Kettle Lead

January 9th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, bad science, Hi-Fi | 75 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday January 7, 2006
The Guardian

My new year resolution is to have more Johnny Ball home science experiment moments. Which brings me on to reader David Stafford. “Today, I received a catalogue from a UK hi fi company called Russ Andrews,” he begins. You can find their web site at www.russandrews.com. On the front page is a power cable that costs £29.95. “If anyone buys this,” he says, “they will need their heads examined.”

The American philosopher George Gale identifies two types of science: “cookbook science”, which works out, perhaps by trial and error, whether something does work; and “explanatory science”, which seeks to offer explanations and mechanisms for the observed generalisations of the cookbook stuff.

The “YellO Power” is indeed a 30 quid power cable, of the type that you might colloquially identify as a kettle lead. It’s about a metre long and has a 3 pin 240v plug. This is their claim for efficacy, verbatim: “Replacing the mains cable to any of your hi-fi or home cinema components means they perform better, giving you less distortion, clearer pictures, and more musicality, so that you enjoy your music and movies even more!”

So how do they reckon it works? “The key to the success of the Russ Andrews mains cables is the unique Kimber cable weave. The woven mains cable has been proven to dramatically reduce sound-degrading radio frequency interference on the mains supply and to reject further pick up of RFI.”

Let’s think about how electricity gets from the national grid to that wall socket, where you plug in the kettle lead that powers your stereo. It zooms along huge cables between big pylons (at very high voltages, because higher voltages can get down long lines with less waste) and then gets turned into 240v at your local substation. Then it travels a fairly long distance from the substation to your house before it comes through the metering stuff. Then the power has got to go up the stairs, around the walls and under the floor to the socket next to your stereo. All of these voyages are fabulous opportunities for the cable to act as an antenna, and pick up radio frequencies that could present themselves as noise in the final sound coming out of your speakers. The cable might stop the last metre or so from picking up radio noise, but if radio noise really is a problem, it will probably be there already, from the huge length of preceding cables. I can’t imagine how this expensive kettle lead is going to filter it out.

I’m told that Russ Andrews is away but that he will show me measured proof on his return. If I’m wrong I’ll eat my hat, but I am unaware of any published evidence that an expensive power cable can make your hi-fi sound better. If I’m correct, and such evidence does not exist, then what we have here is an important gap in the research literature. More important, possibly, than both a cure for malaria and a fix for global warming. So I have a challenge: if there is somebody out there, somebody who sells power cables for £30 perhaps, or who works for a hi-fi magazine, and they reckon they can tell the difference, significantly more consistently than would be expected by chance, in a robust, double blind, randomised trial, head to head, of these expensive power leads, up against a normal cheap-o kettle lead which I shall provide, then let them come forward.

James Randi has a million dollars on offer for anyone who can demonstrate empirical evidence for their incredible claims under laboratory conditions. If you can spot the difference here, under sitting room conditions, I’m offering you the glory, the warm glow that comes from contributing empirical data to the sum of human knowledge, and a free bogus PhD in the subject of your choice, as long as I can find one cheap enough. I’m absolutely serious and I’m itching to be proved wrong. Please send your bad science to bad.science@guardian.co.uk

(incidentally, i’m a bit surprised by the headline the paper gave this, i’m in a position of dubious open mindedness on this one with no hat eating to be done; and sorry for delay again in posting article on the blog, still away from computers, and this article seems to have generated about a million emails already…)


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75 Responses



  1. HarryR said,

    January 9, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    30 quid? That’s nothing:

    www.ilikejam.dsl.pipex.com/audiophile.htm

  2. Michael P. said,

    January 9, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    Wow, this is a whole field of quackery I had no idea about. I didn’t know short lengths of ordinary cable were worth thousands of dollars! Besides the rather pricey gold(coloured)-contact scart leads that ‘a leading high street retailer’ insisted we buy or the DVD recorder just wasn’t worth it. He got quite indignant about it. So we told him to sod off and we bought it somewhere else.

  3. Pointless Form Filling said,

    January 9, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    I, too, am sure this product is hogwash. But what little I know of electronics says that it’s not absurd that something at the end of a conductor might filter out various frequencies. If instead of a £30 cable lead, it were, say, a little coil of wire wrapped around an iron core, it would indeed filter out high frequencies.

  4. Michael Harman said,

    January 9, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    Re Pointless Form Filling’s comment, the 5 V power lead for charging my digital camera has a cylindrical wossname near the end, about 30 mm x 10 mm, which I guess is for some sort of filtering. But why a battery charging system should need filtering I don’t know – a battery is surely a pretty good filter in itself.

    I believe there’s a considerable industry and mythology about cables to loudspeakers, but power leads seems a new one.

  5. censored said,

    January 9, 2006 at 5:23 pm

    Buy one of these and your £300 hi-fi will soon sound like a £330 hi-fi!

    Whilst it’s obvious that good quality speaker cables will sound better than the rubbish ones you find in the box, my particular faviourites are the ones with a direction marked on them. Simply connect them in the direction the signal flows out of your amp to your speaker. Forgetting that it’s an AC signal, of course….

  6. hairnet said,

    January 9, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    Michael – “a cylindrical wossname near the end, about 30 mm x 10 mm,”

    I believe this device is used to counteract any power surges through the cable that can damage a delicate thing like a digi camera.
    Drawing on all 1 terms worth of foundation physics an i offer the following explanation…
    A moving current generates a magnetic field, the ordinary ‘safe’ current does this but the magnetic field is so weak it dosnt penetrate the insulating plastic. and therefore dosnt interact with the magnet. During a surge however a larger current generates a larger field that interacts with the magnet..this interaction causes the magnet to increase its magnetic field which in turn causes a current in the wire….AND FINALLY THE POINT, According to Lenzs’ Law this current is in opposition to the original current thereby reducing the surge and protecting the equipment…
    Which in my opinion moves them out of the BAD SCIENCE category..

  7. Andy said,

    January 9, 2006 at 7:06 pm

    I don’t believe that I’m about to defend such stupid claims but here goes…

    I’ve done enough testing of electrical equipment for RFI requirments that I’ve developed some simple rules to explain the results I’ve seen:
    1) Anything that could have an impact will have an impact.
    2) Anything that should not be able to have any impact will have an impact anyway.
    3) Once you know what is going on the next result will not fit any previous pattern.

    Mains power is 50-60Hz depending on where in the world you are, mains cables are effective at conducting noise well in to the MHz region. A cable which reduces the power levels conducted at high frequencies could well reduce the amount of audio and RF range noise that reaches your sound system.

    So yes, it would be possible to make a mains cable that measurably reduces the amount of RF and (more importantly) audio frequency noise that is conducted into your HiFi.
    The key questions are 1) Does this cable actually do that and 2) Would it have any impact that the end user would notice.
    My guess is that in this case both answers are no but that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to produce a mains cable which will have a measurable impact on the audio quality.
    Producing one that has an effect that is detectable to the human ear under normal circumstances is another matter.

    And to answer Michael’s comment:
    That little black lump are the camera end of the charging cable is to prevent the noise made by the battery charging circuit and CPU in the camera from being conducted down the cable and onto the mains. There are limits on the maximum amount of noise a product is allowed to emit by both radiated and conducted means, I would guess that the camera failed one of the tests without that.

  8. Dave Smith said,

    January 9, 2006 at 7:48 pm

    I wish I had kept the link. I saw advertised an optical interconnect lead with gold plated plugs. Gold is well known for improving the transmission qualities of light.

