Thursday, 28 September 2017

Philosophy

Until the late '60s, vacuum tube/valve amplifiers were not an expensive or exclusive option, because there was no alternative. They were mass-produced, margins were slim, and they were manufactured to a price. Quality was variable and short-cuts were taken in the interests of cost-containment.

In the late '60s the first solid-state (=transistor-based) amplifiers became available. The increased reliability, smaller size, and greater power capabilities of the new gear quickly won favour and by the late 70s it looked like valve gear was relegated to history.

However, In the 1980s there began a resurgence in interest in valve gear, driven partly by nostalgia and partly because of the lingering dismay felt by audiophiles in particular at the sound of the early transistor amplifiers, which to be charitable, sounded bloody awful.

So the concept of valve amplification as a high-end audiophile alternative began to take root. And then it found a market and grew.... exponentially.

Fast-forward to 2017 and we now have hysterically over-engineered behemoths from Kronzilla and the like, using ridiculously overpriced tubes like the absolutely monstrous T1610. Try buying these, a snip at €3500 a pair.

Complementing this is the hi-fi cable industry. It's possible to spend €9000 on a 1.5 metre power cord. Interconnect cables and speaker wire runs to similar prices.

All of these excesses are targeted at one thing only: Relieving audiophiles of their money as quickly as possible. Nothing more.

The claimed benefits from the use of audiophile-grade cables and components are entirely quoted in pseudoscience terminology. There is no human alive who could discern the difference between a standard IEC power cord and something that costs more than most people earn in a month.

They are merely a very expensive placebo.

This point is worth exploring further because it's quite a frequent occurrence that someone will buy some high-quality gear, hook it up with ridiculously expensive cable, then credit the cable with the beautiful sound they experience, instead of the audio components. This is highly insulting to the engineers and designers who designed the equipment. It is somewhat like the religious family with a child sick with a life-threatening condition which they take to hospital, and the medical staff work tirelessly to help, which is ultimately successful and the child recovers. Then the family publicly thank their god for the child's recovery instead of the medical staff.

I make a parallel with religion very deliberately; because belief in the purported benefits of hyper-expensive cables has much in common with it. 

Compounding this delusion is my personal view that an audiophile derives 80% of the pleasure from his equipment in bragging to others how much it cost him, and only about 20% actually enjoying the sound.

My use of the gender-specific pronoun is deliberate; I don't know any women who would be this misguided or frivoloous.

In fact, I suggest that Hi-Fi boutiques should not display prices on their equipment. Instead, as you walk in the door, the assistant asks "How much would Sir like to brag his system cost to his friends?" - you say $100,000 please - so the salesman puts together a system and charges you $100k.

The equation probably goes something like this:

Cost of manufacture of equipment: $3000
Cost of Sale: $2000
Rights to brag that your system cost 100K: $95000


Unsurprisingly, I utterly reject this form of thinking. I enjoy the sound quality from a well designed and constructed amplifier, and I enjoy the design and build process. But I dismiss all the pseudoscience.

With the amplifiers I build and provide to others, in the accompanying instruction leaflet, I include the following statement:


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