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Copyright © 2004 - Rod Elliott (ESP)
Page Created 05 Jan 2004
Updated Sep 2009

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Since this 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.  That there are benefits 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, and 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 campaign s 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.  One 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.

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 as far as it is possible, the articles presented on the ESP site are aimed at one thing - the truth.  To be more exact, it is really my version of the truth, since truth is neither absolute nor tangible.  There will be areas where it is later proven that I am (or was) wrong - I accept and welcome this.

At various times, I have been berated because I do not 'trust my ears', or that I have claimed that a product is fraudulent without having tested it at all.  Guilty as charged - there are simply too many products that should be tested, and in a lot of cases the claims are so preposterous that testing is clearly unnecessary.  While my ears remain a much used and relied upon test instrument, this is true only for my own tests - to be able to say anything with authority, I need hard evidence, not just add to the confusion by making unsubstantiated claims based on what I think I hear.

Ultimately, adopting the method used by the legal system that applies in many countries has a great deal of merit ... any claim (or counterclaim) should be based on its merits, and the result should be 'beyond reasonable doubt'.  Mistakes will be (and have been) made, and new information is made available on a daily basis.  What we need to ascertain is whether the claim(s) made seem likely or otherwise ... beyond reasonable doubt.  Until such time as someone actually proves that their magic rock works - using proper scientific methods, documented and repeatable experiments and detailed measurement results, it is reasonable to doubt the claims.  It is highly unreasonable to accept all such claims on face value.

There are many products that claim massive improvements over and above the standard offerings, without offering one single shred of evidence to show that the claim has any basis in reality.  While it is apparently perfectly acceptable for the vendors of such products to make their claims unhindered, for some reason it is not alright for me to debunk these claims without having listened to the product myself (indeed, testing is often claimed not to be needed, or should be avoided!).  In many cases, it really is not necessary to do so - the claims made have no relationship with reality, and wasting any time at all on such products is pointless.

Most commonly, magic component claims are riddled with pseudo-science, gobbledygook 'technical' specifications or references to proven characteristics of materials that, while passably interesting, have nothing to do with that material's performance in a piece of electronic equipment.  This is a popular technique to convince the non-technical reader that there is real science involved, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.

I cannot change the way that people think, and I have no desire to even attempt to do so - I present my material as is, and by virtue of the fact that I wrote most of the material, it comes with my own prejudices built in.  To some readers, this is unacceptable (mainly because I don't agree with them), and is seen as a perfectly good reason to launch an attack ... most commonly in forum and bulletin board sites, and rarely by anyone who has ever bothered to send me an e-mail to discuss their point of view (or offer some real data to prove their point).  There have been several cases over the years where I have been challenged, real data has been offered, and I have done further testing or investigation and made changes to the affected page(s) as a result.

There are great differences in the hearing ability of different people.  This changes from day to day, and is affected by mood, alcohol and other substances, minor illnesses and many other factors.  That some people will hear things others cannot is a given, but no-one can hear sounds that are well below the general ambient noise floor, except under well controlled conditions and perhaps with specific sounds.  A signal at 1dB SPL cannot be audible in the presence of another sound of similar frequency (range) at 110dB SPL, yet it is not uncommon to find claims that some individuals can hear sounds that would relate to -10dB SPL or less relative to the overall sound pressure.  For example, if a 0dBV signal produces sound (via a power amplifier and loudspeaker) at 100dB SPL, then -100dBV is 0dB SPL - the threshold of hearing.  Anything below -100dBV will be inaudible in absolute terms, and completely inaudible relative to the overall SPL.

This is not intended to be a thesis on philosophy in general, and it is inevitable that you will find inconsistencies, contradictions and more.  In fact, such is life.  Just as audio is built from compromises, so life itself is filled with inconsistencies and contradictions.

1 - What is Truth?

This is a truly tricky subject!   Krishnamurti said in 1929 (in a speech where he disbanded the Order of the Star - of which he was the head) ...

I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect.  That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally.  Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organised; nor should any organisation be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path.  If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organise a belief.  A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organise it.  If you do, it becomes dead, crystallised; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others.  This is what everyone throughout the world is attempting to do.  Truth is narrowed down and made a plaything for those who are weak, for those who are only momentarily discontented.  Truth cannot be brought down, rather the individual must make the effort to ascend to it.  You cannot bring the mountain-top to the valley.  If you would attain to the mountain-top you must pass through the valley, climb the steeps, unafraid of the dangerous precipices.

