Housekeeping: Boomers And Snake Oil

Should the commentariat here at Riverside Green have a cutesy name? Robert Farago christened TTAC’s readers as the “Best&Brightest” many years ago. Yes, he was being ironic. Vox Day calls his fans the “Dread Ilk”, which is a level of nerd-chic that I wasn’t able to reach even when I was nine years old and writing my own elementary-school newsletter about 8-bit programming on an old Olympia manual typewriter. Truthfully, I’d prefer just to call you all “the readers”. There are a couple of reasons for that. The first is that, according to the limited analytics we have on hand, you are a fairly elite group, earning well over $100k on the average and skewing heavily in the directions of male, educated, and professionally successful. Grown men who handle their own business shouldn’t have a cutesy nickname unless they are actively engaged in the performing arts, and most of you appear to be the former without dalliances in the latter.

The second reason is that the word “reader” has a certain prestige associated with it in an era where the vast majority of human beings are simply media consumers who are unable to comprehend anything more refined than an OW MY BALLS video on YouTube. I was recently informed that Riverside Green’s readers spend more than twice as much time on the site per visit than the average customer of the National Review does on that site. In other words, you’re applying a detailed and critical eye to the things you read here. Thank you for that. I’d rather have ten thousand dedicated, thoughtful readers than a million drooling subscribers on YouTube. Despite our lamentable and perpetually embarrassing sellout to the AdSense Borg, this site is still a money-loser for me. Which is fine. It’s worth it.

This past week, two articles appeared on the site that aroused the ire of The Readers to no small degree. I discussed the narcissism of the Baby Boomer generation at length in an article on Harry Chapin, then John Marks wrote a long and enthusiastic piece on a few pieces of audio equipment that, in the opinion of The Readers, amount to nothing but cynical attempts to bilk credulous morons into paying thousands of dollars for a closer look at the magical fabric used in the Emperor’s New Clothes. I think it’s probably worth taking a few moments to discuss why I published both of these contributions and what, if anything, I expect The Readers to take from them.


Let’s start with this: The very idea of a “generation” is fairly ridiculous; it’s like a mirror image of the beard fallacy. One of The Readers responded to the Chapin piece by pointing out that Chapin wasn’t a Boomer because he was born in 1942, instead of from 1945 to 1964. You cannot tell me that Chapin’s experiences growing up were not closer to those of my father, who was born in 1945, than my father’s experiences were to those of someone born in 1964.

We cannot precisely define what a Boomer is, yet we all know a Boomer when we see one. The same is true for Millennials; by the “rules” of Millennial membership, the men who raided Osama bin Laden’s compound and killed him almost all qualify for the group. Yet you don’t think of a grizzled SEAL blowing out bin Laden’s brainpan with an HK machinepistol when you heard the word “Millennial”. You think of some pansy whose life consists of detecting false feminism and rating different varieties of craft beer from his rented micro-apartment while his fat girlfriend spreads her cheeks for an average of 4.2 upvotes per post on one of the fetish subreddits.

There was never a generation that completely conformed to its popular image. The “Greatest Generation” contained men who dodged the draft. While most of the “Woodstock Generation” was either at Woodstock or wishing they were at Woodstock, my father was in Vietnam — by his own completely free choice. The most common occupation of young women during the “Roaring Twenties”, by percentage, was “wife to a farmer”. The existence of an exception to the rule does not remove the rule. The existence of people who do not conform to the general trend of a generation does not disprove that general trend.

The Baby Boomers, as a group, have led a charmed life. When they were young, housing was cheap and jobs were plentiful. When they wanted to express their sexuality, the laws were obligingly changed. When they wanted divorces, that was made easy. They got The Pill and they got to ride the wave of a historically unprecedented increase in everything from home value to the stock market to vehicle reliability. They controlled popular culture from 1965 to the present day and they are still the preferred customers of everybody from Gibson Guitars to Mercedes-Benz. They presided over the hollowing-out of this nation and the destruction of its manufacturing base. They were directly responsible for the collapse of public morality as it was known in America from 1492 to 1990. As a group, they have been lucky, #blessed, and unspeakably vile.

And yet… many of you on here are Boomers who had very little to do with any of that. My father was a Boomer; so was my mother. They didn’t get rich quick or dance naked at festivals. That doesn’t mean that the public perception of Boomers as a whole isn’t accurate. And it doesn’t mean that any of you should feel personally attacked. I don’t give a shit when people go on and on about Generation X. They say we are apathetic, cynical, disengaged, underachieving. I’m only the last one of those. It doesn’t bother me to be part of Generation X. I hope that my Boomer-age readers can muster up the same detachment.