  9. Rob said,

    January 9, 2006 at 7:56 pm

    There’s a good chance that this product is nonsense, but I have experienced interference that a shielded power cable might have helped. The issue is that the interference is *from* the power cable, and not *to* it. My computer monitor was displaying easily noticable interference (straight lines would appear to vibrate slightly on the screen). The VGA lead had been trailing right alongside the power cords for the computer; separating the two solved the problem.

    I also vaguely recall (which is a great introduction for iron-clad evidence) using an oscilloscope to detect the 60Hz frequency near power cables in my old physics lab.

    I remain very skeptical of high-end hifi gadgetry, but RF leakage from power cables doesn’t seem completely unreasonable.

  10. BobP said,

    January 9, 2006 at 8:11 pm

    Funny that Sony, Panasonic, Bose, etc never spotted this problem in 50+ years of building electronic products. If they had, I guess they might have designed a noise suppressor into the internal power circuit. Do you think I could patent this idea?

  11. Andy said,

    January 9, 2006 at 8:18 pm

    BobP,
    I think it’s safe to assume that they have some filtering on the power going in.
    However no filter is perfect so two filters are better than one ;-)

  12. Ian D. said,

    January 10, 2006 at 1:53 am

    Several people have hit upon the main issues. I’ll try to summarize.

    Filtering of RF interference is indeed possible in a short length of transmission line – this is how lumped element RF filters work. But a two wire cable has a characteristic impedance that depends on it’s geometry – there is no way to filter *all* RFI using a simple two wire line. Instead it will, at most, form some sort of band-limited filter – and a crap one at that. That means high frequency energy in some part of the EM spectrum outside the band will be transmitted. Even specifically designed RF and microwave filters used in communications can’t block it all!

    The real question is: what the heck does the RF on the power line have to do with anything that is heard in the audio system? Most audio systems have built in RF suppression circuitry in their power supply circuit and at various locations throughout. Open one up… see how the power supply is shielded from the rest of the circuitry? Signal lines on the circuit boards are routed near ground planes etc. RF filters are used on the power lines of the amplifier circuitry etc etc etc. Every trick that a designer knows is used to keep RF interference down. This is so that the rf amplifiers, such as those in the radio and TV sections of your audio sytem, don’t pick up stray signals through the power rails. Also, high speed digital pulses (CDs DVDs etc) have harmonics well into the RF bands and these need to be taken care of. The designed-in filtering gets the stray RF levels down so well, that any additional trivial filtering is unlikely to show any benefit. That is, the RF carriers are so reduced that any that is inadvertenly demodulated down to audio is so far down in the noise floor that the ear wouldn’t be able to distinguish any *additional* improvement. Read the noise specs – even crappy audio systems these days have pretty impressive specifications. The weak point is always the speakers – the point where the electrical signals are converted back to sound. This is the point that the most distortion is introduced. Spend your extra dough on buying the next better grade of speakers.

    If this thing is just a shielded power cable, then it will reduce RF noise on the incoming power line… but so what? The levels are already reduced by the internal filters of the audio system as discussed. And there is another consideration – the particular grounding configuration of a shielded cable is critical to it’s behaviour. Is it grounded at the ‘plug’ end only? Is it grounded at the equipment end only? How? Both ends grounded? Stray ground loops can make the RF picked up even worse than no shield, acting like an antenna instead! It has to be properly designed specifically with the audio equipment that it will be used with, kept in mind. There is no easy way to make it generic.

    It’s cheaper to wrap your system in aluminum foil…. and put some foil around the listener’s head for good measure… :-)

    And yes, the little thing-a-ma-bob on the end of the camera charger adaptor is indeed a transient voltage (surge) suppressor.

  13. Ian D. said,

    January 10, 2006 at 2:04 am

    oops.. I stand corrected. That thing at the end of the camera charger is indeed a noise suppressor to prevent noise from equipment going back to the mains as Andy points out.

    …But a filter may also be considered a (frequency dependent) voltage suppressor. :-)

    :-) :-)

  14. RobW said,

    January 10, 2006 at 6:04 am

    An amusing commentator on bad science in general and speaker leads in particular is Bob Pease – one of the old school engineers. See www.national.com/rap/Story/0,1562,3,00.html for a long-running speaker lead story

  15. David S said,

    January 10, 2006 at 9:39 am

    Aaaah the ole HiFi tweaks section of the snake oil emporium. Anyone remember the green pen you could buy for about £50 that you ran around the outside of your CDs to supposedly improve the sound quality? It is worth noting that speaker positioning, altering the acoustics of your room (with say a nice rug if you are on hard flooring) etc will have a much more obvious effect.

    www.audioholics.com has some very interesting articles (well if you are into such stuff) on cables and their properties. It isn’t peer reviewed, but they do talk a lot of sense (I think). The site is free. One point they do make is that audio signals is one thing, video signals are far more exacting in the need for a decent cable. Mind you even then, they have some sensible points to make about not going silly on cabling. The site is a US one.

  16. Delster said,

    January 10, 2006 at 10:15 am

    Dave Smith… i may have to sue for the bad back i incured falling out my seat laughing over the gold plated fibre optic connectors :-)

    I’m a telecoms engineer and the cabling standards say that power cables must not be bundled with other types such as voice / data. The reason being the insulation on cables is not enough to stop interferrence even with normal voltages.

    The insulation is there to stop the actual electrical current from shorting / grounding out leading to power loss and fried telecoms engineers…. i speak from experience!

    One thing i did see once was an mechanic using welder with the power cable coiled round a handy piece of scaf bar that protruded from the wall…. and yes it was getting a tad warm…

  17. ruperthebear said,

    January 10, 2006 at 11:21 am

    Hi

    As the owner of two such leads (one for my amp and one for my cd player) I can say that they made more difference to the listening experience on my hi-fi than anything else I have ever done to it. Admittedly this is totally subjective (I did before and after tests before I bought them) but they were truly amazing in the difference that they made to the sound.

    A lot of people buy these things after having listened to them so there are either a lot of suggestible people out there or they do actually make a noticeable difference.

    It would certainly be interesting for someone to do a double blind test. However, even without that, I don’t think it is fair to dismiss these as hi-fi snake oil.

  18. Tessa K said,

    January 10, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    I had trouble with my laptop cable a few years ago – the bit that goes from the socket into the power source. So I just used the kettle lead and it worked fine.

  19. WireTrip said,

    January 10, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    What about the placebo effect of having just spent £30 on a power cable?

  20. Stephen Waddell said,

    January 10, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    Hi Ben,

    First of all, I’d like to say that I’ve been a reader and admirer of the column for quite some time.

    While the world of hi-fi is an easy target, maybe you should leave the attacks to someone with more than a passing knowledge of electrical engineering. You cannot continue to take the moral high ground against your usual, eminently worthy targets if you publish an article with the phrase

    I can’t imagine how this expensive kettle lead is going to filter it out.

    in it. If you can’t imagine how a length of transmission line can act as a low pass filter, then maybe you’re not the best person to write the article. Whether or not the cable actually makes any audible difference to sound quality is kind of beside the point. Publishing an extended rant about a subject which is outside your field of expertise probably puts you (temporarily I hope) with the humanities graduates.

    That said, generally speaking your column is a ray of rational sunlight in a sea of lies, damn lies and homeopathy.

    Keep up the good work.

  21. GWO said,

    January 10, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    What about the placebo effect of having just spent £30 on a power cable?

    Bingo. Unless someone’s done a double-blind A/B test, anecdotal evidence about how much cabling improves your HiFi is basically worthless. And double blind A/B tests for cabling are a pain in the arse to do (not least because you can’t run the two cables parallel to each other and just swap the connections, in case indutive cross-talk ruins the experiment).

  22. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 10, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    steve: you think the capacitance of a bit of twisted cable is going to filter out an amount of rf noise to anything like the extent of normal filtering that will take place in the audio equipment power supply?

