My name is Ken Presner. I am an audiophile. I also design high end audio accessories. For me, building a high end audio system is much more than a hobby. I am passionate about music. I went audio at a tender age. Have you gone audio?
My mother was the greatest musical influence in my life. My grandfather built and repaired radios in the 1920s while my mother was the secretary to Edgar Berliner, the former president of RCA Victor Canada. Edgar was the son of the inventor of the electroacoustic microphone and the phonograph record, Emile Berliner. My mother simply loved music. I went audio while listening to music from the womb. My mother enrolled me at the Conservatory of Music where I trained as a classical pianist for 12 years.
Raidho C1.1 speakers
REL T3 subwoofer
PS Audio PerfectWave transport
PS Audio DS DirectStream DAC
Audio Horizons TP3.1 pre-amplifier with full mods
Atma-Sphere S-30 power amplifier with full mods
Monarchy Power Regenerator
Shunyata Triton Power Conditoner
Medical Grade Isolation Transformer
David Elrod Statement Gold power cord
A variety of Shunyata power cords and cables
Paul Speltz Anti-Cable interconnects and Zero Auto-Transformers
DIY power cords and interconnects using Futurech products
DIY silver speaker wires
ROOM TREATMENTS DEVICES:
10 Schumann resonance devices -- 4 with Chartres Coil
A variety of Bybee products
A variety of Audio Magic Products
5 IPC Acoustic Energizers
4 QRT Symphony Pro units
1 QRT ElectroClear EFC3X
4 Steinmusic Harmonizers
2 Shakti Hallographs
Synergistic Reasearch ART with extra bowls
Kemp QA and SR plugs
Kemp Noise Eater
24 LOA Light of Arche
DIY HFRs based on the HFT concept
A variety of acoustic devices I have invented
When I attended the Conservatory of Music I tried my best to become a concert pianist. Unfortunately, my best was not good enough. One fine day my teacher asked why I kept hitting a wrong note, tapping my finger in reproach. I replied, "That's my favorite note, Mrs. Kenton". Mrs. Kenton had a good sense of humor. She said I should have been taking voice lessons. She was right. I still have a great love for singing -- and for the piano.
I have had the good fortune to see some great jazz pianists perform live, including Eubie Blake, Oscar Peterson and Dave Brubeck. I recently read Oscar Peterson's autobiography and a biography of Thelonious Monk by Robin Kelley. Something struck me about Peterson's book. I did not remember him mentioning Thelonious Monk. I checked the index and found no entries for Monk. But I remembered numerous references to Peterson in Robin Kelley's biography of Monk, referring to Monk's rising status in the 1960s and his overtaking Peterson in the DownBeat polls.
I checked the DownBeat Readers Poll and found Peterson dominating it from 1948 into the 1960s. Thelonious Monk never rated #1 with Readers. Then I checked the DownBeat Critics Poll. Oscar Peterson was #1 in 1953 and 1954. Thelonious Monk was #1 in 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1961. Was Oscar Peterson affected by Monk's Critics Poll ratings? I decided to look further to try to discover how Peterson felt about Monk.
I found part of the answer in a YouTube interview with Peterson paying tribute to Monk. What first struck me about the interview was that Peterson wasn't talking with feeling when he talked about Monk. There was no warmth in his comments. They were presented in the context of piano history. Peterson begins: "No piano history would be complete without mentioning Thelonious Monk". Does Monk only deserve a mention?
Peterson continues, "He was a man who heard unusual harmonic clusters from the piano and he wrote these for various groups to play." I find this an odd remark. Did Monk really hear "clusters from the piano"? Were his compositions merely "clusters"? Did Monk actually compose clusters "for various groups to play"? Peterson's comments left me with the strange feeling that Peterson was trying to diminish Monk's accomplishments.
To my ears, Monk composed some beautiful pieces of music that have become classics. He made dissonance sound beautiful, which I think is an amazing accomplishment. But in Peterson's remarks you get no inkling of why Monk was so highly rated by the critics. Peterson continues, "I don't count him [Monk] amongst the great players of the piano insofar as digital dexterity because he was much more pensive in that regard and he thought more of compositions and harmonic sequences. He came to us during the be-bop era and made it -- and helped to make it -- an important era of modern music ... his great donation to the jazz world ... this is Thelonious Monk's Round Midnight."
Peterson made a slip when saying that Monk "made be-bop" an important era. He quickly "corrected" himself by stating that Monk "helped to make it [be-bop] an important era." It seems Peterson did not want to give Monk credit for too much. Then Peterson ends his comments by playing Monk's Round Midnight. But Peterson's rendition sounds like vintage Peterson, beautifully melodic, but with none of Monk's beautiful dissonace anywhere to be found. In Peterson's amazing hands Monk's Round Midnight is transformed into Peterson's Round Midnight.
It is also interesting
that Peterson declares Monk's "digital dexterity" was
displaced by pensiveness. This is a non sequitur. If one is pensive, does
that quality ipso facto displace one's dexterity? I think what Peterson is politely
avoiding saying is that Monk didn't have what it took to produce Peterson's lightning
speed at the keyboard -- his pyrotechnics.
