It’s that time of year!
As anybody who has been in or
around High End audio for any time at all will tell you, the very best way to
prove that you’re an engineer or genetically superior or just a FaceBook troll
is to deny that audible differences exist in practically anything. If it can’t be measured, these engineers or Übermenschen or FaceBook trolls always
say ― or even if it can
be measured but it can’t be instantly identified by a statistically significant
percentage of listeners in a double-blind test, it’s all “voodoo”,
self-hypnosis, wishful thinking, or “placebo effect”, which seems to be the current
pretend-intellectual term for all of the above.
Now, in point of fact, there
really have been (and still are) plenty of products that seem like they can’t
possibly work in any conceivable physical universe. You’ve all seen them or
heard of them, from the magic discs, magic dots, Bedini boxes and Peter Belt
goodies of days of yore, to the magic brass bowls, magic feet, and magic
“purifiers” (of any number of things) being touted (and bought and sold for
amazing prices) today. Some of these may very well work, and they may very well
only seem to be outrageous because their inventor or discoverer really has
invented or discovered something really new. (Remember Arthur C Clarke’s statement
that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”)
Even so, they do strain the credulity of all but the most over-the-top enthusiasts.
It isn’t just the “weird-seeming”
stuff, though, that has come under attack. Whole categories of much more
conventional things – especially those that a great many people agree DO sound
different have been questioned by claiming-to-be-knowledgeable
“Techno-Luddites”. Amplifiers are one good example, with the AES fighting
tooth-and-nail to prove they all sound the same in at least two widely
publicized double-blind tests. CD players were another. The “Perfect Sound
Forever” set insisted for a good long time that, because the Nyquist Sampling
equations indicated that even the earliest CDs and CD players had to be
perfect, they WERE perfect, no matter how bad they sounded.
The one thing, though, that
has been challenged, denied, declared to be voodoo, and insisted to be nothing
more than “placebo effect” most consistently and for the longest time is
cables. Somehow, everybody can accept
that a tiny rectangle not much bigger than a postage stamp can be a highly
technical, fiendishly complex microcircuit, containing thousands of electronic
components, programmable to do astounding things, but, to a goodly number of
people, including a surprising percentage of audio industry professionals,
cables are just wire, and “wire is wire”; in no way capable of affecting the
sound of a system.
things that matter in designing a cable, the doubters and trolls will tell you,
are inductance (L), capacitance (C), resistance (R), and, for balanced lines, very long lines, or very
high (digital, RF, or video) frequencies, characteristic
impedance (Z0). Materials don’t matter (they say); geometry or mode
of construction doesn’t matter; dielectrics don’t matter; nothing else at all
matters; it’s all just LRC.
Have any of these “experts”
(and many of them truly ARE experts, but in some other electronic field) ever
considered that, to the extent that cables exhibit calculable amounts of
inductance, capacitance, and resistance, they ARE inductors, capacitors, and
resistors? Have they ever heard of premium components? Have they ever used
Here’s where it gets
interesting: Many of the very same industry professionals who most loudly
proclaim even the idea of premium cables to be foolish use premium inductors,
capacitors, and even premium (and very expensive) resistors in the electronics they
design and premium wiring in their speakers.
How can that be? Isn’t
anything that measures the right number of millihenries, microfarads, or Ohms
identical in performance to anything else of exactly the same measured value?
Isn’t 50µF exactly the same,
regardless of what a 50µF capacitor is made of? (Ceramic, mica, polyethylene,
polycarbonate, polyester, Teflon, and many other materials all come to mind,
just for the dielectric, and metal foil or metallized film for the plates) Or how it’s made? Or whether it’s a single
unit or a bunch of caps of the same total value?
Similarly, if wire is just
wire, why do capacitor manufacturers offer capacitors with leads made of
anything from steel to “six-nines” copper? And why do they offer them either
solid or stranded, or bare or insulated with anything from PVC to Teflon?
Why do sophisticated and
knowledgeable electronics designers in areas anywhere from aerospace to audio
buy premium capacitors and spec’ them into their designs? Obviously, there must
be things about premium capacitors (or inductors or resistors) that are
important besides just their measured values.
Certainly some of those things may have to do with configuration, power
handling capacity, or packing density, but aren’t there others that have
nothing to do with anything other than performance? And, in audio equipment,
might not some of that performance have to do with how the capacitor or
resistor or inductor (and thus the entire product and the entire system)
If capacitors, resistors and
inductors can have a sound of their
own and can affect the sound of a
product or a system that they’re part of, and if, as the “LCR Set” insists,
cables are just capacitors, resistors, and inductors, why can’t cables sound,