  23. Stephen Waddell said,

    January 10, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    I agree that this cable is highly unlikely to be 30 quid well spent. My point is that in your position you need to be a little more careful in your use of language. You’ve set yourself some pretty high standards and the fact that you spent almost the entire article on the lesser function of the cable (RF shielding) and the sentence I referred to above on what is probably the main function (filtering RF frequencies) is the kind of thing that our ID friends get up to.

    Oh, and sorry about the humanities dig. Below the belt.

  24. Tarquhar said,

    January 10, 2006 at 3:24 pm

    “The woven mains cable has been proven to dramatically reduce sound-degrading radio frequency interference on the mains supply and to reject further pick up of RFI.”

    They claim it does both, equally. To be fair the shielding story is probably more amusing and easy to explain than the capacitance.

  25. Stephen Waddell said,

    January 10, 2006 at 3:58 pm

    Fair point Tarquhar. I guess that’s why I have to post my pedantry here instead of getting it published in the Guardian ;-)

  26. Robert M said,

    January 11, 2006 at 12:08 pm

    The ‘ lump’ in the battery charger lead is most likely a ferrite ring – the cable goes through it. This causes high (100MHz and upwards depending on the actual ferrite material) frequencies to see a high impedance and thus dissipate energy as heat while dc frequencies are unattenuated. As contributor says – probably fails statutory legal limits without it. I often use these to pass / evaluate rfi in electronics development.
    If the ‘weave’ of the Kimber cable produces a rising impedance with frequency then it may well have an effect on the noise on the mains signal. Yes – power supply circuits will filter rf to some extent depending on the design but it’s always better to do it outside the box before it has chance to migrate into other circuits.
    Power supply circuits are often imperfect eg the fridge / washing machine turning off causes a thump through the loudspeakers etc. Also consider that mains glitches etc can cause data loss etc in PCs.
    Sony etc don’t supply shielded cables as it’s expensive and is unlikely to be perceived as a benefit by mass consumers but that doesn’t mean some people won’t see / hear an effect.

  27. JohnHankinson said,

    January 11, 2006 at 12:50 pm

    Lets be honest here.

    There’s no point discussings the ‘whys’ without establishing if there is a ‘what’.

    No double blind ABX testing has been done by anyone here on the cable in question so we don’t even know if it actually works. If you can establish it does actually work then you can try to work out why – doing so before is pretty pointless IMHO.

    However, here is an audiophile attempted ABX test of AC power cables: www.hometheaterhifi.com/volume_11_4/feature-article-blind-test-power-cords-12-2004.html

    In this case they actually couldn’t discern any differences – although they then went on to make various excuses about ABX test quality and sample size etc. (these weren’t all invalid conclusions BTW).

    Suffice to say, the objective engineers in audio (like my father) find audiophiles at best amusing and at worst hugely wasteful in terms of cash and time. Truly double-blind ABX testing on anything but speakers tends to show no perceivable difference (irrespective of the audiophile’s claims), however all that then happens is the testing procedure itself is then attacked (the cables interfered with each other, the ABX testing box affected the signal etc.) – note the common ground with other ‘believers’ here (i.e. homeopaths).

    Cheers!

  28. JohnHankinson said,

    January 11, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    One additional point on audiophilia that I forgot to mention.

    I’ve noticed that many people I know who have similar views on other topics (such as alternative medicine, psychics, conspiracy theories) are strangely less enthusiastic on attacking high-end audio.

    I’ve always put this down to the fact that we’ve all got a hi-fi or two and many of us invest a lot of time, emotion and money in the buying of a certain brand and model (and its accompanying kudos). No-one wants to hear that their setup full of NAD hi-fi seperates (£500+) may not be any better than someone else’s £80 all-in-one Aiwa midi system – so they’re not to keen to get on the back of people who pay £5000 for a CD player or cable.

    All just conjecture of course! ;-)

  29. Dunc said,

    January 11, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    Ben: I think you’d be rather suprised as to what constitutes “he extent of normal filtering that will take place in the audio equipment power supply”. Normal consumer-level audio equipment is typified by extremely cheap (ie poor) power supply design, with little or no filtering. A really good, well-filtered supply involves components whose unit cost often exceeds the total construction cost of a consumer audio product. In fact, the supplies typically used generate more noise than they filter.

    Whether a different mains cable really can make a noticeable difference, I couldn’t currently say with any degree of certainty. Enough people believe that it can to make me suspect that there may be something to it, but without a proper double-blind test it’s hard to say.

    Anyway, if you want some really silly hi-fi nonsense, try the $485 knob:
    www.referenceaudiomods.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=NOB_C37_C

  30. CaptainSensible said,

    January 11, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    Re: JH

    That isn’t really fair. I’ve listened to several audio systems (from budget all-in-one to high-end separates) and they do sound quite different, with (as others have said) a decent pair of speakers (often the cheapest component) making the biggest difference. If you want lots of volume (big room) with little distortion and/or clipping, then have you to splash out etc.

    There is a law of diminishing returns though; the more you spend, the smaller the difference. Furthermore, I can’t the point of (assuming there is an audible difference [which I doubt]) using these cables on a budget system; the wider electrical/signal tolerances of budge components would probably hide any benefit.

    As for lack of enthusiasm re high end audio versus homeopathy…

    I can be very confident about the BS behind homeopathy (which is basic cause-and-effect science [or lack of in homeopathy’s case), but I don’t know enough about electronics or have enough experience of listening to expensive equipment to confidently rubbish some of the manufacturer’s claims.

    Some of them are obviously bogus (like the ability of a CD transport to alter the amount and quality of data being sent to the DAC), but others are (like the differences between amplifiers) are less so.

  31. JohnHankinson said,

    January 11, 2006 at 7:22 pm

    CaptainSensible: I agree on the speakers. If you reread my comment I think you’ll find I specifically mention ABX tests other than those speakers producing audiophile busting reponses. It should be obvious that two different sets of speakers can change the dramatically – after all, they’re the point in the system that converts the electrical signals from the amp to longitudinal waves in the air – this is a mechanical process.

    However, that said, there is a whole world on nonsense concerning audio components… speaker interconnects, power cables, power amps, D/As, sampling rates and so forth, they can make a difference, but often what audiophiles claim is basically physically impossible (like being able to hear frequencies beyond the Nyquist frequency of a normal audio CD ~22KHz).

    There are two questions that you need to ask about audiophile kit:

    1. Can statistically significant result for detecting a perceived difference be found when using the kit in an otherwise identical audio system using a double-blind ABX testing procedure. If not, the kit doesn’t do anything useful from a human perception perspective (is there such a thing as a canine audiophile).

    2. If there is a detectable difference, there is then a pretty much wholly subjective question of does it improve the listening experience.

    Number 2 is impossible to judge – its a personal thing and unless someone has a formula for what makes a good listening experience we’re stuck.

    Number 1 is the important one for the objectivists, rationalists, skeptics etc. And I’m afraid time after time double-blind ABX testing has shown that most of the audiophile snake oil is just that… snake oil. The worst offenders are interconnects (and these can sell for thousands per metre) and power cables (again, pretty costly). There are also loads of ridiculous products like pen to improve CD audio quality, little stickers that you attach to your CD player etc. which are all complete arse.

    Also Captain, RE: my second post – you don’t happen to have a relatively expensive hi-fi setup do you? ;-)

  32. CaptainSensible said,

    January 11, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    I have an old separates system (1996 – £500 – CD/Amp/Speakers) which still sounds fine. I’m not sure if that qualifies as relatively expensive though.

    I can understand why some spend a lot on amplifiers and speakers (often much more than any sources), especially if they like it loud and have a big room to fill.

