Gramophone Dreams #33: Interconnects & Loudspeaker Cables

When I applied for this job, I wrote a pretend review of the Rogue Audio Sphinx integrated amplifier and emailed it to Stephen Mejias, then Stereophile's deputy editor, who printed it and put it on John Atkinson's desk.

Before I sent it to Stephen, I showed a rough draft to my business agent, Sphere, who said, "Herb, you can't turn this in like this."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because you speak as if you are not an audiophile and think you're superior to audiophiles."

"So?"

"You can't do that, because your readers are all audiophiles . . . and so are you."

"I'm not an audiophile. I'm a record collector!"

Sphere squinted and stared at me suspiciously.

"What kind of speaker cables are you using?"

Like it meant nothing, I replied, "Audio Note AN-SPx."

Sphere responded sternly, "People who are not audiophiles do not use thousand-dollar silver speaker cables. They use cables from Radio Shack."

Sphere was right. I am an audiophile. Not because I use silver cables, but because I listen to recordings to experience purity of sound. I have been listening critically to sound coming out of boxes since 1968. I have developed a conscious need for my records to be reproduced with a certain physical force and tonal rightness. Therefore, I had no choice. I surrendered and declared proudly, "Okay then, I am an audiophile!"

Last year, when I visited Nelson Pass of Pass Labs at his home in Sea Ranch, CA, I was surprised to discover that he connected all the gear in his laboratory listening room with Radio Shack cables. When I asked why, he told me, "Because I don't want anybody else taking credit for my accomplishments."

Last month, when I visited John and Rich Grado at their funky-cool factory in Brooklyn, I asked John why the cables on their headphones are not detachable. John declared, "Because these cables are a significant part of why Grado headphones sound the way they do, . . . and I don't want people to mess with that."

You know I am old
Back in the 1960s, audiophiles began fabricating their own interconnects and loudspeaker cables. They believed they could improve, sonically, on the zip cord and generic interconnects included with the products they bought. In every audio magazine, the big debate was over which sounded better: stranded or solid-core wires. I thoughtfully compared both in my own system, finally deciding I was in the unbraided, solid-core camp, because I thought this electromagnetic geometry made instruments sound the most solid and distinct. In comparison, braided, stranded wires sounded softer and more diffuse, but also more elegant and refined. I remember thinking, I am a solid-core kind of guy. My decision was partly a hormone-fueled identity thing and partly a compromise. I thought neither type sounded more "accurate" than the other. Each, I realized, emphasized different aspects of the reproduced sound.

During the 1970s, I was an avid reader of the magazines Speaker Builder and Audio Amateur and a vociferous part of the DIY community. One day I got a call from Robert W. Fulton of Fulton Musical Industries, asking if I would beta-test some proprietary loudspeaker wires he had concocted: "Herb, just tell me what, if any, difference you hear with my cables."My task was easy. The difference between Fulton's wire and my DIY twisted, soft-rubber-encased, 14-gauge (stranded) Belden wire was not subtle. (I was using homemade transmission line speakers with Hafler amplification.) On the phone, I told him, "Bob, with your cables, my amp and speakers appear to dance more in sync. I sense a tighter coupling." I told him, "Using your wire is like putting better shoes on dancing couples."

With Fulton's wires, I experienced more nuance of tone and bigger, but not tighter, bass.

During the 1980s, I switched to Kimber Kable for all my interconnects and speaker cables. I even used Ray's silver and copper wire in the many DIY tube amps I built. Prior to Kimber, my daily-driver hookup wire came from bulk rolls of Belden and vintage, new-old-stock Western Electric cable. (Thirty years later, I'm still a fan of Kimber Kable, because it has that solid and distinct quality I love in my audio system.)

220gram.burch

Charles Burchfield, Glory of Spring (Radiant Spring), 1950. Watercolor on paper, 40 1/8" × 29¾". (1016mm × 737mm). Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark, 1959.

During the 1990s, I imported Audio Note products from Japan. Audio Note's founder, Hiroyasu Kondo, was a metallurgist by trade and based the sound aesthetic of his entire line on the character of his very pure stranded and braided silver wire, in which each extremely thin wire was lacquer-coated. Kondo believed his hand-drawn silver preserved small-signal information better than even the best purist-quality copper. He believed his winding geometry canceled several varieties of noise. My long-term listening corroborated his claims. Audio Note silver was lush and added a glorious, seductive glow to sopranos and pianos. Because the sound was so luminescent, I used to tell people my Audio Note system sounded like a Charles Burchfield painting. The sound of massed strings was seductively supple and nuanced. Most important, and more than any other cable I had used, AN silver cables restored lost beauty to classic recordings by Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwängler, and Willem Mengelberg—a welcome blessing and not an easy task.

One day, around 1995, Andy Singer (Sound by Singer) was ringing up a customer who was spending around $300k on Audio Note amplification and asked the man, "Would you like some Audio Note cables to hook everything up? They will complete your system without damaging the sound." The man replied simply, "Yes, please." That "yes, please" added $55k for what was then regarded as an accessory—not a necessity.

I must now interrupt these prosaic wire stories to tell a different kind of wire story. One that happened on the Côte d'Azur in France. It was a balmy early-fall night. I was standing at the end of a long pier on the bay at Cannes, with Audio Note's Hungarian distributor, the late István Csontos, and our Philippine distributor, Hondoko. We had left the Top Audio Show (in Milan) that morning, prior to which we finished exploring some really big boats at the Cannes Yacht Show. We were tired, hungry, and ready for the day to end.

