I Think We’ve Got A Lead…

January 14th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, bad science, Hi-Fi, references, statistics, very basic science | 113 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday January 14, 2006
The Guardian

Ok, hold on to your girlfriends, because this time we get seriously geeky. Last week we were talking about hi-fi company Russ Andrews, and their £30 power cable, which they reckon will improve the sound of your stereo. It’s not a speaker cable, or a even a posh cable connecting your CD player to your amp. It’s a power cable, from the wall socket to your hi-fi, a bit like a kettle lead.

I expressed doubts that this would do much good. It turned out it was just the tip of the power lead iceberg. Russ Andrews have another one for £140. Stone Audio will sell you the “Super Mains 25 HARDLINK Polished Rhodium Plated UK 13A Supergrip Plug” for £150. And Cheshire Audio will sell you the “Experience Mains 32a – possibly the ultimate mains lead” for a modest £470, although they don’t make any specific claims about sound quality.

Now, interestingly, since last week, Russ Andrews have written in to explain how they believe their cable will filter out radio interference in the power supply, and so improve the sound of your stereo. Pay attention. They say their power cable has “a woven profile which takes advantage of the known effect of capacitive RFI cancellation of crossing wires, with the longer the cable and the more crossings in the weave, the more cancellation”.

Basically, what they are saying is, that the twists in the cable mean it acts like an electronic component called a capacitor. There is a geeky explanation for why this might filter out radio frequencies (to keep the pedants happy) and a simpler one (for those of you with a sex life).

The geeks’ explanation, which I honestly suggest you ignore, is this: a capacitor will allow higher frequencies, like radio frequencies, to pass through it, and go to ground. That is, it will “short them out”, take them off out of the cable, but will not affect the lower frequencies. I’d love to explain more about the fascinating subject of “capacitative reactance” to you on the news pages of a national newspaper, but I’d get the sack, and they’d probably give my job to the person who writes Ask Emma.

So here is a simpler explanation. You could think of this system as being a bit like suspension on a car: small, quick, one-inch-tall bumps will get filtered out by the springs in your suspension; but when you drive over a 200-yard-long one-inch-tall platform, your car does lift up into the air by an inch, while you’re driving over it.

The radio frequency interference can be thought of as very quick small bumps in the electricity supply, maybe a million little bumps every second, which a capacitor could filter out; but the mains supply also has big wide humps going up and down very slowly, only 50 times every second (the “50Hz” of the mains supply), which are necessary for your equipment to work, but which the capacitor won’t be able to affect, because they’re going up and down too slowly.

That’s the theory. But there are two problems with this. First, the people selling these cables are hardly the first people to notice that radio frequency interference in the mains power might mess up the sound of your hi-fi, so the power supply in your equipment will be chock full of all kinds of deliberate tricks to filter it out, and they are a lot better than a Boy Scout improvised capacitor made from a twisted bit of wire.

Then there is the most important issue. Forget the theory, however damning: can anyone hear a difference? I don’t mean, can you “hear” it when you know how much it costs, and you know you’re using it, and you know what you ought to hear.

No. What I want to know is: can you tell the difference between a £400 cable, a £30 cable, and a £1.50 cable, if you don’t know which one is being used at the time? That is a double blind trial. That is what I plan to do, and I need hi-fi reviewers and pedlars: so far I have two promises, but I need more. It will take an afternoon, but it will be worth it, and I’ll make sure it gets published somewhere. And if nobody volunteers I shall start choosing subjects myself. My email address is below.

· Send your bad science to bad.science@guardian.co.uk


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113 Responses



  1. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 14, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    I just got this email.

    > just because you understand physics does not mean you don’t get any sex.
    >
    > Frankly I’m surprised that YOU have gone down that road.
    >
    > I ask you to try not to perpetuate the media stereotypes about physics
    > and physicists, you may or may not realise (you ought to, what with
    > departments closing all over the place) that recruitment in the UK, my
    > home, is a bit of a problem and your comments do not really help.

    He’s absolutely right, this is exactly the kind of thing I’m usually against. I feel bad now.

  2. Simon Rumble said,

    January 14, 2006 at 2:21 pm

    Fab article. So essentially what they’re saying is their expensive cable is doing what a 10p capacitor will do? High tek!

    I’ll happily be a guinea pig for an afternoon hearing the “difference”. Or help run the blinding or whatever, if need be. I guess you’ll be needing a few different styles and types of music: loud and complex, quiet and minimal. Philip Glass for the former, Bach for the latter? You’ll want SACDs of the music in any case, for maximum quality.

  3. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 14, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    if anyone’s interested there’s a 15 page (and counting) battle about this article going on at:

    www.hifiwigwam.com/forum1/2806-13.html

    i posted my proposed testing protocol in the discussion (and below for comments).

    If you’re going to go there, it’s only fair to warn you, they’re all a bit hot under the collar about this.


    hello.

    just to clarify, i am dubious that these power cables will make a discernible difference, but i am well up for organising an afternoon test in london, some time in the next few months.

    the “listeners” i’d like to have are:

    * power cable manufacturers

    * power cable dealers

    * hifi magazine reviewers who have given power cables high praise.

    the testing protocol will be simple, anything that will work as a double blind control trial, and i’m willing to discuss the testing protocol with the participants. i think the two best methods would be:

    1. we alternate between three different types of power cable, and the listeners give them marks out of ten.

    2. we test cables in pairs, either two diferrent cables, or two identical ones, and listeners have to say if they are the same or different.

    the stats will be pretty rudimentary and simple, and we will do the figures on the aggregated scores from everyone in the group, which is why it is important that they are all guaranteed good listeners.

    the reason for that is, stats fans, if we do a subgroup analysis, or do separate figures for an individual listener, we will have to correct for multiple comparisons to reduce the risk of false positives, and then people might start complaining that statistics are voodoo.

    so, if there are any manufacturers, dealers, or hifi mag people here, please email me, bad.science@guardian.co.uk.

    please also do encourage your favourite dealers/manufacturers/reviewers to come forward, as it’s clearly in everyone’s interests that we have the best possible listeners.

    ben goldacre

  4. JohnD said,

    January 14, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    Keep going for it Ben!

    And, I love the idea of you swapping with Ask Emma Mitchell.
    You write each others column for a week, on a subject defined by the original column owner.
    Not a double blind, but definitely a cross-over trial!

    John

  5. MikeW said,

    January 14, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    Couldn’t a test of quality be performed using oscilloscopes?

    I don’t see the benefit of blinding people to find the best stereo cable.

  6. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 14, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    1. the claim is that there is a change in listening quality, so it is reasonable to test this rather than a surrgoate outcome like an oscilloscope change.

    2. if you do find a subtle difference on oscilloscope measurement, of whatever kind, (which if you looked hard enough you could probably find between two different examples of identical electronic components) you’d have to do the tests anyway.

    3. the hifi buffs who hear a difference will still say they hear a difference, whatever the oscilloscope results, so mesauring their ability to hear a difference is the only way to assess this.

  7. Fred Blogs said,

    January 14, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but isn’t a twisted piece of cable an inductor not a capacitor? A capacitor would be made from two plates of metal with an insulator sandwiched in between. This is important because they work differently.

  8. Electronic Nerd With Girlfriend said,

    January 14, 2006 at 4:00 pm

    In the formulae a capacitor is basically the inverse of an inductor, you swap around the figures.

    The effect of the system, or the circuit, and the idea of it acting as a filter, is basically the same, like suspension.

    Inductors could be used to make filters a lot more, but as a component they’re too big to really be practical.

    The cable, through its inductance, probably won’t be a very good filter, either, for reasons stated by various people on the previous post.

  9. Pointless Form Filling said,

    January 14, 2006 at 5:05 pm

    I thought a double-blind trial required not just the listener to be ignorant of which lead was which, but also the experimenter who sits the listener down, asks him to listen and write his responses on a piece of paper, etc.

  10. oharar said,

    January 14, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    “the reason for that is, stats fans, if we do a subgroup analysis, or do separate figures for an individual listener, we will have to correct for multiple comparisons to reduce the risk of false positives, and then people might start complaining that statistics are voodoo.”

    Ben, we stats freaks are way ahead of you: have you heard of hierarchical models? They’re all the rage in statistics (well, bits of it. Like my office). We can explicitly account for the variation between individuals, and estimate an overall difference between cables.

    I’d be happy to help with the statistical analyses: they should be easy if you’ve designed the experiment correctly.

    Bob

  11. BSM said,

    January 14, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    “I don’t see the benefit of blinding people to find the best stereo cable. ”

    Yuk!

    And think of the cost in guide dogs.

  12. Frank said,

    January 14, 2006 at 10:00 pm

    Ben,

    frankly said, I think you are wasting your time with this people. They WANT to believe. No fact, no experiment in the word will convince them that their religion is faulty. It just can’t be for them.

    They will find thousands of reasons why your experiment was incorrect. Some will claim that the colour of the wall paper impaired their hearing. Others will claim that there was an uncontrolled low-frequency interference from a nearby karaoke bar. Nothing will be too cheap to serve as an excuse. You bribed the testers, you swaped the cables, the earth magnet field distorted the power transmission. You name it, they will claim it.

  13. Gavin said,

    January 15, 2006 at 12:32 am

    Be careful how you select your test subjects – the people who read this article and volunteer are likely to be the skeptical sort who will not expect to hear a difference. Perhaps you could drag in some people off the street and ask them to participate in exchange for a fiver and a cup of tea and biscuits.