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Krishnamurti Foundation of America [1]

This is such an eloquent description of truth that it almost certainly cannot be bettered.  It is just as relevant to the pursuit of excellence in audio as anything else, although I'm sure Krishnamurti would have considered this to be rather trivial compared to the spiritual context he referred to.  Trivial or not, the fact remains that the essential principles of which he spoke are just as valid in the field of audio as spirituality, and indeed anywhere that several competing versions of 'truth' exist side by side.  This is rarely a peaceful coexistence - examples abound in the world around us, and we have seen the terrible destruction of life (and property) in the name of one truth or another.

We have also seen the almost religious fervour with which some people will defend their point of view or favourite piece of sound equipment.  Likewise, we see attacks (sometimes very vicious) on those who do not believe in pseudo-science, magic components or coloured rocks (special or otherwise).  To criticise is seen as heresy by some, and pity s/he who has the gall and audacity to openly state that $10,000 speaker cables (for example) are not the path to Nirvana.

Such extravagances may make their owners think their system is something Heaven-sent, however it is completely unreasonable and unacceptable that they will attack someone else who claims that the cable had nothing to do with the sound, or for another to claim that such sound is impossible to achieve without the 'special' (or magic) cables/ components used.  It is simply impossible for either party to win such an argument, and it is best for all if they could agree to disagree and leave it at that.

Much of what is at issue is based on the oft-repeated claim that there are many things that simply cannot be measured, and only our ears will be able to pick the subtle improvements offered by the product.  There is no point asking anyone making that claim to prove it, nor is there any point trying to convince the person otherwise.  It is their belief, and to them it is true.

However ... How much of their belief has come from elsewhere? To what extent is the belief something that has been formed after years of listening to music on different systems and taking detailed measurements, versus listening to the proclamations of the Black Knight 'gurus' whose belief system was built on an unknown premise?  Does the cable vendor (for example) genuinely believe that his product is as good as he claims, or it the whole exercise a cynical ploy to separate the buyer from his hard earned cash? We simply do not know the answers to these questions, and further probing for the answer will only infuriate the persons involved.

2 - Truth Versus Belief

The problem is that each of us has our own truth, and this is arrived at by many and various means.  In some cases it is nothing more than a belief, and it must be accepted by others that this is valid for the person who believes.  Although we may challenge the belief, it is rare (to the point of being virtually unheard of) for people to simply drop one belief system for another.

In other cases, our truth is the result of research, testing and measuring.  Should we find no evidence that a particular type of cable or component makes an audible difference, then that becomes our truth.  This must also include pure analysis, without measurement or listening test.  For example, if it is suggested that demagnetising plastic materials makes a difference to the sound of an audio system, there is no reason for anyone with an analytical mind to test this.  Since it is well known that no commonly used plastic can be magnetised, there is no point 'demagnetising' it.  Simple analysis (a 'thought experiment') must indicate that demagnetisation and a resultant 'improvement' in sound quality are impossible, when the base material cannot be magnetised in the first place.  Perhaps there is some other mechanism at work, but it is certainly not magnetism.

But, what of the beliefs of those who have demagnetised non-magnetic materials, and say that the difference is astonishing? Are they demented, or have they succumbed to the placebo effect? Could they be right? I can't answer this, and nor can anyone else.  To me, they are the unknowing victims of a fraud, and have chosen to believe that their hard earned money was indeed well spent, and not wasted making the fraudster rich.  It is important to understand that despite this, their experience is real to them!

Neither you nor I can convince them that they are wrong, any more than they will be able to convince me that the effects are real.  If it cannot be measured (bearing in mind that the digital signal can be analysed byte-by-byte) then I shall remain unconvinced, since there is zero proof to support the contention.  Billions of characters of electronic and conventional (paper) storage are devoted to arguments between the different 'camps', be it religion, politics, audio, cars, 'free' energy, conspiracy theorists etc., etc.

