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Toys Science

James Randi Posts $1M Award On Speaker Cables 1239

elrond amandil writes "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.'"
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James Randi Posts $1M Award On Speaker Cables

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  • by 10Ghz ( 453478 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:06AM (#20851123)
    ... are listed here [pipex.com]. Those wooden knobs are a real bargain! Only $485!
    • by purpledinoz ( 573045 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:21AM (#20851367)
      I have ultra-high quality CAT5-e RJ45 cables for sale as well. For only $100 per meter, you can achieve up to 1 GIGABIT PER SECOND!!!!! That's 1 billion bits in 1 second! You can stream MP3s through these cables with unprecedented quality. Your streaming digital audio and video will be crisper than ever before. Not only are these cables made out of expensive COPPER, they are shielded by the high tech plastics.
      • by binarybum ( 468664 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:47AM (#20851789) Homepage
        I like using premium CAT5 cables for my internet data, I find they make porn a bit more 'fappable'.
        • fappable? (Score:5, Funny)

          by Gary W. Longsine ( 124661 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:10AM (#20852159) Homepage Journal
          What does that mean?
          What the hell does that mean?
          on second thought...
          I don't even want to know what the hell that means.
        • by MoxFulder ( 159829 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @06:19PM (#20859297) Homepage
          Hehehe. You joke, but consumers are cheated by similar bullshit all the time. Look at the techno-babble used to sell overpriced USB cables at big-box stores!! They sell the USB cables for about $25 more than they're worth, so that they can mark down the inkjet printers a corresponding amount.

          Here's a 6-foot USB cable costing $31 (!!!): from circuit city [circuitcity.com]. It features:

          24K gold-plated connectors: Corrosion-proof for improved conductivity. 20-gauge high-performance power wires ensure better data transmission.
          ... as if any of that mattered. ("Power wires improve better data transmission", WTF??!?!) Of course, you can get an indistinguishable cable for about $3 from any of dozens of reputable online-only shops, such as: here [firefold.com].

          I keep around a few spare USB AB cables, which I give to friends and family when they tell me they're going to buy a new printer. I tell them to insist to the sales-person that they already have the proper cable. They save $25-30 and I get the smug feeling of sticking it to a dishonest industry... woohoo :-)

          PS- The ironic part is that the USB connectors and cables are actually *specified* with extremely loose tolerances, so that cheap processes and materials can be used to manufacture them reliably. And since the USB protocol is *digital* and includes error-correction, cables have to be almost ludicrously bad for their quality to affect signaling. Case in point: I have a functioning home-made USB cable which I produced by splicing the wires from two cables together and wrapping them with electrical tape. This completely violates the USB spec, which requires that the data wires form a twisted pair [wikipedia.org] with something like 5mm per twist. However, my ugly home-made cable transmits data from a USB 2.0 hard drive enclosure at the same speed as a proper cable.
      • Interestingly... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JawzX ( 3756 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @01:19PM (#20854437) Homepage Journal
        I use multiple strands of CAT5e adding up to 12 guage as my speaker cables and a double twisted pair with floating ground for my interconnects. I add $15/pr gold-plated RCA ends for the best sounding $30 interconnects on the face of planet earth. No seriously. They sound notably better (subjective I know, but I used to write high-end music reviews for a magazine some of you may remember called (are you ready?) Ultimate Audio. So I've spent *A LOT* of time listening to high end systems...) than anything else I've used excepting that time a borrowed a set of $1000/meter 99.9% pure silver cables from an audio-nut friend of mine. Insanity. CAT5e makes excellent audio cable :)
    • by sqldr ( 838964 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:23AM (#20851405)
      There's an old(ish) saying - music fans listen to music, whereas audiophiles listen to stereos.
    • by suv4x4 ( 956391 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:54AM (#20851909)
      Oh. My. God. One of the items in there is some sort of box for processing your disks [musicdirect.com]:

      "New! Featuring four beams, nearly twice the rotation speed and improved timing processing, the Quadri-Beam is an ultra cool disc treatment. This patented process reduces the noise floor allowing far more information to be retrieved from the disc. It also works great on DVDs, giving you a picture that is brighter, sharper, crisper and cleaner. For those of you who have never experienced the sonic benefits of the Bedini Clarifier, it significantly reduces high frequency glare and increases retrieval of information, enhancing dynamic range. Detail and resolution are improved dramatically."