Actually, a number of people who heard Monk play say he could be lightning fast but that he consciously avoided the displays of pyrotechnics that Peterson was famous for. I think it may be hard to find a recording where Monk navigates the keyboard with Peterson's famous lightning speed. But this is beside the point. "Digital dexterity" was not the defining moment in Monk's career. His fame derived from his work as an original composer and the unique and ideosyncratic style he developed.
It would be interesting if Peterson's comments were turned around. Let's say Peterson had died in 1982 and Monk was paying tribute to Peterson. "I don't count Peterson amongst the great jazz composers insofar as he was not known for his compositions because he was much more pensive in that regard and he thought more of technique and digital dexterity. He came to us in the post-Tatum era and made it -- helped to make it -- an important era ... this is Oscar Peterson's Canadiana Suite." Which Monk proceeds to play a la Monk with characteristic dissonance and "clusters".
Dick Cavett did a YouTube video interview with Oscar Peterson. Peterson is amazing. He flawlessly and beautifully imitates the styles of many jazz pianists. But there is no mention of Monk. Was Peterson avoiding the subject of Monk? Was Peterson able to imitate Monk? Would doing so have placed Monk on the same level as the other luminaries of the jazz world that Peterson was highlighting in his interview with Cavett?
And what about Peterson's comment about "digital dexterity", upon which his judgment of Monk as a jazz pianis, seems to rest? Peterson did not need to advertise his own dexterity by belittling Monk's. Peterson was gifted from birth. He had very large hands with a very long baby finger and thumb and an amazing reach of 11.
But not so Thelonious Monk -- or Erroll Garner or Count Basie. Monk's fingers were short and chunky. He had a short thumb and his baby finger was about half the length of his middle finger. What would have happened to Monk's "digital dexterity" -- and his style -- if his reach had been the same as Peterson's? And what would have happened to Peterson's "digital dexterity" if his fingers had been as short as Monk's? Interesting thoughts.
Nellie Monk (Monk's wife): "He [Monk] has smaller hands than most pianists, so he had to develop a different style of playing to fully express himself." Monk's hands were similar in size and shape to Erroll Garner's but Monk's hands were even more chunky than Garner's (Garner also had a short baby finger). The size of their hands and their short reach did not diminish the genius of Monk or Garner. In fact, Garner, who wrote Misty, was self taught and could not read music. In my opinion, their small hands made what Garner and Monk accomplished even more impressive.
Oscar Peterson was a superb pianist, arranger, stylist and interpreter but he did lilttle composing. He was an Art Tatum-inspired virtuoso. In my opinion, he was the best pianist of his era among those who followed in Tatum's footsteps. Tatum was Peterson's idol. Monk was an original stylist known for his compositions, many of which have become classics.
While Monk never played the same tune the same way twice Peterson was very much in the opposite camp. Peterson was an amazing perfectionist. Peterson and Monk were both great. But they were great in different ways. They were different facets of the same instrument. But when Monk revealed in a magazine interview that "Oscar Peterson never gave me any credit" Monk may have revealed a highly competitive Oscar Peterson who possessed an amazing gift but who would never allow himself to give Thelonious Monk a seat up front with the greats in the history of jazz -- except to acknowledge that Monk helped make be-bop an important era -- which is really a back-door concession. I have never read a single comment where Monk discredits Peterson.
Leonard Feather wrote about Thelonious Monk in Encyclopedia of Jazz: "Some musicians, notably pianists such as Oscar Peterson, have criticized Monk's technique and touch while acknowledging his value as a composer. On the other hand, pianist Bill Evans wrote of Monk: 'Make no mistake. This man knows exactly what he is doing in a theoretical way - organized, more than likely in a personal terminology, but strongly organized nevertheless. We can be further grateful to him for combining aptitude, insight, drive, compassion, fantasy, and whatever makes the total artist, and we should also be grateful for such direct speech in an age of insurmountable conformist pressures.' "
Regarding Monk's tragic mental decline I believe it may have been partially related to his dental work. I have confirmed with Robin Kelley, Monk's biographer, that Monk had "silver" fillings. Monk may have been mercury toxic from his dental work. "Silver" fillings are 50% mercury. Many serious psychological symptoms are related to mercury poisoning, the most important of which is depression. But we can only speculate about this in Monk's case.
Audiogon's "community" (in reality) caters to special interests. It allows "members of the community" to comment but only if they don't step on any toes -- i.e. those of manufacturers and advertisers. Audiogon is "moderated" with a heavy hand i.e. censored. Many of my posts have been declined. I am not alone. Whenever I comment on Synergistic Research, Grover Huffman or Hegel the censor is not far behind.
Forum censorship and general incompetence at Audiogon, shown by the debacle of their site "make-over" a few years ago, have discouraged many people from participating on the forum. The effect has been to dumb down their readership.
Poor decision making is destroying the respect audiophiles used to have for Audiogon. It seems that incompetence, a who-cares attitude and just plain stupidity have become the order of the day at Audiogon. Audiophiles are gravitating to other sites. The consensus now seems to be that if people could find a better place to sell their gear they would avoid Audiogon completely.
Here is a link to an interesting thread entitled Fraud and Censorship on Audiogon.
It includes these comments:
"I would never do business through that site [Audiogon], the owners of it don't seem to be real interested in keeping it safe [from hacking and fraud]".
