Friday 1 January 2021

MUSINGS: Noise, Jitter, Faith & The Autistic Fantasies of Digital Audiophilia ("For adults only?" Darko/Lavorgna conversation.)

Happy New Year dear audiophiles!

I hope 2021 brings with it many happy returns in the year ahead.

Note that this post will be of a rather critical tone... So if on an auspicious New Years Day you want something a little less confrontational, I suggest coming back another time :-).

Let's address something which I think many well-heeled digital audiophiles will probably have observed being discussed if they read typical "mainstream" audio magazines, online sites, or watch associated videos. It's the simple observation that when it comes to subjective-only reviewers discussing why something (often expensive!) can improve the sound of a digital system, it almost always comes down to 2 factors they want you to be concerned about:

1. Jitter
2. Noise ("electrical", RF/EMI, conducted/induced)

The value of most of these questionable products (as expressed by articles like thisthisthis, this, this, this or this) hinge on claims that one or both of these is/are causing you problems in your digital system and somehow the device "can"/"may" improve the performance. The USB cable/system is "jittery", so buy this USB "filter" and that $1000 cable. The ethernet switch you use is "noisy" +/- "jittery" but I have a better one to sell you. Such-and-such $5000 DAC is superior because lesser devices suffer from "jitter" or have poor "noise" isolation. Consider purchasing this $15,000 network streamer/computer with a femtosecond OCXO oscillator because a cheap Raspberry Pi can never achieve the same freedom from anomalies. Your AC power is noisy, so this will clean it right up for only $3000...

Then there are statements which merge the two -  noise of one sort or another results in further oscillator phase noise which can then be translated to temporal jitter. Surely you don't believe "Bits Are Bits", right? Is digital truly digital? Are digital "square waves" not actually analogue waveforms too? And on and on it goes. It never ends because you can always pour money into these suggested products and once you think your system is "perfect", the next "best" thing crops up and it always sounds "significantly" better of course according to many of these subjective-only audiophile reviewers based simply on what is "clearly heard"!

We can see this dyad of digital boogeymen in Point #6 on this John Darko video in fact (I think points 1-5 are pretty good, but it gets highly speculative, overly generalized, or just plain wrong at points from then on):

To be clear, I'm not saying jitter and noise do not exist. They do and I have shown anomalies over the years here on the blog, and at times can result in problems. However, in my journey, I have rarely found these to be of the extent that many subjective-only reviewers seem to suggest even when using modestly-priced gear.

The reason I bring this up (again) after years of showing no significant evidence of problems such as herehere, here, and here, is simply that these thoughts persist and the usual reviewers insist that this is so despite the lack of evidence. While over the years, I have seen some of the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) soften, they never quite go away. I suppose this is to be expected since generally the products that are trotted out as reducing "noise" and "jitter" demand that readers accept these claims as "items of faith" rather than presenting the prospective consumers with evidence. Recently, these faith-based thoughts were beautifully demonstrated in the dialogue between John Darko and Michael Lavorgna (of ex-AudioStream infamy) in this podcast which a blog reader suggested that I have a listen to.

As you can see, this podcast is "for adults only". Sure, so let's think about this as adults... Let's actually think about things in a reality-based fashion rather than as daydreams and fantasies. To be honest, I made it through about half of it skipping through the conversation. The most interesting part I found was the 10 minutes from 1:08:00-1:18:00 which I think nicely summarized the way these two reviewers thought about the audiophile industry and their response to those who oppose their claims.

Within this segment, we're treated with a testimonial from Lavorgna talking about reviewing ethernet cables and supposedly having interviewed "over a hundred" network engineers as if this qualifies him to have some kind of knowledge about what is true. Are we to be impressed by his response to a supposed conversation when the question: "Why are we talking about analogue all of a sudden when we're talking about digital audio?" came up and he responds pithily: "Digital to analogue converter!" (1:09:20)? Is this supposed to be a demonstration of deep insight?!

They then talk of buffering and acknowledged that reclocking happens in digital audio systems (routinely these days I might add). But then notice inevitably they return to "electrical noise", how it "gets back into the system" and then in recognition that some will question these claims, pivots the discussion into how certain critics are "fixated on the data" (1:11:00); as in the importance of bit-perfect data transmission being way more important than a belief in the presence of the supposed "noise" they speak of.

Of course, error-free transmission is essential for high-fidelity playback. What's the problem with that? If the data becomes corrupted, there will definitely be audible problems (as shown here). Instead, are Darko/Lavorgna sure that they being fixated on noise and jitter as significant issues not in fact "poisoning the online discussions" by promoting vague, even insignificant beliefs?

Notice that Lavorgna at one point brings up the "no such thing as digital" (1:11:20) argument in reference to an old AudioStream interview which apparently is gone (as you know, AudioStream failed). As you can hear for yourself, he has no ability to go into any depth with that argument. After this, the conversation degrades into Darko and his "conspiracy theory" talk. Dudes, you do realize that Gordon Rankin isn't exactly an academic, right? He is in the business of selling products and making money isn't he? Darko's comment that Rankin giving up scientific thinking and "... just going to chase the big dollar... make up stuff for people to buy (his) products... Throw away the science (he has) learned... Just so (he) can sell more product" (1:12:30) could be exaggeration, but people do all kinds of things for money, and why should anyone think this statement doesn't also contain morsels of truth? As an example, we can in fact see from the measurements of the Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt that he is willing to embrace the fad of using weak minimum phase filtering in that product to differentiate it rather than upgrading it to a technically superior device compared to its Dragonfly Red predecessor.

Reviewers like Darko and Lavorgna are unable to contextualize the magnitude of these so-called "problems" of noise and jitter with digital playback as a service to their readers/viewers/listeners. Darko says that it's important to be "healthily skeptical" (1:15:40). Absolutely! I would certainly like to know what skepticism he has shown over the years when faced with the unbelievable claims in the audiophile world.

