It’s Difficult To Read An Audiophile Guide As An Analogue Engineer

Sitting on a train leaving the Hackaday Berlin conference, and Hacker News pops up Julian Shapiro with a guide to HiFi. What Hackaday scribe wouldn’t give it a click, to while away the endless kilometres of North European Plain!

It’s very easy as an analogue electronic engineer, to become frustrated while reading audiophile tracts, after all they have a tendency to blur superficial engineering talk with pseudoscience. There’s a rich vein of parody to be found in them, but nevertheless it’s interesting to read them because just sometimes the writer gets it and doesn’t descend into the world of make-believe.

This one is probably par for the course, we raised an eyebrow at the idea of comparing different speaker setups merely from sampled recordings, and rolled our eyes at the usual price-tag worship, but at least some of the acoustics stuff isn’t from another planet. The stand-out quote that motivated its write-up here though is the following, where he addresses the relationship between the audiophile industry and the audiophile press:

Also, note that almost all hifi reviews are positive. This is because reviewers typically return products without review when they dislike it. They do this to maintain relationships with manufacturers and to give them another chance with new products in the future.

Perhaps unwittingly it reveals in a nutshell the problem with the audio reviews. He’s dead right in that HiFi reviewers return positive assessments as a matter of course to maintain relationships with manufacturers, but omits the crucial point that they do so to maintain the hefty sums those manufacturers spend on advertising in their publications. We’d suggest that better reviews would come from a truly independent publication giving the only HiFi verdicts that matter, blind tests and measurements from a high-end audio analyser, but we suspect that the industry lacks the courage to do so. Until that happens, almost everything remains subjective, and coloured by advertising budgets.

Want the straight dope on audio? Read our Know Audio series.

JBL loudspeaker header image: JPRoche, CC BY-SA 3.0.

138 thoughts on “It’s Difficult To Read An Audiophile Guide As An Analogue Engineer

    1. Do you think?

      That is a highly biased pro asian products site, you know, some hifi companies as those in mobile phone industry give away samples, free of charge, to get a review and then reviewer earn a profit from sale, it also happens with some power tool reviews.

      1. No it’s not. Just because Asian companies play ball and send samples doesn’t make it biased. He reviews products of any origin and then supports our shits on them as appropriate.

        Hint: the best reviewed amplifiers on the site currently are Dutch, Norwegian and American. The best reviewed speakers American. The best reviewed headphones German. Oh no you looked only at DACs and saw him shit on your favourite brand all while talking up an Asian brand? BIAS! BIAS I TELL YOU!

      2. That site is toxic, just because they cannot win with logic they will bann and remove post that with tons of education value.

        It’s a real disgrace to all the scientist and the science word in their web address.

        Typical communist propaganda website.

      3. ROTFL

        When they rank products based on actual measurable performance, as opposed to marketing bling, audiophile mythology, wishful thinking, and price tag worship – that’s a “pro-asian products site”, sure.

      4. I can’t agree that they are biased toward asian products. Most of the best evaluated products on the reviews there are made by western brands.
        I want to buy new DAC ( now I just use PC sound card outputs) because I have a lot of HD audio and some friend of mine advice me to buy a chinese Denafrips Pontus, or cheaper Ares, but 1500 USD for some DAC seems way too high for me . So I tried to find and read something about Denafrips read users experiences and also some reviews. On the all of the western audiophile websites Denafrips Pontus was evaluated as a high-end product that makes real difference on the sound from digital sources. But on the audiosciencereview’s forum most of the people pissed off on the chinese Denafrips (ok , to be honest, they pissed off on any DAC with the price higher than 250 USD) and the main opinion there is that is worthless to pay more than 250 USD for any kind of DAC.
        They were right. Meanwhile , my friend received his Denafrips Pontus (furthermore he ordered it with DDC Denafrips Iris) and we connected it and installed to the laptop.
        There’s hardly any difference on the sound quality listen on the B&W 702 driven with McIntosh MA 252 with or without Denafrips DAC…

    2. Been reading their reviews for a couple of yrs now. Especially on Dacs and headphone amplifiers. They are ruthless on everything expensive and strangely, what they mostly recommend, or measure positively, are Chinese audio products which are considerably less expensive than occidental competition. And they strongly profess that every other reviewers are into bs . OK ! Nobody is against the truth ! But…….who checks or verify how they make the measurements ?