220gram.starry

Starry Night Over the Rhoône (September 1888, French: Nuit étoilée sur le Rhoône) is one of Vincent van Gogh's paintings of Arles at nighttime.

To the east, the sky looked like Van Gogh's 1888 painting Starry Night Over the Rhône: clear azure blue, with shimmering light-lines streaking the water. To the west, the sky was densely clouded and starless black. City lights dotted the horizon, which was under siege by streak lightning and stroboscopic heat lightning.

As I stared alternately east and west, I fell into a blissful reverie. My friends stood silently behind me. My spirit felt elevated. Then . . . into this other-worldly silence, Hondoko spoke these words: "Herb, do you twist your SPx?"

Can you believe? There was magic all around and suddenly I'm startled back to normalcy by my beloved friend, who was worrying about his Audio Note AN-SPx speaker cables: whether the slender and separate plus and minus strands should remain loose and irregularly parallel, or be twisted into EMI-rejecting pairs. A reasonable and important question.

I told him either way was fine; the difference was subtle, maybe nonexistent. Mostly, I said, I dress my SPx attractively to suit my customer's needs. "If it looks nice on the floor," I explained, "it will sound good." (Cable risers anybody?)

Today, if I were not a professional reviewer, I might wire my system with silver wires by Audio Note. But I am a professional reviewer, and those wires would color the sound of every component I reviewed. Similarly, if I used Radio Shack interconnects and zip cord for speaker cables (like amp-master Pass), the Shack wires would color the sound just as much as the expensive silver, but in a different way. Neither type of wire is more neutral or "accurate" (I hate that word) than the other. Both would separate me from what the designers of the electronics had accomplished.

Don't laugh: I've made several minicomparisons and found that Radio Shack wires create a slightly smearing, timbre-bending, contrast-reducing, subtractive effect—one that (don't laugh) actively complements the hard, overly contrast-y sound of global feedback in amps such as my formerly beloved Hafler DH-200. Like I told Robert Fulton, "Zip cord sounds dull compared to your wire."

COMMENTS
Metalhead's picture

Congratulations on new writing assignments and really enjoyed your discourse on cables.

I was a cable denier until I started actually sitting and comparing and listening for myself.

Very enjoyable column and loved the paintings included with the ruminations.

PeterG's picture

Very excited to learn more. I eschewed cable choices for years--probably because I was always sapped after using using 100% of budget on other components first, haha.

But I've had great success upgrading interconnects over the past year, and over just the past week I've been blown away by the QKore grounding system.

My take is that small changes in the details have dramatic impact in realism

JHL's picture

Here might come thirty objectivist fallacies, probably led by how you can't hear what they can't hear. (A variant is that sure enough, no finer device *has* ever been invented to induce deafness and wreck fun than the blind AB. Science!)

Looking forward to this, Herb. As so many of us will now note, stuff has a sound when you just let it, and conversely, it doesn't at all when you deny it as the first point of order.

Strat56's picture

R-L-C , nothing else. Unless we believe in snake oil.

thyname's picture

.... just kidding. Please keep up the good work. Cables matter

hurt1097's picture

Your new work on cables and interconnects comes at the right time for me. I've just begun using better but modestly priced ethernet cables (AQ Cinnamon) with good results and i'm considering upgrading even more. I hope you can review Coax cables (CAT from the wall) as well and maybe throw in something about cable modems and routers. I'm from the "everything makes a difference" school. Streaming is a brave new world for me. All the best.

Long-time listener's picture

"The lower the signal level, the greater the cable's apparent effect on the sound."

Yes--and secondly, the earlier in the signal chain, the greater the effect. Hence the importance of power cables. No wonder it's always been easy to find speaker cables that suit me, whereas I've always spent such great amounts of time--and money--on interconnects and power cables. But it's been worth it.

Ortofan's picture

... a link to an article for your consideration:
http://archimago.blogspot.com/2020/02/measurements-do-power-cables-make.html

Long-time listener's picture

Ortofan, I'd be very happy if cables didn't make any difference--I could then use "lamp cord" and save money. I'd be very happy too if I could listen through a voltmeter or an oscilloscope, but I listen through my ears. The fact is there are clear, repeatable differences between cables, including power cables. My Neotech UPOCC power cable has excellent bass, smooth highs, but is cool and distant in the midrange--on both my DAC and my amp. My Shunyata power cable has warm mids and nice timbre, but very clearly lacks the bass punch of the Neotech. My PS Audio power cable strikes a happy medium. Regardless of speaker, DAC, or amp, they sound that way. (So I don't use the Neotech at all.) No one told me how they would sound or how they should sound, and the one I like best--the PS Audio--is not the most expensive or nicest-looking, so there's no psychological motivation making me justify my purchase by imagining I'm hearing something I'm not. None of this is imagined, or marketing-induced, or anything else--it's simply what I hear, both immediately and over the long term as well. So why should I give a damn about your link? The Neotech makes my system sound bad; the other two make it sound good. Stock power cords make it sound worse. If looking at measurements makes you happy, then please go do that.

RH's picture

" I'd be very happy if cables didn't make any difference--I could then use "lamp cord" and save money."

Yes!

I've lost count of how many times I've heard from an audiophile "I only WISH cables didn't make an obvious sonic difference. I'd save tons of money. But I know they do, so I end up paying for it."

That's precisely why this question matters to many of us! And it's why it's good to be able to hear input from all sides of the discussion.

None of this is imagined,

Unless you took the step to control for sighted bias, I"m sorry but no matter how deeply you believe that, you can't know it. It really is true that you could imagine the differences. That's just an unfortunate fact about human perception/psychology. (That many audiophiles don't seem to want to accept).

