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Seven bucks per centimer of audio woo

by Bruno Van de Casteele

October 27, 2013

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Donate One of my favourite blogs I follow is Big Picture from Bobby Owsinski, producer, audio engineer and author of several books on audio recording and engineering. Mr Owsinski from time to time posts articles that expose some frauds and hoaxes that sadly also insist in the world of audio. Gold-plated and other woo ($500 volume knob or $8500 speaker cable, but also about the 440Hz conspiracy) gets offered to a gullible yet rich audience, resulting in huge profit and no discernible audio improvement (for a good summary, see here). And yes, I've fallen for gold-plated connectors in the past, too...

In this post, Mr Owsinski shows that he is a real "audio skeptic" (if he has ever heard of the term skeptic anyway). He describes the latest attack on gullible people's purses, but this one is really absurd, and laughable in his opinion. An audio website has a review of USB cables, and one of the examples is copied below.

Yes, that is 550 bucks for a mere 75 cm of cable to connect your external hard drive (supposedly with music on it) to your pc. As Mr Owsinski points out, it is a digital cable! Signals go through this cable in a digital format, but unless you actually damage the cable physically, the signal will pass. And it will not make any difference at all as the signal transmission is digital anyway.

Read the product website for some more, although it makes me sick just reading it. The connections for instance:
Through choice of flux and metallurgy, AQ solder has 
been optimized to make a low-distortion connection.
The difference you hear between solders is a result of
connection quality.

The difference one hears is probably more related to whatever speaker you have attached, and to the quality of the sound files. A digital connection is a digital connection, and it will not make any difference using this cable or the cheap $1 directly imported from China. Your soldering might be any material, as long as it connects, it's good.

Or take this for instance:
AudioQuest's DBS creates a strong, stable electrostatic 
field which saturates and polarizes (organizes) the
molecules of the insulation.

How's that for a world record "most incomprehensible pseudoscience in one sentence"? Basically, they put an LED and a battery in the cable with a small light. Apart from that, creating an electrostatic field to saturate (huh? with what? quarks?) and "organize" (that's not the meaning of polarizing) the insulation will not help in any way, except for the profits of said company. Now for analog audio it might be a good idea to check interference, and to keep power and audio signal cables away from each other or at right angles, but again, for digital it doesn't matter. And certainly not for playing files from your USB hard disk to your computer.

It's actually sad to see that Randi's challenge from 2007 still goes unchallenged. So a call to anyone who might be convinced by this: go straight to Randi's JREF and take the challenge. With $ 1 million in the balance, what are you waiting for?

In the end, it's nice to see Bobby Owsinski calling these things out to a larger and somewhat different audience. He finds it laughable, I would rather weep that such things that are obviously frauds still get created, marketed and bought. That means we as skeptics still have a lot of work to do...

by Bruno Van de Casteele

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