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AudioQuest Compares AC Cables

If there is one thing that raises the hackles of engineers, it is audiophiles' insistence that power cords affect sound quality. But at CES, AudioQuest's Garth Powell (right in photo, with AQ's Alex Brinkmann) was showing how changing just one cable in a system, the one connecting a Simaudio Moon CD player to a Niagara 700 power conditioner, could make or break the system's sound quality. Playing a track from Muddy Waters' Folk Singer, with Moon amplification and Magico S1 Mk.2 speakers, and without changing the volume, Garth compared AudioQuest's new Thunder cable ($700) with AC cables from other companies priced up to $18,000, culminating with the AudioQuest Dragon ($4000).

It was fascinating to hear how different cables accentuated or attenuated various aspects of the sound, such as the attack on the acoustic guitar's treble, the sibilance on Waters' voice, or the space around voice and guitar. Not surprisingly, the AQ cables presented the best-balanced sound, which Powell ascribed in part to better rejection of the RF energy that surrounds us in the connected world. But to hear such obvious differences at all was the real surprise.

COMMENTS
RH's picture

I'm a long time Stereophile reader (25 years!) and I very much admire your work Mr. Atkinson. (As well as Michael Fremer as a reviewer, and others).

However, some of us audiophiles can't help note, with some despair, that much of the same reasoning and evidence given in support of controversial high end audio claims find their mirror in the average Psychic And New Age Nostrums Fair.

A claim is made, usually with some sort of explanation for "why it works" - "life is based on energy, some energy is negative, our crystal is tuned to absorb negative energy!" and in the absence of any reliable, repeatable objective evidence, the recipient is asked to just "try it, and if you experience a difference...viola! The claims are true!"

That this method of inference has been used by people to ratify everything from the idea ground rhino horns increase male potency to homeopathy, to the phenomenon of mesmerism that swept Europe, should give one pause when encountering it yet again. One hopes for more in a technical hobby ostensibly grounded in engineering, in the real world.

But what do we get from companies like Audioquest?

I watched the video posted on Michael Fremer's Analog Planet of the Audioquest demo. What I saw was a salesman giving a standard patter "here's how your sonics are being compromised, here's how our product fixes it," priming the audience on what to expect, doing the demo, and then re-iterating to the audience what they were supposed to have just heard.

A perfect setting for bias and a technique used by salesmen everywhere. Clearly John you felt you heard a difference. But, is this really the type of situation in which such a judgement ought to be made? Personally I initially thought I heard a difference in the video of the demo. But then when I was able to jump back and forth between the same part of the music being played through each cable, the "obvious" differences didn't really seem to be there. And that was even using sighted evaluation.

Given this is a company who is happy to sell us a USB cable - a USB CABLE! - for over $10,000, I'd think it warrants having our skeptic hat on to begin with. We should be pretty demanding of evidence.

It always seems odd that a company like Audioquest tells us they've identified a technical problem, appealing to forms of radiation etc that are measurable...and yet, as far as I know, they do not provide actual measurable results showing they have fixed the problem. It's all done with the standard demo patter or "try it in your system and judge with your ears."

When I've seen companies like Shunyata and Audioquest called out on this, asked for good reasons to take their claims seriously, all I've seen are re-iterations of the technical claims and then...instead of any scientifically rigorous evidence...simple appeal to all their "satisfied customers."

Well, yes, the people happy to read your palm, or sell you healing magnets, or faith heal you, will point to "satisfied customers." People can be fooled. We know that. It's not evidence for the claim in question - especially for a TECHNICAL claim.

If the Audioquest power cord actually cleans the signal of the radiation etc as they claim, this should be measurable. And they should be able to hand those cables over to other engineers - ones not selling the cables - who should be able to ratify the claims by repeating the measurements. (Again, this is a report of what I've seen: I may have missed that these companies have provided the type of measurable evidence I'm referring to, I would be grateful to be given a link. Though I'm skeptical they have, given that it appears electrical engineers not associated with such companies tend to be skeptical).

Further given the claim is these cables actually alter the sonic signal of the device they power, THAT change in signal should be measurable (e.g. the signal from a CD player or amplifier with the Audioquest cable vs without). And given that this sonic change is purported to be audible, ESPECIALLY on the scale so many audiophiles describe - deeper, tighter bass, extended cleaner highs, etc - then this should be a measurable change at the output of the whole system.

And if it doesn't fall into the realm of a measured change known to be audible, then we should also want to test for the audibiity of the effects - e.g. bind testing.

Where are these measurements? I don't see them being provided by Audioquest. Or by Stereophile. Or by engineers who are not trying to sell us the products in question.

This is highly suspicious.

I'm not saying every person ought to turn his audio purchases into a scientific experiment. We are all of course free to spend as we wish on whatever makes us happy, and if placebo and bias is part of the mix, that's not necessarily bad in of itself.

BUT...to the extent we actually want to understand what is going on in the world and why, to the extend we really want to know if a manufacturer's claims have a basis in reality, and to the extent we care whether we are paying lots of money for the pleasure of being b.s'ed into hearing the same sound we would have heard without spending lots of money...THEN we ought to be far more rigorous about how these claims are evaluated.

For those of us who care about what is (more likely) true and why, and about actual technical advancements in our hobby, and making informed purchases, these issues matter.

CG's picture

I agree, except for the part about being able to measure how something actually sounds. To my knowledge, there has been almost no correlation made between audio measurements - except gross ones - and how people perceive sound. Part of that is certainly because the brain slash aural system is individual to each person, based probably on genetics (shape of your ear, for example) as well as learned responses.

Still, you'd think that better measurements of some of the basic stuff could be put forward.