      1. > But…….who checks or verify how they make the measurements ?

        Anyone who actually understands how audio technology works.

        Measured performance is what it is. It is not swayed by audiophile mythology, the placebo effect, wishful thinking, or price tag worship.

    3. Yes. Go to audio science review and look at the reviews for speaker and line cables. They do comparative testing with the cheapest thing you can get at best buy using incredibly good test equipment with capabilities orders of magnitude more sensitive than our ears.

  1. Get into the vintage HiFi scene if you want to see and read some truly devout mysticism. Fresh snake oil is good but it has nothing on a well aged, vintage snake oil for giving your ears that golden sheen. Forums full of the ancient texts of the cargo cult. Measurements? ABX testing? Wash your mouth out!

    1. I somewhat recently ventured to a local high-end boutique audio dealer that sells Sonus Faber (and Wilson Audio…) to try and audition some Lumina floorstanders before plunking down cash without having heard them. And of course the shop didn’t have them. Or the series above them. And recommended me to drop upwards of $20k on a pair of speakers. I’m fairly certain his cables have the MSRP of a new car.

      I asked if he had any EQ in place and mentioned how great my experience with miniDSP products had been and tried to be amicable…but after the proprietor told me that he’s “old school” and “likes to keep everything analog” I kindly pointed to his phone running Roon and the streamer in the chain, shook my head, and left.

      1. At this point unless you only listen to fairly old music produced prior to the 90s (maybe even the 80s) then its basically impossible to keep the chain analog. If you buy a modern record it has digital in the chain somewhere before it was produced. Often the record itself was just stamped from a digital source.

        Old analog tube amps look awesome. All the neat glowing high voltage tubes, etc. But it’s just silly trying to claim its an all analog chain or that it has some “special” sound (insert stream of adjectives here to describe said sound).

    2. All I want is a system that puts out a massive amount of power before it starts clipping and makes breaky noises. Don’t care about THD. People love harmonic distortion and I’m tired of pretending otherwise.

    3. What many of the older HiFi enthusiasts are chasing after is often more “feeling like they did when they were young” than it is a something concrete like a specific frequency response curve.

  2. I just suggested in our hackergroup chat to introduce speaker plumbing: copper pipes soldered with silver between amplifier and speaker, to make use of the skin effect to enhance the high tones (10Ghz and up) in your music experience. Of course with pure distilled water cooling…

    1. Did we ever do gold plated speaker cones?Because that will make the sound better. Lubricates the air. Remember Gold Cones (TM), for when you need air lubricity. And high cost!

      Then again I can’t be bothered to do things that actually make sound, well… sound better. As my hearing won’t take advantage of anything but the grossest improvements.

  3. Buying decent speakers is tough. First thing i’d look at is the shape of the box. If it aint a proper plain box and is plastered fancy colours and sculpted contours then that option goes straight into the bin.

      1. …and I by my Philips MFB 22RH544’s: active cross over, dual builtin power amp, sensor on the woofer to measure the mechanical signal and use that in the feedback loop to correct the motion. I have several, scatterted around the house and shed.

    1. Depends on the contours. If you discount Genelecs because they’re rounded, you’ve made a poor decision.

      A good rule of thumb is to look for what is installed in a decent recording studio. Audiophiles may like to install magic crystals and cables filled with sand, but sound engineers tend to end up with quality hardware that works.

  4. This infects *all* markets though, not just audiophile hardware. Back in the early days of mountain bikes, I was involved in the industry at an intermediate level. People (importers, manufacturers) sent parts to bike mags for reviews, reviews would be published if you were a big advertiser and the product was half decent. If the product was rubbish it would be sent back and no mention of it made. If you were a small up and coming business, you’d get favourable reviews on stuff that was not so great because of course you’d end up advertising if it picked up.

    Truly independent reviews are few and far between, and people don’t buy magazines for only reviews, so they’re never independent. The internet could be that source of independence (there’s no need for a website to rely on advertising from related suppliers) but in reality I’m not sure that happens.

