dollars when you're talking the 10, 20 or more feet needed for most home systems, you should rise to the challenge instead of ranting. If you do not wish to conduct such tests, it is simple enough to say so and be done with it. The rest of us will make our own judgements, thank you very much. 

ChrisS's picture

Scorpio69er,

Did you just tell John "You're not the boss of me!" ?

John Atkinson's picture

Scorpio69er wrote:
John Atkinson wrote:
Scorpio69er wrote:
I doubt Stereophile would ever do [double blind testing], since they rely on advertising revenue. If such tests revealed little or no difference between mega $ cables or amps and actual affordable gear, there goes the whole shebang.

And now we get the inevitable insult to our integrity when someone's statements are not accepted as fact. No, advertising does not rule what we do and write at this magazine.

Get over yourself, dude. Seriously. No one is attacking your integrity.

Forgive me for taking what you wrote (requoted above) literally. If you don't believe that advertising influences what Stereophile does, then why did you write the words above?

Quote:
If you do not wish to conduct such tests, it is simple enough to say so and be done with it.

I have repeatedly written, both in the magazine and on this website, why I believe quick-switched double-blind testing as typically practiced is very poor at identifying small but real differences. This is not, as you state above, due to my yielding to pressure from advertisers but to my experience at having been involved in a large number of such tests over the past 35 years, as listener, organizer, or as proctor.

Quote:
The rest of us will make our own judgements, thank you very much.

That has always been what we recommend. The staff at this magazine may be experienced and careful listeners but we have always emphasized that our readers test our opinions by listening for themselves. However, this is with the proviso, given Jason's thesis in this essay, that people acknowledge that what will be true for their tastes and expectations might not be true for others. Robert Deutsch wrote about this dichotomy in “Sharpeners and Levelers,” his May 2011 “As We See It.”

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

arve's picture

I have repeatedly written, both in the magazine and on this website, why I believe quick-switched double-blind testing as typically practiced is very poor at identifying small but real differences. 

Could you point us to those writings.  I have done a great number of quick-switch ABX tests to tell the difference between:

  • Sample rates
  • Sample rate converters
  • Bit depth
  • Audio encodings - both in different codecs head to head, and between bitrates of the same lossy material

And come up with positive results in those double-blind tests, even when being told that there should be no audible difference at all, so I find it curious that you find it to be bad.

ChrisS's picture

What did your findings mean? Do you understand "false positives"?

Did you happen to do these ABX tests from the internet listerning through your computer speakers?

arve's picture

Even for a troll, you are useless.   Goodbye.

ChrisS's picture

Because I asked you about false positives?

Tell me, Arve, do you have roguish eyes?

John Atkinson's picture

John Atkinson wrote:
arve wrote:
I have repeatedly written, both in the magazine and on this website, why I believe quick-switched double-blind testing as typically practiced is very poor at identifying small but real differences.

Could you point us to those writings.

I gathered together my thoughts on blind testing for my 2011 Richard Heyser lecture to the Audio Engineering Society: www.stereophile.com/content/2011-richard-c-heyser-memorial-lecture-where-did-negative-frequencies-go-measuring-sound-qua. But first read www.stereophile.com/content/2011-richard-c-heyser-memorial-lecture-where-did-negative-frequencies-go-nothing-real.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

arve's picture

… I've only had a chance to briefly skim the writing, so I'm not going to draw conclusions on it.  

My reason for asking was simply that my experience with rapid-switching blind testing has identified differences where the truly hardline objectivists tell me that I shouldn't be able to hear them (e.g. 16/44.1 vs 24/96) in tests that are rigorous enough to satisfy a statistican - one example of such a test I've done is here: http://en.reddit.com/r/audiophile/comments/12fgln/abxing_2496_material_w...

Done on decidedly low-end gear, but under conditions that exaggerate the differences somewhat.  Note that when I passed these ABX tests, it was easy to identify the differences, and easy to translate to a long-term subjective experience - differences in timbre of background noise in recordings and blackness of the sonic carpet on which we paint easily change both our perception of dynamics, detail and listening fatigue.

