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View Full Version : What's "snake oil" and what's not - interpreting marketing and media hype



Kumar Kane
03-05-2011, 01:55 PM
It would be good to have in one place a master speaker designer opinion on what matters and what does not, for the benefit of all users interested in faithful reproduction of music.

From what I have read on the forum till now, here are areas {which may be} flooded with marketing hype to trap us gullible audiophiles.

1. Speaker cable specifications, beyond the good quality, adequate cross section copper ones that are recommended here.

2. Stands, other than what one needs for stability and the correct tweeter height.

It would be good to have similar clarifications about:

1. Exotic mains cables.
2. Exotic interconnects.
3. Mains power conditioners.

4. Isolation pucks and platforms for preamps/amps. I can understand that turntables and Cd players may benefit, but what about equipment with no moving parts? Lots of stuff is sold for these as well.

5. Any other gadgetry I have missed?

These are things on which crazy money gets spent, and given the refreshingly clear views of Harbeth about speaker cables and stands, I am looking forward to the take on these items. And others I might have missed.

{Moderator's comment: good idea but this is the fast track to making a lot of enemies in the audio industry! How can we walk through this mine field? Don't forget: by far the most profitable part of audio retailing is accessories and breakdown insurance - many dealers need the profit from these lines to pay the bills and keep the door open, from which we all benefit. We are not hostile to the concept of profit. We are to the ludicrous claims of vast sonic improvement.}

Kumar Kane
03-05-2011, 03:26 PM
It
{Moderator's comment: good idea but this is the fast track to making a lot of enemies in the audio industry! How can we walk through this mine field?

I suppose the way to walk it is just as has been done for the speaker cables and stands subject. It would still be after all the opinion of an individual in generic terms. And it would be of help to people here to use as a guide in making informed decisions. It is also entirely possible that the current woes of the industry are because the value it brings to customers via these products that pay the bills is not authentic enough to be sustainable? That is of course another hornet's nest I do not want to disturb!

But it would be helpful to know, for instance - does isolating a power amplifier mechanically from external vibrations allow for better sound production from the speaker to an extent that can be noticed by the human ear? And other such things. If possible.

A.S.
03-05-2011, 10:18 PM
The problem - and danger - I sense here is that it really isn't my place to criticise a swathe of audio accessories. Those products you mention, even though I doubt you could find an expert technical witness to defend them objectively in court (and there was a court case in the UK about the indefensibility of speaker cable claim just a year or two ago) do provide satisfaction to their users, and put a meal on the dealer's table and that of the manufacturers too. And it would be wrong to whip away that satisfaction and nourishment solely so that we could occupy the intellectual high ground. Would it change 'audiophile' consumption habits? No. Would it reduce foot-fall and 'churn' in audio retailing? Yes. Would it strain the financial viability of the few remaining independent audio dealers? Yes. They need sales of that 'stuff' and moreover, they rely on those sales. The margins for mainstream audio separates wouldn't keep a chicken alive for long.

But it's not just exotic audio accessories that catch the attention of a certain consumer. Remembering that human hair is a lifeless cellular material, do you realise how vast the hair-care market is? I'd guess that globally its sales are 100 times greater than specialist audio and it's profits 1000 times greater. Does it harm anyone to believe that they can be more alluring if they use a certain shampoo? No, and it does create direct and indirect employment in factories, logistics, retailing and advertising agencies around the world. No harm in that.

So what's the real objection from our side then? Our real beef is the use of pseudo-science to hoodwink the consumer into making the purchase. The very fact that you listed in your post a range of products which - as far as I can see - cannot in this universe be based on any solid science tells me that the gap between junior school science and today's consumer is frighteningly wide. And that vast gulf is fertile hunting grounds for marketeers, just as Elmer Gantry was a hundred years ago in the Wild West. How do I know? Because fundamentally I am a marketing person and I recognise great marketing when I see it. And because I'm paid to know how marketing works - in our case to incrementally build the Harbeth brand over a generation - I can see the tell-tale signs of others building their accessory empires with your cash. And good luck to them. If the consumer is daft enough to believe in the wild claims then clearly he has money to burn. The consumer's expenditure is the seller's income - that's the wheel of commerce!

Nobody needs to justify art, or whisky or a beautiful face. They are to be savoured, enjoyed whilst they last. But to cloak them in scientific mumbo-jumbo is inappropriate and indefensible (to me) even if it is ace marketing. But pseudo-science does fool a lot of people who do not have any innate sense of discrimination through laziness, education or time pressure. If you abrogate your consumer responsibilities to others, you will be led by the nose - that's a certainty because that compliant position is what marketing strives hard to hold you in, when you are at your most vulnerable and easily manipulated. But many folk really do enjoy being led, as the Apple miracle confirms by the millions.

GregD
03-05-2011, 11:45 PM
I have to agree with AS here. You cannot expect him to slate every dubious hi-fi tweak and carelessly cause financial woe for hi-fi dealers and manufacturers. The fact is that the hi-fi industry relies on things like cables just to stay in business. I am reliably informed that the hi-fi industry would collapse without the added sales value of cables, stands and mains products. Without these many dealers would be in big trouble. Does that mean the high-end industry should die? I don't think so - I like using my Harbeths with fancy electronics so let people buy inch-thick speaker cables if it allows the high-end to live. Use common sense for your own decisions though and make up your own mind.

Also I think we have all been encouraged on the HUG lately to desist in continuous debates over cables and stands. Alan has made a very diplomatic and measured response to the question here when surely he is at his wits end over this sort of issue. There is plenty of information here already on all these issues if you use the search facility.

EricW
03-05-2011, 11:46 PM
.... many folk really do enjoy being led, as the Apple miracle confirms by the millions.

The above quote (in its entirety) is clear and wise and much appreciated, but I'm confused by the Apple reference.

I have read technical tests of Apple products, even those conducted by PC-based magazines and reviewers, and on objective performance measures they appear to do quite well (especially the newer models).

Because of the closed proprietary OS, they also seem to be far less prone to viruses, worms, trojan horses, etc.

Lastly, they're far less fiddly to configure as acceptable computer music players, provided you are satisfied with the (free) iTunes software.

So I don't think it's just a matter of being led. Yes, I'm an Apple user, but it's mainly because I want a computer that isn't going to require a lot of work on my part to use, just as I prefer a car that doesn't require a lot of DIY maintenance. (I use a PC every day at work, so I understand the other side as well.) Others may have different preferences, and that's fine. I don't think I'm swayed by the Apple marketing machine - in fact, I find it a bit embarrassing. But it's not all marketing: underneath the marketing is a technically solid product, or they wouldn't be where they are. They're not shampoo.

{Moderator's comment: yes they are easy to use and beautifully made and styled. Recent comparative head-to-head performance tests (link to follow) show that they are no faster and often slower than Windows to perform the same task in an industry where speed is everything, except to Apple users. They are not designed with security in mind (fact) and one reason they are not welcome in a corporate secure environment.}

Kumar Kane
04-05-2011, 02:25 AM
But it's not just exotic audio accessories that catch the attention of a certain consumer. Remembering that human hair is a lifeless cellular material, do you realise how vast the hair-care market is? I'd guess that globally its sales are 100 times greater than specialist audio and it's profits 1000 times greater. Does it harm anyone to believe that they can be more alluring if they use a certain shampoo? No, and it does create direct and indirect employment in factories, logistics, retailing and advertising agencies around the world. No harm in that.


Certainly, though I am sure there is a lot of advice available to say that your hair is determined only by your genes and the general state of your health, but that does not have any impact on that industry! I could go on, this is a favourite subject, the vicious circle of consumerism, pursuit of economic growth, sustainability and contentment, but this isn't the place for that:-)

My reason for this thread was only to get advice for my benefit, and perhaps others here as well, and not to cause harm to anybody, so I will rephrase my question.

If you were putting together a audio system consisting of a CD player, turntable, amplifier and speakers, other than the equipment itself, where would you spend your time and money? What I have understood so far is - speaker stands and speaker cables to the extent already advised, and room acoustics.

What/where else? Is that a fair question?

A.S.
04-05-2011, 07:21 AM
... Others may have different preferences, and that's fine. I don't think I'm swayed by the Apple marketing machine - in fact, I find it a bit embarrassing. But it's not all marketing: underneath the marketing is a technically solid product, or they wouldn't be where they are. They're not shampoo.We must congratulate Apple for 'marketing' in the full, best sense of the word. They have identified what the consumer wants and given it to them. Or more accurately, they have created the consumer in new market segments that others didn't sense. And that's a rare skill. But hand in hand with that is the creation of a cult, and I'm less comfortable with that because, just as with audio accessories, it implies a suspension of disbelief on the part of the consumer and as I said before, that is the ideal position that a marketeer wants to hold his consumer in. That's the sad consequence of the consumer just consuming. He is not a content (music) creator. He has not the slightest knowledge of how music is recorded, edited or delivered to him. He is passive. He is malleable. But what if he is a content creator, a business user for such products?

There are some alarming issues concerning computer data security. Apple computer products are not targeted at business users and deliberate and entirely appropriate decisions were taken by their marketing people about how much or little security to build-in for what are intentionally consumer products. The iPad is a classic example. Consider super-confidential potentially ruinous data of the sort that in the wrong hands could destroy your business or family - the RADIAL project pdfs (thousands of pages) for example. Despite the beautiful styling, fantastic functionality and great usability I would never, ever, put confidential data on such a unit.

