The Truth Should Out Page 2

There is no way the ABX comparator can be used to prove or disprove the existence of a caring God. But it does offer hope of proving, for the first time, whether some of the less-credible observations of perfectionists have any basis in reality or are magnificently-conceived self-deceptions. That is why, even though I feel that the device itself needs further implementation, as the jargoncrats would put it, I also feel it is the most significant contribution to audio that has come upon us in years.

But it has to be used. Few audiophiles would pay $500 for a gadget that might do no more for then than prove they have been deluding themselves all these years. But audio clubs could afford them, and should use them. So can and should every component manufacturer that really wants to find out if its latest product is truly better than the competition. The device could cause more embarrassment in this world than the invention of the rattlefart, but whenever truth and conviction are at odds with one another, embarrassment for some is inevitable, good, and necessary for the advance of knowledge. The losers will be the dissemblers, the frauds, and those most skilled in the art of the autohype. The winners, ultimately, will be music and the rest of us who are interested only in the maximal fidelity of reproduced music.

So, I wish ABX well, I hope they prosper and—mainly—I hope the audio community takes full advantage of this, our first opportunity to prove that at least some of what we've been bitching and moaning about all these years does in fact exist and can, if pursued seriously, improve the state of the audio art.

The ABX Comparator
Now here's an inspired idea! A device which virtually guarantees the integrity of any comparative component-listening session.

The ABX Comparator is a manually-operated switcher that allows a listener or group thereof to select between either of two input sources (A or B) or an unknown source (X). When you push the X button, the device switches to A or B, but doesn't tell you which you're hearing. You're on your own. You make a note (on "score sheets" supplied) of whether you think it is A or B, and whether or not you prefer its sound, then go on to the next trial by pressing the button marked Up. This time, X may be the same device as it was previously, or it may be the other device. Only the ABX knows which is which. If you wish to refresh your memory about the sound of A or B, just push the appropriate button. If you want to go back to the previous X, push the button marked Down as often as necessary to return to the desire test.

The device will accept up to 100 trials per run. When you're finished, you reset the device to 01 (first trial). The X button will light, as will the A or B button. The latter indication tells you which of the devices under test was component X for the first trial. Each time you press Up, the displayed number advances by one digit and the other readout tells you which component was X for that trial. You check off each "correct" answer against your score sheet and, when finished, you have a tally of the number of times you "guessed" which component was which. If you guessed right about 60% of the time, you've proven that you were hearing actual differences instead of just guessing. If you scored around 50%, you were deluding yourself. If you scored more than 60% wrong, you were undoubtedly hearing something, but you'd better not offer your services for a listening panel.

The sequence of X selections is pre-programmed into the comparator at the start of each set of trials; a different sequence is selected at random every time the device is turned on. The sequence for up to 100 trials is held in the device's memory for as long as it is left turned on. Pressing its Reset button does not clear the memory, as on many computers, but merely resets the counter to 01 (first trial), for verification of the preceding series of tests. There is even a clip on the back of the unit to hold 4 size-AA batteries, which will allow the ABX to hold its memory for upwards of 2 hours in case of a power failure or an accidental unplugging. You cannot however use the battery supply to read out your results, so if your power is not restored within a couple of hours, your tests go down the drain. Can't ask for everything.