Note, there seems to be a problem with the second of your articles - The audio started autoplaying, and the playback controls are partially hidden, so it was very hard to find them (Browser: Chrome on OS X).

ChrisS's picture

Ahh, so you were doing your ABXing on the internet through your computer... Then no need for bed sheets to hide the equipment!

Read the articles, carefully.  Very informative.

Scorpio69er's picture

re: "The staff at this magazine may be experienced and careful listeners but..."

...in the end, you're really no different than the rest of us. You have two ears and certain tastes and biases. Perhaps the only real difference is that you are immersed in a world of uber-expensive audio equipment supplied to you by fawning manufacturers who, by supplying you with such equipment, serve to affirm your delusion about being an audio guru, which, I am sorry to tell you, you are not. Whatever you write about whatever it is you think you hear is, in the end, your own subjective judgement. Nothing more and nothing less. It is not "the truth", so my questioning of it is not an attack upon your integrity.

It is also a simple fact that your magazince is chock full of ads for ridiculously priced pieces of equipment and could not help but be adversely affected, economically speaking, if your tests actually showed, for example, zero sonic differences between Acme's Speaker Cable or DAC or Amp and [insert brand here]. I mean, who would run an ad for $500/meter cable in a magazine that told its readers to save its $ because this stuff is essentially no better than Monoprice cable?

Now, you may fancy yourself a "careful listener", which can only mean that the rest of us untutored rubes are therefore "careless listeners", but somehow it is you who feels slighted when your pronouncements are questioned and your methodology observed to be less than scientfic. You may reject employing such methodology, which is certainly your prerogative, but you cannot say that it is not valid, scientifically.

That you would even think to advise anyone who does not literally have a pile of money to burn to shell out hundreds or even thousands of $ from their hard earned paycheck for a friggin' piece of wire(!) with (alleged) "small but real differences" illustrates how out of touch with the vast majority of your readership you really are. 

Come down from the mountain, sir. Mingle among the umwashed masses. Realize that this hobby is, first and foremost, about music, and 99.9% of us will never drive an $80000 amp cabled with $5000 worth of magic wire. It is also irrelevant whether or not we can hear the timpani player scratch his nuts after the second violinist clears his throat. This is not music, and it is most assuredly not fun.

Stereophile used to have a sense of humor. I read it in the same way I would read MAD magazine. It was funny and we all realized that we were perhaps a bit nuts, or at least suffered from a harmless obsession. You and the rest of your humorless crew are in desperate need of a wild week of sinful abandon. When you wake up dazed and confused and suffering a severe hangover and wondering who in the hell is this woman in a catsuit lying next to me on the pool table, brush yourself off and get back to work reviewing equipment that makes some kind of rational economic sense, given that 99% of us are listening to the 99% of music that is a totally manufactured product, a la a box of Corn Flakes, and that what is "accurate" when it comes to this music can only mean what the engineer who finalized the recording heard on his studio monitors and therefore all we really need to know is the answer to two questions: (1.) Do I enjoy listening to music on this gear? (2.) Can my readers afford to buy this gear?

May the spirit of J. Gordon Holt be with you. smiley

ChrisS's picture

Scorpio69er,

You sound happiest when shopping at Monoprice and unhappy when you can't control the lives of others.

Go back to Monoprice and back to reading Mad Magazine.

Scorpio69er's picture

You make me cry with laughter, mixed with actual physical pain. You need your own TV show. I can only imagine the results of your interviews with various movers and shakers and celebrities. The results would be priceless.

ChrisS's picture

I am so glad that you allow me to inhabit and enrich your fantasy life!

Scorpio69er's picture

You confuse "fantasy" with "nightmare".

Dude, you are so far out in right field that you're over the wall, beyond the bleachers and somewhere out in the third parking lot with the winos.

laugh

ChrisS's picture

Wow, if you say so....Be sure to see someone if you're nervous about the dark under your bed, too.