No-one wins these arguments - ever.  They are un-winnable in any forum, since no-one can convince anyone against their will.  All that anyone can do is to explain in a reasoned and (hopefully) rational manner that they believe that the claims are false, giving sound reasoning and clear details of the facts as they are understood.  In any case, the 'true believer' will not be swayed by any argument, however rational or well reasoned - and lest you may think that I am approaching this from my own perspective, this applies both ways.

A cable believer will be just as incapable of persuading me to change my mind as I will be incapable of changing his - we each have our own truth, and it is completely true - but only to the one person.  I base my beliefs on what I can measure, since I believe that measuring equipment can resolve details that cannot be heard under any conditions.  For example, although I know that I can measure the microphony of a cable (i.e. its ability to act as a microphone when vibrated), I also know that the signal level is infinitesimally small when the same cable is loaded with the typical impedances of the source and load.  Some claim that this is in fact audible, and to them, this may be true.  It may also be true that they think they can hear it, and a double blind test (DBT) would show that they can't.  We cannot force anyone to perform a DBT, exacting measurements, or anything else against their will.

There is no answer - people will continue to believe what they want to believe, and all anyone can do is to present the facts as they know (or believe) them to be.  One can do no more.

3 - What is Science and Belief?

Two excellent articles that explain the concepts of beliefs are 'What is Science, anyway?' [ 2 ] and The Belief Engine [ 3 ].  These two articles are recommended reading, but there is a great deal of other information available from any search engine.

What is Science?
"Science is the systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the world, and organising and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and principles." This rather elegant description is from biologist E.O. Wilson's book 'Consilience' [ 4 ].  That laws and principles will change over time is a given, since we are always learning.  Very little science (none that I can think of) has grown from pure belief - the gathering of evidence is hard work.

In short, science is knowledge based - all scientific principles are based on what we know rather than what we may believe.  Science is a process of assembling knowledge, correlating that with other knowledge, and testing the outcomes to determine a set of rules (or 'laws') that govern the interactions between materials and/or energy.  Without the testing and verification, there is no science.  If the tests are not repeatable by others, there is no science.  Anything that cannot be verified or measured, relies on opinion or subjective reports (hearsay) falls into the following category ...

What is Belief?
Simply stated, a belief is based on something that we cannot prove, and requires faith.  We do not 'believe' in the existence of air or water, for example, since we know that they exist.  Some may believe that they can live on air or water with no other sustenance, and this belief will stay with them until they either die of malnutrition or come to their senses.  Thus, it may be demonstrated that faith is not enough, and that we cannot live on air or water alone - such beliefs are not real to the majority of people.  Other beliefs that are not so easily disproved are much harder to deal with.  The longer a belief has been held, the harder it will be to convince the believer that s/he is mistaken.

What of God or magic components? These are beliefs - neither can be proven to the satisfaction of any observer, so there will be those who believe in God and those who do not.  Some will believe that God is different from the (false) God of other believers, that S/He has different rules, is benevolent, fearsome, omnipotent, or just 'there'.  Others (agnostics) may take the wait and see approach, which according to some believers guarantees the agnostics will suffer eternal damnation.  There are no facts either way, so no-one can actually be right or wrong - they simply have different beliefs, and will not change readily.

Likewise in audio (and indeed many other pursuits) - some believe in magic components, others do not.  The non-believers may be agnostic or full-bodied non-believers, but the end result is much the same.  Although it is possible to prove that a great many of the magic component claims are false, this proof will only affect those who are already non-believers or agnostics.  The believers will claim that the proof is bogus, just as the non-believers will claim that the reasons given that the magic works is bogus.

I like to think of the believers in magic components as 'naysayers', since (to me) they refuse to see reality.  To them, I am the naysayer, since I refuse to believe that there is any magic in components, and I believe that all audible effects can be measured.

A popular 'straw man' argument against the scientific approach is to point out some of the howling errors made in years gone by.  "Going faster than 10 miles per hour will take your breath away and you'll die" (allegedly proclaimed when rail travel started in earnest), "Man will never fly", and countless others.  Yes, these claims were made by the scientific community of the day, as were many others that were later proved wrong.  You may hear the claim that these demonstrate that "Science got it wrong then" and so it is just as wrong to criticise Joe Bloggs' 'quantum noise purifier' (only $599 if you buy now !).  This is a common complaint when un-provable 'benefits' are bestowed upon the fraud in question.  Science is largely empirical - theories are formulated, then an attempt is made to prove that the theory and practice match.  Mistakes are made, and the scientific approach means that these will be recognised and corrected.  Frauds are based only on the gullibility of buyers - those who take the 'information' at face-value without questioning the science.