    1. Social networks do amplify loud people, and usually the ones with less knowledge speak louder to add importance. But this does vary, for example in scale modelling there is a fair amount of those obsessing about correct shade of RLM 76 colour for the Messerschmitt 109 produced in early 1945, but common sense and pragmatism prevails. Among guitar players, on the other hand, mythomania is rampant. I think it stems from the times of inadequate quality control in (largely manual) manufacturing, when finding a guitar that sounds and plays great was a gamble. What I don’t understand is that the same state of mind exists today in the era of robots and CNCs. I don’t know if it’s the same with HiFi but it kind of smells that way.

      1. Not the website anyone should be looking for. Amir is a legend in his own mind. Limited technical knowledge and even less self awareness. Just because he doesn’t understand deep technical theory and compromise doesn’t make his opinion relevant. The website tests products Amir sells. Not even remotely unbiased.

      1. Is that so you can find out how your speaker cables burn-in? :-)
        Only kidding, but you’re right – especially with battery powered devices and those whos performance can degrade other ways.

        1. Pointless, as the products and models rarely stay on the market for more than 24 months.

          That’s done exactly to keep people from tracking product quality and performance over time. By the time you have enough statistical evidence to say product X is shoddy, you can no longer buy product X and it’s been replaced by product Y, which is equally shoddy but you don’t know that yet.

          1. Not really – can’t buy it new sure. But if the reports say this one is good for n years its probably good for longer still and it will exist on the second hand market. Where if its got a high (partial?) failure rate in those n years it is probably flooding the second hand market but not worth buying…

          2. If the product has only been sold for 24 months, and it’s shoddy, chances are you won’t find surviving examples on the second hand market. Not many were bought and most of those are now in the bin. Plus, without knowing how many were made and what the circumstances are, you’re subject to survivorship bias. A few may have survived in light office duty, and the rest simply broke along the way.

            That’s part of the strategy: for any individual model, there aren’t enough owners to raise a critical mass that would say, “This is a bad product!”. You’re hard pressed to find anyone to confirm your results, and finding one or few anecdotes on some web forum doesn’t make reliable statistics. People essentially can’t know whether they’re buying good or bad products.

            This is how e.g. laptop manufacturers can continue pushing shoddy products despite the fact that a quarter to a third of all laptops fail within four years.

    2. I agree. I’m an old audiophile and photographer. The review scene is similar in both worlds…. With the addition of “Brand Trolling” in the social media sites/groups on cameras… people clearly paid to spread disinformation and bad News stories (cut and pasted often)….I don’t see this in Hi Fi yet…. Watch out!

  5. Headphone amplifiers designed by audiophiles with limited knowledge about even basic electronic circuits is always fun to analyze. Especially when they are comparing sound quality difference caused by replacing Zener diod with LED in power supply, while amplifier IC is underpowered and overloaded. Those golden-eared pseudo-engineers claim to hear noise floor at -120-140dB, sometimes while playing music.

    And don’t forget that good audio system has bandwidth from DC to at least 100kHz, despite the fact that adults who can afford this kind of equipment are inherently deaf above ~16kHz.

    1. I absolutely love the claims of being able to hear things that no human could possibly hear. That said it does prop up some investment in high quality ADCs which help my industry so keep on trucking you deaf idiots.

        1. I’m not arguing pro-cargo-cult audiophile. I’m not arguing that anyone can hear 30kHz.
          I’m 55 so in theory I could remember the Vietnam war. At work we have an Eagle ETS364 automated semiconductor tester. For reasons that don’t bear going into here, the analog power supplies on it are powered by a monster QSC audio amplifier that’s acting as a unity gain current amplifier for a 19kHz signal, and providing the main power supply to all the analog instruments as a 19kHz sine wave at 95V and a couple dozen amps.
          I can walk into the tester room and say oh hey I bet the Eagle’s not working, because I can hear the lack of that absolutely awful high pitched shriek. Nobody else here can hear it, and whenever I’m doing hardware debug on the machine I wear hearing protection because it’s awwwwwful. My disbelieving coworkers have done blind tests where they turn the QSC on and off, and I can correctly identify the conditions 100% of the time. At least so far: it’s definitely harder to hear now than it was when I started here 10 years ago. So there are some people with weird hearing, but it still probably fits into a gaussian distribution.