I'd had a bunch of high end cables to test in my system and was sure one of them utterly changed the sound from the stock power cord cable. I'd use similar types of descriptions you gave - the sound was more lush, richer, highs smoother though "obviously" darker, soundstage bigger, more organic etc. It was so "obvious" a change I wasn't sure I actually liked it. Mostly because despite all the good qualities, my system sounded a bit too dark and rolled off with the expensive cable.

But knowing about sighted bias I had a friend help me do a blind shoot out between the expensive AC cable and the stock power cable.
Well, what do you know? Once I didn't know which cable was powering the system I couldn't identify any sonic differences. No "smoother highs, lusher sound, bigger soundstage, and no darkening if the highs." My attempts to distinguish them were random.

And, yes, that SAVED ME A LOT OF MONEY! ;-)

(Although I'd also have been happy if the cables did make an obvious sonic difference, as I have the same desire to be able to tweak my system to higher levels of performance as other audiophiles. I just can't pretend this hobby lives in the Land-That-Science-Forgot while investigating the claims for tweaks).

Long-time listener's picture

...but I'm sorry, I have a quite specific reason for disagreeing. I know that there HAVE BEEN times when I imagined things: Once I had an amp with tone controls, and without realizing that "tone defeat" was on, I thought, "This CD needs just a little more bass." So I turned it up a bit and though, "Ah, that's better." But within a minute or so (I was listening while I worked, not giving my full attention to the music), I thought, "Still needs a little more bass," turned it up, and then thought, "Ah, that's better." After repeating that cycle one more time, I suddenly realized I must have the tone defeat on. What happened is that when you listen for any one specific thing--bass, vocals--that part will stand out and everything else becomes peripheral due to your focus on it. But very shortly, after I went back to work and was listening to the overall sound, the bass no longer stood out and I realized it still wasn't enough.

The point is that I WAS fooled--but only for a very short time, as a result of my specific focus. My ability to ACCURATELY HEAR WHAT WAS ACTUALLY GOING ON proved more powerful than the temporary desire to hear more bass. If the psychological effects are as overpowering as you claim, I should have gone on listening happily to what I wasn't actually hearing--which is what you say happens. Only those effects just aren't that powerful, and they're quite temporary. So I'm quite happy to trust my hearing. It is NOT my imagination that my system sounds different, and better, with my Ortofon interconnects than my Siltech ones, though with other equipment that might not be true. All the things that you would probably say are working to create bias--the cost, the looks, and the exotic conductors--are actually working in favor of the Siltechs. In fact, I DID have a bias in favor of the Siltechs when I bought them (that's why I bought them, because I thought they might be better, and hoped they would be), but letting my ears tell me what was actually happening won out over the bias--as it always will.

RH's picture

"All the things that you would probably say are working to create bias--the cost, the looks, and the exotic conductors--are actually working in favor of the Siltechs. "

This is a very common misunderstanding of how bias works. In fact it's probably the single most common and misleading idea "I didn't EXPECT to hear X, but it turned out to my surprise I DID hear X, therefore it wasn't due to expectation bias and what I heard was REAL!"

There are all sorts of ways we can misinterpret what's going on. The mere act of listening FOR a difference can make you hear one even if you don't expect to. Because as our attention shifts we can seem to hear things in a new way, and then attribute that to "Wow, the sound changed!" Or you may not even be consciously listening for a sonic difference, but notice one day "wow, that trumpet in the back sure sounds clear. I don't think I've ever noticed it before. Hmmm...what did I change in my system? Oh right, that new power conditioner! It must have upgraded my sound!" But it can merely be the particular way you paid attention, or different seat position, all sorts of things.

Most people just haven't had direct experience with the power of sighted bias to let this sink in. Again, I had exactly the same experience you believe you have had with a cable, but I took the next step of seeing if I could still tell the difference "without peeking." ;-)

Along those lines, a while back I changed my digital server. I was streaming my burned CD collection via a Mac/iTunes for many years and switched to a Raspberry Pi based system. I was not EXPECTING any sonic change whatsoever. Once I switched over when I was listening to my system I perceived the sound as having changed - a bit brighter, more brittle, slightly less pleasant, as if some "digital glare" or something had come in to play. This was a bummer because I really wanted to use the new server system, but not at the expense of the sound changing in a way I didn't expect. But since this change was baffling and NOT expected on technical grounds, I had a friend help me do a blind test swapping between the two servers (made easier because my source equipment is in a different room from my speakers).

Once I didn't know which server was being played I could detect no reliable difference; not brightness or brittleness to distinguish one from the other. Yup. Victim of sighted bias again! And it was a great relief to learn this was the case! I didn't have to fret anymore, or spend additional money chasing audiophile tweaks trying to "fix" something that wasn't broken. From then on I found my system sounded fine, the same as it ever did.

When you say you are letting your "ears" tell you with confidence these sonic differences, you actually mean your "ears and eyes/brain." When you don't know the identify of what you are listening to, THEN you are really just using your "ears" in that sense. You really aren't specially excepted from the problem of human bias. Really. No one is and you can't just power through it, thinking you are particularly objective. That's why scientists blind subjects and even THEMSELVES for clinical trials!

Again, you don't have to bother taking a more critical approach to your equipment buying and comparisons. It doesn't interest you? Cool. And maybe all this is falling on deaf ears. But someone else may be reading this and thinking "I've been told 'everything makes a difference' and we can completely trust our ears...but this is new information. Hmmm.."