John Atkinson's picture

John Atkinson wrote:
Scorpio69er wrote:

The staff at this magazine may be experienced and careful listeners...

in the end, you're really no different than the rest of us. You have two ears and certain tastes and biases. Perhaps the only real difference is that you are immersed in a world of uber-expensive audio equipment supplied to you by fawning manufacturers who, by supplying you with such equipment, serve to affirm your delusion about being an audio guru, which, I am sorry to tell you, you are not.

Wow, I seem to have touched a nerve. I have never claimed that I am a "guru," to use your emotionally loaded word. And I am certainly not claiming inherent superiority on our part. Instead, as I wrote earlier in this thread, while It is inarguable that we all start out with the same hearing apparatus, people differ in their listening skills, as they do in every other skill. It is also inarguable that those skills can be improved by learning and mentoring. I am merely suggesting both that this magazine's reviewers, including myself, have spent decades listening critically to audio components and we have been the beneficiary of guidance from people with greater listening skills and experience along the way.

Scorpio69er wrote:
Now, you may fancy yourself a "careful listener", which can only mean that the rest of us untutored rubes are therefore "careless listeners" . . .

I don't understand how you can reject the effect of that experience and mentoring. This is not a zero-sum game. Anyone who had been subject to it (provided they did not have physical hearing damage) would be a better listener at the end of it than they were at the beginning. Why do you believe Stereophile's reviewers are immune to this learning experience?

Scorpio69er wrote:
but somehow it is you who feels slighted when your pronouncements are questioned and your methodology observed to be less than scientific.

Nothing I have written in this thread suggests that I feel slighted because of what you say above. What I have objected to is your unsupported and insulting conjecture that serving the magazine's advertisers governs what I say and do at Stereophile.

Scorpio69er wrote:

You may reject employing such methodology, which is certainly your prerogative, but you cannot say that it is not valid, scientifically.

I most certainly can when such testing is sloppily performed, with no control of interfering variables, with biased analysis of the results, and with misuse of statistics, all of which was the case in the example you linked to. That you have an unquestioning belief in the validity of such tests because the results align with your prejudices is the opposite of "scientific," I am afraid.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Scorpio69er's picture

There really is not much more that I can say, so I will leave it to anyone who reads this thread to come to their own conclusions. Others must now judge who makes the most sense in their arguments.

However, when the day arrives where you are turning off the lights in the Stereophile world headquarters for the last time because no one is any longer willing (or able) to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for alleged minute differences in audio gear that only the initiated think they hear, you may wish to recall this discussion. As others have said in this very thread, it's no wonder high end audio is dying. You guys seem to really believe that the rest of us bumpkins dull listening "skills can be improved by learning and mentoring" -- by you, of course. If this wasn't so bloody arrogant and laughable I'd cry. 

As I peruse your latest Recommended Components list I see, for example, a pair of monoblock amps costing over TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS(!!!!!!!!!!!!!) that yet only make your "Class B" designation. Let me say this plainly: If someone can't make a Class A1+ superb sounding amp or any other piece of audio equipment for home use for $3000 or less, depending of course upon the actual type of component (with loudspeakers being the most expensive) they should be banished to the dark side of the moon. That someone could charge 3x, 5x, 10x (or more) this amount and still make any list other than "the biggest shysters in audio history" is beyond my understanding and, I would wager, anyone else's who is not utterly delusional. 

Indeed, your entire approach to reviewing and rating audio products is upside down. You should begin from a premise that makes some sort of rational economic sense, given that what we listen to in terms of recorded music is an utterly manufactured and highly manipulated product. For example, set an absolute upper limit to the amount any human should spend for a home stereo system, say, $15K  for speakers, amp, preamp, etc. Even this amount is far beyond what 99% of your readers will ever in their wildest audio fantasy spend on stereo equipment. Then, call this your ultimate reference system. Any manufacturer who cannot work within such constraints and yet be able to produce  absolutely stunning sound is worthless and should be banished to peddling his wares to coked-out Wall Street crooks and self-proclaimed "careful listeners".