    I have an audiophile older brother though, so I know what you mean; some of his gadgets were utterly baffling (and very expensive), and I doubt that he really noticed any difference (he also became so equipment obsessed that he rarely listened to any of the music).

  33. JohnHankinson said,

    January 11, 2006 at 8:59 pm

    My favourite aspect of audiophilia is the terminology people use to describe what they hear…

    Colour, depth, width, image, clarity, intelligibility, warmth… the list goes on… i’m not sure any of these words have actual definitions but what the heck… they do sound cool. I’ve never heard anyone talk about the “smell” of audio though, I might coin that one for myself.

    The JREF SWIFT newsletter has various specific articles of some of the more ridiculous ones – its worth looking over their archive sometime.

    www.randi.org/jr/archive.html

  34. Ian D. said,

    January 12, 2006 at 2:06 am

    And let’s not forget the weakest links in the audio system chain: human hearing and aesthetic judgement.

    Human hearing varies tremendously from person to person. Frequency response of the human hearing system, as any audiologist will tell you, is not uniform.

    Let’s not even get into aesthetic judgement; one person’s distortion is another person’s Jimi Hendrix

    Double blind testing will be very difficult and will require sorting people after appropriate hearing testing.

    Better to just plot the frequency response with and without “voodoo magical device” – while some standard wide band noise source is applied, to see if it makes a difference.

    It’s hard to see how meagre audio improvement could be detected by your ears, unless you spend all your time listening to pure sine waves. How can you tell if the distortion came from an external source and not because the drummer hit his snare a bit harder that time??

    Buy yourself the best amplifer and speakers you can afford, then crank up the volume and enjoy the distortion made by the tea cups and tableware rattling around.

    …Oh.. wait….don’t tell me .. *real* enthusiasts listen to their system in a padded room with perfect acoustic reflectors designed so that the reverberation time is just right and isolated from the earth on a massive concrete platform, supported on a pool of mercury in a bowl buried in tons of sand… Wow…just being in that kind of room would unbalance the acoustic perfection. You’d have to listen without actually being in the room.. sort of zen.

    Audio hearing-based testing is more like food tasting than science.

    Buy what you can afford and forget the stupid gadgets. Unless you have that acoustically perfect room, no point really.

  35. Paul said,

    January 12, 2006 at 9:07 am

    “Double blind testing will be very difficult and will require sorting people after appropriate hearing testing”

    Nah – no need for that – just use a within subjects design.

  36. Andy said,

    January 12, 2006 at 11:22 am

    I agree with CaptainSensible’s law of diminishing returns point, this lead being a classic example of the absolute extreme of it.
    I’m pretty sure the lead would make a difference, especially if it was anywhere near the speaker cable. However, whether anyone would actually hear a difference is of course a different matter entirely. It seems to me though that this is a point ignored by a lot of extreme audiophiles.

    I knew a guy who always bought his records on vinyl because the higher frequencies that are cut off on a CD are preseved on vinyl. Seeing as a) you can’t hear those frequencies anyway and b) once it’s been played a few times and worn down a bit the vinyl will lose clarity in the range you can hear I never quite understood his thinking from a practical point of view, but there was a kind of twisted logic to it all – the detail at high frequencies was almost certainly better, and that was good enough for him even though he probably couldn’t hear it.

  37. JohnHankinson said,

    January 12, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    Ian D.: your point around hearing ability differing between people is correct, but it absolutely does not invalidate using double-blind ABX testing to determine if people can distinguish a difference between audio components.

    For those that aren’t clear on this, ABX testing is specifically a way of determining if a listener (or group of listeners) can perceive a difference between two sources, A and B. The test works like this: first they hear source A, then they hear source B, then they here either source A or B (this is the X). The listener notes down which source they thought it was (either A or B) and the test is repeated as many times as is necessary to get a statistically valid sample (i think you need > 50 iterations approx.). If the test is to be trusted as a formal experiment it is important it is double-blind, so neither the listener nor the experimenter knows which source X is when it is being used (this can be achieved using an ABX box).

    Hopefully, it should be clear that the above test can be used to test true perception of difference in sound sources irrespective of the listener’s hearing ablility. You could test a single person 50 times, or a group of 100 people 50 times. You can then look at the results and see whether they had a statistically significant ability to choose which source X was each time – you can draw conclusions about individuals, groups within the sample of individuals, or the total sample itself.

    This is a widely agree best-of-breed method for testing whether equipment actually produces an appreciably different listening experience. Many audiophiles question the method because the ABX testing box may affect the signal, the fact of doing a test creates an unreal listening environment etc. These areguments are all very well, but they smack of the same wriggling other ‘believers’ do when testing their weird beliefs are tested using best-of-breed methods.

  38. JohnHankinson said,

    January 12, 2006 at 12:36 pm

    Andy: when talking about your friend who buys vinyl instead of CDs you said “the detail at high frequencies was almost certainly better”. This is a classic audiophile phrase and is effectively meaningless.

    You already stated that frequencies above the Nyquist freq. of an audio CD (22KHz) can’t be heard by humans, so how can you say “the detail at high frequencies was almost certainly better”? And actually what does “detail” mean? And what does “almost certainly better” mean?

    Sorry – the above comes across a bit aggressive, but its this sort of nearly scientific woolly language that lets audiophiles get away with it often!

  39. CaptainSensible said,

    January 12, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    He probably could notice a difference between vinyl and CDs (I can) but, as you said, his way of describing the difference was completely wrong. Ditto for some of those adjectives (e.g. warmth) that do describe tangible things, but are a bit woolly because there is no hard definition of what they mean. For example, my separates system has a tendency to over-emphasise treble/higher frequencies (and cheaper high frequency speakers [aka tweeters] struggle with some of them), but an audiophile would use vague words like “bright”, “aggressive”, and “harsh” instead of just identifying the source of their irritation.

  40. BSM said,

    January 12, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    With all this talk of cables costing thousands per metre, does anyone know whether they really cost this much to make or is it just a case of attaching a ridiculous price tag and hopig a few mugs will pay- if it costs £50 to make you’ve got to sell so many more at £75 you might prefer to charge £1,000 and wait until you get lucky. Given that there are people prepared to pay 4, 5, and 6 figure sums for these components you’ll get lucky eventually.

    It seems to me that there is no proper competition among these products. They all claim to be unique so it would would be very hard for anyone else to come along with exactly the same product and undercut you by a factor of 10.

  41. JohnHankinson said,

    January 12, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    Captain: harsh treble is one of the most amusing ones. It is true that some systems make the high-frequencies seem harsh, but of course a little bit of EQ should fix that. I’ve often wondered if cheaper speakers with a little bit of careful EQ could be made to sound like more expensive ones for a given situation.

    On the vinyl vs CD front, yes there is a difference, its caused by all sorts of things obviously. However, one thing people often overlook is the fact that often stereos will have dedicated ‘phono’ inputs for record decks – and more importantly that these inputs apply specific gain across the frequency range to sort out the rather uneven frequency response that cartridges and needles have. In effect that’s a big fat EQ sitting in between your deck and pre-amp and whether all hi-fi phono inputs work consistently I have no idea!

    BSM: I have no idea how much is costs to make an oxygen free, gold plated optical interconnect. However I can tell you that having seen the insides of some bits of ‘high-end’ Bang & Olufsen kit (more style guru then audiophile admittedly), its often style on the inside and cost saving on the outside with these products! You’re paying for the kudos of having the logo on the kit quite often I’m afraid!

  42. JohnHankinson said,

    January 12, 2006 at 4:38 pm

    Doh! With regarding to the B&O kit I meant to say: “style on the outside and cost saving on the inside.”