"Finally, to rub salt into the wound, when I tried to share my experience [about fraud on Audiogon] with other Audiogoners, their moderators refused to post my comment on their forums."
Here is a link to an interesting forum on Audiogon. It includes these comments:
"In short, not only is the new Audiogon technically deficient, fraud is now rife on Audiogon, and they censor and whitewash their forums in an attempt to prevent their users from finding out. I would warn everyone buying anything from Audiogon to be wary of these fraudsters and Audiogon's completely useless "security" and general negligence."
Here is a link to interesting observations about Audiogon corruption and censorship. It includes these comments:
"If you want to shill products on Audiogon, even in their forums, just pay them some money and they'll let you do / say / get away with anything you want. If someone questions the ethics of those shilling their products or the ethics of Audiogon for allowing them to shill with their full approval, they'll ban / censor that person from posting. By keeping those that want to expose corruption and promote honest business practices quiet, they maintain their leverage and income from those doing the shilling."
I think it's clear that, unless Audiogon makes a concerted effort to change direction, they may be surprised one day to find someone else taking their spot as the world's #1 audio site.
Below is one of many Audiogon posts of mine that have been declined.
I cannot comment on a comparison between the Bricasti M1 DAC and the PS Audio DS DAC since I have not heard them side by side in the same system. But a big plus with PS Audio is their firmware upgrade program. It's like getting a new improved DS DAC every few months free of charge. My guess is that the new Yale firmware, much better than Yale beta and Pike, may perhaps bring the DS DAC close to the Bricasti M1 and even the Berkeley Reference DAC. I agree with Ozzy that the frequency response is very natural with Yale. I find the highs especially improved. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has done side-by-side comparisons using the DS, M1 and Berkeley Reference DACs.
Unfortunately, the PS Audio forum does not do justice to their DS DAC, IMO. Unlike the Audiogon forum, the PS forum has a weak and intolerant moderator. IMO, a forum is where people can agree to disagree as long as they are respectful. The PS moderator allows unseen hands (knowledgeable and wealthy forum members, he calls them) to enter by the back door and whisper in his ear. He follows their lead. If they don't like what they hear the moderator either moves a thread somewhere else or closes it altogether. Very courageous. LOL.
At least the Audiogon forum lets folks express themselves freely [LOL, since this post was declined by Audiogon -- Ken Presner]. In the past, Audiogon discussions sometimes got out of hand. That was lamentable. But I have yet to see where contrary opinions are cut off summarily by any Audiogon moderator. Audiogon is a very tolerant place. [LOL once again -- Ken Presner]
It is unfortunate that the PS Audio forum does not mirror the dedicated team that put together the DS DAC and who work hard at improving the DS with great firmware upgrades.
The following thread (initiated by another Audigon member) disappeared recently
from the Audiogon forum:
HEGEL - Is it really made in Norway?
The thread was a discussion about the deceptive practices of Hegel whose components are stamped NORWAY on the back but are really Made in China. Here is the link to the cached copy on Google where you can still read the full thread that was deleted by Audiogon:
Oops -- Audiogon has sucessfully taken this down. Censorship is alive and well on Audiogon.
I have just discovered another relevant link.
Here is the link to another thread on Hegel initiated by me on the forum:
So far, this thread is still up but it could disappear as mysteriously as the aforementioed one without notice. Audiogon is into censorship. They whittle down their membership list along the way. They probably did not know how to cope with their success and had to find a way to cut back. Bravo Audiogon!
Ooops -- I spoke too soon. Audiogon pulled that thread down, too. But I just found
a cached copy on Google where you can still read this thread deleted by Audiogon:
Ooops -- Audiogon has successfully taken this down. Censorship is alive and well on Audiogon.
I have bought and sold a lot of audio equipment on Audiogon and Ebay over the years. My experience is that the vast majority of buyers and sellers are honest. But there are always a few bad apples in the barrel. This is a short review of the bad apples I have had the misfortune to come across. It includes 2 surprises -- Rick Schultz of High Fidelity Cables and Peter, the UK distributor for Einstein Audio.
I purchased a quad of Siemens Cca tubes from this seller. One tube arrived DOA. The seller said I must have caused the problem. I must have inserted the tube incorrectly. I have been inserting tubes correctly for years, thank you. Or my equipment must have been faulty. My equipment is fine, thank you. He took no responsibility and offered no compensation. His name is Peter and he is the UK distributor for Einstein Audio.
This seller promised a refund for his B&K model 707 tube tester that arrived damaged
-- and DOA. But he never made good on his promise after I returned the tester to
him at my expense. To top things off, his messages were liberally spiced with abusive
language and cursing.
This seller's QRT Symphony Pro arrived DOA but the seller took no responsibility. It had clearly been tampered with. The back plate had been removed and replaced backwards, with the screws improperly screwed back on. I sent pictures to the seller who denied any tampering. He offered no compensation and no apology. Audiogon would not allow me to post negative feedback.
This seller shipped me a damaged Steinmusic Harmonizer -- one of 2 units that I purchased from him. The package was in perfect condition but the unit itself was cracked on one corner. This means the unit was not damaged in transit. In fact, the seller admitted that he had not even inspected the 2 Harmonizers before shipping. He was simply reselling them. He took no responsibility and offered me no compensation. And no apology. But he did offer a healthy dose of disrespect in his messages. He happens to be Rick Schultz of High Fidelity Cables.