          1. When I was a kid, I had bad ear infection a few times, so now I can’t hear above 12kHz. But there are daus when I can hear up to 15kHz. for some reasons, and I can sometimes hear/sense noise from transformers of cheap, chineese switching supplies at around (probably) 18-22kHz. So yes, I can accept that some people can hear/sense more than usual. But I don’t think that EVERY audiophile in the world has hearing of a bat. I’m talking about people who can hear capacitors in the signal path.

            There is a reason no one does blind tests of HiFi audio equipment.

          2. @Urgon: Audiophiles may claim that they can hear capacitors in the audio signal path, but they aren’t as ridiculous as some guitarists who swear they can hear the colour of those capacitors! Orange, of course, sounding better.

          3. My wife is nearing 60 years of age and can still verifiably hear dog whistles. When her brain’s auditory centre was damaged by a reaction to MRI contrast agent, her hearing was tested and her ENT told her she has the hearing of a three-year-old.

            Sadly, all that range and sensitivity are a disadvantage now that her brain has trouble sorting and processing the signals her ears are sending it.

        2. It’s most likely not the artifacts that they’re hearing — it’s that it “sounds different” from how they remember it sounding on vinyl (back when they had a full range of hearing).

    2. I mean they always say people go deaf to high frequencies as they age, but I’m still driven nuts by the ultrasonic youth-deterrents at 17-22KHz outside shops. But I fully agree with your general point.

      1. 1. The 50s guys were right. The speaker is the most important factor in a Hi-Fi system. The more “cone area” the better. A £50K set of speakers will sound good with a cheap Chinese AMP, but better the more expensive-generally.

        2. With a set of £50K speakers and a modern AMP that has a USB DAC in the chain
        -you CAN hear the difference between two different non Hifi brand/hype USB cables. It’s when you have Bass to very low frequency that actually affects how the mid and hi frequencys sound overall.

        3. Much like it takes the right setup and room, it does also take the right ear to understand and appreciate or even care about Hifi things.

        1. “With a set of £50K speakers and a modern AMP that has a USB DAC in the chain
          -you CAN hear the difference between two different non Hifi brand/hype USB cables”

          Only if the cable slack rattles in a different way once the volume is turned up. USB is digital, either the signal is transported 100% accurately (including ECC) or it is not, there is no middle-ground of partial degradation.

      2. wait, those noises are supposed to drive youth away? I’ve always just thought they were poorly wired display signs making those sounds! 40y/o next month and I can still hear them (and the few CRTs in my life) “silently” powered on

    3. I mean, you don’t need super hearing to sense sub-bass; you can feel it even if you can’t hear it. And even if you have a hard time hearing a 20kHz+ sound, you do perceive phase although you and I probably don’t know what we’re perceiving. I imagine the main thing you would notice is if the left or right channel was different in phase, you’d feel like the direction of the sound was different, but that’s a human biology question really.

      From what I remember of analog filtering in class, generally your filter will affect phase if you are too aggressive about it, such as trying to roll off abruptly right next to the signal of interest. If you’re going to try and accurately portray a given wave with its phase correct, then nyquist’s 44100 isn’t enough – you need to use extra so you can do your output filtering without screwing with the signal too badly. 192kHz sample rate is available on nearly every built in sound card I’ve had for years now, so hey. Maybe they do or don’t filter intelligently, but it’s obviously not too hard to sample at that rate.

      1. Symmetric FIR filters have inherently linear phase. Such filters are used in audio DACs. That filtering is done in the digital domain, and is much to complex and requires too much accuracy to be performed with an analog filter.

          1. Interesting abstract. One obvious drawback for audio would be the barely passable 210GHz bandwidth, and no mention of gold plating anywhere. However the “novel tree-shaped architecture based on an internal transmission line with a special configuration” has great potential for high mystical value. I’d suggest to the authors that gold plating the transmission line would be worth exploring, to further accentuate the smooth pleasing warmth of their filter’s analog design.

        1. You can do things in the digital domain, but I never learned any way to go from a signal with N-bit steps to a smooth analog signal that wasn’t called filtering.

      2. Forgot to mention, I should check if something in the design or the nonideal hardware of a typical dac causes some aliasing or something we’d like to spread out partly into the inaudible spectrum in order to reduce how much of its power in the audible part. I imagine there’s a thing or two that might.