      I won't comment. This is Slashdot, so I guess you have some entry level knowledge to know why this is the most ridiculous thing you've read in months.
      • by Alzheimers ( 467217 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:11AM (#20852165)
        Sorry, this one has you beat by about 25AU [machinadynamica.com]

        To Quote:
        The Teleportation Tweak is the phenomenal new product from Machina Dynamica. The Teleportation Tweak is an advanced communications technique discovered and developed by Machina Dynamica for upgrading audio systems remotely -- even over very long distances. The Teleportation Tweak has a profound effect on the sound and is performed during a phone call to Machina Dynamica; the phone call can be made via landline or cell phone from any room in the house. The tweak itself takes about 30 seconds.
        The effects of the Teleportation Tweak are instantaneous and the improvement to sound quality will be audible immediately. The Teleportation Tweak excels in 3-dimensionality, lushness, inner detail and air. Bonus: The picture quality of any video system in the house will also be improved - better color and contrast! Customer should pay via Paypal or check/MO (payable to Geoff Kait) prior to calling Machina Dynamica via landline or cell phone. Machina Dynamica's Teleportation Tweak $60.

        Transation: They will call you, for the bargain price of $60, and not only make your entire audio system sound better, but it will improve the picture quality on your televisions!


        Science just jumped out the window, and took Logic and Reason with her.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:10AM (#20852155)
      Here is all the audiophile needs to get 100% perfectly clear listening:

      http://www.philorch.org/styles/poa02e/www/index2.html [philorch.org]
      http://www.cso.org/ [cso.org]
      http://nyphil.org/ [nyphil.org]
      http://www.lpo.co.uk/ [lpo.co.uk]
      http://www.bostonpops.org/ [bostonpops.org]

      With the money spent on your audiophile addiction, you could get a life's worth of concerts with 100% clarity and still save a lot of money.

      Support real music, not processed music.
  • Who? (Score:5, Informative)

    by PlatyPaul ( 690601 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:07AM (#20851133) Homepage Journal
    Unless you happen to love debunking the falsely-claimed-paranormal, you're probably like me and had no idea who the hell James Randi is/was/will be. Here's [wikipedia.org] his Wikipedia page, here [skepdic.com] is his standing $1,000,000 challenge for a demonstration of true paranormality, and here [randi.org] is his Education Foundation (on "the Paranormal, Pseudoscientific, and the Supernatural").

    Also, here's [youtube.com] a video of him in action.
    • Re:Who? (Score:4, Informative)

      by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:20AM (#20851345)
      I've been following The Amazing Randi for years. He is also an excellent stage magician, and his best weapon is repeating the "feats" he is debunking, but with a twist - doing "psychic surgery" and pulling out a rubber chicken, etc.
    • by miller60 ( 554835 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:31AM (#20852571) Homepage
      Randi has also been prominent in debunking the prophecies of Nostradamus. I spoke with him in 1999 when I was working at a newspaper and got assigned a story on whether Nostradamus predicted a disaster connected with the spacecraft Cassini (believe it or not, this topic was big on the Internet that year ... the same text was later used to suggest that Nostradamus predicted 9-11). Randi was enormously quotable.

      "People are hungry for this kind of thing," Randi said. "Knowledge of the future represents power, and people are looking for power, so they pay money to astrologers and 1-900 numbers, not realizing that if the astrologers and operators of the 1-900 service really had all this power, they'd use it for themselves and not have to do all this marketing to others."

      Not sure what kind of speakers Nostradamus may have been using, tho.

  • oxygen-free sharpie (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pohl ( 872 ) * on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:09AM (#20851153) Homepage

    I find the audiophile phenomenon to be mighty amusing, even though I'm guilty of throwing away a few extra dollars for an "oxygen free" guitar cable or two. But holy crap, that's quite a price difference -- and for what? If anybody ever gives me crap about getting a Cinema Display instead of a Dell monitor, I'll just think of the Pear Anjou cables. Getting a monitor to match your workstation's case at least has "interior decorating" to justify the difference in cost, but who's ever going to see your speaker cables? Yikes!

    P.S. Did you know that if you mark around the edges of your CDs with a sharpie that the music sounds better? ;-)

    • by zig007 ( 1097227 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:37AM (#20851613)
      I wouldn't feel guilty about the guitar cables, that's a completely different thing...

      There, the reason for buying expensive cables isn't usually much one of sound quality.
      Since the cable of an electric guitar is constantly bent,flexed and stepped on, it is more one about reliability.