In secure corporate environments where the marketing flim-flam of styling, thinness, weight and such factors are an irrelevance and security is a must-have, their IT people know that wrong decisions about IT selection can and will put jobs at risk. This is the exact analogy of speaker cables: the really important part is not the fancy coloured sheath but the copper itself. The really essential part of the computer is its data security.

Now, there are business-orientated tablet products available but they're not made by Apple because Apple does not target the business user. For example, the new Fujitsu Q550 here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZX03aK4wIfg&feature=player_embedded#at=50) which is built for the corporate user with security at its core with an encrypted disk, smart card and fingerprint reader. Yes, I would store RADIAL data on this unit without fear. Datasheet here (http://uk.ts.fujitsu.com/products/mobile/tablet_pcs/stylistic_q550.html).

Just to conclude this line, products are promoted in a way that highlight their positive features and down-play the negative ones. If the positives (beautiful styling) are so striking the negatives are buried. It is smart marketing that, for example, the battery of the iPad is not user-replaceable when everyone knows that batteries are consumables. That is sheer genius as it tethers the owner to the maker with an invisible revenue chain. Brilliant! (The Q550 obviously (as a corporate machine) has a replaceable battery because corporate users consider the total-life cost of ownership). They are, in short, far more intelligent buyers.

BAS-H
04-05-2011, 09:16 AM
...If you were putting together a audio system consisting of a CD player, turntable, amplifier and speakers, other than the equipment itself, where would you spend your time and money? What I have understood so far is - speaker stands and speaker cables to the extent already advised, and room acoustics.

What/where else? Is that a fair question?

It's a good question. I think you've identified all the important things. I would just add speaker placement and where you sit to the list.

Myself, I have spent money only on components (bar the amp, which I nicked from my Dad :), sturdy stands, basic cable (Chord Rumour, chosen because my local shop stocked it). No isolators, power conditioners, vibration absorbers, etc. I also have spent no time on room treatment, because my room and speakers are forgiving anyway.

A.S.
04-05-2011, 10:58 AM
OK, just for the record here is my own, jaundiced take on this. When I was in my mid tees I was lucky enough to mix with sound engineers at the BBC. I compared and contrasted how they as content originators behaved, what they considered most important and then went home and read HiFi News. Those were the days before tweakism (I just invented a new word!) took hold and long before the utter insanity of removing tone controls from amplifiers (which should be a capital offence) warped the minds of an upcoming generation of 'audiophiles'. And there was a strong correlation between what I observed and read in those days. That isn't true now. So my list for what it's worth....

1. First-class, digital recording replayed over a digital playout system (CD player, DAC) or better. Recording quality is really, really important. Analogue recordings for historical value.

2. Room treatment especially in the low frequencies and/or careful placement of the speakers themselves or the use of good quality (e.g. STAX) headphones

3. An amplifier from the stores, preferably a pre-power, convenient if with remote control, British ideally, serviced to be in-spec and with a known service back-up and a case that allows easy inspection for the curious (warning: mains voltages can/will kill - don't do this yourself.)

4. Stands, for stability and the correct tweeter height made of any material

5. Exotic mains cables - no interest. The (nuclear) power station has delivered the mains supply to me over about 70 miles of aluminium pylon feed, the last foot or two is unimportant.

6. Exotic interconnects - no interest. Buy them in bulk from trade supplier for about $1/2m

7. Mains power conditioners - see 5.

8. "Isolation pucks and platforms for preamps/amps. I can understand that turntables and Cd players may benefit, but what about equipment with no moving parts? Lots of stuff is sold for these as well." Surely you're pulling my leg aren't you?!

9. A means of capturing and archiving high quality audio from the internet (BBC Radio 3 concerts for example) such as Total Recorder (recommended, I use) and saving to hard disk and a means of playing those over the audio system. Either burn to CD (I do), stream over home network (I don't have) or direct USB-DAC feed to amp (I do use). Set aside a USB (or better) hard disk to store all those audio files as future-proof WAVs and duplicate it for back-up.

10. Time to switch off the world and devote oneself to listening (this is actually the most important facility of all).

Oh - forgot - some thick-ish speaker cable, flexible, such as QED 79 strand or similar. And the final, vital step is a nice G&T with ice and lemon and you're all set.

P.S. Don't underestimate the importance of a G&T. It can transform any one of the above steps beyond recognition!
P.P.S. If I may recommend ... the pre-mixed G&T in a small can has the most marvellous (although a little pricey) audiophile credentials. In my own experience it has turned old analogue recordings into pristine digital ones, overcome almost all room problems, de-jittered* my transport and extended the resolution of my speakers by at least 15dB and added another 2-3kHz to the top end. By far the best audio investment I've made and I'm not joking!

*I'm not sure what jitter is. It sounds impressive though. I thought it was the slight tremble in my hands.

Kumar Kane
04-05-2011, 11:11 AM
8. "Isolation pucks and platforms for preamps/amps. I can understand that turntables and Cd players may benefit, but what about equipment with no moving parts? Lots of stuff is sold for these as well." Surely you're pulling my leg aren't you?!


Thank you for taking the time to write that summary. I didn't quite get the pulling your leg question though - what part of my statement would that refer to?!

And Ben, thank you too.

A.S.
04-05-2011, 11:31 AM
What part do you think?!

Again, this touches on the barmy army's (a-phile) bonkers belief and over-confidence in the human ear's abilities. The ear is not a precision measuring instrument - not by a very long way. No instrument would age so miserably, would be so susceptible to illness and disease and of such poor resolution. So whilst we can all make factual claims about effects that are measurable under lab conditions, in the real world when music is playing they're all buried far under the music and hence irrelevant.

Just as an example ... when we listen to speakers we never hear pure tones in the bass. Typically there will be many percent harmonic and other distortion present. 10%? 30% distortion. Yes, that is indeed probable. Can we identify that distortion by listening? No. Does it diminish our appreciation of music? No. Is it what we are conditioned to expect from our audio equipment? Yes. Would we prefer the sound if all the LF distortion was removed? Probably not: it may sound too dry.

I cannot stress enough: the ear has all the resolution and ability that evolution has needed it to have, and not a jot more. And as music only appeared about 35,000 years ago against an evolutionary time line of millions of years our ears are absolutely not optimised for music. And never will be with the ever lowering quality of audio compression. Proof enough here (http://www.harbeth.co.uk/usergroup/showthread.php?1243-A-cautionary-tale-of-self-deceit-from-a-loudspeaker-designer&p=14104#post14104).

Kumar Kane
04-05-2011, 12:06 PM
What part do you think?!


I remember reading something that went - the sound coming from the speakers will, if you don't watch out by using the advertised product, set up vibrations inside the ICs and other components inside the amplifier, resulting in the amplifier performance degrading, affecting the sound that comes from the speakers in turn, that in turn....or something to that effect. Written a lot more cleverly of course.

And I have read reviewers writing of the profound improvement in the sound...air, decay and other such favoured jargon...once the product is introduced into the system. Anyway, enough said.

I have what I wanted to get in terms of an educated opinion, and I trust others may benefit as well on reading and thinking.

Thanks again.

Kumar Kane
04-05-2011, 12:15 PM
P.S. Don't underestimate the importance of a G&T. It can transform any one of the above steps beyond recognition!
P.P.S. If I may recommend ... the pre-mixed G&T in a small can has the most marvellous (although a little pricey) audiophile credentials. In my own experience it has turned old analogue recordings into pristine digital ones, overcome almost all room problems, de-jittered* my transport and extended the resolution of my speakers by at least 15dB and added another 2-3kHz to the top end. By far the best audio investment I've made and I'm not joking!
*I'm not sure what jitter is. It sounds impressive though. I thought it was the slight tremble in my hands.I agree about the G&T concept fully, though it is whisky that floats my boat! Allied to some great music, it makes me recklessly generous.

And don't disillusion me about jitter now, I just got myself an asynchronous DAC to overcome it!!!:)

A.S.
04-05-2011, 01:36 PM
I remember reading something that went - the sound coming from the speakers will, if you don't watch out by using the advertised product, set up vibrations inside the ICs and other components inside the amplifier, resulting in the amplifier performance degrading, affecting the sound that comes from the speakers in turn....Get away. You are kidding. I've never read such a load of bo--ocks in my life!

I started my career in the semiconductor industry with NEC Corporation of Japan, one of the world's biggest semiconductor manufacturers. I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty that low-level vibration of the barely measureable type you mention will have no effect on semiconductor performance what so ever. It is an absurd idea.

Semiconductor technology is science based (it has to be: many of the chemicals used are lethal) and is the most researched area of manufacturing. Everything about chip design and manufacturing is quantified, and because the bahaviour is so predictable simulations of chip design can be sure to lead to perfect, stable fabrications. The fact that operational ICs are so fantastically reliable both on earth and blasted into space under enormous G forces testifies to the stability of the design and the utter repeatability and certainty of performance. It is that stability that underpins every electronic product and has created the modern digital world where users can be completely careless about nurturing their electronics products - they'll just continue to work.

The primary variables that effect performance are extremes of temperature and radiation. Obviously if the circuit board becomes wet tracks may short, but the ICs themselves are sealed.