I was just reading on another forum where someone had $5,000 to spend on an amplifier and was advised by an "experienced" forum member to put all that money in to power cables and conditioners.
I found that sad, insofar as such advice is uncritically accepted by audio newbies on the "my ears have told me the unconditional truth" paradigm.

Long-time listener's picture

"The mere act of listening FOR a difference can make you hear one even if you don't expect to. Because as our attention shifts we can seem to hear things in a new way..."

If you'll read my posts, you'll see I made exactly that point when talking about levels of bass--and so I've already agreed that there are things, including our psychological state and our expectations, that affect our listening. But your stance, and the stance of all objectivists, is that ALL people are ALWAYS inherently biased and that these biases can NEVER be overcome in any way, and that ordinary LISTENING is somehow useless. Utter nonsense. People in many fields are trained to overcome biases and blind spots by simply being made aware of them. And when I gave two example cases of clear, specific biases and expectations that DID exist, but which were overcome by ordinary LISTENING, you then proceeded to postulate that, well, there must ABSOLUTELY have been other ones I wasn't aware of--there ALWAYS are. Of course: that's the only fallback position you have available that allows you to sustain your objectivist beliefs--to keep imagining ever more new and subtle forms of bias that NO human can EVER overcome. Jeez.

I mean jeez. Really, a little common sense and some open-minded listening in different listening sessions over time (which helps to even out the effects of the varying biases and the physical and psychological states that you think are such a terrible danger) is really all it takes. But no, apparently I'm CONSTANTLY bedeviled by deep, dark, pernicious, subconscious, psychological influences no one can ever escape, which will forever undermine my veneer of rationality and civilization. This is getting way too Freudian for me--are you sure you don't have any childhood issues you'd like to air out here?

David Harper's picture

"High end"component reviewers seem blissfully unaware of the existence and influence of their own subconscious. This is, alas, the real reason they uniformly deride and despise blind testing.

Long-time listener's picture

Actually, you've convinced me that these psychological effects are real--especially "sighted bias." For that reason, I'm going to make some cardboard cutouts in the shape of Wilson Alexias to fit around my bookshelf speakers to help provide that bias. I'm sure my system will sound so much better when I'm through...don't know why I didn't think of that earlier!

helomech's picture

Herb states, "but I think the nondiscerning, can't-hear audiophiles are deafened by their expectations."

One could just as well claim the discerning, can-hear audiophiles are enlightened by their expectations.

JoeinNC's picture

This.

RH's picture

One could just as well claim the discerning, can-hear audiophiles are enlightened by their expectations.

Yep.

This is the Golden Ear approach of defending turf. By rejecting possible methods of falsifying his beliefs (e.g. favoring subjective inference even when unsupported by the objective measurements/rejecting blind testing etc) the Golden Ear can maintain his status indefinitely.

"You, dear skeptic, don't hear how this cable opened up the soundstage to reveal the fairies singing in the background? That must mean you simply don't have the ears to hear."

"Science can't measure everything that I can hear!"

I really enjoy Herb's writing and reviewing, including this article.
But I'm sure in putting in a pre-emptive diss of those not fully on board with the audiophile cable belief-system, he expected some pushback ;-)

supamark's picture

My personal experience is that the Radio Shack interconnects I purchased ca. 30 years ago (and still work as they're supposed to - their "fancy" cable so they were a little more expensive but with better connectors) are more reliable than the two pair of Audioquest interconnects that I bought two or three years ago which both failed within two years. Which sound better? The ones that work (and I haven't noticed a change going back to the old 'Shack cables - which are price equivalent, inflation accounted for).

Also, Mogami (and Canare as Jim mentioned in a footnote) are definitely makers of reliable cable - their bulk cable has been standard in the pro industry for decades. Pros can't afford down time so any cable brand that isn't reliable will fail in that market.

I like your writing but don't talk trash about companies (or people!) unless you have the data to back it up, it's a bad look. Do please write a follow up on the Yggdrasill with Schitt's new USB input, I've read good things about it in the Bifrost 2.

John Atkinson's picture
supamark wrote:
Mogami (and Canare as Jim mentioned in a footnote) are definitely makers of reliable cable - their bulk cable has been standard in the pro industry for decades.

Back in the 1990s, I decided to standardize the interconnects used for all Stereophile's measurements. Balanced cables are Mogami, single-ended are Canare.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Ortofan's picture

... the subject of his aversion to the word "accurate".

Herb Reichert's picture

what?

Herb Reichert's picture

what?

Ortofan's picture

... the absolute sound, of course.

The designer of the Harbeth speakers you have claims he uses recordings of speech to check the accuracy of his products.

Do you have a good quality microphone and recorder at your disposal?
If so, have you ever made a recording of someone you know well speaking and then played it back to judge the accuracy of whatever equipment you are evaluating?

Likewise for an acoustic instrument. IIRC, the one-time head of KEF used to conduct live-versus-recorded demonstrations with him playing the clarinet. Didn't (or doesn't) JA1 play the clarinet?

Herb Reichert's picture

The system that makes pianos, the sound of an empty church, Steve Guttenberg's voice, and the noise of jangling keys, sound most like themselves . . . is the most "accurate" system. How could it not be?

h

David Harper's picture

is a false narrative. If one understands "the absolute sound" to mean "the sound of a live performance in a real space" then there can be no such thing, even remotely, as re-creating that experience of sound in your listening room at home from your stereo system. A home stereo is nothing at all like a live performance. Not even close. It's not a matter of degree. It's a matter of fundamental kind. There are too many differences to even begin to list. It's not apples and oranges, it's apples and buicks. So in the end it's "which stereo sounds good to me". That's all. nothing more. If one wants to experience a live performance one must go to one. Imagining sex with Jennifer Lopez probably falls somewhat short of actually having sex with Jennifer Lopez.