  14. Stig Carlsson said,

    January 15, 2006 at 2:10 am

    HRRRUMPH, When it comes to power cables you’ll have to know that in my personal experience it Does make a difference in sound quality in power leads to Power Amps if they at least to have larger leader areas;and shielded too, because it will somewhat ease temporarily greater power demands and shield from some of the interference from nearby and parallel power and signal cables, and in turn, shield them from theirs.
    You’ll have to put a net filter between your mains outlet and your electronic equipment to shield from powernet “spikes in demand”. This is because of their sensitivity to very small shifts in amps and voltage on the power net. Which will in some equipment; at least, make a quite hearable difference in sound quality.
    This is most important in the High end power amps and other equipment, of course, and most often because of greater frequency range.( Makes them pick up even the RF interference of old light switches, and if you ever had to time taping LP-s to a time when noboby else was in the house…. I did!) It would help to filter the power to your computer, too. In older times of computing the effect was called “bit players”, because of what they did to data, ask any old Comp Op( Damn sure no good!).
    In all other cases any cheap net filter will in various degree improve sound quality.
    NOTHING can improve Cheap shit, but higher-end stuff is usually tested in Labs with filtered and controlled power and are, even if sellers dont know it, not at their best in Your home.( Net filters are Not an option, but a Neccessity!)
    In My personal opinion, unshielded power cables ought to be banned! In the vincinity of electronics, at least……

  15. Stig Carlsson said,

    January 15, 2006 at 2:23 am

    SPEAKER CABLES; THOUGH, ARE AN RELIGION AND SHOULD NOT BE MOCKED!
    Don’ buy cheapest, and most amps and speakers take at least 2,5 mm/square leads and some even 5 mm/square or more. (I even did it to my ghetto blaster, and it sounded Much better!). Ohm’s Law, never broken…

  16. Electronic Nerd With Girlfriend said,

    January 15, 2006 at 7:26 am

    b3ta.com/questions/urbanlegends/post46318/

  17. BSM said,

    January 15, 2006 at 9:51 am

    ” frankly said, I think you are wasting your time with this people. They WANT to believe. No fact, no experiment in the word will convince them that their religion is faulty. It just can’t be for them. ”

    Isn’t it interesting how widespread this phenomenon is. It is different from a proper religion because it does apply to a testable area of human experience. But the believers can’t or won’t see that.

    It’s fascinating to watch them jump through exactly the same hoops as the alt. med. loons in order to try to lift themselves out of the snare of scientific testing. But, at the same time, all these people are keen to pay lip-service to science and parrot its jargon terms in order to sound authoritative.

    I hope that Stig will forgive me if I use his post to make my point, while saying at the outset thet he might be right, he might be wrong, I wouldn’t know, but I want to highlight the underlying mechanics of the debate;

    “HRRRUMPH, When it comes to power cables you’ll have to know that in my personal experience it”

    An appeal to personal experience is the usual starting point for many True Believers. The step that should next be inserted is openness to the possibility objective testing. If objective testing contradicts personal experience then it is the personal experience that is wrong NOT the testing. I think that a deep but fragile arrogance underlies these appeals to the primacy of human experience. There is an understandable, but mistaken, reluctance to accept the fallibility of our subjective perceptual processes.

    As we say to the homeopaths: show THAT it works, then we’ll disuss HOW it works. Instead we skip the first step and move straight on to speculations of mechanisms, each substatement of which is itself a testable hypothesis, but only worth testing if an effect has been shown in the first place. Instead we hear stuff like this;

    “Does make a difference in sound quality in power leads to Power Amps if they at least to have larger leader areas;and shielded too, because it will somewhat ease temporarily greater power demands and shield from some of the interference from nearby and parallel power and signal cables, and in turn, shield them from theirs.
    You’ll have to put a net filter between your mains outlet and your electronic equipment to shield from powernet “spikes in demand”. This is because of their sensitivity to very small shifts in amps and voltage on the power net. Which will in some equipment; at least, make a quite hearable difference in sound quality.”

    As I accepted above, this could be well-accepted and dogmatically obvious physics, I wouldn’t know. My point is about the style of such compositions rather than the lyrics of this particular song, which could be absolutely true for all I know.

    To see the parallels, insert sentences into that paragraph like- “the crystals tune the vibrations in the Earth’s magnetic fields and tune the body’s hidden resonances when pressed against the forehead. Einstein showed us that matter is energy and energy is matter. These crystals bring healing from the energy realm”. To which the only reasonable response is to say: Prove it, but only after you’ve shown that some effect is happening in the first place.

    I don’t have enough knowledge of this power cable topic to comment on the detail. All I would say is it should be obvious that if they fail ABX testing then A and B are not different, subject to the proviso that the people doing the testing are the people claiming to hear differences not a panel of deaf subjects or a tone-deaf clod like me.

    The point is to show the parallels among all unprovable pseudoscientific believes and the various clans of believers.

  18. reasonableman said,

    January 15, 2006 at 11:32 am

    I think it would be interesting to see if these things have any quantifiable effect on the output of the power supplies in an amplifier.

    I would have thought the PSU in the amplifier is basically an AC-DC converter with full wave rectification. That inherently removes high frequencies…

  19. Elmer Phudd said,

    January 15, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    haahahahahaaaaaahaa. Wow I’ve missed a lot since Xmas. Excellent. I hope all this goes ahead.

    Ben, hope you had a good holiday.

    For your listening subjects, if viable you should try to include a sample of folks who actually claim in the first instance that they can hear a difference (e.g. users that are ‘known’ on the forum…i.e. will exclude any dubious new account holders that you could be blamed for recruiting who pretend to claim a noticeable difference).

    We have to accept the possibility that hifi dealers/cable manufacturers etc. are not necessarily the people with best listening sense – cable and hifi developers may recruit ‘listeners’ during their research. Certainly, there is genetic and physiological variation that give some folks a better sense of qualities such as pitch – whether this can extend to the effects of power leads remains to be proven, and for all we know, the folks on that forum that claim to hear a difference may in fact be able to do so.

    I’m willing to bet that they don’t – I believe there is a strong psychological basis to interpreting an audible difference, which may have something to do with the subconscious approval of having just shifted 450 big ones on a mangey kettle lead.

    Anyway, I agree with the groups you have chosen already as they are the ones who sell the stuff based upon their own claims. But you should include those ‘yes’ folks as well.

    Also, as far as I’m concerned (based upon my hobbyist experience with music production), the people with the most honed and finely tuned listening senses are sound engineers who work in recording studios, whose incus, malleus and stapes are as vocationally worthy as a sprinters legs. Probably a bit excessive for your survey, but for personal interest I’d love to have them tested. Loads of studios in London…93 Feet East, Mill Hill music complex etc.

    Cheers

  20. JohnHankinson said,

    January 15, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    Are they any homeopathic preparations that claim to help with your hearing? There could be some great cross sell opportunities for these guys.

    Just in case people missed the link below I’ll include it again:

    www.machinadynamica.com/machina64.htm

    You couldn’t make this stuff up – so it must be true! ;-)

  21. Teek said,

    January 15, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    Elmer, this isn’t all you’ve missed over the last few weeks – tipe of the iceberg and all that.

    Ben, this sort of test might be tricky to carry out in such a way that most Hi-Fi enthusiasts accept that your methodology was sound (see above!), but if the above points are taken into account then i’m sure you can come up with a way of testing whether these 400 quid power leads actually give any increase in sound quality.

    good luck to you on this, keep us posted!!

    one thing is for sure though – if the cables and the mega-buck hi-fi equipment that these ‘True Believers’ use really does make a difference to the music they listen to, are the rest of us that make do with mid-range audio all musical phillistines…?! or is it better to spend the £400 quid on, oh, i dunno, something like a bleeding season ticket for the Royal Festival Hall or somewhere that live music is being played…?!!

  22. JohnHankinson said,

    January 15, 2006 at 3:13 pm

    I believe I have found the best audiophile product of them all.

    www.machinadynamica.com/machina41.htm

    Its called the Clever Little Clock. Its a clock. A battery powered clock. In fact its a repackaged normal shop bought clock with an orange sticker on it.

    And its only $199.

  23. BSM said,

    January 15, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    re: machinadynamica

    I’d heard of the GSIC disc. I think there was a Randi Challenge that ended in the usual whingeing vituperation from the claimant.

    But following your first link, I thought it was a parody rather than the site meant to be promoting the chip. Then I found that they are the same people behind “brilliant Pebbles”.

    Now, I’m not saying they absolutely can’t work but I’d be hard to convince because the sound of my laughter is likely to drown out any attempt at explanation.

  24. BSM said,

    January 15, 2006 at 6:19 pm

    Here’s the link to a thread by the GSIC claimant to the Randi Million;

    206.225.95.123/forumlive/showthread.php?t=38604

  25. avenger said,

    January 15, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    Part of audiophilia, as a clinical condition, is that you start by noticing genuine differences between pieces of audio kit that most people don’t notice, or don’t care about. If you decide to care about those differences, you find that you can’t talk about them with any of the sensible people you know. It’s then easy to slide into solipsistic self-deception, abetted by lunatics you find on the web.

    A parallel to credulity about alternative medicine is that most customers for expensive cables and whatnot don’t understand how circuits work, but are attracted to metaphorical arguments about purity, and hence manic excess: if gross amounts of EMI, RFI, or mechanical vibration are disruptive, why not spend lots of time and trouble trying to eliminate all of it? If an adequate electrical connection beats a poor one, why not buy really expensive connectors and wire? And so forth.

    Still, the worst result of all this is gullible spending by people who would probably soend foolishly on something else — it’s not going to have the same danger for health or public policy, I think, as medicine-related credulity.

    I don’t think this site has been mentioned:
    www.belt.demon.co.uk/index.html
    embraces crankery with happy enthusiasm. Their newsletters are wonderful, and they suggest things you can try for free e.g. putting photos of yourself in the freezer
    www.belt.demon.co.uk/whatamess.html

  26. Steve said,

    January 15, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    One thing I can’t work out (not being a scientist) is that even if these cables are so great, surely they only cover the very last section of your power supply’s journey to your amp in any case. If you’re really serious about this shouldn’t you have to rip and replace out the cabling in your walls that leads to the socket (and from there on to the national grid or wherever). Or am I missing something?