Anyone can make a box with a piece of wire joining the 'input' to the 'output' (likely 'protected' with potting resin so no-one can see what's inside), and they can claim anything they like about its 'qualities'.  This does not make it real, and a complete lack of specifications (such as measured signal-to-noise ratio with/ without the 'box') means that it's almost certainly a con job (legally defined as fraud).  Likewise, a cable maker can add arrows to show the 'proper' direction of the signal.  This is also a con, since an audio signal is AC, so the wire must be bidirectional.  If it were otherwise, it would be a diode, and that's unlikely to win any friends.  I mention but two common frauds here, but there's an ever-increasing number adding to the pile of bullshit at regular intervals.

3.1 - Scientific Method Vs. Snake Oil

There are two methods to bring a completely new idea into the world.  The first is to use the scientific method, as shown below (albeit highly simplified).  This is the method used by research organisations, including universities and dedicated research laboratories.  Pharmaceuticals must undergo the same rigorous tests, and almost always involve a double-blind test with the new product's efficacy compared against a placebo.

Method 1   The scientific principles are that published material is peer reviewed, and any findings must be reproducible (and repeatable).  If I (or anyone else) were to claim that threading a piece of gold wire through a wine bottle cork, thermal noise is reduced by 3dB and 'micro-dynamics' (whatever they are) are improved by 3dB, I would have to provide full disclosure as to the test procedures and methods used.  I would then expect others to test the theory/ claim and verify it for themselves.  It's not a requirement that I can prove how it works mathematically, but it would certainly help if the formulae were included.  If no-one else can reproduce the effects claimed, it will quickly be discarded as 'junk science', and rightfully so.

Method 2   The alternative is to put the cork with its gold wire into a box, use epoxy potting compound to ensure that no-one can see what's inside, and make bold claims for its efficacy.  If I never disclose the test methodology used and refuse to tell anyone how it works (other than to claim that quantum mechanics are involved), I may have a winner on my hands.  No-one can prove that it doesn't work, because the test details aren't available.  Furthermore, as long as I insist that the effects are not measurable with any current test equipment, no-one knows what to test for, and my sales 'literature' will give no clues.  It may help if I state that I have performed design work for the US military (which is actually true in my case, but is utterly irrelevant).

I can now advertise my 'quantum maximiser' (QmaX) for only $599, and hopefully there will be enough gullible 'enthusiasts' around to make me a tidy profit.  As the emails come in telling me how it "lifted the veil" from high frequencies, "improved bass authority", "opened the sound stage" and "removed the graininess" from vinyl records (things alluded to in the sales brochure are therefore 'confirmed').  Note that the sales blurb should never make any specific claims, because that may leave me open to charges of fraud.

I can post emails from 'satisfied customers' on the website to bolster sales to others who may have been sceptical at first.  We won't concern ourselves that not one of the claims has a technical definition (and therefore cannot actually be confirmed or denied).  We also know that none of the 'satisfied customers' will have performed a proper double-blind test, because that's an anathema to the believers.  Naturally, if any email is received that says it made no difference whatsoever, it will be discarded so no-one else sees it.  If I don't get any emails, I can invent them - who's to know?

It will also help if I know some particularly gullible 'reviewers' who are happy to sell their soul for a song (or perhaps a plain brown envelope), as that gives the 'product' some 'credibility' (in quotes because neither is true).  They will (naturally) say how much difference the QmaX made in their system, and how it renders all other modifications one might consider obsolete overnight.  They will speak in glowing terms of how great was the difference, completely ignoring the well known (and scientifically proven) 'experimenter expectancy' effect.  It does help if the 'reviewer' also throws in some facts - they can be random, and don't need to explain anything directly.  Inference is far better, because that gives them 'plausible deniability' should they be questioned later.