      There are few things more irritating than crappy, stiff and badly soldered guitar cables that break after five sessions.
    • by Pope ( 17780 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:04AM (#20852065)
      Except in that case, the Cinema Display has a consistent screen supply and quality, vs. Dell's infamous screen lotteries, where the first versions that hit the market and get reviewed use higher quality LCDs, and as the production lines go on, the QA and supply drops. (see S-IPS vs. S-PVA)
    • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:06AM (#20852097)

      I find the audiophile phenomenon to be mighty amusing, even though I'm guilty of throwing away a few extra dollars for an "oxygen free" guitar cable or two. But holy crap, that's quite a price difference -- and for what?
      My favorite is where they show you the difference in picture quality between the old style set and the cool new one -- in a commercial playing on your television. Now I know there's tiny, almost invisible text telling you the picture is simulated but I really don't want to know just how many people are taken in by this. "Marge, you can clearly see that the new TV has a better picture. Get your coat, we're heading out to get one."
  • copper is copper (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jcgam69 ( 994690 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:10AM (#20851175)
    Companies like monster cable rely on ignorance to stay in business.
    • Martians! (Score:4, Funny)

      by PlatyPaul ( 690601 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:15AM (#20851267) Homepage Journal
      Blasphemy! The Martians [penny-arcade.com] are gonna eat your signal!
  • Psychology (Score:4, Funny)

    by Big Nothing ( 229456 ) <big.nothing@bigger.com> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:10AM (#20851181)
    As a long-time (+20 years) audiophile, I can tell you right now that many of the tweaks and products in the business has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with psychology. But that's ok. If Speaker Cable A sounds better than Speaker Cable B to me, why souldn't I buy it? It makes me think I've bought the better product.

    Ofcourse - the whole industry is based on me thinking that there's some better product out there that I still haven't bought... Just around the corner is Eternal Bliss ®

  • by ajs ( 35943 ) <ajs AT ajs DOT com> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:11AM (#20851211) Homepage Journal
    Randi is a real character. If you don't know who he is, check out James Randi [wikipedia.org] on Wikipedia or The James Randi Educational Foundation [randi.org]. One of his boosters is comedian and magician, Penn Jillette, whose TV show, Penn & Teller: Bullshit! [wikipedia.org] he frequently appears on. He's ruffled quite a few feathers over the years by being the poster-boy for skepticism, especially with respect to "mystic" or "supernatural" claims, so don't expect there to be many objective takes on him out there.
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:15AM (#20851261) Homepage
    Show those speaker cables are better than $0.49 a foot lamp cord.

    I tried back when I worked in stereo showcase. double blind tests and even testing with high end equipment showed that the $100.00 a foot directional low-oxygen speaker cables were no different than the lamp cord.

    Audiophiles typically are some of the stupidest people on the planet. they buy into the snake oil festering bull that any company comes along and pushes in any of the magazines.

    Want an awesome example? Richard Gray power conditioners. They cost upwards of $5000.00 and do NOTHING a $49.00 one will. the sales people also make sure to tell you that you will not notice a change when you plug it in, it takes a few weeks for the capacitors and electronics in your equipment to re-learn how to run with clean power.

    yes audiophiles fall for that kind of blatent crap!
    • by MemoryDragon ( 544441 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:30AM (#20851495)
      The best example so far I have seen was a demagnetization device for CDs!, yes CDs you read correctly. The even sader part was, that some audiophile magazines wrote positive reviews on that device saying that it was improving the sound quality!
    • by PeeAitchPee ( 712652 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:08AM (#20852141)
      Agreed. Additionally, I think it's time to once again post a link to Roger Russell's excellent site [roger-russell.com] completely debunking the "audiophile" speaker cable mythos.
    • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:22AM (#20852383) Journal
      You must not have broken them in. While many prefer to break in their cables for a week or two using the preferred content, I find that the best uniform results occur with a volume-modulated version of pink noise for 10 days. Once that's done (and it only needs to be done once) you can sub-condition for yuor content. For example, if I'm going to listen to classical, I'll run some recordings by the same composer and orchestra for a day or two first. Afterwards, I'll cleanse the path with at least 4 hours of pink noise before either changing composer or orchestra. I prefer 12 hours or more of pink noise if I'm going to switch to jazz or rock.

