Speaker Cables: Can You Hear the Difference? – Sound & Vision

In the early 1980s, esoteric high-end audio as we know it today was just taking off as an alternative to the mass-market equipment offered in neighborhood TV/appliance stores. Fueled by an underground audio press that included magazines and newsletters such as Sound & Vision sister publication Stereophile, The Absolute Sound, International Audio Review, The Audio Critic, and others, a cottage industry emerged, one populated by small manufacturers of low-volume, high-priced exotica claiming greater faithfulness to the music than the gear reviewed and advertised in the pages of Stereo Review, High Fidelity, Audio, et al. Some of these claims were founded—true advances were indeed being made by start-ups run by technicians with first-class bonafides and good ears. But the High End also attracted its share of half-baked products and at least a few charlatans looking to cash in selling accessories that had little higher performance than a dime-store engagement ring.

In the midst of all this, the premium cable business emerged, driven in no small part by the success of the early Monster Cable products that followed the company’s founding by engineer/audiophile Noel Lee in 1979. The editors of our precursor Stereo Review were suspicious of the benefits of such speaker cables and interconnects, which were suddenly being proffered by an ever-widening mix of high-end specialists, often at prices far higher than Monster’s. The highly objective measurement-based testing approach employed by Julian Hirsch and his colleagues already ran counter to the high-end community’s subjective reviews, which focused solely on claimed sonic differences that SR’s instruments couldn’t detect. It wasn’t long before Stereo Review began positioning itself as the skeptical voice of reason in what its editors deemed an audio industry gone mad.

It was no surprise, then, that in 1983, the magazine jumped at the opportunity to conduct a double-blind listening test, which editor-in-chief Bill Livingston and his colleagues hoped would reveal, scientifically, that high-end cables were indeed a hoax and provided no higher performance than the everyday lamp cord in common use at the time.

Interesting reprint of a 1983 article examining speaker cables to see if listeners could tell the difference between average cables and premium wires.

Source: Speaker Cables: Can You Hear the Difference? | Sound & Vision

How the Audio Industry is Deceiving Consumers with High-Resolution Audio

Hi resI’ve been writing about music and audio for more than fifteen years, and I’ve always been of the opinion that music is more important than sound; that what matters is what we listen to, rather trying to only listen to music that sounds perfect (or nearly so).[1]

If you read about audio equipment in the hi-fi press, you’ll see that much of the audio equipment mentioned in these magazines is more expensive than most people would ever spend on a stereo setup. There are cables that cost more than my car, and speakers that can cost as much as a small home.[2]

A few months ago, I came to a realization. I don’t recall which article I read that pointed this out, but this type of audio is not just high-end, but it truly is luxury hardware. It’s the Jaguar and Porsche of audio. The amplifiers, speakers, and cables you see in these audiophile magazines are not targeted at the average listener, but those who have a great deal of disposable income. This is fine; there’s nothing wrong with people spending their money on what is often hand-made hardware from small, dedicated companies. But it’s only something that a tiny percentage of people can afford, or even appreciate. Audiophiles will scoff at people like me; in a recent forum discussion, I was told that, by purchasing a Yamaha amplifier, I was buying a "lifestyle" brand. I hadn’t been aware that this is an insult: it’s the audiophile equivalent of "philistine."

If you consider high-resolution music, which is widely discussed as being essential to make music "sound like the artist intended," you may, at first, think of this as progress; a better quality format, going beyond the pokey LP, the limited CD, and the underperforming MP3 file. But it’s not. Most people cannot hear the difference between a CD (or even a good-quality digital download) and a high-resolution audio file. And, even if they can, they need expensive, nay, luxury equipment to appreciate it.[3]

And here’s where the problem lies. The audio industry has lost so many consumers at the low end – it used to be that most people had a stereo system in their homes; now they are satisfied with Bluetooth speakers – that it is trying to convince everyone, not just luxury hi-fi fans, that quality of the music they listen to sucks. There are economic reasons for this, of course. If they can convince some people that their audio files aren’t good enough, then they can perhaps get them to buy more expensive hi-fi equipment. In recent years, the mid-range hi-fi market – those "lifestyle" brands – has collapsed, and these companies only really survive because they sell lots of other products. So there’s not a lot of choice between Bluetooth speakers – or the Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, etc. – and higher-end audio equipment.[4]

Read more

Oppo Is Ceasing Production of Optical Disc Players and Headphones

Oppo, well known among audio enthusiasts for its optical disc players – DVD, Blu-Ray, etc. – is ceasing production of these products and of their headphones. In an article entitled Farewell, the company says:

It has been 14 years since we established OPPO Digital in the United States, and with the support of our customers, technical partners, and movie/music studios, we produced many award-winning Hi-Fi audio products and universal disc players, spanning three generations from DVD, Blu-ray, to 4K UHD.

