So that's why they sound better
January 31, 2016 6:02 AM   Subscribe

Audioquest, the folks who claimed their expensive Ethernet cables made a “noticeable improvement in sound quality” (previously) has a YouTube video that clearly proves their claims. It demonstrates the improvement in sound quality their HDMI cables provide. Folks, this is not a subtle improvement that requires “golden ears” to perceive. In fact, you can even hear it on laptop speakers. Not surprisingly, the more expensive the cable the greater the improvement in the sound quality. Money well spent. Except, as Mark Waldrep points out: they cheated by faking the results. Here’s the response from the C.E.O. of Audioquest.
posted by Dean358 (78 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Stinks.

But thumbs up, as the mea culpa didn't include a pitch for better-sounding 3 prong power chords.
posted by uraniumwilly at 6:08 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wait, the CEO of a company that sells overprized cables is called Low Bill?
The make-believe goes right to the top!
posted by bigendian at 6:17 AM on January 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't see how there's any answer to the basic point that this kind of improvement is impossible. Either the cables work or they don't. That's it.
posted by Segundus at 6:20 AM on January 31, 2016 [14 favorites]


What's the point of the spectragraph? There's literally nothing it could have shown that would have vindicated Audioquest. Conversely, showing it doesn't add any particular support to the obvious conclusion that the demo is fake.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 6:27 AM on January 31, 2016 [5 favorites]


Sounds like a job for "The Fat Lady of Limbourg"

...her sense of taste is such that she'll distinguish with her tongue
The subtleties a spectrograph would miss...
posted by evilDoug at 6:34 AM on January 31, 2016 [15 favorites]


He does a poor job of explaining it, but the main thing it shows is that the samples were played louder through the AudioQuest cables, and progressively louder as the expense of the cable increased. It's well known that playing a sample at a slightly higher volume will be percieved subjectively as an increase not in volume but in fidelity. It's the oldest trick in the book, in audiophile circles.

Therr's no reason to use a spectragraph to show this though. As you note, the differences at any given frequency could in theory come either from post-processing chicanery or from whatever magical pseudoscientific woo AudioQuest claims is happening. The presented graph looks like it would mostly just serve to confirm the viewer's preconceptions, in that regard.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:34 AM on January 31, 2016 [8 favorites]


paper chromatographologist: the graph shows that the signal level is different for each cable and that the more expensive the cable the higher the signal level. As Anticipation points out, in all audio comparisons it's critically important to keep levels the same as "louder" sounds are almost universally perceived as "better." As it's not physically possible for the cables to have altered the signal level -- let alone by 10 dB! -- these levels were manually changed to make the more expensive cables appear to sound better, i.e., they cheated.

Anticipation: I'm guessing he used a spectrograph to see if there was a difference in the frequency balance between cables. And if you look around 8KHz at the cheaper cables there is a difference which makes one suspect there was EQ applied in addition to level changes.
posted by Dean358 at 6:39 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


The most amusing part: if you can hear the difference between the cables in the YouTube video, doesn't that mean whatever audio cables you are currently using are at least as good as what is being demoed?
posted by mikewebkist at 6:46 AM on January 31, 2016 [107 favorites]


Audiophile gear is a way of extracting money from rich suckers; it has always been this way, and the only reason Audioquest exists at all is because consumers are being lied to by salespeople who sell on commission.
posted by mhoye at 6:49 AM on January 31, 2016 [9 favorites]


The spectrograph does look like a filter was applied, and the signals provided should make it easy to show that.
posted by Dashy at 6:50 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


So, these cables go to eleven?
posted by freakazoid at 7:19 AM on January 31, 2016 [13 favorites]


What I'm utterly baffled about is that there's even an argument, or proposed tests, or whatever.

The signal transmitted over HDMI cables isn't analog, its digital. And with digital, then either the data is there or it isn't. As long as the cable is not of such poor quality that it drops a lot of packets, or falls out of the TV, then there is absolutely no possible way that one cable will deliver better sound than another.