      You see, by not properly conditioning your cables, you made a mockery of the entire double blind test. These are sensitive, precision pieces of equipment, and can't simply be handled the way zip cord can.

      You'll have to excuse me now, it seems my tongue has seriously bruised my left cheek.
      • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:37AM (#20852677) Journal
        Oh, shit, I'm sorry. I just went and read the article. I didn't know that they would actually spend over two weeks running content on the speakers to "break them in." It was a joke - I swear - and was based on some goofy audio nut I read on a newsgroup over a decade ago.

        I was sent a 4-foot single run pair and after a short break-in (Adam suggested that the break-in is minimal, but even so I gave them 48 hours on the Cable Cooker and good two-weeks 24/7 of music prior to the audition)
    • by VAXcat ( 674775 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @12:27PM (#20853529)
      that reminds me of a chat I had with some of these hard core audiophioles. This particular set of morons were of the tube amplifier sub-species. They were discussing how a great source for hard to find small signal tubes was older tube based Tektronix oscilloscopes. As an admirer and collector of old Tektronix gear, I was a little distressed to hear this sort of talk...so I sez to them, that this is now a good idea, since the jagged sawtooth sweep waves used in oscilloscopes would permanently etch the cathodes of the tubes in the scope, and thus render them useless for the smooth sound the stereophiles were looking for. Since this sort of twisted reasoning was right in line with the rest of their delusions, they bought it hook line and sinker, and abandoned their Tektronix wrecking strategy
  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:18AM (#20851301)
    You know, you do not want your speaker cables to be resting on the floor. That results in distortion of the sound. Make sure you are using cable towers [cabletower.com] to hold the $900 per foot cables off the floor.
  • by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:19AM (#20851321) Journal
    Those speaker cables look analog.

    I'm not saying that it's at all possible for any human to detect the difference, but I suppose it's theoretically possible that if they are simply audio cables, there might be some measurable difference in the sound, even if no one could tell.

    HDMI is where it's truly insane -- yeah, let's gold-plate a cable that transmit a digital signal. Digital is different -- either it worked or it didn't. HDMI even moreso -- if it didn't work, your entire audio/video is likely to cut out all at once, probably for a second or two, until it can be reestablished. If the video works at all, you have a good enough HDMI cable.
    • by krnpimpsta ( 906084 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:01AM (#20852031)
      Actually, there is a difference in HDMI cables, even though they are digital. Digital signals are not sharp 1's and 0's. When you start sending 1's and 0's very fast, they begin to look like waves. At a certain point, the digital signal will degrade and digital error artifacts will appear in your image. Look at this test that Gizmodo posted, where some HDMI digital cables are shown to fail at real world resolutions. Monster's cables actually transmitted the digital data better* and performed beyond their specs. *Better: steeper transitions between 1's and 0's... poor cables had more gradual and smooth transitions between 1's and 0's. Ideal case would be a vertical transition between 1's and 0's. Article here: http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/hdmi-cable-battlemodo/the-truth-about-monster-cable-part-2-268788.php [gizmodo.com]
  • I can prove it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:19AM (#20851325) Journal
    If you sell an idiot $5 cables, you only get $5 from him.
    If you sell an idiot $7,000 cable, you get $7000 from him.

    This proves that $7,000 cables are superior to $5 cables.

    Where is my million?
  • by elwinc ( 663074 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:20AM (#20851337)
    The only reliable way to test matters of subtle perception (be it food or sound or whatever) is the ABX test http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ABX_test [wikipedia.org]. It works like this: present two known different samples -- call them A and B. Then present an unknown sample -- call it X that's either identical to A or to B. Can the listener or taster or whatever reliably classify X? If so, you have evidence of a perceptible difference. If no one beats chance over a reasonable number of trials, you have evidence that there is no perceptible difference between A and B.
  • While we're at it... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mo ( 2873 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:20AM (#20851341)
    Perhaps he can also uncover why this reviewer [] thinks that a $60 aftermarket DVD power cable somehow affects it's digital video output. From the review:

    Colours of the individual vehicles come out much richer, and the all-important skin tone (she shows quite a bit of it too ...) is more natural. Edges are more defined, which makes it easy to make out the shapes and movement of vehicles far below. The biggest improvement, though, was in terms of contrast, and it was easier to make out details on areas of shadow than before.
  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:22AM (#20851389)
    The ability to spend $5k on a cable indicates to females that you have higher social status than the rest of the ordinary spuds who only spend $5.
  • by Brazilian Geek ( 25299 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:24AM (#20851413) Journal
    I know a few audiophiles, I know a lot of Windows evangelists, I know open source evangelists and I know quite a few evangelical Christians and all of them sound the exact same to me.