In my day job - NOTHING to do with audio - I routinely have to track down various communications system problems having to do with noise and distortions. Obviously, a big part of that is making measurements. It ain't as easy as it might sound. (I'd suggest that I'm just stupid, but everybody I've ever worked with has also had to devote lots of effort in this area. So, perhaps, we're all stupid...)

One of the things that some people learn along the way is that measurements aren't always what they appear to be. Let me provide an example, in as simple a way as I can.

One of the prime ways to send digitally encoded signals (aka "digital") wirelessly or through wires is by using complex modulation of individual channels in the RF spectrum. For example, over the air television is sent this way, as are cell phone signal as well as most CATV transmission over cables. By complex modulation, I mean quadrature amplitude modulation or some of its variants such as OFDM and QPSK. (Google is your friend here) In a broad sense, the digital signal is grouped into symbols and each symbol modulates both the amplitude of the RF channel as well as the relative phase. (Google, again)

There's really two ways to measure the performance of such a channel.

One is to completely decode the channel in the end to end system and measure the bit errors over time.

The second is to use a customized spectrum analyzer designed for the application that demodulates the transmitted channel and provides a value called MER. (Google, again) In an nutshell, MER is kind of like the SNR (signal to noise ratio) that we are familiar with except that it also lumps in the effects of distortion within the channel, both non-linear and linear. You get a number in dB that can be translated into an effective bit error rate (BER).

Except...

In order to really dig deep into the noise and get a good measurement, it's customary to average the MER for hundreds if not thousands of consecutive symbols. This is directly analogous to what guys like Mr. Atkinson do when they look for teeny weeny little distortion products in an audio spectrum for his Measurements section of a review. The idea is that noise is random over many samples or sweeps while the distortion products are not, so averaging lets you look more closely.

Which is misleading.

If a single symbol or sweep has a horrible noise pulse or other degradation, guess what? It gets averaged out!

I've watched spectrum analyzer displays measure MER where a symbol's displayed constellation on the screen will "explode", looking like a scene from Star Wars. The MER measurement is barely affected. If enough explode, the MER drops by a fraction of a dB.

Cool, eh? (Note: The BER measurement shows that bit errors were sustained.)

If only our ears worked like that. For some silly evolutionary reason, people want to hear continuous sounds.

In addition, many of the degradations in audio systems, like lots of other systems, only take place when real signals are passed through the system (and not just individual components - another problem). That means that turning your volume control up, putting your ear next to the loudspeaker, and declaring "perfect silence" is the trivial case. The problem in measuring now becomes making and applying test systems that can discern the difference between the desired signals and what's not desired. Not impossible, but also not a standard practice.

Still, even with all the problems I mentioned, you'd think that a more complete effort in offering best effort measurements would be made. If nothing else, it would allow the customer to narrow down the offerings applicable to her/him. A customer might also see that a Famous Audio Company Illudium Q-36 Space Modulator solves a problem the customer might have, providing a sale. It should work for both sides.

There is also the problem of educating the consuming public, so that they can actually understand what it all means. If, in truth, they care.

One last thing... My own opinion is that the true test is whether you like the sound coming out of your audio system when you add or change a component. Why should you care about what somebody else thinks with regard to an "informed purchase"? (Aside from reliability questions) If you can't hear a difference or it sounds worse to you, you are a boob to purchase and use whatever it is. If you like the sound, it then becomes a question of whether other people you share the system with like it, and its practicality within your environment and bank account.

Sorry for being so long winded.

jk6661's picture

Confirmation bias is rife in the audiophile community, and in my experience there is almost no effort to even acknowledge it, let alone correct for it. I will almost guarantee that if you set up 10 nearly identical high-end systems, the only difference being that one of the 10 had this power cord, neither the reviewer nor anyone else could pick out that one system more than 10 percent of the time -- i.e. no more than random chance. Such a test is entirely appropriate if you're going to tell me that your $4000 power cord (or $20,000 DAC, or $50,000 amp, or whatever) provides some sort of revelatory experience. If your absurdly priced component can't pass this test, it's snake oil. And there's way too much massively expensive snake oil in high-end audio.

End of rant.

ChrisS's picture

...such a test?

Or is this your opinion?

jk6661's picture

My point still stands, however.

ChrisS's picture

...just an opinion.

jk6661's picture

That's what a comment forum is for. Do you have a response? If you're impressed by $4000 power cords (or whatever) that have no actual evidence that they work, other than the type of bogus and completely unscientific demonstration described by the OP, great. Some of us aren't.

CG's picture

I believe you may actually mean to say that the manufacturer/distributor/dealer or even reviewer has not provided a scientific demonstration. One might exist but the parties above choose not to share it. Or, it all could be arm waving, even though the product works. Or, the product may not work at all, at least a advertised. Just how can you tell?

Let me give an example...

Suppose I drag a bunch of test equipment home from work and find that some power cords (as one example) conduct varying amounts of common mode noise currents in the range of 100 KHz to 10 MHz. Let's assume that this can be repeatably be demonstrated and documented with this professionally calibrated test gear, probably costing far more than the audio system. (Certainly far more than my own home audio system!)

Let's say that I post that information on some easily accessible web page - here at Stereophile, for example - and give complete details, including calibration certificates.

Would that not be actual evidence?

Now, just how much agreement would you say there'd be that this demonstrates that power cords within a complete audio system can give varying audible results? I have my own opinions of the responses, as I'm sure you do.

So, if that really isn't actual evidence, just what would be? Just what would convince the majority, or even just some, of the people demanding proof?

Just as many suppliers of various gear really, really want their products to work and for people to buy them, there's a large group of consumers out there who really, really want products not to work or to be frauds. It works both ways.

