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By PETER ACZEL, Editor

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electronics might consider using a tube delity applications, more than ade-
2. The Vacuum-Tube (e.g., the RF stage of an FM tuner), but quately resolves all audio frequencies.
Lie those rare and narrowly qualified excep- It will not cause any loss of informa-
tions cannot redeem the common, tion in the audio range—not an iota,
This lie is also, in a sense, about a pe- garden-variety lies of the tube mar- not a scintilla. The “how can two sam-
ripheral matter, since vacuum tubes are keters, who want you to buy into an ob- pling points resolve 20 kHz?” argu-
hardly mainstream in the age of sil- solete technology. ment is an untutored misinterpretation
icon. It’s an all-pervasive lie, however, of the Nyquist-Shannon sampling the-

The Ten
in the high-end audio market; just
count the tube-equipment ads as a per-
centage of total ad pages in the typical
high-end magazine. Unbelievable! And
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3. The Antidigital Lie

You have heard this one often, in one


orem. (Doubters are advised to take an
elementary course in digital systems.)
The reason why certain analog
recordings sound better than certain

Biggest Lies in Audio


so is, of course, the claim that vacuum form or another. To wit: Digital sound digital recordings is that the engineers
tubes are inherently superior to tran- is vastly inferior to analog. Digitized did a better job with microphone
sistors in audio applications—don’t audio is a like a crude newspaper pho- placement, levels, balance, and equal-
you believe it. tograph made up of dots. The ization, or that the recording venue
Tubes are great for high-powered Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem is was acoustically superior. Some early
RF transmitters and microwave ovens all wet. The 44.1 kHz sampling rate of digital recordings were indeed hard
The punch line of Lincoln’s famous bon mot, been exposed, shamed, and refuted
over and over again by every genuine
but not, at the turn of the century, for
amplifiers, preamps, or (good grief!)
the compact disc cannot resolve the
highest audio frequencies where there
and edgy, not because they were digital
but because the engineers were still
that you cannot fool all the people all of the authority under the sun, but the
tweako audio cultists hate authority
digital components like CD and DVD
players. What’s wrong with tubes?
are only two or three sampling points.
Digital sound, even in the best cases, is
thinking analog, compensating for an-
ticipated losses that did not exist.
time, appears to be just barely applicable to and the innocents can’t distinguish it Nothing, really. There’s nothing wrong hard and edgy. And so on and so Today’s best digital recordings are the
from self-serving charlatanry. with gold teeth, either, even for upper forth—all of it, without exception, ig- best recordings ever made. To be fair, it
high-end audio. What follows here is an The simple truth is that resistance, incisors (that Mideastern grin); it’s just norant drivel or deliberate misrepre- must be admitted that a state-of the-art
inductance, and capacitance (R, L, and that modern dentistry offers more at- sentation. Once again, the lie has little analog recording and a state-of-the-art
attempt to make it stick. C) are the only cable parameters that tractive options. Whatever vacuum bearing on the mainstream, where the digital recording, at this stage of their
affect performance in the range below tubes can do in a piece of audio equip- digital technology has gained complete respective technologies, will probably
I strongly suspect that people are At the dark end of that spectrum, how- radio frequencies. The signal has no ment, solid-state devices can do better, acceptance; but in the byways and trib- be of comparable quality. Even so, the
more gullible today than they were in ever, a new age of ignorance, supersti- idea whether it is being transmitted at lower cost, with greater reliability. utaries of the audio world, in unregen- number of Tree-Worshiping Analog
my younger years. Back then we didn’t tion, and dishonesty holds sway. Why through cheap or expensive RLC. Yes, Even the world’s best-designed tube erate high-end audio salons and the Druids is rapidly dwindling in the pro-
put magnets in our shoes, the police and how that came about has been you have to pay a little more than rock amplifier will have higher distortion listening rooms of various tweako fessional recording world. The digital
didn’t use psychics to search for amply covered in past issues of this bottom for decent plugs, shielding, in- than an equally well-designed transistor mandarins, it remains the party line. way is simply the better way.
missing persons, and no head of state publication; here I shall focus on the sulation, etc., to avoid reliability prob- amplifier and will almost certainly need The most ludicrous manifestation of

