2010-01-12

Audio Myths

Have you ever met an audiophile who pays high prices to get the very best connection cables? Who wants all the ultrasonic frequencies? Who swears that vinyl records remain unsurpassed for fidelity?

In Skeptic magazine this week, a sound engineer examines the superstitions and pseudoscience that circulate in the world of high-fidelity audio. The article, by Ethan Winer, shows how audio consumers are led astray by sales pitches, misunderstandings and placebo rewards. In the process, he offers an excellent primer in the way high-fidelity audio really works.

Audiophiles who prefer vinyl to digital playback are, of course, as correct as anyone can be about what they prefer. But it turns out that what they prefer in this case is not fidelity, as they claim, but distortion. Finding distortion pleasing is certainly allowed as an aesthetic choice. Rock musicians have lived by distortion for years, just as art enthusiasts exist who liked the Sistine Chapel ceiling better when it was dirty. One is entitled to one's tastes, but it does little good to justify these preferences by appeals to fidelity. What one loves is not fidelity to reality but the distortion of it that one has come to regard as an improvement.

The entire article may be viewed at Skeptic's reading room.

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