These are all commendable concerns and hopefully will make a difference with some of the newbies on Head-Fi, and those who are new to the hi-fi hobby.
Re cables sounding similar, e.g. Ag versus Cu, I always had the impression (not my personal experience) from the numerous reviews I've read over the years that silver exhibited a "bright" edgy sound and copper imparted more of a "warmish" character or darker hue to the sound (using subjective language). Of course these are generalizations or stereotypes, but it's interesting to me that there has been an "apparent" shift in perception with the introduction of some of the hyper-pure types of silver and copper. There seems to be a trend, that silver and copper are merging in sonic character. And on some of the ultra high-end stuff, it doesn't seem to matter what the material is (e.g. JPS Labs, an advertiser on Head-Fi).
My personal experience with cables is that some improve sound quality and some don't. There have been several that went back to the vendor. Not all the most expensive cables I have heard met my expectations, and the set I have now are some of the most reasonably priced that I've come across--especially considering the materials--yet bested some of my kilo-buck valued cables (am I moving in the right direction?) I always work from the premise that if I can't return it, it can't be a part of my system. A 30-day return/trial policy and/or a local dealer (fewer and fewer it seems) is always a good idea.
Re the placebo effect, it's of some interest to me that the the opposite argument is also true, that if you believe there is no difference in cables, that too would be the outcome of any casual cable listening experience--i.e. you wouldn't hear a difference due to placebo. I know that several folks on Head-Fi have approached cables as "believers" and through personal experience, and research, ended up non-believers. Other's started out believing cables CANNOT (NO WAY, IMPOSSIBLE) make a difference, but ended up believers. Some of us in the CANNOT (NO WAY, IMPOSSIBLE) camp, even with an engineering background--like me--ended up a believer.
There seems to be a rallying cry, a social justice imperative, a vociferous argument to formalize the non-believers position as non-negotiable, settled science. It "seems" that non-believers want Head-Fi to make a statement in support of that position. However, Head-Fi is in a precarious position since funding and support of Head-Fi is partially the result of companies that sell cables, including ALO, Kimber, Moon Audio, Whiplash Audio, CryoParts, and TTVJ to name a few. Some are funding sponsors, participate in forums, and ultimately market their products on Head-Fi to make a profit.
Your message (and other's) about "...it is in people BEST INTEREST for cables to be formally, and completely debunked..." is heard loud and clear on the forums. However, it comes across as a value judgement (i.e. good, bad, evil), versus a value criticism (generally accepted as "truth"). For example, I believe that in the grand scheme of things, source, pre-/amp, and speakers (headphones) make the largest differences in a music system. These are fundamental.* We should focus changes on basic system improvements, on fundamental, core components when dealing with sound science. That is a value criticism and is "true" and is generally undeniable and accepted by everyone.
(*NOTE: Although, some Head-Fi'ers believe that amps and DACs when level-matched all sound the same too. So, where do we draw the line with marketing hyperbole? Only with cables? What about amplifiers? DACs? Preamps? Who makes that judgement? Maybe we should just all subscribe to "The Audio Critic"--one of my faves--and be done? )
So, where do cables fit? I believe cables (and power conditioning, yes) make a difference when used in a high-end music system. I have also noted differences with cables in lesser systems. I "enjoy" what I hear (the subjective part of our hobby) with high quality cables. However, to recommend cables as a substitute for the more fundamental aspects of putting together a great music system should be tertiary (or the very last).
When to try cables? Certainly AFTER you believe you've "hit the wall" with your core components, and they are long term "keepers." I tend to hang onto my stuff for a long time. (I WISH I still had my Thorens TD-125 MkII TT from the early 1970's. Dang, I really miss that one. I had a full set of Cardas GR series cables including AC, IC's and speakers. They were over a decade old, and I sometimes wish I still had those too.)
Well, here are some ideas about when buying cables makes sense (to me), but not necessarily in any priority, order, or for anyone else:
- system synergy and refinement
- freedom from cash restrictions and a desire to test the waters
- a priori - i.e. use of theoretical deduction rather than empirical observation (and all of its ramifications)
- handmade quality construction, unique formulations and the pursuit of extracting that last "iota" of detail
- improved sound quality through personal experience
- experimentation in the hobby (What really works? What doesn't work?)
- it's fun trying new stuff...
Based on your personal experience and research you can say, "I don't personally hear any differences between cables." "There are several tests that reveal no statistical differences in cables, metals or geometry." "I'm happy with my hi-fi."
What I'm not clear about is the innuendo, mocking, sarcasm, resentment, and the part relating to the the social justice imperative, (Italics mine) e.g.:
"when they are a slave to their own mind IE placebo effect?"
"I am so happy I put all that behind me."
"sold all my cables and placebo junk"
"It angers me when I see people stuck in mid-fi purgatory."
"It is ridiculous and should be stopped..."
"Head-Fi... (is) Not a place where older members unknowingly trick newbies into wasting their hard earned cash because they did so themselves."
"you know with ears only 500$ cables can please. Give me a break."
"One day head-fi , and all of audio will move forward... but it sure doesn't seem to be any time soon."
Sadly, you seem to have lost the joy of the hobby, "I certainly enjoyed head-fi a lot more back then but I was just lost in lalaland because I though that was the only way."
You qualified your post as a "rant" (at the end). So, we'll take all of this with a grain of salt. (Now, I'm just having fun wid' ya!)
Edited by Rdr. Seraphim - 1/6/11 at 4:16pm