Are you telling us that even one would-be consumer would fall for such a concocted tale? I just don't believe anyone could be so stupid. I'm going to have to lie down in a darkend room for a while to get over this shock. I just can't allow myself to believe you. (Maybe I've slipped away into fairltale land where black is white and white black .... wait .... I hear angels ..... not yet!)

P.S. The most famous audio IC is the now venerable TL07x series. There is a very high likelyhood that inside some or even all of your audio equipment there are some of these. In the mixing desk there will be hundreds. As you can see from the datasheet here (http://www.datasheetcatalog.org/datasheet/SGSThomsonMicroelectronics/mXrxvrt.pdf) the characteritics of this (and all) ICs are very finely specified. On page 1/2 you will read the manufacturer's specification and absolute maximum ratings. See the section on vibration?

Kumar Kane
04-05-2011, 01:46 PM
Are you telling us that even one would-be consumer would fall for such a concocted tale? I just don't believe anyone could be so stupid.
Yes, I am telling you this, and with the greatest of certainty, because it was I that was so! :)

And I have seen the evidence in a few places, so I ain't the only one!! Thankfully, they were just relatively cheap pucks under an acrylic slab that happened to be lying around at home and so I did not pay for that at least.
There is an old parable - The Emperor's New Clothes - that I am sure you have heard a few times till now...

A.S.
04-05-2011, 01:51 PM
Yes, I am telling you this, and with the greatest of certainty, because it was I that was so! :)....Oh my goodness. No. Can't be.

You know, Americans (not Brits, we'd never say this) have a word for (slight cough) people like, er .... you. "Suckers". And I've heard Americans saying that the consumer has been 'suckered'. How does it feel to be 'suckered'?

Kumar Kane
04-05-2011, 02:00 PM
How does it feel to be 'suckered'?
Ah well, one born every day, right?! :)

And I am not going to talk too much about the power conditioner that I almost bought once. Sanity prevailed when I realised that the only way to get "clean" power was to generate it in the basement of my apartment via a DG set, and I was't totally in a brain freeze.

The one consolation too is that I have seen people in the hobby suckered for a lot more and for a lot longer.

A.S.
04-05-2011, 02:37 PM
...The one consolation too is that I have seen people in the hobby suckered for a lot more and for a lot longer.It's so depressing, and so avoidable with a constant awareness that whilst 'audio' is a serious hobby to the consumer, it's a business to the supplier.

The wealthy can take care of themselves whatever we may think or say. It disturbs me that the ordinary hard-working music-appreciating audio fan spends far more than he strictly should and achieves far less value that he rightly deserves for his hard-earned cash. Furthermore, if for example, the motor industry relied on the BS pseudo-science that the audiophile industry is seemingly neck-deep in, the Hindustan Ambassador (http://www.honestjohn.co.uk/carbycar/hindustan/ambassador-1972/) with various fancy wheel hubs, pink furry trim and dangling dice would be the very pinnacle of suburban motoring performance and style. More on style and grace here (http://www.hmambassador.com/)*. Mercifully, there is more discrimination amongst car enthusiasts, and that has reflected in real, genuine and progressive development of the car industry such that today's cars are truly superior in every way to those of a generation ago. Not so in audio where what is engineering stasis is spun by brilliant marketing into progress.

Another example: as you know we are one of the very few that make our own drive units. It's the expensive way of building a loudspeaker system. Not only do you have to design the unit, you have to source and pre-pay for all the piece-parts and stockhold them by the thousands and you have to employ expensive UK people to put them together to the correct standard and you have to cost-in the rejects that fall outside a tight QC window. We do it the hard way because it gives us a performance edge, the 'Harbeth sound'. But it is so much easier to place a PO with an overseas supplier for a complete woofer for literally just a dollar or two. The cost diverted from the core (the drive units and crossover) can then be allocated to beautification of the cabinet and to marketing and promotion as it is these that capture the user's imagination. Not the 'difficult' concepts of cone coloration.

I think you can broadly classify all loudspeaker system manufactuers into two major groups: those that are satisfied with sub-optimal off-the-peg woofers and those who make their own. It would be the same as Jaguar buying-in a standard GM engine from a catalogue compared with Mercedes designing and building a superb engine from first principles. I really don't know why 'audiophiles' give any credence to loudspeaker systems fabricated around cheap, bought-in table d'hote drivers, regardless of price or styling. I have never seen a $50,000 speaker system with own-made drive units .... and at a few dollars a driver that's a vast cost for mediocre technology.

*Actually I rather fancy one of these. It is the very antithesis of marketing and appeals for that reason - and it feels good to be different!

GregD
04-05-2011, 03:26 PM
Alan I read your post expressing shock at the claims about speakers vibrating the ICs in amps/CD players with surprise. Not because you refuted the claim so elegantly by pointing out your experiences with NEC and the example of space travel. But because some of the hi-fi magazines are absolutely full of this theory and I thought you might have read/seen this yourself.

It comes from manufacturers first though. There are many very popular and well-regarded (and often expensive - more than your speakers cost!) cables, tables, pucks etc. that are sold on the basis that vibrations coming from the speakers will vibrate the electronics in the room which are all (they claim) inherently microphonic and will, therefore, turn these unwanted vibrations into an electrical signal that will ultimately get turned into sound in the speakers. Stop laughing Alan - there's more...

Furthermore, it is also claimed by some manufacturers that even CABLES and SOCKETS are microphonic and need to be lifted off the ground (where there are most vibrations, they claim) in order to reduce this problem. Sockets must be made of carbon fibre to reduce energy storage too. Some cables even have boxes half way down them that incorperate damping pathways to stop the 'transmission' of bad vibrations BETWEEN electronics (CD players/amps). These internal vibrations are said to come from the power transformers and transport mechanisms and need to be controlled and isolated from each other or they'll get mixed in with the musical signal due to the microphony effect mentioned earlier.

I think the unpalatable fact is that most parts of the hi-fi chain have reached a virtually blameless level long ago (transducers excepted) that can't be improved to any audible extent. For a marketing department this is a terrible thing. Once you've reached the end of the performance improvements that are possible with a technology (which pushed sales up for a long time) your Star products and Cash-cows become Dogs and people just won't spend anymore money. And then you have no business.

This is why the high-end industry now relies on tweaks and cables to stay afloat. These are the new Stars and Cash-cows that promise better sound - and many WANT to believe, or feel left-out if they don't believe or feel they have cloth-ears if they don't hear the improvements epoused by the Gurus and their converts.

I'll end by para-phrasing respected Stereophile reviewer and analogue authority Michael Fremer:

"Choose the colourations that are acceptable to you with your transducers (cartridges and loudspeakers) and don't worry too much about amplifiers and cables. Transducers still have a long way to go and dominate the sound of our systems."

I think rather similar to your views in fact, Alan.

EricW
04-05-2011, 04:04 PM
corporate users ... are, in short, far more intelligent buyers.

Guess I'm stupid, then!

Look: you make two points: (1) Apples are not designed for security, and (2) they don't have user-replacable batteries.

As I've never had to replace a battery even after years of use, I consider the second point an irrelevance for me personally. With harder use, in a corporate setting, it might indeed be a factor. I don't believe it's an issue of revenue stream for Apple though (but I could be wrong), but that designed-in batteries give more storage in a smaller form factor, which is what they're all about.

The real point is the first one, the security issue. But again, for me, so what? My machine is for home and personal use, and I have no confidential or commercially secure information on it. If I were running a corporation, my priorities would no doubt be different. But I'm not. Surely the "unintelligent" thing to do would be to base a buying decision on a factor that has absolutely no relevance to the intended use? How would that make any sense?

As for "content creators", amongst many of these (i.e. musicians and artists), the Mac is the machine of choice, again because of the ease of use factor. It depends on what kind of content you're talking about.

So the intelligent thing to do, I would submit, is to determine accurately what factors are important to the intended use, and purchase based on those.

Kumar Kane
04-05-2011, 04:16 PM
Not so in audio where what is engineering stasis is spun by brilliant marketing into progress. Another example: as you know we are one of the very few that make our own drive units. It's the expensive way of building a loudspeaker system. We do it the hard way because it gives us a performance edge, the 'Harbeth sound'.
*Actually I rather fancy one of these. It is the very antithesis of marketing and appeals for that reason - and it feels good to be different!
To your last comment about the good old Ambassador - for the last four years now, I ride a Royal Enfield Bullet on weekends into the hills nearby, for some of these reasons! Also, I am able to fix it myself when it dies on me, which it also does, regularly! It is a 1956 Brit single cylinder, still made in India, and I bought it new. Knowing fully well about its still existing quirks.

Why do you think there has been an engineering stasis in audio? Change in customer taste? People are still spending billions listening to music, but I suspect the days of a couple, sitting down in front a pair of speakers, listening to music for a couple of hours are gone forever. Which is the cart and which is the horse?

Finally, why is it that there are so few reviews in the specialist magazines about Harbeth? Is it because there are quid pro quos involved that you will not be a part of? Or is it something more innocent?

PS: I am writing this in front of a singing system, acoustic jazz, validating my version of the G&T concept! What also helps is turning the lights down low. When I was in my tube amp phase, seeing the tubes glow was also a part of the music sounding good!:) So much for objectivity...

Sometimes I wonder if I should just put down an old tube amp on the shelf, have it run without connecting it to anything, just to have the tubes glowing!! That of course, is very definitely tongue in cheek. I think.

