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Snake oil and fraud in the professional audio community

Dialectic

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#1
While we tend to focus on snake oil and outright fraud in the world of high-end audiophilia, there seems to be a fair amount of it in the pro audio realm as well, especially in the mastering business. Consider, for example, this little video with the well-known mastering engineer Greg Calbi of Sterling Sound:


If you get to 0:40, he says that the first thing he does is to listen to a track through two different sets of audiophile interconnects. He maintains that the two sets of interconnects sound totally different and that there is no way of predicting whether a track will sound better through one set or the other set.

Either Mr. Calbi is delusional, or he has found a very simple way to waste a lot of time in mastering his clients' projects--convenient when one bills by the hour, as elite mastering engineers usually do. I genuinely do not know if this is a well-intended but pointless practice, on the one hand, or a fraud perpetrated on Mr. Calbi's clients, on the other.

Do I think that Mr. Calbi is particularly accomplished or competent in his field, in light of all the hit records he has mastered? I do not. The measure of a mastering engineer's competence is how good his work product sounds, and I don't think very many of Mr. Calbi's records sound good. I think Mr. Calbi is good at impressing his (technically very unsophisticated) clients and bringing in business.

I don't lump all mastering engineers with Mr. Calbi. I think Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound has done good work, and I think Bob Ludwig is good at what he does, though he is no stranger to snake oil.

In addition to calling out the guys who write for The Absolute Sound and other high-end consumer rags, perhaps we should spend more time calling out professionals for this nonsense.
 
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StevenEleven

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#3
While we tend to focus on snake oil and outright fraud in audiophilia, there seems to be a fair amount of it in the pro audio realm as well, especially in the mastering business. Consider, for example, this little video with the well-known mastering engineer Greg Calbi of Sterling Sound:


If you get to 0:40, he says that the first thing he does is to listen to a track through two different sets of audiophile interconnects. He maintains that the two sets of interconnects sound totally different and that there is no way of predicting whether a track will sound better through one set or the other set.

Either Mr. Calbi is delusional, or he has found a very simple way to waste a lot of time in mastering his clients' projects--convenient when one bills by the hour, as elite mastering engineers usually do. I genuinely do not know if this is a well-intended but pointless practice, on the one hand, or a fraud perpetrated on Mr. Calbi's clients, on the other.

Do I think that Mr. Calbi is particularly accomplished or competent in his field, in light of all the hit records he has mastered? I do not. The measure of a mastering engineer's competence is how good his work product sounds, and I don't think very many of Mr. Calbi's records sound good. I think Mr. Calbi is good at impressing his (technically very unsophisticated) clients and bringing in business.

I don't lump all mastering engineers with Mr. Calbi. I think Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound has done good work, and I think Bob Ludwig is good at what he does, though he is no stranger to snake oil.

In addition to calling out the guys who write for The Absolute Sound and other high-end consumer rags, perhaps we should spend more time calling out professionals for this nonsense.
I’m really disappointed to see this from Mr. Calbi.
 

pozz

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#4
There is so much of it. Another time I'll post examples.

A lot of it comes from listening for subtleties all the time. Actual differences in gear, particularly analog gear that has to be tuned and calibrated constantly (like tape machines), have suggested the idea that all gear must have a unique and distinct signature.
 
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pozz

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#5
In addition to calling out the guys who write for The Absolute Sound and other high-end consumer rags, perhaps we should spend more time calling out professionals for this nonsense.
This. Absolutely this.
 

GrimSurfer

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#6
There's a big difference between calling people out and having it stick.

We all know the foolishness that exists in audioland. The difficulty is getting people who WANT to believe it to stop doing so. Whoever cracks the code on that issue can collect their lifetime membership to the AES and the Royal Society at the door.
 

pozz

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#7
It's about keeping up the pressure and getting a few people to admit they're wrong. Posting a useful measurements and confronting nonsense goes a long way.
 

digicidal

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#8
The difficulty is getting people who WANT to believe it to stop doing so. Whoever cracks the code on that issue can collect their lifetime membership to the AES and the Royal Society at the door.
I'm pretty sure that whoever cracks that code will get a lot more than two lifetime memberships - like "winner of all humanity" or something along those lines (along with a few Nobel's and hopefully the Presidency as well). Point being that it exists everywhere people are involved - it's just perhaps a little more straightforward in it's manifestation in the audio world.

The secondary problem, and directly relevant in this particular case, is that often the subjectively "magical" is the literal gravy train upon which experts hang their expensive headgear. It doesn't matter if you're a studio engineer, televangelist, motivational speaker, investment broker, etc. - a huge number of people make a living (and a very nice one at that) off making other people believe they have super powers in the field. So whether it's hearing nuanced differences between cables, talking directly to God, making losers into winners, or predicting the future - it's the reason you pay them so well.