At one point, the comment that "it's just fantasy" (1:14:55, indignant of conspiracy theorists who would dare question the honesty of this Industry!) was brought up. Listening to this superficial echo-chamber-talk between the two men, I think indeed fantasy is alive and well and that this is in no way an "adult" discussion, complete with the use of adolescent expletives, the "Ego-Boner!" title and silly phallic frying pan image. Whose ego is being stroked here? Is this honestly how "adults" act and talk, boys?

Exaggerated emotional pleas ending in "'s just no, it's not possible" (1:15:20) doesn't just suddenly erase the idea that much of what is sold in "high-end audio" is any less of a racket, scam, or con. I agree with Darko though, it's not a grand "conspiracy"; the players are not sophisticated nor well organized enough for that.

What you're hearing, IMO, is an example of the "poison" that has infected audiophilia all these years. We're hearing plenty of appeals to the authority of "experts", picking and choosing examples of what they believe these experts are saying that's confirming their faith-based system. Remember that in disciplines like clinical medicine which combine science and art, "expert opinions" and "expert consensus" statements are not considered to be the strongest levels of evidence. Controlled test results are superior because it is understood that psychological biases are in operation, even among the most esteemed experts. It's no different here.

Among the experts, they mentioned Bruno Putzeys (1:13:40). Tell me, does Mr. Putzeys think that "jitter" is a problem with today's modern DACs like say a typical ESS ES9018 or AKM AK4490 implementation which are not even the top-of-the-line parts these days? Does Mr. Putzeys ascribe to "noise" being particularly bad through a typical ethernet switch, that ethernet cables should be expensive, or believe that an AudioQuest Carbon USB cable is actually any more beneficial than say $10 generic wire? How about the idea that "noise" is bad with the AC powerline, so audiophiles need to upgrade their power cables? Does he believe a US$9.5k power conditioner like the Niagara 7000 will improve the sound of his amplifiers? Furthermore, knowing that he does plenty of measurements and has published many objective reports/papers over the years, why don't you "journalists" ask him to show you the extent of "jitter" and "noise" distortion found in today's DAC analogue output instead of opining with no actual evidence in hand?

Rather hilarious that Darko, in bringing up Bruno Putzeys, also acts as his defender from comments somebody made online. I don't think Putzeys needs your defense and I wonder if he really thinks your words are at all even beneficial for his reputation. Are you certain that Putzeys is inclined to agree with your ideas?

Indeed, "inherit knowledge", Mr. Darko. I find it funny that Darko tried to quote Ricky Gervais (1:17:30) in the conversation. Check out exactly what Gervais said:

"Science is constantly proved all the time. If we take something like any fiction, any holy book, and destroyed it, in a thousand years' time, that wouldn't come back just as it was. Whereas if we took every science book and every fact and destroyed them all, in a thousand years they'd all be back because all the same tests would be the same result."

Here's the video where he said this:

Yes... "Science is constantly proved... The same tests would be the same result." The listener is left to wonder what tests have Darko seen (or ideally done for himself) to prove what he believes. What tests have Darko asked of his experts of audio science that convinces him that they're on the same page? It's all fine and good to quote from Gervais (obviously superficially) in a way he thinks his listeners might agree with, but does he truly understand what he's saying?!

Needless to say, I think Darko and Lavorgna are the ones embracing the "religious texts" and "flat-Earth theory" of how audio works, unable to disentangle themselves from the frauds because of all they have already written over the years that are either false or entertain the paranormal. Let's be honest, they're actually not trying to speak truth to the controversial stuff. If they were, they would obviously be asking different questions at the very least.

I mentioned a few months back that Darko closed off not just his website but also his YouTube videos to public comments. Perhaps this is the trend for purely subjective sites basically acting as advertising for the Industry. Recently, I see that there has been a redesign of The Absolute Sound's website and unless I'm missing something, it looks like reader comments have been removed from the articles also.

Bit by bit, purely subjective audiophilia and the "high end" appear to be retreating into their autistic fantasies as they defend what is in reality (IMO) indefensible. To be clear, I am not saying these audiophiles are "autistic" as in the developmental disability. Rather, let's look at the definition of the defense mechanism:

autistic fantasy 

a defense mechanism in which a person deals with emotional conflict and stressors by indulging in excessive daydreaming as a substitute for active problem solving.

In the case of purely-subjective websites, the conflict here is that it's getting harder to effectively pursue their intent - acting as advertising mouthpieces for the Industry - in the face of a public which has been increasingly empowered to respond when it perceives "snake oil" thanks to freedom of speech on the Internet. Remember the asymmetry that is inherent here. There is a financial investment for these individuals because they make money by their abilities to influence even if it means perpetuating questionable claims and half-truths whereas the public has no such attached financial motive. Most consumers seek value which in itself is a complex concept that embodies esthetics, workmanship and performance at a reasonable price. I trust nobody wants to be a "sucker" for poorly made products that do not live up to the claims, especially at a price premium. Consumers are not dumb and it's tough when these mouthpieces-acting-as-independent-reviewers are faced with passionate audiophiles who will call out BS when they see it. Unable to defend against what they perceive as a type of persecution, they will try to project what they believe are "conspiracy theories" as we saw in the Darko/Lavorgna conversation. Eventually there is only one path, which is the retreat into the self (the word "autism" has as its root "autos-" or self in Greek). 

To use "fantasy" as a defense rather than engaging in ways to prove one's claims as true is not mature (even if Darko and Lavorgna think their conversation is "adult" in nature). However, this is ultimately and expectedly the direction of pure subjectivism. This philosophy by definition is the belief that all one perceives (or believes he perceives) is all that matters for sound quality regardless of test results!

On the other hand, objectivism maintains that there are properties of sound that can be independently evaluated beyond one's claimed experience. It predicts that there will be times when our own psychology can be fooled by biases, and the only way to understand reality and demonstrate truth not just to oneself, is to also have the ability to step outside one's beliefs and embrace knowledge - even if at times our "faith" (eg. in the claims of an audiophile company, audiophile hero, or supposedly experienced reviewer) will be challenged. If a device lowers jitter and noise, show us with your tests. Isn't that what Gervais is advocating?