A.S.
04-05-2011, 04:17 PM
...There are many very popular and well-regarded ... cables, tables, pucks etc. that are sold on the basis that vibrations coming from the speakers will vibrate the electronics in the room which are all (they claim) inherently microphonic and will, therefore, turn these unwanted vibrations into an electrical signal that will ultimately get turned into sound in the speakers. Stop laughing Alan - there's more......I don't read audio magazines or belong to any audio group aside from this so I confess ignorance. Is that really what's being discussed in the mainstream magazines? It can't be so. It just can't be.

As an amateur just-about-everything I've long had a deep respect for 'real' engineers, physisists, mathematicians and chemists of the type that could design a semiconductor, put a man on the moon (and bring him back) and deconstruct DNA first in theory and then in practice. To be able to even begin to comprehend the challenges they face daily would be a humbling experience. But do those who perpetrate such utter balloney never consider the complete and utter contempt with which they are regarded by 'real' scientists? Surely self-integrity and preservation of 'face' is the core of human dignity. Surely nobody would spout such drivel in the presence of real scientists would they? I just can't imagine how they could preseve a shred of integrity afterwards. I refuse to believe that all those barmy claims are anything other than made with tongue very firmly in cheek - the same cheek that next day writes ad copy for shampoo products.

There is a molecule or two of truth, massively distorted in the claims about microphony. First, every atom in the known universe above absolute zero degrees is in motion. That means every atom of our bodies, every atom in our ears and brain, our eyes, every atom of distant stars light years away and every atom of the CD player and amplifier and the disc itself is vibrating at some absolutely determined and defined frequency. In short, the whole universe is buzzing and the hotter the object, the more energy it has and more energetic it is. The more comprehensive 44 page TI data sheet for the TL072 IC (http://focus.ti.com/lit/ds/symlink/tl071.pdf) shows the junction temperature at which the transistors operate at deep inside the die as 150 deg. C - (page 6) more than hot enough to boil water but very localised. We also know that the electrostatic forces that bond atoms together are so hugely, unimaginable stong even in one atom - yes ONE atom - that when the atom can be broken down into its component parts it unleashes vast energy*. So the atoms are held in a vice-like grip in the same way that the planets are held in relative position to each other in our universe. No external force, and certainly no vibrational force as pathetically small as that, for example, in a whirring motor in a home audio system is remotely capable of influencing the atomic matrix of any part of the audio system. To make any impression on the mini solar-system that is each atom you would need to shake the matrix with a massive (nuclear) explosion to tear apart the atoms killing yourself and all around for miles with the forces unleased.

Surely I don't have to spell this out? It's blindingly obvious to me an a non-scientist. Isn't it?

* Atomic forces are truly massively powerful. I read that the British nuclear programme has been generating electricity for about 50 years, and represents about 30% of UK power production. Can you imagine how many billions upon billions upon billions of watts have been generated over that period? The total amount of spent, used uranium consumed over that entire generating period is ..... about 100kg. That's about twice the weight of a pair of monitor 40s. Atomic forces that hold everything together are fantastically strong: a little bit of audio-frequency vibration pass through them like a mist through trees and cannot influence them. If they could, our entire physics would have to be re-thought because there would be a real danger that we and our world would fall apart.

Kumar Kane
04-05-2011, 04:26 PM
I don't read audio magazines or belong to any audio group aside from this so I confess ignorance. Is that really what's being discussed in the mainstream magazines? It can't be so. It just can't be.


Greg, thank you! Alan, I know I was suckered, but it's not so difficult to be done in, and I am glad it has been pointed out:)

Kumar Kane
04-05-2011, 04:36 PM
I'll end by para-phrasing respected Stereophile reviewer and analogue authority Michael Fremer:

"Choose the colourations that are acceptable to you with your transducers (cartridges and loudspeakers) and don't worry too much about amplifiers and cables. Transducers still have a long way to go and dominate the sound of our systems."
.
That is an interesting statement. Why? Because of two others that I have also read in the specialist magazines. One, that advises that most of your money should be spent on the source equipment. And another, that the wise thing to do is to spend a third on each - source, amplifier and speakers, after leaving aside 20% for cabling.

I am not sure of the names of the people who wrote this, but I do remember that these are people that have been writing in their respective magazines for a long time.
It's a jungle out there:)

GregD
04-05-2011, 05:01 PM
In answer to your above post Alan, yes these views are taken very seriously in some of the magazines, with recommendations to investigate the products for yourself. No-one writing today totally trashes the idea, that's for sure. Occasionally a reviewer might take a blind-side swipe at the stuff, usually from the angle that they personally can't be bothered anymore. Anymore than that and the letters pages become a battle ground between the factions.

What's more these products based on these far-out claims almost always use scientific-sounding language and quote independent test results carried out by eg. defense contractors who usually work on making submarines quieter (!)

I think some of the designers of the products are educated people with a technical background, but that doesn't stop it. I think intelligence is no barrier to brain-washing and indoctrination. These intelligent, educated people of a scientific background are just as susceptible to 'audiophilia' as anyone else. They've been conditioned to believe that the ear is king, the foundation of the Golden Eared High-End ethos. After years of conditioning, high-end fanatics can percieve differences in anything, it's simply that this mind-set has got mixed-up with their proper scientific background perhaps. Not hearing a difference is not acceptable in that social group, hearing a difference equals self-esteem. Scientists often seem to think they are more objective and less susceptible to suggestion, but I don't think that is the case at all.

I believe there are many cable designers who are mere charlatans. However I also believe that there are plenty who work hard to make their products measurably better and strive for the best sounding product using their scientific knowledge and believe that is what they have achieved. That their efforts result in improvements that are below the level of human perception on any rational basis is irrelevant to them or their followers. They are high-end audiophiles and believe they can hear ANY improvement, no matter how small it is or whether a physician explains that their senses are just not that powerful.

So people who lump all cable manufacturers together as simply cynical businessmen, miss the point that some of them believe it too!

Kumar Kane
04-05-2011, 05:21 PM
If I were running a corporation, my priorities would no doubt be different. But I'm not. Surely the "unintelligent" thing to do would be to base a buying decision on a factor that has absolutely no relevance to the intended use? How would that make any sense?

So the intelligent thing to do, I would submit, is to determine accurately what factors are important to the intended use, and purchase based on those.
Listening to my music, using an ipod as a source for my systems almost all the time, I have to agree and doff my hat to Apple as well. To me, it sounds just as good as my CDs that are all inside it in lossless files, and sound just as good to my old ears, as my LPs played on a turntable. It is now so convenient to use, making playlists etc., and it has worked flawlessly for a few years, with no need to change the battery yet. The music is also on the hard disk of my Mac, that works fine for my non corporate use, and the entire Mac is backed up easily on an external hard disc.

When the ipod dies, changing it will not be a big issue for me. Apple is a fabulous, even in your face marketing machine, but it isn't all fluff.
Just my 2 cents:)

STHLS5
04-05-2011, 05:25 PM
.....There are many very popular and well-regarded (and often expensive - more than your speakers cost!) cables, tables, pucks etc. that are sold on the basis that vibrations coming from the speakers will vibrate the electronics in the room which are all (they claim) inherently microphonic and will, therefore, turn these unwanted vibrations into an electrical signal that will ultimately get turned into sound in the speakers.....


When we have A real engineer who pioneered the DSD convertor implementation saying "If you put a CD player into an anechoic chamber, in front of a loudspeaker and sweep frequency, you will find a really vicious peak in the focus servo current around 800Hz, very high Q The disc resonates and the focus wants to follow it. This current demand modulates the power supply and generates jitter, which is influenced by the acoustic energy going to the CD player from the speakers. Since it’s around 800Hz, we have this problem with female voices. If you know someone who can sing in that frequency range, very loud, they can shut CD players down (because once focus is lost, the player can’t recover)." and more about vibration as can be read here (http://www.data-acquisition.us/optical_discs_digital_data_and_vibrational_jitter_ effects.html)....

I am sold!

ST

GregD
04-05-2011, 05:29 PM
That is an interesting statement. Why? Because of two others that I have also read in the specialist magazines. One, that advises that most of your money should be spent on the source equipment. And another, that the wise thing to do is to spend a third on each - source, amplifier and speakers, after leaving aside 20% for cabling.

I am not sure of the names of the people who wrote this, but I do remember that these are people that have been writing in their respective magazines for a long time.
It's a jungle out there:)

Be careful about using the word 'source' in hi-fi. A turntable/arm/cartridge is very different from a CD player or server/DAC. If your source is analogue - like a turnatable, then it's mechanical quality is very important to it's performance or sound quality. With a turntable, good quality mechanical engineering sounds better but also costs more. A good turntable is unavoidably expensive.

With digital sources, the rules are different. It's like amplifiers really. The engineering is less important, as all the parts are mass-produced in (usually) big Chinese factories that turn-out near perfect components (like Alan's NEC example earlier). Put them together and you have a very low distortion CD/DVD player that measures far better than any turntable. Spending a lot on a digital source does not reap greatly better sonic benefits like it can with turntables. The basic level of digital components is already very high.

Use a £150 turntable in a high-end system and the result is not good. But use a cheap DVD player as a digital transport in the same system and it still sounds fine compared against your resident £10,000 pro-derived CD transport! I should know - I've done the experiment at home!

