Pharyngula

Is Audiophilia in the DSM?

What little I’ve read of the extreme audiophile community makes my brain hurt, and I’ve avoided it like poison. James Randi deals with the freaky audiophiles now and then — people who believe their special magic cables will make your stereo sound better, or that an array of weirdly shaped hatstands in your room will make the music resonate just right — but it’s not something I want to get into regularly. A reader sent me a link to the special One Drop Liquid, though, and I just had to share my cerebral agony with everyone else, out of spite.

I dare you to make sense of this. It’s some liquid that is supposed to improve the quality of your CDs.

P.W.B. Special One Drop Liquid possesses a most extraordinary property. The human senses, in common with the requirements of all living material including trees and all other green plants, have evolved the requirements for forward facing light energy.

Light, in common with most energies within Nature, readily forms an inverse pattern of itself when encountering an obstacle. Light is particularly modified when encountering a transparent obstacle. The human senses will not function correctly when confronted with an energy pattern which faces away from the senses.

The daily dietary requirement of salt and sugar is the chemical requirement that the body requires to manipulate the energy patterns absorbed by our bodies. To demonstrate the inverse pattern formation on objects which fill the modern environment, simply place salt on one face and sugar on another face of the object. Stimulate your sense of hearing by listening to music, then remove the salt and sugar. The effect on the senses is usually quite profound. The effect is particularly noticeable if the faces of a NON playing Compact Disc or vinyl record is manipulated by placing salt (in a small bag) on one face and sugar (in a small bag) on the other face.

It starts off crazy, and it just gets worse and worse, doesn’t it? We get some mangled physics of light (I did wonder…so light is not particularly modified when it encounters something opaque?), and this weird salt and sugar rationalization; what? So I’m supposed to put a bag of salt and sugar on a CD that isn’t playing, and it will somehow change the sound of my stereo? Yes, that’s what he’s saying. Here are the instructions for using One Drop Liquid.

To ascertain the effect of the One Drop Liquid on any object, it is only necessary to initially stand the small bottle containing the Liquid on the face of the object. ALL transparent material within a listening room, including glass windows, clock faces, wrist watch faces, TV screens, the lenses of eye glasses etc. and display windows on equipment should all be treated. It is only necessary to apply one drop of the Liquid to the corner of a glass window for the beneficial effect to be heard.

The guy has a whole bunch of crazy products that he sells, like special colored markers to label the edges of your CDs and tapes, which will make them sound so much better. Please don’t read too deeply—it will drive you mad, even while it makes all your Britney Spears recordings sound like Queen.

Comments

  1. #1 Coathangrrr
    April 11, 2007

    I know all about the colored markers. I was never able to tell the difference, but a lot of my friends swear that they make CDs sound “warmer.”

  2. #2 Nerull
    April 11, 2007

    That website is painful.

  3. #3 MarcusA
    April 11, 2007

    And I thought the time travel talk on Star Trek made me feel uneasy. This is worse than trying to understand the circular story line to the “Planet of the Ape” saga. Maybe that guy will listen to reason if we place a large box of salt on his head.

  4. #4 Charles G
    April 11, 2007

    This has to be some kind of genius parody. Observe his free techniques for improving audio:

    http://www.belt.demon.co.uk/Free_Techniques/Free_Techniques.html

    A sheet of paper under one foot? A BLUE sheet of paper under a vase? This is like a litany of the kinds of things you’d use to demonstrate to people the impact of suggestion on subjective judgements. No human being could possibly believe any of this actually makes any difference, could they?

  5. #5 jw
    April 11, 2007

    Ha! Yes, being an audiophile is an obsession, and a genuine sickness if taken too far. It can really drive you nuts. That said, I will never give up my Magnepan speakers, silver coated cables, and precision preamp. After weeks of side-by-side testing, I can hear the difference. Fortunately I’m done shopping, and won’t drive myself nuts anymore.

  6. #6 Kseniya
    April 11, 2007

    Wow. I wonder if he has a treatment for singing doorknobs? A liquid or a spray or something?

    They whine at me constantly. In microtones. They’re SO distracting that sometimes they cause me to inadvertently clack my ring on the porcelain enamel of the bathroom sink, which OF COURSE means I have to start my morning routine all over again.

    Some days it takes me twelve hours just to get out the door.

  7. #7 Marlon
    April 11, 2007

    I didn’t notice if he was trying to sell that stuff, but it did give me an idea. I’m going to sell a $25 2oz. bottle of water and food coloring with the assurance that after you’ve tried it you will (or should be) wiser.

  8. #8 Stuart Coleman
    April 11, 2007

    I don’t think these guys actually believe what they say, but they know that the state of science education is such that if they use a bunch of big fancy-sounding words, people will buy their garbage. Really their existence is a condemnation of the state of Americans’ minds.

  9. #9 Steve LaBonne
    April 11, 2007

    By the way, if you really want to get the audio-wackos going, just utter the magic words: “double-blind testing”. Then run for cover. ;)

  10. #10 afterthought
    April 11, 2007

    http://www.national.com/rap/Story/0,1562,3,00.html

    BTW, I use line cord, but I dip it in “heavy water” first. (kidding).

  11. #11 CCP
    April 11, 2007

    Woo!

    I like jazz, and I subscribe to Downbeat magazine. They have an audiophile column in the back where some guy reviews high-end CD players and reports hearing all kinds of differences, with a rich use of metaphors (almost like wine tasters). My favorite part is his insistence that CD players sound better after they’ve been used a while; some kind of “burning-in” process.

    I’m skeptical.

  12. #12 Eric
    April 11, 2007

    There’s audiophilia, and then there’s audiophilia. On one hand you have people who are really into acoustic science and engineering, who spend their money doing things like calculating room modes and installing bass traps, diffusers, etc. That’s physics, it’s demonstrable, and that I can get behind even if it can get to be a bit of a anorak hobby. In some cases it’s a bit more ridiculous, with people buying special heavy-mass turntables to prevent external vibrations messing with your playing LPs (true, that *could* be a demonstrable physical effect, but are you really likely to actually notice the difference?), and in some cases it’s entirely subjective, like installing old-stock tubes because the sound is “better.”

    On the other hand you’ve got the people who spend their money on “magic” cables and green markers. That’s a different kind of audiophilia altogether, and is not to be confused with the “crackpot audiophiles” of the above article.

    Here ends my PSA.

  13. #13 Longtime Lurker
    April 11, 2007

    DHMO, anyone? I hear it’s toxic. But it greatly improves sound quality if you clean your ears out with it..

    http://www.dhmo.org/

  14. #14 Robert
    April 11, 2007

    That whole free technique thing struck me as being entirely OCD. Anyone else get that?

    Also, whats wrong with me? I really enjoy reading about other people’s crazy!

  15. #15 D. Eppstein
    April 11, 2007

    even while it makes all your Britney Spears recordings sound like Queen.

    Is that a reference to Good Omens? From you?

  16. #16 Doctor Whom
    April 11, 2007

    This has to be parody. Brilliant.

  17. #17 afterthought
    April 11, 2007

    I knew one guy who would buy an amplifier and then have all the components (resistors, capacitors, etc.) replaced with higher quality (1% rather than 10% Etc.) versions. I suppose there might be better matching that way, but it sure seems like a great way to spend a ton of money. I do think it is a great business to be in, you could probably just replace a few things to make it look like you did the work and charge a fortune with nobody the wiser.

  18. #18 Christian Burnham
    April 11, 2007

    Can you distinguish 128kbs sampling from the original mp3?

    Take this test.
    http://duxlist.com:81/

    So far the results are exactly 50% right, which is what you’d expect from chance.

  19. #19 H. Humbert
    April 11, 2007

    jw said:

    “After weeks of side-by-side testing, I can hear the difference.”

    Was it double-blind testing? Because if not, the difference you hear could very well be non-existent. That’s how all these products “work,” you know–you try them and hear a difference. Heck, even experts swear they hear a difference! Yet when proper controls are in place, the difference magically disappears and they can’t tell one setup from the other.

    Well, it’s your hard-earned cash, so if you’re satisfied, I guess that’s all that matters. (Incidentally, now that you’ve already spent the money, the perception that the products you’ve purchased “work” will be greatly enhanced, whether they really do or not.)

  20. #20 Jay
    April 11, 2007

    Oh, this sounds like the guy years ago that tried to tell me about the “Holy Red LEDs” and how he was creating power by shining it through water. Somehow the color red was God’s favorite or something like that. Around that time I politely disengaged myself from the conversation and ran for the door….

