|Elliott Sound Products||Editorial - I Am As Mad As Hell !|
Last Updated 25 March 2004
Keep watching this space for more examples of Hi-Fraud
The costs to manufacturers will be very high, with higher energy usage needed to achieve the higher temperatures needed. Higher temperatures mean greater thermal stress on PCBs and components, potentially reducing their life expectancy. There is a great deal of concern over the RoHS directive worldwide, since any product made after July 2006 cannot be sold in the European Community if it uses lead based solder.
The alternatives are many - so many in fact that all they have achieved is confusion. Some patented lead-free solder formulations are totally incompatible with lead based (and some other lead-free) solder alloys, and a small mistake by a service technician could render a part or an entire PCB assembly unusable because of unreliable solder joints caused by incompatible alloys.
Bismuth in particular is a problem if any lead based solder is inadvertently used, and lead contamination of a tin-bismuth-silver based solder results in joints with very poor thermal properties, and a high probability of faulty joints appearing shortly after repair work. Such lead contamination can result from the use of PCBs or components with lead based solder 'tinned' leads or tracks, or from the application of lead based solder during repairs. If accidentally contaminated, there is a likelihood that an entire PCB may have to be scrapped unless there is a method to de-contaminate the board - as far as I know, no such method exists.
In addition to the problems of the extra heat needed (most lead-free solders require at least 217°C soldering temperature), lead-free solder has poor wetting properties so PCBs and leads must be completely clean, and the solder joints do not have the same appearance as those made with conventional solder, making visual inspection that much harder. Fluxes are not as effective (and burn easily) at the higher temperatures.
A web search for 'lead free solder directive' gives over 6,800 results on Google, so there is plenty of information to allow you to make up your own mind. Although some Japanese manufacturers have already made the switch, there is nothing so far that shows any real advantages, but disadvantages abound.
There is a consensus that the RoHS directive will achieve little that is genuinely useful, and IMO it will create so many problems that it should be rescinded. It is interesting to note that for high reliability applications (computer servers, telecommunications, military, etc) the directive does not apply, or will be postponed for several years, and this in itself is very telling - they know that there will be reliability problems with components and the solder joints themselves, and have provided exemptions for those areas where reliability will cause major problems for industry or military applications. The EEC obviously does not care that consumer goods will be less reliable and cost more, and has shown yet again that there is (or seems to be) almost a conspiracy to either prevent or make it as difficult as possible for 'outsiders' from competing in the European market.
What of the poor hobbyist? Those who are just learning soldering skills will damage PCBs and components, as will many professionals who are unused to the high temperature and comparatively poor looking solder joints. Having used lead free solder for some basic testing, I can confirm that it is difficult to use by comparison, and produces a joint that looks bad. It seems to be strong enough, but I know of no-one who actually likes it.
The 'benefit' of the RoHS Directive is that 0.6% of the world's lead production will be removed from solder, where it appears to do no harm to anyone. For some bizarre reason, the EEC would rather use bismuth (which has not been banned), but the fumes are thought to be toxic (see Material Safety Data Sheet for more information). The effects of contamination are unknown, but it is certainly more likely for bismuth to be leached from solder than lead.
A good idea? I think not.
People are very often far too trusting of those who will take every advantage, but will brand as a sceptic or fool those who will stand up and shout "Bullshit". I know this from past experience with some of my editorials, and I am somewhat saddened that I am accused of being closed-minded or a simple techno-freak who utterly fails to understand the "finer points".
How is it possible that those who are selling something (that is usually outrageously expensive for what it is) are hailed as heroes who have saved the audiophiles from mediocre sound, while those with no hidden agenda, are not selling anything that is technically dubious, and have been dedicated to audio excellence all their lives are castigated, flamed, and accused of (somehow) trying to spoil the enjoyment of the consumer?
This makes no sense to me, and I know I am not alone ... last I saw, rationality is neither a crime nor even a sin.
Interestingly, the claims against my stance are almost always made in a public forum, and often by the vested interests I am standing against, although regularly "disguised" in some way, typically by not noting their affiliations in their posts. Very few (and I really do mean very few!) people who disagree have sent an e-mail or attempted to contact me directly in any way. There have been exceptions, and these are often reasonable people who have useful information that may well make a difference. I have modified several articles based on proper (substantiated) information that has been supplied over the period this site has been in operation, and will continue to do so whenever such info is made available to me - I cannot test and verify every claim made, so rely on others to provide the details that make my evaluations (and comments, for and against) complete, and as factual as possible.
