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Thread: What's "snake oil" and what's not - interpreting marketing and media hype

  1. #21
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    Default The warm glow of a valve amp smelt through a haze of G&T

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    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.

  2. #22
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by GregD View Post
    ...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 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.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  3. #23
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    Default Total disbelief ....

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    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:)

  4. #24
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    Default Allocating your budget ...

    Quote Originally Posted by GregD View Post
    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:)

  5. #25
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    Default Science and beliefs - where do they begin and end?

    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!

  6. #26
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    Default Apple is wonderful ...

    Quote Originally Posted by EricW View Post
    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:)

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    Default Why was I so gullible?

    Quote Originally Posted by GregD View Post
    .....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 itís 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 canít recover)." and more about vibration as can be read here....

    I am sold!

    ST

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    Default Analogue and digital sources: The value for money approach

    Quote Originally Posted by Kumar Kane View Post
    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!

  9. #29
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    Default

    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.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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    Default Pip pip! Bottoms up old bean!

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    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!

  11. #31
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    Default Harbeth merchandise (jokingly?)

    Quote Originally Posted by EricW View Post
    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!

  12. #32
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    Default Pims No. 5 - almost essential for de-jittering ....

    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...
    Last edited by Macjager; 05-05-2011 at 09:45 PM. Reason: Spelling...Pimm's

  13. #33
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    Default The fresh air of a jitter-free DAC?

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    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....!!!

  14. #34
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    Default Proper comparative tests of (virtually perfect) electronics?

    Quote Originally Posted by GregD View Post
    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.

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    Default Sometimes we just can't think straight - establishing ground rules?

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    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 published in Sound & Vision magazine.

    ST

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    Default The stylus and the drink - a dangerous combo

    Quote Originally Posted by Macjager View Post
    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:)

  17. #37
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    Default Changing the speakers - biggest audible difference

    Quote Originally Posted by Kumar Kane View Post
    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.

  18. #38
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    Default "The need to believe"

    Quote Originally Posted by STHLS5 View Post
    To those who still strongly believe in cables, please read Tom Nousaine article 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.

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    Default A small objective experiment in microphony

    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

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    Default The dangers of booze + hifi

    Quote Originally Posted by Kumar Kane View Post
    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.

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