Breakthrough Approach to Audio Measurement

Cable manufacturers Nordost and Vertex AQ had good reason to present their joint seminar, "New Approach to Audio Measurement: Why Cables Really Matter," no less than five times during the show. As Art Dudley will report at length in his December "Listening" column, their groundbreaking new approach to measurement, developed by Nordost and Vertex AQ in collaboration with military electronic-engineering consultant Gareth Humphrey Jones, has produced an entirely new method for measuring the audible effects of components on sound. We're talking not only cables, support platforms, and the like, all of which can now be unequivocally shown to affect a system's sound quality, but also CD players, amplifiers, and speakers.

Co-presenters Roy Gregory of Nordost (former editor of HiFi+) and Steve Elford of Vertex AQ (pictured) projected a series of graphs that for the first time definitively demonstrated the effects of audiophile power cables, supports, and the Quantum device on sound. They also measured differences between CD players. Simply changing from a stock power cord to a well-made audiophile cord resulted in a 36% reduction in timing errors between the original WAV file and the same file burned on to a CD and played back by a typical high-quality player. Vertex AQ's support platform further reduced noise by 15%. The Quantum unit reduced noise by another 11%. Furthermore, there was no apparent hierarchy; if the support platform had been introduced first, rather than the power cord, its effect on errors would have been far greater.

Errors and effects that were formerly attributed to jitter have for the first time been identified as program-related using real music as the test signal. These errors cannot be identified by the standard continuous tone tests that everyone and their mother have been using all these years. To quote Roy Gregory, "We knew this stuff worked, but we didn't know why. Now we can gain insight into how to construct cables, CD players, and amps to produce better sound."

According to Gregory, the so-called law of diminishing returns, which says the more costly, high quality parts you put into a cable or device, the less of an improvement you will hear, need no longer apply. Using this new form of measurement to perfect products, it should now be possible to mate properly designed cables, components, and supports to deliver sound that reflects every bit of the time and investment devoted to their design and manufacture. This will not happen overnight—developing these measurements took a good six months, and this is very much a work in progress—but the results so far are extremely heartening. Bravos and gratitude to all.

Ethan Winer's picture

... and unreliable human hearing really is.

John Atkinson's picture

Continuation of penultimate response to Ethan Winer: Like the Amazing Randi, you don't feel obliged to stick to the facts when you attack those with who you disagree. :-(

Nyquist's evil brother, NyQuil's picture

That should end:It's good to be skeptical. It's destructive to be cynical. I just wonder where you stand.

RankStranger's picture

I would be interesting to hear JA's take on this. Whether it is something he would add to his measurements page or just a snake-oil purity scale, destined to be swallowed up by the greater subjectivist/objectivist 100 years war. :)

Frank's picture

They will obviously have to publish their methodology at some point in the future. And the comment by Mr Gregory about the "Law of diminishing returns.. need no longer apply" seems just a bit self-serving for a manufacturer of very high priced cabling. If, by some unforseeable accident, a $100/meter cable achieves a similar salutary effect on sound quality (and on the graphing chart), well, your Diminishing Returns paradigm takes one on the chin, so to speak.Jus' sayin...

vuki's picture

It would be much cheaper if they used Diffmaker freeware.

Nick's picture

I don't think Diffmaker is quite the same thing - that only compares two analogue audio signals and isolates the difference between them. What Nordost and Vertx are trying to do isn't entirely clear, but it looks like they are making comparisons with the original digital audio data. This would be an absolute measure of degradation, rather than a relative one.

Knows Better's picture

Yeah yeah just more BS from "high end" manufacturers giving another spin on why their products are really better. Blah blah blah I bet it will turn up to be crackpot pseudo-science that won't hold up to real scientific review.

Kevin's picture

If this were a scientific approach, they would have put it out for peer review before press release.

Chuck Lee's picture

Although I wasn't there for the demo,I was enthusiastically awaiting news.The tease from HiFi+ whetted my enthusiasm.As usual, the "wallpluggers"are the first to chime in with their two cents worth of "show me the real science"vitriol.Negativism and being close minded is a sure way to stay mirred in the past.Yessiree, zip cord and wall pluggin is the life for me.Not.