Alright, now let’s talk about burned-in cables with wooden blocks from the Holy Land connected to stereo components that cost more than an Accord Coupe. Many of you feel that John Marks is advancing the cause of willful ignorance regarding sound quality, audio fidelity, and whatnot. You don’t think I should give him a forum with which to promulgate these ideas or sell his products. You accuse him of knowingly defrauding people who only hear a difference in (INSERT ITEM HERE) because they expect to hear it. Almost invariably, you have sound systems of your own that were put together for much less money and you feel that those systems deliver quality equal to or greater than whatever zillion-dollar item John is praising at the moment. Finally, you point out that it is impossible to raise the sound quality of a master recording. You note that we cannot “upsample” music that was recorded to a certain standard of dynamic range, noise floor, and staging.

I’d like to start by saying that I am the sworn enemy of people who lie with numbers, statistics, or other hard information. I have the utmost contempt for people who, just to take a random example, build vehicle-reliability websites using a miserable, self-selected little sample of data. I have been programming computers for thirty-eight years now and I have some extremely rigid beliefs regarding what is “real”, mathematically speaking, and what is not. If I thought John Marks was manipulating or misrepresenting any kind of data, whether that had to do with dynamic range or noise or “square waves” or whatever, I’d bounce him out.

With that said, I would also like to say that for the past six months I’ve been interviewing audio companies in the automotive space for an article that I’m writing about car stereo. These are billion-dollar firms that employ thousands of people to make the sound systems that appear in new cars, from the Revel Ultima package in the Lincoln Continental to the Bose Panaray system in the Cadillac CT6 to the ELS Audio arrangements in modern Acuras. When I started talking to these people, I expected to learn a lot about the machines that they use to analyze sound quality in a car. And while it’s true that they spend millions of dollars on hyper-sensitive microphones and measuring equipment, it turns out that all of these companies give the final say on their systems to a team of “trained ears” who listen to, and return detailed ratings of, their audio installations.

I took a “trained ear” test at one of these companies and found out that I was not good enough to be a trained ear. I have too much tinnitus and hearing damage from my years as a competitive pistol shooter and auto racer. In the ranges that I could hear, I was better than most — but there was a lot that I simply couldn’t hear. Yet there are people who pass the test easily and work for decades in the business as trained ears.

John Marks, in addition to being a devoted Christian and painfully ethical man, is a trained ear. If he tells me that a $15,000 amplifier delivers a result that he can hear, I believe him. If he tells me that burning in a cable makes it better — a claim that, frankly, violates everything that I think I know about materials and electricity — then I will treat his assertion with respect. If he tells me that putting a block of wood from the Holy Land prevents the alien Xenu from capturing souls or whatever it does… well, the fact is that he can hear things that I don’t hear. I don’t think he is making it up.

(John is also a NeverTrumper, but you can’t be right about everything, can you?)

I would never suspect John of lying to me or lying to any of you. There is a possibility that he is lying to himself — that he is simply caught up in the love of hi-fi and his trained ear is influenced by his sentimental or excitable mind. Anything is possible. Even if this is the case, however, I can easily see the value in the purchase and ownership of ultra-high-end audio equipment. To me, it seems pretty similar to my love for Paul Reed Smith Private Stock guitars. Nobody ever made a great record using a PRS guitar; the minute Santana switched from Les Pauls to PRS he started to suck like a Dyson with a clean filter. Still, I absolutely love the craftsmanship, the materials used, and the beauty of the final result. I don’t pretend that I can hear a difference between a maple neck, a rosewood neck, a chaltecoco neck, and a pernambuco neck. But I have all of them. Just to have them. Just because I’m a grown man who enjoys life more when I’m playing a guitar that costs more than a Honda Civic. I make no apologies for this.

The vast majority of this hi-fi gear is made by people who earn a fair wage doing work they enjoy in areas of the world where environmental regulations are at their most severe. The Bricasti $15,000 Block O’ Steel might not sound any better than a $300 Chinese Class D amplifier made in a mercury-soaked hellhole using child labor. I’d still rather have the Bricasti and I’d prefer that you buy the Bricasti as well. Something has to be done to stop this world’s relentless race to the bottom and if that means playing a noisy old Coltrane record through a ninety-pound amplifier then so what?

I didn’t censor a single one of the comments that criticized John because I thought that The Readers should be exposed to critical and dissenting opinions regarding these ultra-expensive systems, the same way that I would never censor a reader who pointed out how I do an outstanding job of making a $19,000 guitar sound like a $250 guitar when I’m playing it. The truth, as they say, is a lion. Let it out and it will defend itself. All I can say is that I revamped my home audio system at John’s suggestion and I’m very pleased with the results. But what do I know? I’m half deaf.

