Photographers vs. Audiophiles (Part 2): Audio Woo

Started 2 months ago | Discussions thread
Crash N Burn
OP Crash N Burn Regular Member • Posts: 119
Re: Photographers vs. Audiophiles (Part 2): Audio Woo

Don_Campbell wrote:

Crash N Burn wrote:

That great thread ended with Don Campbell's interesting post:


Don, I don't know if you read that entire thread, but some people there spent hundreds of dollars on audio cables.

Do you have any words of advice for people tempted to go down that road and who subscribe to "audio woo"--the various vague and unsupported claims for getting better sound quality most often peddled by hobbyist psuedoscientists?

Looks to me like this current thread was hijacked instantly with gibberish. I feel badly that I found the Audio Woo essay too late for it to be discussed seriously.

Generalizing about cables or most other simple technologies including power supplies, speaker drivers, crossovers, amplifiers, vacuum tubes vs transistors vs digital signal processors, digital recordings and their conversion to analog audio for listening, or any other of the audio subjects favored by audio arguments--can be subject to specific listening situations. unfortunately the arguments tend to be co-oped with magical claims made for a single manufacturer's extra special hoo-hah component or design.

In signalling terms, the signals in audio systems are "low frequency" at their highest frequencies. Low frequency signals are pretty undemanding for transmission through reasonable lengths of electrical cables. The exceptions come with cables with conductors that are too small to be low enough in resistance to drive inefficient speakers from a long distance of cable. For normal speaker systems in a normal livingroom or den, even modest two-conductor "speaker cable" is sufficient.

Even robust speaker cable by the 100 foot spool is inexpensive compared to the ridiculously (my bias) expensive speaker cables pitched at "audiophiles." Speaker wire comes in sizes like 16, 14 and 12 gauge. The distances between the conductors do not present a significant capacitance to give "cable property" issues at audio frequencies over distances that are normal.

Big speaker systems with several drivers per box may push someone who is putting down 20 feet of wire to the speaker into buying 12 gauge but I bet they wouldn't experience a real difference with 14 gauge. My main speakers have 3 foot and 8 foot runs of 14 gauge wire that is more than adequate to the task. 16 gauge would be fine but 14 was what I had on hand. Appropriate connectors matching the connector style of the output from the amp and the input to the speakers is highly useful. The cable should be color coded on one of the two wires so that you have no issue in color coding the connectors and therefore connecting them in phase at the speakers.

Coaxial cables for interconnecting components with amps could be an issue except that even modestly priced RCA connector cables come more robust in size as they get longer in length. You'd have to work at it to have source components so far away that you'd need a special level of connector for them to the amp but even so, several hundred dollars is silly.

Optical cables one thread member wanted to argue were actually transmitting the digital data in analog signals. Sort of but highly misleading. The digital codes for 0 and 1 are variable in light levels over the distance of the cable but if they arrive at a value that isn't defined exactly as one or the other then the cable is too long or broken. Similarly, digital codes for 0 and 1 in digital electrical systems and digital coax cables have their 0 and 1 levels defined in a variable set of voltage levels. If the levels don't fit comfortably in the 0 range or 1 range something is wrong and it generally won't be cost that defines that but distance or damage. Again, as distances of these cables increase so does the robustness of the cables. Plastic "conductor" optical cables are limited in distance. The length of the cable should tell you it is getting time to move up to a glass fiber optical cable or some other system for getting the signal that unusual distance. As long as the 0 and 1 levels get to the target the signal is perfectly transmitted -- it doesn't degrade and cause the audio to degrade in the process.

I remember in the late 60's and 70's a large number of high end audio companies were switching to transistorized components. There were steady improvements made in high output power transistors and steady improvements in using modern transistor designs to amplify signals from input to the output stage. Since that time, upselling of audio equipment required ever more bells and whistles on one side and magical claims on the other. If only one company makes the magically-enhanced amplifier or preamp or CD technology

Basically, I once learned by observation that no one (almost no one) throws up their hands and says, "You're right. I was wrong and you have set me straight, thank you." It happens more subtly. I remember being in a "discussion" where I started speaking softer and softer and finally moved on from a person at a party. About a half-hour later I over-heard that person, standing a few feet away, using all my facts and logic, essentially arguing my side of the issue with someone else. I think I'll be recommending Audio Woo to folks who I think could use some facts and logic. Most will argue as long as they draw breath but some might read and realize that there are salient facts and logic that they could incorporate usefully into their audio lives.

Wow, great post, Don! Made it well worth the wait.

Hopefully it will be of use to some open-minded audiophiles, many of whom are the furthest thing from scientists, like try to sound like them by co-opting their technical vocabulary to advance dangerously mythological claims.

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