        Oh, and I’m not really saying music needs to be released at super high sample rates; you’ve got time for all kinds of tricks before you get to the analog output, so you can cleanly omit some things.

    4. One theory is that it’s not about how high your hearing goes, but how well the full bandwidth is reconstructed including ultrasonically, otherwise the spectrum you can hear will be bent out of shape. Consider a 10khz squarewave, without a wide bandwidth reproduction it will ‘ring’

  6. This affects a lot of industries these days. Motorcycle reviews are very similar, the “down sides” mentioned in a bike review are always something excusable or inconsequential, like “the switches feel a bit plasticky” … well duh, they’re made of plastic.

    1. There’s plenty of plastic switches that don’t feel plasticy.

      But the same occurs in car reviews. The interior is dated and plasticy. Well ALL car interiors are primarily plastic, and how is it dated – that’s totally subjective because it looks a lot more modern than 50% of other vehicles. I could understand if they said “rattly” or poorly fitted, but they somehow run their hand over a plastic surface and say it’s more plasticy than the next car’s plastic surface. Drives me bananas.

      1. Enthusiast brain. When you stare at zillions of mostly-indistinguishable products a week with absolutely no intention of using them long term it’s easy to get absurdly nitpicky. It’s like shut-in nerds who only ever see women in jpeg form talking about how gorgeous actresses have, like, unsexy wrists.

        Combine that with the fact that immersing yourself in marketing day in and day out makes you go “nose blind” so you don’t notice your tastes drifting with the trends and you get the same person saying wildly different things about the same designs depending on how the prestige brands have shifted. This happens even if the reviewer isn’t deliberately carrying water for the advertisers that pay the bills.

      2. Haha it’s phone reviews too. Reviewers talk about the “premium feel” of metal or now glass. Usually that equates to “it has the same surface texture as my expensive phone.” Bruh your only texture options are gloss or matte, and it changes every other year

      3. I’ve repeatedly heard reviews say that Tesla’s have poor QC, or poor interior fit and finish, or poor this or poor that. Ive driven 3 of them now 2500 miles total and they all feel like any other similarly priced (50-70k) car I’ve been in (BMW, Porsche, Acura, Infiniti, etc).

        Then I read the other day that Tesla basically never spends on advertising (if they spend any at all its orders of magnitude less then legacy manufacturers) and thought to myself “ahh. *that’s* why I see those negative reviews from “mainstream” publications”. They had their issues early on I’ve been told but the recent model years are great (20-23).

  7. I can deal with manufacturers pointlessly guilding a lily or two, but when the end result doesn’t even sound good (as in, resonably close to how it was meant to sound by the artists/recording engineers) I find it very frustrating indeed.

  8. Where would the audio industry be without Oxygen Free Cables and amplifiers that output more power than they draw from the mains? Not to forget the special HiFi Rated Ethernet Switches that have fancy gold stickers added to the ICs!!!

      1. Weird side note: I was at a museum with a friend’s kid and saw a Stanley Steamer that was billed as “the fastest car in the world when it was new” and listed its speed as 50 miles an hour, while another car from the same year had a listed 55 miles an hour, and the kid was all wait which one of those is right? So I had to go read about it… and a steam propulsion car generates potential power independently from how it uses it, so it can use power at an unsustainable rate, like a drag racer. They could get up into the 120mph range for a few seconds, and then completely exhaust their boilers and have to recover.

    1. Keep in mind, for those to deliver the rated experience, you should use an AC line condition before any DC power adapter. Failure to do so will result in your audio stack failing to resolve crisp highs in your 1024 KHz sampled at 128 bit CD rips…..

    2. Listen, the reason that nobody hears the improvement from those HiFi ethernet switches is that they are still using normal ethernet cables.
      You need to use the cables that have the magnetic flux calibrated to the directionality of the copper and insulation.
      It is a complicated process involving thousands of volts so of course they are expensive, but it is worth it for the higher tonality.

  9. Most of these companies are all using the same chips. I’ve come to the conclusion that I will focus on the builder rather than the product per se. I recently saw a video interview for a cable company and the owner of that company said he just used his “ears” and he has no background in engineering whatsoever.