Does any of the above sound familiar?  It should, because that exactly how so many of these fraudulent 'products' are advertised and sold.  The complete lack of any scientific principle means that peer review is not just impossible, but even if someone were to test it and find no difference, they have already been told that no current test methodology exists that can resolve the fine detail evoked from my gold wire through a cork QmaX.

Now it's fairly obvious that building the QmaX in large numbers would become tedious, so it's priced where most mere mortals won't go.  This means that I don't need to slave over a workbench for hours at a time putting them together.  However, I can simplify the whole process by encasing a low-value resistor (preferably one that isn't readily available) in a few layers of different materials (ideally something that looks esoteric, but is cheap) then just add some heatshrink tubing over the lot, and that eliminates all that tedious messing around with gold wire, corks and epoxy potting compound.  No-one will notice any difference, because the 'new' version does exactly the same as the 'old' one (i.e. nothing at all).  The latest version will be sold as the QmaX II, so keep an eye out for it .

There are some that fall into a special category I call the 'Black Knights' - as in the Black Knight of Monty Python fame, who refuses to accept that he can no longer fight, even after he has lost both arms and legs (few people would accept this as being "merely a flesh wound" as claimed by said Black Knight ).  Some of the Black Knights of the audio world have been brutalised and scorned by many, and some observers might say with considerable justification.  Their beliefs are so strongly held that no argument, no rational discussion of the facts, no possible reason, will sway them from their often ludicrous postulations.  Rarely (if ever) does the Black Knight have a website with detailed diagrams, test results and measurements.  Often (if they do exist), the data will be lacking certain critical information, without which it is essentially meaningless.  There will nearly always be other people who agree with the Black Knights for reasons of their own, and who believe that the claims are reasonable and rational.  They will leap to the defence of a downed Knight regardless of the rationality of the detractor's claims, and most often also without a shred of hard evidence to back up their position.

To me, this behaviour is denial - they deny that there is anything wrong with their claims, they deny that any proof to the contrary is valid, (regardless of the qualifications or reputation of the person providing the proof), and they will deny that there is anything to deny.  The arguments used are usually ad-hoc, often (ever so slightly) off-topic, and almost always emotional rather than rational.  In exactly the same way, a creationist will deny that the proof of evolution is valid, or a conspiracy theorist will deny that any proof of man's moon-walk is valid.

To take it to an extreme, the Flat-Earth Society (and yes, it does exist) refuses to believe or accept that the photos taken from space prove anything (they will typically claim they are all faked), and despite the fact that not one of them has ever fallen off the edge of the world, it is still flat - regardless of the awful paradox that creates with air travel, the existence of the horizon, etc.  These are the ultimate Black Knights - are they completely mad? I don't know, and I don't much care either, the truth be known.

Naturally, some of the claims made by (some of) the Black Knights will be valid and may be proved easily, and this makes it much harder for the layman to separate fact from fiction.  Only by experimentation and education will people be able to see what is (or is likely to be) true, and what is based on faith or is complete fabrication.  In some cases, a claim can easily appear to be completely rational and have scientific validity, but without evidence and repeatable test results it should be treated with suspicion.

4. - Perpetual Motion in a Different Form?

The proponents of 'overunity' or Perpetual Motion Machines (PMMs) have a similar philosophy of life to that of the alchemists of old, or the magic component proponents and/ or vendors.  Essentially, they feel that their discoveries are so important that no-one should overlook them, yet both groups will reveal nothing tangible about how their creations actually do what is claimed.

Any information that is provided requires that you must take it at face value, and only after a purchase will you discover the truth - namely that it does not work, or at least, does not work as claimed.  These people seem to have a disconnect with reality, and believe that established science fails to see the importance of their work, is blind to the benefits, or even deliberately withholding the truth.

Having purchased the magic component or plans for the PMM, in many cases the buyer may convince himself that it works, for to do otherwise is to admit to having been duped.

There are countless scam emails and websites that tell you that "this site has been pulled down by 'big energy' many times, so make sure you buy the copy of 'Tesla's Forgotten Free Energy Machine' before it happens again." By making it look 'urgent' and claiming that 'big energy' is responsible for having the site removed, people are led to believe that there might just be something useful and worth the $$ they are asked to pay for it.

