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Music Networking Entertainment

Calling Shenanigans On Super SATA's Claimed Audio Qualities 827

Posted by timothy
from the 0s-are-rounder-1s-more-linear dept.
nk497 writes "Veteran Hi-Fi journalist Malcolm Steward has pushed newfangled Super SATA cables via his blog as a way to improve the sound quality of music, saying: 'My only guess is that the Super SATAs reject interference significantly better than the standard cables and in so doing lower the noise floor revealing greater low-level musical detail and presentational improvements in the soundstage and the "air" around instruments.' If that doesn't sound right to you, you're not alone. As PC Pro blogger Sasha Muller argues: 'How on earth can a SATA cable delivering 0s and 1s to their respective destination have any effect on those 0s and 1s? The answer is, it can't. Unless it's a magical one made of pixie shoes.' So maybe don't invest in Super SATA cables unless you have proof they're magical first."
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Calling Shenanigans On Super SATA's Claimed Audio Qualities

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  • What an idiot. (Score:3, Informative)

    by RobertM1968 (951074) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @03:56PM (#33306130) Homepage Journal

    The author now has this up:

    I have disabled Comments on this post so that respectable visitors do not have to read the remarks made by a small number of extremely ignorant, rude, malicious and disingenuous individuals who cannot tolerate people expressing opinions that do not concur with their own.

    Which really means "I'm an ignorant, lying, idiot, and dont want people pointing that out on my blog, so I have closed commenting and deleted all comments, since they all pointed out my stupidity."

    Ah well...

  • Re:Digital? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Peeteriz (821290) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @03:57PM (#33306154)

    If the delivered analog voltage always delivers the exact 100% same 1s and 0s, then it delivers 1s and 0s.

    SATA cables can be grouped according to their transmission quality - class A SATA cables (the usual ones) deliver 100% quality; class B SATA cables deliver less than 100% quality, so they don't work and you throw them back at the shop for a replacement.

  • by MattskEE (925706) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:00PM (#33306200)

    Any sufficiently advanced scam is indistinguishable from blind ignorance.

    It's pretty obvious that these cables are a scam preying on people who care about their sound systems but who don't understand enough of the technical aspects to avoid buying overpriced crap. This Stewart fellow is probably getting paid to plug this cable on his blog, but it's possible that he's just an idiot.

  • by pjt33 (739471) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:00PM (#33306208)

    Since both are carrying digital data, how is one stream of digital data any better?

    Electrical hookup vs optical hookup isn't just digital vs digital. You have to consider grounding effects too. If the base signal is identical but you remove a source of mains hum by breaking a ground loop you can have a very audible improvement.

  • by timholman (71886) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:04PM (#33306278)

    For a humorous spin a related snake oil product, check out the Amazon reviews for the Denon AKDL1 Dedicated Link Cable. Many of the reviews are absolute comedy gems.

  • by bradgoodman (964302) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:04PM (#33306282) Homepage
    There was a ./ article a few years ago - similar - about a $500 Ethernet cable made in "low oxygen" environments...yadda...yadda...sold to people to get better sound quality out of the MP3's.

    All the same points were made, and shenanigans called.

    There was a lot of interesting stuff said in the old discussion - a lot of it had to do with the fact that when people review this HiFi/Audio stuff - the testing is all very subjective, and is never done as a blind trial. Thus, one can boast the virtues of the $500 Ethernet cable - as they know they are listening through one - but one would never do a blind-sound test between a $500 and a $5 cable.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:05PM (#33306306)

    Audiophiles are just dead convinced there are all sorts of magic ways to improve your sound quality. Sometimes it is just pure, 100% made up bullshit like the "brilliant pebbles" thing. Other times there is a kernel of truth from long in the past that they over apply to everything.

    With digital cable, that's the case. So S/PDIF is the major transport for digital audio. It is slowly being superseded by newer things but it was the big one forever and is still used a lot. Turns out S/PDIF isn't all that well designed with regards to having a solid clock signal. So what happened was back in the day (and still occasionally) you'd have devices that didn't reclock an incoming signal, they use the clock off of the wire. This meant they were sensitive to clock skew, which would happen if your cable wasn't tightly controlled to 75 ohms, in particular with a long distance. The kind of distortion caused by this is quite audible. S/PDIF has no real error correction, and no retransmit so any errors get played. Thus, for long runs (as you find in studios) good cable was needed, even for digital.