The claim that a cable made with pixie dust or whatever is somehow going to provide better audio is physically impossible. It simply, flat out, can't happen. Ever. Under any circumstances.

The fact that so many audiophiles seem determined to pretend that they can hear a difference that literally literally, not figuratively literally, can not exist is distressing.

With an analog signal there's wiggle room, I'd still call BS on hyper expensive cables but at least there we'd be in the realm where tests and analysis and so on is necessary. Analog cabling between the amp and the speakers could, potentially, be a place where there is an actual measurable difference between cheap and expensive cabling. I doubt anyone would notice as long as there aren't shorts causing popping or whatever, but at least you can't write off the whole thing as blatant nonsense and would have to actually do tests.

But with HDMI cabling there's no need to do double blind tests. There's no need to do anything but note that the signal is digital so therefore as long as it is getting from source to destination cable quality is totally and completely irrelevant to output.

And yet, the suckers keep shelling out preposterous sums of money for an HDMI cable in a fancy sheath. I see that, and I despair for the future.
posted by sotonohito at 7:43 AM on January 31, 2016 [61 favorites]


I don't mind people spending their money on things that make them happy, even if I can't see the darned point. I do the same with things that no sane person would value. If you think dropping a grand on two yards of plutonium-doped hyperlooped quadridimensiional dodo-skin cable will improve your enjoyment of Dire Straits, then go right ahead.

Just don't lie about physics, because the next sound you hear will be the click of the safety coming off and the whine of the capacitors charging on my blaster ray of righteousness, and I will aim it squarely at whichever body part you cherish the most.

Do. Not. Lie. About. The. Physics.

Other than that, fill yer boots.
posted by Devonian at 7:45 AM on January 31, 2016 [21 favorites]


I can't decide if I love watching idiots waste money on those cables, or whether the skeptic in me should simply be furious at such an obvious fraud being perpetrated.

With a cable transmitting an analog signal there can be a noticeable increase in signal fidelity with better cables; with a digital cable, such as HDMI, it either faithfully transmits the binary data or it does not. Full stop!

If the signal degradation is so great that the receiving end can't determine if a 1 or 0 was sent across the line, you have a whole different problem, and what will come out the other end won't be "lower sound/video quality" but complete indecipherable gibberish. I'm not sure anything short of a completely faulty cable or an EMP blast like the nuke from the James Bond film Goldeneye could cause such a problem in an HDMI cable less than 10 meters in length.
posted by mystyk at 7:46 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


Turns out humans, without the aid of human-defying methodology, are poor judges of X.
posted by Construction Concern at 7:56 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


The last time I bought a HDMI cable locally, because I didn't want to wait for delivery, the blue shirt tried to upsell me. When I told him that it was a digital signal and it either got to the other end of the cable or not, full stop, he was obviously baffled and had been trained to give a whole patter which did not include this bit of information.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:57 AM on January 31, 2016 [13 favorites]


The only advantage between a reasonably priced digital cable (say, anything from $10 to $25 for longer than usual) and a $5 "HDMI CABEL" is that the more expensive cable is very likely more resistant. Not because it prevents midichlorian signal interference, but just in case it gets stuck somewhere, it won't twist or strip. The rest is very expensive placebo.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:06 AM on January 31, 2016 [5 favorites]


When I worked at Fry's Electronics a decade ago, I saw the BS in action first-hand.

Go over to the Computer Components department, and they had a bin of plastic-bagged 2 Meter HDMI cables for $3.99, which went on sale every few weeks for $1.99 and occasionally for even less. Go over to the Software department (where game consoles were) or the A/V department, and they didn't have a single one that was cheaper than $20, plus had many of the "premium" ones there up to the $100+ range to up-sell further, and every one was in a blister pack.