"Class A" components, under this new paradigm, would be those that come the closest to the reference system at the lowest cost, not the highest cost. If your reference amp, for example, cost $2000, then the $500 amp that gives us 90% of its wonderfulness would be Class A, and the $1900 amp that gives us 95% would be Class F. Now, there's a real challenge that also makes sense. It is what would best serve the interest of struggling brick and mortar dealers and the 99.9% of us audiophiles who aren't swimming in money. It is indeed the only thing that's going to save high end audio from flaming out on its own hubris and delusional thinking.

ChrisS's picture

Once again, you're right! So many words in your stream of consciousness and none have any root in reality.

You would like Monoprice to carry Krell, no?

John Atkinson's picture

scorpio69er wrote:
There really is not much more that I can say, so I will leave it to anyone who reads this thread to come to their own conclusions.

That's fine by me. It appears that you wish Stereophile was a very different magazine to what it currently is. I am sorry but that is not going to happen and I have nothing more to say on that subject. But I will address one more point you have made:

scorpio69er wrote:
You guys seem to really believe that the rest of us bumpkins dull listening "skills can be improved by learning and mentoring" -- by you, of course. If this wasn't so bloody arrogant and laughable I'd cry.

First, no-one has described our readers as "bumpkins," nor would we. And I don't understand why it is "arrogant" of me to bring up the subject of mentoring. Often when I share a listening experience with one of my writers, or a designer, or a retailer I learn something I wasn't aware of before. None of us start out as expert listeners; all of us undergo a lifetime of learning. I am a more perceptive listener now than I was 25 years ago; I hope I will be a more perceptive listener in the future. That doesn't mean I used to be a "bumpkin," only that things can go unnoticed until someone points them out. You then hear them every time!

Earlier in this thread I mentioned my experience listening to CD with the late Raymond Cooke as an example of mentoring from my own life. I was also lucky to have shared many listening experiences with Martin Colloms in the 1970s and it was Martin who taught what me much of what to listen for in loudspeakers. Was that "arrogant" of Martin? Of course not. If you had been in the audience in the loudspeaker seminars I have conducted at audio shows recently, you would have witnessed me in turn passing on such information by playing, for example, the sound of music afflicted with reflex port resonances. Is this "arrogant" of me? I don't think so.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Scorpio69er's picture

You have convinced me of one thing: Stereophile, a magazine that used to be fun and funny and actually useful to relatively normal people of normal means, is now lost in its own imaginary universe of $10K "Class B" amplifiers, magic multi-hundred dollar/ft cables, and "mentored" listening to even begin to be able to discern the wonderfulness these insane items allegedly produce. It is no longer worth my time. For that, I thank you, though tearfully.

Good night and good luck.

ChrisS's picture

That magazine must also have existed only in your imagination.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4sUPvDZfog

Ariel Bitran's picture

(NT)

ChrisS's picture
Richard Dale's picture

If you think all HiFi equipment sounds much the same, and you don't think an individual can come to sound conclusions by themselves about what sort of equipment or cables they should buy, then you don't share the same hobby with the rest of us. If I wasn't able do that, then I would not have a HiFi hobby. And because I don't share the same hobby with you, I personally have no interest in your opinions.

I can listen to equipment, including my very good Nordost speaker cables, and form opinions about what it sounds like without needing to turn to 'objectivity police' such as yourself, to vindicate my preferences.

Stephen Majias has written plenty of excellent Stereophile articles about entry level equipement, and his experiences have indicated that it makes a lot of sense to consider which cables to use when optimizing the performance of even relatively budget systems.

MVBC's picture

"If you think all HiFi equipment sounds much the same"

Nobody said that. Strawman argument. For that matter even the same digits on, let's say burnt on a Maxell CD and a HHB CD support, will have a different sound.

"And because I don't share the same hobby with you, I personally have no interest in your opinions."

And the next sentence is usually: I should go back where I came from... angry

I have a low budget bridge to sell you that will help make your Nordost cable sound even better: is that now the same hobby?