I can tell you this. Outside of the audio world, cables make a huge difference. For a bunch of technical reasons, they often don't work as they might seem. Part of that is the cables themselves and part is how the equipment the cables attach to work. The system model is not nearly as simple as some boxes with connections running between these boxes. There's stray capacitances, imperfect "ground" connections (ground is really, really the wrong word, too), unbalanced electrical and magnetic fields, and on and on. Engineers learn about these details in freshman or sophomore college physics classes, and then promptly forget or ignore them as they move on in their courses and careers. It mostly works, too, but mostly is not the same as having things actually be right. Especially when the specifications and various rules are flexible enough for them to put these effects aside in favor of knocking the product cost down or shipping something on a deadline.

FWIW, I'm not connected to AudioQuest and haven't heard their power cables. Nor have I seen/heard this demonstration, aside from the video posted by Fremer.

ChrisS's picture

...consumer electronics.

No one is compelled to give you a "scientific" demonstration.

No one is compelled to make you buy something you can't afford.

CG's picture

One last thing about measurements:

By almost any objective performance measurement, a Bugatti Veyron is a pretty high performance car.

None of those tests prove that the Veyron will get you to the grocery store any faster.

Michael Fremer's picture

I witnessed the demo day one. Now, I've done similar demos with no $ in the game, using various record pressings, etc. . Just to let people listen. I NEVER tell people what they will hear and I felt that Garth's presentation had the same problem you point out and afterwards I told him so.

However, the differences among the cables was so obvious and profound, there really was no point in coaching the listeners. You could say I suffered from "confirmation bias" or whatever, but I've been at this for a very long time and know how to work around expectations and JA and I have taken our share of double blind tests too.

Garth told me that the next day when he did it again, he would do it differently and not tell people what they would and would not hear. JA attended day two's presentation and I know he went in skeptical.

However, Mr. Powell who comes to AudioQuest after a long stint at Furman, maker of pro audio power conditioning did not invoke magic or crystals or fairy dust in his presentation. Instead he told us what in his designs he did and why, and then after we listened to all of the various cables he explained where a few of the others had gone wrong, especially in terms of their shielding and measurement methodology..

By the way, I have the top of the line AudioQuest A.C. cables in my system and immediately upon inserting them heard a major improvement to the sound, particularly in terms of transparency---not even close.

When in this demo Garth compared my former cable to his best, I heard the same differences I heard at home. You could say I expected to, but I don't know what else to tell you except listen for yourself.....

My conclusion with A.C. cords is, if you assume they can't possibly make a difference and so don't bother listening, you are only cheating yourself. I have heard a million dollar plus system ruined and then brought to life by changing cables....both A.C. and speaker cable...

ChrisS's picture

Unless you can do the testing yourself, then do it.

No one is compelled to give you the information you are asking for.

Joe8423's picture

Why on earth would a manufacturer of these components not just make them battery powered if the power coming out of the wall is such a problem. This, to me, is proof that it's BS. You could just buy a couple of car batteries and an inverter to plug into for a few hundred bucks. No more connection to the power grid at all.

ChrisS's picture

...a proof of your idea?

Joe8423's picture

for any company that used it. It wouldn't be that expensive to do. Clearly, the manufacturers of sources and preamps don't believe this or they aren't using battery power for some other reason. Maybe they know dealers need to sell lots of high margin cables to stay in business.

ChrisS's picture

...your own question.

Joe8423's picture

do it. With all of the external power supplies out there there'd be battery replacement options being sold all over the place. You can spend thousands on a power cord to fix the power coming from the plug when there's no good reason to be plugged in at all. How hard could it be to have a two battery system that automatically switches back and forth, charging one while the other is in use? The power cord thing is clearly nonsense.

ChrisS's picture

...don't they?

Very, very few components are battery powered.

The power cord "thing" is clearly your opinion.

Joe8423's picture

just like expensive power cords. If you're going to sell nonsense, just sell a wire for $10,000. Neither make any appreciable difference so just stick with what's easier.

CG's picture

I don't think you have sufficient information to make either claim. Can you point to data to show how and why battery power does or does not affect system performance? If so, I will publicly offer an apology for questioning you.

Batteries generally are not well loved by consumers for anything much beyond the current and voltage requirements of cell phones and gadgets like that. Maybe not even then.

There's been several companies offering audio gear that is powered by batteries. Most of these companies moved on to something else. Not because they didn't think that battery power was superior, but because people didn't want to replace batteries every few years.

I've built battery powered equipment myself and generally found it to sound much, much better than using even the very best AC mains powering and regulators. It was just a PITA. So, I had to find other solutions.

Joe8423's picture

This cord allegedly fixes something that is wrong with the power from the wall. It's just a cord. Think of the battery powered system you could get for that 10k. If you have a preamp with an outboard power supply why not replace it with a battery system for a fraction of that $10,000 rather than spend $10,000 on a cord that is supposed to fix the power coming from the wall. For $5k you could get 50 years worth of batteries, maybe 500. Batteries these days are pretty amazing.

This is a pretty straight forward logical argument from my perspective.
1. The mega-buck cord is supposed to somehow fix the problem with the power coming from the wall.
2. A battery system that is completely isolated from the wall would solve the problem of bad wall power more completely than any power cord could.
3. A for all practical purposes perfect battery system could be made and sold for a lot less than the more expensive power cords.

Therefore, power cords past a pretty moderate price point are stupid because they either don't really improve anything or they don't improve it as much as a far cheaper battery system could. Now, I don't believe that many, if any of the differences in power cords described are real. That's why battery powered sources and preamps are rare while ridiculous multi-thousand dollar power cords are not. I don't buy the reasoning that batteries don't last and that's why people won't buy battery systems. Look how many people use tubes and they don't last.

