• Michael Fremer Responds To The Skeptics

    Sure the name of this site is Computer Audiophile and that name seems diametrically opposed to anything that Michael Fremer says, does, or supports. Fortunately nothing could be further from the truth. Michael is a music lover first and foremost just like the readers of Computer Audiophile. One quote by Fremer that I think we can all identify with is from an article posted this week on BoingBoing, "Music got me into audio, not vice-versa." A couple weeks ago Michael was interviewed by Gizmodo for a piece that ended up with the title Why We Need Audiophiles. Those of you who read the very interesting article may not have read the follow-up comments on Gizmodo that resemble comments on every audio forum we've all visited from time to time. In response to the Audiophiles article, another writer blasted and possibly mischaracterized much of what was said in the original article. I was very happy to read Michael Fremer's response to the response and to read his thoughts on some of the comments written about him and audiophiles in general.


     

     


    I highly recommend kicking your feet up and taking a few minutes to read all three articles. Heck, maybe your tubes will be warmed up by the time you finish reading :~)

     


    1. The whole "saga" began with an article by Gizmodo's John Mahoney titled Why We Need Audiophiles. Gizmodo Link

    2. This was followed up by a response titled Gizmodo Mounted On Maple Block, Sounds Great. BoingBoing Link


    3. Then Michael Fremer responded with his article titled On Being Gizmodoed, Boing Boinged, and Hydrogenated. Fremer's Response BoingBoing Link

