My objective in experiencing a full-bore audiophile’s listening room was not to try to call him on whether or not he or I could hear the difference in speaker cables composed of wire hangers or braided unicorn mane—no, it was to listen to music on a $US350,000 stereo. But while I was there, how could I not try to experience a few before-and-after tests to see if I could spot the harmonic differences that are the audiophile’s raison d’etre?
The differences we are talking about here are, of course, of the most incredible subtlety. But to many critics of audiophiles, a subtle change is quickly reduced to and equated with zero change, whereupon the screams of hysterics and rage against the immense stupidity and utter inanity of the audiophile life begins.
I didn’t think I had to say this, but I guess I do: Anyone who spends $US20,000 on speaker cables is fucking crazy. In fact, anyone who spends $US200 on cable is crazy, in my opinion. But that’s just not the point.
If I was drinking wine with a sommelier or wine critic, I wouldn’t find it irrational to taste subtleties that I might have glossed over when drinking in the presence of normals. In these cases, it’s not about the power of suggestion, it’s about the power of context, and like it or not, there’s context at the heart of all the world’s manias, anything to which we attach the suffix “phile.”
With audiophiles, I am an agnostic rather than an atheist. I believe that these differences, however miniscule, are, to those who have spent their life studying them, based on something real, not invented. Can I hear them? Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean I write them off completely. My belief here is based not on decades of listening on high-end gear, but on a day I spent listening to a $US350,000 system with someone who’s been doing this for forty-some years.
It’s a fact: I was led into hearing things I might not have without guidance. While some look to this possibility as evidence that the whole thing is a sham, I don’t. I would need a lot more time to build up the necessary context to even be near a place where I could pretend to listen critically for such minutiae, but I heard something different than I would hear listening to my own sound system, and that’s also a fact.
With that out of the way, here are three wholly unscientific but incredibly interesting listening tests we did in Fremer’s audiocave. They were a blast.