    Harmless whackjob or the next Postal engineer? I didn’t want to find out.

  21. #21 Robert M.
    April 11, 2007

    I learned from a former coworker never to argue with any audiophile.

    He went way past the fairly standard “Records sounds better than CDs”, past “vacuum tubes sound better than transistors”, past “gold-plated cables make things sound better”… and I, armed with four years’ worth of engineering courses and a senior thesis on impedance matching in microwave filters, tried to convince him that the only difference his audio purchases were making was in his bank balance.

    The same guy claimed to be an atheist, but had his horoscope professionally cast every month, and was seriously considering self-trepanation.

  22. #22 Great White Wonder
    April 11, 2007

    My favorite part is his insistence that CD players sound better after they’ve been used a while; some kind of “burning-in” process.

    Right.

    Sound quality is about the speakers and the acoustics in the room. Everything else — cables, amplifiers — is bullshit that you will never hear. That said, for most of the best speakers, you do need a decent amp to get the most out of them.

    But without a decent room, they’ll still sound like pure shit.

  23. #23 AJ Milne
    April 11, 2007

    My funny audiophile story is second-hand… Colleague describing to me a second colleague with whom he’d sat on a plane for a lengthy trip… Second colleague regales the guy who told me the tale endlessly with what he spends on amps and speakers, trouble to which he goes to get everything set up just so, who he thinks makes the best gear…

    Then the first colleague asks the question: so what sort of music do you play on this setup of yours?

    Answer: a rather narrow and painful-to-contemplate assortment of hair bands and flavour o’ the week top forty trash.

    Funniest part, though, was how he described the guy’s reaction to the question. Before answering, he looks at him as though on the verge of asking: ‘what’s that got to do with anything?’

  24. #24 Blake Stacey
    April 11, 2007

    He who hires himself as a trepannist has a fool for a client.

  25. #25 Richard Turpen
    April 11, 2007

    I feel stoopid now.

  26. #26 Ed S.
    April 11, 2007

    Was in the audio business years ago and had to deal with the entire spectrum of audiophile beliefs — and do so politely since I was a service manager. ‘Way back in the day, some stores used an “A-B-X” switch to demo equipment. The “X” setting was a random (or at least inconsistent)selection of either A or B. Use of this switch in blinded trials often had the effect of embarrassing someone, but, as a friend once said to me: “If you pay four-hundred buck for cables – you WILL hear a difference.”

  27. #27 MikeM
    April 11, 2007

    What really, really shocks me about this audiophile trash is the prices. I read it on Randi’s site: Someone is selling these wooden knobs to replace the metalic ones your receiver probably came with, and a single knob is in the hundreds of dollars.

    http://www.referenceaudiomods.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=NOB_C37_C

    I really had no idea people were that dumb.

    Now, excuse me while I go order some more stuff from Layers of Light.

  28. #28 Mike Fox
    April 11, 2007

    You all assume he is crazy. HAVE you tested his assertions? Perhaps his product doesn’t have the exact effects he claims, but maybe it does allow for continuing periods of obsession. According to JW, obsession does improve sound quality. Or maybe One Drop is a zen-like activity that helps one imagine sound interacting with all aspects of their environment?

    Mike Fox

  29. #29 Nomen Nescio
    April 11, 2007

    it will drive you mad, even while it makes all your Britney Spears recordings sound like Queen.

    if it wasn’t for the insanity, i’d consider paying a good bit for that effect. think we could pull the same trick off on the actual artist, by any chance…?

  30. #30 notthedroids
    April 11, 2007

    The hobby used to be called “high fidelity”, and hi-fi nuts actually built amplifiers, speaker cabinets, etc etc.

    When the hobby changed from “high fidelity” to “audiophile”, it became ridiculous.

    Dyed-in-wool “subjectivist” audiophools become visibly apoplectic if you merely utter three letters: A. B. X.

  31. #31 Jay
    April 11, 2007

    Oh, this sounds like the guy years ago that tried to tell me about the “Holy Red LEDs” and how he was creating power by shining it through water. Somehow the color red was God’s favorite or something like that. Around that time I politely disengaged myself from the conversation and ran for the door….

    Harmless whackjob or the next Postal engineer? I didn’t want to find out.

  32. #32 Steve Cuthbertson
    April 11, 2007

    Peter Belt has been (in)famous in the super-tweaky audio industry for years. In the dim and distant past (25+ years ago) his product were evangelised by an otherwise relatively sane reviewer in the UK by the name of Jimmy Hughes. Jimmy started off relatively normal, but with exposure to massive amounts of Belt products got gradually further and further off the beaten track, until he totally fell off the cliff… Polarised water in sealed bottles, sat on top of youe electricity meter made your kit sound better (and better again if you drank some too), even numbers of pages in books and booklets in your audio room made the sound worse, polarising brushes that made audio equipment better by being brushed (but it had to be in the right way)… The list went on, and on, and on, like a duracell bunny. Until being Belted, Jimmy actually said a lot sensible things. FSM knows what changed him.

  33. #33 notthedroids
    April 11, 2007

    A couple more points:

    1) I think the website may be a massive pisstake, but am not certain.

    2) If you are rational, reasonably numerate, and interested in high-fidelity sound reproduction, the following website:
    http://www.provide.net/~djcarlst/abx_data.htm
    can give you some good ideas about where to focus one’s energy/resources.

    3) If you are truly serious about high-fidelity sound, the component most in need of upgrade is probably the listening room.

  34. #34 mikey
    April 11, 2007

    I’ve been in the optical media business since, well, since there WAS an optical media business. The very idea is impossible. A cd has pits and lands molded into it. The point where they transition is read as a binary 1. The rest are binary 0.

    The only way to affect the playback quality of digital music on a CD is one of the following.

    1. Mix/Master poorly. All subsequent dubs will suck

    2. Record copy or make stamper with excessive errors on it. Red book audio CDs have only CIRC error correction, so excessive error rates can show up as audio errors.

    3. CD Audio is sampled at 48khz, 16 bit deep, stereo. If you change any of those parameters, you WILL hear a difference. 48khz 8 bit sounds kind of flat, while 96khz 20 bit has an additional “richness” you really can hear…

    mikey

  35. #35 frog
    April 11, 2007

    The same guy claimed to be an atheist, but had his horoscope professionally cast every month, and was seriously considering self-trepanation.

    Don’t have to be a theist to be into religion. Don’t have to be a mono-theist, poly-theist or even pan-theist. You can be a perfectly good a-theist, and still believe in nymphs, fairies and unicorns.

    I think there’s a song somewhere in there.

  36. #36 Marcus Ranum
    April 11, 2007

    Some of the suggestions about the blue paper and whatnot sound like feng shui. Hmmmmm…. Maybe someone could write a book on feng shui for audiophiles. I bet it’d be a runaway hit.

  37. #37 Joshua
    April 11, 2007

    “Please don’t read too deeply–it will drive you mad, even while it makes all your Britney Spears recordings sound like Queen.”

    Cripes! Worse than the Necronomicon!

    Re: Eric’s article, we could just use a new term for the bad kind of audiophile: audiwoophile.

  38. #38 David Marjanovi?
    April 11, 2007

    and was seriously considering self-trepanation.

    Darwin Award.

  39. #39 David Marjanovi?
    April 11, 2007

    and was seriously considering self-trepanation.

    Darwin Award.

  40. #40 Joshua
    April 11, 2007

    Ooh, but “audiophool” is good, too.

  41. #41 Andy
    April 11, 2007

    If your head doesn’t hurt yet, be sure to check out the crackpotery on timecube.com.

  42. #42 afterthought
    April 11, 2007

    Hmmmmm…. Maybe someone could write a book on feng shui for audiophiles. I bet it’d be a runaway hit.

    If only I could be dishonest, I think there are a number of great ways to cheat people. I am just no good at it. Is cheating a learned character (or lack thereof) trait or is it inborn?
    I suppose a lot of these folks are honest in their cheating as they likely believe it too. Therefore, maybe the key thing is to be naive, which gets us back to the DI, maybe. :^)

  43. #43 John Ponder
    April 11, 2007

    This looks like a crazy elaboration of some old CD-player physics that has actually been backed up with some lab data. I ran across it while researching anecdotal treatments that retard photochemical color changes in wood, specifically “Armor All” for the African hardwood padauk. In addition to blocking the wavelengths of UV that fade the vinyl on your dad’s convertible, it turned out that it could also block wavelengths near that of certain lasers in CD players. So if you apply it to the surface of a CD, supposedly it would block competing ambient light that leaks into the CD player and degrades the quality of the signal. I never put it to the test myself, but it did seem to be based on some real physics.