Ortofan's picture

... haven't yet been listening to the proper speakers.

audiologist's picture

As an Audiologist for the last 35 years I would like to point out a few things.

1. I protect my hearing extremely well, better than any audiophile or supposed golden ear out there.
2. I test my own hearing every month...because I can. I have a record of my hearing, 24 samples every year, 2 tests done every month, same day, one in the morning, one at night. At 58 my hearing is probably as good as you can get. But it is not what it was at 23. I have lost from basically 15k up. But my hearing is still exceptional from 20 all the way to 12k I have zero loss, but its coming. I can see the upper level dropping slowly every year.
3. I have tested audiophiles before. Average age 50 up. I can tell you their hearing is crap. They all have expensive equipment and I have had the cable argument with them before. They cant possibly hear what they are telling me they hear. Their hearing test does not support the conclusion that cables make a difference. Yet they think it does.
4. Get your ears tested and ask the Audiologist to reverse the testing procedure. Start at the highest frequency at the lowest db setting and work his way down. to 20 hz.
5. You will be suprised even at 35 to see how crap your hearing actually is.
6. Dont shoot me. I'm only the hearing expert. I read a post where one guy said a particular set of speaker cables gave him Tinnitus because the highs were too harsh.
7. I consider myself an official audio nut. SC-V speakers converted to actives. Cables make no difference and I know what I am listening to and listening for.
8. If cables make a difference to you by all mean keep the people who make them accustomed to their big house and shiny car by buying them.
9. Have a nice day and enjoy your music no matter how it gets to your ears.

Edit.
I forgot. test your ears in the morning and again in the afternoon. You are going to be suprised what a difference there is in the afternoon reading when you have been exposed to noise above 75db ALL DAY. So if you go home at night and listen, you are never going to hear what you would after 8 hours sleep and noise exposure. I dont care how good you think your ears are.

zonker92's picture

I appreciate your insights.

Ortofan's picture

... ever having their hearing tested by an audiologist and then permitting the audiograms to be published?

JHL's picture

...without which we can reject high end audio. Color me surprised to see it here in these useless comments threads.

The problem is, of course, that whatever flaw exists, it's the same set of ears *and infinitely more importantly, the same perception they power* doing the hearing.

Or are you telling me I'm not qualified to flip the on switch?

Audio Objectivism seeks to ruin *experience* in the name of a purported science it has yet to define, much less apply to the arts; to this art.

John Atkinson's picture
Ortofan wrote:
What are the odds of Stereophile reviewers ever having their hearing tested by an audiologist and then permitting the audiograms to be published?

Both Kal Rubinson and I have published our audiograms. I also regularly refer to my high-frequency cutoff and how it is changing as I age. It is currently around 13.5kHz, which is good for someone approaching his 72nd birthday.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Ortofan's picture

... happen to know in which issue(s) the audiograms were published?

While the high-frequency cutoff point is one factor, it might be useful to know if the hearing of the various reviewers exhibits any significant peaks and/or dips within the range where their acuity would otherwise be considered normal.

John Atkinson's picture
Ortofan wrote:
Since I don't recall seeing them, would you happen to know in which issue(s) the audiograms were published?

My apologies, but I don't remember.

Ortofan wrote:
While the high-frequency cutoff point is one factor, it might be useful to know if the hearing of the various reviewers exhibits any significant peaks and/or dips within the range where their acuity would otherwise be considered normal.

I have a small loss of sensitivity in the mid-treble, but still within the limits of what the audiologist termed "normal." Note, BTW, that usual audiograms don't extend higher in frequency than 8kHz. However, I informally test my upper-frequency cutoff with every loudspeaker I test, noting at what frequency I can no longer hear the tone at a moderate spl. See, for example, fig.6 at www.stereophile.com/content/enigmacoustics-sopranino-electrostatic-supertweeter-measurements.

However, you illustrate what happened when I published my audiogram. It allowed people to question my abilities as an audio critic while reviewers who did not publish their audiograms were assumed to have perfect hearing.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Ortofan's picture

... many speakers, I'm simply curious as to the possibility of any non-uniformity in the (otherwise normal range of) hearing of a given reviewer - such as a relative loss/gain in sensitivity within a particular frequency band - having a correlation to their preference for a certain speaker.

JHL's picture

...is the comprehensive effect of loudness uniformity - whether point-in-space or average power loudness uniformity - on the perception of recreated authenticity in transduced program material?

That's an unintentional trick question: The question has no functional, applicable answer, obviously, just like the assumption that simple graphic loudness uniformity has a functional translation - that the instantaneous visual snapshot defines the long term human auditory sensory experience, which clearly it cannot. The domains are too different (and the phenomena involved wildly too complex). It's like explaining reality with its most recent origin theory.

It then logically follows that your ear's loudness uniformity is a faint measure of the whole sensory experience, and worse, that it even matters that the ear is flawed *when it's the same one hearing live content*. I can think of no other pastime in all the world where its enjoyment is predicated on the mechanical perfection of the associated sense. In fact, the finest critics - and the most fulfilled participants - are probably those who have been in it the longest and who over that time have come to understand and appreciate the *experience*.

Loudness uniformity isn't that thing, not logically or really.