     
    Comments 70 Comments
    1. jphone's Avatar
      jphone -
      The way that I view this is in the terms of the Theory of Evolution vs. Creationism debate. One is science and the other one is faith. We are all free to choose our path to enlightenment, but our choice will not turn faith to science and science to faith.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Good point jphone.<br />
      <br />
      I like to keep a very open mind about audio and measurements etc... <br />
      <br />
      1. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence<br />
      <br />
      2. "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." <br />
      * -- *Albert Einstein<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      That said, I don't discount anyone for believing what they want about audio and measurements. We can all enjoy music no matter how we think.
    1. djtek's Avatar
      djtek -
      Very interesting read. I've been a subscriber to Stereophile for a few years now, and always found Fremer to be knowledgable and articulate.
    1. Mike in MD's Avatar
      Mike in MD -
      I used to think AC power cables were snake oil, until I put a $200 cable on my CD player. It made a very obvious difference. I still doubt if I could hear the difference between a $200 cable and a $4000 cable, but who knows. It will never happen in my system. I will never find out. <br />
      <br />
      <br />
    1. jeffca's Avatar
      jeffca -
      While I love listening to music as much as Michael Fremer, his brand of audio bullshit is the reason that audio is taking a giant step backward rather than forward.<br />
      <br />
      I especialy love that all of the garbage and non-linearities associated with vinyl playback are just fine and that he could hear what was missing from a digitally recorded album that was on vinyl. I think that illustrates perfectly what a wack job, ignoramus and logically-challenged charletan he is.<br />
      <br />
      I have no time for him and his ilk.<br />
      <br />
      Of course, if these points in the article are incorrect, my apologies.<br />
      <br />
      I think it appropriate to point everyone to a classic Sterephile article reposted there about the Carver Challenge:<br />
      http://www.stereophile.com/features/the_carver_challenge/<br />
      <br />
      Audio legend, Bob Carver, proved 25 years ago that he could quantify differences between 2 radically different amplifiers and modify one to make them indistinguishable from each other in listening tests. What can be learned from this is that human hearing has its limits and that most phenomena involving music reproduction are quite well known, quantifiable and reproducable. Unfortunately, this rarely enters into the reviewing of audio equipment anymore.<br />
      <br />
      I'd love to see a comprehensive test to find out why a $4,000 power cord causes a system to sound better a $50 model. I'd bet almost anything that it's because the equipment it's hooked to has a crappy power supply.<br />
      <br />
      Julian Hirsch, we miss you!<br />
      <br />
      jeff
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Wow Jeff, tell us what you really think. Thanks for the honest opinion :~)
    1. saunby's Avatar
      saunby -
      I bear audiophiles no ill will, but I know there's a lot of ignorance about. <br />
      <br />
      In the first article I read "he's been obsessing about vinyl since he was four years old, memorizing the labels of his parents' 78s" which sort of implies that 78s were vinyl. Hardly any were - even Wikipedia known this!<br />
      <br />
      As an engineer what I find frustrating about audiophile products is that whilst expensive power cables may change, perhaps even improve, the sound of a system, little if any thought is given to whether this is a sensible use of cash - even for an audiophile. <br />
      There's a old saying - "an engineer can do for a shilling what a fool can do for a pound". Changing your carpet will change/improve the sound, as will changing the temperature of your room. <br />
      <br />
      For those who aspire to owning a really great system the smart way to get there is by not spending money on gimmicks. Instead save the money for really important things such as decent speakers.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Saunby - Thanks for the post. I think much of what you said is very good. I do think your statement about sensible use of cash is for the most part irrelevant. That is a judgement that every single person can only make for themselves. <br />
      <br />
      Thanks again for the comments.
    1. BobH's Avatar
      BobH -
      It's amazing how many times we read anti-audiophile comments which, at their heart, come down to price. I often wonder if the equipment reviewers miss a trick with that one.<br />
      <br />
      I've often read reviews where a piece of equipment will be qualified as 'good for the price', but this has always been where the equipment is, subjectively, low cost. The polar opposite is also often seen, where an outrageously priced item will be highlighted as 'beyond the reach of most of us', but it is always worth the money. I don't think I've ever read that an expensive item is <em>not</em> worth the money.<br />
      <br />
      The 'Law of Diminishing Returns' applies to all types of luxury goods but is seldom drawn to the attention of the buyer. Perhaps professional reviewers would come in for a deal less stick if they were prepared to stick their collective necks out and qualify some of the hyperbole with a dose of realism, price-wise. If a piece of kit is going to give you that extra 0.5% over something half the price, then that is information that the likes of MF <em>could</em> pass on. From that point on it's up to the buyer - if it's worth it to you then go for it! In other words, it places the review into some sort of context and it is this lack of context that is so often attacked.
    1. wooster's Avatar
      wooster -
      Picking up on BobH's point, I've never entirely understood the price/quality correlation either. Sometimes a reviewer will say something like, "this is the best CD player for under 5,000 (Dollars, Euros, whatever)", as if it is obvious that spending more than 5,000 will yield better quality. But at what point does spending more become futile?<br />
      <br />
      While it seems clear to me that there is a price point below which it is difficult to get high quality, it is not obvious that it takes an enormous amount of money to get very high quality, or that spending more is automatically going to result in better quality. There's an expression, "you get what you pay for", but I think it's truer to say, "while it's hard to get what you don't pay for, you don't necessarily get what you pay for either".