Ted Clamstruck's picture

To the poster "Nick" above, DiffMaker actually operates in the digital domain by comparing two WAV files. If you want to use it to compare two analog signals, you need to digitally record them using a sound card or other digital recording device.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

As they were preparing to fly out of Denver, I happened upon Roy Gregory and Joe Reynolds of Nordost. Discussing reactions to my report, which I trust you will understand is a Reader's Digest summary of a complex presentation that was cut short by a hotel-wide power outage and subsequent false alarm fire alarm sounding and temporary evacuation - I'm not making this up - Gareth's research is very much a work in progress. The graphs and research displayed at the seminar are the result of six months of intense work. There's a lot more to come. Secondly, as far as I understand, the intention is to submit the research to MIT for peer review.jason

Kal Rubinson's picture

One does not submit one's work to a lab or university of one's choice for peer review; one submits it to a journal whose editor, if he/she deems the work worthy, will select the reviewers.

Demian Martin's picture

I sat through the presentation. I was struck by the lack of understanding by the presenters of the information presented and the reluctance to offer up any details. I thought the analysis of the data was very lacking and the conclusions presented (cables, noise filters, mechanical isolation make a big difference) were not supported by the by the data presented. This is a big mistake. If there is something in this the initial bad methodology will color the acceptance of it later.The interesting data was in the changes caused by the addition of an accessory, the rest was not particularly meaningful. I'm surprised that the spectrum (FFT of the time data) was not presented. Without the actual data to process its difficult to draw conclusions, especially the "missing link" conclusions presented. The lack of transparency and the vague response to questions about an AES paper or how the measurements were made has this more of a cold fusion story than a breakthrough room temperature superconductor

suits_me's picture

"...Has produced an entirely new method for measuring the audible effects of components on sound...." That sounds suspiciously like a statement of fact, rather than the untested claim it actually is. The word that comes to mind is, "credulous," not "skeptical" or "rigorous." And that's pretty typical.

Steve Gray's picture

If that piece on Nordost had been printed in the Onion I would not have thought it out of place. Absolutely unbelievable.

Tim L's picture

@ Chuck LeeBelieving in voodoo science and hocus-pocus magic generated by manufacturers that are selling expensive products for you to buy is not the smartest financial move in the world.But hey, if it makes you feel better to spend $4000 on an AC cable, then more power to you.On the other hand, if you want to insult us "wallpluggers" then expect to be mocked since you are apparently unable to understand basic science.

lex's picture

Wow, i see some real threatened wallpluggers here, fyi you don't need to speand $4000 to get better sound, shunyata Venom is $100 and sounds terrific. : P

bobvin's picture

Hmm, 6 months of research? I find it hard to believe that, in an arena lacking coherent and/or consistent approaches to measurement currently that six months of research would result in any significant new information. I'd be more intrigued if it were six YEARS of research, which might allow enough time for development of a hypothesis, methodology, testing, and conclusions. Six months is hardly enough time to get your thoughts organized unless your goal is marketing and not scientific.

Tim McGeary's picture

"According to Gregory, the so-called law of diminishing returns, which says the more costly, high quality parts you put into a cable or device, the less of an improvement you will hear, need no longer apply."That statement is ludicrous. There really is no shame in their game. High-end cables are sold by dealers because they have excellent margins, are easy to install, almost never need repair, and have luxury appeal. Selling Nordost is like having a license to print money.If you must buy fancy cables then at least do so after addressing the acoustic properties of your room. It really irritates me when I see a five or six figure system sitting in a room with glass walls and marble floors. Inevitably these are the systems with the most expensive cables and other sorts of "tweaks".

Jerry's picture

The $10 CD-ROM in my computer reads (undamaged) CDs with 100% accuracy. It is not possible to get a more accurate reading. One missed bit on code and the software doesn't work.The claim that a power cable will improve the 100% read accuracy is simple fraud... and reporting such claims without that perspective seems poor journalism indeed.