I personally feel that the retreat of folks like Lavorgna from public discussion, Darko turning off comments, and even TAS isolating from negative responses are demonstrations of progress within the audiophile hobby. Given their financial motivations, I suspect at some level, they would have made a calculation that it was in their best interest to disengage from open discourse.

To close, it's fascinating listening to Darko/Lavorgna declare an allegiance to science, but their hearts worship at the temple of Solipsism. There is little to differentiate many of the pseudoscientific recommendations and beliefs of Darko/Lavorgna from "flat-Earthers" who also pick out bits and pieces of knowledge and theory to justify their broader pseudoscientific beliefs, conveniently used when needed to market certain items.

Also, just as "flat-Earthers" are fascinating people (here's a great interview with Michael Marshall of the Good Thinking Society), I find the irrational subjectivist audiophiles just as interesting human beings!


Stay safe, enjoy your music and yes, even debate in 2021 as we are prone to do in audiophilia. Debates can be fun if we remain grounded as adults and there's generally no need to be angry. I would of course recommend staying rational, dear audiophiles.

Awhile back, I helped out a friend's son with a science fair project who wanted to collect data around the world. Well here in early 2021, I have another high school student asking me to send out an invite wanting to collect data about the emotional state of a worldwide audience during the COVID pandemic.

If you have a few moments, submit a quick response (<2 minutes) at:

Pass along to family and friends if you can since everyone can answer these questions easily.

Again, Happy 2021!


  1. Darko and Lavorgna are a joke. Why spend so much time devoted to these clowns is beyond me.

    Happy new year!

    1. Greetings Ranchu and happy new year!

      Yeah, their message is clearly less than serious. I agree, in the long run we should spend less time on their discussions and ideas (and I will).

      The issue is that for decades, in the audiophile world, these kinds of thoughts, actors, and the way business is conducted in this hobby have been of this nature. To take a stand, to say my piece, I find somewhat cathartic on the one hand and on my blog, this article will acts as a "landmark" mental note as well.

      In the days ahead, if we come back across personalities like these dragging up nonsense and bringing up yet another "audiophile idol"'s name, or making claims with nothing at all to back up the significance of "jitter" and "noise", I can refer readers back to this post and that we've been here before. Actors change, but often the stories, beliefs, and psychological impetus remain the same.

  2. Always thought provoking to read your posts. I decided not to brave the podcast but I did watch the linked video on Darko's top 10. My reaction was similar to yours. 1-5 seemed pretty solid. #6 veers off the tarmac. When proof points consist of claims that, "many people", agree then it's time for me to press the BS button. Item #7 comes with a list of possible causes of unconscious bias to prefer one digital source over another but otherwise seems a bit cookie to me based on my actual listening experiments. #8 has some technical merit on impedance matching but loses it with gross generalizations. #9 gets back on the pavement but pops the curb steering toward technological investment instead of physical media limitations as the primary reason for differences. #10 could be renamed, "room correction and tone controls can be really useful", or, "different speakers sound different".

    On the whole my reaction is that the video is exactly like a snake oil pitch. Let's start with some facts that we can all agree up and see how many folks I can convince to go all the way. It really turns me off. I'm bummed out that watching it added a view to the video. I appreciate this site for focusing on rational decision making in an area where it is sorely lacking and often attacked.

    Cheers and Happy New Year!

    1. LOL. Love the play-by-play Doug on the "X" video. :-)

      I'm glad you did it and I'm in agreement. Interesting point about the "snake oil pitch". Consciously or not, maybe he knew that going in that order of 5 reasonable ideas then launching into the questionable ones would work as a way of making the list (and himself) seem more credible.

      Happy 2021, Doug!

  3. I find it unfortunate that the audiophile press - especially in the US - is only semi credible. It's not clear to me what the root cause is. I grew up in Germany and moved to the USA early 2000's. I can say that the few times I bought a magazine (Stereophile or TAS) I was very disappointed in the lack of attempted objectivity. And this for a country with a much larger market then Germany (I would assume)!

    I found several things strange that continue to baffle me today: The cult of the reviewer/personality. The review of equipment in personal homes without a 'reference' room or other reviewers double-checking opinions. Irrelevant bloomy stories that have nothing to do with the subject at hand.

    Contrast that to the mainstream audio magazines in Germany (e.g. Audio, Stereoplay, Stereo). They have reference listening rooms (treated). Everything is measured. They retain reference equipment to compare/contrast. Multiple opinions contribute. Results are stack-ranked in neat tables that show the relative positioning of products. Speakers are categorized in what room type they work best in (dry, reverberant, small, large etc). Price-Performance ratio's are given (and where it is out-of-whack they declare it as 'high-endig'). Healthy mix of affordable, mid-tier and higher priced components.
    And best of all: Jitter, Noise, Cables etc are typically discussed in technical articles. Snake-oil products almost never get reviewed (though they are advertised in the magazine).

    Is everything perfect? No.

    What I fear is that the hobby - especially in the US - is lacking some semi-neutral authority that can help navigate this domain. Especially for newcomers. And in an age where audio equipment is as good and affordable as never before!
    The interest for good audio is absolutely there by youngsters. Just look at the headphone community or the audiophile reddit community.

    Going to Audio events shows the difference: The High-End show in Munich bustles with whole families and young people. There is a palpable energy. Equipment of all price ranges are shown (though high-end equipment gets lots of showing and people drool over it, like they do with Ferraris at Auto shows).
    Going to a US Audio show is dominated by old, white males (a category that I fall into). Listening to the same 'audiophile' music in every room. Many talks/discussions are of the snake-oil variety. I am tired of seeing power cables that are so heavy they break the outlet – with cable risers everywhere. It's a very different energy.