I got in trouble on several occasions for telling people that as long as they didn't need a really long one, to pick up the cheap cable from the Components department since it will do the job equally well to the most expensive one we had.
posted by mystyk at 8:10 AM on January 31, 2016 [11 favorites]


so how many recording studios buy these?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:10 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


You may be able to fool a human, but you can't fool an electron.
posted by dudemanlives at 8:15 AM on January 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


How come no one wants to address the fact that there was no mention of critical burn-in time to get the best sound quality from these AudioQuest cables?
posted by gorbichov at 8:22 AM on January 31, 2016 [14 favorites]


As P.T. Barnum famously said* "A suck with $1000 to drop on a 1 meter HDMI cable is born every minute."

*Not really
posted by tommasz at 8:27 AM on January 31, 2016


What's the point of the spectragraph?

So there's two ways you could sell over-priced digital cables: you could play identical sounds through both and claim to hear a subjective difference. Or you could claim to play the same sound through both but actually play different sounds (or otherwise cheat the output). The spectragraph proves that this is the second sort of test.

That's weird because the first kind of test is probably going to work fine to fool people, and it's much easier to show in court that the second kind of test constitutes fraud. Why take the risk?

That's what makes the defense by Audioquest's CEO -- that this video was made by a distributor and they didn't approve it -- seem sort of plausible. You would expect Audioquest itself to be better at not crossing the line to outright fraud.

But then I look at Audioquest's own website for HDMI cables and see stuff like "On the top two HDMI cables, Coffee and Diamond, AudioQuest’s patented Dielectric-Bias System (DBS) polarizes the insulation on the five primary signal pairs, providing a drop in the perceived noise floor and an increase in dynamic contrast." That seems like a factual-enough false claim to get them in trouble. I wonder what kind of legal strategy has protected them so far, or if it's just that no one's seriously gone after them yet -- and if they're worried that a really blatant cheat like this will start to unravel the whole thing.
posted by jhc at 8:41 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


lmfsilva: "anything from $10 to $25 for longer than usual"

So, same as in town, you say?
posted by chavenet at 8:41 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


Maybe someone forgot to unhook the Bybee Quantum Purifiers.
posted by ryoshu at 8:43 AM on January 31, 2016 [5 favorites]


I wonder what kind of legal strategy has protected them so far, or if it's just that no one's seriously gone after them yet

They're defrauding a few thousand willing suckers of thousands of dollars. No one's going to file a suit let alone a complaint if they've been drinking the koolaid long enough where they'd buy one of these cables.

Smite interesting question is how Monster's gotten away with defrauding millions with $100 cables that perform no better than a $5 cable.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:00 AM on January 31, 2016


...providing a drop in the perceived noise floor and an increase in dynamic contrast...

Those words don't mean anything, though. They're just chosen to look as if they do.

You can't easily test 'perceived' anything except by asking someone about their perceptions and if they go 'Yeah, that's less noise' then there you go - and you carefully don't arrange the test to exclude bias or randomise the test criteria. And 'dynamic contrast' isn't a term used in audio engineering, it's just flim-flam. If they'd said 'a drop in the noise floor and an increase in dynamic range', then you'd have them. Both these things are objectively measurable with test equipment and both are legitimate and widely used specifications, which is why this marketing uses similar - but not the same - phrasing.

Such things are useful as confirmation, if confirmation were needed, that you're dealing with carefully designed snake oil sold by people who know exactly what they're doing. Is it fraud? No, it's misleading and shameful and why engineers hate marketeers.

Caveat auditor.
posted by Devonian at 9:12 AM on January 31, 2016 [11 favorites]


mystyk said: "I got in trouble on several occasions for telling (Fry's customers) that as long as they didn't need a really long one, to pick up the cheap cable from the Components department since it will do the job equally well to the most expensive one we had." As a Fry's customer, thank you!
I think my body language at Fry's is such that most salespersons know to not bug me unless I speak first.
posted by King Sky Prawn at 9:15 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Audioquest ethernet cables now sold with complimentary Mast Bros Chocolate Bars!
posted by pjsky at 9:31 AM on January 31, 2016 [10 favorites]


And if you can't afford it, fuckin finance it!!!
posted by Mchelly at 9:39 AM on January 31, 2016 [5 favorites]


polarizes the insulation on the five primary signal pairs, You are polarizing plastic?
posted by boilermonster at 9:47 AM on January 31, 2016 [5 favorites]


My problem with this sort of "but it's just rich suckers being ripped off" is that it trains people more generally that things that sound "scienticious" are as valid as actual science.

