Dan's Data letters #106

(page 2)

Publication date: 26 May 2004.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.

 

Battery branding

How are the "ACCU" Energizer AA/AAA batteries (green and gold) different from their regular NiMH batteries (green and silver)? Beside having much lower capacity (1200mah)?

Chunkit

Answer
I'm not sure. I think it's just a branding thing; the Accu cells do indeed seem to be the budget, lower capacity line.

Confusingly, though, although practically every "Accu" battery out there seems to be an Energizer, it's also possible to find them with Duracell branding.

I don't know what inter-company machinations are going on here - perhaps Accu cells are available under contract to anybody who wants to put their name on them - but I suspect these cells aren't any better than the usual plain-wrap no-brand cheap cells with the same capacity. If no-brand cells cost less, buy them instead.

 

Audiophilia, continued, again

Some of your comments in your BitHead review on high end audio were interesting. Especially the part about the break in of solid state and cables. I will agree with you on the mumbo jumbo that some audiophiles go on about - and I also agree with your comments about not needing to measure things - if you can hear it, that's enough.

Which is why I know you are wrong.

I happen to own a pair of MIT Terminator 2 Bi-Wire speaker cables. MIT is a company in the USA which makes some rather interesting cables. I was lucky enough to pick these up at almost half price (which was $AU580 -insane I know!).

But yeah - plugged these things in, and me and my mate were shocked. It sounded like there was a blanket over my speakers.

So we checked the little manual which came with the speaker cables, and it said to leave them on playing a loop of music for up to 2 weeks. Though it noted that most improvement will be heard after 2 days.

So we left it for two days and came back. My friend and I couldn't believe our ears. Not only did this sound completely different than two days ago, but it was so much better than the previous $AU120 pair of Monster Cable speaker cables I was using. So much so that we could easily hear things, especially low end bass details, that we had never heard before on very familiar recordings.

Anyway - I guess in the end, it's only what you've experienced. It just sounds that you don't know what you're missing - which is fine if you are happy with what you have. But if you do appreciate the different a $US200 headphone amplifier can make, maybe you'd be surprised at what more (carefully spent!) money can bring.

Corey

Answer:
Since you are, I presume, human, you are no less susceptible to fooling yourself than the rest of us are. Of course you heard something different when you plugged in your expensive speaker cables. Usually people think the sound's better after doing this, but it's far from unknown for them to think it's worse, and then change their mind after "burn in" time. Detecting such differences in an unscientific, unblinded test, when you know what's been changed and when, merely indicates that it's now time to do a proper test.

This isn't to say that one should do such tests for everything in the world; scientifically testing to make sure the elevator that appears to have arrived in front of you is in fact a real elevator and not just a hologram concealing a long and deadly drop is not rational. But when you're talking about a field in which it's been clearly demonstrated, many many times, that uncontrolled human perception is not reliable, it's equally irrational to insist that because it's you doing it this time, instead of some random guy written up in a psychology journal, things must now be different.

Human audio perception is subject to a very large amount of unconscious mental processing. The trivial example of this is that people commonly perceive a slight increase in sound volume as an improvement in the sound quality that they can't quite put their finger on. A more elaborate demonstration can be done with a graphic equaliser; use it to attenuate a chunk of midrange frequencies, listen to music that way for a few hours, then level out the EQ (or remove it from the circuit entirely) and you'll perceive the midrange as being drastically emphasised, because your brain's become used to compensating for the lousy frequency balance.

People can psych themselves into all sorts of serious medical conditions, not to mention fail to notice things that you'd think would be really obvious, and swear on a stack of Bibles that something happened which did not actually occur. It's not a stretch at all to presume, based on this, that people can psych themselves into merely hearing things that aren't there.

You may find this page and in particular this page interesting.

Needless to say, Corey responded:

The articles are interesting, but they themselves haven't done any scientific testing. It is just their opinion.

Also, I did not sit there and listen to the stereo during this two day period. I set it up, it sounded terrible, I left it for two days as it asked, and came back and it sounded great. The different was not subtle.

I was in your camp, as were my friends, and my family, until the purchase of these cables. Whenever I see these discussions now, I just feel sorry for the person who hasn't had the opportunity to experience a product such as MIT Cables or the higher end AudioQuest cables, which require burn in.

And if you haven't checked out the MIT site, you should, cause they are not just your ordinary cables. They are from the same person who invented the first high quality cables, back when he was the technical lead at Monster Cables, so he has more years of experience in the field than you or I have probably been alive.

As it is though - I don't have any scientific proof either. Or maybe in the MIT Technical White Papers they do have proof, but it's just at a level above my head. Who knows. Oh - and "burn-in" is one of those terms like "audiophile". You go to a computer market and there are $AU200 speakers with the "audiophile" term used. So I would completely doubt that there would be a clearly audible difference with ALL cables that claim they require burn-in... but that is not to say that it is all just voodoo.

There may not be a lot of experimental data here, but neither is there the remarkable claim that there's an audible difference between cables in the absence of any electrically or sonically measurable difference. (AudioQuest's claims are addressed specifically, by the way!)

When people do scientific testing of claims like these, the results are overwhelmingly negative. See this page, for instance; unfortunately the "Great Chicago Cable Caper" piece it references from Sound and Vision Magazine isn't available online, but plenty more is.