  44. #44 TheBlackCat
    April 11, 2007

    CD Audio is sampled at 48khz, 16 bit deep, stereo. If you change any of those parameters, you WILL hear a difference. 48khz 8 bit sounds kind of flat, while 96khz 20 bit has an additional “richness” you really can hear…

    The 20 bits might help, but increasing the sampling rate will not make a bit of difference. Human hearing is only effective up to ~20 kHz. Thanks to Nyquist we know that a sampling rate over 40-50 kHz is wasted data. Increasing the sampling rate simply allows you to record frequencies that you can’t hear in the first place. A dog or cat or perhaps the rats in your walls might get some benefit out of it, but you certainly won’t.

  45. #45 afterthought
    April 11, 2007

    So if you apply it to the surface of a CD, supposedly it would block competing ambient light that leaks into the CD player and degrades the quality of the signal. I never put it to the test myself, but it did seem to be based on some real physics.

    The thing about digital is that minor changes in S/N ratio make very little difference, i.e., you have to change a 1′b0 to a 1′b1 to create an error. Slight light is very unlikely to do that. Oh, and why wouldn’t the gunk also reduce the laser light thus keeping S/N the same or worse? All this is why minor scratches do not create noise with a CD as on LPs.
    It really does go:
    1) Room
    2) Speakers
    3) Other stuff
    In that order.
    This is why I get a real kick out of $10K car stereos. You have the acoustics of an upsidedown bathtub to start. Yes, active cancelling and a million speakers help, and there are some nice car systems, but in the end it seems to be about making the most noise… especially bass.

  46. #46 Carlie
    April 11, 2007

    The only “trick” I’ve ever seen to make CDs play better is to rub them with a little Pledge first. Methinks it has more to do with removing smudges than anything else.

  47. #47 TheBlackCat
    April 11, 2007

    Hmm, if my math is correct increasing the bit depth from 16 to 20 shouldn’t help much if at all, either (assuming the data was encoded in a smart manner). Humans can hear up to approximately 120 dB, and we can detect at most approximately 1 dB changes in sound pressure level over that range. If the sound was encoded on a logarithmic scale and was cut off above 120 dB, you would only need 8 bits to capture at least 1 dB differences. 16 bits can encode about .003 dB differences, well above what humans can detect. 20 bits can encode .0002 dB differences, 16 times better but way beyond what humans can detect. It is not that simple, lack of precision in the time-series data will mess up the frequency response, but at that resolution (16-20 bits) the differences are minimal. The end result would be high-frequency changes that once again humans cannot hear or have a great deal of trouble hearing. And that is assuming it is encoded over the whole 0 to 120 dB range and not a safer 0 to <90 dB range, which would make it even less of an issue.

  48. #48 TheBlackCat
    April 11, 2007

    Weird, end of my post got cut off. It should say “and not a safer 0 to <90 dB range”

  49. #49 Troublesome Frog
    April 11, 2007

    TheBlackCat:

    All I can think of is round off / saturation during editing. Once you start doing your fixed point math, the more bits you have, the better. As for actually storing CD audio, I was under the impression that it was always stored on the disc at 16 bits per sample, so the only way any of this makes sense is by if we’re talking about the initial sampling and subsequent editing.

  50. #50 Tryptamine
    April 11, 2007

    “The human senses, in common with the requirements of all living material including trees and all other green plants, have evolved the requirements for forward facing light energy”

    And we’re back to vitalism again. Who would have though they’d use it to sell a quacky CD accessory?

    Saying that, I’ve seen plenty of bizaare products touted as natural. My favourite being natural cigarettes, which will presumably give you natural lung cancer

  51. #51 MrvnMouse
    April 11, 2007

    Doing anything to CD will only make it work. The data is stored in a digital form using an encoding. There is absolutely nothing you can do to make the encoding warmer, colder, pinker, gayer, more republican, whatever. It’s just bits on a disc.

    Yet people still try to convince me that somehow they can make their digital music sound warmer by doing stupid crap to the CDs.

  52. #52 Jud
    April 11, 2007

    TheBlackCat, Troublesome Frog, etc.: See here for some scientific-sounding stuff that at least appears to show getting sound outta those pits and lands involves more than one might suppose.

    By the way, I’ve got some cables that were designed by a fellow who used to design jet aircraft for the military, and yeah, I actually think they sound better. :-) In fact, I’ve got to say I’m pretty dang happy with the whole system and the music that comes out of it. (The first power chord of “Pinball Wizard” from my 38-year-old “Tommy” LP is guaranteed to make you sit bolt upright.)

  53. #53 frog
    April 11, 2007

    Saying that, I’ve seen plenty of bizaare products touted as natural. My favourite being natural cigarettes, which will presumably give you natural lung cancer…

    Or fewer preservatives, that when burned and inhaled can potentiate the cancer risk? The lung cancer due to smoking is a normal immune response to irritating particles and chemicals in the smoke, which continues over a long period of time, resulting in “unintended consequences.” It is not terribly unlikely that many commercial preservatives and manufacturing processes could make that irritation worse, leading to quicker development of cancerous side effects.

    “Natural” as a catch-all is silly, but yet… At least we know that evolution has had a shot at handling it. Something newly synthesized? Hard to predict all the ways it will interact with biological systems. Sometimes it’s just better to go with the devil you know.

  54. #54 tim gueguen
    April 11, 2007

    Supposedly the “colour the edges of your CDs with magic marker to make them sound better” bit originated with Wayne Green, who was publisher of the amateur radio magazine 73. Green is a fan of all sorts of pseudoscience such as colloidal silver and electric healing machines, as can be seen on his website.
    http://www.waynegreen.com/

  55. #55 DaveX
    April 11, 2007

    For the guy who thinks its difficult to tell an original recording from a 128kbps mp3– are you a total idiot? It’s completely obvious!

    I’m pretty sure I could tell most mp3s from an original master, given a decent set of headphones. Trouble is that people spend very little time developing their listening skills.

    Granted, I think the vast majority of the audiophile equipment is nonsense– who cares what your system is capable of if you’re still listening to “Raw Power”?? GIGO, right?

  56. #56 andyo
    April 11, 2007

    3. CD Audio is sampled at 48khz, 16 bit deep, stereo. If you change any of those parameters, you WILL hear a difference. 48khz 8 bit sounds kind of flat, while 96khz 20 bit has an additional “richness” you really can hear…

    mikey

    CD audio is sampled at 44.1 kHz, 16 bit. I’m pretty sure about that. DVD-video audio is sampled at 48 kHz, 16 bit(but it’s compressed).

    TheBlackcat:

    The 20 bits might help, but increasing the sampling rate will not make a bit of difference. Human hearing is only effective up to ~20 kHz. Thanks to Nyquist we know that a sampling rate over 40-50 kHz is wasted data. Increasing the sampling rate simply allows you to record frequencies that you can’t hear in the first place.

    Sampling rate and bits have the potential to increase frequency and dynamic range, but don’t necessarily do so. The important thing is they increase resolution. The sound wave will be smoother. It is the same with color bits when working in digital photography. The “darker” parts of the sound (the lower volume sounds) will benefit the most from more bits of resolution, since their waves are defined by less “steps” compared to higher volume sounds (or brighter pixels in photography).

    This is especially useful for editing (in both cases), but the difference in the end product is negligible or even imperceptible in my opinion. But the differences are there in any case.

  57. #57 arghous
    April 11, 2007

    Light is particularly modified when encountering a transparent obstacle.

    Oh no! I’ll have to rip my corneas out now.

    The daily dietary requirement of salt and sugar is the chemical requirement that the body requires to manipulate the energy patterns absorbed by our bodies.

    Phew! I guess tears contain both salt and sugar. I guess my eyes are O.K. after all.

    To demonstrate the inverse pattern formation on objects which fill the modern environment, simply place salt on one face and sugar on another face of the object.

    Oops. Dang this modern enviroment! Why didn’t God design our eyes to alternate salt/sugar?

  58. #58 afterthought
    April 11, 2007

    By the way, I’ve got some cables that were designed by a fellow who used to design jet aircraft for the military, and yeah, I actually think they sound better.

    And aircraft has to do with audio exactly how?
    This is the same ploy DI uses with brain surgeons.

  59. #59 DaveX
    April 11, 2007

    Andyo– Normally you’re correct on the hearing range of humans. But there are a number of people (my wife, for instance) who can hear a bit beyond this. Also, wouldn’t these additional frequencies add up in some regard as far as reinforcing waveforms, etc? Listening would be a very different experience without the physical aspect produced by lower and higher sounds– we might not perceive them aurally, but I’m quite sure there is a tactile component that helps.