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since Hitler had consulted astrologers. rogues’ gallery of currently proffered lems, and you have to pay attention to more servicing (tube replacements, the antidigital fallacy is the preference
Most of us believed in science without mendacities to snare the credulous. resistance in longer connections. In rebiasing, etc.) during its lifetime. (Idi- for the obsolete LP over the CD. Not 4. The Listening-Test
any reservations. When the hi-fi era basic electrical performance, however, otic designs such as 8-watt single-ended the analog master tape over the digital Lie
dawned, engineers like Paul Klipsch,
Lincoln Walsh, Stew Hegeman, Dave
Hafler, Ed Villchur, and C. G.
McProud were our fountainhead of
audio information. The untutored
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1. The Cable Lie

Logically this is not the lie to start with


because cables are accessories, not pri-
a nice pair of straightened-out wire
coat hangers with the ends scraped is
not a whit inferior to a $2000 gee-whiz
miracle cable. Nor is 16-gauge lamp
cord at 18¢ a foot. Ultrahigh-priced
triode amplifiers are of course exempt,
by default, from such comparisons since
they have no solid-state counterpart.)
As for the “tube sound,” there are
two possibilities: (1) It’s a figment of
master tape, which remains a semi-
respectable controversy, but the clicks,
crackles and pops of the vinyl over the
digital data pits’ background silence,
which is a perverse rejection of reality.
Regular readers of this publication
know how to refute the various lies in-
voked by the high-end cultists in op-
position to double-blind listening tests
tweako/weirdo pundits who don’t mary audio components. But it is the cables are the biggest scam in con- the deluded audiophile’s imagination, Here are the scientific facts any at matched levels (ABX testing), but a
know the integral of e x were still in the hugest, dirtiest, most cynical, most in- sumer electronics, and the cowardly or (2) it’s a deliberate coloration intro- second-year E.E. student can verify for brief overview is in order here.
benighted future. telligence-insulting and, above all, most surrender of nearly all audio publica- duced by the manufacturer to appeal you: Digital audio is bulletproof in a The ABX methodology requires
Don’t misunderstand me. In terms fraudulently profitable lie in audio, and tions to the pressures of the cable mar- to corrupted tastes, in which case a way analog audio never was and never device A and device B to be level-
of the existing spectrum of knowledge, therefore must go to the head of the list. keters is truly depressing to behold. solid-state design could easily mimic can be. The 0’s and 1’s are inherently matched within ±0.1 dB, after which
the audio scene today is clearly ahead of The lie is that high-priced speaker (For an in-depth examination of the sound if the designer were perverse incapable of being distorted in the you can listen to fully identified A and
the early years; at one end of the spec- cables and interconnects sound better fact and fiction in speaker cables and enough to want it that way. signal path, unlike an analog wave- fully identified B for as long as you
trum there are brilliant practitioners than the standard, run-of-the-mill (say, audio interconnects, see Issues No. 16 Yes, there exist very special situations form. Even a sampling rate of 44.1 like. If you then think they sound dif-
who far outshine the founding fathers. Radio Shack) ones. It is a lie that has and No. 17.) where a sophisticated designer of hi-fi kHz, the lowest used in today’s high-fi- ferent, you are asked to identify X,

4 THE AUDIO CRITIC ISSUE NO. 26 • FALL 2000 5


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which may be either A or B (as deter- special insights he gains by (1) not hour and 1000th-hour performance. the same time it is only fair to point out only those with training and experi-
mined by a double-blind randomiza- matching levels and (2) peeking at As for cables, yecch… We’re dealing that biwiring does no harm. It just 9. The CD Treatment ence know what to make of it, how to
tion process). You are allowed to make the nameplates. Watch him squirm with audiophile voodoo here rather doesn’t do anything. Like magnets in Lie interpret it.
an A/X or B/X comparison at any and fume. than science. (See also the Duo-Tech your shoes. Thus, if a loudspeaker has a huge
time, as many times as you like, to de- review in Issue No. 19, page 36.) dip at 3 kHz, it will not sound like

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This goes back to the vinyl days, when