    Obviously there are a lot of ways around this, the most common these days being just reclocking the signal you receive with an internal clock. Also better standards came about (like AES/EUB which runs over balanced cable). Doesn't matter, once and for all time people were convinced that cable quality mattered. It still crops up too, because you get audiophile devices that are poorly designed. They go for a "minimal component" design. So you'll have a DAC that doesn't reclock and thus is sensitive to clock skew.

    Of course snake oil salesmen seized on this and started selling "high grade" cables that offered nothing.

    Now of course when you get to SATA, none of this shit matters because it isn't a synchronous, no-retransmit system. If an error happens, the data will be resent. This is easy to do since everything is operating so much faster than the audio signal, and is further buffered by the system. If there are any errors on the wire, you never know, the system handles it behind the scenes. Also none of it affects the analogue audio signal, as it isn't clocked and converted until it hits the soundcard. Internal to the CPU, it is all just data.

  • by hardburn (141468) <hardburn@NOSPAM.wumpus-cave.net> on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:06PM (#33306324)

    Wine snobs usually have their opinions backed up by double-blind tests. The taste buds of good sommelier really can tell the type, vintage, and what kind of wood was used in the barrel that aged the wine. It was a blind test that proved that France wasn't the best in the world after all [wikipedia.org].

    They might be snobs, but they do have some Scientific backing behind them. Audiophiles, not so much.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:10PM (#33306394)

    The reason is that most optical cable you get is plastic, POF cable. It is great because it is flexible, durable, cheap, and can be made the size of the TOSlink opening. The problem is it is lossy as hell. Really poor transmission characteristics. Well this matters not at all when your DVD player sits on top of your receiver, as is so often the case. However if you have a setup where the devices are far apart, sometimes you discover that it doesn't work at all, or you get dropouts. You can, of course, replace it with real glass fiber but that is real expensive. Coax, on the other hand, works just great. A good 75ohm coax cable will go as far as you'd ever need in a home.

    Also has the advantage that it uses the same kind of wire as video. Any 75ohm coax cable suitable for video is also suitable for S/PDIF.

  • by Mr2001 (90979) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:11PM (#33306412) Homepage Journal

    If your SATA cables are working as they should, then the sequence of 0s and 1s your computer reads into memory is exactly the same as the sequence stored on the disk. You can't improve on that.

    If you SATA cables aren't working as they should, then the sequence of 0s and 1s will be different -- but as your quote pointed out, this would affect everything. The cable doesn't know whether it's transmitting a WAV, an MP3, a JPG, or an EXE. If your cables are corrupting data, your computer probably won't even boot!

    But, as the quote also pointed out, there are systems in place to detect and correct errors. Even if your cables are corrupting data, it's extremely unlikely that your computer will think it's getting the correct data and proceed to play it. Instead, it will retry, and the symptoms you'll see are slow or stalled transfers (just like a bad network connection).

  • by plcurechax (247883) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:20PM (#33306586) Homepage

    Electrical hookup vs optical hookup isn't just digital vs digital.

    Correct. High speed digital signals actual have a lot of analog related physical issues. The field is generally called (digital) Signal Integrity [wikipedia.org], and one of the better known experts is Dr. Howard Johnson [signalintegrity.com].

    You have to consider grounding effects too

    If you mean shielding and/or signal termination, then yes.

    If the base signal is identical but you remove a source of mains hum by breaking a ground loop you can have a very audible improvement.

    Sorry, but mains hum should be rejected by as always being below the noise threshold in a well design digital system. That's one of the most widely cited reasons for usage of digital signal processing of what are naturally continuous analog signals (e.g. audio, RF (mostly), visible and non-visible light/radiation).