  60. #60 Jud
    April 11, 2007

    afterthought (#57) – Audio’s not the same as aircraft design, obviously. But it did give the guy a disposition for tech that can provide reproducible results, as the Pentagon doesn’t like it when your planes don’t fly (unless they’re those VTOL things that never seemed to work but may still be in development?). Proof of the pudding’s in the listening/enjoyment anyhow – failed technology can’t consistently impress an instrument as discriminating as the ear-brain over long periods of time, any more than technology that produces inaccurate video would be consistently enjoyable to watch.

    BTW, have a look at the linked material (link at #51) – it certainly seems on the up-and-up, though I don’t understand enough to know that for certain.

  61. #61 Tryptamine
    April 11, 2007

    Hi Frog – “Sometimes it’s just better to go with the devil you know”

    That’s a fair point. I somehow don’t think that’s what their marketing department had in mind, though… :-)

    I guess your argument’s probably strongest when whatever you’re attempting has been part of human/animal ancestral behaviour for a long time, and natural selection’s had plenty of time to act on it. There might be something to natural food, then, but probably not natural medicine. Of course, while you’re probably right about the smoking, we could envisage an alternative scenario – preservatives might prevent some natural decomposition process which generates toxic substances inhaled with the smoke.

  62. #62 TheBlackCat
    April 11, 2007

    DaveX, those sorts of things only help if you analyze the sound as a stream of pressure changes over time, what is called the “time domain”. That is what you see on an oscilloscope, for instance, or when they show sound as wave. The auditory system of vertebrates does not work in this way (except perhaps fish, I don’t know about them). Instead, it divides the sound up into (roughly) its component frequencies and “reads in” each frequency separately. That is what you are changing with an equalizer, more or less. Interference (either constructive or destructive) disappears when you look at individual frequencies since those are ultimately the result of interactions between frequencies.

    Andy said:

    The “darker” parts of the sound (the lower volume sounds) will benefit the most from more bits of resolution, since their waves are defined by less “steps” compared to higher volume sounds (or brighter pixels in photography).

    The problem is that there is are fundamental limitations in the auditory system as well. It doesn’t matter how much intensity resolution your sound has if the intensity resolution of your ears is 3-4 orders of magnitude worse. Those are the differences we are dealing with here. Furthermore the resolution on a logarithmic scale is pretty much uniform across most of the human intensity range. Therefore selectively improving low intensities really doesn’t help since the resolution in the human auditory system is the same across all levels.

  63. #63 notthedroids
    April 11, 2007

    I don’t know how relevant this is at this point:
    http://www.provide.net/~djcarlst/abx_cd.htm

    Detectable differences between CD players.

    Even though the data are digital, playback is analog. That’s why I’m not prepared to declare *all* CD surface treatments woo.

  64. #64 Geoff Arnold
    April 11, 2007

    The English duo Flanders & Swann skewered this kind of stupidity back in the 1950s:
    http://tinyurl.com/wig9

  65. #65 Keanus
    April 11, 2007

    From scanning through the pages of Peter Belt’s website, me thinks PWB is a parody of faith and belief. Despite the site being called a “company” it never actually offers anything for sale (at least that I could find) nor any photos (other than the one of the “One Drop Liquid” bottle. And the only contact info I could find were a couple of email addresses, to his own domain name but both flagged with a stem that would alert him, whoever he is, what the probable topic was. Oh, if PWB is for real, then his biggest product is probably tin foil hats and his biggest customer is a “think tank” in Seattle Washington known for its one-drop thinking. Oh, and Peter Belt has a wife named May Belt, sort of like the one time grand dame of Houston TX society and daughter of a former Texas governor (they’re all crazy there) Ima Hogg.

  66. #66 TheBlackCat
    April 11, 2007

    Jud, your website describes (in a needlessly complicated manner) the first 2-3 lectures of a digital signal processing course. Short version: it is not possible to convert a digital signal perfectly back into an analog one. But it is possible to get so close the human auditory system cannot tell the difference. CD players that do a crappy job of doing the conversion will have crappy sound. CD players that do a good job of doing the conversion will have good sound. This is a fundamental problem with converting digital signals to analog signals.

    notthedroids, you are making an unwarranted leap in logic here. There is an analog aspect, and how that aspect is handled by the CD player’s circuitry can affect the sound, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with the CD. You are jumping from “analog in the CD player” to “analog changes in the CD” when the two are completely divorced from each other. The analog stage of the CD player is one of the last things that happens prior to the signal being sent to the speakers. It has nothing to do with actually getting the data off the CD. That is purely digital, and is the only thing that would be affected by these surface treatments. The analog component does not care where the signal came from or what its nature is, it would be no different than reading a wave file off your computer hard drive (or a text file or image file for that matter) as far as the analog component of the processing is concerned, all it ever sees is a string of digital data.

  67. #67 Monado
    April 11, 2007

    Of course it has a mysterious effect! It mysteriously lines with money the pockets of those who sell it.

  68. #68 Christian Burnham
    April 11, 2007

    DaveX #54 wrote

    “For the guy who thinks its difficult to tell an original recording from a 128kbps mp3– are you a total idiot?”

    Actually, yes. I am a total idiot. But how could you tell that from my perception of sampling rates? Is there some ear-IQ correlation I don’t know about?

  69. #69 Ktesibios
    April 12, 2007

    Actually, there is a sane reason for upping the sample rate to 88.2 or 96 kHz, which has to do with the constraints the sample rate places on the design of the antialiasing filter upstream of the A/D converter and the antiimaging filter downstream from the D/A converter.

    If you record at a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz, you want (ideally), a passband response such that at 20 kHz the amplitude response is +- 1 dB of the midband amplitude. You need a stopband response with perhaps 60+ dB of attenuation at 22.05 kHz and above.

    22.05 kHz is only 0.14 octave above 20 kHz, so that corresponds to a transition-band slope of over 420 dB/octave.

    The result is that antialiasing filters designed for use with 44.1 kHz sampling are usually insanely complex things with seven or more poles and multiple zeros in the transfer function, which produces really violent shifts in phase response near the upper end of the passband. These filters usually ring like bells at their cutoff frequency when excited by transients.

    Just put a square wave into a DAT machine set for 44.1 kHz and look at the output on a scope and you’ll see what I mean. The overshoot and ringing don’t do the A/D converter headroom or the sound quality any good.

    Using linear-phase filters, like those manufactured by Apogee, improves things, but these have their own transient response weirdities.

    If you double the sample rate and thus the Nyquist frequency, the transition band gets a lot wider. This allows the filter designer to use gentler transition band slope rates which produce much less phase distortion, overshoot and ringing.

  70. #70 Ian H Spedding FCD
    April 12, 2007

    Being a big band/early jazz freak, I can well remember the first efforts at digital enhancement of some guy in Australia – someone here must know who I mean. He took old 78s from the 20s and 30s – artists like Fats Waller – and went through each track, painstakingly taking out each pop and crackle and all the other surface noise. The results were extraordinary with the old tinny sound being replaced with something of much greater clarity and depth which seemed to approach hi-fi standards, at least to my ears.

  71. #71 Stephen Ockham
    April 12, 2007

    notthedroids wrote at commonent 62:
    —————————————
    I don’t know how relevant this is at this point:
    http://www.provide.net/~djcarlst/abx_cd.htm

    Detectable differences between CD players.

    Even though the data are digital, playback is analog. That’s why I’m not prepared to declare *all* CD surface treatments woo.
    —————————————

    Remember: The CD surface is digital data, the cd player can either read that data or not, there is no ambiguity allowed in the process at that point. So treating the disc (assuming its not a scratched disc to begin with of course) cannot create a better quality sound.

    What is true, and what you do acknowledge is that after the digital signal is read by the device, a tranlation into analog signal is performed, and in that process, and all points after, it is possible for variables such as resistance and impedence to degrade sound quality (though whether this occurs to a degree recognizable is another matter).

    This does not, however, lend any creedence to disc treatment products at all.

    Furthermore, the test you link to comparring cd players with older/newer technology for the tranlation of digital data to analog signal. Comparing these variables a discernable difference is not unthinkable, but still irrelevent to the subject of disc surface treatments.

  72. #72 craig
    April 12, 2007

    Though I was never a green marker loonie, I used to spend a lot of money on high-end audio stuff.

    In some ways its a great relief to have gone mostly deaf. Instead of a multi-thousand dollar system which takes up half a room, I now listen on a $45 set of PC speakers.