My "hobby" is access to music i.e. culture through a tool and since money is still an object in pursuing this interest, so far experience showed me professional sound is a better quality/price tool to achieve my goal.

Now, of course, you have total freedom to spend your dough as you see fit.

Joe8423's picture

the way the measurements do.  You don't buy based solely on measurements but they do uncover things that can contribute to a decision to buy or not.  If test data shows that spending 10k to upgrade speakers will most likely improve your system more than spending 10k to upgrade wires why wouldn't you want to know that?  Since it's a very subjective hobby I like to have as much objective data as possible to help give me perspective and keep me grounded.  I think it would really help the reviewers with perspective and grounding as well.  They'd be less likely to exaggerate and imagine if they knew that once a year they were going to have to back up a review with a blind test of the component.  It sounds like a ton of fun to me.   

ChrisS's picture

Blind testing won't tell the average consumer anything. Trying a component in one's own system is all it takes.

Joe8423's picture

Why are you even here? 

Scorpio69er's picture

re: "Why are you even here?"

I'm a heretic. cheeky 

ChrisS's picture

If you're shopping, you have to start somewhere, and Stereophile does a way better job than Consumers Report!

MVBC's picture

After reading Stephen Majias column about Kimber cables, and the associated debate about measurements and what they'd show or not: 

I believe this whole affair could be easily settled: there must be sets of measurements since these smart engineers who manufactured the better cable created it, no? And since they even went into designing a series of cables at incremental prices, it must be easy to simply ask the manufacturer for the comparative designer sheet that guided their research in performance, beyond the obvious differences due to 18k versus 24 k gold plating connections. So Stereophile reviewers have simply to ask manufacturers. Mr. Atkinson?

P.S.: Please do not tell us that manufacturers do not have such laboratory tests... or that those are "secret defence". Thank you.

MVBC's picture

Speaker cable sublime

High purity class 1.003 extruded Flourinated Ethylene Propylene (FEP) Precision Dual Micro Mono-Filament design 24 x 20 AWG extruded silver over 99.999999% OFC Capacitance 9.2pF/ft Inductance 0.15uH/ft Propagation delay 98% speed of light

Speaker cable almost sublime

High purity class 1 extruded FEP 40 x optimized diameter in micro mono-filament construction 78 microns of extruded silver over 99.999999% OFC solid core Capacitance 11.8pF/ft Inductance 9.6uH/ft 2.6ohms/1000ft (304M) Propagation delay 96% speed of light

So I guess some audio critics are able to differentiate 96% versus 98% of speed light... notice a difference of 2.6pF/ft of capacitance and 9.45uH/ft of inductance and claim the difference is "massive"... Notwithstanding that if your speakers are not internally cabled with the gods, the propagation delay will be lowered to that of the lesser element.

I do not mind to entertain the notion that a well built and designed cable could bring a subtle difference compared to an inadapted lamp post wire, but all this for tens of thousands dollars seems quite over the top unless of course money is no object; however, when a firesale seems to be all the rage at one of the righthand column advertisers -no less than 50% discount!- and we all know they still make money at that price. cool

Scorpio69er's picture

I could supply you with the technical data from my fabulous Asian Forest™ cable, but I'm afraid it would make little sense to you, since the methods and equipment I use to test and manufacture God's favorite cable* are of proprietary design. I can, however, tell you this much: We mine our ore strictly by hand, using only tiny diamond-tipped forks made of Brazilian Rosewood that have been blessed by a local shaman, so as to not disturb the "time alignment" of the ore and the midichlorian counts in our workers.

 

*As he so informed me in a dream I had after spending the previous evening sinning mightily in a local gentlemen's club with a young lady by the name of "Kissy" and a bottle of fine Scotch Whisky.

devil

ChrisS's picture
MVBC's picture

Complete radio silence from Stereophile staff on the proposal to publish cables' technical data and no comment about the measures versus audition benefits of the gods cables... Speaks volume. no

John Atkinson's picture

MVBC wrote:
Complete radio silence from Stereophile staff on the proposal to publish cables' technical data . .

