Audio Woo Woo

[BPSDB]I can’t get into work today because of the snow so I’ve been surfing the net and found this promotion of overpriced power cables.

… the energy output by your audio system must equal the energy supplied. Since the power cord is the energy supply cable, it fundamentally affects the amplification of the music signal. And because it is the first component affecting the signal’s amplification, the power cord is arguably the most important because unfortunately “distortion begets more distortion”. Signal distortions caused by upstream components such as the a/c power cord are amplified through the rest of the music chain.

True the cord supplies the energy to run your system. That is why they are made of relatively thick copper wire so they have negligable resistance and energy loss. If there was much energy loss between the plug and your equipment, the cord would heat up.

Note the writer suddenly switches to talking about “distortion” which is not the same as energy. The implication is that this “distortion” in an ordinary power cable will somehow distort the signal from your player.

In fact, your actual amplification circuit runs off low voltage direct current. Mains current feds into a step-downn transformer to produce low voltage a.c. This in turn is converted into direct current by a rectifier and smoothing circuit. Lest an audiowooster claim that this step-down-rectify-and-smooth system produce magnetic fields that will distort the signal, I should point out that it is shielded.

2. Power cords define your system’s “performance envelope”

The power cord affects the quantity and delivery speed of current available to your equipment’s power supply. These factors define your system’s dynamic potential, i.e. its ability to supply the required energy to faithfully amplify a musical signal.

“Delivery speed of current” does not actually mean anything. Current itself is the speed of delivery of electrical energy. If your amp is plugged in and switched on then it is receiving the energy it requires.

A simple experiment will dramatize this point. Substituting stock 14/3 SJT cords for 18/3 SJT or SVT (the cordage type is typically stamped into the jacket), a first observation without adjusting anything is that your system plays louder and more dynamic. The lower gage conductors are obviously allowing more current to your equipment’s power supply. This effect can be noticed on any component with an amplification section, but especially the power amplifiers. Next, one typically observes that the 14/3 cord presents a generally warmer, more romantic sound with fuller, deeper bass, greater dynamics, and rolled off high frequencies.

I’d like to see a double-blinded trial confirming this. The writer describes subjective responses. If you’ve just spent £100 on a power cable you can easily convince yourself the music sounds better. Otherwise you might feel a bit of a tit.

3. Power cords like other audio cables have a sonic signature.

What does this actually mean?

Continued careful listening reveals other phenomena. First, one notices a loss in soundstage accuracy. Common symptoms include featured instrument and vocal images being spread across the entire front soundstage. Image depth and height dimensions also become compressed. A harsh stridency is apparent during dynamic peaks in the upper-midrange/lower-treble range. These effects are caused by more severe frequency timing or phase shifts, again induced by the stock 14/3 SJT cord. Phase shifts destroy the directional cues inherent in the original recording, and cause much of the harshness heard particularly during CD playback. This type of distortion is not correctable with typical controls available to us in home audio systems. Therefore, its sources must be eliminated from your system to reveal the music’s natural spatial and harmonic character.

Again, subjective responses. Note “careful listening” is required to notice these effects. If you do not notice them and complain you will be told you have not listened carefully enough!

Essential Sound Products’ a/c power cords and distribution components are based upon a patented multi-conductor cordage geometry that eliminates phase distortion. Music is reproduced with all the vibrancy and immediacy of the original performance, and life-like harmonic integrity.

And this sounds like they’ve decided to baffle with bullshit all those they couldn’t blind with science.

Don’t take our word for it, audition them yourself. But be warned:

One listen, and nothing else will do.

Does this not contradict their assertion that continued careful listening is required?

I wonder if anyone can spot the difference if they are unaware which type of cord is being used. Since the manufactureres are charging so much for these items and are so convinced about how wonderful they are, why do they not set up double-blinded trials? Shouldn’t be difficult.

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6 Responses to “Audio Woo Woo”

  1. Alan Henness Says:

    As an Electronic Engineer, I am more concerned about the type of cable they use in the overhead cables distorting my Pink Floyd: I think we should get this guy to climb the pole or pylon and replace them (live, of course!) with his magic cable…

    It’s a serious point, though: why are they more concerned about the metre of power cord and not the miles of cable between the power station and their house?

    You have to wonder if this guy knows he’s talking BS or whether he’s just passing it on.

    However, it’s BS that only affects the pockets of the gullible, unlike AltMed BS that may also affect their health.

  2. Mojo Says:

    Another characteristic of audio woo is that while the proponents claim that the effects are clearly audible, blinded testing is anathema to them. see, for example, the thread AUDIO TWEAKS AND THE DOUBLE BLIND TEST CULT over at JREF.

  3. Mojo Says:

    All a bit like homoeopathy, really…

  4. Charlotte Says:

    I’m confused…whilst this advertisement is a pile of crap, every hi-fi shop I’ve ever been to actively encourages you to try listening to a different components before you buy, on the nearest equivalent to your system that they can set up. And yes, they’ll happily single-blind that test for you if you ask. Cheap cables don’t generally sound the same as expensive ones but it depends on the individual cable, some are overpriced. A lot of it is subjective – I value things that improve reproduction in the higher registers, especially violins, more than my Dad does, probably because my hearing is better in that range. So we disagree on occasion about whether his system sounds better with a new gadget or without it.

    The main difference between audio woo and alt-med woo is that it doesn’t offer unfounded hope to people who are suffering, and distract their energy from things that might actually be helpful. Buying a new cable for your hi-fi and finding that it doesn’t do much for the reproduction isn’t crushing. I think bad science efforts would be better directed towards the usual suspects.

  5. Jobe Says:

    I know this doesn’t make any health claims, but imho we should really treat all woo as the same…regardless if its altmed or free energy or whatever. Woo is woo.

    All woo, regardless of what type, will just allow the non-critical mindset to set in even further…forcing a market into gullibility.

    Is it a wonder that those that can accept things like magnetic fuel savers, and these funny cables, will also easily accept homeopathy and the like?

    All woo damages 😦


  6. jaycueaitch Says:

    I take your point Charlotte but anyone who uses (pseudo)science to extract money from the gullible is a legitimate target.

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