  27. Steve said,

    January 15, 2006 at 10:04 pm

    Ignore my last. I’ve just read the proevious article that raised exactly the same point. I feel a bit daft for not checking. (But also rather smart for coming up with the same issue asDr Goldacre)

  28. John Pollock said,

    January 16, 2006 at 1:40 am

    Hi all,

    I’m an Electronic Engineer who has worked with radios (and interference) of one sort or another for over 10 years now. I’m also very happily married thank you. It’s not incompatible with engineering you know… :)

    The key thing here that everyone has missed is that you have to look at this as a system. So time for a quick lecture on power supplies… Any halfway decent hifi will have a power supply that consists of three main functional blocks. This is the transformer, the rectifier and the filter.

    The transformer has two functions, firstly it efficiently transforms the 250V AC to something close to what is required for the unit. The second function of the transformer is cancellation of common mode noise (more of this later). A transfomer is made from two or more wires wound around a common magnetic core, arranged such as the first coil will induce current in the second. At no point do they turn into robots….

    The rectifier takes the AC (sinusoidal) waveform and reflects the negative going bit positive so you end up with a sequence of half sine waves. This usually consists of a network of diodes.

    The last section is a filter that smooths out these half sine waves and removes all the harmonics and suchlike that have been generated by the rectifier. It can then be regulated to give a good quiet DC supply that you can use.

    Any RFI coupled onto a power supply cable will couple equally onto both wires, and is termed common mode noise (see, got there) as opposed to the differental mode mains. Now any common mode signal in the primary coil will cancel out in the secondary because it is a balanced structure.

    Therefore you dont need to filter the mains cable because as soon as it gets into the box, the hifi will do it for you!

    Stig mentioned that you can filter for spikes in demand. Well when that happens is the mains either rises or falls depending on demand. 230V is the nominal value and can be anywhere in between 215V and 250V. So filtering won’t help there. And noise from fridge motors starting are more likely to be radiated into the AF section rather than conducted into the power supply. Filters are I suspect, a waste of money.

    Last week there was a mention of “Johnny Ball home science”, and in that spirit I did a little experiment. I used my stereo (separates, a Yamaha amp and a Marrantz CD player) and a couple of handy RFI generators (two mobile phones, one on Orange, the other on O2) to see if I could generate any fun noises. I placed the phones on top of the common power cable feeding both units, and called one phone from the other. Now guess what, not a cheep. No noises at all. Didn’t matter if music was playing, or just sitting idle. Even turned it all the way up. Zilch.

    I also had a quick look at the Kimber cables website (www.kimber.com) and amongst all their sales hype is the line “KIMBER KABLE products are created using our own OSCaR engineering process. OSCaR stands for Objective Subjective Correlation and Results.” In other words they don’t even try to be scientific about things…..

    Cheers
    John

  29. Hanne said,

    January 16, 2006 at 9:38 am

    re: Machina Dynamica’s Clever Little Clock

    “The Clever Little Clock should not be re-set or adjusted in any way. ”

    Bugger! So you mean we can’t adjust for Daylight Savings Time and use it for what it actually is?!

  30. David S said,

    January 16, 2006 at 9:49 am

    Still recovering from the OSCaR Bit in the post 28 … Genius or what!

    Anyway…
    I recall reading the following snippet of conversation betweeen a HiFi journalist and a very senior engineer person from a major high end British audio manufacturer (name removed in case I got the wrong one – it’s a while back now). At a major HiFi show they were demonstrating some rather nice, rather expensive speakers that they had just launched (as an aside – that narrows the field of British HiFi manufacturers somewhat) and the Journo noted the rather chunky, rather thick, orange coloured speaker cable running between the amplifier and the speakers. The speakers were sounding very nice by the way. After commenting on the speakers, the journo enquired about the exotic looking cable that was connecting them to the amp. What manner of expensive esoterica was it?

    “Ah yes”, said the very important engineer person from the high end British HiFi company, “erm, we left our speaker cable back at the office unfortunately so we had to pick something up locally”. “Where? said the Journo. “Erm, we went across the road to the local DIY store and picked up 20 metres of heavy duty extension cable for garden use. It had some nice thick copper wire in it which we thought would do the trick. Sounds good doesn’t it.”

    My local DIY store sells such cable for about a tenner. I can confirm that it sounds good. Kudos to the Journo for having the guts to report the conversation as well. Alas I cannot recall which of the major HiFi mags printed it.

    Cheers

    David

  31. BorisTheChemist said,

    January 16, 2006 at 11:33 am

    “I just got this email.

    > just because you understand physics does not mean you don’t get any sex.
    >
    > Frankly I’m surprised that YOU have gone down that road.
    >
    > I ask you to try not to perpetuate the media stereotypes about physics
    > and physicists, you may or may not realise (you ought to, what with
    > departments closing all over the place) that recruitment in the UK, my
    > home, is a bit of a problem and your comments do not really help.

    He’s absolutely right, this is exactly the kind of thing I’m usually against. I feel bad now.”

    I wouldn’t worry about this, Ben. Despite this emailers protestations to the contrary, physics graduates and postgraduates are in high demand in many sectors including the city – not the usual home for a geek!

  32. GWO said,

    January 16, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    Largely Off Topic, but was in Saturday’s Guardian:

    I made 3 or 4 attempts to read the piece about Big Pharma in the Guardian’s magazine, but still have no idea what the writer objected to, or whether she actually understood that for a drug to be approved they must perform significantly better than placebo.

    Am I being obtuse, or was it just claptrap?

  33. Ian said,

    January 16, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    from John Pollock:
    >Last week there was a mention of “Johnny Ball home science”, and in that spirit I >did a little experiment. I used my stereo (separates, a Yamaha amp and a Marrantz >CD player) and a couple of handy RFI generators (two mobile phones, one on >Orange, the other on O2) to see if I could generate any fun noises. I placed the >phones on top of the common power cable feeding both units, and called one >phone from the other. Now guess what, not a cheep. No noises at all. Didn’t matter >if music was playing, or just sitting idle. Even turned it all the way up. Zilch.

    Offtopic I know, but when I receive a text or someone calls my phone while in the car, the sound from the music buzzes for a moment – even when it’s playing a tape not the radio. It also happens now and again while driving, for no obvious reason – I’ve always assumed it was that I was moving from one cell to another. Interference, I assume, but how?

    Ian

    (Sitting back to watch the fun and just glad that I’ve always bought cheap audio equipment)

  34. outeast said,

    January 16, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    Wouldn’t it be better to recruit people who don’t have a clue what part of the equipment you are testing? That would help protect against false negatives, too – that is, the risk that some people might be averse to accepting that a cable can make a difference. If you simply told your test subjects that you were testing ‘audio equipment’ this prejudice would not affect the findings.

  35. John Ellis said,

    January 16, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    I think, following comments on recruiting unbiased people, is that you need to have ‘real’ positive outcomes in the experiment. Otherwise people could just say ‘no difference’ to everything.

    You could, say, play the same track recorded multiple times at different qualities, such as mp3 bitrates. You play these in a random order, also randomly using the woofty cable and an ordinary one. Then people should notice genuine differences in the sound quality, but if the cable is unimportant that should only correlate with the change in recording quality.

    The test subjects will not know however what is causing the quality change, so will not be able to apply any bias they have in favour or against the cable, subconciously or otherwise.

  36. Matthew said,

    January 16, 2006 at 4:05 pm

    If possible, I would let the “listeners” choose the audio hardware. One often hears the saying that if your (insert hardware) is cheap then you wont get the benefits of the new cable (or hardware).

  37. GWO said,

    January 16, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    I don’t see why we need to recruit unbiased. Get audiophiles who believe they can hear the difference. This is marketed at them, so test it on them. No-one has suggested a cloth-eared goon like myself should be able to tell the difference.

    If they can tell the difference, fair enough. If they can’t, that’ll satisfy everyone.

  38. Hatter said,

    January 16, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    Audiofools and their money are soon parted.

    I recall some Hi-Fi magazine double-blind testing invalid for audio when such a test failed to find any audible difference between amplifiers they just know sound different.

    From what I’ve heard listening to modern equipment and know about the state of amplification and audio components, the only part of the system that makes a huge difference is speakers (and I expect over time that this will level off as state-of-the-art speakers get cheaper and cheaper to make). Any decent amplifier with basic components, including cheap, but well-made cable, will do. You don’t need particularly thick wire for speaker cable either.

    If I didn’t have an honest streak I’d get into audio cable manufacture.

    If your electronics are put together properly fluctuations in mains power should never be reflected inside the amplifier (unless those fluctuations are huge).

  39. John Pollock said,

    January 16, 2006 at 5:06 pm

    “Offtopic I know, but when I receive a text or someone calls my phone while in the car, the sound from the music buzzes for a moment – even when it’s playing a tape not the radio. It also happens now and again while driving, for no obvious reason – I’ve always assumed it was that I was moving from one cell to another. Interference, I assume, but how?”

    It’s RF from the phone (probably) coupling onto the speaker cables, which aren’t shielded. You hear the buzz as phones switch the RF at audio frequencies. And you are spot on it can happen when switching between cells.

    Cheers
    John

  40. Peter Antonioni said,

    January 16, 2006 at 6:03 pm

    Hi,

    I’m not an audiophile, but I used to moonlight with the odd studio job. I also have a girlfriend, whose name escapes me for the moment, with whom I discussed this article, and basically the way I see it is that it’s a pretty low priority on the scale of things likely to affect your listening experience even if a qualitative difference can be heard, and in general I’d feel very reluctant to go out on a limb and say that I’ve ever picked one up, which may be the reason why I’m not a professional or an audiophile.