CG's picture

I'm totally not getting your argument.

I've already agreed that batteries have the potential (bad pun) to deliver very high performance in audio systems. See above if you don't believe me.

Batteries that can be used directly in place of existing AC power supplies aren't as cheap as you like to believe. If you use lead acid type batteries, they typically come in batteries of ~6 Volts and ~12 Volts. For an average solid-state preamp, you'd need two of the 12 Volt batteries in series for each of the two rails. That's four batteries. (If you want "dual mono" supplies, you have to double that.)

Then you have a choice. You can use relatively small batteries with modest current capacity, but then you'll need to charge them more often. Or, you could use larger capacity batteries that require fewer charges per week or month. But, those cost more and require larger charger systems. Make your own engineering trade-off.

Lead acid batteries suitable for this application typically have a lifetime of between 500 and 1000 charge cycles, if you treat them well. That implies using a smart power charge regulator system. Not terribly expensive, but it's still part of the package. If you instead choose to use Lithium Ferro Phosphate batteries, you can probably expect lifetimes perhaps two and a half times longer.

Then there are environmental regulations for disposing of depleted batteries.

So, yeah, if you add it up, you can make a pretty decent battery based power system that could sell for the price of a moderately expensive power cord. (Let's assume that moderately expensive is several hundred dollars)

It's far harder to do that for power amplifiers, but it can be done.

And it has been done.

Most of the companies that made battery supplies available switched over to AC powering because their market wanted it. Most of these manufacturers have said that their customers just plain didn't like the hassle. They didn't like that every couple of years, they'd have to bring their unit back to wherever to have the batteries replaced. They didn't want to do it themselves. That's just history and can be researched pretty easily these days through the wonders of Google. I suspect that the kind of person who'd be willing and able to drop several thousand dollars on a cable isn't so concerned about the cost of batteries. They have other considerations in mind.

But, here's a great idea. Take your idea, develop a product line around it, and drive all these other morons out of the business. Became wealthy along the way.

Joe8423's picture

A battery powered source is trivial. I just checked, the power consumption of my dac is 12-15 watts. Preamps use a bit more probably but both of these components could easily be battery powered and if that makes a significant improvement why aren't they? Two possibilities - it doesn't actually make much of a difference and isn't worth the trouble, or it makes a difference but "audiophiles" who will spend hilarious amounts of money on stereo stuff aren't up to the task of getting new batteries every once in a while. Sonics schmonics.

Either way, megabuck power cables are OBVIOUSLY a waste of money for any component that doesn't use a lot of power.

CG's picture

You seem *very* certain of this.

Could you share how you arrived at these conclusions? System and circuit measurements? Analysis? Observation?

Joe8423's picture

1. very expensive power cords exist
2. They connect the plug in the wall to a component
3. They are passive and cannot add anything, they can only take away.
4. What comes out of the wall that includes stuff that needs to be taken away could easily be replaced with a battery that doesn't have any of the bad stuff that comes out of the wall.

ChrisS's picture

...is very, very simple.

Joe8423's picture

is very, very transparent. The absurdity has become undeniable.

ChrisS's picture

...listen.

Michael Fremer's picture

Feel free...

Joe8423's picture

you've got nothing but you feel compelled to leave a reply?

ChrisS's picture

...to a problem you proposed?

Long-time listener's picture

'the standard demo patter of "try it in your system and judge with your ears."'

That sounds pretty reasonable to me. If I try a new pair of speakers in my system and I hear deeper bass, I'm content that I am actually getting deeper bass, if that's what I want. I've probably listened to the previous pair long enough that I can make that judgment quickly.

This works just as dependably--but not as EASILY--with cables. The differences between cables are subtler than those between speakers. I have a number of pairs of interconnects: Siltech Classic Anniversary 550, Furutech, Ortofon, and an early Stereovox iteration. From time to time I switch them between DAC and pre-amp and pre-amp and amp. Sometimes I think I've found a new combination I like better. But in the end I always return to a Siltech/Furutech combination because, over time, with all my music, it simply sounds slightly better. But it takes TIME to listen. These quick back-and-forth A/B blind tests are fine, but are no substitute for living with a system for days, weeks, and months until you're really familiar with it, THEN making a change, which works better.

Simply listening is a perfectly valid way of making judgments about how things sound. Yes, some people will charge and other people will pay exorbitant amounts for only the subtlest differences. Other people pay even more exorbitant amounts for hard, shiny rocks that glitter brightly when cut--and have no other function whatsoever. At least cables transmit signals. To each his own.

RH's picture

I made this comment over on Michael Fremer's site, but I realized it may be better for this page. Given John Atkinson measures equipment for Stereophile, I hope he can give his thoughts on the following:

The claim being made is that the AQ power cord produces a sonic change so OBVIOUS that anyone should be able to hear it. If that's the case, then it HAS to be producing a change in the output signal. And that should be measurable.

The measurements I think we should want to see aren't those made at the power cord, but in the signal output by the CD player.

In fact, if the sound is so different with the AQ cord that the difference can be captured by a camcorder microphone (see Fremer's video of the demo), I'd think we should be able to make a recording of the sound from the output of the CD player with and without the AQ cable, and we should be able to observe/measure the difference.

(And if the change is gross enough, especially given the magnitude many reviewers state for power cords - bass and highs extension, tightening up, etc - shouldn't even room measurements show a difference in the signals with the high end power cords?)

Can someone point to these type of measurements in support of the claims made in this video?