So. Let’s all try to assume good intentions where we can. About The Readers, about our Boomers and Millennials who help make up The Readers, and about our contributors, none of whom earn anything from posting here besides my heartfelt thanks. Thank you for reading. Please return, when you can. And if you decide to take SOME OF THAT MONEY YOU STOLE FROM MY GENERATION AND USE IT TO BUY A THREE THOUSAND DOLLAR USB CORD — then who am I to disagree?

63 Replies to “Housekeeping: Boomers And Snake Oil”

  1. E. Bryant

    Calling me a “reader” would be an honor in this day and age.

    WRT John Marks, I don’t care that he’s trying to sell fancy cables or tell me that a $20k amplifier sounds better than one costing two orders of magnitude less. Where I object is the author’s use of pseudo-science in an attempt to explain the inexplicable, and the thin-skinned hyper-defensive attitude he exhibited when confronted does not strike me as being consistent with what I’ve come to expect from other authors here whose posts I’ve come to admire and respect.

    Reply
  2. CGHill

    What I took away from that John Marks article is that as the price tag gets heftier, the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in — but at no point do those returns diminish to zero. Anything can be improved, given enough care and expenditure; the fact that I may not be able to hear these increments myself does not mean that someone else can’t. And top-of-the-line equipment has always been seriously expensive; if an amplifier happens to cost as much as a car, well, there were amplifiers that cost as much as a car back in the Days of Malaise.

    But more important, I think, is the reminder that sound reproduction isn’t perfect and probably never will be. There will always be just a bit more envelope to push, and I would never want to discourage a John Marks from doing exactly that, even if the results may never be within my grasp.

    Reply
  3. RTR

    The trouble with “golden ear” people who try and sell us overpriced snake oil is that they describe the improvements they (uniquely) can hear in terms which cannot be scientifically measured. Show me on a spectrum analyzer that a burned in cable has better response than one out of the box and I will believe. Things are even funnier when we talk about cables carrying pure digital information. Zeroes and ones – no tone, no “warmth – presence -blahblah BS” just a non analog digital signal.

    Maybe Marks believes imn what he says – as a P Eng. I do not and there is no way for Marks to prove what he is saying in any scientifically valid manner. So I conclude it is BS.

    Reply
    • Disinterested-Observer

      There is a reason that the Amazing Randi put up the same million dollar bet about those bullshit cables as he did for proof of ESP or telekinesis.

      Reply
  4. jz78817

    a “trained ear” (I’m one myself) doesn’t hear “better” than other people. A trained ear is taught to listen for flaws regardless of the music being played.

    the backlash against stuff like the post in question is because audiophools obsess over the minutiae of which amplifier has 0.001% less THD, or which one is 0.5 dB flatter between DC and light. Meanwhile, the most important factors in how your system sounds are your mood, the speakers themselves and the room in which you’re listening to them. And which of those three is most important depends on which is worse. The speakers and the room are several orders of magnitude (literally) more important than your amplifier and speaker/patch cables. Your mood/state of mind is even more important than that. your ears are simple transducers. they convert acoustic waves into electrical signals for your brain to interpret. And just like how your brain can fool you so many other ways (looking right at a motorcyclist but not “seeing” it) your brain can convince itself it’s “hearing” things that aren’t there.

    Audio exists in the Very Low Frequency (VLF) domain and lower. It might as well be DC for as much as your typical patch cable or speaker wire is concerned.

    Reply
  5. Thomas KreutzerThomas Kreutzer

    My golden ears ring unceasingly in two different tones. Thank God that those tones harmonize. Were they discordant I would have a real problem.

    I appreciate the interesting information on the Riverside Green demographics. I’ve haunted the internet for a long time now and have always wondered about the people on the other side of the screen. I’m not going to say that the knowledge will change the way I write – when I write these days, that is. Sorry for my extended absence, we’re getting set for another move and I am focused on that. Hopefully I can get back to it once we get settled.

    Reply
  6. Q

    Forgive me if this is common knowledge, but how can you tell from web traffic the annual salaries of visitors?

    Reply
    • Ark-med

      IP addresses can be traced back to physical addresses which have real estate values, from which mortgage payments, and consequently annual income ranges, can be estimated with some confidence.

      Reply
      • Eric H

        It’s much more direct.
        Ghostery (a browser plugin) tells me that there are 10 trackers on this site, seven social media, two site analytics and one for advertising. These trackers are used to uniquely identify each computer and together (because all the data is shared) most likely has your entire profile attached including name, address, phone #, public tax records, any criminal convictions etc. Anything that is available to purchase or gather is all accumulated, sorted, analyzed and resold to everyone else. Even if you block all the ads and trackers there’s always browser fingerprinting to help uniquely identify specific devices online.

