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James Randi Comments on StereoPhile


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#1 of 62 Chu Gai

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Posted July 23 2004 - 11:41 AM

James Randi is a notable individual who has gone to great lengths to debunk various claims from proponents of pseudoscience. Among them are psychics (Sylvia Browne, John Edwards), dowsing, spoon bending (Uri Geller), perpetual motion machines, astrology, and a list of speculative claims too numerous to mention. For those who insist that they can indeed perform some of these amazing feats, there exists a $1,000,000 prize that one may apply for. Mr. Randi uses his skill as a magician (takes a crook to know a crook Posted Image), coupled with critical thinking and the aid of scientists in his endeavors.

In this weeks commentary, http://www.randi.org...willful.html#11 he comments on the Hi-End Flummery of audio. Excerpted is the following for your entertainment. It may or may not change your mind but hopefully you'll think about it. No matter how many times things like astrology are exposed as frauds, the faithful flock. It's kind of like the "Whack-A-Mole" game at the amusement parks.

Quote:
HI-END FLUMMERY

Reader "Andrew" writes, re what he calls, "Bad science in Stereophile Magazine":


While this is not, strictly speaking, a claim of paranormal powers, you will recognize many familiar elements. Stereophile Magazine, and similar publications, promotes various audio equipment, fancy power cords, gold speaker wire, that sort of thing. They run tests which "prove" that these are better.
The article I provide a link to (www.stereophile.com/features/141/) is, in summary, the editors of Stereophile stating that they do not use double-blind testing because it gives them different — "wrong" — answers. ABX is the terminology used for a particular kind of double-blind audio testing, a very easy kind to do. In effect, Stereophile Magazine is "dowsing" for whatever equipment they are promoting each month. Using techniques beloved of dowsers everywhere, they always find the right (usually more expensive) equipment!

Well, yes, this is a paranormal claim, Andrew, if there actually is an advantage to having speaker leads that conduct a signal because they're treated magically — the only description one can make of the "special processes" they go through…. I've had run-ins with Stereophile before. Refer to www.randi.org/jr/03-23-2001.html. We discussed doing proper tests of their ridiculous claims for such devices as the "Tice Clock," a simple and definitive procedure that would certainly show the truth behind the nonsense — but they opted out half-way into the discussion. I also pursued George Tice himself, and found that he kept running away from proper tests, even though I had top audio people and the very best equipment available to do the work. It was ever thus. Bold claims, then retreat…. And they're never embarrassed, because they know that the suckers will continue to buy the products.


#2 of 62 Pus Suchre

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Posted July 23 2004 - 12:02 PM

The "Amazing Randi" is fighting an uphill battle against idiots and those who would fleece them. But I'm glad he's fight the fight. Good article Chu.
We are all one cat piss away from ruination- literally and metaphorically

#3 of 62 Chu Gai

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Posted July 23 2004 - 12:16 PM

Lot's do. It'd be an easier task but we live in a world of political correctness and everybody cries foul and wants validity of their beliefs regardless of whether they're right or wrong. Our great grandparents called it snake oil. Today we call it alternative medicine. George Orwell and doublespeak was very prophetic.

#4 of 62 Jack Briggs

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Posted July 24 2004 - 04:57 AM

James "The Amazing" Randi is an icon of the critical-thinking movement, a genuine resource. PBS devoted an episode of NOVA to Mr. Randi's efforts at exposing the claims of charlatans throughout the world, from American academia to Russian mystery doctors and faith healers.

Naturally, he would be a perfect spoil to the editors of The Absolute Sound and Stereophile. He should take on that entire cottage industry, of which the Tice Digital Clock is one of the most absurd examples.

#5 of 62 Chu Gai

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Posted July 24 2004 - 01:46 PM

Tice I believe is out of business. Richard Pierce once stated that he examined Tice's clock and found that it generated an inordinate amount of strong RFI. He postulated that it was indeed possible for a poorly designed high-end unit that did not have robustly built circuitry to be susceptible in unpredictable ways. Limited production high-end manufacturers don't usually have the means to subject their equipment to worst case scenario testing.

#6 of 62 RobertR

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Posted July 24 2004 - 07:07 PM

Randi is a treasure, and his critical remarks about Stereophile demonstrate that the rampant anti-reason, anti-science attitude in the High End is part of a larger problem, and not to be dismissed merely because it's a "hobby".

#7 of 62 Angelo.M

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Posted July 25 2004 - 01:01 AM

Quote:
Tice I believe is out of business.

Posted Image

Please tell me that the Shakti folks are still around. And that I'll always be able to find green markers.


#8 of 62 Lee Distad

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Posted July 25 2004 - 02:32 AM

I just did a Google search for "Tice Digital Clock" and read all the archives on stereophile.com on the subject.

I must admit that the whole situation was very droll. I never get tired of poking fun at the foolishness/gullibility of my fellow men.

#9 of 62 Chu Gai

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Posted July 25 2004 - 06:07 AM

Green markers are out with the upcoming blue lasers...You know, I'm kind of surprised some enterprising little *******er didn't go out and get rewriteable CDs with a green edge.