Texasnissan123 (now banned from Audiogon)
The seller received payment for Jena cables -- but did not ship the goods.
I am a very enthusiastic owner of the PS Audio DirectStream DAC. So, I joined the DS forum a while back to participate in the discussion. Ted Smith created the DS and posts to the forum. He creates free software upgrades and seeks ideas from the forum to improve the DS. The 2016 Torreys software advanced DS into world class DAC territory.
Unfortunately, the DS forum, moderated by Eric Koch, does not live up to the quality of the DAC. It is a private club pretending to be an open forum. The moderator is backed by "exceedingly knowledgeable, experienced and wealthy" VIP friends [his words in a private message] whose existence is hidden from the forum. They are the hidden "authority" behind the forum.
Hiding behind a 2-way mirror, the forum VIPs keep tabs on the forum and pigeon-hole participants. Why don't they step out in the open where people can get to know them and question them regarding their status as forum "authority"? If they are as authoritative as they and the moderator seem to think then what have they to fear?
"Hello ... is anyone there?"
This convenient arrangement allows the elite to act without answering to anyone. Unlucky targets may be labelled "arrogant" and accused of "claiming impressive credentials, abilities, knowledge or resources" [the moderator's words]. The "experts" co-opt that domain for themselves. They judge who deserves to be heard and who needs to be silenced.
"DS DAC Hotline -- how may I help you?""
When the forum VIPs get upset they contact the moderator on his Hotline and he does their bidding -- censoring those voices they find irksome. Are they serving the interests of Ted Smith? The need to suppress opinions reveals PS Audio with a very weak underbelly.
Someone just posted to the PS forum ...
time to reach for a bicarb and the VIP Hotline
Frankly, after watching the videos of Paul McGowan, PS Audio's owner, I was surprised to find the forum run by an intolerant moderator acting on behalf of an anonymous elite. I think Paul McGowan has make a mistake by underwriting such an arrangement. The DS DAC deserves a lot better.
You would think that wealthy "experts" would have more important things to do than hang around
an audio forum behind a 2-way mirror
watching for opinions they disagree with. Maybe they are retirees with time on their hands or
maybe they are PS Audio shareholders looking out for the bottom line. In any case, Eric Koch says
the "experts" are "not easily impressed" [his words]. Wow -- that's impressive!
Not being easily impressed is a very important qualification for a VIP "expert".
But, kidding aside, let's assume for a moment that the moderator and these VIPs think a valuable function is being served by having an elite in charge. Look at the mess "experts" have gotten us into in all fields -- economic, intelligence, financial & medical "experts", etc. For instance, government statistics show medical "experts" kill 250,000 people a year (legally) in the US via drug interactions and other medical malpractice. Only a group of true "experts" could accomplish such a great task.
I was lucky. I was given up by "medical experts" when I was paralysed with MS in 1989 and was given up for dead by more medical "experts" after I nearly died of Crohn's disease in 1994. I went my own way and am in perfect health in 2017 -- not by accident, as My Recovery Protocol explains.
They must know what they're doing
The realm of high end audio is obviously a much less important dimension than the medical world. But when it comes to the matter of "experts" and the problems caused by relying on "authorities" there are common lessons to be learned. Look at the ethical conundrum the PS Audio forum elite has created for PS Audio by claiming extraordinary knowledge that they refuse to divulge, by trying to corner the market on audio expertise and by setting themselves apart as the forum's Inquisitors.
My experience has led me to be skeptical about all "experts" no matter what their field. This independence of mind saved my life. It also works well for a whole lot of other things in life -- including audio matters.
As for the moderator's expertise, to establish his credentials Eric Koch lets everyone know he is a professional recording engineer. Wow. To prove his expertise he says the guitar of Gordon Lightfoot and James Taylor don't sound like guitar at all. Wow. I must have got it all wrong. Eric Koch says only classical guitar sounds like guitar and you need to turn to classical music to hear real guitar. Will do.
If you want to participate on the forum you really should sign up for Politically Correct Listening 101 (PCL 101). If you don't then beware of the following. If you feel that some of Oscar Peterson offers up better sound quality than Dave Brubeck Time Out (even the SACD) when judging the quality of the DS DAC then you'd better keep it to yourself or you'll get jumped on. Even if you're right the forum doesn't like to hear such opinions expressed in a way that sounds like you know what you're talking about.
Try this experiment on your system. Listen to Dave Brubeck's Take 5 from his Time Out album, any version, even SACD. Then list to track 9 on Oscar Peterson's remastered The Sound of The Trio. Both recordings are from the same era. Does Brubeck come even close to Peterson? Which recording do you think would be better to evaluate a new DAC?
If you do know what you're talking about and it does not agree with what the "experts" think you may be accused of presuming to be knowledgeable, which is their exclusive domain, or of being arrogant, which they actually know quite a bit about. At the least you will be found guilty of stepping on fellow audophiles' toes, which is a definite no-no. And be careful. Uttering the phrase "in my opinion" is a also big no-no on the forum.
