It's On: Journalist Takes On Audiophile Cable Million Dollar Challenge

from the details-please? dept

Last week we wrote about James Randi’s challenge, offering $1 million to someone who could show that it was possible to hear the difference between $7250 speaker cables and $80 speaker cables. That set off a long discussion in our comments (and elsewhere) — and eventually got the attention of at least one audiophile who has signed up to take the challenge. While it sounds like the details are still being worked out (in between the insults flying back and forth), assuming this actually moves forward, it should be fun to watch. In the meantime, about the only thing I’ll note is that prior to this story, I don’t think I ever would have considered $80 speaker cables “cheap,” and yet, now I feel like my mental scale for such things has been reset. That’s not necessarily a good thing.

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Comments on “It's On: Journalist Takes On Audiophile Cable Million Dollar Challenge”

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Anonymous of Course says:

Audiophiles are a curious lot.

I designed some output transformers for an east coast
manufacturer of very expensive high power class-A
vacuum tube type audio amplifiers. I used silicon steel
and magnet wire with electrical grade paper insulation

It met every performance measure we could think of but
he still insisted that I redesign it using a high nickel
content alloy and teflon insulated silver plated wire and
kapton tape.

I told him it was an unnecessary expense and would not
improve the performance. He agreed but said he know his
customers and he knows what sells. It’s easier to pander
to such notions and make more money than try to fight them.

I remember one of the Hi-Fidelity reviewer who claimed
she could hear an effect caused by shining a flashlight
onto the cone of a speaker. The notion still makes me

ehrichweiss says:

Re: Yes...

Those guys couldn’t even get the Tesla earthquake generator right when there has been a device that does the EXACT same thing in the demolition business FOR YEARS; it’s called a servo unit and it vibrates a building for several hours and weakens it(they could do it faster but humans would have to be out of the area). The same idea applied to the army marching in-step myth where they were supposed to resonate and bring down a bridge.

Or there’s the gunpowder engine that they decided that the patent was bogus though they seem to have forgotten how patents actually worked back then(as a suggestion of how a device could work, not as a set of blueprints) and instead of trying to improve on a decent design with new technologies, they just poo-poo’ed it and tried to make their own misguided design that failed even worse.

OR the million other things they get complaints about, which brings me to…

They also will give up without giving it a good go since they are in the TV business and the more they have to “revisit” a myth, the more shows they can get paid for. So they’d hook it up to a $10 AudioSlox radio and say there was no difference so the people who fell for buying the cables will complain saying they need a better amplifier, etc.

So I find them neither educational nor scientific and usually not incredibly entertaining.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re: Yes...

I’m only responding to this comment because I don’t like it when people bash Mythbusters without any real evidence.

Just a quick Google search for “Servo Unit” answered with several links to breaking systems and a spindle for a CD player. Please provide a real name for the device or a link to show it actually exists like you say.

Why would you “weaken” a building when you can implode it? I have never heard of anything like that in all my life.

ehrichweiss says:

I bought some of the "cheap" cables...

Back in 1990 I bought some M o n s t e r(I don’t want them getting any extra web hits because their aggressive use of their “trademark” sucks donkey balls) cables and thought they were the best thing ever. Then I had to move my speakers and couldn’t afford the $100 it would require to extend the cable so I ended up using cheap electrical cord, the brown type that you see on cheap extension cords with the 3 jacks on the end, for what was to be a temporary stay.

Know what difference I heard with my, then, young ears? None at all. Later I discussed this with a band I was doing light and sound for and the main sound engineer grabbed his meters and we measured the difference. The sound difference was statistically insignificant around 0.4% or less, and the other measurements appeared to be mostly non-existent. This was the difference between $50 cables and $5 of cheap electrical cord, not $50 and $5000 cables. Thanks to not purchasing something unnecessary, my stereo purchases have been much better.

BTW, for those that don’t know. If you buy a 100 watt amplifier you are only technically buying it for the lower 10% of the power range since that’s where the least amount of distortion is. I just love hearing people say they’re gonna buy some $50 1000 watt amp that is smaller than my laptop and they not realize that it can produce 1000 watts but at 10%-50% distortion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Frankly, I get a real laugh out of people who would spend $7000 on a set of speaker cables. They obviously have a LOT more money than brains. An excellent scam designed to rip off the stupid.