    1. saunby's Avatar
      saunby -
      Choosing one product over another is of course more than just a matter of cost. I might not like the look of one product, or I might listen to two products and be sure that one sounds better than the other. I can't see where any "law of diminishing returns" applies in the case of making such a choice.<br />
      <br />
      However if I'm designing something then I have limited resources. Maybe I've only got a year in which to complete the design. So do I spend 11 months evaluating switches and wires? Not if I've got any sense. The first few minutes are well spent, the remaining thousands mostly wasted. Certainly diminishing returns here. Likewise for those so sure the rest of their system is perfect they'll spend days (and cash) comparing cables.<br />
      <br />
      As an engineer I know there are products that have been carefully designed and there are products that have been carelessly designed. What is unfortunate for the consumer is that a careless design can be as expensive to make and contain as much gold and other fancy materials - maybe more - than a carefully designed product.<br />
      <br />
      Any law of diminishing returns for high tech products can only sensibly be applied to genuine effort expended in design. But the buyer generally doesn't know what this was. Their best guide might be the price - but it's only a proxy.<br />
      <br />
      Expenditure on expensive raw materials beyond that required is just waste and a sign of poor design. Back in the early days of hi-fi the equipment generally came without cabinets. Why pay hi-fi prices for wood, plastic, and trim? Does it sound better? Maybe this is where today's greatest "diminishing returns" are to be found.<br />
      <br />
      <br />
    1. BobH's Avatar
      BobH -
      I used the phrase, entirely with respect to the buyer, to mean <em>the next percentage point of performance, justifiable though it may well be, carries a disproportionate cost penalty for most.</em><br />
      <br />
      Just quoting some arbitrary figures by way of illustration, at UK prices, the Focal JMLabs Diablo Utopia's are £8000. The Grande Utopia EM's are £110,000. If, for me, the Diablo's give me 95% of the sound I am looking for and the EM's give me 99%, then I have got to spend over 13 times the cost of the Diablo's to get the extra 4%. That is what I meant.<br />
      <br />
      Admittedly, if I could justify the expense then it would be worth it to me and I would buy the EM's. But the extra effort needed by the designers to bring me that extra 4% is going to cost me a lot of money.
    1. wooster's Avatar
      wooster -
      I suppose my point was that I'm not sure that there is a simple price/quality correlation in the first place - at least once you get past the low-end of the scale. I don't think spending more is any guarantee of improvement in the sound. In that sense, the extra expense may yield no return, not merely a diminishing one. Of course, it might buy a nice box.
    1. sin3wav3's Avatar
      sin3wav3 -
      Jeffca, do you think you could muster up a more cogent title than "Fremer is an Idiot"? Come on man. You're the kind of problem he talks about in his rebuttal. This kind of talk lends nothing to the discussion when it starts off attacking the subject on a personal level.<br />
      <br />
      If you're looking for comprehensive tests, get a subscription to Stereophile, you'll find plenty of them every month.<br />
      <br />
      If you think Bob Carver can make a Carver sound like a McIntosh, you're on something really good.
    1. sax512's Avatar
      sax512 -
      Well, what's the point of it all? The articles seem to talk about audiophiles vs. skepticals but I don't think the exact core of the metter is discussed. In fact both "schools" agree on the fact that high-end gear sound better than mp3 on crappy laptop speakers. The point is that skepticals are usually skeptical on differences between vinyl and digital records, and which one is supposed to sound better. While the first article cite this point, at leat very shortly, the second focus on how stupid spending thousands of money to improve a stereo system can be. Now there's a huge difference between earing a difference due to the system and due to the source. It seems to me like in the three articles the two subject are treated together, but it's actually a big mistake in my opinion. Having it said, if you want my opinion I think that you need to spend more than 200$ to listen to music in a decent manner, but I think also that sometimes the nuances and subtle differences between k$ worth equipments can reveal another aspect of the subject that is often omitted: must music be heard as it's intended to be by the artist and sound engineers or is it a personal experience and one can seek for his own warmth to add to the sound coming out of the speakers? When somebody says the sound is warmer and richer with this set or the other, we have to keep in mind that only the recording engineer could test the different gears and say which one is closer to the original, and anyway at the beginning the record was still mixed with studio monitors that are supposed to have a flat answer, but just compare some of them and you will hear the difference too. So spending thousands of money for an audio set is fine with me. Just keep in mind that real flat answer is impossible to achieve and whenever one consider listening to the music as a personal experience and wants to have his own custom sounding system, then there's no use in quarreling on which system sounds better, because the hypothesis here is that it's a matter of personal taste. As far as I'm concerned I listen to the music with studio speakers. I bought a pair I liked the way they sounded and I'm fine with it. It's quite cheap, I can hear much difference between the same album as it was released first press and nowadays crappy remixes. You might have guessed that I prefere digital records, but actually I never tried vinyl with my equipment. It's just a matter of saving space and money. It could be that vinyl sound closer to what was indended to be at the very first moment after mixing in the studio, but as it's written in the third article some engineers say it's so, some others don't. If you want to accept a hint buy a couple of MFSL cd of some old recordings and compare it with monthly released new remixes. If the only difference you hear is that MFSL are more quiet, than you should listen to mp3 on crappy laptop speakers...