    Stuff like speaker placement, having bright or dark acoustics around you even bolting your speakers to the floor yes. They’re all pretty cheap ways to improve sound quality. For heavens sake, cleaning your disks works wonders! (although I’ve tested this and I know many people who still can’t tell a difference)

    On the other hand, I did find I got lots of RF from cheap guitar leads and less from better ones, without prejudice to the power supply.

    So I suppose what it comes down to is a test of sensory acuity. as much as anything else.

    Cheers for the great column,

    Peter

  41. Andy said,

    January 16, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    If I may suggest some additional testing:
    For each power cable it would be interesting to measure the resistance, capacitance and inductance of the cable. That way we would all know which size capacitor to solder on to the power cable to improve out HiFi.
    Alternatively inject a signal at 500Hz, 2kHz (two reasonable audio frequencies), 1MHz and 100MHz (to give us a couple of radio frequencies) on one end of the mains cable and measure it’s amplitude at the other end. That would give you a good idea of the attenuation of each cable at different frequencies.

    Ideally you would find someone with an RFI test lab and some free time, immunity to radiated RF is part of the CE certification and I’m sure any lab with the equipment to run that test would also be equipped to measure the amount of audio frequency energy that makes it onto the speaker outputs. Unfortunatly time in that sort of lab tends to be rather expensive.

  42. Fontwell said,

    January 16, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    There may be another more proactive way to test the ability of these leads to reject RF. Someone could knock up a power supply unit as described by John Pollock in post 28 but leave out the filtering and regulation. This should make the PSU completely ‘unprotected’ from RF attack.

    Then AC-couple a speaker directly across the PSU output. It will sound awful due to the noise made by 50Hz rectification but never mind, perhaps a 100Hz notch filter could be added. Next – and here is the clever bit – intentionally introduce a stupendously large RF interference signal modulated at AF into the mains feed. This could be either by cunningly adding it directly to the mains supply before the lead or just by radiation through the air.

    I’m really not exactly sure what the result would be but there are four broad sweep possible outcomes…

    1) The interference signal is detectable using either lead. – Not much point in buying the expensive lead then.

    2) The interference signal is not detectable using either lead. – Not much point buying the expensive lead then, particularly because we have made sure to have more RF interference than would ever occur in a normal situation.

    3) The expensive lead significantly reduces the interference compared to the cheap lead. – Hat off, knife and fork at the ready.

    4) The cheap lead significantly reduces the interference compared to the expensive lead. – This would be just too much to hope for.

    However, I am already expecting to be told that you can’t test it this way because…

    And another thing but on the same lines, these leads are for reducing RF. Now I know that big capacitors are handy for keep the PSU up to voltage during those long loud bass notes and filtering is really required but if we are talking about filtering RF then surely we can only be talking about noise (and not supply droop). That is to say, the best test is to not play any music at all and just listen to the background ‘silence’ when nothing is playing. You don’t need to magic ears to do that test, you just need ears.

    However, I am already expecting to be told that you can’t test it this way because…

  43. Fontwell said,

    January 16, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    I didn’t refresh to see Andy’s comment before I posted – we are thinking along the same lines.

  44. Jo said,

    January 17, 2006 at 9:07 am

    I’ve been using foam ear plugs to keep my ears in tip top condition for this sound test, can I sign up? Jo

  45. JohnHankinson said,

    January 17, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    There’s been quite a lot of talk about how it doesn’t matter if this audiophile stuff really is nonsense, since the people buying it want to and enjoy it. I myself have some level of agreement with this perspective.

    However, to balance this view, its worth reading the “A Call to Harms” section of Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy article on Astronomy:

    www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/astrology.html#harm

    I’m not saying I’m quite as upset as he is, but I do see the point. Where do you draw the line? After all, homeopathy by definition can’t harm anyone directly…

  46. Fontwell said,

    January 17, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    ohn “…all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women] do nothing.”

    Evil for me is uncritical thinking. The context of HiFi or having your cancer treated by fairy dust doesn’t matter as much as the mindset. If you can get people to be rational in first place over things that don’t matter, like HiFi, then they are far more likely to be rational when they get cancer and some woo-peddler comes along.

  47. PK said,

    January 17, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    “I also have a girlfriend, whose name escapes me for the moment”

    Yeah, a good scientific conundrum does have that effect… ;-)

  48. Dunc said,

    January 17, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    But there are two problems with this. First, the people selling these cables are hardly the first people to notice that radio frequency interference in the mains power might mess up the sound of your hi-fi, so the power supply in your equipment will be chock full of all kinds of deliberate tricks to filter it out

    That’s a completely unfounded assumption. You can’t buy a decent mains transformer for the build cost of many low-end integrated systems. Cheap wall-wart trannies and absolutely minimum filtering are the order of the day, unless you’re spending some serious cash. To build a half-decent mains filter from parts is about 50-100 quid minimum (at retail prices anyway).

    As John Pollack (#28) says, induced noise in the power cable is common-mode, and most half-decent power supplies are pretty good at common-mode rejection. There are still plenty of less-than-half-decent PSUs out there though, and even the best doesn’t have a prefect CMRR.

    But if it’s mains filtering you want, there definitely are much better ways of going about it than trick cables. The same money on a couple of X / Y class capacitors and a VDR will give you a useable active filter.

    And to Fontwell: you can’t necessarily test it that way because the standard claim is that RFI causes intermodulation distortion when combined with a musical signal. So you need to have something to intermodulate. Another audiopfile staple is the idea that the human ear can detect subtle imperfections in music more effectively than noise. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable – like how you can easily recognise minor differences in human faces, but not in the faces of other animals, even though the variation may be objectively greater.

    Just do the double-blind test already! Anything else is like ancient Greek philosophers discussing physics…

  49. GWO said,

    January 17, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    You can’t buy a decent mains transformer for the build cost of many low-end integrated systems.

    No-one’s talking about these things in the context of low-end integrated systems. Even low-end separates systems tend to have half-decent PSUs and filtering. And no-one’s buying a £40 cable for an £90 integrated hi-fi (assuming the cable wasn’t hard-wired anyway).

    I think it’s safe to assume that someone thinking of buying a £40 power cable, has spent at least £200 on the amplifier into which they intend to plug it.

  50. Paul Driscoll said,

    January 17, 2006 at 11:03 pm

    Is it possible to the negative control experiment (sorry, I am a biochemist) and do away the mains supply altogether? And then see if the audiophiles, or those with the appropriate sensory acuity, can tell the difference. I.e. run the amp off some form of DC/battery?

    Going off topic again, I am an NMR spectroscopist actually and should know a thing about RF, but us life scientists only really need to interpret the data – not always know where every electron is when. I understand that most parts of our (very sensitive) equipment are properly screened in double-wound co-axial cable, but I have heard it said that you can pick up radio stations. Seems not to affect the measurment of those dipolar couplings between specific atomic nuclei on the microscopic (sub nanometer) scale. However what made me think to ask the question above, was conjoining comments 33 & 39 above and extrapolating (dangerous I know – I have to teach extracting Vmax from the Michealis-Menten curve — Ben might get this, if no-one else does): I get the mobile phone interference on the radio in the car, but — and getting back to the principal hi-fi question — I don’t have that problem on my MP3 player even when the phone and player are in the same coat pocket. The player is DC powered device, and the headphone connections are unscreened….?

    Actually take no notice: I just got an evening off from marking and paper and grant reviewing. Thought to look whether Dr Goldacre had a web-site. I clearly have been missing a lot. But having been on the wrong end of Public Understanding of Science Initiatives (what are schools, colleges and universities for?) I declare that I have found my spiritual home at last.

  51. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 17, 2006 at 11:31 pm

    I always want to hear about stupid Public Understanding of Science initiatives.

    Here or in private.

    In fact, I demand to be told stupid Public Understanding of Science initiative stories.

  52. David said,

    January 18, 2006 at 1:02 am

    Has anyone here heard of EMC(electromagnetic compatibility) testing? There are standards for testing products which said products are required to meet to be sold in most EU countries. These are EN and ISO standards. They cover a broad range of topics, from humidity and temperature cycling, HALT, to ESD requirements.

    Specifically, I would like to mention 2 standards. EN 61000-4-3 and EN 61000-4-6.

    4-6 is a conducted immunity/susceptibility standard. Essentially, any cable greater than 3 meters is required to have RF noise of the frequencies 150kHz to 80 Mhz injected onto the cable. This includes signal cables and mains cables. Any degredation in performance will result in a failure.

    4-3 is a radiated immunity/susceptibility standard. RF between 80 MHz and 1000 MHz are radiated onto the device and cables. Again, any degredation in performance is considered a failure.

    Most commercial electronics should have already been tested to these standards to be sold in the EU. In the US, there is no specific requirement for immunity, only emissions.

  53. Andy said,

    January 18, 2006 at 6:11 am

    David,

    I agree with your comments that all HiFi equipment on sale will have passed the CE mark testing required to sell electronic equipment within the EU. I would even expect the vast majority of equipment in the US to have passed the test; most equipment is designed for the global market these days. As I commented on last week’s story, I’ve done enough of this testing myself in the past.

    However there are two problems with the testing being applicable in this situation: Firstly the field strengths involved in the radiated immunity are 3 V/m, hardly a strenuous test and secondly the pass/fail requirement is that the device continues to operate, a slight distortion or demodulation of the radiated noise would not result in a fail. Test labs are not the best acoustic environment, people probably wouldn’t even notice unless there was a gross distortion to the sound.
    In previous conversations with the engineers at several labs I’ve asked if they see many failures on these tests, they have often tested several products a week for years and never seen a single failure on the radiated immunity test.
    Now some of the automotive and military specifications which call for fields one or two orders of magnitude stronger are a different matter but no one is going to test a HiFi to those standards, few test labs can even reach a field strength that high.