Apologies for the tardy response.  Life occasionally interferes with my ability to get involved in Internet fights. Yes, this is a good idea and we will endeavor to do so when the manufacturers make the data available.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

MVBC's picture

Looking forward to read about these measurements in relation to audible qualities.

ChrisS's picture

The air waves are full of sound, the silence just in your head.

MVBC's picture

ChrisS no.

JA responded with interest to my proposal although not after being pressed. Aren't you at least interested in relating measured parameters and audible characteristics? As for a cable manufacturer company, there must be an objective way beyond the cost of producing one versus the other, to rank their products and their benefits. Let's get to the bottom of this instead of shouting birds name to each others. 

ChrisS's picture

Sorry, spoke too soon! I still find however that trying different components in my system and listening is the bottom line. I have  Linn (perhaps that's why I get so feisty!), so of course, I'm always told Linn works best with Linn. I've tried components "outside the box" and have found some that made my system sound awful and some that made significant improvements. The numbers might prove to be interesting.

MVBC's picture

My sources are Linn (LP12 and Unidisk 1.1). Regardless if effectively we can hear a difference between speaker cables, this difference has to be quantified and related to measurable parameters in order to become a repeatable characteristic. It might very well be that interaction between the same cable and different electronics will produce variations. Fine. We need to know why and we also need to know if more information is indeed true to the signal. That's how science works and that's offering reliable information to potential buyers. Everyone should be interested in this and just as this approach works in determining investment strategies, it also would weed out the overpriced/overclaimed ones and reward the true quality. 

ChrisS's picture

Most of my system is Linn (except for DVD, tape player, tuner). I am happy to leave the number crunching to the manufacturers and those who need to analyze this kind of data for their specfic uses.  As a consumer "enthusiast", I rely solely on my ears and my response to what I hear to guide me on that twisty, winding path towards better sound and, perhaps, better music as Jason has described in his article. Personal finances, of course, ultimately dictates the level to which I can aspire and although I know there is always better (the bane of reading Stereophile!), I am quite happy with the system I have now. I believe the years of reading publications, like Stereophile, has provided the education and mentorship, as John Atkinson has written above, that has led to greater fun and enjoyment of this hobby and a deeper appreciation of the entire process that can bring John Coltrane, the Boston Symphony, and Arcade Fire into my living room.

Joe8423's picture

Maybe you can't tell the difference with normal lengths of wire but say you took some everyday type wire and measured these values.  Then, you took a 2 foot pair and compared it to 10, 20, 50 and 100 foot pairs.  If the 2 foot pair has 20pF and the 100 foot pair has 1,000 pF then you'd better be able to hear the difference in a dbt.  If the difference is still too subtle for a dbt then anyone who claims there's a substantial difference between 92 pF and 118 pF for 10 foot pairs of the above is clearly a silly goose.  If you can hear the difference in a dbt then it would be possible to find the dbt threshold.  Maybe 35 feet is the shortest length where the differences can be scientifically proven to exist by a dbt.  That would be fantastic.  Then dbt would be a new parameter that cable manufacturers could use.  They could do measurements and advertise that their cable is scientifically determined to be distinguishable from zipcord at a length of x feet.  The lower x is the better the cable must be.  Dang!!!   I've just solved this whole problem.  Then, golden ears could claim they hear and appreciate the difference at only 40% of the scientifically determined audible difference length. 

ChrisS's picture

Can't possibly DBT enough combinations of wire, wire length, music systems, source material, rooms, and listeners to do this.

Joe8423's picture

If there are differences in wire that can be heard in a system, and those differences  increase with length, then it would be possible to figure out what that length is in a system.  Obviously, the length wouldn't be the same in all systems.  Comparisons between wires would need to be done in the same system.  If 1 wire was distinguishable from zip cord at 40 feet and the other wasn't distinguishable until 200 feet it would be a meaningful comparison. 

ChrisS's picture

Learn about Scientific Methodology.

Find out how testing is done in the real world.