    And thus it is necessary to find reliable, more objective sources in different corners of the internet – which means you have to have some background to even figure out what ‘reliable’ means. Not beginner friendly. It is a sad state of affairs that hobbyists like yourself or Erin’s Audio corner (both doing it on the side) are ones that contribute the most. Your contribution greatly matters! Thank you!

    1. So very true!
      After many years of buying Stereophile and Whathifi, which in my country were 10 times more expensive than domestic press, when I started earning money and decided to buy a hifi, I found out that I could not see any real 'advice value', so I turned to this blog and German online magazines.
      Their dedication to measurements and objectivity has turned my decision making upside down, and I ended up with German product (Nubert NuPro) with which I am extremely satisfied :-)

    2. Thanks for the discussion Unknown and Goran,
      Had a look at the website and translation for the Nubert nuPro gear. Wow, looks great for those active speakers with many beneficial features like room calibration, no-nonsense engineering, and even the "flagship" products look very reasonably priced!

      Over the years I've come across some of the German press and have been impressed as well, Unknown. Yeah, the thought "Why can't we have more of this kind of coverage!?" has come across my mind also. The N. American press is unfortunately so full of "personalities" who say so much yet IMO are also so superficial, unable to or purposely avoiding the next step of going a little deeper beyond scratching the surface of these engineered devices.

      That observation about families and young people at audio shows like at High-End Munich I think is an important one. Outside of primarily males and especially older males (let's just say I know many an Asian male audiophile as well so not just white), this imbalance in "who" audiophiles are here in North America is I think another symptom of the unhealthy state of the hobby.

      We will know that music lovers are being served by the hobby when we see more women interested in the products as a proxy of the "music lover" who is not into the hardware fetish. We will know that the "audiophile hobby" is growing when youthful energy seeks it out.

      As it stands, I wonder what is the succession plan for magazines like Stereophile when John Atkinson hangs up his Audio Precision gear? Will there still be any objective measurements? What is to be of TAS other than the current stagnant repository of questionable editorials, reviews and product announcements?

      Who knows, it might be that in fact "high-fidelity" has been achieved in a more-than-good-enough fashion already. Maybe that's OK too for the hobby to take a break and wait for the "next great thing" with new technology instead of squeezing out consumer dollars by dishonorably using hype and questionable claims.

    3. One should not over-idealize reviewers. I know more than one of them and working for a magazine can mean that the article can be written at home and/or at the press building, the time for listening to the component is short, it must happen when the reference room is vacant. Finally the editor has the last word, may change the text so the well-paying advertising manufacturer is not annoyed. In the background of Hifi-shows deals are fixed that confirm exclusive rights to rewiew first before the competitors get the opportunity. Exclusive first reports help to sell printed magazines.
      Sometimes manufacturers send a well selected sample for review and the author may buy the unit at a low price or keep it as a donation. 35 years ago the editor in chief of a German mag had to take his hat because the Mercedes had been paid by a speaker manufacturer. Such may happen all over the world - and one should ask : cui bono?

    4. Thanks for the note.

      You've brought up an important point which is that it "goes both ways" when it comes to magazines/media and the companies. There's a competition between magazines/media as well when it comes to "first dibs" on the product reviewed for right of first publication and exclusivity.

      Well... Mercedes, eh? I guess every man has his price :-).

  4. It is laughable to me what people will buy into without some kind of real evidence. If somebody came to us in the automotive industry and tried to sell us on a flux-capacitor to eliminate quantum electron interference, they would be laughed at first, and then if we were feeling charitable we would ask to see the data. I work on vehicle diagnostics that relies on the integrity of high-speed communication busses(recently including ethernet busses), and we have standards that must be met to guarantee that integrity. Realizing there is no perfect system devoid of all anomalies, the standards include what level of electrical noise and EMI is allowable that will not compromise the system. All based on solid engineering that has been thoroughly validated with actual physical testing. I would never spend my hard earned money on equipment because jokers like Darko and Lavorgna buy into the manufacturers fantasy and recommend it.

    1. Hey Joe and verifonix,
      Happy New Year!

      Interesting comment on the automotive industry Joe :-). I'm sure there are other industries where data might come secondary to claims... Hmmm - astrology? homeopathy? spiritual healing? - come to mind as examples of "believe me, pay first, ask questions later".

      I think we should also use the term "pseudotechnology" more to describe some of this stuff we're seeing in the audiophile world - like that quantum flux-capacitor. :-)

    2. Sorry, even the automotive industry isn't always immune. An Australian racing car driver -- Peter Brock, perhaps one of the most naturally gifted drivers wever -- just about ruined his career in promoting an 'energy polariser' which we swore improved car performance.

    3. Wow. Thanks for the link and information!

      I guess there will always be the "lunatic fringe" in all passions. :-)

  5. Dear Darko, My Friend..
    The whole Industry is "Business"(even the Audio one) and beyond the sure progress made over time, today "How to Sell" has become more important than "What to Sell" (and also what you receive in return when you sell, because yes ... so many receive in return)
    Rather than spending a lot of money in R&D to find often some small improvements, it's much more easier invent Seeches & Marketing Theories in which prodigious improvements are boasted, only on their own statements without any technical support and above all, without any contradictions.. really an "Authistic Way" (With All My Love for the Real Authistics.❤️)
    This now happens everywhere also because ... it has no cost and you can get great economic results without spending anything .. !!!
    You want an example ..?
    Please listen to the latest video by D. Trump in which he tells "in his own way" 2020 in America .. it represents the current trend very well .. !!! Happy 2021 "Mago"...

    Free the Music - NO MQA

    1. Hey Maurizio, greetings again and Happy New Year!

      Yes, Epiphany is coming up. I'm ready to deliver the gifts :-).

      Good point about not using money appropriately in R&D and instead paying ad departments. I suppose this is expected as part of the "late stage capitalism" idea in many parts of audiophilia. Squeeze as many dollars out as the market will bear without actual new or improved technology.

      Oi. Politics in the US is simply disturbing to say the least, my friend...

      Stay safe. And yes, "Free the Music".