  10. Look up the “Fulton length” for audio cables if you dare. . . (a 57.125 inch cable or multiple/fraction of this SOUNDS the best, duh)
    But where would we be without fourteen individial silver conductors plus ten copper ones in parallel, stood off from walls floor and each other to prevent stray capacitance affecting the power amp’s output?!?
    i wish i was making this up :/

  11. Back in ancient times during the “who has the lowest audio distortion” wars one of the US audio magazines did a blinded “golden ears” test of how much distortion if took to actually be heard. The harmonic distortion required was orders of magnitude higher than the distortion of any amplifier at the time which could even remotely claim to be in the high fidelity category. This was less so with intermodulation distortion, but still much high than any then current high fidelity amplifier.

    Another magazine did an audio test of expensive, very heavy gauge speaker cables versus various much smaller gauges and lamp chord/wire. Only in very LONG speaker cable runs where the cable impedance negatively affected the speakers’ damping factor were there any effects on fidelity by the smaller gauge wire.

    BTW, there are some mockingly hilarious reviews of expensive, but stupid, audio/videophile hardware like audio/speaker/video cables on Amazon.

    1. Of course these days we’re chasing tube amps because they sound “wamer and more organic”… While we put out on the market amplifier chips that cost 10 cents with almost perfectly linear amplification. Just basic contrarian hipster behaviour.

      1. The digital effects mimicking tube sound are sometimes enjoyable. They are inaccurate in a potentially pleasing way – unlike what happens at the edges of the performance of typical semiconductor amps.

    2. The audibility of a given level of harmonic distortion is dependent upon both the source material and the nature of the distortion. It’s much easier to hear distortion on pure tones than distortion of complex music. 2nd harmonic distortion is relatively difficult to detect, crossover distortion is comparatively easy to hear because it has a lot of high order harmonics.

      From the days of turntables, accurate rotation rate was important. Most people could detect a tone off by 1% because the turntable was fast or slow, some people could detect 0.1%.

  12. Linus Sebastian of LTT fame is building out an independent testing lab for exactly this reason. They’re already using high-grade testing equipment for some categories of products (headphones, monitors, CPUs, GPUs, keyboards, etc.) and they’re in the process of building special testing spaces for home entertainment products. Not sure when they’ll start releasing data though, they’re building up a back catalogue first.

    Now, obviously there’s still the potential for bias since Linus makes a large amount of money from video sponsors who produce these kinds of products, but he has also flat-out dropped sponsors who have proven to be anti-consumer (most recently Anker after the Eufy debacle). I have hope that this is going to be a long-term force for good.

      1. Yes because there aren’t 100+ employees at LTT and the ones they do have all fit that description to a T. And there’s no way they’d hire people with the goal of accurately running that equipment!

          1. I feel like pointing out the long list of recent highly-qualified hires specifically for the lab (and not for video production) is going to do little little to sway you on this matter.

            You have made it clear that you do not enjoy the content that LTT produce, and I acknowledge this as an entirely valid position to hold. However, since dragging this conversation out is unlikely to change either of our opinions, I’ll simply wish you a pleasant day.

    1. Every time I see cables advertised as being somehow superior because the connector shells (their outer casing – not the contacts that carry a signal) are gold plated I have a good laugh to myself.

  13. Well if you want no BS headphone reviews of old and new headphones, check out “DankPods” on Youtube. Some of his most recommended in ear monitors only cost about $20

  14. in 1999 i read a bunch of reviews and settled on the Cambridge Soundworks subwoofer+tweeters for PC. i guess they’re kind of famous because it’s the last project of Henry Kloss? in hindsight, i can’t believe the reviews steered me so well. i still use that sound system, and i love it. i think it’s perfect. i can find people criticizing it today but it is such an improvement over the builtin speakers in even a new TV!!

    but somehow that hole-in-one experience turned me off of reading audio reviews. back when credit cards used to offer rewards catalogs instead of just giving you the cash, one offered me headphones and i was so relieved! these are “the free headphones that came with my credit card” and i don’t have to “go shopping”, i don’t have to read reviews and try to invent some value metric to justify the price of something i’ll probably break anyways.

    anyways, i can tell, these MasterCard headphones suck. i can’t tell you what words to look for in a review to avoid headphones that suck like that though. but here’s the thing: it’s almost a decade later and the plastic components haven’t broken yet! they’re the best. everyone should buy MasterCard headphones

  15. I think this all misses that people who pay big $ for audio kit aren’t really after the best audio reproduction. They’re after an experience.