A.S.
04-05-2011, 07:06 PM
Yeah yeah, but how loud do you have to play the speakers? Is this relevant in the real world? Wouldn't you say that a CD player (even the cheapest one) that skips or jitters in a normal room even when playing really loud and when actually sitting on the speaker is just poorly designed? I have a cheap portable CD player and I'm going to try it myself!

I'm sure if you place even the finest CD trasport out on an airfield and point a jet engine at it and wind up the thrust it will bugger it up but so what? Is that a relevant worry? No.

EricW
04-05-2011, 09:28 PM
Don't underestimate the importance of a G&T. It can transform any one of the above steps beyond recognition!


How about providing a small booklet of cocktail recipes together with the purchase of a new pair of Harbeths (domestic models only). It would be interesting, unusual, and both funny and serious at the same time. And very British (if you focus on quintessentially British cocktails like the G and T).

You could even have a little link on the website: call it "Harbeth Recommended Audio Accessories" and link it to a list of your favourite gins. Now that would be amusing!

GregD
04-05-2011, 10:49 PM
How about providing a small booklet of cocktail recipes together with the purchase of a new pair of Harbeths (domestic models only). It would be interesting, unusual, and both funny and serious at the same time. And very British (if you focus on quintessentially British cocktails like the G and T).

You could even have a little link on the website: call it "Harbeth Recommended Audio Accessories" and link it to a list of your favourite gins. Now that would be amusing!

Why stop there? How about Harbeth branded slippers to ease you into that relaxed state of mind (I would DEFINITELY buy those!). Or maybe a Harbeth calender with photos of our Dear Leader visiting famous British landmarks, that could be fun!

I'm still waiting for the Harbeth mugs, pens, keyrings and t-shirts I asked for in February. Maybe we'll get them for Christmas!

Macjager
05-05-2011, 02:12 AM
The only jitter I am concerned about is the one that occurs after one too many G&T...perhaps a Pimm's is in order...

Kumar Kane
05-05-2011, 02:23 AM
Wouldn't you say that a CD player (even the cheapest one) that skips or jitters in a normal room even when playing really loud and when actually sitting on the speaker is just poorly designed? I have a cheap portable CD player and I'm going to try it myself!

I'm sure if you place even the finest CD transport out on an airfield and point a jet engine at it and wind up the thrust it will bugger it up but so what? Is that a relevant worry? No.

I thought I will point out that in this now largely digital audio world, jitter doesn't refer to mechanical skipping by the CD transport.

Quote from Wikipedia
"In conversion between digital and analog signals, the sampling frequency is normally assumed to be constant. Samples should be converted at regular intervals. If there is jitter present on the clock signal to the analog-to-digital converter or a digital-to-analog converter then the instantaneous signal error introduced will be proportional to the slew rate of the desired signal and the absolute value of the clock error."

From what I have understood from this to uneducated me gobbledy gook, is that the difference in the clocks of the computer source and of the external converter creates the above referred jitter, that degrades the quality of the sound. Hence, the expensive DACs ignore the clocks of the computer, and use only their built in clock for the process, thereby losing the jitter. There is a DAC sold for around 10k GBP, driven by this claim, and others at lower prices, that claim the use of this separation.

More snake oil? I haven't a clue. I just wanted to point out that this sound degradation - whether audible or not - would be caused even if the computer and converter are kept completely isolated from any vibration because this is the new jitter of the age! Doesn't need mechanical vibration to cause it. I guess some will call this progress.

I haven't succumbed to this line yet, but I have bought an external DA converter for my ipod, just on the basis that the one included in the ipod isn't good enough almost by definition by virtue of it being small enough to fit in the ipod. So the digital signal is extracted from the ipod, and converted to analog in a bigger box. Does it sound better than the ipod's analog signal plugged directly into a pre amp? My wallet says it does...:) The decay of the notes, the air in between them, the shimmer....!!!

Kumar Kane
05-05-2011, 02:58 AM
A turntable/arm/cartridge is very different from a CD player or server/DAC. If your source is analogue - like a turntable, then it's mechanical quality is very important to it's performance or sound quality. With a turntable, good quality mechanical engineering sounds better but also costs more. A good turntable is unavoidably expensive.

With digital sources, the rules are different. It's like amplifiers really. The engineering is less important, as all the parts are mass-produced in (usually) big Chinese factories that turn-out near perfect components (like Alan's NEC example earlier). Put them together and you have a very low distortion CD/DVD player that measures far better than any turntable. Spending a lot on a digital source does not reap greatly better sonic benefits like it can with turntables. The basic level of digital components is already very high.

Use a £150 turntable in a high-end system and the result is not good. But use a cheap DVD player as a digital transport in the same system and it still sounds fine compared against your resident £10,000 pro-derived CD transport! I should know - I've done the experiment at home!
I see the point about the cheap turntable, but I am sure there too there is a point beyond which the expensive engineering will not result in an audible difference.

That point may not be 150 GBP, but would not be in multiples of that number. Likewise, they would need a good isolation, but only to the point it takes for the needle to not jump out of the groove?
And, akin to your cheap DVD player, the same logic should apply to a cheap amplifier, perhaps at a slight increase in the floor price?

But to your point about the cheap DVD player. In an A to B comparison, with all else unchanged as it would have to be for a control experiment, I notice you said it would sound fine compared to the 10k GBP CD player. Would you also say that it would sound the same, that any improvement in the sound would be not perceptible to the human ear?

Has there been any A to B comparison done any time of the following kind in the last decade?

1. Set up a cheap system using CD as a source. Cheap means the floor price of what assures the minimum build quality in the current digital age.
2. In this system, change just the source to a very expensive CD player and see the difference, as heard. No other changes, of course.
3. Then, move along and change just the amplifier in a like manner.
4. Finally, change just the speakers to the markedly superior ones - Harbeth, or another.

Based on all that I read in this forum, I know what the answer ought to be, that only item 4 above would be audibly different. But has this ever been formally done anywhere that anyone knows?

One could even continue this process, for every other accessory and for what is worth ( not much, I suspect ), be the Ralph Nader for the high end audio industry.

It may even turn out that the great unwashed that audiophiles love to snigger at for accepting the quality of the audio from compressed downloads, got this right then, in moving on from the offerings of the industry to their current preferences.

STHLS5
05-05-2011, 04:43 AM
Yeah yeah, but how loud do you have to play the speakers? Is this relevant in the real world? ..

There are two sides of me, on one side, I believe that conventional cables, amplifiers of same design and output or stands sound very similar or at least indistinguishable to me but the other side also believes that there may be differences under the right condition which is usually due to poor designing. I do not want to be the guy who believed that all amps sound the same and foolishly took up a challenge comparing his about 50watter Sony or Yamaha against Krell monoblocks playing at about 90dB just because he read somewhere that all amps sound the same

I even heard of people asking if a similar output power tube amp would sound like a solid state amplifier.

We need to establish proper guidelines and a list of variables that may cause differences so that members can perform a reliable AB test for themselves. As long as members perceive (which is in most cases were imaginary) differences for whatever reasons than all the effort to debunk snake oil would be like casting pearls before swine.

To those who still strongly believe in cables, please read Tom Nousaine article (http://www.nousaine.com/pdfs/Wired%20Wisdom.pdf) published in Sound & Vision magazine.

ST

Kumar Kane
05-05-2011, 10:40 AM
The only jitter I am concerned about is the one that occurs after one too many G&T...perhaps a Pims is in order...
And that's the one that troubles me when I use a turntable after the one too many - of doing damage to the stylus putting/taking it off the record. Another time when the ipod shines:)

hifi_dave
05-05-2011, 11:30 AM
1. Set up a cheap system using CD as a source. Cheap means the floor price of what assures the minimum build quality in the current digital age.
2. In this system, change just the source to a very expensive CD player and see the difference, as heard. No other changes, of course.
3. Then, move along and change just the amplifier in a like manner.
4. Finally, change just the speakers to the markedly superior ones - Harbeth, or another.

Based on all that I read in this forum, I know what the answer ought to be, that only item 4 above would be audibly different. But has this ever been formally done anywhere that anyone knows?


This is something that I have done almost every day since approx 1970 and in a well set up demo I can assure you that you can hear each of the three changes. I would say, though, that changing the speakers does make the biggest/easily heard change.

EricW
05-05-2011, 05:49 PM
To those who still strongly believe in cables, please read Tom Nousaine article (http://www.nousaine.com/pdfs/Wired%20Wisdom.pdf) published in Sound & Vision magazine.

ST

Thanks - that was a very good article.

The concluding editorial - "The Need to Believe" - by Alan Lofft is well worth reading as well.

derekhughes
05-05-2011, 09:13 PM
I thought I might do a simple experiment to see if I could detect any microphonic effects in one of my systems.

I took the output of my power amp & connected it to my Clio test system, fed it with 1kHz sine wave at an output of 10volts (the meter said 10.146 volts, so the last figure gives a resolution of around 80dB)
I then put the cable on hard surface & hit it hard with a hammer! The meter did not change even by 0.001 of a volt.

I then hit my (old!) power amp with the hammer (not quite as hard) - again no change at all.

I hit (gently!) the phono plug of the test box - again no change.
My assumption is that striking equipment with hammer has a far greater force than would be exerted by a loudspeaker's output at several feet, so it would seem that microphony in these cases is unlikely

On the other hand, I remember listening to a high powered active system, peaking about 115dB I think, which caused the CD player in the room to mis-track due to the vibration. I have also had similar experiences with Record Players, you do not need to tap a platter very hard to get a significant output from the speakers. So electro-mechanical transducers seem to be affected to varying degrees.

