November 07, 2005

There's an audiophile born every minute

And you thought "wine snobs" were bad.

In their quest to eke out one more hertz of distortion-free performance from their audio equipment, there are actually audiophiles out there willing to spend obscene amounts of money: $30,000 for speaker cables (!!!). $150 for "cable elevators" to raise your $30,000 cables off the floor (I guess to cut down on vibrations caused by all those fast-moving electrons). An "Intelligent Chip" containing "quantum material," that, when laid on top of a CD player, "upgrades the disc" and improves sound quality. And my favourite: a $485 wooden volume knob to cut down on "micro vibrations" from standard plastic volume knobs that "find their way into the delicate signal path and cause degradation." Of course, the product descriptions and reviews are technobabble, complete codswallop.

There is a relatively new branch of psychology known as psychoacoustics - the study of how humans perceive sound. If we know what humans actually hear, then audio engineers can concentrate on improving how we hear that and ignore what we can't. For example, the MP3 file format is an application of psychoacoustical analysis: relatively small file sizes are achieved by discarding inaudible data. To my ear, there is no audible difference between a 160 kbps MP3 file and the CD track it was ripped from.

Of course, all that science (spit!) is just a wasted effort compared to the power of audiophile cognitive dissonance. Persuade a sucker to pay $1500 for a power cord, and he'll think his CD player sounds like the angel choir on the first Christmas Eve. Check out the praise heaped on the Audio Magic Clairvoyant Power Cord:

The Clairvoyant's ability to recapture the subtle dynamic shades of each musician's instrument highlighted the nearly telepathic interplay among this amazing trio on the track "Whisper Not." Adding to this, complete and dimensional sound portraits appeared and were gone with such suddenness that this ushered in newly perceived harmonic detail and dynamic contrast, bringing the event into the room.

If you thought that the purpose of a power cord was to deliver electricity to stereo equipment, think again. Not only does the Audio Magic Clairvoyant Power Cord squirt juice into the amplifier, it also EQs the frequency response, upgrades your cheap JVC speakers to B&Ws, renovates the acoustics of your living room, and time-travels back to the Van Gelder studio in 1964 to remaster John Coltrane's recording of A Love Supreme that you love listening to so much.

It's magic! It's like homeopathy for stereos!

(H/T: Boing Boing).