Time for me to spend some time slamming audiophilism again, it’s been awhile. To the left is a picture of a DVD with a Shakti stone on top of it. The stone is bringing out unsurpassed clarity and imaging, a wider soundstage and more dynamic range than owner of this humble DVD player ever thought possible before using the miracle stone. And if you believe that, God help you.
Poking around for audiophile scams I stumbled across this page. It’s by a reformed audiophile named David Stark, he has a hilarious collection hi-fi foibles people must be spending money on. The hi-fi knobs are classic!
First let me define audiophilism. An Audiophile (note capital A) is someone who buys into the “perfect sound” paradox, that there exists this unattainable ideal called perfect sound reproduction. It’s an unattainable principle to the Audiophile because it exists just around the corner of the next expensive upgrade to their system. While constantly upgrading their gear and buy into questionable electronics science. A few main areas of pseudo science the Audiophile believes in include:
Cable Theory: The belief that expensive cables and wires make your system sound better, or worse that an aural property can be associated with specific cables. IE, “These cables sound bright.” Subsets of cable theory include a variety of other Audiophile myths including
Jitter: The belief that bits can be scrambled, disordered or lost as they pass through a digital cable. It was borrowed from IT networking. Large networks might have a problem with jitter in something like a print spool queuing thousands of print jobs at a time. But in networks, jitter is not being caused because they’re not using expensive RJ-45. If jitter can afflict the short of an optic cable between components in your system, how do Hard Drives work?
Resonance: An unsightly disaster to your analogue audio signal inside your RCA cables, the Audiophile believes he needs expensive cables made with exotic minerals, extemporaneous networks attached to your cable run or a host of other things to prevent other phantoms like strand jumping due to skin effect all of which contribute to cabling problems. All hogwash! Resonance does affect an audio signal traveling inside a run of speaker wire, but well beyond the audible range.
Golden Ear: The belief that some people can hear more details in sound that you can and therefore need more expensive equipment to be satisfied. It’s funny how the golden ears are usually over 40, which means their hearing has degraded to where they probably can’t hear anything above 15KHz. It also stands to reason that most audiophiles are music fans and spent a lot of time at live concerts or music clubs where music was amplified near or above 100db. This would mean their hearing is even worse than a normal 40 year olds and are liable to be slightly hearing impaired.
Amplifier Theory: The same as cable theory but for amps, the belief that amplifiers contribute to sound quality or coloration of your audio in any way. “This is a warm sounding amp.” “Tube amps have a mellow laid back sound.” “Transistorized amps are cold and harsh sounding.” You don’t hear an amp, you hear speakers. There is only one way an amp can acoustically color the sound you hear, it’s called distortion. Yes, the whole MOSFET amps that produce a ‘warm’ sound is actually a type of distortion you can re-create on any amp using 100 ohm resistors connected to your speaker leads.
I might add that many respected engineers believe in Amp Theory, including the esteemed Bob Carver (founder of Carver audio and Sunfire) who has been quoted as such in editorials I’ve read. I liken this to a cop or a Marine who is really kind of a dick but damn good at their job. You might not want him around for tea but when the stuff hits the fan there’s nobody else you’d rather have around. There have been ABX tests that have removed any doubt that a human can perceive differences between amps, in extreme examples panels of audiophiles haven’t been able to distinguish, at any greater than 50% consistency, between a $200 Pioneer receiver and a $12,000 tube amp array with separate power supplies.
EMF: Electromagnetic frequency is the ultimate insidious phantom. Imagine a force that surrounds everything, given off by anything, floating through the air, everywhere that does nothing more than damage audio signals traveling through shielded cables. The audiophile believes this nefarious energy can only be defended with exotic using rare minerals. Silver helps, gold is even better, and of diamond is better still; what about a page from the Dead Seas Scrolls? To block out negative EMF the Audiophile must surround his gear with Shakti stones and use $30,000 worth of Transparent cables to prevent it from getting into your cabling runs. But then you still have EMF getting in through your AC line in the form of backwash noise so you must use an exotic power conditioner that gives your equipment the cleanest 60Hz AC possible.
My own admission of audiophilism, yes I did at one time dabble in the cult. I really could never afford to buy the big stuff I might have been tempted to once upon a time. Yes, I have polished analogue leads, meticulously chopped speaker wire and rearranged cabling so as to avoid EMF interactions. I certainly believed in amp theory, but all of this is simply because it’s what I’ve been told was true by people who should know. Hi-fi magazines, editorials etc all write in a fantasy world where a $6,000 multi-channel power amp is a bargain. This instantly gives you a sense of inferiority with your mainstream electronics; you feel you’re missing something.
The reality of Audiophilism is that its closer related to the mental illness suffered by gambling or drug addicts than an innocent quest for perfect sound. It’s a persistent inner-disquiet, a dissatisfaction that perhaps should be addressed elsewhere in your life and not at the local hi-fi salon.
Despite it all, I would still rather own a Rotel receiver than a Sony receiver. I believe in a point of diminishing returns on your investment in hi-fi and for my part, I believe for a receiver it occurs around $2000. Good clean power to all channels with plenty of overhead for spike with no clipping, no distortion is all you need. Since receivers do so much more it’s difficult to toss a number out there (like $2000) considering there are audio standards that are forever changing, new connection standards in audio/video. A complete array of HDMI connections in a receiver would cost you plenty more than $2000 by today’s pricing, and that’s a good practical feature, were it priced within reach.