#10 of 62 Brian L

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Posted July 25 2004 - 08:22 AM

Not to mount too much of a defense for Stereophile, since that would be a lost cause, but at least they do publish measurements, and further to that, they will even highlight in the measurements section if what they measured calls into question the subjective evaluation.

They don't go any further than that, but I would at least throw them a bone on that count, as opposed to the nut jobs over at TAS.

Heck, a recent tube amp review concluded with comments from Atkinson to the effect that (paraphrasing here) "any competent engineer would describe an amp that measured as this one did as broken". Can't argue with that. I wish he would argue with his reviewers, though.

Of course, you do have folks on the payroll praising the SQ improvement of fancy AC wall outlets.

Lastly, I think that as long as the Audio Critic is around, there will be a strong voice fighting the BS that is out there.

BGL

#11 of 62 Chu Gai

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Posted July 25 2004 - 10:20 AM

I'll grant you that Brian. I think they're making strides and I do find the measurements useful. I'd like to see more of them when it comes to amps being tested into various simulated speaker loads. TAS is next to useless and positive-feedback runs neck and neck with enjoythemusic giving good chase for the lowest levels of hokum.

#12 of 62 Lee Distad

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Posted July 25 2004 - 11:13 AM

Quite frankly, I am surprised and impressed that Stereophile was willing to permanently archive the whole Tice Digital Clock episode on their site for all to see. The whole affair makes several of their people look like Gold-Star, Grade-A, All Time Suckers for buying into all that nonsense in the first place.


I remain convinced that in any field of human endeavor centered around luxury goods, whether it's wine, cigars, sportscars or stereos, there is a degree of conoisseurship and oneupsmanship involved any time that two hobbyists get together to talk about their passion.

#13 of 62 Angelo.M

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Posted July 25 2004 - 11:30 AM

Quote:
I remain convinced that in any field of human endeavor centered around luxury goods, whether it's wine, cigars, sportscars or stereos, there is a degree of conoisseurship and oneupsmanship involved any time that two hobbyists get together to talk about their passion.


Well said.


#14 of 62 Chu Gai

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Posted July 31 2004 - 05:40 PM

A followup from this weeks posting over at http://www.randi.org/jr/073004an.html we have the following.
Quote:
THE JREF MILLION IS SURELY WON
Reader Phil Ray, a medical research analyst in Lexington, Kentucky, tells us about some more "high-end" audio flummery he's discovered:


Your mention of the "Tice clock" and other audiophile snake-oil devices got me digging around on the internet for more. I ran across a couple of good sites, but the one that takes the cake is www.belt.demon.co.uk/index.html.
Apparently, according to this site, you can improve all kinds of audio devices or recording media performance just by writing "O.K." on them — or a piece of tape stuck on them — with a "specially treated" marker pen. Writing "NO" makes things sound much worse. There is much more available from "P.W.B. Electronics" as well, that could be eligible for the JREF Prize.

This is the fabulous "Red 'x' Pen" that you can have for a mere US$87! And yes, there sure was more eligible material. For example, I found a glowing review of some mystical P.W.B. sticky foil on that site. It claimed that tiny little scraps of it could improve a wide spectrum of our daily lives:


These shiny little devil-strips are supposed to work their effects just by placing them on pretty much anything in the system — or the house, for that matter. Suggested application included batteries in remote controls, clocks, and calculators, mains plugs on amplifiers, CD players, tuners, televisions, computers, even fax machines, light switches, transformers, auxiliary power sources, central-heating radiators or air-conditioning units, even equipment casings, lids, and LED displays.
Here's an example of how versatile the wondrous P.W.B. Electronics Electret Foil is, as explained by Mrs. May Belt, one of the promoters, retailers, and producers of P.W.B. products. They had been experimenting with improving the sound of their system by applying a scrap of this foil to a CD:


During one set of listening experiments, we had a short coffee break. In the listening room was a small wooden table which had had something spilt on it, causing a nasty stain. Peter decided to treat this stain and applied a chemical to it. No success — the stain was just as bad. Peter shrugged his shoulders and said, "Oh well, we will just have to live with the stain, at least I have tried to remove it."
After the short coffee break we returned to the listening tests. The sound was dreadful, it was absolutely appalling! Peter tried everything he knew but could not get the previous "good" sound back. He knew that the only thing he had done in the past half-hour was to apply a chemical to the stain on the small table. He took the table out of the room and listened again. The "good" sound was back! With the table returned to the room, the sound was dreadful again. Peter remarked, "There is no way we can carry on with our listening tests with that table in the room," so the table was banished to the garage.

We had no explanation for what had happened but we remembered this incident because it was so surprising and startling. It was a few months later that I happened to be reading an article — an article on plants! In the middle of this article it stated "and when the (???) plant is under stress, it produces the chemical ????" — this was the chemical we had applied to the small table!!! I read this article out to Peter and we looked at each other. Here was the chemical we had used being described as a "stress chemical." Peter then began to reason out, "I wonder if it was us (human beings) who were sensing this "stress" chemical and going under tension — and this was the reason why the "sound" was perceived as "dreadful."