And yes, we're all aware of The Science being touted recently that the be-all of speaker sound is loudness uniformity - which both technically and logically it isn't - but how many are aware that The Previous Science - which comports itself *very* well with classic audiophile experience and method, and which involves both professionals and very long term, even career-long experience - both precedes and refutes it?

It seems we have a long ways to go before enshrining The Loudness Linearity Science as wholly definitive, and an even longer way to go before having such a snapshot somehow logically speak for and to all auditory experience from a complex transducing system. Then there's that pesky Former Science, which had virtually dispensed with it outright, even before it arose.

Ortofan's picture

... the Harbeth speakers HR uses and see how far you get.

JHL's picture

The argument that absolute frequency linearity is all there is to a speaker, or the argument that only perfect hearing need apply?

Ortofan's picture

... it might help you derive the answer to your question.

https://i.nextmedia.com.au/Assets/AusHifi-MayJune18_024-029_OnTest-Harbeth.pdf

JHL's picture

...were put to you.

As for the Harbeth, it shows classically expert tuning in a classic design, where even the *deviations* from a dead-straight line are themselves probably telltales of a good ear and a conscious effort. However, nowhere that I can see does either the design or the review indicate the designer's philosophy involves only lines on charts, and absolutely nowhere in the design or review can you find that a very straight line is in any way solely responsible for the sound. And naturally nowhere can we see that you need perfect hearing to enjoy it.

Dead-flat loudness linearity, at a point in space or in the average field, is simply not *the* indicator of very good sound, whether in reality or in logical reasoning. It is a sighted bias to say it is, and there is vastly more going on (which is why the logic of the claim goes wanting). We'd all do better to understand why.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Wonder whether we can ask for the help from that 'can you hear me now' guy for testing our hearing? :-) ........

RH's picture

"It is currently around 13.5kHz, which is good for someone approaching his 72nd birthday."

Good?? That's fantastic! Especially for someone who played live music. You must have been wisely protecting your hearing for a long time.

audiologist's picture

I would like to see the tests as well just out of curiosity. Your hearing is exceptional for 72. Its better than mine if you calculate the loss over time.

John Atkinson's picture
audiologist wrote:
I would like to see the tests as well just out of curiosity. Your hearing is exceptional for 72. Its better than mine if you calculate the loss over time.

I was told that my HF hearing might be connected to the fact that I have been afflicted with asthma all my life.

A point I should make that hearing sensitivity is not the same as hearing acuity. When I joined Stereophile, J. Gordon Holt's hearing didn't extend beyond 11kHz. But I was continually impressed by his ability as a critical listener. Research by Floyd Toole has found that it is hearing problems lower in frequency, typically caused by things like shooting, that negatively affect consistency and ability as a listener.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

PeterG's picture

Strange and unpleasant that you:

--Lump all audiophiles into a single bucket and then castigate

--Assume that cables are relevant only at the high end of the frequency range

--Believe in testing your hearing fanatically but seem to not believe in testing cables at all

JHL's picture

...nothing if not arrogant and presumptive. It shall know and gatekeep what you shall experience.

audiologist's picture

The replies were expected. There will always be people that THINK they know more about your job than you do.

Thank you for this mornings humor.

No where did I castigate (severely reprimand) anyone for any difference they claim to have heard.
No where did I ASSUME (ASS-U-ME) that cables only make a difference in the high end.
I did say that cables made no difference to ME, which by its very existence as a statement implies that I did test cables, not you or your Mommy or your dog.
I did say the differences that they claim to hear are not supported by their hearing tests showing typical hearing loss in the bottom and top ends where they claim the cables made a difference. This is a fact, a fact that you obviously have a problem with but since you are the new hearing expert on the block I will defer to the know it all.
The problem is, of course, that whatever flaw exists, exists because you selectively read and comment and then get it wrong because no where in my reply did I do any of the things you accuse me of writing in your reply.
I do not know what you are qualified to do or not do. But you know nothing about hearing loss. Unless, you are deaf which then makes this a moot conversation but I suspect your problem is with your eyes not my ears.

audiologist's picture

Ortofon, I will offer free testing for anyone that wants their hearing tested and agree to have their results published, lest they accuse me of altering the tests. This includes any reviewer who wants to put their 70 yo ears to the test. Some how I doubt whether any reviewer would do that. That would present us with the 3 laws of truth which no reviewer would want to face.

dc_bruce's picture

Quite some time ago, just for grins, I replaced some generic interconnects with those made by Alpha Core. The sound improved, though slightly. Then I replaced the speaker wire with Alpha Core's "wire" (actually a ribbon). I was not entirely sure there was a difference. The problem the non-reviewer cable buyer has is that the whole process must be entirely trial-and-error, even if you have an accommodating dealer with a large supply of "loaners." Any way, I gave up on cable swapping years ago. Alpha Core is still in business, but I'm not sure they even make the "Goertz" cables any more.

Apropos of "audiologist's" discussion, I recently installed a new (to me) pair of speakers. The left channel sounded a bit dull in comparison to the right. So, I swapped speakers. The left channel still sounded dull. Then I swapped speaker cables from the amp (left channel feeding right speaker, etc.). The left channel still sounded dull.

