March 1, 2018 at 1:37 pm #5868
Alón’s Column March 2018
I’m a big fan of innovative audio tweaks, including, reluctantly, those that annoy me to no end. But only as long as I can hear a positive difference. I can be totally at peace with the remarkable improvement in sound quality I get by simply placing the Origin Live Platter Pad on my turntable and immediately hearing the increased clarity, impact and richness of the music compared to how it sounded scant seconds ago with a bare platter. To these ears, it’s not at all subtle. Considering our hobby’s trademark of diminishing returns, such inexpensive tweaks stand out as true audiophile bargains.
But what about the tweaks that shouldn’t work, but do anyway? My critical mind can rationalize the efficacy of a platter pad as it absorbs detrimental vibrations before they get to the cartridge, but what do I do with a very expensive black box that improves the sound and experience of the music when it’s in the room and leaves it lacking when it is taken out of the room. You’ve probably experienced this frustration/fascination at an audio show or two:
The A/B comparison seemed well thought out. No one touched the system except to hit “play,” the track we heard was the same and it was digital so we can’t claim that “groove fatigue” was involved, and no, I did not move my head or change seats, yet, there it was… an obvious improvement in sound with the expensive mystery shoebox in the room. I don’t know about you, but this kind of paradoxical demonstration makes me crazy. There’s a part of me that asks: Is this some audio VooDoo, did the presenter use a stealthfully hidden remote control to turn up the volume a click or two, or am I hearing things that aren’t there? The worst part of it is that the effect can be duplicated on my home system… which frankly makes me want to scream.
I have no trouble with tweaks that touch or affect the signal path in some way, like cleaning up AC power, using magnetic conduction cables that corral electrons into a tight single file within the wires, or component and speaker footers that reduce vibrations, turning them into harmless heat. I can understand the physics of these tweaks, but my skepticism gets quite a workout with some of these other products.
So, this is your opportunity to chime in with your take on this issue. Whether it’s a small brass bell that you put behind your couch, or some other magic snake oil thing that obviously makes an apparent difference in sound quality, the big question is does it matter that we don’t understand how or why it works? Is this a brain factor that pre-disposes us to hear what we are told we would hear? Is this some sort of mass hysteria caused by exposure to too many MP3s?
What’s your opinion and/or experience with audio tweaks?
March 10, 2018 at 12:10 am #5887
I’m still very new to this hobby and just started tweaking, with 14 AWG power cords instead of 18 AWG, silver headphone cables and interconnects, the iFi iPurifier AC (or three of them), Herbie’s Tenderfoot or even just a massive bamboo butcher block and cork place mats to deal with vibrations. In a headphone system, no less.
Every time I try something new, I’m terrified of making a fool of myself, either by hearing a difference when there shouldn’t be one, or by not hearing one and therefore having wasted valuable currency. Yet there’s also this nagging doubt that I missed out on some extra bliss by not having tried… everything.
For the most part, the improvements, if any, were subtle – to me. One iPurifier AC definitely improved imaging and instrument separation in my two channel system, but I’m less sure about the effect of using two or three. I feel like the silver cables make everything sound a bit more natural, but it’s difficult to A/B that quickly. Vibration management? Can’t tell a difference so far, possibly because of more substantial flaws in my setup. While my Ether Flow and Ether C Flow definitely needed their 200h burn in, I can’t say that I heard a change in the silver cables after the 150h burn in suggested by the manufacturer. Those hours sure brought me closer to the end of the 15 day return period, though.
My cynical wife offered to facilitate a blind A/B test, after she was done being amused by the term “power conditioner”. If I can identify the presence of the iPurifier, I get the satisfaction of not having deluded myself, at least this time. Otherwise I have to pay her dental bill. Ain’t love wonderful?
That’s where you guys come in. With some trustworthy fellow lunatics, maybe we can organize a few proper blind tests and remove some doubt. Of course, at the end I might just have to hand in my audiophile card because I’m the only one not hearing a difference.
Or maybe that would make me the sane one. Years ago as a student with a minor in Psychology, we conducted a little experiment. We gave random people on the street two glasses of orange juice, one made from organic oranges grown in sunny Spain, the other one made from conventional oranges, treated with pesticides and grown in some greenhouse in the winter.
Naturally, most preferred the former. But actually, both glasses contained the same cheap juice from the discount grocery store around the corner. Out of ~20 people, one got it right. I guess I wouldn’t mind being that guy.
May 6, 2018 at 3:26 pm #5929
In my experience, some tweaks work well and are apparent… some are of course, more subtle and usually need a very revealing system to show their stuff. Don’t be worried, just keep tweaking and having fun, because if it’s not fun, what good is a hobby like this?
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