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The case against cables and for convention DBT

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
I realized that some people may think I have made my mind up, and side with the "cable people" and subjectivists. Just to clear this up, I have doubts, and I can make a good case against cables. Here goes:

Scientists understand pretty well what are the limits of human hearing. Cables are easily measured, and the differences between them are far, far below the limits of what someone can hear.

This is confirmed by the lack of success in differentiating cables in DBTs. Some subjectivists may complain that most of these DBTs were quick-switch ABX, but that's the gold standard for comparing sound. Scientists who design codecs have a lot of experience with quick-switch ABX, and codecs rely on detailed models of the performance of the human ear. These models show what sounds are masked, that is, what sounds cannot be heard easily because they are masked by louder sounds. Evidence from neurology about the theoretical limits of human hearing has converged together with evidence from DBTs.. we know that quick-switch ABX tests are sensitive to differences very close to the theoretical limits of human hearing.

Not only is there no scientific reason cables could sound different, there has never been a published study in which someone could tell them apart. And people have had something like 30 years now, since premium cables came into existence in the 80's.

We know that people are biased by knowledge of what they are listening to or expectation. Music itself is a very subjective experience, easily influenced by changing emotions and moods. The same piece can elicit different feelings on two different days simply because that's how people work. We know that you can fool a friend easily---tell them you've just changed a cable and listen to them rave about the improvement.

Some people think they are immune to bias or unconscious effects. But psychology has proven time and time again we are deeply influenced by our unconscious expectations, often in ways we don't expect. Placebo medicines often convince people they have recovered from an illness---so it's not too hard to imagine that a placebo cable convinces someone of something that's really much simpler and easier to imagine: that their stereo is more fun to listen to.
post #2 of 18
That is a very intelligent post. Pretty much sums up my argument against cables. Should be required reading for anyone new to the hobby.
post #3 of 18
Mike, I have some doubts about cables too (although I heard a difference once in an "accidental" blind test), but don't your arguments apply with equal force to DAC's and CDP players? In other words, aren't the differences between DAC's costing more than, say, $100, supposedly below the audible threshold, and yet lots of folks (even some serious critics of cables) seem to accept that they can sound different.
post #4 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by mike1127 View Post
Not only is there no scientific reason cables could sound different, there has never been a published study in which someone could tell them apart. And people have had something like 30 years now, since premium cables came into existence in the 80's.
There also appears to be scant published studies on people who could not tell the difference in cables.

What would be the statictical significance if there were two or three published studies involving 15 or 20 people who could not tell a difference in cables, and no published studies of people who could tell the difference.

Are we basing the cables can not make a difference belief, using double blind tests from 15 or 20 people?
post #5 of 18
One other question about the DBT's that have been done. How many consist of the participants listening to headphones? Does anybody think that listening to speakers in a room with then other folks is the same as listening by yourself in private with headphones? Personally, I find headphones to be more revealing than speakers, and I find the experience of listening with my eyes closed in private to be quite a bit different than listening to speakers with group of people. Just a thought.
post #6 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by 883dave View Post
There also appears to be scant published studies on people who could not tell the difference in cables.

What would be the statictical significance if there were two or three published studies involving 15 or 20 people who could not tell a difference in cables, and no published studies of people who could tell the difference.

Are we basing the cables can not make a difference belief, using double blind tests from 15 or 20 people?
The position that cables are unlikely to matter is parsimonious, the position that they do matter isn't.

The position that there are things we cannot measure that make significant, "night and day" differences in how cables sound require more assumptions than the position that there are not such differences.
post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by 883dave View Post
There also appears to be scant published studies on people who could not tell the difference in cables.

What would be the statictical significance if there were two or three published studies involving 15 or 20 people who could not tell a difference in cables, and no published studies of people who could tell the difference.

