In my last column, I ended on these words: “I will also occasionally broach taboo, complex, controversial, and bewildering subjects. I invite you to keep an open mind and follow me on this fascinating journey.”
In that spirit, I will dare, at great risk of being stoned, crucified, and excommunicated, to speak to you in all humility about my beliefs and experiences in the very dangerous world that is audio cabling.
I hesitated a long time before writing this column. Oh, you know why! Cabling has instigated more “dialogues of the deaf” than any other audio subject for over forty years. It’s a minefield! Audiophiles can be deeply and passionately divided on the subject, sometimes irrationally so.
On the one side is the audiophile who refuses to believe that a cable can make an audible improvement and immediately calls out any price deemed exorbitant. On the other side is the audio enthusiast who claims to hear differences and improvements between cables and understands why one cable may cost more than another, despite their identical length.
Unfortunately, these two solitudes seem irreconcilable.
“I’m an unabashed audio cabling agnostic. It’s all a hoax. There is no scientific evidence that a cable can influence sound reproduction. I know what I’m talking about—I have a degree in electronics technology.”
The above quote is what I say to every audio store rep who tries to talk to me about the benefits of using a high-end audio cable. If one of them has the gall to insist or invites me to listen for myself, I threaten to leave the shop immediately.
My instinct is to protect myself against such nonsense. I immediately push back against this conspiracy of malicious people bent on extorting money from poor, unsuspecting consumers. It’s just a scam that stores and manufacturers try to pull off to increase their profits. Their prices are outrageous. It’s downright theft!
Notice something? Throughout the last three paragraphs, I was self-absorbed, dismissive, and intransigent in my beliefs. Yet, at the start of this column, I talked about keeping an open mind. So why am i doing the exact opposite?
It’s because I was speaking in the present tense about something in my past. The cable agnostic of this story is me. I confess that I have since changed, converted, that I have sinned against my objective faith. I’m not sure why I finally succumbed to the temptation.
I mean, I was doing everything right. I subscribed to several non-believer websites and Facebook groups. It’s the best way to convince ourselves of the legitimacy of our Truth. We just need to gather with those who share the same opinion as us.
Good thing then that Facebook’s algorithms are so effective at recommending groups to us based on our online search history and areas of interest. The more we explore a topic, the more we’re presented with opportunities to participate in discussions that support our view and which, in turn, offer us comfort and validation. Having surrounded ourselves by people who think like us, our senses of curiosity and discernment atrophy, our reality distorts. To better illustrate my point, I highly recommend you watch the documentary “The Social Dilemma”, available on Netflix and YouTube.
Despite my scientific background, a doubt had been germinating in my mind for some time. How could it be that so many audiophiles claimed to hear an improvement in the sound of their audio systems by using high-end cables and this, since the ‘70s? Surely, they couldn’t all be that that impressionable? Even taking into consideration the placebo effect, is it possible to fool so many pairs of ears around the planet for so long?
I questioned myself. By nature, I’m a calm and diplomatic person. I like to experiment, discover, and learn. Why did I have this closed-minded stubbornness when it came to audio cabling?
I think it started with an aversion to the relatively high prices being charged for what were just cables. It’s hard to explain that a one-meter-long piece of wire cost so much to produce that it justifies a price into the thousands.
At the same time, I’ve never felt an aversion to the price of a Louis Vuitton bag, or an Ermenegildo Zegna suit, or a Patek Philippe wristwatch. I never felt compelled to protect consumers from such designer products. If a someone wants to buy an exclusive, luxury item because it feels makes them feel good, who am I to judge?
The luxury goods market has grown constantly since the ‘80s, and took off like wildfire at the beginning of the 21st century.
I explored the facets of this phenomenon during my studies for an M.B.A. in 2005. In return for a high price, the marketing specialists promise to give you an extra-ordinary experience. You will be exclusive and recognized. You’ll be entitled to a personalized service. The product offered will be of exceptional quality—great attention will be paid to the finish and details.
It’s a concept that certain manufacturers of audio gear and accessories have understood for a long time. The price of luxury goods is not based solely on production costs, it is dependent on the value perceived by the consumer. The pricing strategy is simple: How much is the consumer willing to pay to achieve this status, quality, and extra-ordinary experience?
If the product sells, it’s because it meets a consumer need.
There is an abundance of ultra high-end audio gear on the market, such as loudspeakers that retail for over $800,000 and amplifiers for over $ 400,000, that rarely cause a commotion. It’s usually the opposite; they’re objects of desire that command a certain respect. Conversely, a speaker cable that sells for $ 20,000 is instantly tried and judged by a part of the audiophile community whose verdict had already been decided: the product is purely and simply the object of a scam.