Good Bets, Possibilities, & Improbables Page 2

• "Different audio plugs sound different."

Different plug materials are more prone to oxidation of their contact surfaces than others, and oxide accumulations often are audible. (Many metallic oxides are partial rectifiers, passing one signal polarity more readily than the other. This imposes an asymmetrical bias on audio signals.) However, no evidence has been presented to support the claim that different plug materials affect sound when all contact surfaces are clean.

• "Sound quality is affected by the proximity of structural surfaces to the speaker wires˙"

If speaker wires are run for substantial distances (5' or more) taped to a steel girder, it is more than likely that the sound will be adversely affected by the increased capacitance between the wires. However, the assertion that the proximity of those cables to other, nonconductive materials such as wood can affect the sound is 1) unsubstantiated, 2) in violation of all the known laws of physics, and 3) if observed, probably a self-delusion.

• "A particular kind of turntable mat or platter material is superior to others."

Different mats and platters may sound different, but "superior" simply means it sounds better on one particular system. The evidence that one kind of material for either is consistently superior to another is weak at best, nonexistent at worst.

• "A turned-off TV set in your listening room can degrade reproduced sound."

The incredible assertion that a TV set tuned to an active channel will degrade the sound of an audio system in the same room with it, even when the set is turned off, originated with one person and has never been corroborated by anyone else. That it ever gained any credence among audiophiles is a tribute to something better not dwelt upon.

• "Digital sound will sap your strength."

This one also originated from one person (a different one), and was solidly discredited by everyone else who tried to replicate his results (footnote 1). Unfortunately it is still referred to as truth by some of those who feel that the digital recording process is inherently and irreversibly opposed to music. It is best forgotten."

• "The orientation of the molecules in a platter mat affects disc sound."

Since molded pliable plastics and pressed felt tend to have random ie, non-aligned-molecular structures, it is patently impossible to "orient their molecules." This one has all the identifying earmarks of a hype.

• "It is possible to tell the shape of a recording space from its sound alone."

This is sometimes claimed but has never been verified. Many trained listeners (particularly those with live-recording experience) can describe accurately the size and acoustical properties of a recording environment from its sound; very few believe it possible to tell its shape.

• "Some people can hear higher than their auditory range."

It has been demonstrated many times that people with an upper hearing limit of, say, 17kHz can hear the difference between a preamplifier with a 20kHz upper limit and one with a 40kHz upper limit. It would appear, however, that what they are hearing is an audible result of differences in the way those components produce sub-harmonics from ultrasonic distortion products. Many of the resulting subharmonics extend downward to well below 10kHz.

• "Loudspeakers can image beyond the physical limits of their separation."

They cannot alone, but they can be made to. So-called wall-to-wall imaging is an anomalous situation created inadvertently by reflections from a room's side walls, or intentionally through phase manipulation (à la Bob Carver's Sonic Hologram).

• "An audio cable's length is critical."

Except insofar as added length multiplies all of a cable's imperfections, there is no evidence that its length is critical. (If it weren't that the cables making these claims cost so danged much, more people would have tried shortening them to test those claims.)

Footnote 1: The progenitor of this idea was Dr. John Diamond, author of The Life Energy in Music—see Dr. Diamond's hypotheses were more recently (2005) promoted by Mark Levinson, who held that, unlike PCM, the DSD encoding used on SACD did not induce stress.—John Atkinson