And then we get wind-turbine syndrome, and vaccines-cause-autism and climate-change-isn't-real.

But that's just, like, my opinion, man.
posted by But tomorrow is another day... at 9:48 AM on January 31, 2016 [12 favorites]


Gifs look better on SSDs.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:49 AM on January 31, 2016 [21 favorites]


interesting question is how Monster's gotten away with defrauding millions with $100 cables that perform no better than a $5 cable.

I suspect they have a legal team that approves certain phrasing that implies things but doesn't actually constitute untruths. With analog cables, there are actually minor differences in cables and quality is subjective, so a claim that they sound "better" isn't something they can be sued over. Glancing at the wording on their site for digital cables, there seems to be lots of apples to oranges comparisons that imply but don't actually say that non-name brand cables are oranges.

And ultimately, a lot of their sales are for conspicuous consumption anyway - people weren't trying to have a really high fidelity sound system, they just wanted to brag that they'd spend $100 on the "best" cables. Bose did the same thing forever with their overpriced clock radios. Similarly, most people don't buy Beats headphones for the sound as much as a fashion/cultural statement or as a financial shibboleth.
posted by Candleman at 9:52 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's so interesting to me that the audio world is so uniquely full of woo. Maybe when TVs are so good that humans can't notice any differences, or computers get so fast that it's hard to measure the differences in performance, those groups of hobbiests will be similarly susceptible.
posted by miyabo at 10:24 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Emperor's New HDMI Cable
posted by The Vice Admiral of the Narrow Seas at 10:24 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure anything short of a completely faulty cable or an EMP blast like the nuke from the James Bond film Goldeneye could cause such a problem in an HDMI cable less than 10 meters in length.

I can. There's more than one way to crap up a cable, doubly so with HDMI which is a rather poor design to begin with. By the spec, there *are* no minimum/maximum lengths. The rule is "if you can pass the standard tests, it's a valid cable." And, of course, there's also "which HDMI spec did you test? 1.2? (And what bandwidth did you test your 1.2 cables to?)1.3 (Category I or II?) 2.0 (and to what bitrate?) Note that 1.4 is 1.3 with the added pairs to allow an Ethernet return channel.

A perfectly valid 1.2 cable may not be able to carry anything above 480p -- if it was tested the frequency required for 480p video, and labeled as such, it's a perfectly compliant cable that is also basically crap. On the other hand, you could have a 15m cable test out as 1.3a Category I compliant -- they're rare, but they're available.

Fundamentally, the more you have to push through, the shorter the cable run has to be without help, and it can vary dramatically based on cable quality.

Having said all that, I buy the cheapest I can find that isn't obviously wrong for anything under 2m, and then go to a reasonable and reliable vendor for anything more complicated that that. I go to Blue Jeans Cable for that, but there are other vendors who are as good and as reasonably priced. About 1 out of 4 cheap cables, in my experience, will give you trouble at very high bitrates, but the price is such that the right answer is to swap another one in, it's still cheaper than a "good" cable.
posted by eriko at 10:26 AM on January 31, 2016 [13 favorites]


On the top two HDMI cables, Coffee and Diamond, AudioQuest’s patented Dielectric-Bias System (DBS) polarizes the insulation on the five primary signal pairs, providing a drop in the perceived noise floor and an increase in dynamic contrast.

Isn't that what Chief O'Brien said while he was busy calibrating the duotronic Vigoda coils on the new Sao Paolo (rechristened as the Defiant)?
posted by juiceCake at 10:32 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


The CEO's response: "all we have is our memory of the video"
posted by eye of newt at 10:34 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


CAT6E is the last thing you should upgrade in your audio rig. Those nice cables don't make the ones any taller or the zeroes any rounder -- for that, you want a good audiophile-certified digital music storage solution.