    1. Eric51's Avatar
      Eric51 -
      Hi all! - I love reading the variety of insightful comments on this site. This topic of audiophilia is a highly subjective one but that doesnt make it any less interesting. I have been involved with audio as a hobbyist for over 30 years. I am now "into it" more than ever, even though my hearing is much less acute. I have gone through the doubting phases of various types of "new and improved" equipment, from cables to digital front ends. I "know" now, for example that cables make a big difference. I can even go as far as to agree with the statement I read in an earlier post "everything makes a difference". My experience has been that the "difference" that is perceived, if any, is related more to the other components in the system and their synergy vs. any absolute absolute characteristics. A components absolute characteristics have been termed "house sound". These characteristics exist, but are more important when one considers the synergy. I have an old MSB Link DAC lll. I had previously used it with B&W bookshelf speakers and the Perreaux Mosfet Class AB integrated. I quickly tired of the DAC after various transport, cable changes etc. Out of boredom I pulled it out of the garage the other day, and linked it up with my Rega Apollo via a nice Wire World 75ohm coax. I have tried the Rega before with that DAC and found the Rega to have a better sound. Not now! I now have the Magnepan MMG's (modified cap and inductor) and a T-amp - Winsome Labs Mouse. Hold the phone! This is music! Much more natrual decay. I could hear into the hall, and almost sense the size of the venue. More life like - more "musical". Go figure. The MSB was a stereophile class C component. The Rega Apollo a class B. I would have agreed with that a week ago, but not now. Thats audiophilia for ya! "Your mileage may vary".
    1. fuzhengyun's Avatar
      fuzhengyun -
      Of course the cable is very important part in the whole audio system. I ONLY mean different cable will have different effect to to system. refer to you question what is the different between the $250 and &4000. I think the different up to depend on your hearing habits. Maybe you would like the sound performance of the cheanp one than the expensive one. <br />
      <br />
      To me, I only find out the suitable cable for my specify purpose. I never relate the price to it. Some time the power cable is more suit than the one of priced $4000.<br />
      By the way, the expensive price fixing is not only depend on the manufactuing cost. it is depend on it sound charater. If you can't detect the differents between the expensive one and cheap one. My suggest you begine from more cheaper cable, such as $ 10, Because your music appreciation experience need to be feed up ( accumulating)for years to achieve the precise feeling. <br />
      <br />
      The more important is that you should be very familiar with your whole system. Or you will never feel the difference of only replace a cable.<br />
      Am I tell the points?<br />
      <br />
      FU ZHEN YUN<br />
    1. fuzhengyun's Avatar
      fuzhengyun -
      cable is a personality parts. sure the 4000 dollars one is very different to $ 250 one. <br />
      <br />
      But i don't say the $ 4000 is better the $250. no one will say so. it is depend on your music taste. <br />
      <br />
      to save money is to invest time on experience accumulating. For me the power cable some time can replace the cable of $ 500.<br />
      <br />
      trust me.<br />
      <br />
      FU ZHEN YUN
    1. fuzhengyun's Avatar
      fuzhengyun -
      Hi, It seems you want to say if the price has the necessity related with the price?<br />
      My answer is yes and not<br />
      I would like to repeat again my view point that if you want to save money,than to invest in the time. Because only you have enough experience on the devices and music performance characters than you will have your standard of which system is the perfect one, at least it is suit for you.<br />
      <br />
      The flaw of the hi fi business or hi fi industry is that, most often , the hi fi equipt sold separately, you have to pair the suitablly according to your music taste. So before your payment, please be aware, what is your taste?<br />
      <br />
      If you have no aim, how can you get the prefer system set up?<br />
      So, don't waste time to talk about too much of the theory. Practice is more important to be a core audiophile.<br />
      For me, I like to venture everything than not to copy others experience or theory. For example, I desinged a MP3 player, which the sound quality can be as high as the follow system:<br />
      A: Sound source: refer to Marantz CD 15F, B: signal cable refers to the Mit 330 plus , C, Amplifier: Class A 100w mono amplifier, Speaker cable Mit 750. Monitor speakers refer to YAMAHA ns 1000m/B@W801.<br />
      Can any one say again the sound quality of MP3 player is crappy?<br />
      By the way, the cost of the super MP3 player is cheaper than a very normal cable price.<br />
      So trust me, time, experience, and auditioning patient is more important than the code, decode, DAC, and pre audio, and amplifier, and speaker, and cable, Because these technology is very similiar to each other. Price can say nothing.<br />
      J<br />
      FU ZHEN YUN
    1. fuzhengyun's Avatar
      fuzhengyun -
      Hi, MY name is FU ZHEN YUN, I comepletly agree with your point of : an engineer can do for a shilling what a fool can do for a pound". <br />
      <br />
      It true in the auidophile circle. especially in the audio device audiophile circle. The device faction is keeping to prove : I can do better than the engineers in the big company with simple way and even cheap parts. that way there so many audiophiles in the world.Because the don't want to be fooled again by the big brand products or so call advanced technology.<br />
      <br />
      There are another saying I want to share with you: the tenology progress means to pick your more money from your pocket. Of course the so call "progress“is only a tag. why the digital audio is not replace the analog audio?<br />
      <br />
      The are is must a lot of fools try to improve he can do better than the engineers.<br />
      I also often use the power cable to replace the $ 1000 cable. The result is perfect in some pairing. Am I fool? I think so . <br />
      <br />
      I have designed many hi end equipts with very normal parts. My suggetion to all audiophiles: select the parts you can easy to get with reasonable price. than cost more time on it. Auditioning is interesting and money saving.<br />
      <br />
      FU ZHEN YUN<br />
      <br />