As for the JREF test, it won’t really settle anything. When it’s demonstrated that people can’t hear any difference between $50 and $7000 dollar cable the proponents of this nonsense will simply make up a bunch of reasons why the test wasn’t “fair” or that “science” doesn’t know everything or some other idiotic excuse that all the other deluded idiots come up with when their cherished supernatural beliefs are thoroughly debunked. The most often used is that things didn’t work because of the negative energy produced by the hostile testers.

All of these things are great for a bit of amusement but really, in the end, that’s all it is, a brief bit of amusement.

Anonymous Coward says:

The whole challenge is bogus since Randi said something to the effect he was not talking about differences measurable on high tech instruments but real differences measurable by the human ear.

In other words, a subjective difference. You are never going to win a million bucks presenting what amounts to a subjective opinion. It’s rigged from the get-go.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: #9

Subjective double-blind testing is done routinely in audio testing because people who aren’t charlatans recognize that it’s the only real way to show quality differences between two parts of an audio system. The whole point is that even though there’s certainly a difference in the cables and their performance objectively (impedance etc.) that difference is well below any human’s ability to appreciate it.

Jack Sombra says:

“The whole challenge is bogus since Randi said something to the effect he was not talking about differences measurable on high tech instruments but real differences measurable by the human ear.”

For a double blind trial (what Randi is asking for) it does not have to be “bogus”, simplified version would be

a) Person taking the challange sits in front of speakers
b) 3rd party plays some music/sound with one of the sets of cables plugged in (selected randomly and hidden from the challanger)
c) 3rd party changes cables (still hidden from challanger) and plays same music/sound
d) Challanger writes down which he thinks used the expensive cables

e) Go back to to b) and change the music/sound

Repeat this X amount of times and at end tally up the challangers responses if he gets majority right he wins, if he gets aprox 50%/50% or less it’s a loss

My question would be….how sure are we that Randi would have the money to pay up if he loses?

Anonymous Coward says:

As scams go...

Aren’t the scams targeted at stupid rich people the least problematic of all scams?

In a way, Monster cables are worse, because they’re selling $50 cables to the typical Circuit City/Best Buy customers, middle class people who don’t know that a $5 cable is just as good.

But selling a $4,000 cable is almost victimless, because, well, who cares about the victim?

Anonymous Coward says:

“Then again, you can always paint the op-amps in your amplifier with black paint from a tiny tube. I’ve been told it improves the sonic transparencies of the audio flow…”

Yes, but this has the unfortunate side effect of negatively impacting the macro dynamics and inhibiting the spacial energy tranference wave effect.

You certainly wouldn’t want to do that now, would you?

Gerry K says:

I am in an industry that requires the highest fidelity electromagnetic transmission known to man. Most of our cables actually have to be waveguides because of the effect on communications a minute difference can make on impedance and the effect that has on VSWR. $7000 audio cables! I think not. We are talking 20KHz max at 4 ohms impedance. the only thing you really have to worry about is power handling.

Even Monster cable that runs $3/ft or more is ridiculas for this application!

Avatar28 says:

I hope they include $0.29/ft electrical cable as w

I really hope that not only do they have the guy try to tell the difference between $70 and $7000 cable but I would like to see them also include the lamp cable you can buy for about 29 cents a foot at home depot. It would be truly hilarious if the lamp cable scored every bit as well as the $7000/ft cable, and it really should.

Ed H. says:

It will be interesting to see how the challenge is defined, if it ever takes place. If the goal of a speaker cable is to move an audio signal from one end to another without perceptible distortion, then cheap zip cord can do that as well as anything, but it is certainly possible to intentionally design cables to do a poor job of this, i.e. to distort the signal. By any objective measure, those cables would be inferior, but they would sound different. They’d probably sound worse than the control, but one would be able to perceive a difference.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don’t need Mythbusters, I can tell you exactly what’s behind the $7000 speaker cables. What’s behind them are clever scammers ripping off stupid, rich people.

BTW, I’ve recently seen $11,000 speaker cables advertised on the web. Obviously these are for stupid, really rich people.

There are a whole host of audio equipment scams out there.

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