Additionally, you should be wary of recent high-bandwidth technologies like SATA3 and so-called "gigabit" ethernet. The extra throughput may seem like a good idea when it's time to take a backup, but the bitstream it delivers is too crowded and packed for audiophiles. Without that critical space between the bits, your audio won't breathe.
posted by Sauce Trough at 10:42 AM on January 31, 2016 [16 favorites]


> audiophile-certified digital music storage solution.

That was the article I immediately thought of in response to "Gifs look better on SSDs.". Thanks for the link.

And thanks, BTIAD, for "scienticious". It's my new favorite word.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:06 AM on January 31, 2016


The CEO also calls Audioquest the victims, which is still not a label I'd apply to folks selling $1,000 HDMI cables.
posted by zachlipton at 11:12 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would pay a few bucks more for a more durable cable, and one that backed up that alleged durability with some kind of uncomplicated warranty. That is, if there is not obvious evidence of the cable being stomped-cut-whatever -- we'll replace it immediately, no questions asked.
posted by philip-random at 11:21 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Shit like this makes me wonder who will pick up James Randi's torch now that he's starting to retire.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:30 AM on January 31, 2016


AudioQuest seem to be victims of this particular fraud, despite getting very close to perpetrating a fraud on their own customers.

As others have noted, a $3 HDMI cable performs essentially the same as a $1000 HDMI cable. The only caveat comes in when you are burying a very long cable in your walls, which would indicate the use of larger gauge wire (24ga vs. the usual 26ga wire used in the least expensive cables) from a supplier that is known to use high quality connectors and assemble them correctly. In that rare case you should be spending $20-30 on that 15 meter cable rather than going for the $8 special, just because of the hassle and expense of replacing it.

None of that difference has anything to do with improved audio or video fidelity, though. It will either work perfectly or work so poorly there is no question it is broken. I've seen marginal cables in action; the signal cuts in and out entirely, it doesn't get marginally worse.
posted by wierdo at 12:20 PM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


Without that critical space between the bits, your audio won't breathe.

I'm going to practice saying this with a straight face.
posted by mhoye at 12:23 PM on January 31, 2016 [12 favorites]


Crisp sparkling ones and smooth buttery zeroes.
posted by edheil at 12:29 PM on January 31, 2016 [12 favorites]


You can have my Monoprice cables when you pry them from my hands, strengthened by squeezing all the dollars I didn't have to spend on them.
posted by a halcyon day at 12:48 PM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Cables, schmables. Your system isn't audiophile until you add Black Discus to the equation.
posted by Ber at 12:53 PM on January 31, 2016


I don't know exactly how HDMI works, but digital transmission and storage is usually encoded in an error-correcting format such that you only need X out of every n bits to actually show up intact to reconstruct all the data. In a situation like video streaming where you can't retransmit I'd think this is a big part of what makes quality resilient/rather all-or-nothing. I tried to look this up specifically for HDMI and I got a lot of videophiles (or actual cable manufacturers) confusing ECC with retransmission. HDMI does not do retransmission but error correction is not about retransmission! Anyway i wouldn't claim to know exactly what's what in the spec but it sounds like some traditional error correction is done for the data component - which includes audio! - whereas for video it's actually just this? There's probably somebody here who knows what this all means better than I do.
posted by atoxyl at 12:54 PM on January 31, 2016


Any hobby with an upper-end audience is going to have gear like this. There are lots of crap you can buy for cars which absolutely has no effect on performance or efficiency (or actually degrades it) and yet lots of it gets sold so barroom racers can "win" while knocking back a few pints.

I imagine if money isn't a worry, some purchases might simply be "why not, this is a drop in the bucket, and it will keep the tedious cable 'expert' quiet when I have real questions on my audio board" or whatever.
posted by maxwelton at 12:55 PM on January 31, 2016


I feel like you folks are being a little harsh on the consumers here. We're all familiar with streaming video that downgrades from 720p to 480p when the connection is bad, and that's digital.