  43. Ian D. said,

    January 12, 2006 at 7:34 pm

    JohnHankinson: Sorry, I didn’t say that double-blind testing was invalidated. I said it was difficult. You would definitely need more than one person to see if they noticed (using one person 50 times won’t work if they have a hearing loss at the frequency that the alleged improvement is occuring). But ya, 100 people doing ABX would be fine.

    Basically, I’m questioning the bother for having to do a double-blind test with 100s of people when we can simply put the frequency response up on a spectrum analyzer in about 10 minutes and just by knowing about the average threshold of human hearing and having some marketing information about cost/benefit trades, we should have our answer to the fundamental question: “Is CompanyX screwing someone out of £30 by selling them a cable that costs £1 to manufacture even though it probably provides less than -200 dB of noise figure improvement?”

    As Ben’s column shows, the real issue is scientific ignorance. This is yet another example of how not knowing your basic science can cost you. Natural selection in action.

    I’m willing to bet that a lot of humanities grads who work as science columnists buy these kinds of cables… :-)

  44. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 12, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    Loving this.

    More sound stuff in the papers, Daily Mail, 11 January, page 25, Julie Whelan Science Correspodent says:

    “Turn down your iPOD or risk an ear tumour”

    “For the purpose of the study, any sound over 80 decibels – the level of city traffic – was classified as loud.

    Personal music players have a maximum of 104 decibels – more than 20 per cent higher.”

  45. Ian D. said,

    January 12, 2006 at 9:43 pm

    Brilliant!! Logarithms… a whole new playground in which to make fun of science journalist’s ability to read the numbers in studies. Maybe the homeopaths with their dilutions can help them understand?

  46. JohnHankinson said,

    January 13, 2006 at 12:37 pm

    Ian D.: point taken on the double-blind ABX testing – but I think the truth it that you can try do it with one person 50 times – even if they having hearing problems. It depends what you’re looking for – remember we’re testing an individual’s perception against reality here. The finding that people with hearing problems still believe they are perceiving a difference between two sources is still a relevent finding, even if you believe it to be impossible! Admittedly, its not the same finding as you’d get for a group test, but you can still use it as evidence that there is a clear placebo-like effect for audiophiles.

    The big issue with plotting the frequencies produced on a graph is that the audiophiles don’t understand it or believe it. For example, they believe their ears are superior to other people’s – all you’ve done in there eyes is show that your equipment is unable to detect a difference – this is not enough for an audiophile. The joy of double-blind ABX testing is that they are the listening equipment, and when it is shown they couldn’t detect the different between two audio components it is them at fault.

    Brief story from my dad for you: My dad was the head engineer at a very prominent classical music label. They wanted to buy some new power amps to drive the speakers (very expensive B&W units) in the editing suites, listening rooms, mastering suites etc. The editors and ‘balance engineers’ (they’re not engineers, they’re muso types who know how to use a mixing desk) wanted units that cost ~£8,000 a piece (and you need one for each speaker!). The engineers in my dad’s team had tested out a power amp by a small british company using they’re analytical equipment and found their performance to be easily adequate – these units costs £400 a piece.

    However, when my dad suggested these, he was told they weren’t good enough and that they wanted the £8000 kit. My dad decided to do an ABX test on several of the muso types – it wasn’t blind as my dad chose the source playing, but it was done using two identical pairs of speakers, preamp and DAT machine (i.e. it was quite a good test).

    I’m sure you can guess what happened… the muso types failed to detect the difference between the two amps.

    But here’s the kicker, what amps do you think they bought? ;-)

  47. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 13, 2006 at 4:39 pm

    13 pages of bile, and counting…

    www.hifiwigwam.com/forum1/2806.html

  48. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 13, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    www.nordost.com/Cables/power-valhalla.htm

    £1800

  49. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 13, 2006 at 4:55 pm

    While I’m here, someone just sent me this:

    It will be very interesting to see if Russ Andrews will step up and take the challenge… He [may] fall back on the tired excuses and anecdotal ‘evidence’ that is trotted out to justify their [wares]. In his website blog of 14th November 2005, he points to stereophile.com/asweseeit/805awsi/ to ‘prove’ how double-blind testing is of no use. Here’s a quote:

    “Human beings are not pieces of objective test equipment. Some listeners consistently score above average, others bounce around the middle, and still others never get it right. My own blind-test results are not consistent. And all the while, the differences that do or do not exist among products remain fixed—and likely undiscovered.”

  50. Yargh! Here be a blog .. » Blog Archive » Kettle lead .. for how much?? said,

    January 13, 2006 at 5:09 pm

    [...] Read this tidbit to warn you of how so many suckers fall for these scams .. c/o BadScience [...]

  51. Fontwell said,

    January 13, 2006 at 6:48 pm

    John Hankinson –

    “…but of course a little bit of EQ should fix that. I’ve often wondered if cheaper speakers with a little bit of careful EQ could be made to sound like more expensive ones for a given situation.”

    Nice idea but I would tend to think not. I have played bass guitar for many years and one thing I discovered was that if you swap to a different speaker, say another brand, but keep everything else the same, no amount of ferkling with EQ can get you same sound. I do this swapping around because I have a big heavy speaker for gigs and a little one for carting around to friends houses but everything else is the same. I actually prefer the sound of the smaller one. But even at low volumes the big one always has what I would subjectively call a ‘metallic’ quality to it. If I try to cut out the higher frequencies (which I think cause this sound) it just turns into a muffled metallic sound.

    I daresay that a complex bit of Digital Signal Processing would be able to make two different speakers sound similar but that would probably be just as expensive as buying better speakers.

    As to the kettle lead, when I read the article it did occur to me that filtering out RF is probably not that hard to do in a lead, although the best place to do it (in a lead) might be in the lumpy bit at the end which plugs into the equipment and using normal components rather than in the ‘weave’. There also may be a slightly rational point to filtering out RF, because the modulation used by LW and AM radio stations basically works by modulating the RF amplitude at audio frequency – remember the entirely passive cat’s whisker style radio receiver that can pick up the World Service? – and this is best kept out of the power supply. Although, on second thoughts, the signal levels are so tiny I can’t imagine you would ever hear them, so ignore that bit.

    Let’s face it, even if it were possible and useful to make a WonderLead, this guy is selling kettle leads for £30 a shot and laughing all the way to Currys.

  52. JohnHankinson said,

    January 13, 2006 at 9:44 pm

    Fontwell – you’re probably right – but it does depend what sort of EQ you’re talking about. I also have a dark past playing the bass and often you’ve only got a 3-band or 5-band EQ or possibly a parametric EQ on a bass amp, not to mention a highly specialised low frequency range driver (try putting an oscillator through a bass driver and see what freq. its response drops off – its quite low for obvious reasons really – a larger cone as in your bigger unit will be worse than a smaller one for this). I’m not saying it would be possible, but i think with two sets of hi-fi speakers the right EQ and a lot time you could do a half decent job of matching them. Pure conjecture on my part though!

    Ben – the £1800 Valhalla power cable is the one ABX tested by the audiophiles in the link I posted above. Here it is again:

    www.hometheaterhifi.com/volume_11_4/feature-article-blind-test-power-cords-12-2004.html

    Note that they couldn’t detect a difference – although they rather backed away from making any firm conclusions from this.

    Lets be honest, this is basically these guys (and they are almost exclusively male) religion. Of course they’re defensive about it – if I believed anything that much I’d be defensive too!

  53. JohnHankinson said,

    January 13, 2006 at 11:27 pm

    Ben: RE: the hifiwigwam thread, I note that half the posts are from fairly skeptical regular posters to that forum. There is a definite split amongst the audiophiles between the cable believers and the unbelievers – as I said previously, I have always been intruiged by the fact that people I know to be rational about psychic powers, alternative medicine and the such like, have a bit of a weakness for audiophilia.

