Audio McCarthyism Page 6

Dugan also showed an optical illusion he had drawn, explaining its relevance to hearing differences between components: "It doesn't matter how hard I'm trying to be objective, I still see those lines as different. This is something built into the human perceptual system, whether I'm honest or a crook, whether I'm smart or dumb, this dumb [thing] is built into our system, okay."

A funny incident occurred when Dugan returned the borrowed system to Casey McKee at Innovative Audio. Dugan made a remark to Casey about how he really showed up audiophiles at the workshop and conclusively presented the case that all loudspeaker cables sound the same.

"But I can hear the difference between cables," Casey said.

Dugan challenged Casey to his standard $50 bet.

"Fifty dollars?," Casey replied. "Let's make it a thousand."

Dugan blanched and declined (footnote 11).

Now, let's conclude this piece with an analysis of the New York Department of Consumer Affairs' position on this matter as articulated by Mr. Lopez. Before reading any further, I suggest you reread his statement.

Did I understand Mr. Lopez correctly? That if a salesman in a store recommends a particular cable or interconnect based on sound quality, the retailer will be summoned into court and forced to sign an "Assurance of Discontinuance" in which he agrees to never mention the varying sonic quality of cables again? That retailers are under threat of having the locks on their stores changed if they don't tell their customers zip cord and AudioQuest Dragon are sonically identical? That advertisements for any audio product using terminology not familiar to the lowest common denominator of consumer is cause for criminal prosecution by his office? That he is asking the Audio Engineering Society, a group which as a whole dismisses differences between amplifiers—never mind cables—to dictate the terms by which high-end audio products are sold? That the AES's agenda—established by the likes of Dan Dugan—could be elevated to the power of law and enforced by a government agency?

I'm afraid Mr. Lopez did say all those things (footnote 12).

A fundamental characteristic of McCarthyism is the "false conformity" created by fear of persecution. What greater false conformity is there than the retailer who is forced to tell his customers—under penalty of law—that all loudspeaker cables and interconnects sound the same, even though he knows it isn't true? Threatening retailers with financial penalties and forcing them to sign the Department of Consumer Affairs' "Assurance of Discontinuance" smacks of the Spanish Inquisition in which heretics were tortured into recanting their beliefs. Galileo Galilei was forced sign a document—no doubt the 17th-century equivalent of the "Assurance of Discontinuance"—stating that he "abjured, cursed, and detested" his belief that the earth revolved around the sun. Because he had broken a previously signed agreement that specifically enjoined him from "teaching or discussing Copernicanism in any way" by the Holy Office, Galileo was forced to spend the last eight years of his life under house arrest.

But why should the government stop at prosecuting those who hear differences between loudspeaker cables? The scientific audio community, in the guise of David Clark, has "proved" that all power amplifiers sound the same, from a Futterman output-transformerless tubed design to a Mark Levinson to a $220 Japanese receiver. Shouldn't retailers also be prosecuted for selling amplifiers, preamplifiers—even CD players—if those components are sold based on their relative sonic merits? Will equipment reviewers be forced to sign an "Assurance of Discontinuance" if they express opinions of sonic characteristics not provable by the kind of "scientific" inquiry witnessed at the workshop? And with Dan Dugan establishing the framework for determining what's audible and what isn't?

Don't get me wrong—we need individuals like Wilfredo Lopez and government agencies like the Department of Consumer Affairs. But their efforts should be directed at dishonest merchants who misrepresent the age of a Persian rug, to use Mr. Lopez's example. Instead, this governmental authority appears to have become an unwitting weapon in the hands of McCarthy-like crusaders who hold a philosophical grudge against audiophiles. The naïve view that science can measure and quantify every aspect of audio equipment quality could become the power of law, enforced by the well-intentioned but misinformed Mr. Lopez.

Just as Joe McCarthy subverted the government's power in his crusade to persecute his imagined enemies 40 years ago, Dan Dugan now seeks to prosecute his personal agenda against audiophiles by a similar misuse of legal authority.

Is the title of this piece—"Audio McCarthyism"—extremist?

You be the judge.

Footnote 11: When I called Dugan for confirmation of this incident, Dugan said he would be glad to take Casey up on the $1000 bet—a year from now at the 1992 domestic AES Convention.

Footnote 12: The question is begged: Who are Mr. Lopez's constituents? Where are the legions of consumers complaining that they bought loudspeaker cables and were ripped off? To my knowledge, it is standard practice for retailers to let customers try cables in their own systems before buying. Further, many retailers have loaner cables; if the customer hears no difference or an insignificant difference, he simply returns them and is out of pocket no money. How many other products provide this generous a home-trial program?

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.