Eric Koch's Avatar
"It's not easy being a moderator"
So, if "audio political correctness" is not your bag you will run into trouble on the forum. My advice is to sign up for the PCL 101 course to get up to speed on how to be on your best behavior. In any case, do not mention the words "monkey business" or you'll pay a heavy price for being outspoken.
If you find yourself crossing an unwritten line or touching a raw nerve on the forum be prepared to visit The Shell Game with the moderator shuffling threads here and closing threads there, efficiently marginalizing and cutting off discussion. Here he is giving a demo. He used to use smaller shells but he now finds that larger ones get the job done more efficiently.
Eric Koch invites people to challenge the forum but he pays mere lip service to openness. So, the forum has developed into a mockery. My opinions were considered intolerable on the forum. So, the moderator cut off the discussion, after which he invited me to challenge the forum -- which is exactly what I had been doing. I simply walked away.
Unfortunately, PS Audio has not figured
out that marginalizing customers and potential customėrs they disagree with is not great marketing,
and that letting everyone speak their mind -- without the threat of being censored or shuffled to the sidelines -- is not
only the basis for an
authentic forum but is also good for business.
PS Audio really nailed the product with the DS DAC but they got the hammer squarely on the thumb with the forum by allowing it to be run as an exclusive venue. Remember Chuck Berry? He is still alive and rocking at over 80 years of age. The forum could adopt a theme from this Rock & Roll legend.
Too Much Monkey Business
On the famous Chess record label
Software upgrades have transformed the DS into a world class DAC. Ted Smith looks to the forum for ideas to create a better DAC. Discouraging participation means that voices he might find valuable are silenced while those contemplating participating on the forum are demotivated from doing so by an intolerant moderator, et al.
The outcome is that Ted Smith works in the shadow of a group whose actions contradict his interests. If he wanted to, I am sure he could insist the forum be open to all instead of pretending it is. But he turns a blind eye, preferring to stick to audio issues. He probably figures he gets enough input from the old boy's club. No point in tangling with the forum's elite for the sake of an extra opinion here or there.
Paul McGowan considers himself lucky to have Eric Koch, a volunteer moderator with professional credentials, who is willing to work without pay. Let's be realistic. I imagine there are some unadvertised percs for the moderator to compensate for the missing check. Perhaps this is where the VIPs and PS Audio largesse enter the picture, taking care of things off balance sheet and away from forum discussion.
Although he sometimes joins the discussion, Paul maintains neutrality. It is likely that the actions of the moderator and his friends reflect Paul's biases. Otherwise, I imagine Paul would set things straight via the VIP Hotline. It is no accident the forum oscillates between obsequiousness and rah-rah.
free pompoms at the door
It's clear Paul designed the forum to function as a division of the PS Audio Marketing Department, which it does very well. But the shenanigans are a poor advertisement for a world-class DAC. PS is happy when folks speak with their wallets, but unhappy at the thought of a forum where people can speak openly. They treat the forum like a muzzled dog on a short leash. So, they end up with a world class DAC juxtaposed beside a 3rd class forum.
But even a world-class DAC needs help to optimize the sound. Over the years I have worked on some new sound enhancement ideas that have produced great results. Inexplicably, Paul eschews the use of "tweaks" that "enhance" sound quality but not those that "perfect" sound quality -- without referring to specific devices and without a detailed explanation.
I find it odd that Paul is dimissive of audio enhancements he has not experienced. I wonder how he would react to an audiophile dismissing a PS Audio product without having heard it? Nevertheless, he did acknowledge on the forum that he has never seen another audio system with as many sound-improvement accessories as mine, with over 50 carefully integrated room treatment devices, and 50 more recently added. And I am not done yet.
I have also invented 3 devices that greatly enhance sound quality and have sourced an audio device from Asia unknown in the West. My observations come from a unique perspective. But I am not the only independent audio researcher around. Although the cognoscenti may think they have seen it all they surely have not. No one has. But "exceedingly knowledgeable" VIPs scoff at "outsiders" with "impressive" ideas. Try to talk about this on the forum. Watch the fur fly.
Drawing parallels, the PS Audio forum VIPs remind me of the medical "experts" who had my case all figured out and scoffed when I questioned the system in an outspoken manner. I stepped outside the box, discovered some things and recovered from 2 "incurable" diseases they still declare are incurable -- MS and Crohn's disease. I then excoriated the medical system that sanctions lethal practices, and I continue to do so on my site.
No monkey business ...
you get the picture
Well, the audio context is obviously not in the same league as the medical context. But the common point is that, in both cases, I found the solution by stepping outside the box. And I discovered that it is a waste of time talking to "experts", both medical and audio, who have hands over their eyes and fingers in their ears. I stay away from doctors now. And I visit PS Audio to check when the latest free software launch is due. Thanks to Ted Smith it's easy to avoid the monkey business.
Ted Denney, lead designer and owner of Synergistic Research, has been called both a pioneer and a hypster. Is he a bit of both? It is hard to discuss things like this on Audiogon since comments about paying advertisers are censored there. Here, there is no one to tow-tow to. Stepping on toes is all in a day's work. We Tell It Like It Is (Aaron Neville). So, here goes.