    It all comes down to faith and the feeling that "I'm better than you."
  • Pear's headquaters (Score:5, Informative)

    by hrieke ( 126185 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:29AM (#20851485) Homepage
    The interesting thing that I noticed in reading up on the cable was that Pear is local to me.
    So I looked up their address listed, and it's residential. From the appearance, this appears to be a virtual company, in a nice Tony neighborhood, and all the owners have to do is sell a hundred cables and the house is paid for.

    Oh, and the first and final word on speaker cable is from McIntosh's Rodger Russell [roger-russell.com].
  • PRAT (Score:5, Funny)

    by tsa ( 15680 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:36AM (#20851575) Homepage
    I never had cables with PRAT. I guess that's why I don't listen to music as much as I used to. Without PRAT, the joy of listening deminishes with time. I will go to the shop tonight and ask for cables with PRAT! PRAT is where it's at!
    But I have one question for Dave Clark. I was told by my audiophilic colleagues in the late 1990's that as a true audiophile it is important to:

    1. Check which way your amplifier is plugged in. Having the main power plug in the wrong way wreaks havoc on the sound,

    2. Switch on your amplifier at least half an hour before even thinking about playing music, even if you have an amplifier that is devoid of any tubes whatsoever,

    3. Put a second CD on top of the CD you want to play,

    4. Keep your CD's in the freezer at all times.

    This is all very very important for getting the best sound quality. Did you do all those things Dave? If not, I can't take your review seriously, sorry.

  • A fool and his money (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 15Bit ( 940730 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:37AM (#20851601)
    As a former employee of a HiFi shop i can say that this is an area which demonstrates some of the strangest and least empirical methodologies imaginable. Some of the customers are far from normal too. We had a guy who got the local electric company to lay a dedicated cable from the main copper in the road direct to his HiFi. Another had a custom listening room built as an annex to his house. Then of course there were the cd-freezing, green-pen-toting brigade...

    Frankly, the drug dealers were our best customers - they just wanted something loud and they didn't f**k you around by insisting you order the latest greatest cable as reviewed by their favourite HiFi magazine. Paid in cash too.

    • by mrjb ( 547783 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:28AM (#20852511)
      Another had a custom listening room built as an annex to his house. ...the acoustics of which were instantly deformed as soon as he would actually *enter* the room to listen to some music in there. You can buy the greatest and latest cables, but if you're gonna be in the room where the audio is being played, you're going to distort it. So better not be present while the music is being reproduced. That way you'll know for sure that there will be as little audio distortion as possible.
      • by mcvos ( 645701 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:41AM (#20852743)

        Another had a custom listening room built as an annex to his house. ...the acoustics of which were instantly deformed as soon as he would actually *enter* the room to listen to some music in there.

        Ah, but that is easily solved! Instead of sitting in that room yourself, you should put a microphone in there, and transmit that sound to your the headphones you wear in a different room. That way you can truly enjoy the perfect, undistorted sound of your listening room.

  • by suv4x4 ( 956391 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:38AM (#20851621)
    By offering 1 million to hoaxers to prove their claims true, he has debunked more scams than anyone else with effectively a budget of $0.
  • The cable thing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:15AM (#20852245) Homepage

    I've always been amused by the cable thing. Even "high end" gear tends to use RCA phono jacks, which they gold plate, rather than BNC connectors, which are known to be flat to 50MHz and don't come loose.

    Even Monster Cable for speaker cable is silly. All you need is heavy-gauge copper. Nothing else matters.

    I was amused some years ago to find that Monster Cable didn't make VGA cables, where signal degradation is a real issue for long cables. That's a high bandwidth analog signal, and they'd have to actually work to make a good one. Eventually, they did get into VGA cables, which they overprice as usual. A high quality 5 meter VGA cable can be obtained for about $8, but Monster will charge you many times that.

    The "tubes vs. transistors" amplifier thing is amusing. Back in 1990, Bob Carver, who designs amplifiers, challenged two high-end audio magazines to give him any audio amplifier at any price, and he'd duplicate its sound in one of his lower cost transistor amps. Two magazines took him up on the challenge. [wikipedia.org] He won. Then, almost as a joke, he built the Carver Silver 7 amplifier, which is all tube and sold for $17,000/pair. Each amp has two chassis, one for the power supply, and the thing is chrome-plated. Audiophiles bought the things. Then he came out with a transistor amplifier with the same transfer function at 1/40th the price.