      Speaking of MQA, it's good to see that Neil Young has stood up and said something - see "Why I'm Not On Tidal":

  6. I've been watching more than my share of flat earth videos on YT and have been poised to write a piece similar to yours. I've listened to a few of Darko's podcasts and remember some very intense exchanges with Michael. Darko/Lavorgna and others are not to be taken seriously...although many follow their advice as if they knew what they were talking about. It is likely to stay that way. Thanks for this! Stay safe.

    1. Thanks Mark always appreciate your input.

      Hope you didn't spend too much time on those flat-Earth videos, man. Probably doesn't do much for one's IQ :-).

      I remember years ago there was a discussion where some pure subjectivists were alleging that objective-leaning folks were the "Flat-Earthers" because in their view, empiricists were "stuck" in the world of measurements, unable to "truly" understand that sound had this other "dimension" beyond what can be measured.

      While I can certainly acknowledge that there is much we still don't understand about how the mind processes sound, this argument and viewpoint blew me away! It's like these guys could not imagine that maybe what that extra "dimension" they were experiencing was actually not the reality of a spherical Earth, but rather they were believing in Middle-earth and all the fictitious fantasies!

      Such is the universe I see being dreamed up in this conversation. Though not as elaborate, entertaining or "systematized" as Tolkien and his wonderfully detailed Middle-earth, I guess this type of audiophile fantasy brings joy to some...

      All the best, Mark, and a happy 2021 to you!

  7. I read stereoplay, stereo and audio, the german magazines from time to time. Yes the they are more objective than for example TAS or stereophile (I had a stereophile subscription of the printed version rather long time ago).
    The products they review in stereoplay (german magazines)are selected by the manufacturere which pay advertisement. So the they get at least a favorable comment. I would say, semi objective...
    Many products reviewed are like Ferraris make noise and are way overpriced :)
    On my part I went mostly with pro equipment, cables, connectors (Neutrik etc.), ADC, DAC (RME, Lynx, Motu, Focusrite etc.).
    Pro equipment is high quality, hardware, software (drivers etc,.) for a reasonable price.
    Spec sheets are there and rather complete. No snake oil, facts and figures. thats it.
    There are some magazines on pro-audio with good reviews.
    I am in an audio club in Switzerland. And yes there miost of the people who can't distinguis between facts and snake oil. An it's hard to convince them, even by hearing and ABX comparison.
    There is definitively a need to discuss and point to snake-oil claims.


    1. Happy 2021 Peter,
      Thanks for the information on the German publications as well. I hope "semi objective" at least gives the reader the opportunity to read between the lines and enough data is presented for evaluation even if the reviewer doesn't openly offer critical comments.

      Yeah, agree with the pro-audio position as well. No nonsense, "say it like it is" (for the most part since there will always be ad departments sneaking hype in!).

      Good that you have an audio club where you are! Sounds like fun. Even if I don't fully agree with another audiophile's position, it still can be fun talking gear, sharing album ideas, and shooting the breeze... Hope for the most part your club consists of mostly reasonable folks able to discern what is likely from the unlikely, and self-aware enough to show humor when needed :-).

    2. Also happy 2021.
      Yes the audioclub is fun. Sure at the moment we halted physical meetings due to Covid19. We did some virtual meetings with videoconferencing. Jitsi, may not be widely known (similar to skype, zoom etc.).
      Some nice experience since we could see each participants installation.
      The members are from music-lovers to esoteric to techies all type of people.
      Sometimes its so amusing to see people tweaking cables in a way which is really esoteric. Cable support on costly support-dampers all 30cm (loudspeaker cables).
      We normally meet at a good restaurant and eating, drinking is the other part of the fun.
      There are really some cracks on music knowledge and on technical issues.
      All over its a social event about all 2-3 month.

    3. Sounds like a great time Peter!

      Yeah, that could be a lot of fun adding to the social aspect of audiophilia rather than each audiophile just listening to the system in isolation. I like that idea of going to a restaurant and "breaking bread" together.

      Good point about being able to see each participant's installation! This is one aspect I think is very much missing in audiophile discussions. Notice that it's often rare to actually see what the soundroom looks like with audio reviewers! Yet this is IMO one of the crucial aspects for readers. Do I honestly care if a reviewer wired up all the components with expensive Nordost cables with cable risers if the soundroom is an untreated 10'x10'x10' cube cluttered with crates of hoarded LPs??? ;-)

  8. What strikes me about these claims is that they seem to be showing that the equipment that they are improving must be defective. But the reviews never seem to say: "It turns out that the high end renderer (or whatever) that we have been recommending to you is badly designed. This also means that past tests of other equipment using that renderer (or whatever) in the chain are spoilt because of our use of this defective item."

    1. Interesting comment per-user.

      Indeed, if what Darko claims is true around jitter and noise, it really speaks badly about many companies' products if at expensive audiophile prices, one still needs to spend all kinds of money on special USB cables or they're still extremely sensitive to noise.

      Imagine a "high end" amplifier somehow being susceptible to noise which can be fixed because the company neglected to include a decent power cable and the engineer didn't appreciate the importance of the wire :-).

      How could any half decent engineer having missed something what this miraculous US$3500 power cable could offer!!!???

      And indeed, if a reviewer didn't use that cable, then they surely cannot have appreciated what any component really sounded like as a true high-end system... And as you said, previous reviews without using this component would all have been obsolete because the power cable itself was simply flawed!

      Without a decent point of reference. Some objective milestones and landmarks. This can all turn into madness pretty darn quick!

  9. Thankyou. Your example sums it up nicely.

    Although it's easy to go a little way into the madness. For instance, I've just bought the parts for a simple renderer. A Raspberry Pi Zero W, and a DAC to go with it. I paid the extra for a DAC with a pair of crystal oscillators (Allo mini-boss) and a supposedly more careful audio implementation. I probably wouldn't hear any difference between that and the cheapest available DAC HAT.

