Flutterby™! : skin effect on impedance

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skin effect on impedance

2005-03-23 23:41:06.509719+00 by Dan Lyke 8 comments

I've mentioned that some audiophiles appear to be smoking way too much crack:

Even more recently, I had a client with a Firewire drive with 24 bit AIFF files. He transferred a song from one drive to another. Again, we loaded both the Firewire file and the Mac hard drive file onto my DAW so each could be instantly selected. With morbid curiosity, I stood in front of my console where I could not see which file he played - and in 3 out of 4 comparisons, I heard a difference. The Firewire file was warmer in the vocal and the snare was less dry sounding.

And I've made fun of people who pay $4.5k for 8 feet of speaker cable...

But there may be a theoretical difference in cables based on more than just "lower gauge is better", the surface area of the cable has an effect on impedance. I haven't followed the math, and it looks from the graphs like the falloff is roughly .02dB at the top of the audible range, but... well... Okay, I'm still not buying $100 AC power cords, but now maybe I'll be able to stifle my snickers somewhat when people start going on about this stuff... Maybe.

[ related topics: Drugs Music Cool Science ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-24 13:03:34.485605+00 by: petronius

I hope that when you order those $4500 audio cables that the cool carrying case is delivered by a liveried footman in a horse-drawn carriage.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-24 15:37:01.923689+00 by: ebradway

My first real job (at a company called Contemporary Cybernetics Group, that doesn't seem to have a website but is still in business - go figure), my boss was a serious audiophile. The kind who would drop $2000 on a turntable cartridge alone. He confided to me one day that he came to the conclusion after spending close to $50K on his stereo system, that he just couldn't make music sound as good as he seemed to remember it sounding when he was younger and that it probably was just a difference in the drugs he was taking.

My wife has a Harmon-Kardon Amp and CD player that she spent close to $4K on. I used to think that she got scammed by the guy at Circuit City until I compared it to my $500 Onkyo amp (with the same speakers). It was like night and day. I even compared or new Sony DVD player to the HK CD player and found that, at the very least, the HK CD player has a much better DAC than the Sony (not much better - but noticeable). She did buy about $200 worth of Monster cables as well, which I think is kind of funny. They are just 10 guage wires. Really heavy, very low impedance, but ultimately not signficantly better than lamp cord of similar gauge.

Of course, this all said, the system currently has a floating ground and gets a persistent high-frequency buzz in the right channel. Asha hasn't said anything about it. And that says something about spending $4K on a stereo...

And another gripe - the HK amp completely lacks digital inputs. This was a $2.5K amp in 1998. It should have had some sort of digital input, especially considering it does Dolby Surround and has separate channels for all 5.1 channels. Fortunately, the Sony DVD compresses the 5.1 into DTS over two analog channels which the amp can then separate back out.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-24 15:58:14.686418+00 by: Dan Lyke

I totally believe that there are differences in amps and speakers. And I can believe that there are differences in cables, too. I'll even grant that there are issues with having only 16 bit samples on CDs, albeit mostly because audio engineers on mass-market CDs ignore the fact that they've got a full 16 bits to work with and cram the whole damned dynamic range up into the top end of that, clipping the crap out of things like drum hits.

But most people who go on about this stuff are just hair gel wearing know-nothings who could seriously do with getting out and hearing live music occasionally.

And, yes, my take-away from that article was that for the volume I play stuff at and the quality of my amp, I got at least as much out of more separation and better speaker placement in terms of reflections as I did from going to a lower gauge on my speaker cable when I recently re-configured my stereo.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-24 16:12:03.339758+00 by: ebradway

I just read through the article and most of what they are saying makes sense when you realize that:

  1. Audio CD stores music as a digital stream encoding the shape of the original waveforms. When it's played back as CD audio, the DAC takes the stream and turns it back into an analog waveform. CD audio is very forgiving in that errors it encounters it just throws out and tries to interpolate the data. This is like Excel rounding all of your numbers to powers of 10 because one of the fields couldn't read correctly. This means that the quality of the digital stream from the CD is tantamount ot audio quality - and where all the talk about jitter comes from. PCs suck miserably at creating dead-on steady streams of anything. This is why the Intel x86 architecture is not used for real Real-Time work and why Windows will never work as an embedded operating system (no matter how much money MS puts behind it). It's also why PCs aren't generally used for high-end video work. All stuff where steady streams matter. It's also why there are things called DSPs - processors designed specifically for managing steady streams of information.
  2. The quality of your DAC is everything. How do you know you are getting a quality DAC? You don't, can't, you're screwed. Turtle Beach used to make a good money selling $1000+ sound cards for PCs. They still blow away anything you can buy because the DACs in consumer grade sound cards suck.
  3. Sound is organic. One day we may find an explanation as to why a sound engineer can hear the difference between two bit-wise identical audio files. But for now, it sounds like homeopathy where a solution is dilluted until there are no detectable traces of the original substance but somehow an organic system, like the human body, reacts to the solution as though the substance were still there. This is where ART lives. In this organic world where things can't be deconstucted into perfect constituents, where life-forms react to elements that cannot be proven to exist. Some life-forms are more sensitive than others. And this is one of the ethical arguments with the idea of a transporter ala Star Trek - is there some essence of a person that would be lost with a complete disassembly of the particles that make up the human and an exact reassembly.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-24 19:43:14.680313+00 by: petronius

There is such a thing as an educated ear. When I was spending all my time editing audiotapes of medical lectures I developed a very acute sense of accents. Not in the Henry Higgins "Do your cousins still live in Chelsea?" kind of specificity, but being able to break voice patterns down into small components. This helped when I had to speak to these people on the phone and I could duplicate the pronunciation of some Korean doctor's name the first time. So why not be able to pick out the difference between $4500 cables and something from Radio Shack--if there actually is such a difference?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-24 19:59:35.679947+00 by: TheSHAD0W


Considering that the data being thrown around in that article was not just digital but was effectively guaranteed error-free, compared to the original file, the reason for the perceived difference was most likely either:

(1) for some reason the Firewire set-up was producing less RFI, or (2) it's all in his head.

Most likely (2).

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-25 00:42:56.384489+00 by: meuon [edit history]

My Headphones are easily the best 'boom for the buck' I have spent... and have made an incredible difference in my listening enjoyement. Currently playing: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's - Not exactly audiophile stuff, but good.

The big point though is: can you HEAR the difference in the big money stuff? If so, and it's worth it to you: Have fun!

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-25 03:31:56.414656+00 by: markd

These audiophile discussions always fascinte me. I play in a couple of orchestras, and nothing can compare to literally being in the middle of a symphony as it unfolds. Sitting in front of the brass section at the end of Brahms 1 and being totally overwhelemed by the sound has been a life high-point for me. For my day-to-day listening, much to the shock and horror of my friends who assume I must be an audiophile because I do so much music stuff, are mp3's played on a laptop through $9.99 sony open-air headphones I get at K-Mart.