The Web is littered with outlandish claims, grossly overpriced "accessories", and completely unsubstantiated claims for "products" that you "cannot live without". These are nearly always identifiable by the complete lack of technical information, or pseudo-scientific technobabble, designed specifically to confuse the reader. If you are unsure - try a Web search on the topic to see if there is any technical explanation for the claims made.
The above does not mean that all such products are horse feathers - some may have a genuine value, but beware of the panacea - very few products will work with any system without proper integration. A rock placed on top of an amp or speaker is unlikely to reduce distortion and colouration, and it cannot compensate for room acoustics ... but rocks are cheap, so you can experiment to your heart's content
If it costs a lot of money, and will cure everything from ingrown toenails to poor imaging, then beware - you are about to lose your cash. Eventually you might convince yourself that it has made a difference (no-one likes to be taken for a ride), but careful analysis (with and without the "gizmo") is needed before you can be certain.
There is a device called the Triphazer, that according to its manufacturer will "transform" your system. Allegedly, it works just as well on top of the line audiophile hi-fi equipment as on a $99 boom box. A truly remarkable device, methinks. I hope the designer is more capable with electronics than writing English - the punctuation is pitiful (I saw one reference that suggested that they should have their apostrophe license revoked :-)
A few quotes (indented text - all are verbatim, including all punctuation and spelling errors, etc.) from the makers of the "Triphazer" (aka Triphasor, Triphaser), followed by my comments.
Using proprietary circuitry they [Triphazers] improve resolution and lower distortion
All components and cables, have inherent nonlinearities. Amplifiers, preamps in the record and playback chain all contribute to very small distortions that are sometimes called SKEW or SMEAR. Because all designs are limited by this integrated SKEW, Triphazers have been designed to reverse these non - linearity's,
We can repair this skew back into the original shape or condition that it was in when it left the studio mic or concert hall microphones.
For a start, cables do not have non-linearities, other than in frequency response. This is generally only apparent with difficult loudspeaker loads, where there are significant impedance variations, especially at higher frequencies. Response anomalies are very rare in interconnects, at least with normal lengths and within the range from DC to 100kHz. No-one has ever been able to measure distortion introduced by any cable.
No device can remove non-linear distortion of any kind, unless it has the original signal as a reference - this is how negative feedback works, it uses the amplifier to detect differences between the input and output, and make appropriate corrections. The Triphazer does not have this ability, so the claim is blatantly false.
Try this one for a laugh (from the FAQ page) ...
What will it do for sound reinforcement (public address, rock bands)?This passive device will make a PA system louder, with less power, as well as reduce speaker voice coil dissipation (and again remove distortion!). If this were true, then everyone (and I mean everyone) on the planet who has ever used a PA system would have one. Last I saw, there are but a few references on the Web, not the thousands one would expect. I did find some references on a pro audio forum - all were scathing (to put it mildly).
They do a lot! Playing substantially louder and the clip lights never come on! Musicians comment they can hear each other better and request a lower monitor levels, fatigue is reduced tightness improves because the members can hear nuances ..that musicians need to work closely together. Triphazers remove large amounts of distortion that an audio system would normally reproduce and have to be dissipated by the speaker drivers," causing over heating in the voice coil , listening fatigue and confusion. It is this "Removing of Artifacts" that result's in increased efficiency and leaves more energy available for the fundamental musical notes that were at the core of the musical signal before being altered during the record, production and playback process.
Another quote ...
Used in PROFESSIONAL SOUND REINFORCEMENT placing TRIPHAZERS after the mixer provides all inputs with improved clarity and freedom from Feedback! Freedom From Feed back! YOU HEARD ME! FREEDOM from FEEDBACK!
Oh really! Acoustical feedback is always a problem, and there are many solutions that provide some relief. Parametric equalisers, frequency shifters (typically about 3Hz) or a combination will suppress feedback, but according to the above claim, the Triphaser eliminates it. Bullshit!