        Reply
        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          Ugh. All ten of them came along with our desire to monetize the site a bit.

          For the record, here at RG we don’t know a single thing about any of you, individually, that you don’t tell us.

          Reply
          • Eric H

            Sorry, didn’t mean to inply that RG had any info, it’s all related to who owns the trackers.

    • Eric L.

      Also, sometimes we just email Jack the data, in exchange for arriving Direct, using uBlock Origin + Privacy Badger, and browsing in Firefox. It makes me feel easier for my theft. Er. Well, I guess it’s not theft unless this content is behind a paywall. #bloomberg

      Reply
  7. WheeTwelve

    There are people who can just hear “more.” I say “more”, but I would understand if others referred to it as “better.” To me, “more” makes more sense.
    As an engineer, I wouldn’t believe it myself had I not worked with a guy who could hear things spectrum analyzers couldn’t show. This guy could hear the difference between a WAV source, and the same content compressed losslessly. We did a double-blind test, multiple times, and he was always able to hear the difference, not stumbling even once. I can’t hear the difference between a 192kbit and 256kbit AAC.
    He extolled the virtues of Magnepan speakers, and carpet on the walls. And while I believed him, there is no way in this life or the next that I would spend $15,000 – $20,000 *per speaker*. Even if I believe that these devices produce superior sound, I see no value in them, at least in part because I receive no benefit from their superior performance. To me it would be like buying very pricey real-estate on an alien planet no one has ever seen, or been to.
    But I understand that these “better” ears can appreciate the pricey equipment. There are domains where I can appreciate pricey equipment over cheaper, lesser performing alternatives.

    Reply
  8. Hop

    I’ll have to ask my boss for a raise so I can stop dragging down your demos.

    As for hi-fi, I’m skeptical, but I lack the education (liberal arts degree), and the ears (half-deaf left, tinnitus in both) to really say anything with confidence.

    Reply
    • Thomas KreutzerThomas Kreutzer

      That’s going to be a great conversation with your boss:

      You: “I need more money because people on the internet say they’re making more than I am.”

      Boss: “And you believed them?”

      You: “Sure. Why would anyone lie about that?”

      Reply
  9. tyates

    Do you know the funniest thing about the $3500 USB cable? It’s only 3 ft long.

    Great writing has a clarity of thought, by definition, but also acknowledges that it is nothing more or less than an intelligent and informed opinion. There’s an entire universe of things that I just don’t really care about until a great writer writes about it and then makes me care.

    I’ve also found that the more subjectivity your field has, the better writer you have to be, and in fact, a great writer steers their topic to subjective rather than objective domains, as that’s where they can really shine, while a less talented one is better off sticking with the objective. I’ll leave it to the reader to determine how what I’m saying applies to both the web site, and to the articles in question.

    Reply
    • JustPassinThru

      And if I’d thought of making and selling a $3500 three-foot USB cord, I’d be making $100,000 a year now, too.

      If someone had proposed I do it, I’d have laughed as hard….

      ….as I laughed when I first heard of Bitcoin.

      Not that I think I missed something. Bitcoin to me just seems like the modern-day Tulip Mania. But I guess that’s the difference between my mind and P.T. Barnum’s. He knew the way to make money, and knew not to expect too much of his marks.

      Oh, well. Ya play the hand yer dealt; and that includes the foibles of your own mind…

      Reply
  10. bjarnetv

    I think most untrained and uninterested people can hear the difference between high end and mid fi stereo equipment, but the problem is that to actually get the proper performance from it, you have to sacrifice a lot of real estate to place the speakers and listening position properly, and then you have to sit in the perfect sweetspot for the stereo effect to create the illusion of a stage with proper instrument placement, and to most people that hassle isn’t worth it.
    if you mostly listen to music in the background or off-axis as most people do, a bluetooth mono mid-fi speaker is just fine.

    As for the cost of the Bricasti amplifier, i think most people here know how expensive it is to make stuff small scale, and especially if its a high end product where the components aren’t off the shelf alibaba crap.
    i’m currently building a Holton nxv500 amp, and just the cost of a pair of proper (localy made) 1kw high quality transformers is around 950usd.
    not sure how many amps Bricasti is selling each year, but i doubt they are getting rich from their endeavour, even with those prices.

    Reply
  11. Hogie roll

    In my youth you shan’t push your mid and high car audio speakers with digital topology class d amps and their derided square output signals. Revisiting the topic 15 years later the consensus is you can’t tell the difference, guys win sound quality comps with class d amps.