It's not foolish for someone to suppose something like that (except more minor and subtle) could happen to the connections on your stereo setup. A bad connection bumping the bitrate of your audio down by a barely-discernible amount (320kbs to 256kbs, say). We know that's not how it works in this case, but not because it's in-principle ridiculous to suppose an imperfect digital signal could map to slightly-degraded audio quality.
posted by straight at 1:03 PM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


Wait, is Stereophile owned by AudioQuest?
posted by klangklangston at 1:12 PM on January 31, 2016


straight, even in situations where digital noise is normal like reading optical media that can be dirty or scratched, the line between working perfectly and not working at all is surprisingly fine. This is one reason all the ECC stuff in CD and DVD was removed from Blu-Ray, because it was considered a waste. (And it made room for the world's most crappily elaborate DRM scheme, but that's another story.)
posted by Bringer Tom at 1:17 PM on January 31, 2016


Unsurprisingly, this has been going on for decades. One of my favorite accounts, from (now retired) Peter Aczel's "Audio Critic" is free for download (Spring 1991). On page 51 he describes the model of a loudspeaker cable, measures the critical characteristics of (then-)famous cables, shows the model's predictions of their behavior, and measures the actual behavior. Sensible stuff, but not a high-profit way to run a business, so "The Audio Critic" was never a booming business.
posted by dylanjames at 1:20 PM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Volkswagen should hire this guy. Oh, wait...
posted by 4ster at 2:14 PM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Most newer Volkswagens have a Soundaktor, or a special speaker that plays a recorded engine noises when you step on the throttle. Yes, really.
posted by miyabo at 3:03 PM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


Anyone can get cold, crisp fidelity from an SSD, but you just don't get the same warmth you get from a spinning platter hard disk
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:13 PM on January 31, 2016 [6 favorites]


We have a moral responsibility to expropriate the wealth of the upper classes, not because we can put that money to better use than they can (though we certainly can put that money to better use).

Instead, we must immediately expropriate the wealth of the upper classes to keep them from being so tacky with it. The world is already approaching peak atmospheric capacities for lame tacky shit like "audiophile" digital cables. The chief source of tacky shit in the world is the money piles of the oblivious wealthy, and so for the safety of all of us — the oblivious wealthy, ordinary people, and the earth itself — we must break up these tackiness emitting money stacks and distribute their contents to people who can put these resources into satisfying sensible, non-tacky needs. If we act now, we can slow and ultimately reverse the growth of atmospheric tackiness; if we fail to act, we run the risk of turning the entire world into a somehow even tackier simulacrum of a Singapore airport terminal mall.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:23 PM on January 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


Anyone can get cold, crisp fidelity from an SSD, but you just don't get the same warmth you get from a spinning platter hard disk

I used to keep my music collection on 5.25" floppies, but that old tech had too much hiss.
posted by D.C. at 3:26 PM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


we must break up these tackiness emitting money stacks and distribute their contents to people who can put these resources into satisfying sensible, non-tacky needs.

As long as those "non-tacky" needs include tickts to monster truck competitions and single-use Keurig coffee packets, we are doomed.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:06 PM on January 31, 2016


mostly we have to bend the tacky curve — we're so saturated with tackiness that we can't hope to immediately start reducing the tackiness in the world, but merely slow the rate of tackiness increase. Responsible wealth redistribution practices will allow us to halt the increase of global tackiness at a level of three Kinkades above current levels by 2030, at which point we can hope to begin actually reducing global tackiness through the implementation of sustainable, renewable, decent, sincere, unflashy economic practices.

If we don't take these sensible measures, we will face by 2050 a rise in the global tackiness level to eight Kinkades and four Shkrelis, which would result in over 40% of the world's population becoming tackiness climate refugees, their homelands drowned under a flood of completely tasteless but inexplicably insanely expensive shit.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:20 PM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


The signal transmitted over HDMI cables isn't analog, its digital.