Looks like I have a high frequency hearing loss in my left ear, as compared to the right.

audiologist's picture

dc_bruce. What you describe is quite common. Hearing loss in one ear is usually suffered by people who spend all day in their car/truck with the window down. The wind blowing on your ear for 30 minutes subjects you to 90db+ in the ear canal and this is above the threshold for permanent hearing damage. In Australia its very common for people to suffer right ear loss, I test a lot of truck drivers and industrial workers. The truck drivers all have significant loss in their right ear while the industrial workers all have a roughly even loss in both ears. Another phenomenon that is becoming evident is loss in one ear due to phone usage. Having been doing what I do prior to mobile phones coming in it was very rare to find someone who had a disproportionate loss from left to right unless they were a truck driver. Even children as young as 15 are now starting to show signs of mobile phone induced hearing loss in the ear they hold the phone with. With all this noise pollution, lifestyle induced Tinnitus and just generally bad hearing protection it's a wonder anyone can comment about anything they describe as subtle. Using one earphone and leaving the other ear open to ambient sound is a recipe for disaster since you turn up the earphone to help drown out the noise in the other ear.

But reverse hearing tests don't lie. I have seen people push the button to register a test signal when I'm still setting up. You can fudge the normal test a bit as the signal decreases but you can't fudge it if the signal increases in amplitude and decreases in frequency since you dont know when I start the test.

RH's picture

About trying to "fudge" the audiology test.

I've often pointed to hearing tests to indicate the weird inconsistency many audiophiles have toward blind testing.

Hearing tests are blind tests. The subject is not given any visual cue as to when a tone plays because the point is to test what someone can actually *hear* and having, say, a light go on every time a tone played would clearly skew tests since people would often still press the "I hear it" button just by visual cue alone.

And yet, this is totally accepted and understood. No sane audiophile would get his test results showing his hearing cuts off at 12k insisting "I don't care WHAT these measurements say, I tell you I can hear up to 20K tones!" That would be ridiculous.

And yet...this is essentially the attitude one finds regarding audio tweaks. "I don't care if measurements don't show any changes above the audible threshold, I can hear them anyway!" (And also there are similar protestations from some who fail in blind testing to identify the cables they were SURE sounded different in sighted tests. Basically they just failed a hearing test, and still dispute the results).

audiologist's picture

RH. Not quite correct. There is no light in the booth. I tell them the test is starting. I put a tone in at a given frequency. They do not know whether I have or have not put in a tone. They push a button which gives me the indication by lighting up the panel. They do not know whether or not I am doing anything or not. I often sit there for minutes before doing anything. So my tests are not skewed in any way. After about 5 minutes of testing the ones who push the button trying to fudge their way through become very apparent very quick.

I have had people tell me before my frequencies are wrong because they can hear higher or lower or better than what the test showed. Like I am trying to fool them.

The point I want to get across is everyone's hearing is not as good as what they think it is. I always ask before a test what they can and can't hear. People telling me they can hear cockroaches in the wall or some crap and their hearing is perfect, I test them and they couldn't hear an elephant in a china shop with a megaphone. Then they dispute it. I don't care much either way. Very similar to the my experience of cables. I cant hear any difference so I save thousands on cables and spend that on music. I haven't added to my system in years and have no need to swap anything or any intention of buying anything new.

RH's picture

audiologist

Yes, I've had many hearing tests and your description is exactly why I pointed out they are a "blind test" for the subject.

I guess you meant I was "not quite correct" in that you actually HAVE had subjects dispute the hearing test results?

(BTW, I started protecting my ears pretty early even though I played in a band and attended concerts. At 56 I can hear to 14K with a bit of a notch around 4K, so not too bad for my age).

audiologist's picture

They all claim the machine is wrong and at least one person a day will say its rubbish. And your hearing is pretty good for 56, same as me but I dont have the notch at 4k. If you are taking blood pressure meds this is a known cause and the leading cause of hearing loss especially over the age of 65. It really kicks in then. Healthy heart healthy hearing.

thyname's picture

I have read a lot of arguments about why cables cannot possibly make a difference (measurements, double blind tests, etc.), but today, we have reached a new milestone! Now we are lucky to have here an "audiologist" proclaiming how bad the hearing is for the reviewers, and how they cannot possibly discern the differences in cables.

Way to go! Stick it to the man !

audiologist's picture

No where did I "PROCLAIM" how bad the reviewers ears were. All my statements are about clients hearing not any reviewers. All I did was offer to do a blind hearing test IF THEY WANTED TO DO IT AND HAVE THE RESULTS PUBLISHED.

No where did I "PROCLAIM" that they cannot possibly discern the differences in cables. READ WHAT I WROTE. The sentence I think you are referring to is this. " With all this noise pollution, lifestyle induced Tinnitus and just generally bad hearing protection it's a wonder anyone can comment about anything they describe as subtle." This was about a couple of audiophile friends whose hearing I test. Not any reviewer. OOOOPS your mistake.

And just for you. "I did say the differences that they claim to hear are not supported by their hearing tests showing typical hearing loss in the bottom and top ends where they claim the cables made a difference." This was about a couple of audiophile friends whose hearing I test. Not any reviewer.

It was me who said I CAN'T HEAR ANY DIFFERENCE SO I SPEND MY MONEY ON MUSIC INSTEAD.

How on earth you interpreted anything I wrote as saying the reviewers can't discern differences is a mystery the likes of MH370.

Mate, if you are going to comment at least have the decency to read what people write before MAKING UP YOUR OWN VERSION OF EVENTS. That's the good thing about posts. Its there for all to see and NOWHERE DID I SAY ANYTHING LIKE WHAT YOU HAVE SAID. You make yourself look wheely smart mate. NOT. I know you want to say something but you don't know quite what to say so you attack me for statements that you have made up in your head. Sad but true.

Way to to go. Sticking it to yourself.

thyname's picture

Some people have a hard time making a distinction between “listening” and “hearing”.

