Audio subjectivism

My brother has drawn my attention to an episode of ‘Skeptoid’ in which (third item) the magical benefits of expensive audio cables are dismissed, along with the value of face masks in combating swine flu, the radioactive dangers of depleted uranium, and some weird medical treatments.

I pretty much agree with the response*. What interested me more was one of the comments, which referenced Ethan Winer’s website. That has some very interesting material on it. Winer knows computers, audio recording, and actually playing music very well. He has a bunch of very sensible thoughts on the myths of some audiophiles. A good starting point is his ‘Audio Magic’ section under ‘Ethan’s Magazine Articles‘.

Too many articles to discuss in detail, but I would suggest you download the five musical samples at Is 24-bit Recording Really Better? and try yourself out on some blind testing. Kind of goes with my own ‘What is Dither?‘ article, in which I explain (with the assistance of pictures), how dither actually works to, at least theoretically, improve sound.

I for one am going to be going through these articles for some time, learning more. Oh, one more: a plausible explanation for some differences in the subjective experience of sound — differences which are conventionally thought should not be there. Called ‘Why We Believe‘, using very interesting measurements, he suggests that differences may be largely due to slight differences in head position. He shows pretty conclusively that large differences in frequency response — certainly quite audible — result from moving the listening point by just a few centimetres.

Truth be told, I think he is too kind. I myself have experienced audible differences which, it has soon become apparent, are entirely the result of my expectations. Because I am essentially a chicken — I would be very embarrassed if I couldn’t reliably distinguish a phenomenon which I may note in an article under test conditions — I refuse to rush into print until I’ve checked multiple times. When it comes to cables and amplifiers and the like, I find that the phenomenon has disappeared, or the thing I thought I heard was there all along, just previously unnoticed with other equipment.

One more pointer. Mr Winer links to an excellent article ‘Science and Subjectivism in Audio‘. I highly recommend this article if you think there may indeed be something in the more mystical claims of some in the audiophile community.

* I’m not suggesting you go cheap and nasty for your cabling needs. Just be sensible. $5 for a set of interconnects suggests that they might be a light for quality control, and even lack proper shielding. $20 should provide excellent quality. $200 is a waste.

For speaker cables, I use good thick stuff which sells for about $5 a metre. Just get the cable impedance as low as reasonably possible for speakers. Remember, the cable resistance for interconnects is totally insignificant compared to the typically 47,000 ohm input to which it’s connected. For speakers, a cable’s 0.1 ohms is still a significant proportion of the three to thirty ohms of resistance that an amplifier my face across a loudspeaker’s operating frequency range.

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