Michael Fremer's picture

Listen to the camcorder recording? Hear the difference? Just before leaving for CES and without knowing that Garth Powell was doing this demo, I made such a recording using a ZOOM stereo microphone. I compared "stock" amplifier cables with AudioQuest's best. I certainly heard a major difference during the upcoming review of Ypsilon's Hyperion monoblock amplifiers and i wanted to hear if it could be captured on a recording. I did it the night before leaving for CES and I've yet to have time to listen but I will! And I'll post 95/24 files of the recordings... BTW: when I visited Shunyata research a few years ago Caelin Gabriel used measurements to demonstrate what his conditioners were doing. Measurements and nothing else but then listening.

RH's picture

Regarding video recordings of stereo systems: It's always amazed me that the sound from a video camcorder, or even a smart phone, can capture some degree of the sound of a stereo system.

I remember this first arose when I was reviewing some camcorder footage I made at a CES and THE show in Vegas. I just wandered room to room and I couldn't help notice that the sound on the video actually seemed to capture some of the very nuances that distinguished the systems when I heard them live. It was especially true when the camera wandered from one room with an average "box" speaker into the next room with MBL 101 speakers playing. Even on the video I could hear the sonic change in character that really took me back to being there.

So it's actually not that big a surprise to me that videos of stereo systems and show sound - e.g. AV Show Reports - have proliferated on youtube. Of course they don't replicate the sound of the systems. But we easily recognize differences in people's voices on camcorder footage, and insofar as systems, especially speakers, have a certain sonic "voice," it seems plausible that some aspects of the different "voices" can be conveyed by a carefully made recording.

And by the same token, if the AQ power cord alters the voice of a system to a significant degree, I'd think that could be captured in a recording as well.

Decibel's picture

I replaced cheap lamp wires on my JBL Pro speakers with Audioquest cables. The difference was so obvious I had to change them because I had way too much bass after. Replaced them with Kimber 4PR which had a drier more neutral sound with less bass.
If you can't hear the difference between SOME cables then honestly your hearing has issues or your ears are untrained.

RH's picture

Decibel,

When I replaced my standard power cord (years ago) with a high end power cord, it seems obvious and beyond question the system had changed to an obviously "darker" more muffled tone.

But knowing the strength of human imagination/bias, I blind tested it and found in fact I couldn't actually hear any difference between it and the cheaper power cord.

More recently my system because "obviously" thinner and brighter when I changed music servers. But when I blind tested the new server against my previous server, I discovered no difference in the sound. And now the new server sounds no different to me.

That doesn't establish that what you heard in changing speaker cables wasn't real. But it does re-enforce that most people are unaware of the power of bias. Huge numbers of people in this world believe incredibly strange things on the basis that "my experience was just so obvious, I have no need to put it to any more rigorous test."

Think about this: If the Kimber cables do indeed produce changes in the signal vs the Audioquest - less bass etc - that should be measurable, right?

So if high end cables produce sonic differences that should be measurable....why do we see such a lack of just those measurements?
Not only are they not supplied by the high end cable manufacturers who make a living selling the cables at incredible prices, even Stereophile doesn't bother measuring for these differences.

Don't you find something rather odd about this situation?

ChrisS's picture

Look around... This is the retail industry.

Who tells you everything or anything that's important?

Even when it comes to "science", look at those examples I've indicated before...

Tobacco

Oxycontin

VW Diesel engines

etc.

No one is compelled to tell you anything.

RH's picture

I wonder what point it is, you imagine you are making, that is pertinent to the issues I've been raising?

When I mention that companies like Audioquest don't provide the type of measured evidence I'm talking about, and the fact even Stereophile doesn't bother measuring cables, a plausible reason for this is that measurements wouldn't support the claims made by the company. (Despite the fact they are talking about fixing measurable problems to begin with).

Now, maybe that' not the case. Maybe measurements would support their claims. But apparently we don't have any.

No one is saying a company like AudioQuest is "compelled" to provide
better evidence. Obviously they aren't. Look at how many companies florish without providing good evidence for their claims.

The point I've been making is that, absent better evidence, skepticism about the claims is warranted.

If they don't want to provide better evidence, so be it.

But then, my skepticism remains justified.

ChrisS's picture

...no one is going to answer just because you ask.

Skepticism is good, however, if it spurs you into action to find your own answers.

Otherwise, it is just talk.

RH's picture

Well, looky here: someone tested some high end AC power cords, measuring their effect on the digital output of a DAC/CD player.

Want to guess the results ;-)

http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2014/02/measurements-power-cable-redux.html

I wonder why manufacturers of expensive AC cables aren't in a hurry to have their cables tested objectively. ;-)

ChrisS's picture

...research methodology, test design, or even how to do a "simple scientific experiment", one glance at the photos of this guy's set-up and a cursory read of his "blog" and you know what he has to say is crap.

He even gives good reasons why not to do blind testing and in fact, he does no listening at all!

ChrisS's picture

...is the same "science" foisted onto the public by those folks who brought you Tobacco, Oxycontin, and VW diesel engines.

"Science" that begins and ends with pre-determined conclusions is not science.

RH's picture

He didn't try to listen. He measured.

In other words, he attempted more than Stereophile or AudioQuest seem to have done (that I know of) in trying to produce measurable results of the effect of AC cords on the DAC signal.

Be my guest: explain why the measurements are of no use.

And then, I invite you to turn your newfound skeptical inquiry on the loose methods used by AudioQuest to establish their claims. (E.g. the demo shown in the video)

Or Michael Fremer's claim such a demo "proves" the audibility of AC cables?

You are speaking of science, so you know about bias effects, correct?

It's interesting that when presented with an attempt to objectively measure the results of a power cord on a DAC, you've become very scientifically minded and skeptical.

And yet your suggested method of deciding the issues amounted to: "Why not just try shopping?"