I'd find it difficult to comment here, especially since my eyes are full of tears from laughing. Are these simply raving loonies, or is it a very unfunny joke? I wish it were a joke.

I found a glowing review of this magic foil at Greg Weaver's April 1999 Rainbow Foil review and immediately wrote him at gregw@soundstage.com:


Mr. Weaver: I've been forwarded some comments you made on the "P.W.B. Electronics Electret Foil" and wished to inform you that if you are able to repeat your experiments — double-blind — you would certainly win the JREF million-dollar prize as described at www.randi.org/research/index.html and www.randi.org/research/challenge.html.
Are you interested?

I'm not going to expect a response, of course, but I'll inform you if I get one. Phil has more:


I looked up "Shakti Stones," too, at http://www.shakti-in...com/index.html. They have the added benefit of having an "East Indian" name. They not only make your stereo sound better, but another version improves engine performance and increases horsepower in your car!
I'm so glad to live in the 21st Century — an era when wonders never cease!

The Shakti Stones, fortunately, don't even have to be connected to your sound system, but can be simply placed nearby, to produce wonderful improvements! The instructions simply say:


Use of the Stones could not be simpler, simply place them near power supplies, components or CD/DVD/SACD players, the nearer the transformer the better.
Incredible! One reviewer, "expert" Dick Clark of Audio Journal, ended up with eleven of these stones ($2,530 worth!) placed all over his system, and he raves about the improvements! Phil, I'm an equal-opportunity kind of guy, so I sent this inquiry — via both e-mail and postal mail — to a Mr. Mintz, who had also very enthusiastically endorsed his Shakti stones:


I understand that you have found wonderful results from the use of "Shakti Stones" in conjunction with your sound system! To amplify your delight, I inform you that if you can successfully perform a double-blind test of these stones, as you have described, you can win the million-dollar prize offered by this Foundation. See details at www.randi.org/research/index.html and www.randi.org/research/challenge.html.
I await your response with great interest.

Now, Weaver and Mintz may or may not respond. I'll keep you updated on the matter. Consider: if they do not respond, why did they choose that option? Several possibilities present themselves:


Maybe they now find that they were self-deceived.
Perhaps they are afraid to test their firmly-stated convictions on the matter.

They might be independently wealthy and thus disinterested in the million-dollar prize.

It's even possible that these people are fictional inventions of the vendors of these hi-tech advances in science.

There must be some reason. I am sending out 11 letters to audio reviewers who endorsed this thing, making the same offer.


#15 of 62 alan halvorson

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Posted August 01 2004 - 01:17 AM

What a great article! Many thanks for finding and posting it here.

This P.W.B. must the one and only Peter Belt, whose "modifications" used to be regularly reported and discussed in Stereophile many years ago. I am not certain if it were he, but if not, certainly someone of his ilk, who once suggested that playing LPs mastered from a digital source (such as all Telarc LPs of that day) caused cracks in turntable bearings! How this could happen, or why one would even look at a turntable's bearings after playing such LPs, was never mentioned.

It would be wonderful if one of these reviewers takes up Randi's challenge, but I'm not getting my hopes up.
They're coming to take me away, ha-haaa!!
They're coming to take me away, ho-ho, hee-hee, ha-haaa To the funny farm. Where life is beautiful all the time and I'll be happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats and they're coming to take me away, ha-haaa!!!!!
- Napoleon XIV

#16 of 62 Chu Gai

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Posted August 01 2004 - 01:43 AM

The pattern continues to repeat itself throughout all walks of life. Now tell me, just how much credence do you give to a place like positive review and the people who write there when the work of Peter Belt is featured also? No standards and no class, but then wasn't it Rodney who said, 'Call me when you have no class?'

#17 of 62 Jack Briggs

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Posted August 01 2004 - 03:45 AM

Man, some of this stuff reminds me of Enid Lumley's writings for The Absolute Sound back in the late '70s — and though I was under the full influence of the high-end cult at that time, even I could tell that Lumley's utterances were tragically ignorant.

So, writing "OK" on a disc with a seriously "magic" marker improves the sound while writing "NO" makes it worse.

Yet there are "audiophiles" out there who will buy into this nonsense.

Expect to see more of these mystery devices on the market as the high-end audio cult dies out in the wake of the home-theater phenomenon.

#18 of 62 Angelo.M

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Posted August 01 2004 - 04:02 AM

Quote:
So, writing "OK" on a disc with a seriously "magic" marker improves the sound while writing "NO" makes it worse.


Only if you write "OK" in green! Posted Image


#19 of 62 Lee Distad

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Posted August 02 2004 - 03:33 AM

I try to be nice, but a colleague (who is an old hand at Esoteric two-channel business) summed it up best when he said "Some of my clients don't need a Stereo Salesman, they need a Psychotherapist."

#20 of 62 Jack Briggs

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Posted August 03 2004 - 03:34 AM

Now, that was funny, Lee!


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