    On the conducted emissions/immunity testing the same applies; a mild distortion is not going to result in a product failing, as long as you can still hear the music the equipment is still functioning correctly and passes. Plus if you were to check you would find that just about all cables supplied with equipment in the EU are 2.9 meters or less, it’s easier and cheaper than running the tests.

    However as I commented previously such a test lab would be the ideal place to test out these cables, they would have the equipment needed to perform some calibrated and highly sensitive measurements of the claimed effect of a £40 mains cable. If you happen to know a UK lab which is willing to donate half a day or a days worth of time and equipment for these tests I’m sure Ben would be very happy to hear about it ;-)

  54. Jon said,

    January 18, 2006 at 12:31 pm

    Check out these – www.virtualdynamics.ca/products/ASR/ – starting price $2k for the ‘platinum’ version… They provide a great report which “measures and verifies the influence of the Resonators” as well (the fact they spell ‘repport’ incorrectly on the first page is a good marker of the quality of the rest of the document…) – www.virtualdynamics.ca/lit/Acoustic%20V0%201.pdf

    Makes a £40 mains cable seem a great investment ;)

  55. Dunc said,

    January 18, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    [blockquote]Even low-end separates systems tend to have half-decent PSUs and filtering. And no-one’s buying a £40 cable for an £90 integrated hi-fi (assuming the cable wasn’t hard-wired anyway).

    [...]

    I think it’s safe to assume that someone thinking of buying a £40 power cable, has spent at least £200 on the amplifier into which they intend to plug it.[/blockquote]

    We have different ideas of what “low-end” means… ;) A £200 amp will probably have a construction cost of less than £50, which I’m not convinced is enough to build you a decent PSU.

    Assuming that something is well made because you paid a decent amount for it is kinda like assuming science journalism is accurate because it’s in a “quality” paper. ;) Most commercially-produced hi-fi equipment is pants, IMHO.

  56. GWO said,

    January 18, 2006 at 12:52 pm

    A £200 amp will probably have a construction cost of less than £50, which I’m not convinced is enough to build you a decent PSU.

    It seems we have different ideas of what “integrated” means, too.

  57. Delster said,

    January 18, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Thanks Andy, at least we now know why the cables are always just that little bit too b*&%*y short

    this is an interesting article on freezing Cd’s and audio tapes to improve the sound quality www.belt.demon.co.uk/tfs.html

    it even claims that if you put a previously frozen tape into a machine and then play the CD then the CD will sound better….. anybody feel like a bit of bashing on that one?? or would that be too easy?

  58. David said,

    January 18, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    Andy,

    I can’t really disagree with any of the points you stated. Being an engineer at one of said testing facilities, you are spot on with most of it. The acoustics are not very good in most of our test areas. 3 V/m for radiated, and 3 V for conducted are not very high test levels.

    Two things I will take issue with though; namely, during EN testing radiated immunity testing has the second highest failure rate of any tests we run(behind ESD). We may not see a failure every week, but they are not rare. Also, conducted immunity is always tested for mains cables. The thinking is that since you’re plugging into a wall outlet with miles of cabling behind it, that constitutes the 3 meter requirement.

    I would be glad to help in testing out these claims, but I don’t think Ben wants to fly to Minnesota(plus I’ve been working 12 hour days the past few weeks).

  59. JohnHankinson said,

    January 19, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    All the techniques for improving CD quality (pen, freezing, stickers and other bullsh1t) are easily disproved, even without a listening test. Its a digital medium, so all you do is look at this bits as they come off the disk (16-bit PCM @ 44.1KHz so a 88.2KBps stream) and compare against the original bit stream.

    In fact this is common practice when mastering from one media to another in any audio mastering facility so that you are sure there are no digital errors during transfer.

    To cut a long story short, all these CD enhancement tricks are complete balls – any anyone with any basic knowledge of digital audio should be able to see this.

  60. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 19, 2006 at 12:36 pm

    am i alone in thinking that gold plated optical cables are properly, PROPERLY ridiculous?

  61. JohnHankinson said,

    January 19, 2006 at 5:20 pm

    Ben, you are not alone – they are ridiculous, but on the other hand they are very shiny and quite amusing – so not all bad then.

    Of course I could say, “the Quantium coherence effect in certain highly polished rare metallic elements is such that the refraction index of an optical medium can be greatly enhanced when the metallic element is present, especially where the medium interfaces with air. Hence gold plating an optical cable is not an invalid concept.”

    I would be talking bollocks, but that doesn’t stop me saying does it?

  62. Andy said,

    January 19, 2006 at 5:48 pm

    Gold plated optical cables make about as much sense as the sales pitch that a gold plated USB cable to you printer will result in sharper photo prints.
    Why let logic get in the way of a larger profit margin?

  63. Fontwell said,

    January 19, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    “the Quantium coherence effect …”

    One indicator that a field is completely without merit is when you cannot tell the difference between a pastiche and the real thing.

  64. JohnHankinson said,

    January 19, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    “One indicator that a field is completely without merit is when you cannot tell the difference between a pastiche and the real thing.”

    The irony being that if you find yourself in this position, you wouldn’t know it was a pastiche!

    Is there such a thing as a “cornish pastiche”? I quite like the idea of that….

  65. Fontwell said,

    January 19, 2006 at 9:16 pm

    “The irony being that if you find yourself in this position, you wouldn’t know it was a pastiche!”

    Exactly. I bet that if you put your Quantium Coherence Effect post in the right forum it would be taken seriously. Which gives me an idea…

  66. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 19, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    go, baby, go…

  67. Squander Two said,

    January 20, 2006 at 10:03 am

    That Hi-fi Wigwam forum is hilarious. You write an article suggesting that a scientific claim be tested, and they accuse you of rubbishing the claim without first testing it. I like the bit, too, where they say that your article was poorly researched because you only suggested testing a manufacturer’s claim about one of their products and failed to mention every single thing that manufacturer produces. I really hope your tests prove them wrong, just so I can enjoy reading their insane reactions.

    One major factor that hi-fi fanatics never take into account is that most record producers deliberately test their recordings on cheap crappy all-in-one players with tinny speakers to make sure that the finished product sounds good no matter what you listen to it on. Yes, high-end hi-fis will reveal subtleties in the sound, but not important ones: if the musicians like a particular detail of the sound, they make damn sure that it’s brought out in the mix so that it can be heard on cheap crap.

  68. JohnHankinson said,

    January 20, 2006 at 4:05 pm

    Its funny because I was chatting to my dad about this, and he posed me a simple question:

    “What do you think sound engineers in a studio do when a cable fails or a length of cabling is needed?”

    Now i’m sure this isn’t true all the time, but I know from my IT experience that when a network cable breaks, you don’t pop down the shops for a new one – you simply get out a cable spool, two RJ-45 connectors and a crimping tool and make one yourself. Its cheaper and quicker and you get a decent, working cable out of it.

    According to my dad (who should know), this practice is also standard in recording studios and mastering facilities. So if the cable used there is cheap but solid home-made stuff, why on earth would using an audiophile interconnect help on playing back the shop bought product.

    And as for power leads, you should see the big cardboard box in the cupboard they have full of old kettle leads. I can tell you none of them are anything but standard cables – some may even have come from kettles.

  69. Andy said,

    January 20, 2006 at 5:23 pm

    Now I understand where we are all going wrong.
    Apparently blind tests hide differences which you can hear if you know what you are listening to.

    “But when you have taken part in a number of these blind tests and experienced how two amplifiers you know from personal experience to sound extremely different can still fail to be identified under blind conditions, then perhaps an alternative hypothesis is called for: that the very procedure of a blind listening test can conceal small but real subjective differences.”
    www.hometheaterhifi.com/volume_11_4/feature-article-blind-test-power-cords-12-2004.html

  70. Tom P said,

    January 21, 2006 at 8:27 am

    “real subjective differences”

    Gentlemen, start your epistemologists.

  71. Nick P said,

    January 21, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    My connection with the hi-fi trade is, firstly, as a customer; secondly, I wrote a computer system for managing a hi-fi shop that’s currently in use in a number of premises.

    I’m very ignorant about electronics, and analogue circuit design in particular.

    I _have_ had experiences of mains light switches interfering with the hi-fi, but that was with a particular pre-amplifier that had been modified by the manufacturer to incorporate a moving-coil phono stage specifically designed for a Linn Karma cartridge. Was it mains interference getting through the power supply of the pre-amplifier? Or was it mains interference with the new cards? I’d go for the latter, since the only change had been the new card.

    … which brings me on to my thoughts on the forthcoming trial:

    1. I briefly met, in the 80s, Linn Products’ amplifier designer. He averred that one of the most important requirement for his amplifiers (Linn had recently launched its first) was a really good power supply. If this is actually the case, then, if there really _is_ a power-lead effect, then it is more likely to be revealed by poorly-designed products. So, perhaps the equipment selected in the trial should come from a range of manufacturers.

    2. Use a record-player as a source; use one with a moving-coil cartridge. These cartridges are low output – from memory, 0.5mV. If the power cable succeeds/fails to filter mains interference, then one might expect this interference to revel itself in the component that’s dealing with the weakest signal i.e. the moving-coil phono stage in the preamplifier.

    3. Twenty-five to thirty years ago, when buying a hi-fi, you bought the best speakers you could, and bought source & amplifier based on the supplier’s “performance” measurements. Witihin 10 years, then then-heresy that you should actually _listen_ to a system that was intended to play music had become mainstream. Again, at that time, bell-wire was typically used for the speakers, whereas no-one today would really argue against using quite beefy stuff. Perhaps 15 years ago, various hi-fi nuts started claiming that a hi-fi could sound different depending on which way around you had the interconnects; the claim was resoundingly pooh-poohed by pseudo-scientists (who claimed to be scientists) because there existed no theory to explain the claimed observation. Now, it’s quite likely that cables supplied by the manufacturer (ie not after-market add-ons) will be marked to show which end should be plugged in to the source and which in to the destination.

