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ESP Philosophy

Copyright © 2019 - Rod Elliott (ESP)

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ESP Philosophy (simplified)

Since the original of this page was first written in 2004, we've seen many changes in the way that information is disseminated.  Once, books and magazines were our primary sources of information, but now almost everything is just looked up on-line.  Books have a major advantage in that they usually have an author, editor and publisher, so questionable material is less likely to get through (at least for technical material).  That there are benefits to the on-line approach is beyond argument, because we have more data at our fingertips than ever before.  However, things aren't all rosy, with the spread of 'fake news' and even 'alternative facts'.  The latter is (of course) drivel - there is no such thing as an 'alternative' fact - something is either a fact or it's not.

Fake news is a lot harder, because it can be very difficult to determine who is telling the truth and who is not.  This applies to electronics (and especially audio) just as it does to anything else.  Many people who have little or no experience come up with a hare-brained 'new' theory or idea, and others (also with little experience) see this as 'proof' if it supports their own ideas, or as 'fake news' if it does not.  Thus, there are many ideas that have no basis in science, engineering or physics that gain traction, simply because someone else believes it to be true.

Newsgroups and forum sites are a breeding ground for ideas, but just because someone else agrees with you or your current pet theory that doesn't mean it's valid.  Of course, not all forum posts are from the 'flat earth' society, but if you don't know enough about the topic then there's little chance that you can tell which ideas are valid and which are simply bollocks.  This is one of the reasons that the ESP site has such a large collection of articles that cover many different aspects of electronics - not just audio.  The beginners' sections are especially useful if you are starting out.

It's a given that there will be people who disagree with things I've written, especially if it denounces one of the 'theories' found elsewhere.  This applies to cables (mains, signal and speaker), where some of the most outlandish and dishonest claims are rife, with apparently 'respectable' people making claims that defy all logic.  These people are after one thing - your money.  Be especially wary of all and any claim that a supposedly 'magic' product uses quantum theory as its basis.  All such claims are horse-feathers, and the seller is simply lying to you.  I know of no exceptions that are currently offered to audiophiles.

There are other widespread disinformation campaigns as well.  Most of the debate about capacitors simply ignores the basic facts, so subjectivism (without double-blind testing) and 'opinion' are touted as fact, but without a shred of supporting evidence.  I'm all for listening tests, but unless they are double-blind they are utterly meaningless.  Once you can see whatever it is you are listening to, your brain makes unconscious 'decisions', based on whether you like what you see or otherwise.  Unfortunately, it makes absolutely no difference if you already know that this will happen - there's a phenomenon known as 'expectation bias' (do a web search), a subconscious effect that is far more prevalent (and powerful) than you ever expected!

All material on the ESP website is free for personal use, and doesn't require you to 'join' or log in to access the information (the exceptions are the Guestbook and Forum, and that's to keep spammers out).  The construction articles are not available unless you buy one or more PCBs.  However, nothing on the site is 'public domain', so copying and reproducing material elsewhere is not only a breach of copyright, but also a breach of trust.

I don't sell or promote anything that hasn't been either tested thoroughly or cannot not work as claimed.  There is no hidden agenda - everything is available without requiring a subscription or your email address, and no spam is ever sent.  Anyone who receives an email from me is getting a reply to one that was sent.  I do not have or use a mailing list, and no-one has ever received an unsolicited email from me trying to sell them something !

In a nutshell, my overall philosophy is very simple ... "No Bullshit".  I will not recommend or publish anything that cannot be demonstrated to be 'different' or 'better' by double-blind testing, and/or by measurements, carried out to the best of my abilities (and that of my test equipment).  Not all circuits published qualify as being to the highest standards possible, because most of the time it's not necessary.  There really is a point where performance can be declared "good enough", and further improvements will generally be inaudible.

It's quite true that some of the circuits I've published as projects or in articles are capable of being improved, but when customers tell me that "project XYZ" sounds excellent, and is 'better' than other circuits they've used, then it has to be considered that it does indeed perform well, and while anything can be improved, there's no reason to do so if the resulting (invariably more complex) circuit demonstrates no audible benefit.  I've always considered the 'numbers' (i.e. test results) to be important, but there's little real benefit to be had if an 'improved' circuit is too complex for typical DIY constructors to build, and/ or if the difference isn't audible.  It's quite surprising how many 'obvious' audible differences between equipment magically vanish when tested using a double-blind methodology.

My goal has always been to design circuits that are simple enough for DIY people to build without excessive stress.  A power amplifier (for example) that uses 20 or more small-signal transistors and innumerable nested high-frequency stability networks will only ever function as designed if the exact originally specified parts are used.  This makes it difficult for constructors, because the circuit is so complex that when something goes wrong, there's little chance that the builder can troubleshoot it to get it working as intended.  This just causes immense frustration, and large numbers of wasted parts - especially if a minor fault causes it to 'blow up'.

A good design is one that is easy to build, reliable, and provides a level of performance that is audibly indistinguishable from another piece of (equivalent) equipment designed for the same purpose.  Some will be simpler than designs published on the ESP site, others more complex.  Mostly, the designs I show are "as simple as possible, but no simpler".  This quote is attributed to Einstein, but in fact he actually (or apparently) said  ...

"It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience." Ref. 1

My entire working life has been devoted to electronics (design, service and manufacture), and I've seen a great many excellent ideas and probably just as many poor ones.  Some of the good ideas date back to the earliest days of electronics, while many of the poor ones seem to be comparatively recent.  One thing that has certainly become far worse over the past 20 years or so is the number of frauds selling 'goods' that don't stand up to even the most rudimentary scrutiny.  I've been berated for denouncing some of this nonsense because I've not tested it.  I don't need to pay $250 or so for a jar of coloured rocks to know that they won't improve the 'soundstage' of my own hi-fi !

Nor do I have to buy $2,000 speaker leads or power cables to know that they won't improve a damn thing.  Berate me all you like - some things simply don't require anything more than a simple 'thought experiment' to realise that that they are fraudulent.  If you'd like to read a more complete (albeit somewhat less succinct than this) version, see the Full Version of this page.

Ref. 1:    Everything Should Be Made As Simple As Possible But No Simpler - Championing Science


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Copyright Notice. This article, including but not limited to all text and diagrams, is the intellectual property of Rod Elliott, and is Copyright © 2019 except where noted.  Reproduction or re-publication by any means whatsoever, whether electronic, mechanical or electro- mechanical, is strictly prohibited under International Copyright laws.  The author (Rod Elliott) grants the reader the right to use this information for personal use only, and further allows that one (1) copy may be made for reference.  Commercial use is prohibited without express written authorisation from Rod Elliott.
Page created Sep 2019