Acoustic feedback is the result of sound from the loudspeakers reaching the microphone and being re-amplified. A passive box cannot do this without either attenuating the signal (turning down the volume is a lot cheaper), or introducing one or more notches in the response at exactly the right frequencies (as one would with an equaliser). That it eliminates feedback entirely ("freedom from feedback" implies complete elimination) is again blatantly false. Presumably it takes at least 50 hours to do so, according to the next piece of "wisdom" ...
What about break-in? What is the deal?
That is a complex question... lucky for you we have the answers that can help you get the most out of your stereo, home theater, PA, or studio. We recommend 50 to 200 hours for preliminary break-in. But we have other technology's that can speed up the breakin time. We will be writing much more on the subject to set the record straight and to show our customers how to obtain the maximum from recording and audio system investments.
Hmmm. The concert will be over by the time the feedback is eliminated, which makes sense, because the PA system will be turned off by then :-) I have since seen claims that your system will sound better, then worse, then much better - sounds just like the claim for the "Magic Lacquer". In the time allowed, your ears and brain will get used to the sound - the sound will not change. No passive circuitry requires break-in, it is completely in the mind of the beholder (belistener ??).
The Triphazer is now patented, and rather than describe it here, I suggest that you look at US Patents and Trademark Office, and search on Patent No 6,486,750. In short, the device cannot do what is claimed for it, and is a pure placebo (albeit an expensive one). The claims made in the patent are laughable, and no patent should have been granted IMO.
The Triphazer is not even a Zobel network. It is essentially several pieces of wire of different lengths encapsulated in epoxy, and presumably the inventor has worked out a method to make 3 parallel signal paths act as 3 separate circuits for different frequencies. Unfortunately, none of this is funny, and while it is possible that the inventor really does think it works, he is very much mistaken. If you were to connect anything in parallel with a short piece of wire (for example), the piece of wire will be dominant to the point where the additional circuitry will make zero audible or measurable difference to the signal, regardless of frequency. Different frequencies within the audio range do not 'choose' to travel by different paths - not even if you ask them nicely.
Tritium responded to my request for some technical details by sending a collection of "unsolicited" e-mails saying how good it was. I specifically asked for information, not rubbish. Other responses I have had point to bad reviews, general criticism, and everyone who had tried to get any technical detail has been fobbed off with the same e-mail collection as I received, and no real info at all. I would have serious doubts about having any dealings at all with this company - anyone who has a real product has nothing to hide, and this lot seem to have everything to hide (and no real product).
As of 24 March 2004, I have not had one additional response from the manufacturer, and no-one has presented any information whatsoever - for or against - other than the section below, which is actually funnier that the Triphazer nonsense.
Ahhh, yes, patent procedure. You see, patent applications are generally not published (i.e., available through the databases) until 18 months after the filing date, a practice that has only recently been adopted by the US (it used to be that nothing was published until the actual grant of a patent in the US, often many years after the filing date - a strange practice much deplored by the rest of the world's patent practitioners). So it is no surprise that your search did not yield the application in question.
That said, one must understand that the patent system (in the US or anywhere else!) does not require that the invention actually works as claimed! The statutes merely require that the invention is novel, is not obvious to a person skilled in the art, and is industrially applicable (i.e., can be manufactured and sold). The inventor has no burden of proof that his invention has any real benefit.
Sadly, many patents are granted for devices or methods that are absolutely ludicrous, especially in the US. If you want to have a good laugh, look up US Patent 6,025,810, granted(!) for a "Hyper-Light-Speed Antenna". Some quotes: "The present invention has discovered the apparent existence of a new dimension capable of acting as a medium for RF signals ... The present invention takes a transmission of energy, and instead of sending it through normal time and space, it pokes a small hole into another dimension, thus, sending the energy through a place which allows transmission of energy to exceed the speed of light ... It has been observed by the inventor and witnesses that accelerated plant growth can occur using the present invention." One can only speculate what type of plants the inventor was smoking at the time. But yes, this idiocy was worthy of a US patent!! Other examples are legion.
The above is verbatim, and has not been altered in any way (other than the application of bold and italics for emphasis). Methinks the Triphazer is no less silly than the "hyper light-speed antenna", and only misses out on this mysterious "other" dimension ... I suspect that this is planned for the Triphazer Mk II
Please feel free to roll on the floor with laughter at any of the claims made about the Triphazer and the antenna alike, but note that ESP accepts no responsibility for any injury sustained as a consequence of such mirth. If you feel that it is all too much, please stop reading this material immediately, and seek help from a medical professional (either that, or take two aspirin and if symptoms persist, e-mail me in the morning).