    I’d want to record the cone movement with laser and plot the differences. Then record the the playback and check it against the input track. Then I’d have some confidence in telling you what reproduces sound the best.

    My first job was in the business of selling suspension endlinks to auto manufacturers for a cost savings over ball links. Ride and drive guys couldn’t tell the difference. But they had their beliefs and hated being made to look bad, so they insisted on knowing what was on the car they were driving.

    Another classic “blind ride off” story is the one about the test of an OHC engine vs a pushrod engine in the C5 development days. The pushrods pleased.

    Reply
    • jz78817

      “In my youth you shan’t push your mid and high car audio speakers with digital topology class d amps and their derided square output signals.”

      that’s because the switching frequencies were too low for anything but subwoofers. back then the amps didn’t even have output filtering; they just relied on the speaker to suppress the switching noise.

      “I’d want to record the cone movement with laser and plot the differences. Then record the the playback and check it against the input track. Then I’d have some confidence in telling you what reproduces sound the best.”

      you wouldn’t see anything. modern class D amplifiers use switching frequencies of 400 kHz-1.something MHz, and have steep output filters to control radiated EMI. besides, at those frequencies the speaker’s voice coil inductance would kill any leftover switching noise long before you’d have any hope of detecting it in the cone’s motion.

      Reply
  12. Dirty Dingus McGee

    One thing I plan to do with some of the money I have “stole” from all of you, is spend about 1 month in Europe next year. I want to visit as many of the “legacy” F1 tracks as I can (been a bucket list item for many years). Why? Why not?
    In years past, while in Europe for business reasons, I was lucky enough to see F1 races at both Hockenhiem and Imola. I would like to see Monza, Nurburgring and Monaco especially, and as many others as I can get to.

    Seems to me to be a good way to piss away my ill gotten wealth.

    Reply
    • Will

      If you really want to piss away your wealth, I take check, cash or payment through paypal.

      Thanks!

      Reply
        • Will

          The knowledge that your wealth went to help another human being out. Sharing is caring! Or something Jesus may have said that would work in my favor.

          Reply
          • Dirty Dingus McGee

            As an uncaring greedy sort, I’m afraid at this time your request will be denied.

            Perhaps a GoFundMe would be in your best interest. 🙂

          • Disinterested-Observer

            Do you remember that insufferable couple that tried to get people to pay for their vacation? For some reason Jack wrote an article about it, otherwise I could have gone to my grave not knowing of their existence, so thanks for that.

  13. John C.

    I think the Marks stuff was interesting this week. If he can get past his understandable annoyance from being questioned, it might be a help to him. Sometimes we all live in a bubble where another common point of view is just never heard. So when he goes into a different venue he recoils in shock and anger. However his presentations would benefit from taking other views seriously. Addressing them seriously would not end the argument, but raise it to a higher level that benefits both sides and makes for great reading at Riverside Green.

    Reply
    • James

      John’s ego causes him to respond to readers, but his responses don’t always make sense to us. The articles he writes are good, but his attempts, in response to criticism or questioning, to impress in the comments (with pseudo-science, sure, and with appeals to small authority), trigger a reaction that has been predictable since the early days of Usenet.

      Reply
  14. safe as milk

    i used to enjoy drinking fancy wines with friends. extolling the tannins of opus one, etc. one day i realized that i have limited resources and i don’t really care that much about wine. i rarely spend more than $15 on a bottle anymore. in fact, my go to wine is lagranja $4 at trader joes. i still have friends out there drinking opus one. sometimes they give me a glass when i’m visiting them. good people. i’m glad they enjoy their wine.

    i feel pretty much the same about hifi equipment. i’m glad there are people out there like john marks. he took the time to thoughtfully answer my post with some interesting anecdotes about rudy van gelder. i learned something. there’s no room in my life for audiophile amplifiers but i sure it would be a pleasure to listen to his incredible system. is it really better because of the bespoke cables? i don’t know. i firmly believe in a lot of things that i would have dismissed out of hand when i was younger. strange things are true. just ask schrodinger’s cat.

    Reply
  15. ScottS

    Jack,

    I am concerned that too many Americans no longer aspire and instead choose to attack others with more achievement, ambition, or motivation than themselves.

    Your statement about the “relentless race to the bottom” is one I have used a number of times when well-meaning people have told me what my company needs to produce, which is the metaphorical equivalent of a $50,000 Ferrari. What they really want is the authentic article for a quarter of the price. Even if the Chinese could give it them, it would not be remotely the same thing, but to those who only see the price tag subtle but critical differences don’t matter. Good enough is an ever descending threshold.

    Reply
  16. James

    Audio debates break down when someone mentions digital cables. If you were unfamiliar with how digital systems transmit information, it might seem reasonable to propose cables as a solution to SPDIF jitter, but that’s just a ridiculous starting point:
    A: SPDIF is flawed–
    B: Fix the protocol: packets, frame buffers, let the DAC’s clock drive the DAC?
    A: No, fix it in hardware…
    B: OK, add a frame buffer to the DAC (video path latency is 100 ms, right? For two frames at 24 fps. That’s plenty of time to fix any audio jitter.)
    A: No, I want to fix it with better cables.
    B: That’s pretty cheap and simple, but if you can do it–
    A: My better cables cost 100x ordinary cables.

    To which the only reasonable response is: wtf? Or, at least, that’s the reader’s POV, since so many of us, like Jack, work in tech.

    Put another way: goal 1 of all network protocols is to send data, on-time and without data loss. But that implies rule 0: the system needs to detect delays and data loss. So the system knows if it is losing data, a listening test is irrelevant, and the solution that works in general is… buffering.

    Reply
  17. Ronnie Schreiber

    When you think about how much money upper-middle class folks, not truly wealthy people, will spend on a fashionable refrigerator, something they will replace in a few years, I don’t it’s unreasonable for an affluent person to spend four or five figures on an audiophile level sound system.

    I’m the original big bang for the buck guy. I built my own loudspeaker systems. I drive a Honda. The Class D amps are very impressive. However, if I was rich I’d be driving a McLaren and my home audio system would have Martin Logan speakers and conrad johnson electronics.

    Twenty years ago the worldwide market for ultra-luxury, six figure cars was about 3,000 units a year, whatever Rolls-Royce/Bentley and Ferrari sold. Then someone figured out how many truly rich folks there were in the world and that a six figure car was an impulse item to someone who owned more than one million dollar home, boat, Gulfstream etc. When your boat costs milllions, a $200,000 car is close to a trifle. BMW bought R-R and VW bought Bentley and Lamborghini and the race was on.

    Jack has discussed how the very transient nature of what is “the latest” turns exotic cars into Veblen goods, but it’s also due to the fact that they aren’t really that costly to the truly rich.

    Reply
    • Booty_Toucher

      “I don’t it’s unreasonable for an affluent person to spend four or five figures on an audiophile level sound system.”

      Most of the comments weren’t arguing otherwise. You can prescribe to this line of thought and still think that digital cables in the thousands of dollars range are stupid or pointless.

      Reply
      • James

        Your comment reminded me that several years ago I saw some very expensive, very plain chocolate at a Neiman Marcus. At the time I thought–it might be nice to have enough money to afford something like that. A few years later I thought–maybe now I do. I looked the company up on the Internet and found the expose: their value-add was in melting down large chocolate bars into small chocolate bars. That was a deflating experience! But once you realize what does not exist, then you are free to spend your money on what does. Chocolate is a commodity; the skill is in what you make from it.

        Reply
  18. james

    Read both articles under discussion and both were interesting. I am tail end yuppie and completely agree with Jack’s argument. It would have been great to to a mover and shaker but it did not happen for me. I ended up being squarely upper middle class.

    I believe that every generation has movers and shakers. In the yuppie case there where statistically more of us resulting in a greater impact.

    As to the exotic amp, cable and whatnot, science and belief are often in opposition. In my youth I went through the expensive audio gear phase and spent the equivalent in inflation adjusted bucks. At the time it worked for me. Like all things high end, there is a cost/price associated with real and perceived value/quality. I believe that the same argument can be applied to the products; AMG – Lexus – Toyota, Ferrari – Corvette, Rolex – Apple watch – Timex, Kemper – Hiwatt – Mustang among others.

    I used to get exercised about crystalline aligned copper and gold plated connectors but as my hearing is not what it used to be I don’t have a soapbox in that debate.

    IMO if the product ticks your science, logic, value, quality, source… boxes and have the disposable dollars buy it. If not, then don’t.

    I do appreciate the readers and writers here at RG. I find the quality of writing and discourse higher than most. As to the comments, if I don’t like them I assign them to the bit bucket and if the writer persists, I flip their bozo bit.

    Reply
  19. safe as milk

    this may be over my head but it is my understanding that with spdif the timing information isn’t granular enough for the buffer to be able to accurately reconstruct the waveforms in the dac. i believe that’s why synchronizing pro audio gear with a separate clock cable is standard practice.

    Reply
    • Eric H

      Pro audio is quite different.

      When there are multiple devices recording and playing back all the sample clocks must stay synchronized or there are terrible artifacts. A typical crystal oscillator has around 100ppm absolute accuracy. Good ones are in the single digits in parts per million. That’s still not good enough over the length of a song, let alone a movie. They all drift with temperature, high end oscillators have a temperature controlled oven to keep the crystal stable. Serious studios have a master clock generator and all devices are slaved to that.

      As for clock recovery from SPDIF it was a serious issue 20 years ago but it’s pretty much a solved problem with modern receiver chips keeping the jitter to under 50ps which is pretty much good enough for 24/96 data. USB DACS don’t have this problem.

      My beef is his obvious misunderstanding of termination impedance mismatching. Cables don’t have “internal reflections”, they have reflections when the impedance changes. If the transmitter and receiver are both 75 ohm (the spec) and the cable is also 75 ohm coax with good connectors it won’t have any reflections to speak of. This stuff has been extensively studied for a very long time and there is no mystery on how to move an RF signal without distortion.

      In a previous career I hung out a lot with pro audio guys and did lots of AV production. I also built my own DACs, preamps, and amps. My good speakers are Dunlavy, they are friggin’ fantastic.
      Cables do matter, but so long as you stay away from shit cables you’ll be fine.

      Reply
      • safe as milk

        @Eric H – thank you that clears up a lot for me. i will still hold out a little bit of skepticism about amateur gear not needing to be locked together. i still see and hear, a fair number of digital artifacts on consumer gear. the vast majority of it is indoubtedly attributable to poor implementation of design principals and even poorer quality control. however, i still don’t see how multiple digital devices consumer or otherwise can work perfectly together without being time locked. there is some kind of “fudge” going on to compensate for the inevitable overruns and underruns on long format files.

        i still remember being assured by engineers that cd sound was perfect.

        Reply
  20. Rick T.

    My condition of my physical being, laws of diminishing returns, and my intellect tell me:

    1. Purchase no wines over $30 a bottle and certainly not any wines that need extended aging.

    2. A good quality CD and stereo are “good enough”.

    3. I’ll never need nor be able to drive a car at 10/10th’s of its limits.

    4. If I want to shave a pound off the total weight of myself and my bicycle, I”ll save a couple grand and spend a little more time with my morning bowel movement.

    And that is what I have learned in my six decades plus on this third rock from the sun.

    Reply
  21. Texn

    As with cars, I enjoy reading about a variety of highly engineered and well designed components. I have been a long time subscriber to Stereophile, but have never bought anything from their reviews. I just enjoy reading about the stuff! My old 2 channel Yamaha and original Advent Loudspeakers still sound great to me! Just like my vehicles perform well for me. None of its exciting but they’re well made, built to last, and perform as expected. Oh, and it’s all paid for with what I earned by working hard.

    Reply
  22. Will

    Any thoughts on the the modern/classic motorcycles that are out now? I’m thinking of getting one as they seem much better than the designs of modern bikes. Curious to hear your thoughts.

    Reply
      • Will

        Like those. I was thinking about the Thruxton R or the new Kawasaki Z900rs. Something along those lines.

        Reply
        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          Some of the new Triumphs are made at the company’s new India plant, so I would be cautious. The Z900RS is a safe bet but I wish they hadn’t neutered it compared to the standard angular-look Z900.

          Reply
          • Tom Daley

            Small correction. Triumph has a big plant in Thailand. I believe it’s Harley that built one in Northern India

  23. Jeff Zekas

    Hey Jack, all good. You are a great writer and an astute social commentator, much like my generation’s strange-but-true avatar, Hunter S. Thompson. I enjoy reading your articles, because they ring true, even if I don’t always agree with every word. P.S. most of the loser-hippie-draft-dodger-Boomers moved here to Oregon (unfortunately) so I rarely express any views in public which go against the media narrative. Thanks for saying stuff that many folks THINK, but can’t say in public, for fear of being ostracized.

    Reply
  24. Shocktastic

    I thought the venom directed at Mr. Marks was over the top. Either a listener agrees or disagrees with the concept of high-priced or high-value analog & digital interconnects. Having sold high-end of mid-fi home stereo and high-end car stereo for two years, I learned that if the buyer (most often male) dragged his girlfriend or wife along I watched her face (not his) while doing equipment comparisons. Women have slightly more sensitivity to high frequency noise via genetics and also a lesser proclivity to engage in things that damage hearing like guns, motor sports, or fighting their way to the front of mosh pit. Look at most audio review literature & it is written by men. Once I learned to watch the GF or wife my return rate dropped a ton. I learned very quickly to ask a ton of questions about room size, shape, furnishings & carpeting. I wish the economics of home audio allowed for home visits & that more buyers were receptive to the principles of acoustics.

    Reply
    • JC

      “Either a listener agrees or disagrees with the concept of high-priced or high-value analog & digital interconnects…”

      No, the factual claims that a particular piece of equipment makes a difference that can be detected by the human ear are either true or they are false. The truth or falsity of the claims that the piece of equipment makes a discernible difference, are not subject to the beliefs of the listener.

      If you want to claim that your expensive pixie-dust equipment will impress your friends, or that it will make your apartment look more classy, or similar subjective claims that are inherently unprovable, fine. But if you make claims that passing a particular signal through cable in a “burn-in” process will change something about the character of the sound that is emitted from speakers on the attached system, that is a claim of fact, for which the testing methodology has been established for at least a hundred years.

      Reply
  25. Ben Johnson

    >>underachieving.

    Please take comfort in that not everything of value has monitory gain as a product. You do a lot of worthwhile things.

    Reply
  26. Aoletsgo

    Yes I am a “reader” which is indeed rare these days. However, what I am proud of is my son who yells at his friends to put down their phones and read a damn book. He even started a book club with some other male millennials, and they actually read the books and then get together at the bar and talk about them. By the way he is a successful engineer, who moved out West, drives a pickup and is a talented snow boarder, mountain biker and rock climber.

    Reply
  27. dave

    The problem with Mr. Marks has nothing to do with his preference for amplifiers or cabling, it’s the one insidious issue that infests all ‘audiophile’ circles – this pseudo gatekeeping where the self-professed golden ears takes it upon themselves to decide who and what denotes good sound. And expect a 10-paragraph missive if you dare to disagree.

    Today’s trends are to smaller and lighter, and millenials are moving to smaller shared living arrangements, which doesn’t lend itself to big separate component systems. Or you can ask your neighborhood hi-fi equipment dealer. You can find him in the unemployment line. Frankly, I question whether the Mr Marks’ of the world actually enjoy audio systems or if they are only capable of listening clinically to point out any imperfections. I’m still at the point where I can enjoy my speakers and I’d prefer to leave it that way.

    Reply
  28. JC

    Unless data from properly-conducted double blind tests are attached, I call BS. The methodology for determining whether ultrafancy cables make a difference or not is well established. That methodology is almost never used when people make claims about the value of ultra-high-end consumer goods. I don’t have to wonder why.

    In God we trust; all others bring data.

    Reply
    • JC

      Oh, and another point – appealing to authority as “so and so [insert famous musician’s name here] likes his [insert name of ultra expensive pixie dust equipment here] so it must in fact be better” means absolutely nothing. Unless [famous musician] also happens to have a scientific background and has conducted a double blind test (or at least single blind) of the pixie dust equipment.

      With 40 years as a (not very successful) professional musician, and 35 years engineering experience (in a real engineering field), I can say that the skill sets and comfort level with analysis of claims, of engineers, are almost always diametrically opposed to those of musicians.

      For that matter, I would suggest that the vast majority of professional musicians outside the chamber music world have some degree of (especially high frequency) hearing loss, due to the overuse of amplification – so this would make them even less appropriate as judges of tiny subtle differences in sound reproduction.

      Reply
  29. Compaq Deskpro

    I use a Sony receiver and 5.1 speaker kit from 2011 that I got for $115 from a local pawn shop. It sounds correct, and it easily gets loud enough to annoy the neighbors. $179 Sony Bluetooth speaker for more portable audio. Car is stock speakers and a $120 Sony head unit, with a 128 GB iPod Touch. Mobile is $150 Sony headphones, in garish red. They stay on my head and get covered in sweat while running. Bose and Beats headphones that cost 2+ times that don’t sound very different. All signals are digital (HDMI, Bluetooth) so interference is impossible. Never had a separate amp for anything. All of these solutions are satisfactory to me and sound mostly correct, and keep me at the top of the diminishing returns curve. Also, I feel that I would be happier if I invested my time in discovering more music than trying to incrementally improve the sound.

    Reply
  30. Norman Yarvin

    With golden-eared audiophiles, the place where the rubber meets the road is double-blind A/B testing. That’s where you test whether they can tell the difference between two different systems (or cables or whatever) when they don’t know which one is being played (and, to eliminate subliminal cues, neither does the person doing the testing, until the end when the code is broken).

    This can produce rather surprising results, e.g.:

    http://nwavguy.blogspot.com/2011/02/behringer-uca202-review.html

    Reply
    • safe as milk

      @norman yarvin – it’s interesting that your link uses a behringer 202 usb dac. i have one and although the sound is good, there are issues. i find that when playing league long files, say over 2. hrs., the sound audibly distorts and degrades to the point of being unlistenable. the issue is digital jitter and i think it’s related to the “clock” issues as described by eric h in a previous posting.

      Reply

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