    There are things that do matter, like read error counts on CDs, but they're usually hidden from consumers. Early CD players had error counters, but the industry agreed to hide that information when people started complaining. Now, most CD players reread and buffer, so it's less of an issue.

  • by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:20AM (#20852343) Journal
    Folks, you have to understand the audiophile mentality to realise why these things are out there. There are a lot of things going on in the signal chain from source to brain, and a lot of places where the signal could get degraded. Unfortunately, that leads to a lot of potential for snake oil, something that seems to be worse in high end audio than any other field of which I'm aware.

    First of all, there's the science. Cables can be engineered to push all of their flaws several orders of magnitude beyond the limits of human hearing, fairly trivially. Both speaker cables and interconnects have their own challenges, but can be overcome. With decent cables, any audible degradation is the result of bad equipment design. It is, for instance, possible to design gear so badly that cables make a difference--this is not a desirable goal, unless you're in the snake oil business.
    How can you prove the audibility (or not) of cables? There are essentially four ways:
    1) Rigorous double-blind ABX testing.
    2) Measuring signal loss/distortion across the cable.
    3) Subtract the post-cable signal from pre-cable signal and study the residual signal.
    4) Listen to a system and make arbitrary comments about the cables.

    One of these is not a valid proof, but is the one that gets promoted aggressively over the other three. Can you guess what it is?

    In my mind, there are essentially two schools of audiophile: There are the 'absolute signal purity' geeks who want a perfect reproduction of the signal from source to speaker, and are willing to buy overengineered equipment to do it. These are the folks who buy Rotel, Bryston, Krell, and the like. Then there are the 'absolute musical purity' folks, who don't care about the signal per se, so much as the music in it. They're the ones who buy 3-watt triode amps (like the insane but gorgeous Moth S2A3) and the (new) Magnum-Dynalab tube tuners, and shun CDs. This group tends to fall into the audiophile 'tweaker' mentality more readily, but both groups have their extremes. The one thing about the extremists from either school is an absolute refusal to consider things rationally. It is the love of the irrational that keeps them happily tweaking, and keeps the snake oil salesmen in business.

    The problem that leads to the endless search for audio nirvana is partly that audio is a perception issue, and one that is chronologically linear. You can't listen to two sounds simultaneously and decide which is better, or whether they're the same. (ABX testing is the closest you can get, but most hardcore audiophiles won't participate.) Worse, you can get into endless discussions about what constitutes hearing. If you put something in the chain that makes no change to the signal, but you believe that it sounds different, are you hearing something different or not?

    As a final note, I highly recommend finding a copy of two articles in Audio Ideas Guide (an audiophile tweak-happy publication) by James Hayward, a retired engineer from Canada's National Research Council. In them, he discusses the actual physics behind audio cables, and points out what actually CAN lead to audible degradation by cables. (Hint: It isn't easy, but there are some on the market which qualify.)

    1. Making The Connection: A Closer Look At The Role Of Interconnect Cables, J.H. Hayward, Audio Ideas Guide, Summer/Fall 1994
    2. Making The Connection, Part Deux: A Closer Look At The Role Of Loudspeaker Cables, J.H. Hayward, Audio Ideas Guide, Winter/Spring 1995

    You can read a short summary [bryston.ca] of the articles on Bryston's website.
  • by Mjlner ( 609829 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:26AM (#20852469) Journal
    Dear Madam or Sir, I am contacting you in the strictest confidence, because I know you to be an honest and reliable person. I happen to have *SCIENTIFIC PROOF* that brand Pear Anjou speaker cables offer greater quality audio than ordinary speaker cable. This proof would win me US$1000 000, which I am prepared to share evenly with you. I only need a brand Pear Anjou speaker cable, but since my family's assets have been frozen by an evil, oppressive regime, I can't afford the cable or the necessary expenses. If you could can finance me with US$8000 I want to give you US$500 000. Thank you for your confidence! Cecil Rhodes, Nigerian Audiophile
  • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:34AM (#20852615) Homepage Journal

    Audiophiles are in the same class of idiot as people who believe in homeopathy and copper bracelets. The only difference is that the audiophile isn't harming anything but his own obsessive-compulsiveness, and creates an efficient money transfer conduit from the stupid to the clever, namely the people who market this overpriced junk.