You would be well advised to bear the implications of the above in mind when any manufacturer claims that a patent is pending or has been granted for the "offering" in question. Just because they have a patent does not mean that the product or invention has any merit whatsoever ... "pokes a small hole into another dimension" - I mean, really this is just toooo much - ROFLOL
Well, the inevitable has happened, and EAT is no more. The magazine is officially bankrupt, and all copyright material has been purchased by the remaining Australian electronics magazine, Silicon Chip. This is a sad time for those who supported Electronics Australia for so long, but a richly deserved reward for those who caused its demise. It is to be hoped that they never re-enter the world of electronics publishing - may they sweep streets for eternity.
Australia has (had!) the distinction of having what I believe was the second longest running electronics magazine in the world. The magazine began life as Wireless Weekly, and subsequently went through several name changes. These included Radio, Television and Hobbies, then Electronics Australia. The magazine has ceased to be, and the remainder of this section is now redundant and has been removed.
Please note - this section has been moved to a separate page. Click here for the article.
I have managed to bite my tongue on this topic for quite a while, but a passion for common sense finally overcame me, and I had to write something.
First, A Contrary View
After many exhaustive hours of listening tests, I have determined that when a cable is burned-in, it is actually ruined. No cable should be used for more than a few hours, as the stresses on the insulation and the agitation of the copper molecules cause permanent changes to the structure of the cable - these changes are invariably for the worse, and fresh unused cables can be proven by listening tests to be superior in all respects.
The characteristics of the insulation change very subtly as the cable is stressed by signal voltages, and this has an as yet unexplained effect on the stereo imaging, and in particular causes veiling of the high frequencies and a loss of presence in the upper midrange. In extreme cases, the authority of the bass also suffers, with the lower registers lacking speed and power.
All the above defects are rectified by substitution of a new set of cables - the brilliance is restored and the finer details are brought back into startling realism. Bass speed is improved tenfold by a brand new unused mains cable, and new interconnects have a profound effect on the upper frequencies where detail is paramount.
I could say all these things (I just did :-) and I would be lying through my teeth. I could easily expound on this theory, lodge a few posts at some of the audiophile "watering holes", and offer a range of affordable leads in 10-packs (enough to last for a month or more of normal listening) so that fresh leads can be used when the others start to sound "tired". If I did my homework and used all the right words, how many sets of leads do you think I would sell? I already know the answer - "A lot". I am appalled at the rubbish that is fed to the audio fraternity by charlatans and frauds.
Sure, I could do it too (I would certainly make a lot more money than I do from the stance I take at the moment), but I would not enjoy it in the least. The reason I would not enjoy it is simply that it would be dishonest and fraudulent - no-one would actually be able to prove me wrong (as is the current situation), but I would be unable to back up my claims with facts that were in any way meaningful. I would simply throw in a few mathematical terms, a bit of random molecular theory, or perhaps make dire mutterings about resonances and how they become more significant as the cable ages. From reading the postulations of the opposing viewpoint I know that a significant number of people would believe me, and why not? A significant number of people already believe that burn-in makes a good difference, so why would anyone who was disillusioned by a set of recalcitrant cables be unwilling to accept that my idea was either wrong or any more ridiculous than the others "facts" that are out there?
My credibility would suffer badly from such an exercise, and I would do a great deal of harm to the hobby that I (and so many others) enjoy. It is most regrettable (IMHO) that some of the others don't have the same attitude, and are just out to make a quick buck.
We are not talking about facts when the discussion turns to cable burn-in, we are simply digressing into the realms of magic - anything that cannot be explained by the "facts" as they are currently known to exist is magic. The concept of a vast machine that can fly through the air is pure magic to a primitive people who have never seen such a thing before. The concept that cables sound better after burn-in (or is that when brand new?) is magic to those who have little knowledge of electrical principles, but love music.
