The Truth Should Out

This issue contains a report on a truly ingenious little device called the ABX Comparator, which takes the fraud out of subjective testing. It does this by making its own selection of source A or source B for each listening trial, without telling you which was selected. Only after all the tests will it reveal what you were listening to each time. "Score" sheets are provided so you can list your guesses, compare them with the cold, uncompromising truth, and file the results for posterity. Or better still, for the first hard evidence that has ever been presented that a lot of people can hear differences that cannot as yet be measured.

A couple of issues back, I said in this department that it was past time that we perfectionists either put up or shut up. We have claimed for so long that we could hear things the scientific establishment doubts we can hear, and disagreed so much about what we hear, that so-called subjective testing has lost the last vestiges of its credibility. This has not been helped at all by recent assertions that reproduced sound is fouled by the proximity to equipment or cables of metal, wood, concrete, carpeting and people, nor by claims that interconnecting wires must be dimensioned to within a ridiculous fraction of an inch to avoid total destruction of fidelity. We have even heard a report recently of reproduced sound being "dramatically" improved by the placing of a small container of water beneath the resting position of the stylus, even though the stylus never came near it! This sort of thing raises audio above the level of science into the cloud-nine realm of mysticism, magic and voodoo.

I am not claiming that any of this is impossible. "Impossible" is a very strong word, often freely used these days by people with an overweening desire to be proven wrong. What I am saying is that allegations like these are so hard for a scientific mind to swallow that anyone who makes them without at least offering some sort of proof that they ARE audible lays him- (or her-) self open to ridicule, derision, and out-of-hand dismissal as a full-blown crackpot.

One of the things which makes these claims so hard for a scientifically-trained observer to swallow is the fact that the phenomena do not conform to the inverse-square law which controls all known force phenomena above the subatomic level. The I-S law, to refresh your memory (?!), observes that forces or energies which are not specifically directed (ie, those which act uniformly in all directions) are reduced to one-quarter strength each time the distance from the source is doubled. The law reads like this: Intensity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance. The "law" works for light from a candle, heat from the sun, and sound from an omnidirectional (nondirectional) radiating source. But the proximity phenomena reported by some audiophiles seem consistently to violate the I-S law—another reason why the technically-schooled view them with extreme skepticism.

Yet there are reported phenomena outside of audio which do not seem to conform neatly to the I-S law either. Mental telepathy seems able to act over vast distances without loss of carrying power, but then telepathy has never been scientifically proven either. Like the mystical tenets of organized religion, it has been proven to the satisfaction of believers but not to the satisfaction of nonbelievers. Few scientists believe in a white-robed, bearded God who sits in heaven to love, judge, and answer prayers, but their stance is rarely one of disbelief, for it is even harder to prove nonexistence the existence. Most are doubters—agnostics—who are not convinced of the truth of either stance. That just about describes where I stand on many of the things certain audiophiles claim to be hearing.