Are we basing the cables can not make a difference belief, using double blind tests from 15 or 20 people?
It seems to me you are right. I have not undertaken a broad study of what's out there, but see my thread "the case for caution in interpreting null results", where I point out that if there were a lot of tests, some of them would reject the null hypothesis by chance alone. Yet objectivists who seem to think they have broad knowledge of published studies tell us there has "never" been ("not one") test that showed cables are audible. This means either (1) there haven't been many tests at all, or (2) the objectivists are cherry-picking results.
post #8 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by mike1127 View Post
It seems to me you are right. I have not undertaken a broad study of what's out there, but see my thread "the case for caution in interpreting null results", where I point out that if there were a lot of tests, some of them would reject the null hypothesis by chance alone. Yet objectivists who seem to think they have broad knowledge of published studies tell us there has "never" been ("not one") test that showed cables are audible. This means either (1) there haven't been many tests at all, or (2) the objectivists are cherry-picking results.
If you have selected your null hypothesis correctly, one or two tests accepting it are nothing to get worked up over - as are one or two accepting it. In either case, the null has not been convincingly rejected.

When a great body of tests (of the sort hobbyists run) reject the null, then you have something to write home about.
post #9 of 18
For me, the most powerful arguments against cables have nothing to do with testing or methodology.

One thing that both believers and skeptics agree on is that there is no current scientific method to measure cables. Measurements all come back the same or with results below the threshold of human hearing. I don't think there is an argument there. So, what are the implications?

If something cannot be tested by any known means, then it is also impossible to develop cables. When you work on a product, you measure, test, form hypotheses, and use results to zero in on what you're trying to achieve.

However, with cables, there is no way to do this. You'd have to go through thousands of prototypes and listen to each with a variety of music and equipment to get an idea of how it sounds.

Further, since ABX testing (for the sake of argument) has no validity and is riddled with flaws. The implication there is that you can't even test your cable designs by ear against your other designs. So protyping and listening must be out of the question because there is no way to compare two of your own designs.

So each new cable design is a complete shot in the dark. It's just something someone made up.

Another argument against cables is the lack of amateur participatuon in the science of them. Look at every other field. There are amateur astronomers, amateur chemists, amateur amp designers, amateur everything. Most amateurs share freely with each other. I know there are amateur cable builders, too, but there's zero information or development of the reasoning behind them. All you get are testimonials about sound. It's not like the amateur radio guys who actually developed SSB (single sideband) transmissions. With cables, there is no body of work whatsoever to draw upon. When you find that, you're usually into pseudoscience territory.

Sensitive test equipment has been around for a good 50-60 years. If there was a difference between cables, it probablynwould have surfaced years ago. Further, corporations would have patented their findings and left a trail of prior art. That doesn't exist until much later. Were there obvious effects and benefits, there would be a bunch of proprietary material in the pubic domain today. Likewise, the period of patents is up for the earliest audio cables. Most manufacturers make a variety of claims about their proprietary work. Fine. Except the term for patents is now up on the early cables, meaning that their designs are now public.

Look at what happened to other technologies when designs finally became public. Check out the intense amateur development of the steam engine and airplane after patents expired. There is nothing comparable with cables.

Most of all, however, is the money angle. There is no argument that prices are well above the cost of materials and labor. Since development is impossible (see above), then there are no other costs. So why the high prices? You can't tiptoe around the fact that people are eager to generate profits. It looks like there's no reason for the prices except to generate huge amounts of money.

What are the implications of that? Well, one is that vast profit margins attract people who care about doing nothing but making money.

The implication from that is that there must be several, if not more, cable manufacturers who exist only as a profit-making enterprise and don't give a crap about cable design. After all, you can't develop cables anyway. You can only take the marketing literature and listening impressions at face value.

The implication you get from that is that there must be a certain number of cable manufacturers who are entirely fraudulent.

So, how do you tell the difference between a fraudulent cable (one with zero development and that only exists for the profit of the manufacturer) and a "real" cable? You can't. You can, apparently, only listen and decide. There's no way to tell if the manufacturer is secretly laughing at you for being an idiot or if they're sincere about their product.

