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Can the burn-in skeptics leave us alone?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by kingpage, Nov 12, 2011.
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  1. ianmedium
    I do agree, it is sales literature but the guy, though not familiar this side of the pond is very well respected in the general HiFi community over in the UK. I know he makes money at it but he has also over the years given very freely indeed of his time whilst making nothing from advice given. I have met him quite a few times at HiFi shows and he will spend half an hour with you chatting about the effects of different cables then tell you to go away and try others to make sure you get the right one!
  2. liamstrain


    So far it has not shown to be, and we would also have to correct for sample variation between the two headphones. 
    Does he provide data to show the "effects of different cables? Or is he happy to just tell you about them. I don't care how "well respected he is" in the UK hifi community. On this point, he's selling bunkum. 
  3. Head Injury

    It has been shown on graphs, using the same headphone burned in on the dummy head. It's just that the differences are far smaller than subjective impressions would suggest. And there's no guarantee the differences are from driver burn-in or pad break-in. And they are still no larger than product variation.
  4. liamstrain
    Even Tyl has commented on the flaws in his results there. It is interesting data, but hardly conclusive evidence.
  5. Head Injury
    Not conclusive as to audibility or significance, but there were differences. The debate should not be on whether headphones can change (pads inevitably change regardless of driver changes), but on if they change enough to matter.
  6. Willakan
    Even if you take Tyll's test to be conclusive evidence of burn-in (which even he says it isn't) look at the utterly ridiculous things being attributed to the burn in process. Tyll said that he felt the headphones sounded slightly less harsh: nothing about revolutionary changes in soundstaging, or colossal alterations in bass impact...
  7. Tyll Hertsens Contributor
  8. fubar3
    If one is not sure about this burn-in idea, why not write to the manufacturer or check the FAQ on their website, and ask for the burn-in procedure?
  9. ianmedium
    Well, hopeful this may help some of the sceptics on burn in. I hope this example passes muster this time. Yes, I know he is selling cables as well but he is also one of the most respected in the cable industry, George Cardas.

    I think this is a well written article.
    This is the link to the site but I have copied and pasted it below the link as well!


    Cable Break-In
    by George Cardas

    There are many factors that make cable break-in necessary and many reasons why the results vary. If you measure a new cable with a voltmeter you will see a standing voltage because good dielectrics make poor conductors. They hold a charge much like a rubbed cat’s fur on a dry day. It takes a while for this charge to equalize in the cable. Better cables often take longer to break-in. The best "air dielectric" techniques, such as Teflon tube construction, have large non-conductive surfaces to hold charge, much like the cat on a dry day.

    Cables that do not have time to settle, such as musical instrument and microphone cables, often use conductive dielectrics like rubber or carbonized cotton to get around the problem. This dramatically reduces microphonics and settling time, but the other dielectric characteristics of these insulators are poor and they do not qualify sonically for high-end cables. Developing non-destructive techniques for reducing and equalizing the charge in excellent dielectric is a challenge in high end cables.

    The high input impedance necessary in audio equipment makes uneven dielectric charge a factor. One reason settling time takes so long is we are linking the charge with mechanical stress/strain relationships. The physical make up of a cable is changed slightly by the charge and visa versa. It is like electrically charging the cat. The physical make up of the cat is changed by the charge. It is "frizzed" and the charge makes it's hair stand on end. "Teflon Cats", cables and their dielectric, take longer to loose this charge and reach physical homeostasis.

    The better the dielectric's insulation, the longer it takes to settle. A charge can come from simply moving the cable (Piezoelectric effect and simple friction), high voltage testing during manufacture, etc. Cable that has a standing charge is measurably more microphonic and an uneven distribution of the charge causes something akin to structural return loss in a rising impedance system. When I took steps to eliminate these problems, break-in time was reduced and the cable sounded generally better. I know Bill Low at Audioquest has also taken steps to minimize this problem.

    Mechanical stress is the root of a lot of the break-in phenomenon and it is not just a factor with cables. As a rule, companies set up audition rooms at high end audio shows a couple of days ahead of time to let them break in. The first day the sound is usually bad and it is very stressful. The last day sounds great. Mechanical stress in speaker cables, speaker cabinets, even the walls of the room, must be relaxed in order for the system to sound its best. This is the same phenomenon we experience in musical instruments. They sound much better after they have been played. Many musicians leave their instruments in front of a stereo that is playing to get them to warm up. This is very effective with a new guitar. Pianos are a stress and strain nightmare. Any change, even in temperature or humidity, will degrade their sound. A precisely tuned stereo system is similar.

    You never really get all the way there, you sort of keep halving the distance to zero. Some charge is always retained. It is generally in the MV range in a well settled cable. Triboelectric noise in a cable is a function of stress and retained charge, which a good cable will release with both time and use. How much time and use is dependent on the design of the cable, materials used, treatment of the conductors during manufacture, etc.

