Skeptic-for-hire Ben Goldacre across the pond at the Guardian sets his myth-busting cross-hairs at high-end audio, aiming to prove our little industry is filled with bad science. Here's his bone:
But the most striking parallel is the widespread notion in the hi-fi community that blinded trials - where you ask listeners to identify a cable without knowing if it's cheap or expensive - are somehow intrinsically flawed.
He then goes on to hammer Stereophile editor John Atkinson for a blind listening test he held between a SS amp and a tube amp with inconclusive results. Atkinson hits back in a Stereophile article where he gives his defense of said test and why Goldacre is a boob:
Sighted listening has its own pitfalls, of course, and no one has said otherwise. But Mr. Goldacre appears to be making the naïve assumption that the mere fact that a test is blind inherently—his word was intrinsically—confers legitimacy on the test and its results. That assumption, I suggest, is "bad science"—even voodoo.
Aktinson gives a good argument, though I'm somewhat surprised he didn't mention (as far as I can tell) his measurements of Stereophile. Aktinson is Mr. Measurements, about as scientific as one can get. Regardless, audio is SUB-FUCKING-JECTIVE! Excuse the vulgarity, but, seriously, we're not testing Cialis here (or are we??), but audio equipment. Like sports cars, yeah, it hits 200mph or 20Hz, but that doesn't mean it's a great car or speaker. A NOS-happy Honda can hit 200mph, big whoop. As we know, a plantain-pulp single driver speaker will never sound remotely close to a tower with 20 diamond drivers, but so what? It's all preference.
Anyway, Goldacre throws down the gauntlet to the hi-fi community. His challenge involves power cords, easily the stupidest part of hi-fi. If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: we should never, ever, ever talk about power cords. Power cords are the hemorrhoidal creams of our industry -- they're needed and they work, but people blanch when we describe our experiences with them. In any case, here's his challenge. Does this make sense? Any takers?
The manufacturer of my expensive power cable has assured me that it will have an impact on the sound of an expensive CD player, or a cheap one, and that it will affect optical outputs as much as normal phono outputs. So I propose, as a pilot study, to place, on badscience.net, two files, clearly labelled (Hah! He spelled "labeled" wrong! Idiott! -ED), one recorded from the CD player powered by the expensive cable, one powered with a normal kettle lead. There will also be a third file, and you can vote on which is which. You can do what you like to identify them: burn it to a CD, listen with headphones, examine the raw data, whatever. But the catch is this: it's a palaver, and I'm not going to bother, if the hi-fi buffs are just going to bleat about how unfair the test is. So this is your chance to participate in the design of an experiment. Post your thoughts on badscience.net. I want everybody to be happy.