    The other point I’d make is that maybe you’d like to send them a link to your excellent article on the placebo effect and how we just don’t understand it. Some of the posters seem quite insulted by the idea that they could be deluding themselves with respect to the effect of these cables. I can’t help but feel they’re being a bit hard on themselves really.

    Something else that is interesting is where the people on the forum describe they’re using the power cables. Some in their amps, some in their CD players etc. I’m sorry, but when it comes to using a special power lead for a digital source like a CD player (assuming it is connected to the preamp using a digital link) is pure and utter bollocks.

  54. JohnHankinson said,

    January 13, 2006 at 11:54 pm

    Ben: just read the reply that James Palmer sent to your e-mail (I note he didn’t bother quoting the whole thing).

    I have some personal favourite quotes:

    “those of us that clearly hear a difference are fed up with scientists -that cannot satisfactorily explain the difference- telling us we are deluded.” – just like the moon landing conspiracists

    “It may be purely psychological, a great big placebo, but that would not explain why I[b], as a former sceptic[/b] like you, have recently invested in a silver power chord for my amp. Equally the “desire to believe effect” does not explain why there are times when I (and a friend of mine) both preferred a cheap kettle lead to an expensive chord. (This depended on the music played and the amp used).” – a complete misunderstanding of the nature of personal and group psychological pressures on perception I would suggest – you can’t sceptic-ise the placebo effect easily – that’s kind of the point.

    “as an intelligent (152 IQ for what it’s worth) adult” – oh dear – he also believes in IQ tests

    Ben – if I were you I’d back away from this one – you can’t win and although there is the whiff of Bad Science here for sure, its really not as dangerous as homeopathy, psychics, conspiracists and the so forth.

    (Sorry I’ve hijacked the comments – nothing from me for a while I promise).

  55. Frank said,

    January 14, 2006 at 10:41 am

    I am an electrical engineer with an additional training in technical acoustics. I used to measure that stuff – and laugh my ass of about all the snake oil claims.

    There are things you can measure, and there are things which don’t exist. Of the things you can measure many are not relevant at all, because the effects they cause are neglectable compared to other bigger issues. The snake oil sales men either claim that an irrelevant effect is not irrelevant, or they claim that there is a large grey zone between what you can measure and what doesn’t exist. And that their stuff is working in that grey zone of unmeasurable but allegedly existing things. The twilight zone, where the known laws of physics don’t apply or there are new laws of physics at work, unknown to the rest of mankind.

    The only thing is, when they claim that something is working, that claim is equivalent to that they claim there is an effect. An effect humans can recognize. So there should be something to measure (e.g. with a double-blind hearing test or good old instruments). But there is simply nothing. At least not when doing the measurement in a controlled environment. This is when the big lies start.

  56. JohnHankinson said,

    January 14, 2006 at 11:45 am

    Frank: Great post, succinctly put.

    “The twilight zone, where the known laws of physics don’t apply or there are new laws of physics at work, unknown to the rest of mankind.”

    This is the same domain that the energised water merchants, homeopaths, accupuncturists, spoon benders, psychics and other… ahem… *interesting* people live!

    If I hear “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” one more time I’ll run somebody down on my pink unicorn (go on, prove I haven’t got one!).

  57. JohnHankinson said,

    January 14, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    Sorry – forget everything sceptical I’ve posted up to now. This audiophile stuff is all quantum physics and UFO grade materials science…

    www.machinadynamica.com/machina64.htm

    How could I not have seen the light till now…?

  58. Delster said,

    January 17, 2006 at 11:40 am

    simple rules for good sound

    1. good speakers (i like Lynn myself)
    2. shielded speaker cable (no good getting rid of RFi at power stage if speaker cable picks it up!)
    3. Good amp
    4. Keep power cable away from speaker cable.
    5. don;’t spend $480 odd on a wooden volume knob!

  59. mishgosh said,

    January 19, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    I was wondering…in, say, medicine, if you had a tiny effect (as I believe aspirin prophylaxis in reducing heart attacks/strokes was), you can just do a gigantic study and it will show up.

    If, say, a bit of hi-fi kit had a minor effect, that was below the threshold of human perception, then no matter how big the study, you wouldn’t ever see it.

    But…little baby steps make big strides, if you add them up.

    Yes, a certain capacitor here, an up-rated DAC there…you could swap them individually and not notice the difference, perhaps, but if they were all swapped for rubbish, it would fall within the threshold, and get picked up by a human ABX test.

    And it is also true that a spectral analyser doesn’t “hear” any more than a computer “thinks”. How can you look at a frequency plot and decide what is better? What is better? It’s a personal preference, isn’t it? The idea that you want the stereo to make the same noise as the artists comitted to vinyl/CD is on a hiding to nothing, unless you listened to it on the same equipment they did. Oh, and borrowed their ears and brain…

    So, erm, what to do? Small improvements matter, because enough small improvements lead to an audible one. But you can’t ABX the small improvements. Damn. Best spend your money on something else then.

    Oh, and my vote- I’d have to see this cable to pass judgement on it, but what they said doesn’t sound convincing. Ethernet cables have a specific twist rate to the different pairs of wires, but then that’s to reduce cross-talk, not to attenuate RF, so it doesn’t apply. I agree you *could* make a mains lead that would make a difference, but I think it would show the difference more prominently on *cheap* equipment, where they had skimped on the filtering.

    PS, yes yes, I know I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I wanted to join in anyway.

  60. Andy said,

    January 19, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    Delster,

    Shielded speaker cables should only matter if your speaker cable is running next to other noisy cables or if you are in an electrically very noisy enviroment. Generally the amount of energy picked up on a cable is very low, far less than your amp is putting out and so not noticable.
    The areas where shielding is important are the outputs from the playback devices to the amplifier, any noise picked up at that point will also be amplified. Also unlike the mains input there are limits to the filtering that can be used on those inputs without having a negative impact on the sound quality. Fortunatly those cables are always shielded even on cheap systems.

  61. TickledPink said,

    January 21, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    Lots about price and specifications – but what about age (of cables, not ears), or efficiency of phono plug connections perhaps?
    Seem to have improvement from CD/amp interconnects (retail c. £90) but they were new replacing a £20 pair a few years old. I got them thrown in as a sweetener so not much of a placebo effect, although I did have to put in the effort of fitting them. (Yes, I did get used to the new bits for a month before changing the cables.)

    MAIN POINT: respected hifi manufacturer scores speakers 100 to electronics 10 to cables 0.1 (!!) – and includes article on kettle leads. Worth reading, as quite thorough (experiments include tea from Fortnums and Tetley):

    www.avihifi.co.uk/Important/Important.html

    On that 100 to .1 scale, what do layout and furnishings score?

  62. David Knell said,

    February 4, 2006 at 7:07 am

    I bought one of these £30 kettle leads, and it’s vividly enhanced the depth of the warmth of my tea with an extraordinary effect on the clarity of separation of perception of colour and feel along with a surprising shift in balance from the lows to the highs.

    Or maybe that’s the mushrooms.

    Dave

  63. Enough with the speculations! said,

    February 4, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    @JohnHankinson: Sound frequencies beyond the range of normal human hearing, although cannot directly be heard, DO affect the frequencies that can be heard and can also be picked up through different senses. It isn’t unreasonable to think that these sounds may affect how music is percieved.

  64. serial catowner said,

    February 4, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    Unbelievable. When the mains power goes into your set, it goes to the “power supply” which converts it to the type of power used by the set. Whatever comes out the other side here will depend entirely on the quality of the “power supply” (normally it drops the voltage).