    In a classic digital system, the logic levels have a wide margin sepearing the two digital states. Say in a 0-5V TTL logic, common from the 1970s to 1980s. As long as the digital signal says outside the "dead band" around 2.0V (from memory), while a digital bit is either 0.0V (or very close to it) or 5.0V (or very close to it), so the noise from the AC mains hum (50-60 Hz) will not distort the signal enough to swap logic levels.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:20PM (#33306592)

    Well, hobbyists of any type can be an eccentric bunch. On the one hand you have people who are genuinely interested in creating the most accurate sound reproduction, and on the other you have people who are OCD and live in a world where something is always amiss and they cannot sleep at night if they have not addressed each and every detail that they have access to.

    There is a saying in high-end audio that the price is the product meaning that for someone who is determined to do all they can to perfect their system, a more costly solution is more satisfying than an inexpensive one.

    It may be a ridiculous use of money, but so is being addicted to crack.

  • by Surt (22457) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:22PM (#33306628) Homepage Journal

    Mormons are Christians to the same extent that Muslims are Christians.

  • by Zeek40 (1017978) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:23PM (#33306642)
    Since when does a SATA Cable deliver analog voltage? It delivers a stream of electrons. You see, we can keep going to a lower level of data abstraction, but since we're talking about digital computers, what matters is the ones and zeroes.
  • Re:maybe... (Score:5, Informative)

    by 1729 (581437) <slashdot1729NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:23PM (#33306650)

    If he has a really poorly designed motherboard and his old cables were really crappy(I.E had NO SHIELDING). The old SATA cables may have been injecting noise into the analog back end of the sound card.

    Perhaps that's possible, but Steward is using those SATA cables on his NAS device, so the noise would also have to propagate across his network to the audio system.

    On a side note, Steward is apparently making defamation claims against the folks discussing his blog:

    http://www.hifiwigwam.com/showthread.php?44430-The-SATA-cable-thread [hifiwigwam.com]

  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:23PM (#33306666) Homepage Journal

    Super interesting Wikipedia article! You would think that if they were so good at it (the french judges) they could at least tell the difference between American and French grapes (even if they secretly found the American taste "Better")...

    Actually, the snobs of both fields probably do have something in common: They enjoy spending money on things (Even if it's only for spending's sake)... Behold: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13580_3-9849949-39.html [cnet.com], a study that demonstrated the ability of something to be better (read: more enjoyable) so long as (and solely if) it is more expensive. Maybe the Audio guys aren't so crazy after all... Just deluded by their medial orbitofrontal cortex!

  • by AvitarX (172628) <me@brandywinehundre[ ]rg ['d.o' in gap]> on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:26PM (#33306712) Journal

    Most French I know drink table wine.

  • by Phs2501 (559902) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:37PM (#33306914)

    A tin-bearing copper alloy (brass, idiots!)

    Funny. But for future rants, copper-tin alloys are bronze. Brass is copper-zinc.

  • by node 3 (115640) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:43PM (#33307002)

    That's not how it works. When someone makes a claim, they have to back it up, not the doubters. The audiophiles are making the claim that the more expensive cables create better sound. It's up to them to demonstrate this.

    The skeptics make the claim that there's no way the expensive cables can affect the audio quality because the cables are digital. This doesn't require double-blind tests, or really any tests of any type, because you just have to show that the same data makes it out the other end with either cable, which is trivial to do.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:43PM (#33307016)

    He seems to have an alternate blog at this site [computer-audio.info], which is wholly focused on audio. There's an almost-equivalent article on there that still has comments open.

  • by Surt (22457) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:43PM (#33307020) Homepage Journal

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim [wikipedia.org]

    If you can't see the parallels ... well, there is no uncovering the eyes of the willfully blind.

    Or, feel free to correct the wikis.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:47PM (#33307062)

    Yeah, but many of these people really believe they have made a positive change and thus they hear it. Of course, without being able to instantly flip back and forth (and sometimes, even then), you're always subject to psychological effects.

  • by hardburn (141468) <hardburn@NOSPAM.wumpus-cave.net> on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:55PM (#33307192)

    I'm sure there are some clearly degenerate choices for barrels, but otherwise it's a matter of taste.