In reality, the site has probably never been pulled down by anyone (although it might have been forced to close because it's fraudulent!).  By making it imperative that you act quickly, the fraudsters instil a sense of urgency, and they appeal to many who believe in conspiracy theories.  After all, if 'big energy' pulls the site they must have a lot to lose, right?  Wrong! 'Big Energy' (whatever that might represent) has no interest whatsoever.  No bogus 'Tesla machine' will ever affect their monopoly on the supply of electricity, petrol ('gas' in the US) or anything else.  The reason is simple - 'free energy' relies on 'overunity' machines that produce more power than is needed to drive them.  All such machines are in a perpetual state of being "almost complete - just a few tweaks and it will be ready".  They never get past that point.

The claims in any of these cases are very similar - you will get benefits that are way beyond what simple physics would indicate, and these people will protest that established science simply does not understand the principles involved.  No amount of mathematical or measured performance proof will ever make a difference to their beliefs, and will be simply deemed wrong, inappropriate or misguided.  They will vehemently deny that their own claims are wrong, inappropriate or misguided, and will reject any proffered proof out of hand.

In many cases, the PMM brigade will defend their position with words alone, and would rather continue with endless debate than spend some time in the lab or workshop fabricating their invention (and thus proving the claims), and rendering all further words superfluous.  The laws of thermodynamics simply don't apply to these 'inventions', yet strangely, not a single example has ever been seen working by independent witnesses.

The magic component believers will do exactly the same thing, but with a twist.  They do build equipment and test their inventions, but refuse to perform meaningful measurements, double-blind tests or anything else that would prove or disprove the claimed benefits once and for all.

Both groups are rather like the alchemists, and think that all they need is sufficient faith and purity of thought to achieve things that are, in fact, virtually or literally impossible.  The scientific approach is considered 'defective', because it does not embrace their beliefs.

There are many examples that will be brought up where science has been proven wrong in the past.  Splitting the atom or exceeding the speed of sound are two classic examples, since everyone used to consider both to be impossible.  Now that they have been shown to be perfectly possible, the same logic is applied to their own creations ... "Since the scientists were proven wrong then, so shall they be in the future when my claims are examined properly."  The flaw (from their perspective) is in current thinking, which disallows the proof that their PMM, cable or 'universal distortion and noise canceller' (etcetera) will actually do what they think it does.

Then there is the 'undiscovered law of physics' that can be brought to bear if a detractor is particularly persistent.  While it is possible that there really is an undiscovered law, it will not negate the current and well proven concepts of conservation of energy, thermodynamics, or any other basic principles.  Any such new law (should it exist in the future) will add greater understanding of existing principles rather than make the currently used physical laws obsolete.

To these people, perhaps Einstein's special law of relativity should read ...

E = mc² ±3dB

... and the uncertainly factor allows them the latitude needed to enable their process to function as claimed.  Sadly for them, this is not the case.

In a similar vein, there are many who believe that everything is black or white, true or false.  There is no grey (which translates to uncertainty).  In fact, the grey area is usually where the real truth is to be found, this is the area that should be examined most closely, for in doing so one will learn a great deal about himself, and potentially a great deal about the way the world works.

In this context, there used to be a claim that "you can't have trees and grass too" - this was the common cry of early sheep farmers in Australia.  This belief resulted in the wholesale removal of trees, and the result is now decimation of the land - massive soil erosion, rising salt tables that threaten (or make useless) more and more land each year.  The claim in itself is true, but without examining the grey area, the actual reasons were not seen, and trees were simply cut down.

So, what are the reasons?  I present one possible reason that is quite simple, although I do not claim this to be the final answer - just one of many possibilities that will only be seen when the grey area is explored ...

Now, it is not because of the trees there is no grass underneath, but because the sheep have eaten it all while trying to keep cool.  In addition, sheep are hard hoofed animals, and Australian native grasses evolved with only the native mammals - none of which has hooves! There's a lot of info on the topic of hoofed animals in Australia if you care to do a web search.

Removing the trees was obviously a big mistake, and the real reason (or at least one reason) for no grass beneath the trees was neglected in the rush to 'solve' the 'problem'.  In fact, trees may allow grass to grow better, especially in the areas shaded from the morning sun - I can see this in my own backyard! I can likewise lament this when I have to mow the very thick grass thus shaded, which grows like crazy during summer.  In the areas that get full morning sun, the grass growth is more subdued.