When there is a gaggle of reviewers and manufacturers out there telling them that "something" is so, why would they disbelieve these self proclaimed experts? Who else is there to turn to for help? When the uninitiated think they can't hear a difference, what are they to do? To admit that they hear no difference is liable to have them "cast out" by their peers for the heinous crime of being cloth-eared. A sorry state of affairs indeed, and one that ensures that the unscrupulous will not only survive but prosper.
We keep hearing that cables (some will say all audio equipment) should be subjected to various techniques to "stabilise" them. This is generally referred to as burn-in, and after the treatment the item(s) supposedly sound better. To aid this process - of course - many entrepreneurs have slaved away for whole minutes to create CDs with pink noise or some other signal "specially designed" to do the job properly.
So far, I have not seen a shred of evidence that any so-called treatment has any effect whatsoever, other than a psycho-acoustical phenomenon known as "getting used to the sound". This indicates that it is the owner's ears that get burned in, and has nothing to do with the cables.
OK, so I am claiming that there is no change in the cable. I have measured cables (as have many others before me), and normally expect to find three main characteristics and two that are not relevant to audio. These are (respectively) ....
To some degree, the above comments are tempered a little when radio frequency interference (RFI) is present, but it will ultimately be the way the cable is terminated that makes a difference (rather than the cable itself).
It must be understood from the outset that cables are not very smart. In fact, they are bereft of any knowledge of anything. Indeed, their own existence is unknown to them, and their memory is much shorter even than that of a goldfish. This rather generalised statement applies to the conducting and non-conducting (insulating) materials alike.
A cable has no interest in the current flowing in it (or not) unless it is greater than the current carrying capacity of the conductors, in which case it will get hot (or perhaps only warm). This increases the resistance, but only for as long as the overload lasts, and until the cable returns to ambient temperature. This will take a few minutes at the most.
As long as the temperature is kept well below the melting point of the insulation (or the copper), no permanent change occurs. This is an extreme example, since in practice most cables are at room temperature, and may gain but a fraction of a degree even at maximum amplifier power. Any current that may have flowed at some time is instantly forgotten.
Likewise, the insulation is not the least interested in the voltage that may have existed between the conductors once it has gone away - again making a valid assumption that the output voltage from the amplifier will not cause the insulation to break down, allowing the signal to arc between the conductors. There are some very minor effects with all insulators (dielectrics), where a short memory effect can be noted, but this is not at all significant for audio, and even less so in the long term.
The end result of this is that cable burn-in is an invalid concept. More than just invalid, it is an attempt to convince you (the buyer) that the reason the expensive cable(s) you just bought don't make any appreciable difference, is that they haven't been given the necessary treatment, so you should buy this CD (or some other overpriced piece of equipment) to rectify the situation.
The simple fact of the matter is that changes in room temperature will cause a far greater variation in the characteristics of a cable than pink noise applied for a minimum of 37.5 hours. At the end of the "treatment" the cable will still exhibit exactly the same resistance, capacitance and inductance as before - so what has changed? And the answer is .... nothing.
There are electrical principles that exist despite any marketing hype. The hype and bullshit does not affect these principles in the least, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to a cable with a normal signal that it will remember or that change its long term characteristics.
What about the other products?
There is no doubt that loudspeakers require some amount of use before they settle down. This is because new speakers will have a stiffer than normal suspension, and it takes some time for this to stabilise. There is no correct time, and no signal that is better than another (as long as there is roughly equal energy in each octave band). Each speaker will be different, and some will have been subjected to test waveforms and will already be optimum (or close to it) when they are purchased.
Over time, the suspensions will "relax" more and more, and will eventually fail - hopefully only after many satisfying years. The sound will change very slowly during the lifetime of the speaker, but largely goes un-noticed because we get used to the subtle changes as we age as well.
Transistor (bipolar or MOSFET) amplifiers generally require a minimal "burn-in" period. This is not really burn-in at all, but a period of time to ensure that polarised capacitors (i.e. electrolytics) have achieved their normal operating state. This varies from one amp to another (even from the same manufacturing run), and as electrolytic capacitors settle down, their leakage falls and capacitance often increases slightly. This process is actually repeated each and every time the amp has been turned off for any period of time.
I do not advocate leaving amplifiers on permanently, as this is a waste of power, and the above effects should not be noticeable in a well designed amplifier.