    That’s why people pay $100s to stand in a smelly sweaty muddy field and get tinnitus instead of listening to music at home at sensible levels without the idiots shouting. Or to listen to classical music live instead of listening to a better orchestra or a synth perform it on a recording.

    Many – I suspect most – of the companies which sell audiophile gear know this, and are in the business of selling experiences rather than audio.

    1. I have yet to meet a potential love interest whilst staying home listening to my stereo. If the audio equipment industry addresses that particular limitation then I might be more willing to tolerate the marketing hocus-pocus.

  16. I’m just going to pull the pin and leave this here:

    1) All 12AX7 tubes are basically the same. If they’re manufactured well it’ll do the job.

    2) Your argon filled titanium gold leaf wrapped cables and my old leftover Radio Shack 1980s RCA cables are about the same.

    3) if you plug a digital CD player into an analog amp, and try to tell me about ‘buttery highs’, I’m going to laugh at you.

    Sorry not sorry. Have fun with that.

    1. Having encountered a variety of low-pass filters used over a wide range of CD-players, and a wide variety of analog amplifier topologies, I’m going to say there *are* exceptions to your #3 .

      As for #2, all you need is an impedance (Z) of 50ohms…

    2. Go measure tubes. You’ll rapidly find there is a definite difference. And if you look at failure rates, quality difference too.
      With the frame grid tubes like the ECC8x series, you’re working with sub-millimeter distance between cathode and grid, so manufacturing tolerances are extremely important.
      It’s also no secret that original 1940s production 807 tetrodes can handle much higher power without breaking, that modern production of various brands.
      No comment on tubes with ~special stamps and getters~ but trust me – different brands can perform very differently, at least if you compare old stock with new production.

      1. For that a several other reasons I’m SO glad that I gave up pursuing purchase of any tube amp, not to mention the cost of the “better” 300B tubes to drive my 97db speakers. I’ll stick with the best designed and built solid state amps I can afford.

  17. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the quality of the actual music. If you listen to 16 bit CDs, it’s always going to sound rubbish no matter how good the system is. Go to 24 bit and its a wildly different experience.

    1. 16 bit audio can reproduce someone whispering into your ear while you operate a jackhammer without protection. If you think you can hear something with more dynamic range than that, try it.

      1. It’s not 16 bit vs. 24 bit that’s the difference.

        Its whether or not the recording was made following the trend of compressing the dynamic range to make things sound “louder”:

        If you listen to earlier CDs (like 1990 and earlier), you’ll notice they sound much quieter but have the type of dynamic range that you’re talking about.

        Slap on a “24 bit Hi-fi” label and now you can charge extra to sell someone the same recording but without as much compression as the version for the masses.

  18. Unfortunately, your theoretical hifi production would call out many useless technologies that your readerbase “knows” makes a difference, and they would crucify you for your lack of faith.

    1. $3000.00 power conditioning. Special “feet” for your speakers. Wire from western electric from 1928. Gold plated connectors. Litz speaker wire. The list goes on and on.

  19. I noticed this analog recently when I was returning we’ll say a high-end pair of earbuds. I found all kinds of great reviews about their noise canceling abilities and integration with their phone, and not a single bad one. I did find a lot of bad reviews regarding the app to adjust the settings in the Play store… Seems I’m not the only person having trouble getting the earbuds to work right or having to send them back for an RMA (considering it was a new product well within its return period I decided to do just that). The other thing I found is that I could not review the product on the company’s website, or for that matter much of anywhere else. So if reviews were sought, some good ones from paid publications would be the only ones to really pop up. The Play store is where to find the dirt on what seems a fairly troubled product for being from a mainstream manufacturer.

  20. Yes, audiophile reviews are typically a cringey read. Aside from building well-tested DIY speakers, I stick to brands with detailed measurements and charts (e.g. Ascend Acoustics).

    But “Erin’s Audio Corner” (.com) is the Godsend we’ve needed, as he uses a Klippel near field scanner to automate consistent measurements of popular loudspeakers, and his review list keeps growing. Definitely worth a look!

