Dan's Data letters #148
(page 2)Publication date: 27-July-2005.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
Like printing your own money, but legal
Recently there have been several letters about the lengths people will go to to "Improve" their hi-fi experience. I'm not wanting to trawl up old muck about how much "improvement" you get from the expensive pieces of power cable that people buy, they do as you point out just transmit the exact same power waveform (noise included) that you get at the socket. Unless your house is shielded and platinum wired throughout, all the way back to the substation, you'll get sod all improvement from a 3 foot length of super cable, assuming it could improve things in the first place...
I wonder if any of these clowns with the $5K power cords have ever taken the fronts of their power points off & seen what it is that's bringing the power to the socket? *Gasp* - copper! Not even 99.99999% pure Oxygen free copper either! OMG, and what's it insulated with? PVC! OMG!
Not to mention what other things are plugged into the line eg: non-PFC PCs, microwaves, TVs etc, all contributing to a messy power signal.
But there are devices out there which will produce a very nice sine wave of consistent voltage, usually with a battery to provide a boost if there is a localised slump... I am of course talking about a UPS (the proper kind, not the type that suddenly cut in if there is an interruption to the power).
If people are willing to pay $5k+ for a cord, imagine how much they'll pay for one of those boxes (if you pry off the APC label and replace it with "MegadyneT", or even just tell them that APC stands for Audio Power Componentry)!
To get a really nice sine waveform would be a little more tricky (and expensive), but these people aren't ruled by their chequebook. I will admit that the markup on such a setup isn't as impressive as the one on a bit of old cable (mystically blessed by the Illuminati) repackaged and sold as "impervious to Martian rays" but it could be a nice little earner.
Such a device would have a much better chance of making a difference to the audio quality than a 3 foot length of whatever. Whether it makes a measurable difference is another matter entirely, as long as you can convince people that it does (and it's got to be easier to convince people that a magic box affects the sound than it is to convince them that a power cable does).
I'm just surprised that these aren't already being sold (or maybe they are and I just didn't Google hard enough)
Note, I'm not actually suggesting going into business, I'm more taking the position that if people claim significant improvement from as little as a power cable, then they could do a LOT better for the same money (and be able to run their stereo during a power cut!)
Anyway, my somewhat related question (yes there is one in this long missive - sorry it took so long to get to) is this, have you ever stuck the terminals of an oscilloscope across one of your power sockets (with a suitable resistance inline of course)? Is it a nice clean waveform? Does it get affected by what you also plug in on the same line (eg on a multi box) or elsewhere in the house? How about a nice digital oscilloscope, one that'll do a nice FFT bar graph of the frequencies present?
I know that in any electronic device any frequencies present should get filtered out by the PSU - converting AC to DC is what a PSU does. I'm just curious about power in its "natural habitat".
The arguments against fancy mains cords are well worn; oddly, their purchasers seldom care very much about the many kilometres of mere aluminium pole-to-pole mains wiring between them and the source of their electricity (I've talked about that before).
You're absolutely right, however, in your assertion that people who'll buy a $500 cord should be even happier with a $5000 dual conversion Uninterruptible Power Supply - and, yes, such products most definitely exist. They're not relabeled PC UPSes (though I dare say that's happened now and then, and some of the "audiophile" power source gear may not actually work a whole lot better than a cheap UPS), but special hi-fi versions with the same level of ludicrous over-engineering as found in the power cables.
Some real "enthusiasts" refuse to run their hi-fis from the mains at all, but use battery banks and inverters instead.
Here's an example product, which sells for a mere $US1000 or so.
I haven't scoped any mains sockets personally, but lots of other people have, and yes, the mains waveform can be pretty darn ugly at times. Even in places with generally good mains power, nearby devices with lousy power factors can foul up that sine wave something fierce.
This is not a secret, though; everybody whose business it is to design power supplies knows about it, and all well-designed power supplies can deal with quite horrendous mains input and still spit out the specified voltages. Any hi-fi component that actually reaps a significant benefit from being fed perfect sine wave mains input, therefore, has a lousy power supply in the first place - which raises some questions about why it cost so much money, as it no doubt did if it's being used by the kind of audiophile who also buys an overengineered UPS.
Hot chip straight dope
Many of the gearheads I hang around have had at least some dealings with after-market ECU chips. Here's what's good and what's non-existent:
Unmodified gas engine w/manual transmission:
Chip doesn't do squat. 5 horsepower at the most.
Unmodified gas engine w/automatic transmission:
HP doesn't change, but the shifting improves and is often worth it.
Modified gas engine:
New chips are often required past a certain point in the modification process, because the stock programming cannot work with the values that are required. Usually in naturally-aspirated-to-supercharged conversions they are needed to prevent detonation.
Chips work silly good. It isn't uncommon to gain 100HP from an ECU upgrade anymore. Diesels are usually tuned way on the "sane" side for gas mileage, emissions, and driveline reliability. At least one friend of a friend has had a $5000 transmission bill on a 3 month old truck after abusing it and putting in an extra 100HP chip.
Why do they work so well on diesels? Turbo diesel engines (in American trucks at least), can take very large amounts of boost (25PSI is normal for a stock '03 Dodge), and more fuel means more power, and more air that can be pumped in, and repeat until something breaks.