Valve amplifiers are another matter. Valves change their characteristics quite dramatically in the first few hours of operation. They stabilise after this, and then go into a very gradual decline as they age. Eventually (this can range from weeks to years, depending on how hard the valves are driven), the decline becomes much greater and the valve becomes unusable.
With both speakers and valves, the ageing curve is similar to the discharge curve of a cell or battery. A simple graph as shown in Figure 1 is typical of all three devices - the vertical axis is either stiffness (for a loudspeaker), emission (for a valve) or voltage for a battery.
Figure 1 - A Typical Ageing Curve
I really hope that you find this information useful. Unlike some of my other editorials I have not flamed anyone (although there will be some who may claim they have been flamed by inference), but have simply stated a few facts of life. I fear that a few will take this entirely the wrong way and I cannot change this - another fact of life. I fully agree that there are some things that cannot be explained at this time, but cable burn-in is not one of them. There is simply nothing to explain.
Should anyone have some data they would like to share showing a measurable change in the basic characteristics of a cable from its original measurements after a burn-in period, I will be happy to include this information here. My stance on this is that I have not experienced any changes that I could detect - perhaps someone else has (as doubtful as this may be).
This story comes from a reader in the UK and is reproduced verbatim - only the name of his mate has been changed ...
I know that most of what's talked about cables is crap, but how's about this for a story -
A mate of mine decided his system was sounding crap. Since I'm considered (by others, not me) to be the "authority" on all things hi-fi in my neck of the woods ('cos I own a soldering iron I guess) he wobbled his way towards me one Saturday night in the pub and moaned about how some sales rep in a hi-fi shop in the city had told him that he needed to spend about two hundred quid (GBP) on cables to get the sound he wanted.
To prove this, he trucked all his gear to the shop, the little twerp installed the new cables for him, and Metallica leapt out of the speaker boxes and assaulted my mate about the lugholes. During the course of the conversation, it came out that the twerp had spent ages "pushing" the new cables onto the connectors. Pushing? Never heard of an RCA connector THAT tight. I had a look the next day and what he'd actually done was spend ages twisting the new RCA plugs soldered to the "audiophile" connectors onto heavily-oxidised chassis mounted jacks to get rid of all the crud. We dug out my mate's old cables, stripped all his gear, cleaned the connectors properly and plugged everything back in. Result? His old home made connectors now sound better than the shite sold to him by the twerp.
Interestingly, he's a big lad is my mate Fred, and he's not a fan of being ripped of at all. Last I heard he was taking a day off humping billets of steel round an engineering works to go and see the twerp and have a few words ....
The moral of the story? As always, charlatans beware! Especially when the guy you've just ripped off weighs about eighteen stone (252 pounds or 115kg), and has mates.
(Some time later from a following e-mail) After a bit of foot shuffling and looking at the floor, Fred got his brass back. I suggested that he pushed for recompense for the "damaged" phono connectors on the back of his kit as well. He didn't. I guess he's not an unkind man at heart. Still, when you're that size it's hard to tell - nobody seems inclined to test the theory.
On a serious note, it's just another prime example of the unscrupulous taking advantage of a guy with a bit of brass who wants something decent but doesn't really know what he's talking about. To add insult to injury, the pleb tried to convince him that he had to shove hard as the new connector was stiff. You know what? When the CD player and the connector were both placed on the counter in front of him and he was asked to demonstrate, he had no trouble sliding one smoothly onto the other. Tch! These "audiophile" cables. Loosen up in no time don't they ?
Now he's taking me out for a few beers to celebrate getting his money back and having a great-sounding system for free. Poor lad! He's obviously forgotten about my strange but well-known gastro-financial condition - my capacity for ale and takeaways spontaneously quadruples when someone else is paying.
A few explanations are in order here, as the story is from the UK, and some of the terms may be unknown elsewhere (in alphabetical order) ....
beer - the stuff most commonly quaffed in pubs :-D
brass - money
GBP - Pounds (as in the currency of Great Britain, not to be confused with "Fred's" weight)
lughole - ear
pleb - plebian, an ordinary person, (also a vulgar person, a boor - probably the intended meaning here)
pub - a place for drinking alcoholic beverages, and generally having a riotous time (or not, as the mood takes one).
shite - I think you can work this one out for yourselves (hint - leave off the 'e')
twerp - a despicable person / a cad (also, a bit of an idiot, a twit)
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