To The “audiologist” with us, by that logic, a 12 years old with perfect HEARING is the best person to review any audio equipment. By virtue of having a better hearing than a 60 years old Stereophile reviewer.

audiologist's picture

Still attacking me for something I never said hey. Sidestep your first mistake laden post against me and now throw in some stupid nonsense about a 12yo with perfect hearing. You incorrectly quoted me before which made you look like a fool. Now you look even worse by not admitting you were wrong and drawing another conclusion against something I never said....AGAIN. And now you post your own statement about listening and hearing and draw a logical conclusion using your own statement which you say is mine. Thats OK. I never said you need perfect hearing to discern any difference. Once again what I did say was that the hearing tests on my friends did not support the changes they claim to have heard. That's it. You seem to want to keep drawing conclusions from things that I have NEVER SAID or even intimated. That's the beauty of posts. Its easy to fact check what I said and what you have said. The more you make things up I never said the worse you look.

Jim Austin's picture

We run a civil forum here. Be nice.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

audiologist's picture

Totally agree.

Jim Austin's picture
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tonykaz's picture

I admire/admired Mr.KR and his Music in the Round. He has a certain curiosity that seems unique and informative, loosing him hurt.

But...

This new Gift from our Editors is exceptional!

As Esoteric Audio - Retailer, I stocked cables. I carried MIT Interfaces ( cables ) and maintained a library loaner program that encouraged Customers to take home and try out. I'd say that everyone discovered a significant performance differential. Loaner cables in the hands of curious customers would yield stories. ( people weren't prepared for the "marvels" revealed by their expensive music systems ).

Cables, Tubes, Cramolin, etc. are important component parts.

I'm thrilled to applaud Stereophile and Mr.HR for this adventure in good music.

Stereophile raises the Bar, yet again.

Tony in N.H.

ok's picture

in a variety of areas – we just don’t yet know how these or other differences translate into personal experience, assuming they actually do. Anyway no measurement could ever convince the "objectivist" (my ass) or "sceptic" (when handy) that his own experience is not everyone’s experience; therefore pop science, psychological commonplaces, statistical manipulation, virtue signaling and ad hominem attacks are alternately being employed. “Can’t hear the damn thing” is never enough – not until everyone else, the wealthy ones no less, can’t hear it as well.

JHL's picture

Not only that, but scores of electronics makers from wildly disparate and deeply technical critical fields have written libraries on the actions of transmission lines and everything related to them. Because you *can* write technical libraries on just how many ways wires behave.

The notion that RLC are everything is unique to the audio *scientist*.

invaderzim's picture

People could argue forever about cables and their affect on sound but one thing has become clear to me from reading this, and that is that audio needs passion.
Without that, all the audio components in the world are just appliances. And it wouldn't be much fun then.

Prior to reading this piece I had lost my passion for audio. I was about to throw out all my DIY parts; I wasn't listening to music as much. I was even considering replacing my tube amps with cheap, energy efficient amps. I may not agree line for line with everything you said. In fact I was ready to argue about much of it and then it hit me you were enjoying listening to music and that is what all of this is about. And I should do what makes me enjoy listening to music more too.

Spread the passion, spread the enthusiasm and even the insanity.

Thank you Mr Reichert.

David Harper's picture

Robert Harley once wrote an entire piece in TAS under this extraordinary title;
"How blind testing fundamentally distorts the way we hear music".

Apparently any test which results in no audible difference must be flawed. It just must be. So lets make up some tortured logic with which to explain to our faithful followers why this is so. Instead of "the test proves there's no difference" simply turn it around. "no difference proves the test is flawed".

JHL's picture

That begs the question. You've front-end loaded your premise with the other guy's blind assertion, irrationality, evangelical motive, and overt dishonesty. That's a heap of burning intentionalism and clinical projection, and hardly the abstract objectivity of the scientific pursuit objectivists adopt just by their breathing or getting out of bed in the morning, noble that they be.

A more reasoned, fuller view concludes that in a world where 1) scores of independent individuals report effects of a technology using very similar language, which we can call a clear pattern of evidence, involving 2) a perceptual method, pattern, environment, content, psychology, physiology, state of mind, and so on and so that varies tremendously from a test designed as likely as not to reduce everything to the same common dismal level, that it's abundantly clear something else is going on. After all, we *hear* it.

Oh no you don't! And *I* should know!
-Objectivism

Apparently hearing is anathema to sound, says the objectivist. Be that is it may, says the objective subjectivist, I'll give it a go anyway, this being my place, my stuff, my ears, and my money.

Just as no device was ever more effectively designed to make everything to sound identical than the objectivist trailing a box of switches by its cord, no conclusion was more effectively jumped to than by the self-styled audio scientist.

kg's picture

Herb, it's funny you should mention him. A couple of months ago I was browsing one his self-published artzines and I was suprised to discover a photo of you and what I assume is a reference to a visit that he paid to you in NY. So I realised you two knew each other. The next thing I thought was "Ah, ok, that makes perfect sense."
I actually sent you photos of these pages on FB. They probably landed in your "other messages" mailbox.

er1c's picture

I am here for the simple and profound beauty and joy of the music as much as the sound quality. I enjoy modest gear (Sphinx v3 NOS tubes, LS50s and CDs [HDCD], Qobuz) thanks to your (Herb) enthusiasm, and I'm here to report that yes, I hear evidence that cables surely do matter. Why all the agonizing over science? Some have a need to convince others in order to feel comfortable with what they hear. I put entry Audioquest power cables and their new entry level ($) power filter into my system and the quiet became more beautifully quiet. A very nice upgrade. Herb,Thank you. And your painting kicks forking ass.

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