    Now I could argue that the choice of DAC implementation comes from reading your reviews and some on ASR, but I'm not entirely convinced. I've probably been influenced by the anxieties.

    1. Hey per-user,
      LOL. No worries man with splurging extra on the <$50 DAC with super-duper NDK clock oscillators :-).

      At the end of the day, I have no issue with whatever any one of us decides to purchase - be it <$100 or >$5000 DACs. My concern is mainly that if we are to speak to consumers as a whole and are trying to position ourselves as knowledgeable and honest, then it should not be expressed in ways that perpetuate unnecessary anxieties about sound quality. Such IMO is the case with audiophile topics and all the hand-wringing about jitter, noise, and such...

      Doing so is the path of the salesman rather than of the educator who tries to enlighten, or the journalist whose job it is also to delve deeper and uncover the unsavory salesmen's deceits.

      Enjoy the build!

  10. Thought provoking post - while I don't buy into the explanations given by Darko and Lavorgna I am also of the opinion that there are can be more going on depending on e.g. how circuits were constructed. For me it was a bit of an eye opener to listen to Keith Johnson's talk (here: For example looking at the talk at 26min50secs in I can see a plausible explanation how jitter can effect the converted analog signal in unexpected ways.

    1. Thanks for the video Joe!

      Regarding Keith Johnson's talk... Remember that this talk was given back in 2010 so we have to keep in mind the perspective of this being at a time when digital interfaces were primarily of the SPDIF variety, asynchronous USB was in its infancy, and there were few consumer network ethernet DACs.

      Jitter was certainly more prevalent and quantifiable at that point as something that the "perfectionist" audiophile might want to deal with even though I contend that it was still not highly audible as per the demo:

      The one thing I will mention about the presentation and that graph Johnson used - notice he's not linking this to any real-world example or product. It's all hypothetical with a block diagram that employs no jitter reduction. Is that what we have these days?

      Sure, we can have all kinds of anomalies when we see the red line creating data error (misclock) because of terrible jitter, and the blue error could happen but unlikely to be audible IMO. At the very least, journalists should challenge presenters these days to give us an actual example in real life and ideally suggest that they bring an example and allow us to have a listen for ourselves if it really is a big deal. ;-)

  11. The people in the audiophile world that I detest the most, are those who claim superiority due to X number of years in the industry, either as salesmen or engineers, or because their equipment is more expensive than mine, or because they have a network of audiophile friends that praise what they stand for.

    Surely, any audiophile with many years of experience is bound to have learned a lot during those years, but that goes for the major part of us, not just those in the business. So, experts on either side of the spectrum are to be avoided IMO. In other regards, it's not uncommon to hear a true expert when asked about something just outside his merit, replying "I am not familiar with this, so I'd rather not answer".

    Any extreme opinion puts me off, both extreme subjectivism and extreme objectivism. But people like Darko and Lavorgna really pisses me off, because they - as many have before them - take advantage of their position and thus suggest their opinions about everything is the whole and the undisputed truth.

    No one has got the whole package, and true experts know this. Experts never stop learning, there are no "cemented" truth anywhere, and no universal truths to audiophilia. Remember, loving and listening to music involves listening, and we use our brains and ears for this. Not science or self-proclaimed gurus, so in this, we are like our own experts of what we like, and where we are going with this. Our emotions also play a role.

    I cannot stand it when someone tries to tell me that what I hear is false. My ears do not lie to me, but of course they are not sophisticated enough to tell me that there is 0.002% of this or that polluting my sound. But then again, science isn't always either. I stand on the belief that science is unable to detect why different cables can sound different, apart from involving parameters like material, length, gauge, resistance, capacitance and conductance. Two identical cables (regarding the above mentioned parameters) CAN sound different, but will not do so universally. When there are so many millions of combinations of equipment possible, it's not wise to claim that "all cables sound alike" or "we can hear jitter" or any such thing. All systems are different, and they sound different for many reasons, just like all humans are different, and hear differently. And we haven't even mentioned room acoustics yet.

    Just my 25 cents...

    1. Appreciate the input Duck...

      Ultimately, yeah it's about what we hear and how we can enjoy what we hear. That level of subjectivity is ours alone even if we can speak to the engineering that went into the device, or intellectually understand the principles behind the science and adjudicate whether a claim someone made appears to have real-world merit.

      As once remarked, "We must keep an open mind, but not so open that our brains fall out" appears to be wise. :-)

      Now as for the "experts"... Well, clearly neither Darko nor Lavorgna are experts in anything IMO other than attempts at being salesmen of products. At least Darko and his crew make clean and at times entertaining videos that get the news out on products and build the hype for the companies. I suppose that's the career. But as expert listeners or expert technical folks... Nah, doesn't seem that way.

      What I found enlightening was hanging out at RMAF2019 and listening to some of the rooms at the audio show (and writing some impressions each evening beginning here: Over the weeks watching the "reports" come in from the various websites and magazines reading what is said by reviewers and veteran writers. Nothing like comparing one's notes with what others say about the sound quality to realize the liberties used in the reporting!

  12. Interesting... now the cable debate on FB has evolved into which format is the better, digital or analogue. It's difficult to get people to understand that I don't give a flying hoot about which is better. I just want as many endorphins released into my system as possible...

    1. :-) The Duck,
      I'm glad I'm not on Facebook.

      I would have thought "digital vs. analogue" would be a rather passé topic these days after so many years!

      Indeed, the most endorphins, highest dopamine... That's what I want as well. With good quality gear these days, it's actually the RECORDING QUALITY itself that's the main determinant rather than whether the source or cables carry digital/analogue. Ultimately it ends up as analogue anyways and generally it takes more work to maintain fidelity in a pure analogue chain; that's all.

      Enjoy the Facebook debates :-).

  13. Sometimes being in audio and reading about it online feels like being stuck in an MC Escher painting one echo chamber examining another, one claiming to be more objective than the other, chucking some scientific comment mixed with emotional responses and caty remarks because the other person tribe doesnt see it their way. What a waste of your time and mine.