And skepticism about that method is apparently just asking too much, and you want to start talking about...Tobacco?

ChrisS's picture

...how to construct an experiment.

https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/science-fair/steps-...

Read about variables- independent, dependent, and controlled, etc.

https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/science-fair/variables

Does Archimago follow the steps of a "science fair project"?

No.

Yes, most of the world shops... Does the product look good, fit, sound good, taste delicious, etc? Is it the right price? Sold... or not sold!

Pretty simple.

What you want is real scientific inquiry. You haven't found it yet. Archimago proves nothing.

Keep looking.

Good luck.

ChrisS's picture

...uses "science" to sell retail products.

Many years ago the Tobacco industry tried to... Look where it got them.

You didn't get that memo?

Now it's pharmaceuticals.

Why don't you go after that industry for the billions of dollars they're making from getting millions of people addicted?

Not nearly as challenging as an expensive power cord?

Joe8423's picture

You're obviously just trying to muddy the waters because the results of the experiment are so undeniable. Of course it's not some perfectly executed lab experiment. What is clear is that the cords didn't do what they said they would. Lowering the noise floor is something that might be theoretically possible and measurable and they couldn't even pull that off. Why would we believe that they do any of the magical sounding stuff?

Joe8423's picture

As soon as someone posts some actual evidence there's a hard turn towards changing the subject and muddying the waters.

RH's picture

Oh, you noticed too? ;-)

I'm done trying to take his replies seriously at all.

ChrisS's picture

...if you don't even do grade school level "science"?

Doesn't matter what I think.

If your science is bad, nobody cares.

ChrisS's picture

...care what Archimago and others who do "basement science" have to say?

Nope.

Neither does the general public.

Joe8423's picture

and I find Archimago far more credible than synergistic research.

ChrisS's picture

...go by his recommendations.

There's so much to choose from out there.

Decibel's picture

Although I appreciate science and measurements, they are still in their infancy,
Most Amps measure the same but sound vastly different. Two speakers measure almost the same and sound even more different. Two CD players measure the same yet anyone with trained ears can hear the difference. So what gives? I'll tell you what gives, measurements are, at this moment, limited in what we can measure compared to how the brain and ears perceive sound.
Let's do a theoretical test. We hook up your favourite speakers with a single fine strand of copper and listen. Then we hook them up with a 4 gauge solid copper wire. What do you think will happen? I dare some of you to try this!

RH's picture

Hi Decibel,

As with so many other replies, your argument has simply begged the question. That is, you are assuming as true the very issue that is under debate: that if the output of two pieces of gear are measurably the same, they will still produce audibly different sound.

That's a controversial claim, the very claim that's being disputed, not one we need to just "accept" and move on from.

How do you KNOW that two CD players or amplifiers that measure exactly the same "sound different?" Obviously you will be appealing to "it sounds different to me and other audiophiles."

But given bias can cause exactly the same beliefs, how do you know your belief "A sounds different from B" isn't due to some form of bias?

There are just countless tests establishing bias as a cause for misperceiving and misattributing effects. As I mentioned before, if you give people a bottle of wine and they taste it, and next you present the same wine with a different label, they will often report it to taste different, and believe it's actually a different wine. Studies have given white wine to oenology students - these are people well versed in wine tasting! - and later simply changed the color to red. Then the students described the wine as tasting different, and believed it to be a "real" red wine, because they THOUGHT they were tasting a different wine.

In other words, if you are testing the very same thing, if you simply believe that you are testing between two things, not one, it can result in your perceiving them to be different.

There are countless such examples of the influence of bias in the scientific literature. And it seems so many audiophiles just ignore this variable. Just like the wine, if you take a single cable but tell someone you are switching between two different cables, the subject will often report perceiving a difference in the sound.

So you have the situation where there is no measurable difference (because it's the same cable) but people THINK they hear a sonic difference.

Therefore, if you take two different cables that measure exactly the same, in that sense, the objectively measurable sense, they are indistinguishable, just as if you were using the same cable.

So how do we tell if one REALLY sounds different? The example of the single-cable tests show that if something IS NOT producing a sonic difference (it's the same cable!) people STILL report it sounding different when they think they are testing between two different objects. How do you know, then, in a sighted test that "I hear a difference" between two measurably identical cables isn't due to the same bias effect?

Answer: you don't.

But audiophiles just continue to ignore this and go on pretending there has been nothing they have to worry about that we've ever learned about human bias. "Sure, maybe for those other things...but I can trust MYSELF not to be mislead by bias."

Again, as I brought up before: If you want to know what frequency range YOU CAN HEAR, you get a hearing test.

In the hearing test, you don't know - don't have any additional signal - when a tone is being played or not, EXCEPT for what you can hear. Now, if a 60 year old audiophile claims he can hear up to 20Hz, and in a hearing test his guesses as to when he is hearing the 20Hz tone are random (vs the non-random results for up to, say, 10k), then HE CAN'T HEAR THE TONE. That's the obvious conclusion. That's why you do the test.

No one would (or should) take this audiophile's claim seriously that he can hear up to 20Hz, if he has shown no reliable ability to do so when relying only on his actual hearing.

And yet...we are suddenly supposed to drop this principle when audiophiles claim they can hear unmeasurable things!

If we take two cables or whatever that measure identically, and blind test - just like in hearing exams - whether the audiophile can actually reliably identify when one is playing vs the other...the audiophiles can utterly fail the test and STILL walk away claiming "But I can hear the differences anyway!"

(That represents a common attitude to blind testing by audiophiles - even if they can't tell A from B in a blind test, well that doesn't tell them anything valid because they still believe they can hear differences when they know which is playing).

I still await why I ought to take such inconstancy is something I should take seriously.