  73. #73 craig
    April 12, 2007

    Actually, 128kbps MP3s sound pretty crappy compared to the original. I think most people could easily tell the difference if they actually did a side by side comparison.

    But up the rate to just 192kbps, or use VBR, and that should be good enough for most people.

  74. #74 Christian Burnham
    April 12, 2007

    craig:
    According to the link I posted, people do no better than average at distinguishing 128 kbps from the original.

  75. #75 Kseniya
    April 12, 2007

    According to the link I posted, people do no better than average at distinguishing 128 kbps from the original.

    That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Some people aren’t physically able to hear the difference. Some are. This means that more than half the people who CAN hear the difference DO hear the difference.

    And…. I’m going to take a wild guess here and say…

    Most people listen to those clips on inexpensive computer speakers that do a crummy job of reproducing the differences that could be heard on a higher-quality sound system, which reduces the likelyhood of identifying the original vs. the 128Kb/s version to the level of a coin flip.

    At home, we have a number of store-bought CDs that have been ripped to the computer, uploaded to the iPod, and in some cases burned to a blank CD for one reason or another. Example: Coldplay’s X&Y. If my brother plays X&Y on my dad’s hi-fidelity system in the living room, I can tell right away if he’s playing the original CD, or playing a burned copy or running the iPod in the aux input. The dynamic range and high-end detail just ain’t there.

    In general, on the computer speakers, I can generally hear the diff between 128 and higher rates like 192, but the difference doesn’t begin to sound obvious until I hit 320… However, I’ve noticed that a cut sampled at 128 can sometimes sound as good, or better, as the same song sampled at 160 or even 192 *if* the 128 version has a higher output level than the other. Better S/N ratio, I guess. I do realize that that’s all pretty subjective…

    Nonetheless, I was able to identify the original vs the compressed Elliot Smith snippet. It wasn’t a guess; I thought it was detectable, if not quite obvious. Maybe I’m at an advantage, having young ears and being a musician… but I could hear it, even on these crummy laptop speakers.

    P.S. You vinyl loyalists better get your turntables checked for “flutter” and “woo.” ;-)

  76. #76 Christian Burnham
    April 12, 2007

    Kseniya,

    No, 100% of the people who can hear the difference did hear a difference (by definition!).

    Most of my music collection was recorded by stoned/drunk people in garages. I doubt I’d notice the increase in fidelity between different compression techniques. Maybe I’d pick up the sound of someone outside raking the lawn in-between inept guitar solos.

  77. #77 andyo
    April 12, 2007

    Christian,

    The link you posted is not a comparison with mp3. It’s a comparison with AAC, which is supposed to be superior. There are objective comparisons on the net which show the waves. mp3 quality depends a lot on the tool used.

    There are also many problems with that link you provided. The music is only played on a piano. High frequencies are non-existent in the original, and high frequencies are what suffer most with mp3 and most, if not all, other types of compression. Other problems have to do with people’s equipments. Most people generally have very crappy speakers and headphones.

    Now, that said, I tried the same experiment with a better suited music piece, with one Apple lossless, one 128kbps AAC, and one 128 kbps mp3 encoded with LAME in the highest quality possible at constant bit rate. I couldn’t tell the difference even with very expensive earphones. But that doesn’t mean others can’t, and maybe with other musical pieces or sounds it could be detectable. 128 kbps is mostly on the limit here, get the bitrate down a bit (no pun), and it is indeed noticeable, the crappy sound.

  78. #78 Mikael Lagerkvist
    April 12, 2007

    Christian Burnham:
    Most people who try the test at duxlist probably do it on their computer, and with the quality of normal computer speakers, it’s no wonder that the result is fifty-fifty.

    With decent headphones (no extravaganza here, Philips SBC HP800) it was rather easy to tell the difference.

    However, I would agree that most people probably don’t care about the differences between these qualities.

  79. #79 Christian Burnham
    April 12, 2007

    andyo:

    I never claimed that some people can’t tell the difference. What I said is that the results so far are consistent with chance.

    The experiment I linked to is the beginning, not the end of an answer. It’s possible that headphones make a difference, but we wont know for sure until we test it.

    So far, it seems that for most people, most of the time, there isn’t that much of a difference between different compression formats. It’s not even clear that people who theoretically can hear a difference are enjoying the music any more in the lossless formats. Do near inaudible high-frequency tones really improve the sound of a track?

    I listen to a lot of Dylan, so these arguments are pretty much a non-issue for me. I certainly don’t need to hear his caterwauling in 1024kbps quadrophonic high-def sound.

  80. #80 andyo
    April 12, 2007

    Andyo– Normally you’re correct on the hearing range of humans. But there are a number of people (my wife, for instance) who can hear a bit beyond this. Also, wouldn’t these additional frequencies add up in some regard as far as reinforcing waveforms, etc? Listening would be a very different experience without the physical aspect produced by lower and higher sounds– we might not perceive them aurally, but I’m quite sure there is a tactile component that helps.

    DaveX

    I don’t think I mentioned anything concrete about human hearing, so I believe you misunderstood me. I just said in theory it might be negligible, and I would like to see double-blind tests on that, if “trained” people can tell the difference between 44.1 or 48 kHz 16-bit audio and 96 kHz, 24-bit audio when they have the same dynamic range. They don’t necessarily do, but the true advantage for me is that 24-bit has much more potential for dynamic range.

    And before someone jumps at me, what I meant about resolution being the important thing to consider, I didn’t mean that it’s what makes the difference, but it’s what 24-bit is about first. 24-bit does not necessarily mean more dynamic range, just the potential, while it always means more resolution. Both can be combined to make a difference. The more dynamic range of the recording, the more spread out the “steps” in volume will be, so more resolution would be required. Again, it is a direct analogy with color bits in digital photography.

    About sampling rate, I think the other poster that mentioned anti-aliasing filters may know more than I do. I wasn’t aware of that stuff, I only know the basics.

  81. #81 andyo
    April 12, 2007

    DaveX, I forgot to address this:

    Also, wouldn’t these additional frequencies add up in some regard as far as reinforcing waveforms, etc? Listening would be a very different experience without the physical aspect produced by lower and higher sounds– we might not perceive them aurally, but I’m quite sure there is a tactile component that helps.

    I can easily see how inaudible low frequencies less than about 20Hz can be literally felt, but I’ve heard a lot about “reinforcing” harmonics and other types of “feeling” that frequencies above 20 kHz can give, but I have yet to read a clear explanation on that, and I’m skeptical. For this also I’d be very interested to see a double-blind test.

  82. #82 KHzeniya
    April 12, 2007

    No, 100% of the people who can hear the difference did hear a difference (by definition!).

    Ok, you can make a semantical argument if you like, but that’s not what I meant.

    Let me put it another way: Not everyone who was physiologically capable of hearing the difference necessarily detected the difference when they heard the clips due to limitations imposed by equipment or environment. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable assumption to make. No more so than the 100% figure you’re supposing.

    All that aside, when you say “the results so far are consistent with chance” I can only agree!

    Interesting stuff, and thanks for that link. I’m going to run it by my friends, and my dad (and he’ll probably run it by his musician friends) and I imagine the 50% mark won’t change much. Dad and his mates are veteran rockers, so it’s unlikely that any of them can hear anything over 16K. :-)

  83. #83 NC Paul
    April 12, 2007

    Re: #21
    That guy needs a trepanning like he needs a hole in the head. ;)

  84. #84 Magnum
    April 12, 2007

    Remember: The CD surface is digital data, the cd player can either read that data or not, there is no ambiguity allowed in the process at that point. So treating the disc (assuming its not a scratched disc to begin with of course) cannot create a better quality sound….
    Posted by: Stephen Ockham | April 12, 2007 01:40 AM

    I wouldn’t go making blanket statements like that. Digital to analogue converters (DACs) are analogue devices (a digital pulse builds up voltage in the device which is released as a signal after 16 bits of pulses/non-pulses have arrived) and they depend on the quality of the digital signal.

    CD player engineers spent a lot of effort to solve one particular problem, which is jitter. That is, the timing of the digital pulses is slightly off. A stream of 1s and 0s might always be the same 1s and 0s to a computer, but to a DAC they are pulses of electricity so they do have an effect.

    Transport-only CD players can cost thousands and thousands of dollars. All they do is read the CD and output a digital signal through a cable. Then a DAC in a separate box (high end ones also cost thousands and thousands of dollars) creates the audio signal which is fed into a third box (either an integrated amp, or more likely a pre-amp).