This isn't true. While the information being transmitted is digital, the signal transmission medium is very much analog. If you don't believe this then apparently you have never had difficulty tuning into an over-the-air digital broadcast. The broadcast is fully digitized information but you still can get broken pictures because the signal is analog.

With a digital cable, such as HDMI, it either faithfully transmits the binary data or it does not. Full stop!

This is not true. All digital media have an inherent bit error rate. This bit error rate can be well below the threshold this is noticeable to human ears, but that doesn't mean that errors don't exist. HDMI cables are specified to have a bit error rate less than 1 in a billion, so that usually isn't noticeable, but if you have poor or corroded connectors, for example, you very much may notice it.

I don't know exactly how HDMI works, but digital transmission and storage is usually encoded in an error-correcting format such that you only need X out of every n bits to actually show up intact to reconstruct all the data.

HDMI video has no error correction. If you have a poor connection you will get pixellation on the screen. The audio portion of HDMI does have ECC, but doesn't help if the headers are corrupted or the errors exceed the ability for correction.

Those nice cables don't make the ones any taller or the zeroes any rounder

Actually, a good HDMI cable literally does make the ones and zeroes taller and rounder. It is no trivial matter to transmit gigahertz signals over a cable. You want the analog signals to form a nice eye diagram and the taller and rounder the eye, the fewer errors in transmission.

All said though, almost any HDMI cable you buy, even the $2 ones will do the job. The techniques for fabricating HDMI cables have been refined and standardized throughout the industry to where is just isn't that difficult to produce decent cables at low cost.
posted by JackFlash at 5:31 PM on January 31, 2016 [11 favorites]


JackFlash, as I posted upthread the line between working with noticeable errors and not working at all is very fine with digital transmission. I have never, ever seen a situation where a digital signal was "poor quality but watchable," such as you might have seen with snowy analog TV or staticy AM radio reception. You can see this when the clouds roll in over your satellite TV feed; you don't miss pixels. At first a few frames misbuffer, then everything suddenly goes to hell in a storm of pixels and then NO SIGNAL. There is no in-between kinda sorta watchable but degraded state. The digital signal either gets there or it doesn't, full stop.

It does not really matter whether a good HDMI cable makes the ones taller because a tall one and a pathetic winded one are exactly the same to a digital receiver, and if your receiver is having trouble telling zeroes from ones you have very, very big troubles that certainly do not involve the *quality* of your cables.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:59 PM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


> There's probably somebody here who knows what this all means better than I do.

I have a degree in mathematics, designed error correction codes for digital data transmission starting back in the late 70s, have been doing digital recording since the 90s, and have a commercial digital signal processing program available, but...

Well, I don't quite agree with some of the statements above, but the last time I posted here on this subject, the response was sufficiently uncivilized that I'd not do it again - and no, I wasn't suggesting you buy the expensive BS cable.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:33 PM on January 31, 2016


wierdo: "In that rare case you should be spending $20-30 on that 15 meter cable rather than going for the $8 special, just because of the hassle and expense of replacing it."

It's foolish to embed any cable in a wall, especially one that is so short. Stick a length of pipe in the wall instead and you can easily replace the cable if/when it becomes obsolete or damaged.
posted by Mitheral at 9:33 PM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


I analyzed the video when it came out, and detected that someone had applied green marker to the edges of the video during the AudioQuest product playouts. The more expensive cable tests had more green marker on the video. It's a well known fact that green marker enhances the internal optical resonance of music videos, and so there was some tomfoolery going on. I'd like to see a proper test without the use of marker-modified video.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:15 AM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


You can have a lot of fun with definitions in analogue/digital signal transfer. Especially in marketing. (And mahoosive props to this thread for not mentioning jitter...)