As we see in these threads, a common reply is "Well I hear the difference, and so do a great many audiophiles, so there HAS to be something to it!"

No there doesn't. Not necessarily. Given all humans suffer from the problems of bias, it's not like it has to be limited to some small group who can get fooled.

Homeopathy is widely derided by scientists, because there is plenty of scientific reasons to deride it. If you are given two glasses of water, in terms of the homeopathic remedy they contain, there is no measurable difference.

And yet millions and millions of people using homeopathy will tell you "I experience an obvious difference" when they think they are taking the homeopathic remedy. Does this validate the claims of homeopathy? Of course not. Because we have the variable of human bias and expectations.

The same "The difference is obvious, I can hear it and so do plenty of others" is used to defend literally EVERY dubious audiophile tweak that ever showed up.

So, if I am to accept that swapping a standard AC cable for an expensive AQ cable will not produce a result that can be measurably different at the output of the audio chain...BUT...you can still hear a difference, then I'd like to see that claim tested. In a way that relies on only what you can hear, not with what you can see.

If people can't pass such tests, but still claim "But there is a sonic difference I can perceive ANYWAY" then that goes into the same box as the 60 year old audiophile who fails the hearing test for 20Hz but still claims he can hear it. Sorry...I get you believe it...but you haven't given me any reason to actually believe you haven't fooled yourself.

ToeJam's picture

I have found that cables can make some difference. I don’t have a strong opinion about the extent of the difference because my experiments have been limited.

It’s unfortunate this topic causes emotional outbursts.

finkaudio's picture

...about a food or cigar testing, asking for measurements to prove that the best one was really better. I don't know why many people cannot accept, that there is something we don't really know what it is. I would say, we did not find the root cause yet, why this or that cable is better. It's a fairly complex system we are putting together. In my own loudspeaker world, I found a few things over the years, that I could not explain for a long time. One of those cases is the imaging. During my study of cabinet vibration problems, I noticed that the image of a speaker can be changed with more or less vibrating side panels and by shifting the vibration frequencies. This was nothing to measure with the microphone and you would not really see it in any other measurement we would normally do on a speaker. Nowadays, we use a laser vibrometer and calculate the radiated energy from the result and so optimise performance. I'm not sure if there will ever be somebody to do research on the complex network we putting together in our Audio systems, but I'm convinced, there is a way to measure it.....we only still don't know how.

RH's picture

finkaudio,

There isn't much controversy over the fact food tastes different, right? The differences between two recipes of Lasagna you'd find on the internet will be easily measurable and likely to taste different. That's why it's not controversial among scientists.

But the claim that expensive AC power cords produce better sound from a system IS controversial among people who know electrical engineering and/or the scientific method.

If the purveyors of the AC cable claims could provide measurements showing obvious differences in the output of a sonic signal, as one could measure between two different foods, or two different recipes, or a ripe banana vs an unripe banana....then we wouldn't be having this debate.

Companies like AudioQuest give us a technical dissertation on a purported technical flaw they've identified in stereo systems, and the technical fix they've developed for it.

If a company claims they have identified a problem in the human immune system that their product will "fix," we would normally ask for good evidence; something that makes sense in light of what we know about the human body. And especially if other biologists/medical professionals are are skeptical, we'd want the results to be repeatable by other scientists. At least, that's how we act when we are being properly skeptical of a controversial claim.

But everyone wants to lower the bar for high end audio and give every claim a pass. Essentially we end up as the audio equivalent of the alternative medicine business.

I understand this is just fine with many audiophiles. But skeptics should hardly poo-poo those of us who point out this situation, and who wish to actually make sense of how things actually work (or not).

finkaudio's picture

Hi,

if you want to take the food example, we are not talking about different recipes. I'm talking about the same recipes, but with ingredients from a supermarket or a high-end shop. You think you can measure whether the vegetables have been fresh or the meat is a different quality? Not sure.
I did not say that the price actually makes the difference...I personally have around 10 different cables, I can try on a new device. Not the most expensive cable sound best on every device. My problem is that I experience cable difference every day. I can repeat tests, I can ask my other team members and they all can hear a similar difference. And no, I cannot measure it. But does that mean I have to ignore it? See, I have all those cables, I don't have to justify the money they did cost and I would be a lot happier if there would be NO difference. But there is and I cannot ignore it. Most professional people in our industry, who are dealing with High-End stuff every day, know the difference. I'm not saying the difference can make a bad device a good one and yes, moving my speaker 5cm might make more difference, but if you want to reach the top, you have to deal with the cable. So you cannot discuss the difference away.....it's still here.

RH's picture

You think you can measure whether the vegetables have been fresh or the meat is a different quality? Not sure.

The difference between fresh and spoiled food is a physical difference. Why don't you think it would be possible to measure physical differences?

See here, for instance:

https://www.theengineer.co.uk/issues/19-april-2010/sensors-monitor-fresh...

It's not like the human detection system is necessarily more accurate. You often couldn't tell by taste if your meal is contaminated with a bacteria that causes food poisoning. But a lab using instruments can detect Listeria, etc, invisible to our smell/tasting senses.

My problem is that I experience cable difference every day. I can repeat tests, I can ask my other team members and they all can hear a similar difference.

Sure. But realize that countless people with false beliefs, and many who believe various dubious phenomena, will say the same thing. My ex-neighbor thought she saw ghosts every day.
My wife's friend thinks her horoscope is accurate almost every day "repeatable!" People who take homeopathy, use healing crystals, etc think they experience obvious, repeatable results. And testimonies just like your own have been made for every wild audiophile tweak, from vibrating little "tuning" discs of wood or small brass bowls, to coloring CDs with markers...there is no limit to the beliefs that can be validated simply on one's subjective impression "I think I'm hearing this."

