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The Golden Ear vs X-Ray Vision

Fact versus Fiction – our hearing is pretty hairy

There is a gem of a website call Audio Check which allows you to test your sound system, DACs, headphones as well as hearing. I recommend all those interested in audio to pop over there, light a cigar, grab a cup of tea or your favourite brew and do some reading.

Another great read is “Testing Audiophile claims and myths“.

To sum it up:

Look, it has all but gotten pretty boring over the years.  When in my early 20s and in the 80s I had a sound system which I would rate as pretty powerful, about 100W per channel into a 4  Ohm load. When it came to parties and the venue owner’s system ran out of steam we’d plug in this baby and crank the volume. The quality of the sound was proportional to the amount of alcohol.  It probably deserved to have a rating of about 2/10 compared to modern lower powered systems.

What I have learnt through the ages is i) to take your time to build an amplifier ii) use the best components possible in the power supply, cooling, consumer controls, jacks and plugs iii) we now have a much wider access to and better quality patch cables and connectors iv) electronic consumer goods have become much more reliable generating some pretty exotic powers. Oh, this list goes on.

Good looks until it opens it’s mouth

A good looking amplifier doesn’t mean it was well built. It’s under the hood that counts. Also, knobs and good quality pots cost good money.

Don’t be hood-winked into buying an amplifier or any component for that matter without doing your homework. In South Africa, unless it’s very high end audio, the retail store is not going to do a delivery and then a collection again after you have done a test over the week-end.

Brands we know and trust

Most of the better known amplifiers (and pre-amps) which would include Yamaha, NAD, Harmon-Cardon, Denon, Onkyo, Rotel are well designed, are great for normal listening and more.  Get something which likes your speakers and the speakers like the amplifier. Reading up about ‘which’ loudspeaker is crucial and is always the best bet – it’s going to cost.  Be warned again, a set of loudspeakers may sound good with one amp but not the other. In South Africa Mission is often partnered with NAD.  I don’t know about this match but there’s thousands of people out there raving about the dimension, the colour, the warmth, the depth, the ooh, ooh, the orgasm of things.


Headphones are a touch more personal – each one to their own of course. I don’t believe most of the marketing hype.  A set of LG headphones which I received as a gift about 15 years back astonished me in the quality (excellent). I like Senheisser. That does not mean you have to.

Bitrates and Sampling

Too many articles pointing to the hazards of dubious marketing – our hearing is only 20Hz. to 20kHz. Mine is maybe 30 Hz to 14 kHz. 24 Bit / 192kHz may not sound better than 44.1kHz at 16 Bits. Maybe 8, but not 16.

Milking the snake of all it’s oils

What does all of this mean of course?  Have you seen the advertisements adorning Hi-Fi mags promoting audio and power cables?  R 1 000/m or more. In a magazine years back the fundis tested numerous cables and the one they thought sounded best was telephone cable. (yep ma’am, that cable running to your house, not to your telephone).  Now we get told how good CAT-5 cable can sound, both on the input and output. Kettle plugs?  Just make sure the L is Live. Some aren’t and don’t ask me where they come from.


Spectacles may improve one’s eyesight but a high powered amplifier is not going to improve your hearing. Most of what we want doesn’t always follow the rule of logic. Do read “Testing Audiophile claims and myths” and Audio Check!

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