It's completely anecdotal of course, but I would bet he wouldn't be able to charge nearly as much per hour if he'd made a video that amounted to:
"Once I initially set up my gear, everything comes down to simply watching this meter to make sure the levels aren't clipping and maybe adding some distortion for warmth, or tweaking tone controls. You could do the same, but I have more experience in which knobs do what - so it would take you much longer. Plus I already own the gear - so just write me the check and lets get on with it."
 

GrimSurfer

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#9
IMG_1789.JPG
 

digicidal

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#10
I'd put him down in all 4 categories actually... except I'm pretty sure he believes he is God... so maybe just the other 3. :cool:
 

GrimSurfer

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#11
"I don't know anything about the stuff he's talkin' bout, Ma, but he sure sez it nice so it must be true. Let's go to Best Buy right now."

"I made my first mil at Baer Stearns (sic) before the crash. Have a Ferrari, gf with a $100K boob job, and hair plugs... so I owe it to myself to get a $200k tube amp, dude!"

Where ever hopelessly stupid or vain people exist, there is an opportunity to make money. Not good money, but money all the same.
 
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digicidal

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#12
Where ever hopelessly stupid or vain people exist, there is an opportunity to make money. Not good money, but money all the same.
This. I've spent most of my life going back and forth between "I'm doing something worthwhile and ethical. Good." and the seductive "People that stupid don't deserve their money, so why not relieve them of it?" mindset. So far the "little shoulder angel" has won the debate, but who can say who will win tomorrow? :p

I wonder if "cloths anointed to eliminate unwanted speaker resonances" has been done before? ;)
 

GrimSurfer

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#13
The fact you're thinking about it means that you're above the herd, mate.

The anointed cloths may not be a big seller in Ireland these days, but I think it's an interesting angle worth pursuing. An angel investor is all that's needed.

The funniest thing I saw was at a HS science fair... imagine three feet of lamp cord, stripped of its insulation and terminated in a plug, wrapped around a house plant. It sought to prove that an electrical field affects plant growth.

My take, as a young fella, was that its intent was to test the school's fuse panel and fire suppression system (these were the days before ground fault sockets and breakers). Wisely, my science teacher put a large sign on it stating "DO NOT PLUG IN".

Years of higher education and professional employment later, I would really have liked to see what would have happened (even though the outcome was as certain as gravity).

Today, that sort of $hit would be sold on YouTube, only with OFC and a medical grade plug (which is ironic on at least two levels that spring to mind -- developed in an oxygen free environment and ending with a trip to the ER).
 
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digicidal

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#14
That would have been an impressive display on several levels. Too bad about the teacher stopping all the fun. Although to be fair - it would have verified the hypothesis... as it certainly would have affected growth! :eek:
 

GrimSurfer

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#15
Yeah, what a kill-joy, considering this was the era before health and safety standards.

He didn't need an ohm meter to determine the resistance of a dead-short, which at the time endowed him with the powers of a savant (in my mind).

So I wonder if similarly prepared cable of different inductance and capacitance would have changed the outcome of this little experiment? Maybe cryogenically treating the cable would have done something to keep the fire department and paramedics away? Perhaps receiving really clean power from an isolation transformer receiving dedicated power from the pole would have saved the day?

We'll never know what might have happened but we can say definitively that all these things miraculously work in the parallel universe we call audiophila.
 

Wombat

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#16
I'm pretty sure that whoever cracks that code will get a lot more than two lifetime memberships - like "winner of all humanity" or something along those lines (along with a few Nobel's and hopefully the Presidency as well). Point being that it exists everywhere people are involved - it's just perhaps a little more straightforward in it's manifestation in the audio world.

The secondary problem, and directly relevant in this particular case, is that often the subjectively "magical" is the literal gravy train upon which experts hang their expensive headgear. It doesn't matter if you're a studio engineer, televangelist, motivational speaker, investment broker, etc. - a huge number of people make a living (and a very nice one at that) off making other people believe they have super powers in the field. So whether it's hearing nuanced differences between cables, talking directly to God, making losers into winners, or predicting the future - it's the reason you pay them so well.

It's completely anecdotal of course, but I would bet he wouldn't be able to charge nearly as much per hour if he'd made a video that amounted to:
An artful panel operator who is light on understanding what makes the gear tick, it seems. :rolleyes:
 

digicidal

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#18
He's probably just another self-aggrandizing narcissist, and as such, he might actually believe his own hype. One can find them in every field... :rolleyes:
Having a well balanced sense of self-worth seems as rare as a unicorn pegasus. Myself included, it seems like every human being either consistently over-estimates or under-estimates the only person they actually have a prayer of completely understanding... themselves. Being confident yet humble, committed yet flexible, and authoritative yet willing to learn... these are the marks of truly amazing people - and you can pretty much count all of them on one hand IMO. Luckily it's not required for us to shamble along through history as a species. :cool:

It's hard enough not to lie to ourselves... to others and the world in general - seemingly impossible.
 

digicidal

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#20
Yeah, but the other candidate was even worse IMO. :D Sorry... politics. Shame on me.
 
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