    People claimed (I never looked into this myself, it was out of my budget) that transports and DACs made by the same manufacturer sounded better together, than when matched to different brands. This isn’t surprising, and pre-amp/power-amps, even CD players and integrated amps, made by the same manufacturer sound better together.

    Back when I bought my hi-fi (bit over ten years ago, and it still serves me very well, it’s very rare I ever hear anything better — actually, I never do, unless I walk into a high-end hi-fi shop) I asked several salesmen why you couldn’t just get a dirt cheap transport and then clean up the digital signal on a chip. None could really answer, they were just there to shift product. I still don’t know.

    Anyway, to sum up, I certainly think that mounting your CD player so it doesn’t vibrate, don’t stick labels on CDs, and so on will affect the sound once the quality of the equipment gets to a certain level. As for magic texta markers and the like, that’s probably snake oil. But digital isn’t just digital.

    On a completely unrelated point, cables are also very important. Back in the day, a good figure to spend was up to 10% of the basic price of components (source, amp, speakers) on cabling (but that might have changed — you also needed to allocate roughly equal amounts of money to CD player, amplification, and speakers, but now I hear that you should spend about half on speakers. I guess because you can get better electronics for lower prices now). Anyway, it’s much better to overspend on cables than underspend. You might spend $100 on cables when you could get away with $60, but if your $30 cables make your $2000 amplifier sound like a $1500 amplifier you’ve wasted a lot of money.

  85. #85 Jud
    April 12, 2007

    TheBlackCat said: “Jud, your website describes (in a needlessly complicated manner) the first 2-3 lectures of a digital signal processing course.”

    Hey, at least it ain’t total woo. :-)

    Serious question – Know of a site that I can read for a less complicated description? I’m interested in learning more about this stuff.

  86. #86 xebecs
    April 12, 2007

    This is just one stop further down the line from buying $300 athletic shoes and pimping your ride.

    I don’t know about a “god gene”, but there certainly seems to be a tendency for modern humans to “seek” after something “more”.

    Actually, I’m looking for peace myself, but in my case, I hope to find it through less, not more.

  87. #87 Dunc
    April 12, 2007

    As a recovering audio enthusiast, there is only one point I’d like to make:

    The primary purpose of home hi-fi is NOT to accurately reproduce an input signal. Its primary purpose is to produce a satisfying emotional experience in the listener. If people get a kick out of spending thousands of pounds on “magic” cables, that’s up to them.

    Before anybody has a go at me, I am NOT saying that I think said magic cables work in any objective sense. Or the magic knobs, or the amber, or any of that crap. I’m just saying that a piece of home hi-fi is not a scientific instrument, it’s entertainment. Personally, I get much more satisfaction from having built my own kit, regardless of whether it actually sounds any “better” or not.

    That said, I would love to participate in some double-blind tests. They’re a real bitch to set up by yourself at home…

  88. #88 Diehard_TH
    April 12, 2007

    Anyone fancy giving him a call?

    P.W.B. Electronics
    18 Pasture Crescent,
    Leeds, LS7 4QS
    T: +44 (0) 113 268 2550
    from here

  89. #89 Tulle
    April 12, 2007

    The only thing in your audio system that can make a difference in sound quality is the quality of the digital to analog converter.

    Other than making sure the CD is clean and not scratched there is nothing you can do to it to change the way it sounds. As long as the signal to noise ratio is good enough to tell the ones from the zeros, a one is always a one and a zero is always a zero.

    Now I am not an audio engineer, but since I’ve been writing software for audio/video systems since 1980, I’ve picked up a lot from the hardware engineers.

    Now if you CD is damaged or dirty, the error correction software on you player can be better or worse than other players.

    Once something is digitized it does not change unless you do siginal processing on the data. Saying one can put something on the CD to make it sound different is like saying you can fix bugs in a computer program the same way.

  90. #90 John Hankinson
    April 12, 2007

    Just one point here… I’m seeing a lot of comments about setups sounding ‘better’ than others. That really isn’t the point.

    Better is a purely subjective measure – its completely pointless arguing with someone about things that are better than others when its purely personal opinion. You might as well argue that Heavy Rock is better than Opera.

    However – telling the difference between setups is a whole different beast. This can be objectively tested. Its science. It has its difficulties, but it can be done and stats can be used to analyse the results.

    All the commentaters talking about different setups sounding better than others need to ask themselves “did I actually do a fair test to compare them?” But just doing a test is not enough, you need to make that test double-blind too. This is where ABX comes in and I’m afraid the news isn’t good for audiophiles – the vast majority of audiophile claims have been shown to be nonsense in this context. Cables (called interconnects by audiophiles) are my personal favourite.

    This is why most ‘subjectivist audiophiles’ hate ABX testing – it shows them that they are actually fooling themselves with all this expensive snake oil.

  91. #91 Mike Nilsen
    April 12, 2007

    ‘Warmer’ is a rather ignorant audiophile code word for a response curve that rolls off as it approaches 20 KHz so that higher audible frequencies are diminished. It is, in actuality, poorer quality sound reproduction. This is the entire mystery of the ‘tube effect’ that leads some to prefer their sound over that of solid state amps. Oh well, to each her own.

    As mentioned above, bogus audio claims are fairly easy to disprove with double-blind A-B tests, which is why the audiophile mystics avoid them like the plague.

  92. #92 Graculus
    April 12, 2007

    The only thing in your audio system that can make a difference in sound quality is the quality of the digital to analog converter.

    Except for when you aren’t dealing with digital at all. And the sound quality is massively affected by your speakers and amp quality. And a few other things. You can put the best DAC in the world in a boom box and it will still sound like crap.

    If you think there isn’t a diference between LP and Redbook digitial then you really do have tin ears. That isn’t to say that digital *can’t* be as good, but that Redbook (CD), which in digital terms is an antique, is insufficient. Unfortunately all the newer “standards” are messed up with DRM.

  93. #93 Orac
    April 12, 2007

    Can you distinguish 128kbs sampling from the original mp3?

    Not on my crappy computer speakers at work, but that’s not unexpected. I rather suspect that on my iPod using the original earbuds that came with them the result would be the same (those earbuds are tolerable, but that’s about it. For the vast majority of people, the above test is meaningless, because the sound will be playing on tiny, low quality computer speakers.

    I wonder, however, what the result would be if I were to test them on a decent audio system, or even my iSticks at home? Although I haven’t done a double-blind test, I can often tell the difference (for what that’s worth) between a 128 kbs sample played off my iPod and the original CD when I use either my home or my car audio system. Maybe I’ll try the test on my iPod using my Shure E4c earphones.

  94. #94 Graculus
    April 12, 2007

    (those earbuds are tolerable, but that’s about it.

    Well, the good news is that Grado is now making headphones for portable electronics.

  95. #95 HPLC_Sean
    April 12, 2007

    Posters to this thread are drastically underestimating the brain’s ability to fill in missing details and filter out garbage. If you do an A-B test of mp3 versus CD you’ll hear the difference, but listen to mp3 long enough and you won’t even remember there’s a difference after a while.
    Same goes for a pair of $500 speakers versus a pair of $2000 speakers. At first you’ll hear a difference, but after a while of listening to either pair you won’t remember (or care) which pair you’re listening to.

  96. #96 Gray Lensman
    April 12, 2007

    I think that original studio recording techniques affect sound more than anything. Take an electric guitar, run it through 5 or 6 stompboxes, mike it with a $100 Shure SM58 mic placed 2″ from a 50 year old Fender Bassman tube amp and download the results from iTunes. “Fidelity” is moot. If you like the result, paying ten grand for a sound system isn’t going to make that much difference. Enjoy the music.

  97. #97 Robert M.
    April 12, 2007

    (Continuation of off-topic anecdote: the self-trepanning guy told me it was no more dangerous than crossing a busy street.)

    I’d like to point out that in a double-blind test, you have to control as many variables as possible. When you’re listening to the difference between a CD and an .mp3 recording, the vast likelihood is that any difference you hear is generated by the software conversion process.

    The trick to getting your recording as close to the original as possible is making sure that each component has more resolution than your hearing. Past a certain point, more is not better, and you’re paying for cachet and street cred–not an audible difference.

  98. #98 Graculus
    April 12, 2007

    but listen to mp3 long enough and you won’t even remember there’s a difference after a while.

    Maybe you won’t. ;-) I have been accused of having *too* good a memory.

    I think it goes the other way around… most people never hear a piece *that they are familiar with* on a good system, so they never actually have a good quality memory to begin with.