John Dunlavy's a vocal critic of audible cable difference claims, bless 'im; and while I'm arguing from (relevant!) authority, how about Roger Russell? There are a few summaries of other not-available-on-the-Web tests there, too.

You can find some more links, some suffering from link rot, here.

(And don't miss Elliot Sound Products' take on the issue!)

Innersound's white paper on the subject of cables and interconnects is available in different versions here and there as well.

The white paper points out that in the particular case of electrostatic loudspeakers then you may be able to hear a difference between cables with different basic electrical characteristics (nothing obscure and unmeasurable...), and that low impedance is valuable if you need a high amplifier damping factor - but any hefty cord will do for that.

So, you're about to ask, why is it that that some audiophiles sometimes manage to tell one cable from another in blinded ABX tests (though they usually fail) when, according to hard-nosed rationalists, there ought not to be anything there?

Well, that's down to the confidence interval of the tests. If there are few enough test runs that the test has the usual medical-study confidence interval of 95%, then just picking cables at random will, by chance, give a statistically significant cable-identification result one time out of twenty.

And, of course, many allegedly blind tests actually aren't. But I'm not about to allege that every test that comes up with a result I don't like must have been badly executed. I don't need to. The onus of proof is on people who claim that the phenomenon exists - or else we'd all be scurrying around desperately trying to prove that the Queen of England isn't an evil reptilian alien hell-bent on the enslavement of humanity, et cetera. And they have been tested, and they have failed.

If further proof were needed, one need only look at the truly harebrained audiophile products (Mpingo Discs, Bedini Clarifiers, giant stone plinths for solid state components...), which persist in the marketplace because people buy them, and love them. These consumers do not spend their days drooling and muttering about the goblins that live in their broom cupboard; most of them are quite rational about ordinary daily things, not to mention gainfully employed and making enough money to afford all this stuff. But they fool themselves about ludicrous audio jewellery.

Deem redundant all-religions-can't-be-true-so-that's-evidence-too argument to have been included here.

With a search and replace, I can turn what you're saying about how you and your skeptical friends and relatives were convinced into a testimonial about coffee enemas curing cancer, all diseases being the result of the multiple kilograms of wormy parasites that people carry around inside them, or the ability of yogic flying to pacify war-zones. There are plenty of basically sane people in the world who hold these beliefs, and some much stranger, based on evidence as strong as yours.

You are not the one beautiful and unique snowflake who, unlike the rest of us, doesn't have to go through the tedious and difficult process of science in order to establish the truth. You're as foolable as anyone else. And since you have taken no precautions to avoid fooling yourself, the self-evident fact that countless millions of humans before you have also fooled themselves leads me to the parsimonious belief that you have too.

And, by the way, there's a strong argument against the claim that since the evidence for and against cable-audibility claims never makes it as far as proper peer-reviewed scientific and/or engineering journals, nothing has really been settled, no matter how many tests have allegedly been done by famous speaker designers and grizzled electrical geniuses.

Well, those of us using cheap chunky Chinese figure-8 cable to run our speakers are not the ones with the resources to do these tests, or any particular urge to, since we are after all in favour of the null hypothesis. People who've been running profitable voodoo cable businesses for, as you say, longer than some of us have been alive, are the people who should be putting up or shutting up about their claims.

They show no likelihood of doing either.

You, in the meantime, can do your own test.

All you need to do it is another really cheap set of speaker cables, and someone sitting behind your gear, doing stuff when you say. That person should have coin-tossed up a random sheet of swap/no-swap decisions beforehand; every time you ask them to swap cables (the initial cable should of course not be known to you; the swapper should decide it with a coin toss too), they either do so, or say they did but don't actually, depending on what the sheet says.

If the difference between cables is as dramatic as you say, then you certainly won't mind a brief delay for cable swapping each time, and it's not hard to conceal what the person's doing behind your speakers and amp. The unused cables can be stuck to the backs of the speakers near the terminals with tape, or something, so you don't need to curtain off/darken/whatever the whole room. It's still a good idea for you to leave the room while the swapping happens, though, to minimise the chance that you'll pick up cues from distinctive connector noises, cable wiggling, or whatever.

 

Light relief

Dear sales,
I would like to order for the listed products in your store,

Intel Announces New "Sextium" Processor

200 pcS

So i will like you to reply with the total costs including shipping costs via (EMS) 2-3 DAYS EXPRESS DELIVERY SERVICE to LAGOS NIGERIA ,so as to make the payments at once.

Also to let you know that payment will be paid by my CREDIT CARD ACCOUNT .

Here is the delivery address below for you to calculate the total costs and the shipping costs.
SHIP TO:
2, owhin street mushin
lagos nigeria.

so i will be expecting your reply back today as soon as possible.
Thanks
REGARDS
vestall

Answer
I get these sorts of e-mails all the time, as I'm sure do lots of other people who, like me, don't actually sell things. The scammers usually give a Lagos address (second choice: Indonesia, with no city specified), and they often send the messages more than once. Three copies of this one turned up.

This is the first time someone's ordered a product I made up as a joke, though.

Given the nature of the Sextium, I presume this Nigerian scammer has something in common with this one.

If you want to ask me a question, feel free - but please read this and this first.

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