As our latest 4K UHD players reach the pinnacle of their performance, it is time to say goodbye. We are proud to have made such well-regarded products and to have served the enthusiast community. Without our customers’ suggestions, encouragement, and support, we could not have accomplished these achievements.

Though OPPO Digital will gradually stop manufacturing new products, existing products will continue to be supported, warranties will still be valid, and both in-warranty and out-of-warranty repair services will continue to be available. Firmware will continue to be maintained and updates released from time to time. Customers can rest assured that they will continue to receive the high quality service and support that they have come to expect from OPPO Digital.

Oppo also makes smartphones, through a separate entity, and those products will continue. But it’s clear that streaming and digital downloads have affected this company enough that they can no longer survive.

This is a shame. Oppo is one of the references for high-quality, multi-disc players. In addition, their technology is used in players made by some other companies, such as a Cambridge Audio player that I own, which is built around an Oppo chassis and chips. This will therefore affect other brands, who may need to find new ways to build their devices, if they are to continue.

Man Who Self-Identifies as “Audiophile” Reviews Apple AirPods

A journalist writing for The Verge, who self-identifies as an “audiophile” has posted a review of Apple’s AirPods. In it, he points out that he is “headphone obsessive,” and that, for some reason, he is “not supposed to like the AirPods.” To be fair, this luxury music listener uses $3,000 headphones to listen to music; and undoubtedly has speaker cables whose cost per meter is more than the AirPods.

So he likes the AirPods. It’s not like this guy is the official audiophile that everyone should listen to. Just read some of what he says; the same drivel that audiophile reviewers spout all the time:

The AirPods convey a full sense of the mood and intent of the music I listen to. By that, I mean that they’re not technically spectacular. They don’t fill my world with a sparkling shimmer when listening to “Rachel’s Song” on the Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack, but they still put me in that longing, wistful mood.

He only mentions the sound in one paragraph; the rest is about the technical features of the AirPods and their design. As often in “audiophile” reviews, it’s a lot of fluff and little substance.

No, self-identifying as an “audiophile” doesn’t make anyone more qualified to judge audio equipment. This article proves it.

Audio Issues when Using Apple’s USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter

MJ1K2I record podcasts and screencasts, and usually do my audio recording on my iMac, but recently I’ve been using my MacBook Pro (2017, sans touch bar) a bit. Since it only has two ports, and I needed to record something with my iPhone connected to it, I attached the dongle you see on the left: it has three ports, one is USB-C, one USB-A, and one HDMI. I bought this a few years ago to use with the crippled single-port MacBook, and while I don’t use it often, now that I have 100% more ports on my MacBook Pro, there are times I need it. The battery was running low, and I needed to connect a microphone via USB, so I used one port for the iPhone, and the other for the power and microphone.

I recorded about two minutes of audio for a screencast using Audio Hijack, and, as I always do, opened it in Rogue Amoeba’s Fission to check it and edit it. This is what I saw:

Audio artifacts

As you can see, there are some very nasty audio artifacts on the recording. Interesting, they only show on one channel, but they are very loud diginoise. I don’t know why this happens, but when I plugged the microphone directly into a USB-C > USB-A adapter, then into the MacBook Pro, the problem went away. Also, when the power cable wasn’t connected to the mammoth dongle, it worked fine. I can only assume that there’s something wrong with the larger dongle when it’s sending both power and data. I don’t think there’s any way to fix this, and I don’t really need to use this configuration often, but it’s worth noting if you do plan to do audio recording and need another peripheral connected to a Mac via one of these dongles.

Fortunately, I didn’t discover this after recording a podcast…