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cide whether X=A or X=B. Since sheer Loudspeakers, however, may re- treating the LP surface with various one with flat response to any ear,
guessing will yield the correct answer 5. The Feedback Lie quire a break-in period of a few hours, 8. The Power magic liquids and sprays sometimes golden or tin, but only the experi-
50% of the time, a minimum of 12 perhaps even a day or two, before Conditioner Lie (but far from always) resulted in im- enced ear will quickly identify the
trials is needed for statistical validity Negative feedback, in an amplifier or reaching optimum performance. That’s proved playback, especially when the problem. It’s like an automobile me-
(16 is better, 20 better yet). There is no preamplifier, is baaaad. No feedback at because they are mechanical devices Just about all that needs to be said on pressing process left some residue in the chanic listening to engine sounds and
better way to determine scientifically all is gooood. So goes this widely in- with moving parts under stress that this subject has been said by Bryston in grooves. Commercial logic then knowing almost instantly what’s
whether you are just claiming to hear a voked untruth. need to settle in. (The same is true of their owner’s manuals: brought forth, in the 1980s and ’90s, wrong. His hearing is no keener than
difference or can actually hear one. The fact is that negative feedback is reciprocating engines and firearms.) “All Bryston amplifiers contain similarly magical products for the treat- yours; he just knows what to listen for.
The tweako cultists will tell you one of the most useful tools available to That doesn’t mean a good loudspeaker high-quality, dedicated circuitry in the ment of CDs. The trouble is that the You could do it too if you had dealt
that ABX tests are completely invalid. the circuit designer. It reduces won’t “sound good” right out of the power supplies to reject RF, line spikes only thing a CD has in common with with as many engines as he has.
Everybody knows that a Krell sounds distortion and increases stability. Only box, any more than a new car with 10 and other power-line problems. Bryston an LP is that it has a surface you can Now here comes the really bad
better than a Pioneer, so if they are in- in the Bronze Age of solid-state am- miles on it won’t be good to drive. power amplifiers do not require special- put gunk on. The CD surface, how- part. The self-appointed Golden
distinguishable from each other in an plifier design, back in the late ’60s and ized power line conditioners. Plug the ever, is very different. Its tiny indenta- Ears—tweako subjective reviewers,
ABX test, then the ABX method is all
wet—that’s their logic. Everybody
knows that Joe is taller than Mike, so if
they both measure exactly 5 feet 111⁄4
inches, then there is something wrong
early ’70s, was feedback applied so
recklessly and indiscriminately by cer-
tain practitioners that the circuit could
get into various kinds of trouble. That
was the origin of the no-feedback
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7. The Biwiring Lie

Even fairly sophisticated audiophiles


fall for this hocus-pocus. What’s more,
amplifier directly into its own wall
socket.”
What they don’t say is that the same
is true, more or less, of all well-designed
amplifiers. They may not all be the Brys-
tions do not correspond to analog
waveforms but merely carry a numer-
ical code made up of 0’s and 1’s. Those
0’s and 1’s cannot be made “better” (or
“worse,” for that matter) the way the
high-end audio-salon salesmen, audio-
club ringleaders, etc.—often use their
falsely assumed superior hearing to in-
timidate you. “Can’t you hear that?”
they say when comparing two ampli-
with the Stanley tape measure, right? fetish. In the early ’80s a number of loudspeaker manufacturers participate tons’ equal in regulation and PSRR, but undulations of an LP groove can some- fiers. You are supposed to hear huge
The standard tweako objections to seminal papers by Edward Cherry in the sham when they tell you that if they are any good they can be plugged times be made more smoothly track- differences between the two when in
ABX tests are too much pressure (as in (Australia) and Robert Cordell (USA) those two pairs of terminals on the directly into a wall socket. If you can af- able. They are read as either 0’s or 1’s, reality there are none—the GE’s can’t
“let’s see how well you really hear”), made it clear, beyond the shadow of a back of the speaker are for biwiring as ford a fancy power conditioner you can and that’s that. You might as well polish hear it either; they just say they do, re-
too little time (as in “get on with it, we doubt, that negative feedback is totally well as biamping. Some of the most also afford a well-designed amplifier, in a quarter to a high shine so the cashier lying on your acceptance of their GE
need to do 16 trials”), too many de- benign as long as certain basic guide- highly respected names in loudspeakers which case you don’t need the fancy won’t mistake it for a dime. status. Bad scene.
vices inserted in the signal path (viz., lines are strictly observed. Enough time are guilty of this hypocritical genu- power conditioner. It will do absolutely Just say no to CD treatments, The best defense against the Golden
relays, switches, attenuators, etc.), and has elapsed since then for that truth to flection to the tweako sacraments— nothing for you. (Please note that we from green markers to spray-ons and Ear lie is of course the double-blind
of course assorted psychobabble on the sink in. Today’s no-feedback dogmatists they are in effect surrendering to the aren’t talking about surge-protected rub-ons. The idiophiles who claim to ABX test (see No. 4 above). That sepa-
subject of aural perception. None of are either dishonest or ignorant. “realities” of the market. power strips for computer equipment. hear the improvement can never, rates those who claim to hear something
that amounts to anything more than a The truth is that biamping makes They cost a lot less than a Tice Audio never identify the treated CD blind. from those who really do. It is amazing
red herring, of one flavor or another, to
divert attention from the basics of con-
trolled testing. The truth is that you 6
6. The Burn-In Lie