What is SR's appeal? Besides catering to deep pockets they also pander to those with basic systems who dream of top-tier sound. To tap into this end of the market SR offers Basik versions of their products at prices that can be considered basic only when compared with non-Basik SR products. But, from a marketing standpoint Basik sounds better than Basic. Nevertheless, you cannot cover up everything by substituting the letter K for the letter C. Most SR systems at audio shows have Un-Basic prices of $100,000++.
So, SR has their work cut out for them. To get folks on the treadmill, they encourage people to never be content with their system. There is always a lower noise floor, a wider sound stage and a blacker background in view.
There is no such thing as a black background at SR ...
there is always a blacker shade coming round the corner
Part of SR's mission is to convince people they can turn an audio sow's ear into a high end audio silk purse by investing in SR "game-changers". Those who get on the SR treadmill often end up discovering they are the proud owners of soon-to-be-abandoned technology, with nothing left in the audio kitty to keep treading on the mill.
Turning a sow's ear into a silk purse ...
is all in a day's work at SR
For example, SR recently announced that their active shielding products are now redundant, including all those active shielding cables along with the famous Transporter that replaced the famous Galileo Mini Power Couplers (MPCs) -- otherwise known as AC adapters. Thousands of folks spent thousands on hoopla-ed technology now relegated to The SR Audio Closet. Famous names like Tesla and Galileo have now found a home in The SR Audio Closet. A whole host of new cats' meows have taken their place.
SR brings products to market at such a rate it's hard to keep up. If you join the party at the Basik level you will need deep pockets to keep moving up the line. Luckily for SR there is no end in sight. You may be tempted to join the SR bait and switch game with a trade-up program rigged heavily in favor of the house.
Doing the math
To trade up you need to purchase a product or products twice the value of those you are trading in. You receive 70% credit on the item you are trading in. For example, if you want to trade up your PowerCell that cost you $5000 to the PowerCell MKI you will receive $3500 for yours but you have to purchase $10,000 worth of new SR products to seal the deal.
Well, you can see where this scheme leads. If you want to trade up to MKII and then MKIII you will need to buy $35,000 worth of SR products. You will receive $10,500 in rebates. This is for only a single SR product. There are many audio companies that treat their customers well with upgrading. SR is not among them. Ted Denney was annoyed when I pointed this out on Audiogon. He likes to protect his image of Mr. Nice Audio Designer while his hands are in your wallet.
Vigilant Ted is eager to protect his image in high end audio where what is said on Audiogon can make or break a product. He takes time out from his busy schedule to monitor the Audiogon forum and jumps all over anyone who criticizes his products or his company.
Ted Denney is always on top of things ...
I hit a nerve with Ted when I pointed how fast one version of SR PowerCell power conditioners follows the next to the marketplace. He came out of his corner in fighting spirit, declaring that the pace was not all that fast.
Actually, SR destroys the resale value of their products at break-neck speed. So, most SR customers have to take a significant loss when selling used SR products or their yesterday's must-haves that have have become today's has-beens find their way into The SR Audio Closet, covered in audio cobwebs. Have a look. The after market on Audiogon is always flooded with SR products.
If you had purchased a full loom of Teslas and received the news that your superlative-laden cables were no longer superlative with the advent of LEs then Elements and then Atmospheres, it would have cost you a fortune to trade up all the way to the top. Of course, SR never advertises the math. Not to worry. The latest cat's meow, the Atmospheres, will also become redundant before long. It's only a matter of time.
You may have noticed that SR never introduces new products -- only game-changers, including Master Couplers, Galileos, PowerCells, Tranquility Bases, Quantum Fuses, HFTs, UEFs, FEQs and ECTs -- and Tesla, Element and Atmosphere cables. And don't forget the recently-abandoned active shielding products. But while each new offering is accompanied by superlatives the sound improvement usually no more than incremental. And you can be sure you'll pay through the nose for each increment.
More game-changers are coming soon, accompanied by more superlatives. Actually, if you look at the advertising copy for the Master Coupler it sounds like it was recycled for the Tesla, Element and Atmosphere cables. SR makes small sonic improvements sound absolutely spectacular. Ted Denney excels at copy writing.
Don't close your wallet yet. To improve their cables SR has a mountain of accessories. A few years ago Galileo was the cat's meow, a real game changer. But Galileo faded away. There was much fanfare around MIG couplers, one up 2 down, 2 up one down. Real game-changers that made no more than a subtle difference. Ooops, There is a new improved version of MIGs. They did need improvement, didn't they? Time to upgrade.
Ted Denney ...
announcing the latest game-changer
How about the ART room treatment -- a $3000 game-changer? Ted had to think up a good story to hook buyers into paying $3,000 for small bowls on the walls. He was inspired by Tibetan bowls discovered while sailing solo across the South Pacific -- for 3 years. I think there is more to the story. Franck Tchang of ASI International was already marketing resonator bowls and with better results, according to most reviews.
Ted does not mention Franck Tchang or the name of the island where he made his discovery. And there is no mention about how he sailed for 3 years through the long monsoon and typhoon seasons with torrential rains and fearful winds. There is no word of anything but Tibetan bowls. Truth be told, it looks like pioneering Ted Denney follows Franck Tchang very closely -- even from the South Pacific.