    If you could affect other people’s power by beaming radio waves at a transmission line, high school boys would do it as a prank and other people would use it as a weapon. Doesn’t happen.

    At one time I was designing a house and became quite interested in this. Basically, you have to design the room to fit the sound source, the room ideally has no windows or very small windows symmetrically distributed, exterior ambient noise is not admitted, the room is panelled in wood that, like Goldilock’s porridge, is not too hard and not too soft, and finally, after all is completed, the finest ears must fine-tune the room with the odd bit of carpet to soak up unwanted echoes and reverbations.

    It’s an interesting subject, but one in which the power lead plays no part.

  65. serial catowner said,

    February 4, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    Incidentally, I finally decided that the surest and easist path to hearing the fine tones of the violin was to learn to play one myself. So I did.

  66. mardler said,

    April 10, 2006 at 7:09 pm

    I have just stumbled upon this thread (and the other one) whilst looking for something else and haven’t laughed so much for years. Or been so annoyed or so insulted.

    What a bunch of ignorant, closed minded, people!

    Let me explain:-

    I am a crusty old fart who just happens to enjoy music; we go to as many live gigs and concerts as we can. Our love of music lead us to build a fairly good main sound system plus we also have a ghetto blaster in the dining room, various portable radios and two guitar amplification systems.

    As a kid, I also built radios and amplifiers, so learned a lot of theory much of which I have kept up to date.

    So. Mains leads, eh? I’ll return to them but what has amazed me is the way in which virtually all contributors have rubbished people who buy hi-fi. Now, I agree that there is a lunatic fringe and frankly, I wonder if some of them may be bonkers – but I haven’t heard their systems, so I shan’t say that they are until I do, unlike you people here.

    Then, there are the so-called “experts”, one especially, a John Hankinson. Very funny, JH, albeit unwittingly. Damned rude, too. He rails against all things hi-fi or audio, even insulting me by assuming that I am also into crackpot pseudo science such as crystals etc. What is galling is that he has demonstrated a quite unacceptable lack of understanding of audio and (some of) the accompanying physics. If you don’t understand a topic, don’t criticise it. I won’t go into detail but JH illuminated his fundamental lack of understanding when talking about LP v. CD and the stuff that happens to enable proper LP replay.

    His suggestion that because some relation worked in or around the electronics business, he therefore has the ultimate knowledge about what he believes to be true is as laughable as the studio people who say that they get along with this or that ancient , or cheap, equipment because they can’t tell the difference. Well, pay attention – some people can! Obviously, you aren’t aware of studios that HAVE adopted audiophile standards and the stunning results they have achieved but then you wouldn’t want to because it would threaten, if not destroy, your belief system.

    To basics.

    In the 70s, a turntable and later, amplifier, manufacturer came along who postulated the idea, which sensible people already knew (but the then hi-fi establishment refused to admit) that different, properly designed, amplifiers, for instance, sounded different. Heresy! Today, it is accepted by all bar an outmoded “objectivist only” minority that preamps, power amps, interconnects, pickups, CD players et al, can and do, sound different.

    Yet, right up to his death, Peter Walker of QUAD (whose 44/404 amp sounded absolutely dreadful, for rational, circuit design, reasons) steadfastly refused to believe that this was true. His dictum was “if I can’t measure it, it does not exist”. Pure baloney that the scientists among us scoffed at. A scientist, presented with phenomena that he cannot (presently) measure, will do his darndest to find ways to measure the effects. The upshot of this ostrich like belief is that QUAD products failed to keep pace with sonic development, sales fell and the company is now foreign owned. Shades of the British motor industry.

    Sonic improvement is precisely what happened. Designers improved measuring (and listening) capabilities and sure enough many hitherto unknown, or unsuspected, distortion artefacts were recognised and understood. Amplifier design is a complicated science with not a little art and the market today, at the higher end, is served well.

    Far from the audiophile being ostrich-like, it is everyone who has posted here rubbishing a subject they patently don’t understand who are the ignorant, inward looking, flat earth, crystal and homeopathy wannabees.

    Wake up, listen and understand.

    Just to make you even more upset, I have conducted blind tests ABX style, if not double blind. Four integrated amps were used, 3 from the same stable (of which two were the SAME model) and another. I was able to identify each within 30 seconds of an LP track with 100% accuracy, over a number of weekends – this because my friends (who achieved roughly 50 – 75% accuracy) couldn’t believe it. A few could hear absolutely no difference at all and that is fine, too: I didn’t criticise them for having cloth ears..

    I took my present amp to a dealer about 5 years ago, thinking I might upgrade it. No way. The 1980 amp blew away the new (and very expensive) pair that we listened to on all counts; yes, stereo staging, bass depth, mid clarity and clean but extended treble (all the hi-fi descriptors you guys hate) but mainly a sense of accuracy and “being there”. During this demo., the manager was in the shop not the demo room but came rushing into the room when my amp was first played saying, “What on earth is that? It’s superb!”. All amps, of course, sound the same…

    Now you’ll really get wound up. Every few months I clean all of the system’s connections: interconnects, speaker cable ends and wait for it….. the mains plug pins and fuse!!! The difference in sound is remarkable. Once, whilst my wife was out (and not having told her) I did the “spring clean” and on her return was playing a CD. She put her head round the door & said, “You’ve cleaned the cables, haven’t you?”. But cables make no difference….

    Cable directionality. Bullshit you all say and so did I and quite honestly I can’t hear any difference. What is intriguing though (and this will anoy you even more) is that not only have designers now understood this phenomenom but it can be measured and explained in not too difficult terms. So, a scientific explanation but I still can’t hear it! The difference is this – if one of you said that you could hear it, I would accept that at face value not belittle you.

    By your dogma all cables sound the same, amps sound the same and solid state must always sound the same . Well, how do you explain a new CD player that on installation sounded excruciatingly bad, to the point that my wife came into the room and said she reckoned we’d been had. I was so appalled I called the dealer next day. He assured me that it was normal and explained what in his experience I was hearing – spot on! All those nasty hi-fi words like “hard”, “glassy” and “muddy” – they were perfect descriptors of the sound. I was assured that after a few hundred hours burn-in, the sound would improve and this proved so, in spades. Of course this cannot happen and you lot will now rampage on this thread telling me what a fool I am.

    So, if you do not understand the terminology of others DON’T rubbish it, try to understand it, you may just learn something to your benefit.

    Furthermore, please understand that I (and others) can hear these differences very clearly. If you can’t, or will not, it isn’t a problem unless you rubbish those who can hear such things.

    What has really annoyed me about these two threads is the Luddite approach to anything that you don’t understand, from the self confessed ignorami to those masquerading as having expert knowledge (but whose writing confirms their ignorance) you have done rational debate a huge disservice but obviously rationality isn’t within your ambit.

    And now to the $64,000 question: do I think expensive mains cables work? I haven’t a clue because I don’t possess one. The joke is that, apart from just possibly inner city locations, I am very, very, sceptical about them. In fact, I seriously doubt their efficacy and am concerned about those who sell such things as Valhalla being charlatans as most of you think. However, where I differ from those “who know they’re right” is that, until I have heard these cables for myself, I shall remain sceptical but I shall NOT say that they do not or cannot work. There are perfectly rational scientific reasons why, in some conditions, they may work along with mains conditioners and regenerators (but I won’t go there!).

    Finally, my biggest disappointment was to be insulted by the pseud JH for being a music lover and hi-fi buyer which makes me, according to him, a follower of the hoaxers, charlatans and idiots who peddle crystal therapies and the like. I came to this site because I was searching for the lowdown on the utterly dangerous Harry Oldfield and here, got lumped in with him!!! I’d demand an apology but I know it won’t be forthcoming from such biased and unpleasant people.

