Audio McCarthyism Page 3

After these first two demonstration trials, the MIT and 12/2 were connected back to the ABX box and the real-science investigation into loudspeaker cables began. The very first trial was barely over when an audience member stood up and shouted that the test was a joke and should be stopped immediately. There was a general murmur of agreement among a portion of the audience. Dugan asked for a show of hands for how many people wanted to stop the test after just one trial. "It looks about evenly divided—we'll continue," Dugan said.

When five trials had been completed (two demonstrations with the 30-gauge, and three real ones), Dugan said he would "tabulate and publish this data in detail." After asking for a show of hands for the number of correct identifications, he revealed that panelist Fred Davis had flipped a coin three times and "got it correct on all three," which provoked laughter from the audience. Then someone shouted, "Is that coin covered by Teflon?" to which Davis responded "it had green marker around the edge."

The AES should be ashamed to be associated with this debacle.

Each of the panelists gave a 15-minute presentation on a particular topic. Corey Greenberg, who was introduced by Dugan as "the bad boy of Stereophile," went first. Incidentally, Corey was denied a seat on the panel with the other speakers; he sat in the audience before and after his presentation. Knowing he was the designated "straw man," Corey kept his discussion factual and straightforward, presenting the physical properties of cables, with an emphasis on materials and improvements in connectors. Clearly, Dugan was surprised and disappointed that Corey didn't fall into the trap set for him. Following Corey's refusal to step into Dugan's quicksand, Dugan thereafter referred to him as "Mr. Greenberg."

The next presentation was by Fred Davis, author of the excellent paper on loudspeaker cable electrical properties published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society (Vol.39 No.6). Closely following the JAES article, Davis outlined the measurable differences between cables, looking at only DC resistance, capacitance, and inductance. His conclusion was that these differences were sonically insignificant and that no other phenomena could be responsible for audible differences between cables.

David Clark, the man most closely associated with the idea that all power amplifiers sound the same, described the results of the double-blind loudspeaker cable tests he conducted at the 1988 Los Angeles AES Convention which he feels indicated no audible differences existed between cables. Clark made an interesting admission: ABX tests are "high pressure, like a college exam." He also indicated that the acceptance criterion for establishing the audibility of a phenomenon had been moved to 0.01 from the previously accepted 0.05. A 0.01 acceptance criterion means that, statistically speaking, there is just one chance in 100 that the positive result was due to chance. A 0.05 acceptance criterion means there is a one in 20 chance that the subject was just lucky. It is a sophisticated tactic to move the goalposts as one's prejudices are called into greater question.

The next speaker was Jeff Corey, a professor of Psychology at Long Island University and "coordinator of investigations" for a group called the "New York Area Skeptics." He attempted to dismiss the tens of thousands of people who hear differences between cables by citing examples of perceptual illusions from the psychological literature. Dr. Corey passed around two plastic containers, one large and one small, and asked the audience to indicate which container they believed was heavier. The audience, of course, got it wrong. Dr. Corey then used this example as a logical springboard to discredit those many critical listeners who hear differences between loudspeaker cables—an absurd conceptual leap.

Dr. Corey then inadvertently indicted the proponents of double-blind ABX testing by suggesting that "the experimenters tend to get the results they expect to obtain." He also revealed his bias in suggesting that "six guesses out of seven is not significant," an apparent reference to the many skilled listeners who have made six out of seven correct identifications in double-blind tests. Note the use of the word "guesses" rather than "identifications."

Finally, Dr. Corey wound up his talk on what was to be the psychology of subjective testing with his explanation of why the cable industry exists: "What could motivate these exaggerated claims? Gee...I don't know [facetiously]. Let me just trace some of the history of this. One hundred and fifty years ago this year, a gentleman by the name of Phineas Taylor Barnum opened up his new revised American Museum, and he had the 157-year-old nurse of George Washington on display. But that was not as spectacular as one of his big stars, the Fiji Mermaid." (his emphasis)

Dr. Corey then related P.T. Barnum's scam of the Fiji Mermaid, which was nothing more than the top half of a dead monkey sewn to the bottom half of a fish, which people were charged 25 cents to see. Dr. Corey's telling of the story implied that journalists of the day were in collusion with Barnum: "And guess what? The newspaper people of that time never exposed this. I can't guess what kind of motivation there may have been." (his sarcasm)

With a flourish, Dr. Corey showed a drawing of the Fiji Mermaid and concluded his presentation with this analysis of the cable industry: "The Fiji Mermaid of 150 years ago...another speaker cable."

sudont's picture

Clearly there are differences in sound between various components, even cables. What disturbs me, is that over the last couple of decades, reasonably priced cable has all but disappeared from the market. If there's a justification for the ridiculous prices of cable, I haven't heard it. It's certainly not in the cost of the materials.