    1. Actually I do like to hear other people's opinions, but I stay away from the guys too far of either side of the fence. Never understood why some people go to extremes, especially when all it leads to is hostility.

    2. Hi Unknown,
      I don't think it's necessarily a waste of time if it helps elucidate truths and in the process educates the audiophile.

      Audiophilia is a niche and an enjoyable pastime. We might argue but I trust among hobbyists there's no "hill" any one of us need to "die on" here! AudioQuest power conditioners, Nordost cables, McIntosh amps are but toys we have fun with...

      Personally, I find it interesting thinking and talking about this stuff because as I said in the past, much of what we argue about here reflect a microcosm of real life. There are analogies and philosophical elements here that go beyond the hobby. The artificial duality between "Objectivist"/"Subjectivist" is for example reflected in all kinds of things we deal with in real life and discussions elsewhere.


      Some of these might be easier to negotiate than others :-).

      The arguments at a higher level reflect our personal philosophies and strike at the process whereby we each determine "theory of knowledge" not just in audiophile stuff but hopefully with consistency across other domains of life.

      While knowledge is good to have and IMO can be achieved through a "more objective" study of audiophile goods... Wisdom, value, and nobility of character are the ultimate goals - in mere audiophilia and otherwise.

    3. Funny that you bring these subjects up:


      It brings to mind some thinking I've been doing about the need some people have to belong to a certain group, perhaps all of us when it comes down to it.

      Try imaging which group of e.g. "Faith"/"Science" believers are more prone to be emotional types than the other. Now try it on the rest of your examples. I am not suggesting anything here, but I am VERY curious as to what your reply might be!

      The "Us/Them" issue is alive and kicking...

    4. Hey Duck,
      Yes, the "us vs. them" is certainly alive. It has been there since the beginning of humanity I suspect and is a feature of being emotional, social beings who desire validation, belonging, and the emotional stroking these things bring. Belonging to a "tribe" helps with that...

      The issue for me is not so much that we cannot or should not self-aggregate into these tribes. It's whether doing so results in a "good" outcome and that includes discussions about not being extreme in beliefs or groups that eventually lose touch with reality. A whole other big discussion! :-)

      Maybe we'll talk more about this in the days ahead if needed...

  14. Unfortunately it is easy to do gear recommendations and You tube videos when the viewers can't actually "hear" the truth(?) or make any meaningful judgements about what the presenter is saying. We can chose to believe their opinions, or not. The physical part of setting up a piece of gear is a great use of You Tube.

    I am doing some for a person who wants to do some book reading for Audible/Amazon and needs to know how to use recording software and convert the readings to MP3 for submission. That training is a good use of You Tube. It is a great educational/training tool for sure. Sharing facets of our hobby are fun and meaningful during these pandemic times.

    I appreciated your new comments on the Stereophile site this week. The constant discrediting of digital audio is getting old for me. Call me broken for liking digital audio, but that is fine, just as digital audio is fine, and getting better at break-neck speed and more affordable every day.

    Could we consider the "sampling rate" of vinyl: 33.3 rpm or 45 rpm, or 78 rpm? Why bother to press 2 LPs of a work and have to play it back at 45 rpm? Does that velocity have some impact on the stylus and cartridge? It seems that those who love vinyl and dislike the sound of digital forget all of the hoops one must have to jump through to make vinyl work "right" and at what cost? I'll put up a $1K Cd player against a $1K turntable system all day long. I will also admit that there are mistakes being made in the creation of an album for release on CD vs. LP. Engineers at every level are human, some better at it than others.

    In vinyl I am amazed at all of the "manufacturing issues" that must be overcome in the process of disc cutting, plating, and pressing and all the choices to be made in groove width and choices in what weight vinyl to use form 120 gram to 200 gram. so much of this is eliminated in CD pressing. We don't have thicker CDs. They all spin at the same variable rate per redbook specification.

    We all appreciate what you do and I love the work JA1 does with his testing at Stereophile. Love the music and worry less about the delivery system. As we get older we hear less and the improvements will be lost on us anyway. I am living that dream now at 73.

    1. Hi Jim,
      Sounds like you're doing well and that's great that you're helping someone in need of learning the audio software/set-up! While so much of audiophilia can be of a solitary pursuit, it's important that we should also teach others the practical knowledge and experience accrued over the years.

      Yeah, humanity does like to gather in it's "tribes". The tribe of "vinyl is best" I think is getting a little long in the tooth in audiophilia now that vinyl is very much back in the mainstream! I don't think owning a turntable is all that special anymore.

      IMO, if we take exactly the same mastering (let's say from a pristine analogue master tape to appease the analogue faithful), transfer one to 24/96 using a modern ADC (like say the RME ADI-2 Pro FS R), and the other cut into a 45rpm vinyl, now compare the playback with the original master tape using a $1k turntable and $1k DAC, what would be the outcome?

      Unless proven otherwise, the digital output will IMO more than likely sound identical to the master tape. The vinyl will have been processed in various ways including the RIAA curve, maybe low bass mono-summed, have higher noise level, and the inevitable physical imperfections (crackles, ticks, etc.). Furthermore as you alluded to, the turntable set-up will also have its effects - always a small amount of wow and flutter (vs. minuscule digital jitter), cartridge frequency response differences, etc... Each of these way more significant than the consistency seen in digital gear.

      Indeed, no matter how vinyl lovers want to "spin" this, if we're after "fidelity" to the original source (ie. master), there's really no way one can argue for vinyl. This doesn't mean that folks might not enjoy the physicality, collectability, or even the ritual of cleaning, gear alignment, or watching the spinning LP while listening of course :-).

      Thanks Jim... Take care and certainly continue to "live the dream" :-)!

    2. I had been out of the loop as I had Prostate Cancer and surgery at Thanksgiving time. Doing well, but recovery will be long, so more listening will be in order. Coming back here will keep me busy. Thanks, Jim

    3. Good to hear that the surgery and recovery going well Jim...

      Alas, the 'ol prostate unfortunately is something most of us guys have to "deal" with at some point. Have a great time listening!