Derek

Macjager
06-05-2011, 12:42 AM
And that's the one that troubles me when I use a turntable after the one too many - of doing damage to the stylus putting/taking it off the record. Another time when the ipod shines:)

Even without a G&T I managed to smack the tonearm and send the diamond tip into orbit! Now I am more deliberate and cautious, and iPod when imbibing.

Kumar Kane
06-05-2011, 02:26 AM
For Alan's benefit:), here is an example of the language used to plug cables...

"The soundstage expanded in the most amazing way: not only did it become deeper and wider, but it also expanded well in front of the speakers and seemed to envelope the listener/room. I have never heard this before in my system and it thrilled me completely. It enhanced the sense that, not only were the musicians in the room with me, but that I was virtually transported to the room in which the recording took place."

I picked this one up from about 25 statements that wrote about different improvements heard, the quoted being just one. I have to say, there is skill in how it is written, of a kind.

And, icing on the cake, from the same review - "I just don't understand how replacing one 0.5-meter power supply umbilical cable can make such a dramatic difference".

Cherry on the icing? - the cable is not even used to supply power to a source or amplifier. It is used to supply power to a piece of kit that is inserted into an extant signal chain to supposedly add better sound quality to it.

Is this snake oil? I do not know! But even selling snake oil all those years ago required extraordinary talent, it wasn't something that anyone could do...

{Moderator's comment: what it is is brilliant copywriting. Challenge: name or invent a product and we'll write similar glowing copy within 24 hours. Just give us a very few basic factual details and leave the rest to us. Can't you see this copywriting is not intended to be factual, truthful or even honest .... it is ADVERTISING SPEAK. An hour later the same copywrighter is spinning a yarn about beer or wine ..... inventing words that make you drool is what advertising copywriting does .... and you fall for it? Who is the stupid one then!!!}

STHLS5
06-05-2011, 02:49 AM
This is something that I have done almost every day since approx 1970 and in a well set up demo I can assure you that you can hear each of the three changes....

In a well set up system - shouldn't it be the other way around? A robust system should be immune to whatever minor external changes. I do hear the same remarks when friends can't detect any difference during AB trials. They told my cables, interconnects, racks. speaker stands were too basic for it to reveal the so called micro details. As much as I tried, I am unable to find any "high ender" to do AB with their system. At least not here.

Perhaps, Alan now has a proper set up to do a ABX test and put this topic to a rest.

ST

EricW
06-05-2011, 09:42 AM
[I][U]

Perhaps, Alan now has a proper set up to do a ABX test and put this topic to a rest.

ST

Well, if Alan wants to spend time on this, it's up to him, of course. But for me, the Nousaine article was enough. If I had any lingering doubts, that dispelled them. The testing protocol seemed well thought out and robust, and the results convincing. What would another test prove?

A.S.
06-05-2011, 09:43 AM
For Alan's benefit :), here is an example of the language used to plug cables......

{Moderator's comment: what it is is brilliant copywriting. ...A marketing professional reading the above quote wouldn't analyse the words individually, he'd sense the broad thrust of the writing (the 'copy') as an expert on oil paintings would stand back and initially take-in the entire canvass not individual brush strokes. And that breathless, excited, vaguely sexual writing style is written by someone who has experience in advertising copywriting. It's not the way news journalists write. You wouldn't see that writing style in the Financial Times or National Geographic magazine. It's a presentational style contrived to weave a fantasy around the product which appeals to you on several emotional/sexual levels, and that is an essential precursor to activating you to seek out the product for your own gratification. Take a look at the top shelf magazines - they use exactly the same technique of fantasy and gratification. No problem with that provided the reader sees the game for what it is and keeps a realistic objective distance from the tease.

Copywriting is very important in a modern industrial society where nominally similar brands must be given unique identities. If you master the skills of communication (and motivating) consumers using those sorts of titillating words then there is a golden million-dollar earning potential open to you in the advertising industry. It's a very rare skill to have a product you care little or nothing for (could you get excited about feet odour or flatulence?) dumped onto your desk and told to spin up some copy to sell it.

Just some of the courses that could turn a latent copywriting talent into gold ....

Chartered Institute of Marketing - captivating and clear copywriting (http://www.cim.co.uk/tandq/training/coursebysubject/copywriting.aspx) - also - advanced copywriting skills (http://www.cim.co.uk/tandq/training/courses/0880.aspx)

"The dirty little secrets of seducing your readers" - says it all (http://www.copyblogger.com/seduce-your-readers/)! To quote ...


"With physical products, restraint is just part of the deal. Cars, computers, or steak knives. You can’t start really enjoying that irresistible Macbook Air until you buy it and make it your own, no matter how much fooling around you did at the Apple store..."

And an example of great copy - because it appeals to the reader on numerous levels and strips your credulity here (http://www.copywriting-copywriter.co.uk/examples/brochure-copywriting-sample.pdf).

This is a a subject I know a great deal about. I can smell advertising copy a mile off and am completely impervious to its wily, seductive charms. And so should you be.

P.S. We don't and can't use that sweaty, breathless copywriting approach to promote Harbeth products even if we wanted to. We certainly can write like that if we want to, but as we are making durable capital equipment rather than expendable consumer products the words wouldn't fit the brand image and product reality. It would be as ridiculous as vamping-up a sales brochure for a rocket launcher with talk about the thrill of pulling the trigger.

Kumar Kane
06-05-2011, 11:11 AM
I can smell advertising copy a mile off and am completely impervious to its wily, seductive charms. And so should you be.



Yes, but the quote wasn't copy, it was from a review! And you will find similar stuff written about almost every kind of product in the high end audio industry, in the specialist media.

Some posts ago, you compared this stuff to the hair care industry and its claims. To give it credit, and as far as I know, there aren't magazine reviews of its products that put out similar stuff!

And as I have said already, perhaps this overkill is one of the reasons why the high end audio market is shrinking. You can't fool all the people all the time. It may end up that the people using ipods/mp3 players, playing compressed, downloaded files are the clever ones after all. Given half way decent amplification, and the same speakers that the audiophile uses, they are probably getting the same end results.

STHLS5
06-05-2011, 11:15 AM
...... What would another test prove?

Why not? Getting an experienced audiophile taking the ABX test using their system in their preferred environment monitored by a well respected designer is something every genuine music lover is waiting for. Video record the whole experiment and post here in the TechTalk section.

If a picture paints a thousand words then a video speaks millions of words. Suggested YouTube title- Harbeth Designer dispelling cable myth.

ST

A.S.
06-05-2011, 11:40 AM
Absolutely no-way. One man v. a billion dollar industry? You want me rubbed out? And anyway, as we've proved here, despite me banging on about this for years we still get posts from those trying to influence others to buy exotic cables. The truth will only be seen as such from the distant future.

A.S.
06-05-2011, 11:44 AM
Yes, but the quote wasn't copy, it was from a review! And you will find similar stuff written about almost every kind of product in the high end audio industry, in the specialist media....I am well aware that it was a 'review' and not an advert.

My point was that it was not written as a 'review'. A review should be (reasonably) objective. But the style of that 'review' to my sensitive nose smells like advertising copywriting. Doesn't it look like that to you? Can you see that is the sort of prose that is the very art of copywriting? I can churn that out too - to an even better standard - but I chose not to. I suppose I'm a failed advertising exec at heart. Poacher turned gamekeeper.

The reason you see copywriting everywhere in high end audio is because the technical stasis in the industry means there are no engineering advantages to promote. The engineers who conceive the consumer electronics products we buy rely more and more on promotion. And that means beautiful photographs and wonderful words. And don't forget, the magazine industry around (and enmeshed with) manufacturing has a primary objective to reward its shareholders. That's it. It has no overt responsibility to the industry (the UK media were only too happy to welcome overseas brands even if it killed the indigenous ones) - it is producing monthly entertainment. That's it. Entertainment. They are not pretending to be Science or Nature or Accountancy Monthly. So you should always consider that when it comes to entertainment the advertising/marketing/copywriting people are in command: it's their fertile feeding ground!

And if I had a chance - speaking as gamekeeper - I'd actually write the words for the 'reviewer' which with a little cutting and pasting he could plop into his 'review'. Then I'd be sure to, as marketing pro's say, 'manage the message across the media'. In other words, from the manufacturers' perspective, the best review is the one his copywriter ghost writes for the reviewer. That's obvious (isn't it?).

You know, we've been addressing on various threads the marketing that underpins this and every industry. What leaves me speechless is that you, collectively - and I means this kindly - haven't got the slightest notion about how you are marketed-to on every page of every audio and music magazine and the tricks used to hook your attention. It's astonishing that you fall for the guff you read. A few days on this side of the desk and you'd be shaken to the core. And if you think hardware is bad, you should spend time in the music industry! That's on a another far higher level of marketing professionalism turning nothing into something devoid of any objectivism!

Kumar Kane
06-05-2011, 12:09 PM
the technical stasis in the industry means there are no engineering advantages to promote.

Given the above, what do you think have been the real game changing breakthroughs in this industry, in the last 30-40 years?
And, what next in that vein, in say, the next 10?

Kumar Kane
06-05-2011, 12:17 PM
You know, we've been addressing on various threads the marketing that underpins this and every industry. What leaves me speechless is that you, collectively - and I means this kindly - haven't got the slightest notion about how you are marketed-to on every page of every audio and music magazine and the tricks used to hook your attention. It's astonishing that you fall for the guff you read.