And what is a common denominator among Tarot Card readings, homeopathy, healing crystals, astrology, tuning pucks for systems and coloring CDs with pens. It's the combination of "I experience a difference" with "It can not be measured!"

We really can be really, really fooled easily. We fool ourselves easily. Systematically.

That's why science arose.

The fact you can't measure the differences should be a red flag.
If you can't hear the differences in a blind test...that should be another indication that, like millions of people every day, your perception and interpretation of what is going on is in error.

Not saying it is.

Just that it should be noticed that your replies, as well as the replies of most touting boutique AC cables, have so much in common with the character of those advocating the reliability of astrology, homoepathy, psychics, etc.

BTW, it's always something to hear some of the objections to blind testing cables, for instance "too much time elapsed between cables, it confused me and it was hard to remember the previous sound exactly. It's so artificial!"

Yet if we read reviews for these things, the reviewers will have had the product for weeks, even months in the system. Yet he will continue to report audible differences based on this extended experience: "That violin sounds smoother and more woody than the last time I heard it (a month ago) before the power cord was in my system!"

(Also: don't you ever wonder that if you think these cable differences aren't measurable...how do these manufacturers design the products? Pasting ideas to a dart-board and playing darts?)

ChrisS's picture

...cables and doing "science"?

Decibel's picture

Connect your speakers with a single fine strand of copper wire and listen. Then connect them with a 4 gauge solid copper cable and listen again.

ChrisS's picture

...research and be done with it!

But how would he deal with his own "bias effect"?

RH's picture

Are you familiar with the concept of "diminishing returns?"
That at some point, "more" really does not equate to "better?"

The fact that we could hear the difference between a speaker topping at 2kHz vs one topping at 18kHz doesn't mean we will need a speaker that goes to 100Khz, for obvious reasons. At one point - you are producing everything in the signal and beyond that is gratuitous.

A lot has been known for a long, long time about wires and what it takes to transmit a signal from A to B. And what will be attenuated, by how much, and to what effect, in a speaker wire construction for a given system. That's why you can see charts for choosing the appropriate cable for a system based on cable length/type of signal, etc.

A normal, well designed CD or amplifier, etc, has been designed with all this knowledge, which is why they work. If someone thinks adding a new AC power cord is necessary and will change the sound...again...we should be able to see measurements demonstrating this, and it should be audible in a blind test.

ChrisS's picture

...forum and others), please do the research.

And report back.

Otherwise, each of us will find out on our own...with our own systems and our own ears and wallets.

ChrisS's picture

...at all.

Is it, RH?

You need to tell everyone that you think of everything quite thoroughly.

Thinking is what gives you worth.

Jim B's picture

I realize that this thread is about AQ power cables and the links below point to data about speaker cables. My contention is that they're not sufficiently different so as to completely discount the relevance of the audio cable design science described in these slides/articles. As part of an audio system, the level of care in the design of each and every cable is important and if the first cable that touches your system (the power cable) is mucking up your system's life juice, or even just the effective delivery of it, you're unnecessarily compromising the ability of every single other connected electrical/electronic component to consistently do the best job it can.

While any crappy power cable can perform the necessary exchange of electrons, that's a mere fraction of what a power cable delivers to a system and there can be quite a lot of garbage induced/created by the power cable itself, or the design of it, that system will deal poorly with. A merely acceptable (power) cable, in a high-end system, is not on the same level as a high-performing cable with respect to the quality of the system's output. Some systems' designs and components are good enough to perform "okay", despite sub-optimal power (inclusive of everything entering the system via the power cable, not just the flow of electrons), so a high-end power cable may not provide as impactful a difference for them as in lesser systems, but a good power cable, and of course a clean supply of power, can still contribute to the increased longevity of certain power supply components.

Granted it's a slide deck and not a white paper, it nonetheless illustrates that some intense science is involved in audio cable design, especially this one.

http://www.chicagoaudio.org/uploads/3/0/7/6/30762061/iconoclast_tm__spea...

On that same topic, PS Audio has a series (in progress) explaining at (nearly) 'street level' what a lot of that science means and why it matters. Co-written by the same guy that is designing the Iconoclast cables. The series starts out as simple as possible given the topic and increases in technical depth as it progresses.

http://www.psaudio.com/article/cables-time-is-of-the-essence-part-1/
http://www.psaudio.com/article/cables-time-is-of-the-essence-part-2/
http://www.psaudio.com/article/cables-time-is-of-the-essence-part-3/

I personally believe that AudioQuest products are not snake oil despite knowing the retail markup on their audio cable products and that it often makes me highly uncomfortable paying for some of their cables anyway, because in my system their stuff makes a positive difference -- and I'm highly motivated by the cost, because I can return them with zero loss/hassle if I choose, to find that there is no difference with them installed.

Respectable and reputable people in high-end audio businesses speak well of Bill Low and the work his people do. It's highly unlikely that would be the case, since 1980, if AQ were selling only snake oil. (Conversely, I've not heard of anyone in the industry having consistently positive things to say about Noel Lee's company's products, as an example of one with a snake oil-induced reputation, and they've been around since 1979.)

ckolivas's picture

Everyone who posted here says they hear a difference when they try different cables, and the rest are happy to discount differences between cables without actually trying them. I've tried and I can't hear a difference between any power cables no matter how hard I try and I have about 50k worth of hifi. I haven't tried the ones in this article but I see no point in trying any further after 30 years of audiophilia and having not once reliably heard a reproducible difference. I suspect one has to believe there will be a difference before one will hear a difference, and I've always had trouble believing there could be a difference on first principles. At the very least it's ended up saving me money I could spend on other components.

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