    If you like the result, paying ten grand for a sound system isn’t going to make that much difference. Enjoy the music.

    The problem with good speakers, of course, is that they show up every flaw in the rest of the system… all the way back to the studio.

    That’s no excuse to buy a “bluelight special” system, though. After all, some “dirty” party rock is fun, but it’s not the only thing you are listening to, right? RIGHT?

  99. #99 Kseniya
    April 12, 2007

    ‘Warmer’ is a rather ignorant audiophile code word for a response curve that rolls off as it approaches 20 KHz so that higher audible frequencies are diminished.

    Mike, I can’t say you’re wrong exactly – these things aren’t so black and white, but it’s the greyness itself that keys my objection to your statement here. High-end rolloff is not “the entire mystery” though I grant it may play a part. That’s a simplistic and incomplete analysis of what “warmer” means to a listener.

    You’re vaguely quantifying the difference between “brittle” and its opposite, or “piercing” and its opposite, or “shrill” and its opposite (I use scare quotes to highlight the subjective nature of all these terms) but “warmth” is a bit more complicated than that.

    Perceived warmth is, among other things, a function of how the midrange frequencies are scuplted. Ear-abrading frequencies aren’t found in the rarified atmosphere up over 16k, they’re found in the high-mids (let’s say 1.5k to 8k). The presence of high-end is as much about sparkle and gloss and brightness as it is about warmth (or the lack of).

    Also, there’s more to tube amps than high-end rolloff. Solid state tends to be very, umm, literal. Isn’t that what sound engineers (and the majority of audiophiles) want? Power amps that don’t add their own color to the signal? Maybe I’m wrong about that, but anyway. The frequency response curves of tubes aren’t as flat, as you’ve pointed out, but not just in the high end. Also, they respond differently to transients, and a little bit of compression or limiting adds a subtle “warmth” to the sound. But that’s in the ear of the beholder, I guess.

    The analog/digital warmth debate has been raging forever. I think it’s mostly nonsense. It’s all about the engineering – how the sounds are captured, and how the final mix is equalized. In the early days of digital audio, albums that had been mixed and mastered for vinyl were transfered, without remastering, to CD. This almost guaranteed that they would sound shrill, or brittle, because the analog duplication process (pressing vinyl or duping cassettes) ensured the loss of some high-mid and high-end information, and this loss was compensated for during mastering. This is how the myth of “vinyl [analog] is inherently warmer than CD [digital]” got started. Does this support Mike’s high-end rolloff claim? Yup, to an extent, but as I said, warmth is a grey area. :-)

    One recording artist, and the audio engineers with whom he was working, decided to test the “analog is warmer” theory. I think it was Robbie Robertson, during the making of Storyville. They recorded the album in parallel – that is, they fed every input into a digital rig and into an analog rig, so that when they were done they had complete digital and analog versions of the exact same performances and mixes as they came out of the board.

    They found that they could make the digital mix sound exactly like the analog mix if they did two simple things: 1) roll off a little bit of high-end, and 2) add a bit of compression to the low-end. Whether the analog and faux-analog mixes were “warmer” was not the point, they were trying to determine whether or not the analog recording had some inherently comfy sonic property that couldn’t be duplicated in a digital recording. They found that it does not. Though if one equates “analog” with “warm” then their experiment does, in part, support the point Mike was making about high-end rolloff.

    Anyway.

    I’d like to chime in with the other posters who say, “Cables matter.” Crappy cables hurt. But can you pay too much for cables? I think so. “Good enough” is indeed good enough. Are gold-plated better? I doubt it.

    But I say this with confidence: Shielded speaker cables are woo.

    Disclaimer: Some of these opinions are those of my musician-engineer-computergeek dad, and I am passing them along, but I do consider them part of my personal knowledge base. I grew up in a house where the TV was never on, but the recording studio in the basement got plenty of use. Oh, the answers I’d get when I asked simple questions like “So Dad, why to you like those ancient tube [guitar] amps so much?” :-)

  100. #100 Graculus
    April 12, 2007

    Nice description of the “warmth” issue.

    Are gold-plated better? I doubt it.

    Gold plated connections don’t corrode. Corrosion is a major cause of trips to the repair shop. They may not improve the sound, but they improve the “experience”.

  101. #101 Kseniya
    April 12, 2007

    Thanks, Graculus, and thanks for clearing up the gold-plated thang for me. :-)

  102. #102 peter
    April 12, 2007

    Audiophiles – again, like about for e.g. Catholics, are not all stupid, not even mostly stupid because o being audiophiles. If one’s prone to believe in any ole hogwash, not liking a good stereo playback is not gonna help :)
    Im an audiophile myself, but a rational kinda audiophile, i believe in good engineering, solid knowledge about acoustics and psychoacoustics, thus i like (and own) stuff made by ATC. I know lots and lots of those, whole listen to their cables, their super pebbles, special knobs, and basically any silliness one could come up with. Well – stupid pay for magic, their money. I’d rather pay good money for solid, proven, measured and fool proof engineering and common sense – and still i am an audiophile. And the way my stereo plays, well… :)

  103. #103 Graculus
    April 12, 2007

    Yeah, didn’t close the tags properly. I gotta learn to proof read.

    Ever seen these?.

    “SHAKTI differs from these past efforts in that it draws energy from the very field it is attempting to smooth out; once it is set in motion it becomes an active transducer by changing a portion of this field into mechanical energy and then dissipates it as heat. To accomplish this, SHAKTI utilizes proprietary ferrous and nonferrous material and quartz crystal oscillators in combination with a low level magnetic field. These components are oriented within geometric shapes both internal and external, and then housed in a poured stone material.”

    I know someone who did find them useful… if placed under his cables it makes vacuuming much easier.

  104. #104 TheBlackCat
    April 12, 2007

    Good point, Ktesibios. I am still not convinced it is enough to make a difference, though. The problem is that human hearing is particularly poor at the outer ranges of its frequency sensitivity. For one, thing the human auditory system cannot even directly “read in” frequencies over ~5 kHz, and the ability is reduced above ~4 kHz. Instead, they read in the envelope of the sound. Fine structure is completely ignored. This means that changes in the phase of the fine structure that do not affect the phase of the modulation cannot be detected, either. Further, because the neurons do not encode the fine structure like they do for low-frequency sounds the auditory system is much less precise at detecting the sound’s frequency. The frequency sensitivity goes down considerably, by at least an order of magnitude compared to midrange frequencies. Also, at high frequencies the loudness discrimination is lower as well, by at least 1-2 dB dB over most for the range. So at the frequencies we are talking about human auditory perception is relatively poor. All you have to do is make the sounds similar enough that the human auditory system cannot tell them apart.

  105. #105 Darrell
    April 12, 2007

    Speaking from personal experience only, the speakers make the biggest difference. Of course, if the recording sucks then better speakers are no help. After I bought the best sounding (to me) speakers I felt I could afford I found that at least half of my CD collection had become garbage.

  106. #106 Troublesome Frog
    April 12, 2007

    The surface treatment thing fascinates me. I don’t know of anybody who thinks that running a green marker over a CD with digital images on it will make the images look greener, but people have no trouble with the idea that audio data is somehow susceptible to meaningful analog filtering in its digital state. I can only guess that it’s because the average person’s past experience with records makes CD audio “familiar” and easy to tinker with while digital images are mysterious.

    It’s certainly true that analog filtering of digital data before it’s read in by the device can change the output, but it’s probably not going to work in the way people expect it to. :)

  107. #107 lurker
    April 12, 2007

    PZ says: Please don’t read too deeply–it will drive you mad, even while it makes all your Britney Spears recordings sound like Queen.

    I’m reading that right now! Surely such a coincidence is a sign of the end times!

  108. #108 Graculus
    April 12, 2007

    I can only guess that it’s because the average person’s past experience with records makes CD audio “familiar” and easy to tinker with while digital images are mysterious.

    I think it’s some kind of strange morph from the very real trick of using black marker (or tape) on the outer part of the CD to defeat one of the old versions of Cactus “copy protection”.

  109. #109 Dave Godfrey
    April 13, 2007

    Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column dealt with this some time ago- primarily discussing the power lead for the hi-fi equipment. Articles were here and here.

    30 is fairly cheap for some power cables. Now I can appreciate that good speaker cables will be better than the cheap ones in a standard hifi- gold-plating to prevent corrosion and shielding to prevent interference. (I doubt you’d have to pay too much to get those and I also doubt that in a double-blind test you’d see a difference. How exactly a power cable will affect this, as surely the manufacturers of your hifi equipment will have taken RFI coming through the kettle lead into account when building their product, I don’t know.