Those are why I think there's nothing to this field. Nothing yet, anyhow. It is possible that something will be discovered. I will accept those results. But today, all we have are people casting blindly into the dark. They don't understand what they're doing and neither does anyone else. They are, however, making extremely large amounts o money while not knowing what they're doing.

Funny thing is, why not put some of that money into finding a scientific reason for the existence of their products? I mean, if people were calling something I made snakeoil, I'd be irritated and set out to prove them wrong. Yet no manufacturer has done this. Curious. Further, some kind of rational understanding would allow for development of better products, make for great advertising against competitors, and would enable kicking some competitor ass. Instead of making tens of thousands, you could goto tens of millions if you found out why they worked. Yet no one has done this. Even more curious.

The bottom line is that all the implications do not add up. Further, lies are always transparent when you look at them sideways. Lies are calculated to be difficult to detect when viewed head on. This is why manufacturers go out of their way to muddy the waters with science. They know there is still the unknown and unexplored and they know that testing protocols aren't perfect. That's wh they insist that their products fall into these exceptions. What you have to do is take a few steps to the side and look from a different angle. Accept them at face vale and then start drawing inferences and implications from the claims. If the implications prove ridiculous, then that's when you know you're dealing with snakeoil.
post #10 of 18
Awesome.
post #11 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by PhilS View Post
Mike, I have some doubts about cables too (although I heard a difference once in an "accidental" blind test), but don't your arguments apply with equal force to DAC's and CDP players? In other words, aren't the differences between DAC's costing more than, say, $100, supposedly below the audible threshold
Higher price does not guarantee better measured performance, from a test bench perspective. There are less than stellar measuring cd players and dacs at all price points. Peruse Stereophile's measurements (for example) and you'll see for yourself.

Regarding placebo and expectation, it can also yield the opposite result: There have been times when I was looking forward to hearing a particular product and was disappointed upon listening.
post #12 of 18
I highly disagree that quick switching ABX is at all useful for any subtle differences. The mental states induced alone are too radically different from listening for pleasure to matter, IMO, if a positive result is not attained. What we can report under test conditions relies on the test conditions, including what's going on in our heads that we have little control over.

I also think that if anyone has made up their minds about you as such, they have chosen to read with mental blinders on, and this thread will not remove them.

I can agree with basically everything else. Also, IMO, if it takes some super-expensive equipment to hear the differences, I'd rather not bother. I can't with what I have, and tinned copper is both easier to solder, and cheaper. Though, I've probably invalidated myself to a believer, since I made it myself. Anything else has already been said by Uncle Erik, and he's certainly got the equipment and budget pedigree .
post #13 of 18
I believe the problem is the impossibility in measuring what produces enjoyment and what does not. It could also be that what is "below the threshold of audibility" is actually wrong, and we are more sensitive than we are given credit for. Also, what a valid test gives the results for is not as general as people make out. It's a pity the more frequent arguers aren't interested in actually finding out the truth of what is going on, but just tub-thumping their beliefs. It would be nice to have measurements explain the things I've experienced, though some of them, not related to audio, regrettably, will likely never be measured.
post #14 of 18
The main thing that is wrong with cables and cable tests is that it is all backwards. It should not be up to users to try to find if there is a difference. Manufacturers who present claims about their cables should be the ones doing the tests and presenting rigorous proofs that there actually are differences between their cables and "generic" cables.

Those that don't should probably simply be reported to their local DA offices. Let them prove their business merely looks like fraud, but is in fact reputable business that does what it says it does.

Edit: obviously cable discussions are not for me. I'll try to only take part in sensible discussions in this subforum from now on...
post #15 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post
I believe the problem is the impossibility in measuring what produces enjoyment and what does not.
I don't think anyone is claiming that they can or even attempting this. What is claimed however, is that it can be measured whether differences are below human hearing.
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