    4. Don’t bother recruiting hi-fi journalists; generally speaking, their ears aren’t much use ‘cos their heads are stuck up their a**e (… actually, _do_ recruit one or two; the humiliation should be fun!). MUCH better to recruit test subjects at random off the street; my experience of having sat in at demonstrations (not as buyer or seller, but “tourist”) is that the vast majority of people can quite easily identify differences in the sound from different pieces of kit. ‘Course, whether they _value_ the differences is entirely different.

    N
    (feeling that he might have just set himself up for a monster flame!)

  72. RS said,

    January 21, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    Andy, that was quality, my favourite being:

    “Has no one heard anything about Quantum Physics, which questions the existence of an absolute objective reality?”

  73. Andrew Rose said,

    January 22, 2006 at 7:41 am

    At the risk of repeating what has already been written here by others I just wanted to contribute a little to this debate. I’m not an ‘audiophile’ – rather someone who has worked for many years as a sound engineer – both at the most senior level at the BBC and more recently in audio remastering and restoration.

    What I do a lot of these days is the restoration of vintage audio – although a newcomer to this particular corner of the music industry my work won three awards as recordings of the year in 2005.

    This kind of work requires very a precise listening environment in order to tease the finest nuances out of recordings made using often relatively primitive equipment. Being able not only to hear every defect in the original but also precisely what happens when I try to treat it is very important. As far as my audio equipment is concerned there are two crucial points – the replay from disc (vinyl or 78s) and the monitoring equipment.

    In both of these areas it is clear that investment pays off. Getting good sound out of analogue grooves is tricky (which is why the audiophiles like vinyl – plenty of opportunity for tweaking and spending money there). But once it’s done and digitised for restoration, it’s the listening equipment that really matters.

    What this means is good loudspeakers. The difference between a pair of £550 hi-fi speakers and my ex-BBC studio monitors is huge – the resolution of the latter and the abilily to hear the very smallest differences and finest nuances in sound is truly incredible. (These speakers cost the BBC the current-day equivilent of about £10,000 per pair when they introduced them in the late 80’s.)

    So, listening on these ‘wonder-speakers’ (each with its own dedicated Quad power amp), with ‘trained’ ears (I can just about still detect sine waves up to 20kHz), and working at very fine resolution, I ought to be able to hear if something makes a difference to the sound quality I’m hearing, whether I’m listening to vintage material or the most modern, high-resolution sound.

    So, at the risk of blowing my credibility as a sound engineer, what differences do I hear as I switch leads, cables and so on? Absolutely nothing. Zilch. The whole thing is a massive con. I think most people working in my profession would privately agree – some would happily go on the record. Most of us find the kind of nonsense spouted at the more extreme end of the audiophile community hilarious – but even at the ‘sensible’ end there’s a whole load of barmy claptrap spoken and written.

    So good luck with this one, Ben. If I didn’t live in France I’d be happy to come along and lend a pair of ‘expert’ ears to your trial – but I guess the Guardian’s expense account might just rule me out! ;-)

  74. Rwdls Nwdls » Gwyddoniaeth Gwael said,

    January 22, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    [...] Mae’r drafodaeth yn parhau ar ei wefan bersonol o – badscience – yn ddifyr iawn, ac yn taflu ambell enghraifft doniol iawn a hollol swreal o siwdo-wyddoniaeth gan yr “arbennigwyr” hi-fi: [...]

  75. Robert Carnegie said,

    January 23, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    Re speaker wire polarity, surely if one speaker pushes as the other one pulls it’s going to make a difference… and I believe I once produced an odd effect on those lines by putting a monophonic signal through opposite-polarity speakers.

    Re geeks, the butt in this surely is not science otaku but hi-fi snobs, and they so have it coming to them.

    Re interference, I would like to know if a DECT phone must be expected to make any sound reproduction kit near it go bz bz bz bz bz bz bz bz, about 3 pulses per second. I also own a couple of dirt cheap cassette players which go bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz when used within about 50 metres of local cell phone masts. Come to think, I could probably listen to that on the bus home with my eyes closed and still know when to get off. But a real GPS solution would probably be better.

  76. Andrew Rose said,

    January 23, 2006 at 6:43 pm

    Robert – you’re right about speaker polarity in that it’s certainly important to have speakers wired in phase – otherwise all stereo spacial imaging is lost. This however has nothing to do with the alleged directionality of some hi-fi speaker cables – rather it just means you need to connect positive speaker terminals to positive amp terminals and negative speaker terminals to negative amp terminals.

    Some in the audiophile community claim to hear a difference in the actual direction of the wire (not the polarity). This is why some cables come with arrows on them – these indicate the cable direction from amp to speaker. Despite what would appear to be the obvious fact that we’re dealing here with an alternating current which constantly moves in both directions, some audiophiles do think this makes an audible difference. I’m afraid I think it’s just another load of old nonsense – but what cable manufacturer is going to risk losing sales by not printing arrows on their leads?

  77. Nick P said,

    January 23, 2006 at 7:29 pm

    “… but what cable manufacturer is going to risk losing sales by not printing arrows on their leads?”

    Which is why I think it interesting that some manufacturers include cables with the kit that are marked in exactly that way, something which the punter will only find out long after they’ve taken the plunge… Sure, after-sales companies will want to make everything seem as totally hi-tech & utterly brilliant, but for suchlike items sealed in a box & “given” away with the product? Suggests that _some_ think there’s an effect.

    I’m interested, Robert, in what you say about your monitors & their amplifiers being the most important item for your work. How does the source affect things? Some would claim that, if you ain’t got it off the record or CD in the first place, the speakers ain’t gonna add it back, but it’d seem that your experience is different?

    N

  78. JohnHankinson said,

    January 24, 2006 at 1:53 pm

    Nick P:

    “…but for suchlike items sealed in a box & “given” away with the product? Suggests that _some_ think there’s an effect.”

    or the more simple explanation is that they source their cables from a cabling manufacturer that happens to mark the ends of the cable. For economy’s sake a hi-fi component manufacturer may well not be a cable manufacturer and the fact that a marked cable is in the box will be related to the supplier of that cable more than the hi-fi manufacturer.

    “I’m interested, Robert, in what you say about your monitors & their amplifiers being the most important item for your work. How does the source affect things? Some would claim that, if you ain’t got it off the record or CD in the first place, the speakers ain’t gonna add it back, but it’d seem that your experience is different?”

    The speakers have the most important job in a hi-fi, they convert electrical signals into mechanical movement and into longtiudinal waves in the air. This is by far the most complex task in sound reproduction and so all sorts of variations in reproduction can creep in here depending of freq. response of the various cones, horns etc., contact with the ground (for bass reproduction), volume etc.

    The amps that Robert refers to are specifically power amps. Their job is not to change the sound in any way but to drive the speakers. In this sense, what matters about power amps is their power rating (given in Watts – usually Root Mean Squared and Peak). Insufficient power in the amp will mean the drivers in the speakers don’t provide the volume they should (and excessive power does very scary things indeed!). The SNR is also important since you don’t want excessive noise introduced when cranking it up.

    The point is that in these days of digital audio and high-quality mass manufactured audio components (like D/As and CD pickups) the source and preamp components themselves rarely make any difference to the sound as it goes through. Admittedly, you do get faulty components, occasionally inferior components and also you can get components that are manually set (like EQ and bassboosts) that will change the sound – but putting these issues aside, most system components will not cause a perceptible difference to the listener.

    Speakers on the other hand do. Try listening to something through your internal PC speaker vs. some desktop speakers via the line out vs. a basic hi-fi via the line out. for example.

    As for mains cables…

    To really expose the fraud with these things, look at the facts that the audiophiles claim a CD player connecting via a digital out can be improved by using them. This is complete tosh – and if it were true, IBM wouldn’t supply servers with basic kettle leads that’s for sure…

  79. Don Cox said,

    January 25, 2006 at 4:08 pm

    “Inductors could be used to make filters a lot more” – some amplifier manufacturers do use inductors in the power supplies. It costs more.

    “Admittedly, you do get faulty components, occasionally inferior components and also you can get components that are manually set (like EQ and bassboosts) that will change the sound – but putting these issues aside, most system components will not cause a perceptible difference to the listener.”

    The analog output stages of most components are IMO poorly designed, to keep the price down. The output impedance tends to be too high for the input impedance of the power amp. The practical result is that frequency response narrows as the voltage goes up. This gives a “hard” sound.

    Another thing that varies (audibly) is the digital-to-analog converting chips. These seem to be improving as the years go by.

    A couple of people said that speakers make the most difference. They are important, but in my experience the listening room makes even more difference.

  80. JohnHankinson said,

    January 25, 2006 at 5:53 pm

    Don – point accepted RE: the listening room – i was assuming this not to be part of ‘the system’ – but you are correct that it has the single biggest effect!

    As for your comments RE: analog stages of amps and D/As, i’d disagree, but I’d guess neither of us have any objective evidence either way!

    D/As these days are mass produced at such high quality that I have serious doubts about the effect they have on sound (barring faults). As for analog components, I’m sure you’re correct in some cases, but it would be interesting to see if you could tell the difference between an out of the box component and one with an ‘improved’ analog stage.

  81. Paul Snow said,

    January 26, 2006 at 10:31 am

    Hi Folks,

    Feast on this for your entertainment:

    www.cardas.com/content.php?area=insights&content_id=7&pagestring=Golden+Section+Stereo+Magic

    Best wishes,

    Paul

  82. John L said,

    January 26, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    “this is an interesting article on freezing Cd’s and audio tapes to improve the sound quality www.belt.demon.co.uk/tfs.html

    Ah I see the name Peter Belt in this wonderful piece.

    If memory serves back in the dark ages someone called Peter Belt sold magic stickers that made your Hi Fi better by controlling gravity waves (without aid of work done).