  21. Believe in Audiophiles? You must have faith. It’s exactly like a religion.
    With one major difference:
    The universe is not known entirely, so God may be a plausible answer.
    Hi-fi? It’s man made! If you believe you can hear something an oscilloscope couldn’t pick, you are full of shit. You belong to a category of people who’s opinion on Amy topic should be disregarded as dog poo.

    1. I fully believe that they’re perceiving a difference – but it’s one based on real science studied by psychology, not the pseudoscience that many audiophiles try to use to rationalize their experiences.

      What an oscilloscope won’t tell you is whether or not a change in equipment is sufficient to trigger a placebo effect that makes the listener feel happier.

      The better you feel when listening to something, the better it’s going to be perceived as sounding.

      The crazy part about placebos is that they’ve been found to work even when someone knows that the intervention is a placebo – the simple act of taking initiative to change or try something new can be enough to trigger the effect.

  22. Anyone can write what they want about Hi Fi – Take it or leave it . Fortunately there are good hi fi shops that will facilitate demonstrations of the gear they are selling. This is to be taken up wholeheartedly if you want to buy some hi fi . What electrical goods can you try before you buy in this way? I never tried out the Washer, microwave or oven I have bought.

  23. I sold high end car and home audio for a few years. Basically what I learned it was all snake oil kind of stuff. I had customers that thought the best sound was a 1970’s rock concert, so they bought Klipsch. The next customer wanted to hear a concert hall, so they bought the most expensive system we had in the building. Both types of customers were very happy and thought they had the best thing there was.

    However, that job got me into engineering. I quickly realized there was something different about my desire to learn more and to solve issues. I was the last person the thought $$$ = better sound, so I questioned everything. lol

    On a side note, the best home system I ever heard was a NAD amp and Pre amp connected to a Polk Audio speaker system with the SDA crossovers. It was an old system even at that time (years ago) and I was jaw dropped at the clarity and depth of it.

  24. As an pro a/v engineer can I just say stereo is pointless. Unless you have perfect speaker placement and acoustics identical to the mixing studio it’s little more than a gimmick. My fave story was of a keyboard player for a 80’s pop rock band who had a bunch of wild pan effects in his sub mix, the fans complained that they could only hear half of the key’s. Then he complained that the fans were complaining and guess who’s fault it was…. Nothing to do with the 25 Mtrs of separation between the speaker arrays. Btw plain ol lighting flex makes awesome speaker cable. The polarised copper ion’s are conditioned by the electrons before they make their quantum leap into photons… as long as they are aligned to the pointing vector and lay lines. Where is my crystal set????

  25. I don’t know much about any of this other than I can hear the difference between 192kbps mp3 and a flac file, the flac file is louder to me with what seems like more treble. I think this is what’s considered a wider soundstage.

    I’m 47 years old with moderate hearing loss in one ear and a car audio guy which has abused his ears with far more dB than anyone should.

  26. There’s a few places using evidence based approach to audio reviews. I like the forums and reviews at Audio Science Review (, and Erin’s Audio Corner is also measurement oriented – but often not enough commentary outside of YouTube videos (

  27. As with any leisure item (motorbikes but also fashion clothing and much more) the value of any item has to be measured by the pleasure it provides for the owner. Any other measurement is just pointless.

  28. Honestly i find the reading that kind of malarkey hilarious as they come up with a mixture of pseudoscience and electromagnetic phenomena that has no bearing there (Skin effect is real, but only at very high frequencies, NOT <20khz audio). I mean sure it is baffling there are people that buy into that nonsense. But fools be departed from their money…

    I like to do some DIY audio circuitry. Mostly stuff like Tube amplifiers cause i just think they are cool.
    They are also arguably one of the few things that can have an effect you can actually prove as being there via a scope/analyzer. its just that the effect is objectively: Horrendous.
    They really like to add harmonic distortions and pick up vibrations. But hey. If one thinks it sounds nicer, who am i to judge? Equalizers and such are a thing after all.

  29. It shouldn’t bother anybody if the audiophile press is crooked. In fact it should be applauded.

    Every audiophile I have ever met has been a complete fake, pretentious snob who didn’t even understand what they were being a snob about. These people are begging to have their money taken from them and somebody has to stand up and do it.

    Plus they almost universally have terrible taste in music. They need to be punished.

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