    I took a tour of the Wollersheim Winery in Wisconsin a few months ago with a tasting. Their Domaine du Sac is advertised as being aged in oak barrels, and has won its share of awards. I hated it. It's smells like oak (which is nice), but also tastes like oak (which isn't). Clearly, some people would do like that, but it's not for me.

  • by Surt (22457) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @04:57PM (#33307232) Homepage Journal

    That's not how it works. When someone makes a claim, they have to back it up, not the doubters. The audiophiles are making the claim that the more expensive cables create better sound. It's up to them to demonstrate this.

    The skeptics make the claim that there's no way the expensive cables can affect the audio quality because the cables are digital. This doesn't require double-blind tests, or really any tests of any type, because you just have to show that the same data makes it out the other end with either cable, which is trivial to do.

    You should still do that experiment double-blind. Otherwise you're just playing into the unscientific thinking.

  • Re:Maybe, just maybe (Score:3, Informative)

    by JSBiff (87824) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @05:06PM (#33307350) Journal

    When do software developers talk about circuits?

    I thought Software Devs were more interested in languages, algorithms, data structures, run-time analysis, debuggers, and compilers.

  • by Little_Professor (971208) <littleprof.dodgeit@com> on Thursday August 19, 2010 @05:10PM (#33307410) Journal
    James Rani's $1million speaker cable prize was never awarded...

    http://entertainment.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/10/04/1354224 [slashdot.org]

    "James Randi offered US$ 1 million to anyone who can prove that a pair of $7,250 Pear Anjou speaker cables is any better than ordinary (and also overpriced) Monster Cables. Pointing out the absurd review by audiophile Dave Clark, who called the cables 'danceable,' Randi called it 'hilarious and preposterous.' He added that if the cables could do what their makers claimed, 'they would be paranormal.'
  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @06:07PM (#33308052)

    Basically the system had a grounding issue, probably a ground loop. Those things are the bane of my existence when doing audio. The answer though isn't to try and shield a cable, since the noise may well be induced through the ground itself, the answer is to clear up the problem. It can involve isolation of some sort, like an isolation transformer or moving a DAC outside of the computer. It can also involve getting audio devices that don't use a separate safety ground. You can get amps, receivers, etc that only use two pins and that's why, the safety ground is a massive ground loop problem. Apparently you can build the device to still pass FC and UL standards and just use the positive and negative wires. Probably more complicated grounding system but it works.

    At any rate the issue is with grounding, not with shielding.

  • Re:wait... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Golden_Rider (137548) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @08:23PM (#33309184)

    Not when the SATA cable/hard disk is in a separate NAS, as in this case.

  • Re:MOD PARENT UP (Score:2, Informative)

    by metacell (523607) on Friday August 20, 2010 @06:21AM (#33311850)

    Red has a wavelength thats more like 550-650nm or something like that...

    I don't agree. Colours are psychological phenomena, not physical. What we perceive to be red does not only depend on the wavelengths emitted by an object, but also on things like lighting conditions, colours of surrounding objects, and patterns. It's nonsense to say that "the colour red" has a wavelength.

    At least, that's my opinion.

  • by meisenst (104896) on Friday August 20, 2010 @06:48AM (#33311932) Homepage

    http://www.malcolmsteward.co.uk/?p=2495

    ---
    The SATA Cable Saga
    Posted by Malcolm Steward on 8/20/10 Categorized as Audio

    I have withdrawn the article that appears to have upset so many computer enthusiasts.
    ---

    etc. He claims that he received death threats. Some people have too much time on their hands, and/or take things way too far.

  • Re:HA HA HA HA: (Score:2, Informative)

    by boethius78 (1002975) on Friday August 20, 2010 @09:11AM (#33312634)
    Looks like he got a little upset about people calling bullshit and withdrew the article: http://www.malcolmsteward.co.uk/?p=2495 [malcolmsteward.co.uk] He says "I know full well that it is ‘scientifically’ not possible for a data cable to exert such influence but I know what we heard and hoped that maybe someone might be able to throw some light on what might be going on." In the original article, he liked the "increased naturalness in both the sound of instruments and voices, which seemed more organic, human and less ‘electronic’, and in the music’s rhythmical progression" Maybe he just changed CD while testing the cable, and liked the second disc better...

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