This widely reiterated piece of B.S.


sense in certain cases, even with a passive
crossover, but biwiring is pure voodoo.
If you move one pair of speaker wires to
magic box, and computers with their pe-
ripherals are electrically more vulnerable
than decent audio equipment.)
(Needless to say, all of the above also
goes for DVDs.)
how few, if any, GE’s are left in the
room once the ABX results are tallied.

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can perform an ABX test all by your- the same terminals where the other pair The biggest and stupidest lie of
self without any pressure from other would have you believe that audio is connected, absolutely nothing changes them all on the subject of “clean” power 10. The Golden
participants, that you can take as much electronics, and even cables, will electrically. The law of physics that says is that you need a specially designed E a r Lie
time as wish (how about 16 trials over “sound better” after a burn-in period so is called the superposition principle. high-priced line cord to obtain the best There are of course more Big Lies in
16 weeks?), and that you can verify the of days or weeks or months (yes, In terms of electronics, the superposition possible sound. Any line cord rated to This is the catchall lie that should per- audio than these ten, but let’s save a few
transparency of the inserted control months). Pure garbage. Capacitors will theorem states that any number of volt- handle domestic ac voltages and cur- haps go to the head of the list as No. for another time. Besides, it’s not really
devices with a straight-wire bypass. “form” in a matter of seconds after ages applied simultaneously to a linear rents will perform like any other. Ultra- 1 but will also do nicely as a wrap-up. the audio industry that should be
The objections are totally bogus and power-on. Bias will stabilize in a network will result in a current which is high-end line cords are a fraud. Your The Golden Ears want you to believe blamed but our crazy consumer culture
hypocritical. matter of minutes (and shouldn’t be all the exact sum of the currents that would audio circuits don’t know, and don’t that their hearing is so keen, so ex- coupled with the widespread acceptance
Here’s how you smoke out a lying, that critical in well-designed equip- result if the voltages were applied indi- care, what’s on the ac side of the power quisite, that they can hear tiny nu- of voodoo science. The audio industry,
weaseling, obfuscating anti-ABX hyp- ment, to begin with). There is ab- vidually. The audio salesman or ’phile transformer. All they’re interested in is ances of reproduced sound too elusive specifically the high-end sector, is merely
ocrite. Ask him if he believes in any solutely no difference in performance who can prove the contrary will be an the dc voltages they need. Think about for the rest of us. Absolutely not true. responding to the prevailing climate. In
kind of A/B testing at all. He will between a correctly designed ampli- instant candidate for some truly major it. Does your car care about the hose Anyone without actual hearing im- the end, every culture gets exactly what
probably say yes. Then ask him what fier’s (or preamp’s or CD player’s) first- scientific prizes and academic honors. At you filled the tank with? pairment can hear what they hear, but it deserves. TAC

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