Ask any high school science teacher.

Go to college.

Really.

Please.

Joe8423's picture

I'm sure in real science they change every variable on every trial when they're trying to uncover subtle differences.  I just don't have the time or inclination.

I think I'll start my own cable company.  I'm gonna name my cables after famous deaf people.  I'll have the Helen Keller, old Beethoven, Lou Ferrigno and the Johnnie Ray. 

ChrisS's picture

In real testing, all variables are controlled. That's why it can't be done in your basement.

Joe8423's picture

What about my living room?

ChrisS's picture

Please take a course in research methodology- check out your local college or university.

Starting your own company will be educational. At least take electrical engineering.

Joe8423's picture

As much as I enjoy being talked down to by someone who offers nothing, I think you should just name one relevant variable I can't control. 

ChrisS's picture

I've named them all above. Find out for yourself, you know how to use a computer. Come back when you've learned about research methodolgy.

Joe8423's picture

Or which comment named just one? 

ChrisS's picture

Do all zip cords sound the same?

Beyond this, I can't help you.

Joe8423's picture

think it's a reasonably safe bet that they'll have the same basic properties.  I'll buy a whole spool and cut off different lengths.  I could specify Radio Shack 14 awg speaker wire, part number ?????.  Would that make you feel better?  Then, when I compare that to my 50k Ferrigno cable (comes in a green box) we'd have a standard comparison. 

I realize that if there were to be a dbt parameter there would have to be a bunch of rules for it to be valid.  There's no need to go into minute detail in the comments section of this article.  My basic point is that if cables make a difference, the difference is related to measurable parameters and those parameters change linearly with the length of the cable, then we ought to be able to prove it with a dbt. 

ChrisS's picture

You make a lot of assumptions. You have to test each assumption. Them's the rules.

Go back to Step 1. Learn basic theory.

Joe8423's picture

You just can't grasp that this is a place for conceptual arguments and generalizations.  I'm not gonna go into minute detail here about how a test would be conducted.  You're basically just changing the subject over and over.  It's bizarre but really common in this hobby. 

ChrisS's picture
Joe8423's picture

I'm gonna be clear and direct, see if you can understand this.  I don't disagree with the scientific method.  This is a general, conceptual conversation. 

ChrisS's picture

Scorpio69er,

There seems to be a lot that happens in your mind that doesn't happen in the real world.

Perhaps, if you stop reading Stereophile you won't have to imagine what John and his staff may or may not be doing while reviewing audio components.

Scorpio69er's picture

I'm sure JA and the rest of the Stereophile gang feel validated by your keen insights and incisive commentary. Truly, you leave me speechless.

cool

ChrisS's picture

My comments are made only for your benefit.... You're welcome.

Erkit's picture

Your "hobby" is not alright, if only because there are moral questions assosiated with spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on anything, certainly wires, and "to each his own" ain't no kind of answer. But maybe most important: I'm sure your passions enjoy themselves elsewhere. Go outside, toss a frisbee. Volunteer, learn an instrument, ask a beautiful woman good questions. Quit with the pettifogging and live!

JL77's picture

John, I read read your Heyser AES Lecture long ago. Bravo! Heyser is the TEDTalk of the audio industry. I'm certain that everyone on this forum would benefit from reading it.

John Atkinson's picture

Quote:
I read your Heyser AES Lecture long ago. Bravo!

Thank you. It was indeed an honor to be invited to give this lecture.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

simplecl's picture

I don't think there's much point in arguing.  Many of the ideas presented above are more in alignment with "religion of audio" than "science of audio".  The "followers" will never be convinced otherwise so let them be.  We can be entertained by the beliefs without being critical, and without believing the same things.  Some enjoy their belief system and there's no reason to change their minds.  Simply enjoy music you like through equipment that meets your various personal needs and budget.  The article below is a good example of the "religion" mentality that makes people so emotional.  I don't see any reason to tell them there's no Santa coming down the chimney.

http://www.stereophile.com/content/yba-cd-1-blue-laser-cd-player

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