Ok, but what on earth does this have to do with electronics, audio, PMMs or anything else?

Good question, simple answer, but with complex understanding.  The grey area of all things is that which is unknown.  There is no immediate right or wrong, true or false, real or unreal.  To get to the answers is difficult, time consuming, and in some cases expensive.  It requires one to think, long and hard, to discuss and to examine and reject theories.  It is not the easy path.

On the other hand, to accept someone else's theory (e.g. "Oh, don't even try to understand it - it's magic!") is easy, but you then fall into the very trap that Krishnamurti warned against.  'Truth' is packaged, sanitised and instutionalised, you are warned that you must never question that which is 'written in stone'.  This applies to politics, religion, finance, hi-fi and almost anything else you can think of.  To accept the 'word' is the easy way - you no longer need to question, examine or experiment, or to search further for enlightenment.  You have been told - it must be true because so many others also believe, and anyone who questions this truth is an heretic.

This principle was used to great effect by the Spanish Inquisition, and is used today to push the current fiscal policy, someone's belief in 'world order', and at the trivial end of the scale, to attempt to silence those who criticise the high end cable vendors.

A new belief can come about so easily that it is scary ...

Someone thinks they hear a difference between two components.  At first, they may be unsure, so will ask someone else.  The second listener may say "I do believe you're right - I'm sure I hear a difference too." At this stage, they may (or may not) actually hear a difference, and it is more likely that they have fallen victim to the 'experimenter expectancy' effect.

Along comes another - he may be unsure, but it's two against one now, so he may well bow to the pressure and think that he too hears a difference (this is called self-delusion, and is far more common that most people realise).  Anyone who comes along after that either goes with the flow, or admits he has 'tin ears' and is ostracised from the new clique.

Advance a few years, and this vague belief has become the truth!

Those who refuse to believe this (new) truth are naysayers, have tin ears and are deluded! Of course they are! The truth has been laid before them, and they refuse to see it.  They are blind to the truth, and insist on trying to explain away the magic with mere science!  By now, the clique has grown to cult status, it brandishes its truth as fact, and the heretics who refuse to believe are ostracised, categorised, criticised, and put aside - until they come to their senses.  This is identical to the old tale of "The Emperor's New Clothes" [ 5 ], where everyone claimed to behold the fine garments that never existed.

Does any of this sound familiar?

5. - Definition of Proof

Despite the reservations some may have, proof is not difficult to explain.  Simply stated ...

Proof may be defined as an experiment or test result whose outcome is demonstrably different from that predicted by random variations as may be found in similar devices or processes (i.e. the results must be statistically significant).  To be valid, the experiment or test procedure must be repeatable, using equipment that need not be identical but has similar specifications, is not modified in any way that will produce the outcome independently of the characteristics of the device under test, and does not rely on guesswork in any form.

From [ 6 ] we get the following ...

1.The evidence or argument that compels the mind to accept an assertion as true.
2.aThe validation of a proposition by application of specified rules, as of induction or deduction, to assumptions, axioms, and sequentially derived conclusions.
b.A statement or argument used in such a validation.
3.a.Convincing or persuasive demonstration: (was asked for proof of his identity; an employment history that was proof of her dependability.)
b.The state of being convinced or persuaded by consideration of evidence.
4.Determination of the quality of something by testing; trial: put one's beliefs to the proof.
5.Law.  The result or effect of evidence; the establishment or denial of a fact by evidence.

In other words, if anyone takes a measurement that shows a particular behaviour (positive or negative) with a particular component, then anyone else with similar equipment should be able to duplicate the results.  Proof of any behavioural characteristic does not imply anything else.  For example, if I were to prove that certain component leads were magnetic, then that (and only that) is relevant.  If I then postulate that this degrades the sound quality, there is no proof of this, merely speculation or guesswork based on the original finding.  It is necessary to then prove that there is a degradation, and if I cannot (or will not) do so then my postulation remains an opinion only - it is not a fact, it has not been proven, and may or may not be true.

Most people who attempt any form of proof will make mistakes.  They may overlook something, or be unaware of a characteristic of one or more of the components.  Their proof will be flawed, and will almost certainly be challenged.