  83. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 27, 2006 at 12:51 am

    how about this:

    www.etsy.com/view_item_sold_anon.php?listing_id=69369&transaction_id=16776

  84. Andrew Rose said,

    January 27, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    Why are leads given away with arrows? Well those with longer memories will remember the pasting that some hi–fi manufacturers got a few years back in the hi-fi press for hard-wiring their mains leads into their equipment, rather than supplying a ‘figure of eight’ plug – the theory being that the electricity “polarity” (we are of course talking AC here) made an audible difference to the overall sound. I don’t suppose they really want to go down that same route again for the sake of a few pointless arrows.

    BTW has anyone got any information on what precise characteristic of the wire used in these cables is that gives it ‘directionality’ – whether in an AC or DC environment?

  85. Andrew Rose said,

    January 28, 2006 at 6:35 am

    Interesting article on the subject of power leads (part of a larger series which takes in a number of other points raised here, including ‘directional’ cables):

    sound.westhost.com/cables-p4.htm

  86. Nick P said,

    January 28, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    “Interesting article on the subject of power leads (part of a larger series which takes in a number of other points raised here, including ‘directional’ cables)”

    … but a remarkably un-scientific one…

    Yes, I _did_ say UNscientific.

    His (knowldege of ) theory cannot explain any possible effect, and his measuring instruments also can measure no effect, but at no point has he actually set out to disprove the claims by experiment.

    “BTW has anyone got any information on what precise characteristic of the wire used in these cables is that gives it ‘directionality’ – whether in an AC or DC environment?”

    The only thing I’ve come across in this line doesn’t, for me, offer a particularly satisfactory explanation since we _are_ talking about an AC signal. The idea is that strands in a cable start out as a billet that’s progressively taken down to its finished size by being drawn through a succession of dies. In metals, less soluble phases (more resitive?) tend to form at grain boundaries, and the grain boundaries are deformed by the drawing process such that they effectively form arrows pointing in the drawing direction… Regardless of whether this _is_ the explanation for the claimed effect, it’s probably accurate in its suggestion that strands of copper are not of the same structure/form in all directions.

    N

  87. Howard said,

    January 28, 2006 at 8:34 pm

    If I don’t wire up the speakers the correct way round to the amp (+ to + etc, not that my 20 year old speakers have any polarity indicators on the wires that stick out of them!) then the amp cuts out about half-way round the volume dial ;-) Any comments?

  88. Derek said,

    February 3, 2006 at 10:44 pm

    Back in the early 70’s my dad bought an amp he’d heard good reviews of, after a couple of days he took the caseing off looked at the circuit boards and decided to take it back and swap it for another make.
    His reason was, it wasnt filtering out mains “shash and pops” properly.
    He was an an electical engineer.
    6 months ago a good friend and collegue was looking at a brochure for one of these cables and was about to buy one.
    I thought he was wasting his money and phoned my dad, remembering the 70’s.
    His verdict……….”i’ve never had a problem with that since then, the capacitors in that amp were for cheap radios. He’s just wasting his money”
    I agree. Waste of money.

  89. Tim Anthony said,

    February 4, 2006 at 9:37 am

    I just put a 10microfarad electolytic capacitor across the power terminals of my extremely expensive octophonic amplifier, and it exploded. Now I’m deaf. Couldn’t one of you have told me not to do that?

  90. ben w said,

    February 5, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    I would have done but I can’t see into the future because I’m blind

  91. Ian Leslie said,

    February 6, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    One or two of these posts have hit on the key point in hi-fi today: the interface(s) between modulated voltage and air pressure are what make differences – except perhaps at the very cheapest end, ALL electronics meet the highest requirements of the human ear’s power of discrimination.

    I use a pretty expensive pick-up (I still sometimes listen to vinyl still) and the QUAD ESL-63 electrostatic speakers but in between, just good not audiophile gear. I am perfectly satisfied with a DVD-player that cost £40 and also plays my CDs, including ones recorded by engineers at the very top of the profession, to my entire satisfaction.

    Not worth mentioning the compromises involved in designing a gramophone pickup, since they are now obsolescent anyway, but I will mention that ALL moving-coil cone speakers and combinations thereof are examples of constantly varying tweaks to make something work well despite obvious shortcomings (cf. motorcycle teledcopic forks!). These include the fundamentally incompatible requirements of rigidity and low mass; interefernce between sound waves leaving different parts of the cone; intermodulation of High-frequency (short) waves by low-frequency (longer) waves as the cone moves back-and-forth; the essentially resonant nature (both electrical and mechanical) of the cone-and-coil-and-suspension combination; etc.

    The electrostatic system sidesteps these difficulties not by tweaking but by a fundamentally different approach and IMHO (despite MANY sessions at hi-fi demos) is where the whole effort of hi-fi development should go, because it is possible that development on Peter Walker’s work (Peter Walker having now retired) could produce even better STEREO rendition – though not, I reckon, better basic sound.

    But it is much easier to make a lot of money by constantly tweaking the moving-coil system so as to produce “new,” “breakthrough” designs every ten minutes or so requiring much audiophile expenditure; and easiest of all, yes of course, by selling a bit of cable with magic properties for magic prices.

  92. mikey said,

    February 7, 2006 at 9:54 am

    Make sure that when you do your experiment you do it on a domestic mains supply and not using “tech mains” in some audio facility somewhere. Otherwise there may not be anything to filter out in the first place? Does tech mains goes through a transformer to isolate it from noise in the same way as balanced audio transformers?
    Also maybe someone could be in a sound proof booth in the next room making a cup of tea & watching Eastenders or flicking lightswitches on & off, or using a PC with a dodgy power supply fan?

    The science can be first class but the experiment design has to be right.

  93. davewhit2 said,

    February 7, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    talk about moving the goal posts, you write an item on £30 leads being expensive

    a few of us pointed out how £30 is cheap, now you claim

    “from £30 to a whopping £1,800″ you moving to the Sun soon ?

  94. Paul J said,

    February 7, 2006 at 4:28 pm

    Not all of us audiophools are mains-lead junkies, witness the horror: i51.photobucket.com/albums/f363/biscuitbarrel/e61f2d75.jpg

    Remarkably the perp still lives…

    FWLIW I use fire-alarm power cable for (almost) my entire system – it has a heavy aluminum shield preventing pick-up and radiation of local EMI (and this was a problem), and best of all it came out a skip – left-over from a building project. So now the hifi can play-on while the house burns down…

    The only exception is one of the “cheapest” (by audiophool standards) mains leads I’ve used (and I’ve tried dozens) – this has separate coaxial solid silver conductors for both live and neutral with the earth carried by the screens (don’t worry it’s thoroughly tested and very well insulated!). Unconventional, but very effective I find.

    In spite of having been involved in some inconclusive double blind tests of power cables, and also being fully aware of the likely psychosomatic influences, I don’t dissmiss the possibility that this odd cable geometry has some real benefit – perhaps in isolating live and neutral legs of this part of the circuit from each other – after-all, most complex electronics not only _suffer from_ mains interference, they also contribute to it…

    As you can see I’m flailing-around for an explanation, but then I’m a geologist, not a physicist. So, despite having put good money the way of cable vendors, I remain on the fence on this one – the DBT I was involved in suffered from having far too few test subjects (3) – hardly statistically significant, so I think (Ben) you should throw this open to any interested party to participate, I find dealers and vendors PARTICULARLY reluctant to get involved – perhaps rather tellingly… I’ll certainly put my ears where my mouth is, notwithstanding anatomical considerations…

    cheers, Paul

  95. Johnny B Goode said,

    February 7, 2006 at 4:39 pm

    Stand up all you above that own a hi-fi system.

    Stand up all those people above that have actually bought or tried an aftermarket power cord.

    Thought so.

    All I have read above is jingoistic whining by by a bunch of pre-teen schoolchildren who have just discovered Father Christmas does not exist. The worst naysayers of all are the alleged “techie” types that believe implicity their knowledge is totally infallible, but it wasn’t that long ago I recall that conventional current theory proved to be entirely wrong and all the text books had to be re-written smartish.

    I would have given some sort of credibility to Ben Goldman’s research into the subject if he abandoned his News of the World style of “fearless expose” purely for their sensationalist shock/horror tactics and kept an open mind on the subject. As it is, I cannot forsee ANY cable manufacturer/dealer coming forward when there is already such overt and deeply negative bias towards the subject. I don’t blame them, but this seems to be translated by the feeble minded into “avoiding the challenge”. Grow up please. I’m surprised that Russ Andrews didn’t say “p*ss *ff”, but bless him, he’s probably read garbage like this countless many times before.

    What these aftermarket power cords do has very little to do with “rejecting RFI” by the way, so take that statement with a pinch of salt. It does have something to do with the conductor material and impedance of the wire but that isn’t the whole story either.

  96. davewhit2 said,

    February 7, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    Ian Leslie said,
    February 6, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    said ” including ones recorded by engineers at the very top of the profession, to my entire satisfaction”

    easily pleased

    you then said

    “(Peter Walker having now retired) ”

    Died last year

  97. davewhit2 said,

    February 8, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    why did you remove my post from www.the-scientist.com/article/display/18831/

    muckraker they called you

  98. big said,

    February 14, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    I’m also an ex-BBC sound engineer, but with an interest in hifi, which I found to be quite rare – most thought it was like a busman’s holiday!
    Anyway, my gear is amplified through a particularly large and bruising power amp (pure Canadian muscle!). And my mains lead is the one that came with it.
    I also have an expensive mains lead that was given as a sweetener for a cd player (£200 worth of lead..).
    Having tried the quite beefy OE lead, and the expensive but similarly beefy HiFi lead, I couldn’t tell the difference. Using them on my cdp, and phono stage also showed no difference to my, undoubtedly ageing, ears.
    So the conclusion I came to was that so long as the lead was electrically sufficient to convey the power needed, then no difference could be noted by simply spending much more money on a shiny one with lovely logos…
    BTW, my kettle uses around 2kW, about as much as my amp at absolute full destroy-the-foundations power..