    4. Jim's reply is interesting to me.

      I am on the upgrade path with my analogue system, and have poured quite a lot of money into a new arm, new phono interconnects and a new phono preamp. For the fun of it, I tried to compare some albums I own on two formats. In some cases one were better sounding to me than the other (random which), and in a couple of cases, the difference was so small I had to listen very carefully to determine which sounded the best. This lead me to the conclusion that both digital and analogue can sound truly amazing, so I have to concur with you Arch, when you hint that the recording/mix/pressing is in reality more important than the format. Because it's true. Vinyl is best sometimes, and in other cases digital is better. This shouldn't ever be causing a debate.

      A good or excellent system today will bring us to about 98-99% of what's possible sound wise, or at least what ought to satisfy all but the most picky of audiophiles on this amazing planet. I am on around $20k at the moment, and I don't need more or better, but was bitten by the bug over 5 decades ago, and haven't gotten rid of it yet, lol. So, maybe some day a Class A amplifier lands in my apartment? But next up is a Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC Star for my tt. Can't wait :)

      All the best to you too, Jim. Get well soon please :)

  15. Its funny how these two guys, Darko and Lavorgna have a thin skin - probably why they don't accept comments anymore. Once, while Lavorgna was doing Audiostream, he put up some pictures of his personal art (how this had anything to do with Audio is probably why he was replaced) and I called him out on being self indulgent. Man did he ever get upset and resort to an ad hominem attack ever so quickly. These guys have the odd interesting article, but given that their revenue is related to clicks, I only click on an article if it looks really interesting.

    1. Thanks for the note Frank,
      Yeah, in my experience, in general you've got to be careful with artists and their "art". Gets personal pretty fast... :-)

      I don't mind giving a click here and there out of interest. In the long run, I think it's about whether the site is seen as accomplishing the advertising goals and that will correlate with the health of the audiophile industry itself especially with the smaller sites if there's little value-added content.

      All the best Frank!

  16. Sorry for the late chime in.

    Well, if we don't pay attention to these jokers, I think we have generally "won".
    In a way, for a reasonable amount of money, one can purchase a very high fidelity system, with absolutely no need for the esoteric stuff unless one needs the non-utilitarian "perks" or simply to brag.

    I think that we now have to shift our main focus on the "mainstream priced" gear, i.e. how to find/get the cheapest components that practically come close to the threshold of standard human hearing capabilities.

    All the best to you, Archimago, and the readers of this blog!

    1. Thanks Turrican,
      Yup, I have no doubt that already for many components, very inexpensive "mainstream" products like DACs and amplifiers can already sound indistinguishable if not even superior to many ridiculous "Hi-End" gear.

      Finding well made, reliable, high performance gear should be just as if not more interesting than those "money-is-no-object" products. The inexpensive stuff will touch more lives and provide more joy to the many.

  17. Disney's Dumbo cartoon was one of my favorites as a kid, and I often look at audio products like the magic feather in it that Dumbo doesn't really need to fly but it helps him believe he can do it. It's the same with a DragonFLY USB device. It helps people believe they're getting an improvement in audio, and they pay more attention and thus enjoy it more. (The word "dragon" in itself implies something mystical and marvelous, maybe fearsome too = more power).

    It's the power of suggestion sold as a product (putting money into something also prepares you to appreciate it more, though Dumbo's magic feather was free). But it should also be noted that this "Debbie Downer" talk from objectivists like me also swings things in the other direction, so that people appreciate things LESS. So I don't often want to burst people's bubbles and just let them carry on enjoying what they do. After all, Dumbo would never have tried to fly without being lied to from the mouse..

    1. Good analysis of the Dragon"FLY" products and nice discussion of the connotations evoked by the name.

      I'd like to think that objectivists are just realistic people rather than wanting to be perma-"Debbie Downers" :-). There are certainly times I have been very excited and would not want to dampen anyone's excitement either! If I have never enjoyed audio, I wouldn't be spending all this time writing about it...

      In a way what objectivists have been saying is the opposite of Debbie! I'm actually trying to cheer up audiophiles by reminding them that jitter and noise are actually not as bad as these guys are saying. Using generic USB cables and interconnects sound great. Audiophiles should save money and get some exciting great music.

      The only people who should feel sad about these statements are the few questionable folks making money off hype rather than the multitude of music lovers and reasonable audiophiles.

    2. haha i just watched this new review of the Cobalt from Stuart Black and he even uses the expression "I finally got my wings!"

    3. sorry, probably a bit crude for your blog

  18. Regarding jitter (and keeping things positive) I'm wondering how accurate gauge is a pure tone measurement to describe what we are hearing? Why would it describe, the differences are 100db down and we probably do not hear any differences in the pure tones ourselves. But when you consider the oscilloscope end, a pure tone is easy to transform. A complex tone like a musical instrument, it should be exponentially more difficult. There should be a better way to measure jitter.

  19. Unfortunately I came to your refreshing fount of reason 5 years too late as I read today your old posts on reconstruction filters. Most listening tests involve multiple listeners expressing a preference from a single pair making it difficult to establish good statistics. Also preference is a tricky guide when the threshold out to be “is there a real audible difference “. I’d like to propose a simpler and more significant test of “you can’t measure it, but I can hear it” theories of Darko, Lavorgna, and add Beekhuyzen..Current snake oil is Ethernet switches. Here’s thé proposed protocol: pass high quality 24/192 lossless samples through a Linksys switch and a holy grail. Label one A, one B. Now prepare 10-20 or more triads (of the same selection) comprised of A, B, and X (where X is randomly populated by A or B. Now present packages of triads to the golden ears to decode with magic DAC’s, played through the most revealing equipment they choose. 20 or so go’s at the same pair out be sufficient to separate distinctions from chance and the excuses for not accepting the challenge ought be entertaining. A similar protocol could be applied to most forms of digital snake oil.