It's what makes the world go around to be honest. If people were not to fall in this manner, in the developed world, economics at least on a macro scale would have to be rewritten. Can you guess what would be the annual growth rate of a country such as the UK, Germany, Japan - even the US, if people held on to the things they own, even for the current shorter lifespan of these things? And then the employment scene? Is all of this sustainable? Not the place for that debate, but what you point out is the current paradigm driving economic activity on the entire planet, with China and India and other developing parts seeing that as the model to emulate.

A.S.
06-05-2011, 03:59 PM
... If people were not to fall in this manner, in the developed world, economics at least on a macro scale would have to be rewritten. Can you guess what would be the annual growth rate of a country such as the UK, Germany, Japan - even the US, if people held on to the things they own, even for the current shorter lifespan of these things? And then the employment scene? ...Absolutely correct. This economic system of production > profit > consumption > income > is the only one we are aware of that can generate rising living standards and support us in our retirement. As such - being nearer the retirement end of the journey than the beginning - I am totally in step with the game!

The point I want to stress again is that as mature, free thinking commercially-aware people, we must simultaneously play the consumption game to our advantage and turn our back on it. We can 'buy cheap, buy twice' or we can buy more intelligently just once with a better made product that lasts longer and ultimately consumes fewer natural resources. That's not a choice I can or should make for you. Your needs, your budget and your expectations are different from the next chaps, and there is no universally correct purchase.

There are two things we caution against:

1. Reckless consumption where the product was never designed for the use to which you will put it and it will fail to satisfy. Buying a speaker with a $1 woofer and expecting it to sound like a true monitor would be an example.

2. Acting as an unpaid mouthpiece for the vendor of some gadget or gizmo and influencing others to fall under the spell. That's unforgivable because personal user feedback embellishes and reinforces the vendor's claims in a way that even the best copywriting can't, and makes the product even more appealing. The tease becomes fact with repetition.

That said, the consumer has free choice and long may that continue. I just don't like the idea of a vendor playing mind-games with me; that always leads to misery.

EricW
06-05-2011, 06:25 PM
Why not? Getting an experienced audiophile taking the ABX test using their system in their preferred environment monitored by a well respected designer is something every genuine music lover is waiting for. Video record the whole experiment and post here in the TechTalk section.

If a picture paints a thousand words then a video speaks millions of worth. Suggested YouTube title- Harbeth Designer dispelling cable myth.

ST

Aside from the fact that Alan won't do it for understandable business reasons, I still don't see what the point would be. If a well-conducted test reaches a clear and definitive result, what's the point in repeating the same test? Once something's proved, it's proved. You don't need to re-prove it or revisit the result unless there's some rational basis for calling the original result into question.

Anyway, once there's been experimental proof of the hypothesis that cable is not material (as long as the basic minimum requirements are met), then doesn't the burden of proof shift to those who assert that cable does make a difference?

LarsS
06-05-2011, 10:15 PM
By far the best "snakeoil" I have ever used is four pieces of 6mm wood! Placed in front under under the speaker stands (two under each) just to angle the speaker by a small amount upwards. My listening posision is slighly high in an old sofa and this small fix made a much bigger improvment than any cable upgrade I have made. (I have "downgraded" to Van Damme cables no exotic ones any more).

It really shows how important speaker placment is. I could build higher stands too, but it takes som effort, I am lazy.

A.S.
07-05-2011, 10:55 AM
The more I ruminate over the marketing teases that tug audio buyers this way and that, the more I see how the marketing landscape from this side of the desk is so utterly different from yours. Strange though it may seem to you, I've never really seen myself, personally, as a representative of the audio industry in the same way that my predecessor and his employers (the BBC) didn't. Allied to, respectful of, supplying to, working with, mutually cohabiting with, playing along with the industry - yes, but at a distance. That relates to my recent comments that what Harbeth really makes is durable capital equipment in a consumer cloak, rather than consumer equipment. It's a very different mind set. We can afford to stand back from the marketing churn because our customers are significantly different, a rather special sub-sector of consumers; those who make ordinary consumer goods have no option but to play the game to the maximum, or shut down. I guess that my thinking, my objective approach to audio was moulded when I was in my teens (in the 70s), at a time of real engineering progress in audio design (especially speakers, thanks to the BBC) and mentally that's where I still am. So to me the modern wholly subjective writing style is alien, but to you .... it would be quite normal.

We recently had a post here quoting a fictional or otherwise audio review which was written in what I called a 'copywriters style'. It was noted that this is a very typical writing style for a modern product review or advert and it is - and not only in the audio industry. We could as easily find similar copy in a glossy womens or car enthusiasts magazine. As I collect audio magazines from the 60s and 70s I can readily contrast the current writing and presentational style with that from the period.

I'd much appreciate if you could give me a few examples - perhaps about 100-150 words each - of contemporary audio writing. The product doesn't matter - you decide - what I'm looking for is florid, rave comments; the sort of writing that sets your heart racing. What I would like to do is to merge them into one fake review, change some of the details to protect the sources and then we can have a close look at a style comparison.

To me, having lived through more than a generation of hifi consumers I can vividly recall (and opening one of these magazines confirm it) how audio journalists used to write, but to many of our members rather younger than me, you may be completely unaware of how different audio journalism is now compared to 20, 30 or 50 years ago.

If you feel more comfortable, send your contemporary review copy to me via the HUG messaging service. Change it around a bit if you like. I will not mention your name. Many thanks - this should be interesting.

STHLS5
07-05-2011, 12:44 PM
I am in the process of getting a subwoofer for my room to add a little bass below 40Hz, which is now lacking due to correcting a slight null around the 80Hz zone. The purchase decision is going to be based on reviews by several magazines and by the users themselves.

I do not have the luxury of reviewing the product at home like those in UK or US. So after reading countless reviews and considering my room size and my budget, I narrowed down to 3 subwoofers. They are Rythmik Audio, Hsu Research and Rel. Mind you. My choices are review based and I am entirely at the mercy of the colourful words of the reviewers.

Here is the example of another subwoofer with glowing reviews, which almost fooled me into buying.

"For
Serious bass weight; good control; excellent detail
Against
Nothing.......
It's nice to highlight all these neat features, but it's even nicer to be able to report that the 12Q sounds sensational. It serves up crashes, bangs and wallops with serious weight, authority and power...Yet it manages to merge its aggressiveness with a side that displays impeccable control, poise and excellent levels of detail and clarity.......An infectious sense of rhythm tops off this superb subwoofer, which fully justifies its price tag.

Another reviewer;
"The CHT-12Q is a very easy recommendation for medium-sized rooms. If you are after a serious and, in this case, reasonably-priced sub, it seems it remains a smart idea to audition a Velodyne. With music this sub is a competent performer, although there are better musicorientated competitors at this price. With movies the sub is truly at home. It plays cleanly to very high levels, goes pretty deep, and adds that high-quality low-end which only a good subwoofer can bring your favourite action films."

By chance, someone agreed to allow me to demo this sub at my place. Unfortunately, it wasn't anything like it was described there. This is purely a HT subwoofer and despite the so called 24dB/Octave filter, I could hear the sub at 256Hz despite setting the crossover at 40Hz.


What do I do? Where can I get reliable information to make my purchasing decision? Should I ask the manufacture? Or local distributors? It is so much easier to buy a TV, car, rice cooker, fridge but not an audio product. Only audio product behaves differently in the different environment. Anyone thought about that? The purchase of speakers is more difficult than buying a car because a car performance the same on the road near the dealers or on the roads near my place unlike speakers which lack consistency in performance due to so many variables.

ST

Kumar Kane
07-05-2011, 01:41 PM
I'd much appreciate if you could give me a few examples - perhaps about 100-150 words each - of contemporary audio writing. The product doesn't matter - you decide - what I'm looking for is florid, rave comments; the sort of writing that sets your heart racing.


Alan, here is the whole shebang - florid, rave enough?!:) I know it certainly is contemporary.

" I'll attempt to capture the differences the second cable made.