  99. Stumpy Pepys said,

    February 15, 2006 at 12:15 am

    For a long time, Richer Sounds — a company I generally have a lot of time for — was instructing customers to spend ten per cent of the purchase price of hi-fi equipment on cables on interconnects.

    I would have complained, except that it would have cost me the price of a stamp. However, having visited the site again, this advice has disappeared! Yay!

  100. Nick P said,

    February 19, 2006 at 11:38 am

    Sometime recently, Ben’s column in the Guardian (if I remember it rightly) outlined the proposed methodology for the trial.

    My understanding is that he proposes to make audio files available for download: one recorded from equipment using the default mains-lead, and one using the lead under trial.

    _IF_ I have understood him correctly, & recalled correctly, then… (and, if I’ve understood wrongly, naturally the following hardly holds trus, except perhaps the last paragraph, beggining with “i.e. Ben…”):

    This is extremely poor methodology; a fundamental principle of any trial involving measurement is that the measuring instrument needs to be capable of detecting the expected effect. If the instrument is not accurate enough, or not precise enough, _NO_ concludion can be drawn about whether the hypothesis is upheld or not.

    So: for Ben’s methodology to be capable of testing the experimental hypothesis (“the claims of exotic mains-lead vendors/manufacturers are valid”), he _first_ needs to demonstrate that the audio files he intends to distribute for a vox pop are capable of reproducing know effects that are of similar scale to those claimed for the exotic mains-leads. This might, for example, involve distributing two “calibration” recordings. To take an example from my own experience where I know their’s a readily-detectable effect, make recording 1 from a vinyl LP played on a Linn Sondek LP12 with Ekos pickup arm & Arkiv cartridge, and recording 2 from the same turntable combination, but with a known lower-performance arm/cartridge combination (dunno if the products are still around, but Linn’s Basik LVV arm and A&R Cambridge C77 cartridge were really good performers for the money at the budget end).

    i.e. Ben: how do you propose to calibrate your detection equipment? How do you propose to ensure that a negative is a true negative and not as a consequence of not using suffiently-good detectors? And, how do you propose to address, in the experiment’s design, your bias in favour of the null hypothesis?

    N
    (all of whose mains leads & interconnects came from the same box as the bits of kit, speaker cables excepted, which are speaker manufacturer’s standard cable & terminators.)

  101. Tom said,

    March 16, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    Will any sort of test ever be undertaken? If I was spending hundreds on a power cable I think I’d like to see some major improvements in sound quality, surely even a flawed test would reveal this.

    Tom

  102. Nick P said,

    March 19, 2006 at 7:03 pm

    > If I was spending hundreds on a power cable I think I’d like to see some major
    > improvements in sound quality
    Quite agree!

    > surely even a flawed test would reveal this.
    NO

    The methodology proposed – make “with” and “without” recordings & distribute then for us to assess – is fraught with assumptions and introduces uncontrolled variables.

    Just some of the pitfalls:
    – Recordings will be made from source or pre-amplifier stage; suppose the biggest effect is at the power amplifier stage? That part of the sound reproduction chain won’t figure in the trial.
    – How will we know that the recording apparatus is capable of reproducing the difference between a $10 radio and a top-notch hi-fi? Between hi-fis of different quality? Until the whole recording process is calibrated, it’s useless.
    – On what will the recordings be played? If we’re recording from a high-quality source, will a low-quality reproducer – a computer’s sound system – be capable of reproducing any differences?
    – Will the recordings be made to the highest possible quality? Bit rate? Compression?
    etc.
    etc.
    etc.

    If the apparatus ain’t up to it, the experiment is _worthless_. A flawed experiment, by definition, reveals nothing: if the uncertainties in the measurements are as big as they would be in this case, _all_ apparent differences disappear once the error analysis is complete (sample “A” measured 10, +/-25; sample “B” measured 15, +/-25; result? No _significant_ difference)

    N

  103. El_Cid said,

    March 31, 2006 at 6:36 pm

    One question for the studio engineers (past & present) who have posted here:

    In an earlier post I raised the question not just of whether or not these different cables etc. changed the sounds being reproduced, but whether or not changing the sounds being is even desirable.

    Again, if the studio engineers recording the actual mix decide what it is which we will hear in the final, recorded, and purchaseable recording (CD, LP, whatever)…

    …wouldn’t we want to exactly reproduce what it was they were mixing?

    For example, if the studio engineers didn’t use such and such a power cable or speaker wire or interconnect, why would a listener to the recorded object want to do so and change the result?

    Do I really want to bring something out of the sound which the engineers didn’t want? Say, the volume of the air conditioning in the room? Etc.

    And doesn’t this obsession with the realism of the audio reproduction then lead directly to the goal of owning in your home exactly the same equipment which the studio engineers used?

    Which is to say, again: if the tweaker community’s claims of cable / speaker wire / interconnect effects are granted, aren’t these effects actually undesirable?

  104. Steve Hill said,

    April 2, 2006 at 9:34 pm

    I run a commercial recording studio. I can listen to recordings through half a dozen different sets of speakers and amplifiers ranging from “grot boxes” (to check stuff sounds passable on e.g. a cheap ghetto blaster) to the somewhat esoteric. I listen in an acoustically treated monitoring environment designed to give the best possible stereo image.

    In the recording process sound travels through a variety of bits of equipment (mixers, guitar amplifiers, compressors, equalisers, reverb units, computers etc) all of which have main supplies. Some high-end (valve) microphones also have mains leads.

    These are all “ordinary” kettle leads. If I used anything else it would not make the blindest bit of difference to the recorded sound.

    Almost everybody I know in the industry would say the same. I know of a couple of people through internet forums who would defend the Russ Andrews £30 leads, as serving a useful purpose (they do work; they are not going to add to your noise problems) and in fairness you can also buy “better” kettle leads at Maplin. But I know no-one in the industry who would go further upmarket [e.g. to "Valhalla" mains leads costing $1,750 and which claim to actually speed up the flow of electricity to your amplifier!!!]

    I would be interested in getting involved in the projected test should it ever happen.

  105. Non-Dr Tim said,

    May 19, 2006 at 7:38 pm

    Yes, true, but if you place a glass of French carbonated mineral water, precisely equidistant, between your speakers (must be French and carbonated – the English flat stuff is no good and the Italian stuff causes sub-molecular interference) then you’ll achieve the same effect as Rhodium plated power leads for a much lower outlay. You have to replace it every day ‘tho, and a slice of lemon and some ice helps ;-).

  106. tringo said,

    December 5, 2007 at 11:53 am

    I agree with the basic premise of this article, but there’s a glaring error which no-one seems to have pointed out:

    “…(the “50Hz” of the mains supply), which are necessary for your equipment to work…”

    Amplifiers and most electronic equipment (there’s bound to be an exception somwhere) uses DC (direct current), not AC (alternating current). The electricity supplied from the mains will be rectified – converted from AC to DC – in the power supply of the amp, and then, yes, smoothed by a series of capacitors. The point being your equipment does not need AC to work!
    Bad science? I think so!

  107. Daedalus said,

    January 18, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    The Wall Street Journal (of all publications) did the experiment and found a small but significant benefit. See the “Portals” Column by Lee Gomes Page B1 16 Jan 2008. The following is an abridged version:

    “I set up a room with two sound systems, identical except for one component. Everything except the speakers was hidden behind screens. With the same music playing on both, participants used a remote control to switch between the two, and then tell me which sounded better.

    Using two identical CD players, I tested a $2,000, eight-foot pair of Sigma Retro Gold cables from Monster Cable, which are as thick as your thumb, against 14-gauge, hardware-store speaker cable. … of the 39 people who took this test, 61% said they preferred the expensive cable.

    That may not be much of a margin for two products with such drastically different prices, but I was struck by how the best-informed people at the show — like John Atkinson and Michael Fremer of Stereophile Magazine — easily picked the expensive cable. Its sound was described as “richer,” “crisper” and “more coherent.” In absolute terms, though, the differences weren’t great. Mr. Atkinson guesstimated the expensive cables sounded roughly 5% better.”

  108. Hifiwigwam said,

    January 26, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    Interesting post on the monster cable test above. I am lead to believe that Monster fund a lot of tests and research into very specific areas of audio cables ..ahem. I shall probably leave it there.

    My main reason for posting is that the link at the top of the page is still sending people our way. However the rather embarrassing thread it links to has now been removed. After we all got hot under the collar and accused Ben of all sorts of nonsense in some rather shameful ad homonym attacks, a few of us calmed down enough to put our faith to the test. The test, method and results can be seen here:
    www.hifiwigwam.com/view_topic.php?id=1614&forum_id=34

    For those that can’t summon the teeth grinding will required to read it all, I shall summarise: The test tried to show that there were audible differences between three power chords of varying cost and build, and that the more expensive cable would out subjectively out perform the cheaper ones. The result was that listeners could not reliably detect the more expensive cable under blind conditions. Although most listeners did report audible differences, no useful correlation could be found from one report to another. Expectation bias would account for those reported differences quite easily.

    It is in fact thanks to this thread and to Ben posting on the WigWam that we now have an area of the forum dedicated to objective testing and as much as it upsets the die hard foo heads, we now have a bit of a reputation for “foo busting”!

    Personally, I am now a confirmed foo free zone, and now reject after market cables in the same way that I always rejected homeopathic dream catchers and tie died sarongs. So, well done bad science..

    Oh BTW Ben, the book is really nicely written, I have enjoyed reading it and the part on Placebo is perfect ammunition in so much foo busting.. I have sent a copy to my homeopathy obsessed sister in law.. I doubt she’ll read it but it’s worth a try!

    Regards
    James.

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