Objective science, engineering, and business
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Feb 18, 2024 at 3:25 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 53

ScrofulousBinturong

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Background for this thread: I'm on the objectivist and engineering side of the world. I'm a musician, and because of medications induced tinnitus, I have had audiograms done showing my hearing is unusually keen for my age with no loss (through a combination of genetics, protection, and sheer luck, I imagine) and good frequency discrimination. And I am aware of the very real, audible effects of e.g. capacitance over the length of a wire (though not for the typical 1-meter wire that comes with IEMs), or microphonics, etc.

There's a lot of nonsense designed to part wealthier middle aged men with their money in the audiophile world. Even if we ignore the mystical junk like those weirdo audio stones, and only focus on e.g. audiophile Ethernet cables or analog headphone cables that purportedly improve soundstage :rolling_eyes: or $30k-per-meter power cables, there's a lot of engineering and manufacturing activity that goes into making all those things.

My quandary is this: I have a hard time imagining that the thousands of engineers and materials science people working on those are all entirely greedy, cynical marketers just making luxury items that make no difference to take advantage of dumb people.

Something in me wants to believe an engineer would believe what science and their training say about electrical signals going through conductors, or digital protocols like TCP, and be objective enough to not believe auditory illusions.

Im also thinking those folks would not be interested in faffing around endlessly braiding strands of miscellaneous wire to improve sound in ways they cannot, like using brighter wire to trick people into believing they reproduce trebles better, or "removing noise" in TCP, etc.

I have no issue with engineering used to improve measurable physical characteristics of a cable or connectors, be it for hand feel, less tangling, esthetics, durability, a satisfying "click" when connecting, etc.

So what gives? What motivates engineers to work on parts of the signal chain that cannot make a difference?
 
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Feb 18, 2024 at 4:30 AM Post #2 of 53
We aren’t talking about engineers. Engineers work in recording studios, they don’t sell wires to middle aged men. We’re talking about marketing of hobby equipment. The people selling it are salesmen looking to upsell you to something expensive you don’t need. R&D for hoodoo is dirt cheap, and once one person becomes an evangelist for hoodoo, they go on Internet forums and infect others. Ignorance is a growth industry.
 
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Feb 18, 2024 at 5:15 AM Post #3 of 53
I'd go with ignorance(of the designer, making him believe in his original ideas), then opportunism, and last, a sort of "why do it? Because we can!". That last group includes dumb stuff but also pure search for extra fidelity, even if out of reach for human senses.
I wish I had videos of my dad and his dad talking about their novel ideas when I was still a teen. From creating folding boxes that had existed for decades, to using planes and a giant net to move clouds from rainy countries to Africa's deserts. They had a limitless amount of ... rather terrible ideas. There was always a sweet candor to them, as they were always thinking like engineers, "here's a problem someone has, how can I solve that problem?". But sometimes lacking even the most basic knowledge about reality and the laws of physics, they could become confident in the silliest of ideas.
Just take someone like that, with more money to waste, or just one of those fearless adventurers who gets things done and doesn't always stop to wonder if it should be done, and voilà, you have a new brand selling stuff for reasons that might not even exist.
I mean, homeopathic dilution principle is a stupid idea that does nothing and only leaves water in the end product if actually done as explained, yet you find such products all over the world. It's not a matter of what something does, it's a matter of how many people you can convince that it does it. The opportunistic type, among other things, is great at doing that.

If we forget the stupid BS for a moment, I think engineers in general like to try and take on challenges. You have a known ready-made way to do something, but there is also that complicated and expensive way that if done amazingly well will probably end up close to the simple cheap solution. Is it such a surprise that some of those engineers will take that as a personal challenge? And once it's done, well, why not try and make money with it?
 
Feb 18, 2024 at 5:31 AM Post #4 of 53
We aren’t talking about engineers. Engineers work in recording studios, they don’t sell wires to middle aged men. We’re talking about marketing of hobby equipment. The people selling it are salesmen looking to upsell you to something expensive you don’t need. R&D for hoodoo is dirt cheap, and once one person becomes an evangelist for hoodoo, they go on Internet forums and infect others. Ignorance is a growth industry.
I meant engineers as in the people making the physical parts and manufacturing processes.
 
Feb 18, 2024 at 5:39 AM Post #5 of 53
A slightly different take. An undergraduate degree in electrical engineering is broad. As one works their way through masters and PhD level the focus narrows drastically in order to go much deeper. The same goes for people working in highly specialised fields. There’s always the possibility that the hyper focus on one area might lead to some new knowledge being gained. Of course, we can’t know that for sure and even if it were the case the chances of this information becoming public is low. So there’s a certain element of are you willing to try out these products without evidence of them doing what they claim. This is where dealers and Amazon returns are helpful.

Of course, if you need verification through data first, best not to start.

My personal feeling, and it’s only a feeling, is that trusting experts in the field might be a place to start. The people who design these things day in, day out. The people who actually have to bring a product to market at a particular budget and have done so successfully. Can you believe what Bruno Putzeys says about class D amplifiers? Or what Gordon Rankin says about asynchronous USB? Or what Darren Myers has to say about Power cables? These are some experienced people who, given the quality of the products they produce, probably are worth listening to more than someone who does not have their degree of experience or expertise.

Of course, whether or not you are willing to entertain that notion will also be influenced by your own beliefs and biases. How willing you are to step into the “grey areas” and subsequently attempt to reconcile that against your current beliefs will be important in making your choice.