BOTTOM END:

The first cable allowed me to hear the plucked string of a bass — this one gave me much more sense of the whole note and the instrument it came from
The bass line became both a much more distinct and separately articulated entity, as well as better integrated in the overall fabric of the music
Deep bass notes were much more apparent — in a way that I didn't think my system was cable of. It simply went deeper and with way more authority, allowing me to hear bass notes that were not as audible previously.
On well-produced pop/rock the bass rocked and it was incredibly easy to hear the distinction between a synth bass vs. and electric bass
Bass guitar and bass drum, while tonally distinct, locked together in the tightest way (partly a function of increased dynamics, too)
Overall bass tonality seriously improved
MIDRANGE:
That reviewer term "palpable presence" manifest itself here (best way I can think to describe it) — the entire midrange spectrum was much more "there" than before, especially vocals, sax, etc.
I heard much more of the body of the instrument or voice — the sound of the wooden guitar body, the resonant cavity of a piano and of the male voice were all much more apparent
Music was warmer and more natural — but in no way "woody." Perhaps its best to say the midrange had an increased sense of illumination and life — I don't know how to articulate this better, it just seemed more real
Brass sounded much more "golden" and simply glorious. I can now hear much more cleanly the specific timbres of alto/tenor/soprano sax, trumpet and trombone, whether foreground or buried in the back of a mix/orchestra
HIGHS:
As with the previous cable, a reduction of more (but still not all) of the sibilance on certain CDs
Reverb tails and overall ambience were again more apparent, enhancing the sense of the real/studio-faked space
Cymbals developed much more sheen (crash) and you could hear the individual rivets of a ride cymbal much better
Bells had much more presence as well as a fuller sound — not only the initial strike but the soft envelope of the decay
Everything sounded "rounder," more complete, more whole, more fleshed-out
SOUNDSTAGE:
The soundstage expanded in the most amazing way: not only did it become deeper and wider, but it also expanded well in front of the speakers and seemed to envelope the listener/room. I have never heard this before in my system and it thrilled me completely. It enhanced the sense that, not only were the musicians in the room with me, but that I was virtually transported to the room in which the recording took place.
Depth and width grew to well outside the walls of my room — the sheer volume of acoustic spaces was vivid and exciting
Every CD became much more holographic and I was literally immersed in the music
Spaces between sources increased yet again as did the layering of sounds within a space
IMAGE FOCUS:
Images were much more defined in a seemingly natural space and were bigger and more tightly delineated
Image specificity deep in the soundstage was enhanced even more — things were much more naturally (there's that word again) real
Images seemed more solidly locked into place and more coherent — each image seemed to be more individualized and more "whole"
There seemed to be an 'envelope of air' around each instrument
DYNAMICS and "BLOOM":
Music seemed "sharper" and faster — pace and rhythm improved greatly on both rock/classical
The snap of drums and other percussive sounds was enhanced in a much more real and natural way — far greater "jump" factor
As an example a crash cymbal, when hit, starts with an explosion of sound in a very specific location (the cymbal) and then expands outward to fill the surrounding space — I can hear this for the first time
The dynamic scale of music, from softest to loudest sounds, increased significantly
Musical crescendos in naturally recorded spaces (classical, jazz) bloomed in the most amazing way, expanding to truly fill the space in the dynamic sense (this is the first time I have heard this effect in my system)
I think you get the idea. I have re-read this email a few times because I'm trying to ensure that this is a reasoned overview and not a "rave" job."

Doesn't the last sentence cap it all quite splendidly?!
And this is for same product as before - a power cable that is used for a non essential part of the audio signal chain, so the need for that device itself is questionable:)

A.S.
07-05-2011, 02:13 PM
I am in the process of getting a subwoofer for my room to add a little bass below 40Hz, which is now lacking due to correcting a slight null around the 80Hz zone...I may have misundertood you but it's important to mention about nulls in the room, that is, the partial or even complete absence of some frequencies, especialy at the low end of the audio band, according to your listening position.

I didn't quite appreciate this mysyelf until I attended a demonstration of a subwoofer system the BBC were developing at Research Dept. some years ago. I was asked to slowly walk across the room in which there were standard monitor speakers playing (5/8s I think, maybe 5/9) and to raise my hand every time I heard a dip in loudness. There was a distinct dip/no-dip pattern evident as I traversed the room. The dips coincided with nulls where the ('standing') waves in the room reflected back towards the speaker sources and cancelled the outgoing wave. This is illustrated here (http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/waves/funhar.html#c3). One of the difficulties is trying to imagine sound waves in action: these little pictures are I find non-inuitive. Anyway, that's how they're presented graphically.

Bob Walker, the erudite BBC boffin made the point that even if he had a room EQ system connected to one million watt amplifiers pumping energy into the room via the main speakers, there would be no way of filling-in the nulls. The more energy in, the more reflected, and the null would stubbornly remain at the same frequency and with the same depth regardless of power input until the speakers literally caught fire. The smart partial solution was to a) move the speakers a little or a lot to break-up the acoustic symmetry at low frequencies to 'semi-randomise the problem frequencies' and/or to introduce a subwoofer, strategically placed in the room to handle the lowest frequencies and roll-off the output from the main speakers, leaving all LF below about 120Hz to the sub alone. The sub, being non-directional could then be hidden where necessary for the best overall sound and least obvious nulls. The nulls would still be there at certain frequencies (that's inevitable, the room has four walls, ceiling and floor so it has dimensions related to wavelength) but they may be less obvious to the ear, which anyway can tolerate the most horrendous corruption of sound in the lower registers (thankfully).

Be sure that you are not chasing your own tail.

STHLS5
07-05-2011, 04:01 PM
I may have misunderstood you but it's important to mention about nulls in the room, that is, the partial or even complete absence of some frequencies, especialy at the low end of the audio band, according to your listening position.....

My apologies, I mentioned about the dips because I wanted to state the reason why I thought a subwoofer may be necessary and why I am depending on reviewers. Perhaps, I should have mentioned that in a new thread.

The dip and node at the worst-case scenario were just about plus and minus 10dB. The room length, height and width contributed to natural room resonance at around 40Hz, which is only about an average 10dB higher than the average room's frequency response due to extensive room treatment. I must say that the slight boost around 40Hz is somewhat pleasurable even though theoretically this is wrong.

The null/dip was caused by cancellation of waves due to my room's length which I managed to minimize by placing 4 x 2ft frame 8 inch Rockwool. However, that also minimized the resonance around 40Hz.

Now, I am really unsure whether to add a subwoofer because I really don't miss much at the 40Hz region. Did you say cross the sub at 120Hz? No way! I think Harbeth bass is one the best I heard. Too bad, subwoofer wasn't part of your product list.

ST

fred40
07-05-2011, 04:26 PM
Sorry...But it seems to me that nowadays you have to have all kind of Batchelor and Master degrees to enjoy plain stereo and get some decent sound of it.

{Moderator's comment: ???? None of us here have a Masters. A High school education plus lots of common sense = great sound for little money.}

LarsS
08-05-2011, 08:16 AM
there is one thing I have noticed when it comes to audio reviews on the internet. If you do a specific search for a product you are interested in and find it reviewed on an page where anyone can post their personal thoughts, or a blog, it sometimes goes like this...... yes, I have used xxxxx(your searched product) for quite a while and is it very good but THEN I bought this yyyyy and it blows xxxx completely away and the a full load of open, airy, ...well you know..

It is impossible to know and judge the quality of such statements when you do not the relationship between the product and reviewer. It is a sort of verbal snake oil to me.

And I forgot to mention in my previous post that the four wood pieces are cryo treated and so is my G&T:s. You can not imagine what it does the the sound stage.

Kumar Kane
08-05-2011, 08:40 AM
And I forgot to mention in my previous post that the four wood pieces are cryo treated and so is my G&T:s. You can not imagine what it does the the sound stage.
I suspect it is just the cryo for the G&T that's doing its cryo miracle! Last night, all that was written in the rave review I posted above, happened in my room, after establishing a good foundation of whisky:)

Drdennis
08-05-2011, 12:29 PM
The skill required in reading reviews is, READING BETWEEN THE LINES. When the reviewer said it was a 'wonderful Home Theatre sub', he/she was telling you it doesn't do a very good job with music.

Many reviews list the reviewers "reference system". When you see certain names mentioned frequently by multiple reviewers, this is generally the sign of a good product. Like most endeavours in life, it takes time to learn. Sometimes what may initially seem simple, is the result of years of experience and hard work. Being an audiophile, like being a designer, is no different. An "audiophile" can sometimes compensate by spending large sums of money, but building a good system on a limited budget, requires real knowledge and skill.

Kumar Kane
16-06-2011, 04:35 AM
After spending some time reading other similar articles here, and with my new C7s starting to sing at home, my conclusions on this subject are that it is not a big budget or selection challenge today to get "good enough" quality equipment for the reproduction/amplification/cabling part of the chain.

The three big drivers that seem to then influence how the sound is heard are the quality of the recording, the speaker voicing capability, and the room acoustics including where the speakers are placed in the room. And of course, the quality of the performance itself.

I shall leave the G&T effect as outside the ambit of this discussion, it is very subjective, for some the place of a G&T could be a 'joint'!

steve
16-06-2011, 10:02 PM
From Fremmer in Stereophile June 2011 - I kid you not!

"The Sakara interconnect ($10,000/1m pair, $6500 each additional meter...a hermetically sealed tube filled with helium...Like the old TARA Zero the Sakra sounded open, ultra fast, wideband, and non-resonant, free from edginess or metallic after taste. It conveyed lightning fast attacks, generous sustains, and long decays into "black" backgrounds."

I cant resist quoting Peter Aczel (http://www.theaudiocritic.com/cwo/Our_Philosophy/) "Should a Should a speaker system or an amplifier be reviewed like a restaurant, or like an engineering design?...."

Kumar Kane
19-06-2011, 02:36 AM
Very interesting link, Steve! Quoting from the Peter Aczel site - "The old regulars know exactly my position regarding the stupidity of ascribing a “character” to the sound of an utterly neutral signal path. Oohing and aahing over the vast improvement in soundstaging, front-to-back depth, bass delineation, or treble sweetness obtainable with this or that electronic component may sell high-end magazines but is totally unscientific and delusional."

And there are other trenchant comments about orthopedic surgeons, hedge fund managers and the like that buy high end audio jewelry!

steve
19-06-2011, 07:16 PM
Yes - its a pity that no one is writing today like the way he wrote (he still publishes 1 or 2 articles a year but must be in his late 80s and there is a certain decline in his journalism). Still there are a lot of good articles on the site...