Do I have an ECU upgrade? Nope. Do any of my gearhead friends have them? Yep.
Getting outrageous power gains from reasonably stock turbo diesel engines is also the wellspring of that marvelous source of at least 1% of the black particulates in the atmosphere today, supertruck racing.
Take a prime mover, relieve it of the need to haul anything more than itself around a track, and the only major mechanical change to the engine needed to produce a nominal 1200 horsepower is a new head.
Trivial analysis of the time these trucks take to get their several-ton mass from rest to their artificially limited 160km/h maximum speed reveals that the "1200 horsepower" they're all supposed to have is, actually, usually a very large underestimate.
I thought I'd help completely kill your desire to bring up anything to do with cars and chipping for another two years...
I work for a large and evil "Australian" car company. Which is owned by a larger and EVILER International Automotive Megalith (aren't they all).
In the course of developing new models we deal with the recognised engine management people (yet another large and... but vith added funnik accents).
Their opinion is, with the right know-how and equipment, the naturally aspirated six cylinder family car that is sold to Mr Respectable on the street with 150kW can be "chipped" (i.e. stock cams, induction and exhaust...) to 200kW.
Which is a not inconsiderable 33% O/C. I was fairly impressed.
This is with the ECU taking care of throttle position, ignition and fueling.
Sadly, the "right" equipment and know-how is not cheap at all. Powerchip's net worth would probably cover the annual coffee budget.
Of course emissions, reliability, fuel economy and drivability considerations are out the window. Certainly the catalyst would be destroyed very quickly indeed.
I hope that's at least of some interest to you. If a large (and evil) engine management company ever says they can chip your car for 30% more power, maybe they can.
Regarding destroyed catalytic converters - it's my understanding that the entire car may follow the catalyst into the hereafter, if what I've heard about blowing lots of unburned fuel through converters is true.
As you say, this is more of a racing-modification kind of situation. Drop-in chip companies wouldn't get much business if they pushed things that far (assuming they even could, without individualised tuning).
Save me, Jebus!
My religion or lack thereof is, of course, neither here nor there, at least until such time as I start reviewing Kabbalah red strings or what have you. This here site is entirely a-religious, provided of course you're willing to offer up the occasional burnt sacrifice to the holy silicon chip (cheap electrolytic capacitors will eventually do this for you). Between teenage fun on FidoNet echoes and a few years spent in an office entirely populated by Jehovah's Witnesses (I kid you not), I've pretty much done all the religious argufying I need to do for now, thanks.
And yet, as you say, that ad's turned up a few times. I can only presume the Campus Crusade for Christ are paying to have it shown in response to all sorts of random keywords, to spread the Word (along with their invaluable explanatory diagrams, which apparently they've been using, unchanged, for decades...) as widely as possible.
I could block that ad, but what the hey. They might make me a few bucks. That kind of tickles me.
Just in case that last one didn't get me in enough trouble
In a response to a letter, you said "The lunatic fringe of the audiophile market does not define everybody who's happy to call themselves an audiophile, any more than Christians who believe in treating acute appendicitis with prayer speak for Christians in general."
As a Christian, I thought I'd send you an email about that comment. (-:
You were probably referring to Christians who believe that they should not take medical action for illness, and only pray. However, I want to point out that many Christians, including myself, do believe that prayer is effective for healing. While we don't refuse medical attention, we also pray. And, while you may not believe it, God does answer those prayers.
While you may believe God answers those prayers, though, and I defend your right to believe that or anything else you want, there is zero evidence to support this claim, or the wider claim that prayer does anything but give people something to do when there is nothing else they can do.
A number of studies have been done to attempt to establish the medical efficacy of prayer. They've uniformly been quite dreadfully badly conceived, of course. How do you make sure nobody's praying for your control group? What about people praying for everyone in your country to die? How do you know that God will go along with your little scientific parlour games? Perhaps He'll be offended that you're only praying for the intervention group, and not the poor patients in the control group as well!
And, the old church-splitting chestnut, why on earth should someone's supplication be able to change God's mind about anything, anyway? If He can intervene in earthly events, as He must for intercessory prayers to have any value, then perhaps He wanted that person to get sick!
Et cetera, et cetera. Insert well-worn rant about survivors of some disaster thanking God that they made it through, while not wondering what all the people that didn't must have done to deserve their fate.
Insofar as any data at all has condensed out of the pseudoscientific haze of intercessory prayer studies, it's supported the null hypothesis.
Here's good old curmudgeonly Quackwatch's opinion on one particularly colourful study subject (more here and here) ; CSICOP is no more lenient (the second piece refers to this). Wired and Time have weighed in on one of the more celebrated researchers.
If it is your contention that prayer works, but only when people aren't trying to get God(s) to jump through scientific hoops, then of course all organised intercessory prayer studies become irrelevant. Even an epidemiological approach becomes pointless if you say that God's infinite power allows Him to arrange the universe such that passively studying the medical outcomes of those with prayerful families and those from secular backgrounds (for instance) will not work, or that because everybody's prayed for by someone, there's no visible distinction in the first place.
But if this sort of thing is what the basis of your belief comes down to, then it is, by definition, nothing but blind faith, possibly held in a universe about which nothing can be known without the consent of a God that you may know it. Blind faith does not, in my opinion, justify you in making any statements about the world.
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