    I now expect to be removed from this board for having the temerity to suggest that you adopt reasoned debate, sound judgement, a modicum of knowledge and that you do not rubbish or insult others when, clearly, you haven’t a clue what you are talking about.

    Grow up!

  67. Karl’s Asylum » Blog Archive » Oh good lord… said,

    May 15, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    [...] [...]

  68. SciencePunk » Blog Archive » Machina Dynamica’s Brilliant Pebbles said,

    October 6, 2006 at 3:27 pm

    [...] In other words, Brilliant Pebbles work best when you’re the type of chump who just spent £5000 on a hi-fi, $199 on a clock, £500 on a crocodile clip, £30 on a power cable, and would gladly pay £10 for a punch in the face if you were told it would make your stereo sound better. [...]

  69. chris@ca1 said,

    May 21, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    Now hear my first ever blog……..if you want to know if the expensive after market cables work then all you need to is apply the same logic with all expensive aftermarket kit……….look at the financial accounts of the manufacturers and distributors. We live in a capatilist world. Most ( not all) of the people spending upwards of say £10,000 on CD players etc do so with one important consideration….they can afford to do so. It is a fair assumption that they arrived at this position by not being too stupid or influenced by advertisng etc etc…ie they have a mind of their own. So the manufactuer and distributor has to convience these people to part with say £30 to £150 for a power lead.If they fail to do so they will stop making the product.They obviously succeeded in conviencing enough people to buy them.
    Those of you that argue all of these people are stupid enough to be swayed by HiFi media hype into wasting money on a pointless cable upgrade are just jealous that they are not in a position to do so. So lets try to knock it all by using some science….which not all can agree on any way.As regards all the sound tests etc etc….you might as well have a sound test to decide whether the lastest “Busks Fizz” album is better than the first Beatles album……it is a matter of opinion…….for me neither …….I’m listening to Madeleine Peyroux using an expensive after market cable connecting the CD plyer to the amp…….do you think I care if somebody else thinks it was a waste of money??????…..some of us talk and some of us do!!!!!!!!

  70. Nick Grant said,

    June 28, 2007 at 8:40 am

    I posted this comment on the Voodo Hi Fi thread months ago but it remains the last comment so I’m re posting here as I don’t think anyone else has made the same point:

    ‘Have really enjoyed skimming through this and following up some links but didn’t spot any mention of Backmasking which gives a very very powerful demonstration of the power of suggestion over what we hear. Good way to prove that the Voodoo people are right, blind listening doesnt work!!! You need to know what you will hear then it works.
    jeffmilner.com/backmasking.htm
    Is a good start and you can make your own experiments in minutes without expensive leads etc just by playing tracks backwards to people with and without the words showing. Stairway to Heaven backwards is the classic! I saw Simon Singh do this at Hay Festival. Played it backwards, asked if anyone could hear anything, no, anyone hear the word Satan? Couple of hands in big audience went up. Then played it again with words on the screen, wow! Just try it.
    Most web threads argue whether it was Led Zep or the Devil himself that did this, given the limited technology at the time :-) . One lecturer at Leeds (from memory) tried it on his students but with different words.
    I have tried it on an opera singer and ‘tone deaf ‘ people with 100% result, no stats analysis needed with this experiment.
    My suggestion is that Hi-Fi shops should have a sign saying ‘this sounds great’ visible when demonstrating expensive kettle leads and oxygen free sexed cables, or they could do as now and just tell people….
    Problem I have is I want to buy a new amp and speakers, how do I avoid self and salesperson deception.

    This doesn’t prove kettle leads are bullocks but it is pretty conclusive evidence of the need for blind testing for those who still believe they can be objective.

    BTW there is a difference between subjectivity, such as liking ABBA and suggestion, hearing a kettle sing Waterloo.

    So in response to last poster, go do, check out Stairway to Heaven!

  71. John hififan said,

    September 6, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    Music is one of the great pleasures in life, everyone listens to it in one form or another. From the first caveman beating a log, to music in the space station. People play music and dance to music, its enjoyable. So in your life of what 80 years, how much resource are you going to devote to music? £50 £500 maybe £15000. How much resource have you devoted to your car, your watch, your stamp collection? My point is that music is worth a lot and a £30 punt on a cable isn’t a big deal when it could(will) improve your life.

    Anyway back to the subject, I do have these cables and I can hear a difference and it was worth the risk. In short you owe it to yourself to at least give it a go. One thing Russ Andrews does offer is a money back guarantee if you don’t think it makes a difference.
    Quite appart from RFI, the cables are actually rated at 13 amps, and will carry more. The bog standard freebie cables are mosty 5amps if your lucky. Now before anyone says music doesnt require more than 5amps, it takes a lot of power to really grip a speaker cone of any size, it may just be for a microsecond but I bet you could hear that. Anything less and all the transients are being averaged out. Most people can tell the difference between a tinny radio sound and a live concert. On the subject of RFI, how good is your earth connection, if there’s a slight resistance there, maybe 1 ohm, all your mains cables will be picking up RFI quite nicely, your amp will be poluted by it, and it will get into the feedback circuits to your amp, ok its rfi and you can’t hear it, but your speakers and crossover circuits are being corrupted by it and that could impact what you hear. Ok a lot of vague terminology above.

    If you dont listen to music much have you thought that it may be because its had the life, rythm, timing etc removed from it by RFI, and it distorts which is the thing that makes you grimace and turn it down. Spend some real money on hifi and maybe even try the cable, you might find suddenly you start to enjoy music from your hifi again and I hope you do.

  72. clothear said,

    October 9, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    I don’t know if I am around two years late to make a comment,but I’d like to ask John Hankinson a simple question.If you need a double blind ABX test to tell the diference between a good huge speaker and a good miniature speaker,then it is certain that you’ll never be able to tell any diferences between cables,power,interconnect or speaker cable.If cables,amps,cartridges,cd players etc…. make no diference,then why LP’s,cd’s sound sometimes good and other times not so good?If my smelling as a smoker is not good(and that is true)it doesn’t mean that my house is not on fire just because I can’t smell the smoke.Are we sure that our hearing is in peak condition?A friend of mine,agreed with my comments on the diference between power cables after he had his ears cleaned :-)

  73. Kit Homes - Why Choose Vinyl Deck Railing? - The Blog Planet said,

    July 15, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    [...] Kettle Lead – Bad Science [...]

  74. marktheharp said,

    October 30, 2009 at 10:56 am

    @clothear comment 74

    A year after yours! Just wondering if you understood John Hankinson’s comment or read it properly, but I don’t think you did. What he was saying was that his father tested two different AMPLIFIERS – they were all driving the same model of loudspeaker. People couldn’t tell the difference between the sound produced by the speakers whether they were driven by the expensive or the cheaper amplifiers – they were the same speakers both times!

  75. RationalAtheist said,

    December 15, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    I am an electronics engineer, and I have had a few debates similar to this over the years with various peddlers of snake-oil magic cables – I see it as a kind of fun sport to see just how much ridiculous nonsense I can make them say.

    I blame education. Science should be compulsory, and maybe then these companies would be able to fool so many people.

    I have a theory of my own regarding why some people might think that magic cables make a difference. What if the mere fact that someone has paid an obscene amount of money for a cable is enough to stimulate certain pleasure hormones in the brain, which increase the listening pleasure. A study could easily be devised using identical cables that are perceived to have a cost difference.

    Another factor is that if you were stupid enough to pay this sort of cash for a cable, then you are very likely to perpetuate the myth in order to not admit being so stupid.

    Yet another factor is that you boast to all you friends that paid ££stupidamount for a cable so that they might think you were wealthy and a serious hi-fi nut – assuming that they too were stupid enough to not realise its a big hoax.