Top Ten Signs an Audio Cable Vendor is Selling You Snake Oil
The audio industry is full of hype with the most nonsense surrounding the simplest component of the A/V chain - interconnects and speaker cables. Because there are often very little measurable and audible differences between cables, many of the exotic cable vendors use psuedo junk science to differentiate their products from their competitors. These vendors often prey upon the suggestible audiophile giving them reasons why these products must be utilized in their precious systems in order to achieve the best performance possible to reach the true path of audio nirvana. Listed below are the top 10 cable snake oil claims to watch out for. If a vendor is selling you on any of these fallacies, run don't walk away from their products, unless of course you enjoy a good sci-fi story and desire to buy expensive audio jewelery.
Audioquest Thunderbird Zero with 72VDC Bias Speaker Cable Review
Watch out if a Cable Vendor or Manufacturer:
- Promotes that their product allegedly eliminates audio related Skin Effect and/or "Strand Jumping" problems.
- Claims revolutionary breakthrough in cable technology by polarizing or biasing the dielectric using a battery.
- Promotes that their products eliminate "Audiogenic", "Diode Rectification" or any type of non linear distortions. See Debunking the Myth of Cable Distortion and Dielectric Biasing
- Physically places (+) and (-) wire leads in separate dielectrics not closely spaced in a common jacket. See: Calculating Cable Inductance of Twin Feeder Cables
- Claims vast improvements in sound by inserting "Cable Elevators" to raise the cables off the floor and minimize electron misfiring or static energy fields.
- Claims that cryogenically freezing cables improves fidelity or measurably changes electrical properties after the cable is restored to room temperature.
- Claims that their cables require a "Break In" period.
- Claims that measurements cannot quantify why their designs are superior and often misapply engineering principles in their reasoning but abandon the associated governing laws and metrics that establish them.
- Claims audible differences exist between stranded and non-stranded wires of same gauge rating, geometry and conductor spacing.
- Claims audible differences between silver and copper cables of equal design geometry and gauge.
- Sells speaker cables or interconnects costing more than a plasma TV or a lease on a new Infinity G35 sports coupe.
- Claims wire is directional.
- Slaps RLC boxes on their cables.
- Claims of Speaker Cable Resonance at Audio Frequencies
Here is an example of the dielectric biasing scheme courtesy of Audioquest. The battery does not make a complete electrical connection. Thus it is considered an open circuit.
Updated with Audioquest Response: 10/19/2003
AudioQuest Responds to Top 10 Snake Oil Article
A quick look at your web site gives the impression that you are on a quest to prove that the evaluation of component audio performance is something best determined with test instruments. While I agree that measured performance is important, I'm an old fuddy duddy that still believes that the ear is the best test instrument of all. Years of evaluating (blind) various metals, insulation materials and cable geometry bare this out. That you would include AudioQuest DBS cables.....cables that you've never heard... in your list of audio snake oil makes it quite clear that your mind has already been made up before doing any evaluation at all.
In the many years I've been in the audio (and recording) business I've occasionally run into other "measurements are everything" types. Attempts at productive dialog usually prove useless, rather like arguing religion or politics, not one of life's more productive pursuits in my opinion.
I wish you luck with your web site.
VP Product Development
Thank you for your response. We aren't discussinng component audio equipment, we are discussing cables. But, yes I agree cable science is made out to be much like religion at least with commercial audio. It is strictly faith based from what we have seen. Exotic cable vendors offer no proof based on acceptable scientific methodologies. However they promote these scientific principles while rejecting their provable and measurable implications. Fortunately however cable science is not mysterious or spiritual like a faith based religion. Electrical properties of cables are well known and documented from DC up to GHz (reference. Henry Ott,Dr. Howard Johnson, etc). To insist otherwise is futile. Exotic cable psuedo science only exists in consumer audio. Why is that? In our opinion it appears the exotic cable industry thrives on consumer ignorance and a lack of industry checks and balances. Audioquest and other exotic cable vendors claim all sorts of "audible distortions" from cables. Yet they offer no measurable proofs or methods for analysis. Ever hear of a device called the "Audio Precision One". This proven and industry standard audio analyzer is capable of measuring audio distortions well below human audibility. Surely if all of this distortion was present, a simple measurement would prove it. No? Have Audioquest and other exotic cable vendors discovered new types of audible distortions not currently known by proven science and engineering disciplines? If so, why not publish a paper on it at AES or IEEE and have it peer reviewed. It may even be worthy of a Nobel Prize.
It is interesting that exotic cable vendors are allegedly concerned with producing cables that "do no harm", yet very few of them, Audioquest included, fail to even state first order metrics directly responsible for their sonic signature such as inductance, capacitance and resistance of their products.
Our mind has not been made up about the quality of your cables. Despite your unproven and mostly fictitious claims, if your cables measure well based on proven science (you know lumped element analysis) they may actually perform well. If we had samples to review, we would certainly confirm this. We have no issues with cables costing as much as yours do provided that the supporting claims for the products are based in reality and do not clearly violate engineering and scientific truths while being pawned off as such. Perhaps if you made the consumer aware of the fact that producing cosmetically pleasing cables does carry a considerable manufacturing and materials expense, your price justification would be vindicated.
Who actually designs your cables? Do you have degreed Electrical Engineers on staff? If so, perhaps we can arrange a phone interview. I am an EE and have a fairly decent analog background and would love to dialog with your engineers about your cable theories. What type of test equipment do you have? We have Audio Analyzers, Magnetics Analyzers, Oscopes, TIMS, etc and would be willing to repeat and confirm your findings.
Alternatively we can arrange a controlled DBT with your cables and say 10AWG Zip Cord with a panel of listeners and do a statistical analysis to determine correlation that your cables really do sound "better" and that your reasoning is sound. We are willing to work with you on exposing the truths about your claims to promote better understanding for our readership and the rest of the audio community. Here is your chance to educate the public about a science that is allegedly not well understood and have an independent source peer review and confirm.
Thank you again. Regardless of our disagreements, I appreciate the civility you have demonstrated in your responses.
President of Audioholics.com
"Pursuing the Truth in Audio and Video"
For more information on Audioquests Dielectric Biasing Scheme, visit:
Read my response again. Nowhere do I say that cable science is like religion. That you would come to this conclusion based on my letter is, ummmmm, not very scientific.
Good luck with your entertaining website and your pursuit of audio truth.
I have posted info about your DBS system and your response in a featured article in follow-up of our Top Ten Snake Oil Gimmicks.
There is also a great forum discussion going on about these topics you may wish to peruse.
If you would like to discuss Skin Effect and how Audioquest thinks it is responsible for Diode Rectification, I would be happy to entertain such discussion. Perhaps we can set up a phone call with your staffed Electrical Engineering or Physics team. In the meantime, you may wish to read proven and peer reviewed discussions on Skin Effect Relevance on Speaker Cables at:
- Skin Effect Relevance in Speaker Cables
- Calculating Cable Inductance of Twin Feeder Speaker Cables
- Interview with Dr. Howard Johnson about Skin Effect
Please let me know as I am sure it would make for another great article on cables. As always we appreciate your feedback.
President of Audioholics.com
"Pursuing the Truth in Audio and Video"
As a side note, I would again like to thank Audioquest for engaging in a discussion about cable science and their product techologies and claims. Very few exotic cable vendors are willing to do so and with such civility.