Finding Your Way

Let’s imagine I know nothing about audio. I have a nice computer, but I’m looking to get better sound for my music collection. In the UK, I might:

1. Read the brochure for the UK’s largest hi-fi retailer, Richer Sounds, complete with some of the most incomprehensible subjective recommendations for each piece of equipment, courtesy of What Hifi?.

2. Head over to some PC enthusiast sites (which I trust), where I find, amidst reviews of computer components that they wouldn’t dream of comparing outside the numbers, a professional reviewer complaining about the “turbidness” of an expensive sound card’s output and other such subjective gems.

3. Go Googling and likely end up on a forum surrounded by people debating the different sounds of USB cables.

I did all three, give or take, upon first getting into audio. It wasn’t so much that I weighed up any evidence or made a conscious decision to buy into BS: it never occurred to me that there was anything outside the BS. The BS was simply the facts of audio reproduction, unquestionable in their ubiquity.

I almost ended up buying an amplifier with a fatally flawed topology (God knows how it would measure) and some esoteric DAC with an overheating problem, both of which would have cost not inconsiderable sums of money. It strikes me that the only reason I didn’t buy these things is due to the slightly obsessive amount of research I did, which most normal/sane/busy people would not undertake.

If you ask a random person with little interest in audio about, say, audiophile speaker cables, the response tends not to be one of “That’s silly,” but “Caring about differences that small is that silly – I bet they’re really hard to hear.” That there are audible differences between all these things (excluding the differences from things like impedance) is now taken as fact.

From that perspective, how do you see audio returning to sanity? Audiophilia has succeeded in not so much skewing the ridiculous “Woo vs Science” argument, but rendering it irrelevant to 90% of consumers by removing the choice as to which to believe. You believe what you are presented with, and by the time you are aware of other views you’ve very likely bought into (in a very literal sense!) the silly belief system, and a whole array of powerful cognitive drivers come into play to keep you onboard.

How *can* audio return to sanity when the *intuitive* position, for someone who is new to it, is one of “Everything sounds different and the best way to judge it is by sitting down and casually listening”, reinforced at every possible turn by virtually everything?

By the time it transpires what a terrible position the intuitive one was, all is lost, if you’ll pardon the hyperbole…communities that even approach HydrogenAudio’s stance seem destined to remain a minority.

—from The Counterintuitive Nature of Audio Sanity

Once you read past the rather awkward writing, there’s not much for me to add. It’s all been covered before, many times, by many people, yet still there are knowledgeable, educated, high level professionals, even electrical engineers that have fallen into the mystery bag of nebulous thought patterns and gotten lost in the electron cloud of quantum uncertainty. It happens almost imperceptibly. The tool used is repetition. Repeat something long and loud enough, and soon it becomes an everyday, ordinary idea accepted without question. It’s the power of suggestion; little mentions that you may at first ignore, but you hear it again, and again, and once more, and over lunch, and the next time you read a magazine, and then it gets slipped into another conversation, and soon you can’t ignore it. Soon, without your awareness, it’s taken hold. You accept it as true, argue with those who doubt, and dig in your heels.

Clue number one for detecting a false claim that’s become a standard belief is controversy. The more controversial the subject, the more likely it’s a fabricated debate.

Number two is confusion. The established and verifiable facts will be presented as undetermined, incomplete, or inconclusive. To see through the falsehoods, look carefully at the evidence. Much of the time the evidence isn’t even weak, it’s nonexistent. Sometimes the false argument relies on the absence of evidence, or an argument from ignorance, either of which is a logical black hole. Another trick of the trade is blinding you with science. Yes, they may use real, true, factual science to “explain” the product, but never once actually show you the measured results, or if they do, won’t explain whether those measurements are audible by normal human ears. They are hiding behind the science. But the bigger deceit is hiding behind omissions. The science they’ve left out is critical. The consequence of these tactics is more confusion, more controversy, more divided opinions.

The third clue is denial. When they can’t get around the established and verified facts, the irrefutable double-blind tests that have been repeated many times, they simply deny the facts. They insist that there are mysteries we can’t understand (argument from ignorance, again), or that our ears are so miraculous that the most sensitive scientific instruments can’t compare. It’s a baffling mindset.

To find your way through the haze, step back, take a breath, and use your higher functioning prefrontal cortex. Sorting through it all is a pain. We shouldn’t have to do it, but as long as people let themselves be overrun by the wrong motives, e.g., money, power, fame, we’re going to have these issues. We won’t be able to rely on experts, because some, who knows which ones, are going to exploit others lack of knowledge, and then blame the victim for not knowing better. Keep your skepticism on high alert. And when someone accuses you of being closed-minded, keep in mind, there’s a giant difference between openminded and gullible.

So special wires and fuses are ONLY critical in audio sound quality? Nobody else has a need for special performance tuned $50 110 volt AC fuses. Nobody else has a need for better performance from $1000 wires to run 3 feet?

Seriously, how could anybody buy into this kind of logic? It is predicated on audio equipment being somehow different from all other electronics. Why wouldn’t your digital camera provide shaper images and better color from a better USB cable. Why wouldn’t all printers or PCs perform that much better with a better fuse? Why do people upgrade RAM in PCs but nobody buys special digital performance PC fuses so that the digital bits have rounder zeros and sharper 1s? Why wouldn’t your car run better and faster with a different fuse or specialist battery cablesafter all modern cars all run on electronics?

—from another a’phile forum in response to those who support the validity of burn-in, high-end wire, and other audio x-factors.

p.s. I did an internet search for “audio woo.” Out of the top 100 results, one was for Wallaby Woo. Huh? One was Anthony Hamilton performing “Woo.” Another was Mai Woo Chand audio download. Ninety-four of the results referenced a company so guilty of audio woo that it uses woo in its name. Is that ironically brilliant marketing, or just plain stupid? Only three results out of one hundred linked to a page on the subject of audio woo. Ninety-seven percent of the search results were irrelevant. Makes you wonder. . .

p.p.s. Just read this one on an a’phile forum, “If you can hear a .001 ohm difference behind a power supply and a transformer, can you also hear the capacitance of the squirrels on the power lines?

p.p.p.s. High-end is not equivalent to High Fidelity.

If you’d like to read the entire thread, here’s the link : [The Counterintuitive Nature of Audio Sanity]

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