An interesting game. Go to Spotify, pick a song, press play. How many cables has that sound been through since it left the humans who made it?
posted by Devonian at 2:43 AM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


The only valid metric for HDMI cables is mouth-feel. Assuming of course, that you're an HDMI port.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:55 AM on February 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


Wow, never so much snake oil as in audio gear. With an analog signal you can expect some influence by a cable on the signal especially at very high frequencies. Whether these influences are audible or not, even on a very high resolution stereo, is another matter. You can hear on such a system a difference between a $5 cable and something a little bit better. I remain skeptical that a $1,000 cable provides any real extra benefit. With digital though there are only two issues, bit accuracy and timing. I don't see how once you get beyond a certain very basic threshold of quality (like Amazon basics or Monoprice) how a cable could influence that. Am I missing something? Anyway, Audioquest is one of the most egregious of cable purveyors going on price alone. I wonder how they can sleep at night?
posted by caddis at 7:03 AM on February 1, 2016


I've made this point many times. I work in labs with very sensitive equipment that require high bandwidths. Far higher than even the fattest AV standards.
Electron Microscopes, atomic force microscopes, high speed data acquisition etc.
All of it uses quality cable, but nothing special, and certainly nothing like this audiophile stuff.

The most I ever paid for a cable was €60 for a 2 meter "triaxial" for a picoammeter. The main cost was the labour at €40/hour for the assembly and compliance testing.
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 7:40 AM on February 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


Audioquest is one of the most egregious of cable purveyors going on price alone. I wonder how they can sleep at night?

Soundly. The secret is actually not the mattresses stuffed with a proprietary mixture of carbon nanofibres and actual uncirculated currency, but the elastomeric sorbothane spheres resting on spiked feet that isolate the bed platform from vibration and resonance in your floor.
posted by a halcyon day at 11:17 AM on February 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's so interesting to me that the audio world is so uniquely full of woo.

This is just speculation on my part, but I think part of it stems from the years when the source of choice was the turntable. Little things can make an audible difference on turntables--improperly adjusting the stylus rake angle, for example, can make a cartridge sound edgy or dull. Having the anti-skate or vertical tracking force out of whack can introduce distortion and mistracking. Most importantly, the extremely low output phono cartridges preferred by audio geeks can be really sensitive to cable capacitance. When digital came around, enthusiasts couldn't wrap their heads around the idea that they didn't have to tweak anything....and here we are.
posted by TrialByMedia at 12:07 PM on February 1, 2016 [7 favorites]


Well, I don't quite agree with some of the statements above, but the last time I posted here on this subject, the response was sufficiently uncivilized that I'd not do it again - and no, I wasn't suggesting you buy the expensive BS cable.

Yeah I think some people are making statements about digital signals that are not actually particularly accurate - or at least they misunderstand why it works the way it does. But then also indeed none of that leads to the conclusion that you should buy expensive cables regardless.
posted by atoxyl at 1:02 PM on February 1, 2016


Before I was educated about this I did spend more on 15ft "gold" HDMI cable because the sales person told me it was better "blah blah" then the lower priced not gold one.

I learned and now just buy the cheaper ones. Of course out of all of my cables my more expensive "gold" one is the one that decided not to work properly after only 5 months of use.
posted by Jalliah at 1:21 PM on February 1, 2016


"It's so interesting to me that the audio world is so uniquely full of woo."

Nah, wine too.

Because so much of the audio processing happens inside your brain, a ton of extraneous subjective forces influence it — see the power of suggestion with backward masking experiments. And with wine, we know that people believe that wine they have paid more for tastes better than the same wine that costs less.

Which is why I'm launching EgoTronic Audio, which improves the subjective experience of your music listening by making you pay more for it. It's mostly based on Wakandan vibranium technology, but we use quantum antimatter to cancel out the positron errants in signal. All for only about $1,000 per meter! If you pay that much, we assure you that you will hear the difference.
posted by klangklangston at 1:39 PM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


"Audiophile" is literally the only good kind of phile but I still think they are sickos.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:00 PM on February 3, 2016


"Audiophile" is literally the only good kind of phile

You might want to review this.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:23 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


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