Nothing worth mentioning ...
except Tibetan bowls
In recent years SR has introduced a whole host of game-changing products: tuning bullets, MPCs and Galileo MPCs, and now HFTs and ECTs. XOTs are real game-changers -- received with mixed reviews. Enacom, Steinmusic and Bybee already had similar products on the market when Ted decided to bring out his XOT game-changers.
How about the latest HFT game-changers, announced by Ted with a touch of grandiosity as "the culmination of my life's work"? HFT looks like the HighEnd Novum PMR grafted onto Franck Tchang's sugar cubes. In any case, it seems like Ted has a winner with HFTs. Most people report they are happy with them.
I certainly hope so -- at $60 for each of these aluminum
pimples that may cost
$1 to manufacture. SR says you need to spend $1200 to $2400 to make the HFT system
work, plus you will need up to 10 ECTs in each component and a $1000 FEQ game-changer to put
the icing on the cake.
Sounds like HFT heaven for SR.
Sorry, I spoke too soon. There is now a new version of HFT. Time to upgrade -- again. Have you noticed? HFTs look identical to ECTs except for the color. And the price is identical, too -- a 5-pack for $300. In their video SR folks merrily spill ECTs on everything inside components, without any A/B testing. The more the merrier, they say. I'm sure the SR accounting department is very glad to hear about this.
Did you notice? T in HFT & ECT stands for transducer.
But a transducer is a device
that converts a signal in one form of energy to another, like a microphone
or a speaker. Does anyone know how the signal is being transformed from one form of energy to
another with HFTs and ECTs?
The answer is obvious. Since the HFTs and the ECTs are not in the signal path, the signal is not being transformed. What is being transformed is the sound coming out of the speakers by what are actually resonators, not transducers. The use of the word transducer is a marketing scam.
I use the word scam advisedly because the word transducer is used completely misleadingly by SR. All you need to do is look up the definition of transducer and decide for yourself. SR misrepresents HFTs with the help of reviewers who do not call them out on this -- including Peter Breuninger of avshowrooms.com who shills for SR in a truly comic YouTube video -- with his head bobbing in agreement like a dashboard ornament, staring at the camera, while Peter Hansen of SR counts out the 5-pack of HFTs one by one as though he is teaching a kindergarten class how to count from 1 to 5, repeating the same routine over again with each box. AVshowrooms needs a serious makeover.
Ted Denney believes in Alchemy ...
and proves it by turning resonators into transducers
Anyway, in the end it comes down to the fact that HFTs & ECTs are simply resonators, magically transformed by Ted Denney's alchemical marketing at SR into transducers. At SR everything is possible with the wave of The Magical SR Marketing Wand -- and a fascinating YouTube video..
Despite the marketing scam and the crazy price I was intrigued by glowing 3rd party reports about HFTs. So, to see if they work I added some to my system recently. I do not use the same placement SR recommends. And I am not using SR's HFTs. I made my own version that I call HFRs (HiFi Resonators) -- choosing a name that reflects what these devices really are.
I decided to make my own HFRs because I will not pay the ridiculous price of $60 that SR charges for their HFTs.
This would amount to thousands of dollars to
cover my system and my room. I like to save audio money when I can. My budget is not limitless. The verdict: my HFRs
have transformed the
sound of my system. An amazing thing to behold. They may not be the same as SR's HRTs, but who cares. They do a great job in my system, and that's all that counts.
So, thanks go to Ted Denney for what I consider a great innovation. As for the pricing, my HFRs cost about $1 to make. Are you willing to spend $60 on HFTs you can make for about $1? I have about 50 HFRs in my system at a cost of about $50 vs. $3,000 for 50 HFTs from SR. I just saved $2,950. If you succeed in making your own you'll be very glad you did.
SR products used to have long names. They now have 3 letters -- an alphabet soup -- XOT, ECT, HFT, FEQ, MPC, UEF and RED fuses plus a Tranquility Base under every component for $2000 or $3000, with the Basik unit for a only $1000. You will need deep pockets to play the game. Here's the math for this panoply of new SR products.
4 sets of HFTs $1200
1 FEQ $1000
1 pair of XOTs $400
1 Tranquility Base under each of 4 components $8000
4 sets of ECTs $1200
Note: this is for only 4 sets of ECTs. Tthe SR video shows you may need up to 8 sets if using them inside each component.
Total: $11,800 for starters
Adding extra sets of ECTs, UEFs, MIGs & RED fuses means buying the new upgraded versions since the orginal versions have all been recently replaced. So, you are looking at $15,000 for the most basic set-up -- not including extra SR products or upgrades -- or system components or cables. Can you afford to play the game?
Assuming that you can in fact '"get there" with SR and that you can afford to play the game, how wide a sound stage and how low a noise floor do you need? Are you prepared to shell out each time new versions arrive with a big splash after you already reached deep down to buy the newest versions that will inevitably become audio has-beens?
The Big SR Splash ...
can get you into deep water before you know it
Never mind. Let's assume you think you have finally "got there" with SR. Phew ... a long process finally complete. After spending big $$ at SR and your system has a background so black you think you must have gone blind, and a sound stage so wide you need a car to get to the other end ... uh, oh ... around the corner come new versions. And you thought you had actually "got there".