Those who take a scientific approach will (usually) re-examine the new data, and may decide that it is irrelevant or important.  If the latter, they will usually look more closely at the claim and their proof, and often find that they were indeed wrong.  They may well be miffed (I have been on several occasions ), but will generally publish a correction once the new data is correlated and the experimental processes are repeatable.

By contrast, there are those who rely on postulation (or proclamation) alone, and do not even attempt to prove their claims.  Given the lack of evidence the claims must therefore be viewed with suspicion, since without any offered proof, there are no facts to work with.  Emotive comments, unsubstantiated 'evidence', and hearsay don't amount to a hill of beans in the real world, and any complaint that modern equipment is not sensitive enough to measure the difference is simply bollocks.

"I heard a difference" is not evidence, merely a claim or hearsay, unless the test was performed using a properly conducted Double-Blind Test (DBT) methodology, with a statistically significant outcome.  The majority of magic component vendors and proponents eschew the DBT, and will use all manner of (usually ridiculous) arguments to support their position, such as "the DBT equipment degrades the sound so much that the test is meaningless" or "D-B Testing is too stressful, so you never get the correct result".  This is simply rubbish, and should be seen in every case as a priori evidence that the claims made are either grossly exaggerated, bullshit or both.

A proposition is knowable 'a priori' if it is knowable independently of experience [ 7 ]

In some cases, it is entirely possible that a test methodology really does not exist to prove or disprove the claim, but the proponents of magic components will never, ever attempt to devise a method to prove that what they say is true, for to do so would almost certainly amount to shooting themselves in the foot.  They know that they are talking through their hats much of the time, but they certainly don't want you to know that - especially if they want you to buy their product.

In some cases, the vendor may genuinely believe that his magic component works.  S/He may be passionate about it to the point of being fanatical, and have such faith in the benefits that he is blind to all reason.  S/He cannot accept any proof that the device simply doesn't work.  The only 'proof' needed is letters of commendation (no, not condemnation) from users or reviewers, but there will be no technical information, no graphs or charts showing the before and after effects.  No test equipment will ever be brought to bear, for this may shake the faith when it is demonstrated that no change can be found.  It is important to understand that this is still technically fraud, regardless of the beliefs of the vendor.  A device must actually perform the described functions, and this should be based on evidence, not hearsay.


So, to summarise the general philosophy of The Audio Pages and myself, I can safely state that ...

There are a great many things that I don't know, and as I grow older and (hopefully) wiser, I realise that the more I know, the more there remains to know - this will no doubt continue until the day I die.  The primary aim of the ESP site is to educate and enlighten - and I have had so many e-mails of thanks that I can only conclude that a lot of people have found benefit and knowledge from the articles and projects.

This was always my aim, and it is hoped that the majority of readers will appreciate and welcome the information presented.  For those who think that the site is biased and does not fit with their beliefs, then I can only suggest that you go elsewhere - I will no more change my beliefs than you will yours.  Argument is futile, wastes a great deal of time, and rarely if ever achieves anything worthwhile.

Just because you disagree with one or more of the things said on the site does not mean that nothing is valid.  All are welcome to browse, and to join and participate in the ESP Forum (whilst abiding by the rules).  The greater the participation, the greater benefit to all who visit - this is not a place for 'I win, you lose' arguments - it is intended to be a place where everyone can win.

It must be remembered at all times that any claim that seems too good to be true, almost certainly is! There is no appeal against the laws of physics, and any claim to the contrary is false, and should be an instant warning that something is seriously wrong.  While it is more than possible that there are still things that have not been discovered, they are unlikely to be of such massive importance that our listening habits will be forever changed - i.e. they will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.  Any such discoveries are far more likely to be made by well equipped laboratories than backyard tinkerers or 'magic component' suppliers.

1     Krishnamurti Foundation of America
2What is Science, anyway? - Robert L. Park
3The Belief Engine - James Alcock
4Consilience - Edward O. Wilson, Random House, Reprint edition (March 30, 1999) ISBN: 067976867X
5The Emperor's New Clothes - and other tales of Aarne-Thompson type 1620 edited by D. L. Ashliman
6The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy - Proof definition


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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 © 2004 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 06 Feb 2004./ Updated as needed on several occasions since.