  110. #110 Flex
    April 13, 2007

    In a bar conversation many years ago we came up with an idea for all the audiophools out there.

    Superconducting speaker cable!

    We would run the cable through insulated piping and fill the piping with liquid nitrogen.

    Every installation job would be custom, and we could charge a monthly re-fill fee to charge up the LN.

    I’m certain that someone, somewhere, would have believed it.

    I’ve done a lot of tranferring from records, including 78s, to CD. If you are interested in this, I’d recommend checking out tracer technologies at http://www.tracertek.com/.

    I’ve been using their software for over a decade (and several versions) to clean up audio tracks. If you use a flat-response pre-amp, but still want to have the final product sound like it’s out of a tube amplifier, they even have built in software filters to simulate various tube amplifiers.

    And you know what? They will sell you tools to get any sound quality you want out of your digital recordings at a price you can afford. Crazy huh?

  111. #111 John P
    April 13, 2007

    This page at the Audioholics website: Top Ten Signs an Audio Cable Vendor is Selling You Snake Oil seems strangely relevant here…

  112. #112 Steven Sullivan
    April 13, 2007

    Oy vey, *audiophiles*. Purveyors of endless nonsense, pseudoscience and half-digested fact. More than once on ‘audiophile’ forums I’ve compared them to creationists in their ability to ‘filter out’ inconvenient facts like the existence of bias. For some reason that never goes over well (but also occasionally evokes a ‘well, evolution isn’t proven either’ response). We can thank two magazines, ‘The Absolute Sound’ and ‘Stereophile’, for promulgating this idiocy religiously for several decades now, vastly contributing to the decadence of the hobby.

    To deal brusquely with some of the audiophile nostrums on this very thread: ‘I believe my expensive cables sound different from cheap ones.’ Well, yes, of course you do, and any psychology textbook covering expectation bias will tell you the most likely reason why. ‘CD standard 44.1 kHz sampling is not good enough.’ Done right, CD provides 20-20,000 Hz of essentially flat frequency response, with > 90dB of dynamic range. While certainly there is ‘energy’ in musical above 20 Khz, compelling, replicable data that adults typically hear it, just isn’t there. As for alias/imaging filter issues, 44.1 *is* marginal, but modern CDPs (since about 1990) all employ oversampling to deal with most of them. ‘Square waves are distorted at CD standard sampling rate’. Well, they’re distorted at your ear too — it filters out frequencies above ~20 khz, so that square wave isn’t square any more no matter how accurately it’s reproduced. ‘CD standard 16 bits is not enough’. The number of home listening situations that require in excess of 94 dB of dynamic range (16 bits) is tiny at best and possibly mythical (hint: analog recording media have a DR of ~60 dB; if the available playback DR exceeds that of the recording, it’s not an issue). Audible artifacts at the ‘noise floor’ are eliminanted by proper use of dither (which began in the mid 80′s). It’s true that during digital *production* accumulation of rounding errors could become audible. For CD delivery it’s best to do all the work in a high-bit (e.g. 32 bit) domain — then process down to 16 at the end (with dither). And that’s how it’s been done for years now too. LP sounds different from CD? Of course it does. LP mastering is almost always going to be different from CD mastering, because it’s harder (impossible, really) to stuff the frequency and dynamic range of live music onto an LP ‘as is’ without massive distortion. Hence the art of mastering, which was developed for LP. And then there’s the surfacer noise of LPs, and the intermodulation distortion inherent to the medium. LP sounds *better* than CD? Well, some people *like* that sound. But if so, and you want the convenience of CD, you can make an audibly perfect copy of an LP by carefully digitizing the output of your turntable. (Just try doing the reverse — making an audibly perfect LP copy of a CD). CD players sound different? Well, could be, but they shouldn’t, nowadays. The referenced ABX test found a difference between a first-generation 14-bit CDP (dating from circa 1984) and a more modern 16-bit player, which is believable. 14-bit is about the limit you can go to before the average person starts hearing the bit reduction. But we don’t see many 14-bit players around these days.

    Bottom line: nowadays differences in the electromechanical transducer stages — microphone and loudspeakers — are going to be VASTLY more audible than differences between
    the digital stages. For the consumer in an age of ‘commodity’ digital, room + loudspeakers are going to be the main determinants of sound. The majority of money is best spent getting those ‘right’. As for content, differences betweem actual mastering moves — adjusting EQ, noise reduction, levels, tape sourcing — are going to make FAR more audible difference than whether version 1 is a CD and version 2 is an SACD or other ‘hi rez’ media (in fact the intrinsic audibility of difference between ‘hi rez’ and CD formats has NEVER been demonstrated scientifically).

    Above and beyond all this: “I heard a difference”, from a ‘sighted’ comparison, is never *by itself* sufficient evidence that a real audible difference exists, for anyone who appreciates the well-documented power of self-delusion and errors of perception/interpretation. Yet this ‘method’ is the paradigm for nearly all published ‘reviews’ in audio-land.

  113. #113 Steven Sullivan
    April 13, 2007

    and one more: the audibility of 128 kbps MP3 is going to depend on 1) quality of the encoder/decoder software 2)’difficulty’ of the musical sample 3) training that the listener has for hearing mp3 artifacts. Test after test has shown that for most music, a well-made 128 kbps mp3 is going to be ‘transparernt to source’ for most people. And for the ‘golden ears’, upping the bitrate to 190 or more will produce the same result. If someone needs to test this for themselves, make your own mp3s using the free LAME encoder (v 3.97 is current) and test yourself against the source with the WinABX comparison tool.

    LAME
    http://lame.sourceforge.net/index.php
    WinABX
    http://www.kikeg.arrakis.es/winabx/

  114. #114 Jon H
    April 15, 2007

    If you take your .mp3s, and change the extension to .jpg, then open them in Photoshop, and due a Hue shift towards green, then change them back to .mp3, it makes them sound better.

    Really. True fact. My coworker’s cousin did it.

    My favorite audiowoo is the company that used to sell interconnects and speaker cables that claimed to use a special insulation made of *light*. As in, the cables came with some special light-emitting device that had to be hooked up to them, and this light would cancel out interference, somehow.

    And for this the cables cost like $8,000 a meter or thereabouts.

    They also sell a CD that is supposed to tune and optimize the properties of your system just by playing it. Not some kind of automated-eq balancing white noise deal, but actually changing the properties of the system by virtue of the sound signals flowing through it.

  115. #115 Robert Morein
    April 18, 2007

    Okay, so all of you clowns have proven that your dogmatic idiots, bravo. Join the other millions of doctrinaires who arrogantly dismiss things they know nothing about and have no experience with. What you’re practicing is called “religion”, not science. The “faith” that you are correct, based not even on empirical evidence from testing the product, but on what you think is true and what you are predisposed to believe. You’ve read spec sheets, so now you dorks think you have superior knowledge to all audiophlies that have long since surpassed your rather naive, technically inept understanding of what is and isn’t valid in audio. What a laugh!

    You people look to the world like pure fools, dismissing even established concepts like burn-in, high mass tt’s or improvements on cd playback, when its clear that none of you know anything about neither the science, nor the art of sound reproduction (and from your sanctified worship of ABX/DBTs, you don’t know anything about that either). So you’re not real scientists, you’re definitely not audiophiles, why are you even talking about anything audio, when you’re not qualified to hold a meaningful opinion on the subject? BTW, I did do a double blind test on the One Drop product. I got 9/10 correct. That alone makes me qualified to call you naysayers for what you are; presumptious fools.

    Grow a brain, get some listening skills, get off your lazy asses and do casual listening tests. You might then eventually after some years, get a clue as to what’s what, and not sound so risibly ignorant about science and audio (you people don’t even know the proper sampling rate for CD!). Otherwise, don’t kid yourself that your religion of pseudoscience is anything but that. Now to address just a few of the particularly stupid among you:

    mikey/MrvnMouse: You two buffoons especially make me laugh! mikey: Considering there are about 10,000 more ways to improve CD player, you ought to be ashamed about boasting you’ve spent your life in optics! MrvnMouse: “Perfect sound forever” was proven to be a load of dogcrap 20 years ago. I guess you clueless twits never got the memo on that.

    HPLC_Sean: That’s because you get used to what you get used to, idiot. That doesn’t mean better fidelity is to be chucked or chuckled about because all of you are used to listening to crap for a stereo.

  116. #116 Steven Sullivan
    November 30, 2007

    FWIW, ‘Robert Morein’ is a troll/possibly deranged character on various interweb audio forums.

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