    Audiophiles are also the ultimate disproof of the idea that "wealth equals intelligence", so when your dad asks why you why you aren't rich if you're so smart, you can tell him that at least you didn't spend $7,000 on speaker cable and the two of you can laugh about it over a beer. Just don't let him bring up the neon tubes and Arctic Silver conductive paste and water-cooled RAM in your own bedroom.

  • by BenEnglishAtHome ( 449670 ) * on Thursday October 04, 2007 @12:56PM (#20854059)

    Of all audio gear, speaker cables and power cables are probably the ones that have the least effect, if any, on sound quality. I'll grant right off the bat that any difference probably won't be audible. But before everyone gets all comfy in their religous prejudices, consider the history of absolutism - it usually fails in the long run.

    We saw it with CD players. 25 years ago it was easy to find hordes and hordes of scientifically-minded folks who proclaimed that CD players were all identical and perfect. They reproduced as high a frequency as the ear could hear. They did so with perfect digital repeatability. They were perfect and identical. That was an unassailable scientific fact. It was even a marketing slogan for Phillips; "Perfect Sound Forever" was their first ad campaign for CDs.

    Audiophiles said different. They said they heard differences. When challenged to do double blind, ABX testing, they often failed. They offered up only feeble excuses about how such tests are never structured properly, always being too short and normally using switchboxes that degraded sound. The skeptics and scientists had a field day exposing audiophiles as frauds and hucksters, as (at best) deluded simpletons.

    Eventually, though, a funny thing happened. Research got done by audiophiles who were also engineers. They discovered various CD player problems (like jitter) that could be measured and fixed. When those problems were fixed, the audiophiles said the players sounded better. The audiophiles still failed ABX tests and still held to the same excuses, but changes were made, anyway.

    Nowadays, anyone who knows what music sounds like (and, yes, that eliminates 98% of the populace right there) can easily tell the difference between a first-gen Sony CDP-101 and a current high-end CD player. There really are differences. Those people who absolutely knew that it was scientifically impossible for any difference to exist turned out to be painfully, embarrassingly wrong. (Nowadays, they tend to fall back on revisionist history: "Oh, we never really said you guys were wrong, just that testing didn't bear you out...etc., etc.")

    My point is not to construct an elaborate straw man. My point is that keeping an open mind is a good thing. We have previously seen lots of folks loudly and authoritatively proclaim that a given phenomena does not exist and cannot possibly exist. They cite scientific reasoning (as they spout it) as unquestionable. But that is nothing more than a religous devotion to a position and I reject it.

    Sure, the burden of proof is on the people who make claims that cable A sounds better than cable B. I doubt they'll ever succeed. But the vituperative, out-of-hand rejection of alternate views is more than just unseemly; it argues against (indeed, belittles) an inquisitive spirit.

    Perhaps some Carl Sagan would be in order. His essay The Dragon in My Garage [godlessgeeks.com] is right on point. When considering unverifiable and seemingly insane assertions, his advice is that: "...the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the ... hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion."

    We've seen the mocking, "scientific" approach to audiophile claims turn out to be wrong in the past. We might do well to be a little less sure of ourselves when considering audiophile issues in the future.

    Side note: Just to show that there's blame to go all around, note that the offer of the James Randi Educational Foundation folks is, as I have stated elsewhere, disingenuous as all hell. (See Rule 12, [randi.org]a proviso that makes it clear that the offer is only open to whoever they want to make it open to and gives the JREF multiple, too-easy excuses to reject any attempt to claim the reward.) The rules are set up so that the test will never happen. This is little more than a minor publicity stunt that's gotten picked up by too many 'net outlets and given far too much virtual ink, already.

  • by leighklotz ( 192300 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @01:47PM (#20854883) Homepage
    In 1988, Philip Greenspun and I did a study of audiophile cables, as part of a Psychoacoustics laboratory course at MIT. Our paper was published in The Absolute Sound and the MIT Computer Music Journal [jstor.org] (first page). The MIT version published several paragraphs and pages out of order, so you have to put the puzzle back together.

    At the time, CD players were just out, and many audiophiles derided them, so we used 33RPM LP recordings, purchased new and played on a high-end turntable, and used expensive electrostatic speakers and a typical audiophile listening room, not an anechoic chamber, as audiophiles again had in the past not accepted such tests.