    There are many small tricks and ways of dealing with the problem. Years ago, I began using Teflon tube "air dielectric" construction and the charge on the surface of the tubes became a real issue. I developed a fluid that adds a very slight conductivity to the surface of the dielectric. Treated cables actually have a better measured dissipation factor and the sound of the cables improved substantially. It had been observed in mid eighties that many cables could be improved by wiping them with a anti-static cloth. Getting something to stick to Teflon was the real challenge. We now use an anti-static fluid in all our cables and anti-static additives in the final jacketing material. This attention to charge has reduced break-in time and in general made the cable sound substantially better. This is due to the reduction of overall charge in the cable and the equalization of the distributed charge on the surface of conductor jacket.

    It seems there are many infinitesimal factors that add up. Overtime you find one leads down a path to another. In short, if a dielectric surface in a cable has a high or uneven charge which dissipates with time or use, triboelectric and other noise in the cable will also reduce with time and use. This is the essence of break-in

    A note of caution. Moving a cable will, to some degree, traumatize it. The amount of disturbance is relative to the materials used, the cable's design and the amount of disturbance. Keeping a very low level signal in the cable at all times helps. At a show, where time is short, you never turn the system off. I also believe the use of degaussing sweeps, such as on the Cardas Frequency Sweep and Burn-In Record (side 1, cut 2a) helps.

    A small amount of energy is retained in the stored mechanical stress of the cable. As the cable relaxes, a certain amount of the charge is released, like in an electroscope. This is the electromechanical connection.

    Many factors relating to a cable's break-in are found in the sonic character or signature of a cable. If we look closely at dielectrics we find a similar situation. The dielectric actually changes slightly as it charges and its dissipation factor is linked to its hardness. In part these changes are evidenced in the standing charge of the cable. A new cable, out of the bag, will have a standing charge when uncoiled. It can have as much as several hundred millivolts. If the cable is left at rest it will soon drop to under one hundred, but it will takes days of use in the system to fall to the teens and it never quite reaches zero. These standing charges appear particularly significant in low level interconnects to preamps with high impedance inputs.

    The interaction of mechanical and electrical stress/strain variables in a cable are integral with the break-in, as well as the resonance of the cable. Many of the variables are lumped into a general category called triboelectric noise. Noise is generated in a cable as a function of the variations between the components of the cable. If a cable is flexed, moved, charged, or changed in any way, it will be a while before it is relaxed again. The symmetry of the cable's construction is a big factor here. Very careful design and execution by the manufacturer helps a lot. Very straight forward designs can be greatly improved with the careful choice of materials and symmetrical construction. Audioquest has built a large and successful high-end cable company around these principals.

    The basic rules for the interaction of mechanical and electrical stress/strain variables holds true, regardless of scale or medium. Cables, cats, pianos and rooms all need to relax in order to be at their best. Constant attention to physical and environmental conditions, frequent use and the degaussing of a system help it achieve and maintain a relaxed state.

    A note on breaking in box speakers, a process which seems to take forever. When I want to speed up the break-in process, I place the speakers face to face, with one speaker wired out of phase and play a surf CD through them. After about a week, I place them in their normal listening position and continue the process for three more days. After that, I play a degaussing sweep a few times. Then it is just a matter of playing music and giving them time.
  10. Uncle Erik Contributor
    A special fluid that helps cables?  It wouldn't be some type of rendered reptile fat, would it?
    That essay contains not a single verifiable fact and is complete nonsense.
    Since you bring up George Cardas' reputation, I'd argue that he has no credibility.
  11. ianmedium
    Ah well, this is where I leave this then, I have yet to hear any credible argument from they naysayers apart from derision so that's me done, if information and thoughts from one of the most respected cable makers on the planet cannot even get you thinking outside the box then please enjoy your flat earth, me, i prefer a round one where possibilities exist outside the realms of quantifiable science.
  12. Steve Eddy


    What's needed are credible arguments from the yaysayers. They are the ones making the positive claims. Yet they offer nothing more than a lot of empty hand-waving, such as Cardas above. It's easy to just make schiit up and pass it off as fact. It's quite another to substantiate those claims, and that's where the yaysayers have fallen far short for decades now.
    Thinking outside the box is just fine. But when your thinking outside the box is nothing more than empty hand-waving, then it's nothing more than a cheap slogan.
  13. LizardKing1
    I have absolutely no dog in this fight, but that was not hand-waving. I think it's unfair that just because something does not correspond to what you believe reality to be, it's immediately not objective enough. If Cardas was saying that whatever fluid he uses on cables makes "the treble sparkle more and the bass extend deeper", sure it's poetry, but he substantiated it with a scientific possibility, a theory. I do not know enough to have a defined opinion, I know arguments on both sides - and I hate using that word, "opinion", as if science could be about what you want to believe in. It's always much easier for me to understand why something makes no sense than why it does (ex.: audiophile USB cable). But it's unfair to say that text was lyrical when it was anything but.
  14. liamstrain
  15. liamstrain
    A theory without ANY evidentiary support is not terribly useful - especially not if you are in the business of selling people that product. And he didn't back it up with scientific possibility - he backed it up with absurd assertions about the nature of what affects sound - also without backing them up (cats, pianos, cables all need to relax to be at their best? The first two, maybe - but he does not explain how a relaxed cable would affect sound. Or how the "charged dialectric" would affect sound, or anything else in that screed). It's hand waving.  It is designed to make people think he has something real to say, without having to actually prove a damn thing. Essentially an appeal to authority fallacy (in this case, self referential).
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