One more thought on the training you mention. It’s only ever enough if you’re happy to remain within the boundaries set by that training. If you are, great, if you want to push boundaries and find new evidence to prove your theories then also great. An undergraduate degree equips you with competence. Experience is something different.

This podcast discusses a lot about hifi design from an engineering perspective. Great music recommendations, too.


And you might like to try one of these? Some people like them, some people call them snake oil salesmen.






 
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Feb 18, 2024 at 5:39 AM Post #6 of 53
I imagine most boutique DACs and amps are made from off the shelf parts using pretty standard designs. And some of them are probably manufactured overseas in part or in whole. It isn’t exactly experimental science. The wheel has been invented already. They just have to make their own wheel. The people designing the equipment aren’t necessarily involved in the puffery to sell it. They probably just arrange to have the product manufactured.
 
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Feb 18, 2024 at 6:16 AM Post #7 of 53
I don’t think anyone is silly enough to suggest noise on an Ethernet cable is changing data. It’s the noise that then makes its way into the analogue circuits that’s proposed to be the problem. Noise in mixed signal systems seems to be a well researched area?
 
Feb 18, 2024 at 6:22 AM Post #8 of 53
I do not trust individuals working in the scientific world, I trust the method and results that survive verification. I left academia in general disgust at how horrifyingly immoral the vast majority of my colleagues were in practice. Plagiarism, fabrication of data, funding cartels, and the budding encroachment of cultural marxist ideologies into the internal enforcement mechanisms of academia have indelibly marred the reputation of science as an institution to me. All that remains is the purity of the idea and the method.

Human beings respond to incentives. Human beings generally lack introspection and knowledge of adversarial psychology, so it's not that hard to manipulate people into giving up money for shinies and new toys that have dubious effects on anything meaningful. Engineers are people, and if they can use their technical expertise to print money with no consequence, why the hell not? They wouldn't be the first to do so, and I'm absolutely sure they will not be the last.
 
Feb 18, 2024 at 7:01 AM Post #9 of 53
Even snake oil sellers have bills to pay... ...fortunately for them some people have money left after paying their bills.
 
Feb 18, 2024 at 7:03 AM Post #10 of 53
I don’t think anyone is silly enough to suggest noise on an Ethernet cable is changing data. It’s the noise that then makes its way into the analogue circuits that’s proposed to be the problem. Noise in mixed signal systems seems to be a well researched area?
The Ethernet cable has nothing to do with the noise in the analog circuits, and there are plenty of audiophile Ethernet cables making claims about improving sound.
 
Feb 18, 2024 at 7:09 AM Post #11 of 53
The Ethernet cable has nothing to do with the noise in the analog circuits, and there are plenty of audiophile Ethernet cables making claims about improving sound.
I think they’re saying that any cable that can better reject external noise (not anything data related) means less electrical noise working it’s way through the digital components and into the analogue components like DACs, preamps, etc
🤷‍♂️
 
Feb 18, 2024 at 9:53 AM Post #13 of 53
There’s a lot of cynicism above. Any accusation of snake oil, or assumption that these people are crooked, really doesn’t add up in a forum asking for facts?
Unfortunately it does. If you read a bit more in this sound science forum you may start to understand why.

Unfortunately the situation in the audiophile business is so out of hand that it would be virtually impossible to make a buck without selling products that are at least overpriced or partially snake oil.

It would be helpful to be aware of the concept of audibly transparancy. This means something like audibly perfect. Something that is audibly transparent can not be audibly improved. If two things sound different than at least one of the two is not audibly transparent.
If you know this then you know you don't need to go on an endless search for improvement. If for example you can determine that your standard stock stereo cinch cable works audibly transparent (which usually will be the case) then you don't need to try out every expensive (fancy named "interlink") cinch cable in fear of missing out on something.

DACs, amps and other electronics all can be made audibly transparent at very affordable prices.

If you want better sound then focus on things where the real differences are and real improvement is possible:

For the loudspeaker path:
-loudspeakers
-room acoustics
-dsp/eq for further fine tuning

For the headphone path:
-headphones
-clever dsp for example for binaurally simulating loudspeakers over headphones based on your personal hrtf
 
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Feb 18, 2024 at 10:07 AM Post #14 of 53
There’s a lot of cynicism above. Any accusation of snake oil, or assumption that these people are crooked, really doesn’t add up in a forum asking for facts?
But what if it’s a fact that high end home audio marketing includes deliberately false and misleading information, and relies on baseless testimonials to get around truth in advertising rules?

The fact is that jitter is not audible, digital audio doesn’t involve “stairsteps”, properly implemented, amps, DACs and cables should all sound the same, and any sound contained in data rates above 16/44.1 exist beyond the range of human hearing… yet false information on these and other subjects exist in threads all over head-fi and it’s cited in the sales literature of many manufacturers.

If these aren’t deliberate attempts to deceive, then high end audio manufacturers are woefully ignorant of how their own products work, and have never been corrected by someone who knows better. Not terribly likely.
 
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Feb 18, 2024 at 4:04 PM Post #15 of 53
I imagine most boutique DACs and amps are made from off the shelf parts using pretty standard designs. And some of them are probably manufactured overseas in part or in whole. It isn’t exactly experimental science. The wheel has been invented already. They just have to make their own wheel. The people designing the equipment aren’t necessarily involved in the puffery to sell it. They probably just arrange to have the product manufactured.
I think this is correct. It’s scant few who employ any more than the basics. Perhaps Chord, TotalDAC, Wadia when they existed, but few others. It seems most just look to improve power supply noise and output stages.
 
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