    Rather than testing speaker cables, we decided to test the tonearm-to-preamp connection, where the signal as the weakest, reasoning that any effects would show up more profoundly there.

    We tested a 1-meter long cable from Straight Wire (provided to us free, but costing about $100) and 24-feet of zip cord from Radio Shack (which we purchased).

    To avoid any interference from switches or relays, I went into a closet with the equipment and the door closed, and Philip waited with the test subjects in the listening room. (This formally made our test single-blind, though it answered previous concerns from previous tests about signal depredation from switches. Still, we made sure that there was no way for subjects to find out during the test.)

    Each run consisted of either AAAA or ABAB, with A or B being a one-minute passage played with cable A or cable B. AAAA or ABAB was etermined by coin toss. Before each minute passage, I unplugged the cables and plugged the cable back in, so there was no way for the subjects to tell which cable was used. We asked for each 4-minute run if the subjects thought it was A or B, and we asked after each 1-minute, if they preferred it.

    We ran several groups of 5 subjects each, and did 6 runs with each. Our tests included audiophiles, musicians, and other random test subjects. We found no statistically significant ability for subjects either in preference or in ability to distinguish 1 meter long audiophile cable from 24 feet of Radio Shack zip cord.

    If we discarded the first run for each group of subjects as a training run, we found an 80% confidence for ability to distinguish, which was still not significant. However, we did find a 95% confidence on preference, for the Radio Shack 24' zip cord!

  • by Phat_Tony ( 661117 ) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @02:46PM (#20855823)
    I just wanted to point out to Slashdotters that the lesson here isn't that cables don't make any difference to sound systems. There's a reason Randi choose the already high-end Monster cable as the reference point for this comparison rather than the cheapest piece of crap cabling anyone could find anywhere.

    In fact, I have a rather sad story about that exact same bias. My father was generally very conservative in his spending, but around 1963, he decided to splurge and buy a receiver and two stereo speakers from Acoustic Research. (yes, their well-known AR-3's.) Anyone buying Acoustic Research back in '63 was someone who'd done their homework and cared about sound, these were very well-regarded and expensive speakers.

    My Dad was in vision research and taught introductory classes in sensory perception for experimental psychology majors, so he knew a thing or two about acoustics and what matters, and he designed and soldered up his own circuits for his experimental apparatus, so he knew a thing or two about electronics, too.

    When he went to the store to buy the AR system, they tried to sell him very expensive cables, and he laughed and said it was a huge waste of money, and proceeded to go home and hook the system up with 24 AWG telephone cable, because the wires "don't make any difference." So he just used whatever was cheap that he already had around.

    Anyone who knows much about stereos and electronics is probably already groaning at reading that. Good stereos push a high amperage current, and a 24 AWG wire is going to create a high resistance to that current, which is going to change the impedance the receiver is going to see trying to drive the speakers it was built specifically to be matched with. I don't know how to describe the specifics of the nasty effects on the signal that the speakers receive versus what was intended, but the effect on sound quality was tremendous. The system never sounded very good at all.

    By the 90's that system was sitting in the basement, and my brother ended up taking the speakers and hooking them up to an inexpensive Sony receiver, and I ended up taking the receiver and hooking it up to some Linaum speakers. My dad ended up hearing the speakers and commenting on how amazing the improvement in receivers has been that those old speakers could sound so good when they never sounded anywhere near that good before. Then separately he heard my speakers being driven off the old receiver, and commented how amazing advances in speakers were, that they could sound so good being driven off that old tube receiver that never sounded any good...

    Of course, really the whole thing came down to the fact that my Dad spent more than he has ever spent on a car on that stereo system, the reduced the sound quality to about that of a $20 clock radio by refusing to spend an extra $10 on cables. No, he didn't need gold Monster cables (not that they existed back then anyway), and it's quite possibly true that it would have been impossible to tell the difference between the expensive cables the guy at the store was selling and NM 14-2 household electrical cable from the local hardware store. But running telephone wire for speaker cables destroyed the sound quality. There is a difference in cables, if you don't know what you're doing, don't assume any old wire will be as good as any other. The basic point that I think loony millionaire audiophiles and conservative skeptical engineers can all agree on is that having a large enough gauge cable to easily handle the current is the most important aspect of the system's cables.

"An organization dries up if you don't challenge it with growth." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments