Saturday, 29 August 2020

SUMMER MUSINGS: Modern Tech Life; obligatory home computer mechanic - NVMe replacement, WiFi Router. And thoughts about "high end", high priced DACs and value (Recent Darko & Sircom).

I was actually planning to just take a little break this week but given that it's almost September, I'll be away for Labour Day and school's starting for the kids with likely some virtual elements, I thought I'd just pen a not-too-long post not so much about audio but rather the highly computer-dependent world we're living in (with a bit about audiophile stuff to end).

First, I think it's quite obvious to many of us these days just how important technology has become for the modern person living in the developed world. With my kids now both in high school, they each need a laptop. My son (the older one) has for years required a fast enough machine to get some of his group projects done; many involving audio/video production - I guess that's how it's done these days!

In the last few months, the need for the IT infrastructure has accelerated with the COVID-19 pandemic now making it more important than ever that the kids do tele-education, while myself and my wife are logging on to work from home and essentially every meeting now done through Zoom or Skype or Microsoft Teams.

I don't know about you, but I'm exhaustively "Zoomed out" at this point with no end in sight.

With all this going on, and being the "computer mechanic" here at home, I've been dealing with tech issues here and there. The other day, after a couple years of lugging the laptop to work every day, plus as my travel companion to Europe and Asia, my Huawei Matebook X Pro's (discussed when I bought it back in June 2018) M.2 PCIe NVMe drive decided to corrupt the boot record. Thankfully no data was lost, and this served as a warning to replace the stock LiteOn CA3 M.2 drive with a quality Samsung 970 Evo (500GB still all I need for work, ~US$90).

While researching which M.2 NVMe drive to get, I was really quite struck by just how similar they all are these days. I mean, speedwise, there's little practical difference for office duties when it comes to which brand to choose since whether Samsung, or WD, or Intel, or Crucial, or Kingston, they're all just fast. The main points are making sure that you choose a compatible model (physical size, and make sure to differentiate between NVMe vs. AHCI variants of M.2), the capacity you want, a reputable brand that's reliable, and of course a good price.

Samsung has been a good bet in the world of SSD storage and the 970 EVO line has been around for awhile now with good speed and reliability. While the standard EVO is fine for me and likely will outlast the life of this laptop, there's the 970 EVO Plus that's a little faster, and the 970 PRO if you want better warranty and lifespan. Shop around for a good price.

Here's a peek inside the Huawei laptop which I think is still the best "ultrabook" type laptop I have ever used (including Apple models):

With thin machines these days, it's a bit of a pain getting all the little screws off. You can see the screws laid out above oriented in a pattern relative to the holes of the heatsink I took off. These are tiny and very easy to lose! Notice the Samsung 970 EVO in the NVMe slot to the left. You can see the CPU to the right of the motherboard close to the round fan above the RAM chips. And this laptop has a discreet nVidia GPU on the left with a couple memory chips. I've taken off the heat conduction paste and will be applying some fresh paste when I put the heat sink back on for the CPU and GPU.

And here's with the heatsink back on using those little screws; notice one of the copper "pipes" cooling the NVMe as well:

The stock LiteOn NVMe stick is out and lying to the left. Not the easiest drive replacement by far, but not too difficult and reflective of what needs to be done with the thin form factor!

Although I don't trust the LineOn NVMe drive in my primary work laptop given what happened, I was able to get chkdsk to repair the Windows 10 boot partition and salvage all my data. This is fortunate in that often with SSDs, catastrophic hardware failures result in completely inaccessible drives rather than a more "gentle" loss of data as we might see with aging hard drives. Always remember backups of course. For data recovery, I got a M.2-to-USB3 enclosure for the drive.

"Wanfocyu" is a terrible sounding brand but it works ;-). The aluminum casing is strong and heatsink solution seems quite good. The memory controller on the NVMe definitely gets quite warm so I wonder if the recent failure might just be because of inadequate cooling in the laptop on a hot summer day. While I might not trust the drive for important backups, the NVMe in a USB3.1 (10Gbps) enclosure makes for a fast USB drive! I'm clocking >300MB/second write speed from my computer's internal SSD even with a bunch of smaller files (potentially even faster since I'm only using a USB3.0 5Gbps hub).

That's my work laptop, as for change to my home technology, I recently replaced the WiFi router. Basically, now that everybody has a laptop here at home, a cell phone, multiple devices doing Netflix/YouTube/Amazon Prime/teleconference streaming, I was starting to get complaints that connection strength was spotty with instabilities upstairs in the far corner of the house 2 floors up from where the router lives during "heavy" load in the evenings.

There are a ton of WiFi routers out there these days. Make sure to check out this amazingly well-done FAQ - "Understanding Wi-Fi 4/5/6/6E". Bravo on the research and putting all that information together! It includes key information like keeping your 2.4GHz network at channels 1/6/11, 20MHz bandwidth and such... Plus cuts through a lot of the jargon and ad-speak.

As in audio, there's a bunch of hype out there in terms of wireless network claims - this is what happens with technological maturity in general I think as companies need to create ways to differentiate product cycles. Just because a router has a big number like "AC5300" as opposed to "AC2400" doesn't necessarily mean the actual throughput at home is going to be proportionally different. True performance gains are being made in multiple ways but actual throughput has been at best slowly incremental for years. Speeds will vary widely depending on distance plus both your router and clients (laptop, phone, tablet, etc.). Anyhow, check out the FAQ and keep in mind your needs - for example if you're living in an apartment, having access to all 5GHz DFS channels become more important, consider whether you might benefit from MIMO, dual vs. tri-band if there are lots of devices at home, do any devices support WiFi 6 yet, etc.

To improve my WiFi at home, I found this refurbished dual-band "AC3150" D-Link Ultra DIR-885L A2 hardware revision on sale for just over US$110 (it's the little brother to the rather extreme tri-band Ultra DIR-895L AC5300 model). Not by any means a new/current model but the price was right and seemed to fit my needs.

Cosmetics are rather pretty in red and would look nice on a table if you wanted to show off your tech - not sure who would. ;-) I've found "refurbished"/"renewed" products to be fine over the years and have saved money. For the most part, they look brand new and probably were just barely used open-box returns for whatever reason.

Realistically, in the furthest reaches of the house, 5GHz is going to be a stretch unless I use a range extender upstairs. I've never had any 5GHz router be stable at that distance. I've found the 2.4GHz strength quite good and speed very reasonable throughout the house at "Medium" transmission power with this device however. Honestly speaking, since the kids' bedrooms are at those outer reaches, I don't actually need wireless speed to be highest up there! :-)

I don't think it actually makes a difference, but this router does have one of the highest 2.4GHz theoretical speed ratings at 1000Mbps. The unit's "Smart Connect" function creates a single SSID and automatically selects whether a device uses the 2.4GHz or 5GHz band and is working well with no complaints from the family. While not based on one of the newest "AX" router technologies, modern features like beamforming, 4x4 MIMO are found here. Coupled with the fast dual-core 1.4GHz CPU inside, routing and WAN transfer speeds are very good, easily handling my 300Mbps download speed through the ISP. As expected, no issues connecting this with my Netgear GS110MX switch which I use for 10GbE speed between the main Workstation-Server machines. The router gets warm to the touch but not hot. Uptime >15 days of heavy usage so far without seeing any reboots.

Another feature I look for in my routers is the ability to use the open DD-WRT firmware with advanced features if needed. For now the latest stock firmware is working out just fine. Over the years I've used static IP for some of the main devices like the Server computer within the 192.168.1.XXX range. While the D-Link defaults to for the router, it's easy to change that to and I didn't have to adjust configuration for any of the other devices.

Here's the bottom of the unit for those wondering about mounting to a wall which I do in my ethernet/cable panel; the mounting holes are about 7.5" apart. Over the years, I have not seen any kind of standard for this. This also gives you an idea of the size of the machine which isn't as imposing as the Netgear Nighthawk R7000 it just replaced.

(I recently also used the TP-Link AX3000/AX50 for a bit which worked well but without DD-WRT firmware support due to the MIPS-based Intel GRX350 SoC and the uncertainties of WiFi 6 / 802.11ax which is still a draft standard, I decided to return the unit.)

If you are wondering, changing the WiFi router has never changed the sound quality of my wireless music streamer devices. I have not found WiFi to worsen noise levels even with inexpensive devices. Just make sure the connection is fast enough if you're streaming 24-bits or high samplerate material with stable, high signal strength. You know... Bits Are Bits.


While this post has been mainly about computer and network upgrades heading into September, for the digital audiophile, I think we can see correlations with the computer audio hobby. After all, unless one were to hang on to physical media like CDs and SACDs, eventually one would need to deal with computer hardware, network setup, and replacement of things like hard drives.

IMO, choosing a high quality DAC these days is becoming more like picking a good computer component. DACs these days are being sold in a competitive environment where the core "utilitarian" function (ie. conversion of digital data to analogue signal with good quality) is actually routinely performed well by a multitude of products vying for consumer dollars. As an example, an expensive dCS DAC brings with it luxurious appearance and brand recognition among enthusiasts, but in terms of sound quality it isn't going to sound that much different from a much less expensive chi-fi Topping or SMSL utilizing good ESS or AKM conversion chips. Apart from appearance and brand name, features like which digital inputs you want (USB, S/PDIF, AES/EBU, I²S maybe), headphone jack(s), balanced analog outputs, network streaming, and perks like Bluetooth connectivity are what differentiates products these days.

I know, audiophile traditionalists might take issue with the above claim since many believe sonic differences are significant and want to maintain the perspective that valuable, higher quality sound correlates to price. As Warren Buffet once recalled "Price is what you pay; value is what you get". Price and value are separate things yet connected by varying degrees depending on the context. A manufacturer can ask for whatever price they feel the market will bear for the profits they need (the "high end" believes their products demand a high price), but as a consumer, it's value I most desire.

This brings up some important points when we look at reviews of expensive products. Have a listen to John Darko from 21:10 onward in this review:

I think it must be frustrating being a subjective reviewer these days for stuff like expensive DACs and trying to make a case for an item he personally probably can't afford at retail price. It appears that many reviewers of "high end" products can't afford the stuff either. I certainly see his point that if one had "50 grand speakers, 20 grand amplifiers", sure, the Tambaqui could be a nice addition to the system at "10 grand" with its distinctive looks and I'm sure high fidelity output. However, he obviously is correlating price with whether something is "high end enough". Is that how "high end" is defined - using the "grand" as a unit of measurement? Is it truly justified to throw in a "10 grand" DAC based on the idea of cost proportionality for the system? As you can imagine, based on my writings over the years, this is not what I personally feel the audiophile pursuit is about at all!

Three main points I want to make here:

1. Remember, some components don't need to cost much to sound great! This was the point of this post last year. From the perspective of measured quantitative and subjective qualitative differences in fidelity, going from $1,000 to $10,000 speakers likely with get you better full-range frequency response, better power handling, improved cabinet and drivers. The potential audible improvements would be beyond the difference between a $1,000 to $10,000 DAC "upgrade"! As I alluded to last week, this is correlated to the complexity of speakers compared to the relative ease in measuring electronic components like a DAC these days. DAC technology is simply mature enough to get the job done with excellent fidelity at an affordable price. As such, I think these days a good <US$500 DAC (maybe something like a SMSL M500 with balanced outputs, remote, based on the ES9038Pro DAC) would be just great with "50 grand speakers, 20 grand amplifiers".

2. If you agree with me that item 1 above is true, then the "utilitarian" value proposition for an expensive DAC is very poor. This is the same argument as audiophile cables where IMO the main reason people want to buy fancy looking fat wires is due to "non-utilitarian" luxury factors, not what they actually do for the sound at all (which is essentially nothing beyond otherwise decent generic cables). By definition, if we desire DACs that are high fidelity and "transparent" to the source data, then the audible differences between objectively well-measuring devices would be minimal since they will be reproducing the digital signal almost identically if not essentially "perfectly" these days. This simple fact is true regardless of whether the person drives a Kia or wealthy enough to cruise in a chauffeur-driven Bentley!

3. Rich people do care about value. The only difference is that a person who pulls in $500,000/year will of course be more free to purchase an expensive sound system compared to one who takes in $50,000/year and running a tight budget. The real-life wealthy folks I know don't live like those portrayed in the trashy media throwing money around as if nothing. As technological products, it doesn't take a genius to recognize that for US$10,000, you can buy a very nice large-screen TV with enough left over for a great laptop and maybe even an excellent smartphone. In comparison, what special function will a $10,000 DAC add to one's quality of life or allow one to experience something not achievable otherwise? And for how long would one feel that this is money well spent?

Sure, there will be a market for luxury products like "high end" audio. Demand as always will ebb and flow with all kinds of societal and economic factors. Technological progress will also affect certain products such as DACs disproportionately by improving quality at lower cost. These are simply realities - companies need to adapt as they see fit with their products in a competitive world. The audiophile media needs to make sure they stay "true" to what's going on beyond acting as the advertising arm of the Industry if they are to serve hi-fi hobbyists beyond fishing for luxury-seekers.

As we head into September, stay safe dear audiophiles and I hope you're all enjoying the music!


PS: Wow! What a questionable "review" by Alan Sircom of the Métronome Audio Le DAC on Hi-Fi+. What is this line on page 2 supposed to mean?

"And while Le DAC is at least an order of magnitude away from the pinnacle of Kalista performance, it’s heading in the same musical direction."

I don't think anyone would argue that the NVMe drive in the USB3 enclosure discussed above transferring data at >300MB/s is "at least an order of magnitude" faster than a USB2 external hard drive transferring at 30MB/s. However, doesn't saying that the £37,000 Kalista DAC subjectively (I see no objective assessment here) being "an order of magnitude" better than the £5,798 Le DAC essentially suggest that the Le DAC must sound like a piece of lo-fi trash if this "order of magnitude" difference is literally audible?! How can Métronome Audio be happy with this kind of insinuation?

Let's cut to the chase... I get it. This comment was purposely put in there to justify the idea that since the Kalista is over 6x the price of the Le DAC, saying there's an "order of magnitude" difference implies that the Kalista is worth the asking price. What a deal!!! 10x the performance for just 6x the price! So says one of the audiophile review "high priests"?

Imagine that guys and gals, an asking price of "37 grand UK pound sterling" for a DAC that is based on off-the-shelf dual AKM AK4395/AK4490/AK4493 chips (depending on which generation of Kalista/Dreamplay)! As an option, you could add the "35 grand pounds" disk transport based on the Philips CDM12 Pro mechanism (discontinued since 2013 but you can still get new old stock for <US$1000). I hope some "in the know" multi-millionaire/billionaire audiophile can explain to me how these devices represent value or is even considered "cool" (as opposed to a foolish waste of money for a product with no reasonable expectation for any returns on investment).


  1. Well, Darko certainly isnt in the bits are bits camp. The review was of the Mola Mola, and comparing it to the dCS Bartok (even more expensive, but with more features). He heard some small differences and preferred the Mola Mola.

    He generally says he doesn't like to review stuff that he has no chance of buying - that he totally can't afford. So I think he's a bit uncomfortable with the whole thing. Obviously, components like that are for people with lots of disposable income who are into hi-fi on some level. I can't really fault anyone who can afford it to say they are willing to spend those amounts for that last bit of performance, looks, build quality, support, etc.
    I think it's clear to everyone that your value/diminishing returns curve is in play big time here. These types of components aren't for the market segment looking for extreme SQ value per dollar....

    As far as the Metronome review, I read it differently: He's saying the $37K model is audibly better than the $6k one. That's how I read an "order of magnitude". I don't think he's trying to say it's 6X or 10X better. Everyone understands that there's a diminishing returns curve and here you are paying massive amounts of money for small improvements relative to the money involved. But that happens also at the level of your $400 SMSL DAC: is the $2200 Benchmark DAC3 4X-6X better sounding?

    We all know it isn't. So do you also demand an "explanation" of why someone would buy the Benchmark, as it isn't "value for the money"? To me that's no different than your comments on the Metronome DACs.

    1. Greetings Unknown,
      Indeed, fair comments and I think given that we're in agreement that diminishing returns get quite steep quite quickly, it's generally going to be down to that element of disposable income when it comes to making a decision on such products.

      I would like to note however it's quite possible that fidelity might actually be worse with some of these very expensive DACs where the designers "overbuild" the product for the sake of being unique or impressive. The problem is that typically the consumer does not have an opportunity to evaluate the state of the product's engineering because measurements are rarely seen.

      For the Dreamplay/Kalista, we do have measurements from Stereophile:

      Looks like there may be some low level 60Hz power-related anomalies despite the cost and special power supply! This is an example of what I mean and it's an issue one doesn't even see in much less expensive devices using switching power supplies that I have measured here. Again, shocking how much money they're asking for this thing!

      As for "order of magnitude"; typically we think of this as "10x" when we use that expression in the world of science and math (which I think should apply to tech products). I suspect many of us reading that comment would make this association. Regardless, to speak with such a phrase is suggesting a "big difference" on the order of "many times". Exactly what Mr. Sircom means is unclear in that review and it's simply hard to believe there is many times qualitative gain.

      No. Definitely a Benchmark DAC3 is not 4-6X better than the SMSL M500 I suspect. From a sound fidelity perspective, I might actually favour the SMSL. However for non-sound-quality reasons I might prefer the Benchmark for build quality, appearance, support, etc. Remember Sircom is using that "order of magnitude" comment seemingly to refer to sound quality - "performance" in the "same musical direction".

    2. A good few years ago, before it disappeared up its own arse, Mr. Sircom used to post on the Hifi Wigwam forum. More than a few times he admitted that he would, sometimes, basically make things up in his reviews, because the readers of that particular magazine WANT there to be differences and they WANT them to be related to price. If he suggested things from a more objective (truthful) viewpoint, they used to write to the publisher to complain about him! I think Darko is basically the same, he knows if he doesn’t play the game he doesn’t have a job, or at least he doesn’t have THAT job. It would seem that a lot of, otherwise intelligent, audiophiles want to believe in fairies. Good blog, btw.

    3. Thanks Downbeat, very informative...

      Other than the articles on Hi-Fi+, I haven't seen Sircom much on the forums. Certainly it does not take much to imagine that this kind of thing happens among the magazines and online sites. The dollars pay the bills and keep the lights on so to assume it doesn't exist or is not relatively widespread would be naïve even though of course it will be denied.

      At one point in history I can imagine that as the technology genuinely improved, many positive articles about new products actually did reflect the fact that the products were getting better. These days, with high-fidelity sound pretty much achievable at modest costs, I think we need to be mindful of exaggerations, subjective suspicions, and maybe even lies told expressed for the sake of product promotion.

  2. I think at the very high end ($10k DAC), the people buying them have plenty of money, and literally no understanding of electronics. They don't know what the measurements mean, they can't read the graphs, they don't know what audible/inaudible. They simply default to the "it's the most expensive X in product category Z so it must be the best". And there's no shortage of charlatans like Darko ready and willing to spread misinformation and make people feel good about their purchases.

    That Mola Mola DAC does measure extremely well, but there is no human on Earth who could pick it out in a blind test against something like the Topping D90 in a blind test.

    1. Agree VoltFan,
      There will certainly be some out there who just looks at whatever is supposedly "latest and greatest" or most expensive and buys with no consideration for the product or how this will improve the performance of their audio system.

      Woe be our hobby if this is (or ever becomes!) the typical type of participant in this pursuit! I dunno, maybe in some circles this is exactly what it has become. I hope not and have some level of faith that there will always be a reasonable amount of critical thinking involved.

    2. I disagree with the broad brush assertion that folks spending $10k on a DAC have, "literally no understanding of electronics". I personally don't have the time or ability to listen to a lot of different DACs but listening to music at home is very important to me. I use my understanding of electronics to cut through as much of the BS as I can given the time I'm able and willing to devote to the search.

      I do have enough understanding of electronics to know that there are a lot of ways an OEM can implement DAC designs, and even reference designs, poorly. That ESS THD hump is a pervasive example albeit more benign than power, grounding, and impedance problems could be.

      Given my financial means I'm looking for information sources that can help me identify the three or four choices that are very likely to equal or better my status quo listening experience. For me the combination of objective and subjective sources helps me build the list of DACs I want to experience and improves my confidence in buying.

      I'm glad that the more objective information sources like this one are doing a great job qualifying gear in the lower cost segment.

    3. There is no need for subjective reviews of a DAC. You ever notice how none of the subjective reviewers back up their claims with a blind test? Ever? Gee, I wonder why that is. You don't need to "experience" a DAC. Measurements tell you *everything* you need to know. That would be like claiming you need to drive a car to "experience" its fuel economy.

    4. That hasn't been my experience. I use room correction in Roon with my system and recently got a DAC HAT for my raspi to try out; HiFi Berry DAC 2 HD. I was curious how it would sound compared to my Chord Qutest. I presumed that there would be minor differences at but they sounded different to me.

      I was using the same correction filters for both DACs and decided to run a fresh set of measurements and filters using REW. I ran a set with each DAC using Roon to play a pink noise track with volume leveled between DACs using the the SPL tool in REW. By using correction filters specific to each DAC I was able to bring the performance of both much closer together. Still not the same though.

      When I swap the correction filters between the DACs they sound noticeably different to me. Seems like something is different between the two DACs. There are different cables between DAC and preamp but that difference should be zero too. I get that there are a lot of steps here but if each DAC was the same then wouldn't the correction filters for one DAC would work just fine with another? That wasn't my experience with my system.

    5. Can you describe the level-corrected blind testing methodology you used?

    6. Remembers guys, while there are always necessary procedural limitations to tests like these, the blind test results from last year looking at "Do digital audio players sound different playing 16/44.1 music?":

      I do believe captured the essence of how similar devices sound and subtle the sonic difference once volume controlled and we're blinded with the data from 101 respondents.

      I would love to see blind test results demonstrating that a previous generation AKM AK4396 vs. ES9018-based DACs, both capable of greater than 16-bit resolution can be differentiated. Much less put blinded listeners up to tell the difference between current-generation AK449X vs. ES9038Pro DACs!

  3. As I was building my house two years ago, I made sure that every room has at least two ethernet ports available, all connected to a central gigabit switch, and ready to upgrade to 10GbE when the switch prices become reasonable and client devices support it (currently only my main pc workstation is 2.5 GbE capable, and the internet connection is 500Mbit/s so I think I'm good for a while)

    1. Nice Turrican,
      Smart move with the dual ethernet ports! Yeah, they're taking their sweet time with getting 10GbE prices down for the multiport switches. Would love to replace my 2-port 10GbE unit with something with at least 4 ports to reach the other rooms. Even if due to cable length, all I can achieve in some of the further rooms is 2.5/5Gbps, that's still a significant improvement for high-speed access to the Server/NAS.

      Yeah... Looks like you're good for awhile!

  4. And if the mastering engineer is not using the same DAC as you, then what? My little Project S2 dac as 5 filter choices and I do not spend time with each disc I spin trying to decide which filter sounds best with the disc spinning. Who has the time or patience for that? What about a $10K DAC with no filter choices?

    I was listening to a Zoom stream from a LP manufacture who invited a lacquer cutting engineer on and he was the first one I've head mention all the problems with LP cutting, proper speed, tracks with more bass on the outside of this disc as you need more space, and then once it leave him who knows what will happen. We music lovers are all that the mercy of many hands in the soup and if the industry really cared about consumers they would be selling silver music discs as DVDs at 2496.

    Everything about the industry from my music buying entry in the late 1960s until now was about improving sound quality, but now it is about convenience since most listen to streams these days.

    I have been on a Brian Culbertson kick as of late and I will admit that his CDs sound as good as any I own and now that he is independent I am sure that will continue. If you don't know him find him on YouTube and watch his every Friday night show The Hang. Hopefully you can run the audio from your HDTV to your big rig.

    1. Thanks Jim for the artist/music recommendation! I'll check out Brian Culbertson's music. Not heard that name before...

      No. Definitely do not waste time trying those 5 filters for each album ;-). It'll lead to nothing good and it's better to enjoy the music... Trust me, I've been there and have the posts to prove it from a few years back my friend!

      Interesting comment about LPs. Yeah, some audiophiles seem to idealize vinyl to the point of willingly ignoring the obvious problems when it comes to LP production and manufacture. The amount of variability and very real, audible effects are an "order of magnitude" different from the relative high control attainable with digital productions.

      No matter what, we will need the PRODUCTION side of music to get us the best quality stuff to enjoy.

  5. Archimago wrote: "IMO the main reason people want to buy fancy looking fat wires is due to "non-utilitarian" luxury factors, not what they actually do for the sound at all (which is essentially nothing beyond otherwise decent generic cables)."

    Arch I'd have to disagree. I think that there, you are evaluating other people's motives based on your own understanding of the technology (and therefore, concluding since you understand the only advantage are aesthetics, that others are reasoning that way too).

    It seems clear to me from countless discussions with other more subjectivist audiophiles that many if not most buy those cables believing it will, or does, improve the sound of their system. Certainly many are influenced to believe this by price and looks, but the actual motivation and belief is that their system sounds better with those cables.

    1. I as well have no issue with what other folks buy, or use in their systems. If they feel it makes an improvement I am happy that their enjoyment has gone up.

    2. I have an issue with people getting scammed and the scammers

    3. Yeah, I understand your perspective Vaal. Remember, at one time I was fascinated by those fancy cables... Thankfully that was decades ago now when I was a young and impressionable audiophile ;-).

      Belief is a funny thing isn't it? And to some extent, I even think that "satisfaction of the belief that it sounds better" is itself part of the "non-utilitarian" benefits from these luxury items. Psychics believe they have special abilities. The religious may have experiences that they believe originated in the spiritual realm. Herbalists and alternative medical practitioners have their beliefs that are honestly expressed as 'truth' within their worldview.

      I don't blame people for saying in good faith that "it sounds better" to them and that they "feel good" "listening to" a $1000 ethernet cable. Or even enjoy sharing their experiences and telling fellow audiophiles about what they have found! That too satisfies some "non-utilitarian" social benefits. But no matter how "honest" or well-meaning these intentions, that doesn't mean it's true that the cable makes any difference to the sound waves in the room.

      The human mind is a funny thing, capable of so much that we ourselves do not, and perhaps cannot understand at this juncture in history and science. But I do hope that when it comes to $$$$ gear, audiophiles consider the importance of critical thinking, subject themselves to controlled conditions when evaluating gear. It is in these disciplines that we learn about ourselves, truth about the engineered products, and ultimately combine the concepts to develop what we hold as value which will not be exactly the same for rich and poor. It's one thing to say "I believe the $1000 ethernet cable looks cool, sounds great and my friends can see how awesome my system is now down to the last detail!" And another altogether to hear reviewers go on about "clearly the spatial separation improved between instruments, the bass got deeper, soundstage suddenly projected much further with this new $1000 ethernet cable" as if these were ever the "utilitarian" abilities of the product. Or ever even could be true in any objective sense.

      What I think we can say with good certainty is that snake-oil products do exist, many very expensive cables have no special properties that would change music playback, and that controlled blind studies have demonstrated time and again the lack of discrimination for many beliefs certain audiophiles hold dear as if "true".

      I definitely agree with VoltFan. There are unscrupulous individuals in this world who want your money. Not cool. Not right.

  6. Voltfan: I agree and when I read that a reviewer loves $5K cd player's sound and then when tested realize it had major problems and then the maker announced that the unit was defective when he read the test measurements. He should have caught them himself and I wondered how many owners were listening to defective units they bought and knew nothing about, but trusted the maker of the Cd player. Sad story.

  7. I can see John Darko is quite unpopular person here but to call him “charlatan” is bit strong. He is one of the best things that happened to hi-fi journalism in recent years - very honest in my opinion and opposite of any kind of elitism that live in hi-fi (one of which is often presented here). He often review inexpensive products and platforms such as Rpi and usually swim in affordable waters. I'm technically educated whole my life and I value “technical” sites like this one, but cant really get my head around measurements fanaticism - it looks lot like a religion to me...

    1. You have to have measurements to bring truth or lies to light. But, still at the end of the day you either like the sound of a component or not. Just talking about audio and getting people to spend money due to "words" can be dangerous.

    2. Hi qwak,
      Just want to be clear that I have not called Darko a "charlatan" although everyone is free to express their opinion of course. To me he's just a guy who reviews and helps sell the stuff he talks about (his liking of the Audioquest Cobalt and "MQA sounds better!" for example). What bugs me is when he gets pretty nonsensical, digging in about stuff like USB cables making a difference and appealing to folk "experts" like this:

      I don't blame a man for doing what he needs to as a form of salesmanship as a career, but I can criticize that of course. The problem with being a salesman with no apparent need for objective validation for claims he endorses is that it biases him from the ability to openly speak truth to things like cables, network switches, and of course more than likely unnecessarily expensive gear...

      As for measurement fanaticism, that is a good point qwak and one I try to steer from as well.

      My interest is actually NOT the idea of measurements only and grading equipment based solely on that. Rather, it is to be clear about what my goals are (ie. what does "high-fidelity" look/sound like), and develop a concept of what is "good enough" for quality reproduction.

      This is why I have articles like this:

      and why I run blind tests like the recent "Is THD audible" one:

      While we can look at THD+N numbers for example, I have always dissuaded people from getting too excited about 0.0001% this or that... I believe that it's important to know the context of human hearing and room limitations for example, and not become "religious" or "extreme". God knows, there's enough extremism in this world already! ;-)

      In audiophilia, where I think most discussions are engaged at a purely subjective level, sometimes anyone who injects a bit of objectivity to make a point which is often obvious (like cable measurements!) is easily seen as somehow being forceful or trying to ruin the "fun" of what people claim. I believe facts are important and I think we do have to admit that there's a lot of nonsense out there and it would be nice to not be "lumped" into just one form of audiophilia but be conversant in both technical and esthetic domains.

    3. I'll happily call any subjective reviewer a charlatan. He's simply making things up that could never be backed up in a blind test. In other words, he's lying.

  8. There are an awful lot of folks who love tube audio, me included, and if we bought on measurements alone, we would not buy it, but tubes can sound awfully good and great fun. It is not always trying to hear Gnat farts at 50 feet. lol

    1. "tubes can sound awfully good" - no, they can't.

      You can say you enjoy it, or you prefer it, but you can't say its good, we know that's false.

    2. There are thousands of Audio Research, MacIntosh, and Cary fans who would certainly disagree. Even the Prima Luna gear gets great reviews. Sony makes a $10K tube mic that Allison Krauss sings into, so I doubt that she does that just because she can afford to do so.

  9. Guys, in the end it's not about what sounds good or not. Since we have few other means of expressing our taste and preferences, we have to accept uses of that phrase, even though we personally disagree. If Jim believes tubes can sound awfully good, accept it as HIS preference, not an attempt to win you or other people over to his preferences.

    I am a dedicated solid state guy myself, but I can still enjoy the soft and pleasant sound of great tubes in a well made amplifier. I just don't want one myself. We are not that far from the guys on the other side of the fence, so let's behave as adults and talk. When it comes down to it we have the same goal, and we don't respect blue-haired individuals less than other people as long as they are respectful to us, do we?