David's picture

Wrong Jerry, your computer is not the be-all and end-all of digital reproduction. There's a little thing called jitter, and yes it happens inside your computer too.

John Atkinson's picture

Jerry, you wrote that "The claim that a power cable will improve the 100% read accuracy is simple fraud..." My apologies. but I don't see anywhere where that claim has been made. Setting up such strawmen is a fruitless means of participating in any discussion, surely.

Rich@Boulder's picture

Call me crazy, but why am I the only one who wonders why this touted "breakthrough" was teased to the public before it was ready for scrutiny instead of being presented as a finished work to the AES? I'm not necessarily saying that what they claim isn't true, but it sorta looks like they're rediscovering difference or signal subtraction. This isn't the first time a manufacturer has claimed to have something special to prove that only their gear is the last word in honest signal integrity, however in order for the methodology to be taken seriously, THE TEST METHODOLOGY MUST BE DISCLOSED so that it can be scrutinized by others. To not do so is basically to say, "I have a way to prove my stuff is the best. Really, I do. But I'm not going to tell you what it is, so you'll just have to take my word for it."But what do I know?

Tyler's picture

To echo the rational posters here, this is not the approach that real engineers/scientists use when making a major discovery. If this "method" had any purpose other than marketing, it would have at the least been presented to AES for review and discussion.But hey, they suddenly made decades of research/engineering in electronics obsolete in only 6 months, so who am I to judge.. [insert "roll eyes" emoticon here]

mike's picture

timing errors reduced by the power cord or by the other equipment (original file and a copy on CD played on another player) reducing noise ? noise levels are already 100DB or more below the signal so what is the gain to lower it by another 15% nobody can hear does not tell if the original signal was still the same.... (at some filter or suppression and the noise will be lower.....)Hey read the claims carefull what they claim, they probably can prove it but what is really improving besides theire bank account, if you buy this stuff...

Alan Sircom's picture

Having sat in on this demonstration both in Denver and at a private pre-preview, I think there are some points that are worthy of note.1) This is very much a work-in-progress. It's been a long time since I submitted a dissertation or a thesis, but if I remember rightly, it was not considered good form to turn up with a handful of notes, saying "I've not finished yet", but a good idea to discuss your work with your peers and your professor before submission. That is what's happening here2) This is presented as a Calls For Comment among audio manufacturers and public alike. This is in part why the methodology was not disclosed at this time - essentially it's at measurement + mathematician stage. Give it time - they are working through the 3,000 ways of not making a lightbulb right now3) Roy is boundless in his enthusiasm when he gets excited about something. And these guys just might be on to something...I can understand the inertia, but I don't think it's just

Ted Clamstruck's picture

"I've not finished yet" and "work-in-progress" are not exactly consistent with the claim on Nordost's web site of "...finally offers incontrovertible proof of the very real and all too audible impact that 'accessories' such as AC and signal cables or equipment supports make in even a modest system". And the idea of having the VP of Marketing for Nordost writing articles about Nordost in HiFi+ is such a conflict of interest that I'm amazed it's even considered, let alone allowed.

Alan Sircom's picture

As I said, Roy's enthusiasm can be boundless when he gets excited about something. And he's very definitely excited about this. When the more concrete evidence to support this is made public, those claims of his will have justification. You'll have to wait and see, though. Roy does not write articles about Nordost in the magazine; the 'Knowledge Alliance' described above (and written about in the magazine) is not run by, owned by, or even particularly benefits Nordost directly. If anything, Nordost has the most to lose here; it's basically acting as patron for a measurement system that may end up saying that someone else's equipment does a better job than its own products.

Ted Clamstruck's picture

This "Knowledge Alliance" is a laughable euphemism for "Nordost marketing blitz". To claim it's not associated specifically with Nordost is an outright lie. It's quite clear that their game is to delay in perpetuity any disclosure of what they are really doing. In the unlikely event that they actually do disclose what's going on, there's lots of smart people who have been down this road many times who will critically examine it. And THAT is where Nordost stands to lose.


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