Darn it. Now D-Day has finally arrived. Do you really, really need the latest versions? And are you prepared to pay through the nose for them? Can you afford to start over and trade up to them when new SR game-changers hit the market, realizing that you are investing in products designed to become obsolete before long? You may have noted SR never mentions the law of diminishing returns -- that thousands of dollars may buy you only a small improvement in sound -- those darn increments coming home to haunt you. But if you believe SR's promotional material, there is no such thing as an increment at Synergistic Research.
In the end, music is as much about spirit as it is about gear. How much more do you need and how much will it cost you on the SR treadmill? Do we need to be forever obsessed by the prospect of the latest increment? Did Beethoven go to bed worrying about black backgrounds? When is enough ever enough? And if enough is never enough, can we get creative to reduce the cost of this obscenely expensive "hobby"?
What's it all about?
Please note that this article should be read as light entertainment by those for whom price is no object.
Grover Huffman is a well-known boutique maker of audio cables. His cables are inexpensive and offer good value for the money. But are they really as good as some people say -- and as good as the maker claims? Or are they simply good value for the money?
After being initially impressed with his cables I came to the conclusion that they cannot be compared to any really good cables in the high end audio market, even with the addition of a special element that Grover co-opted -- along with the trade name -- when we were partners in 2013. His cables fall short because they produce weak harmonics which creates a thin sound with poor tonality, as well as unimpressive sound stage and imaging. In the end, you cannot turn an audio sow's ear into a high end audio silk purse.
In March, 2014, I started an Audiogon thread entitled "Grover Huffman or David Elrod". I stuck strictly to the topic of comparing the patented ribbon cables from these two boutique cable makers. All my posts were deleted by Audiogon. The gist of my remarks was that the patenting process and the ribbon design do not necessarily mean the result will be superior cables.
Both Grover Huffman cables and David Elrod cables are patented and both have ribbon designs. But Elrod cables are light years ahead of Grover Huffman cables in terms of sound quality. Anyone who compares these cables will easily hear the difference. It is not subtle. While David Elrod cables are far more expensive than Grover Huffman cables, Grover would have people believe his cables can compete with the best. The truth is that they cannot. Huffman cables sound truly anemic beside the competition.
"Grover Huffman -- More Than Meets the Eye" was the title of a thread I started on Audiogon in Feb. 2014. It was about the "other side" of Grover Huffman -- the side most people do not get to see. Although there was nothing offensive in my posts the thread quickly disappeared from Audiogon's forum. It contained a post by an Audiogon member who commented that Grover Huffman was guilty of "plagiarism, at the very least". I will explain the reason for his observation.
In 2013 Grover Huffman and I were partners on a special audio project that involved the creation of a new kind of power conditioner that I designed. It used 2 elements that have been out there for a while in varous forms but that have never before, as far as I am aware of, been incorporated into a power conditioner. It took a reluctant Grover months to sign a non-disclosure agreement with me. But when he finally did he was astounded by the results of our collaboration after he transformed my design into a working prototype. But then he started smelling opportunity. This later reminded me of the opportunity he smelled a number of years ago when he partnered with Michael Wolff. After they parted ways, Grover was forced to state the following on an Internet forum:
"I have NOT co-opted Michael Wolff's coating, and will not be using his innovations."
I was not so fortunate in my partnership with Grover. Knowing I live overseas and that I have no legal recourse, Grover immediately co-opted my innovations. Although they have been out there for a while, Grover was clearly inspired by the work I had done and by the months it took for me to convince him to try out my ideas.
Once Grover signed the non-disclosure agreement and was in the know, without consulting with me, he added a special coating to his cables based on my idea. He did not give me any credit and he did not offer me any compensation for the improvements he made to his cables. Since he was using my idea in a modified form, he said he was entitled to use my idea as he wished. He has recently stated that he has plans to incorporate into his cables the second element that I presented to him.
Grover was willing to share the profits with me that might accrue from the sale of power conditioners. But he stated clearly that he had no intention of sharing any cable profits with me, although he publicly announced I was the designer of the power conditioner that inspired him to take my idea for his cables. Not surprisingly, my trust in Grover Huffman came face to face with the reality of an opportunistic and unethical partner. And a bully. I proceeded to withodraw from the project.
I eventually sold off all my Huffman cables on Audiogon. One of the cables I sold was signed Magic Cable by Grover. The "magic" was the addition of my innovation. Nevertheless, respecting my non-disclosure agreement with Grover, I refused to tell the Audiogon buyer anything about the content of the cable when he pressed me for details about Grover Huffman Magic Cables. Grover emailed me that the buyer had contacted him for an explanation of the difference between his regular cables and his Magic Cables. On the basis of the name being disclosed to this Audiogon buyer, Grover decided to go public and breach our non-disclosure agreement by producing Magic Cables without attribute or credit to me.
Grover says he is now intending to take the name Magic Cables for his own -- with the intention of profiting from my work and my considerable investment. What I discovered with Grover was an eager opportunist and an unrepentant bully prepared to take advantage of a partner who was acting in good faith. He acted with a sense of entitlement, knowing he could get away with it because I live overseas and am too far removed to do anything about it.
Grover could not get away with "co-opting" (better known as stealing) anything from Michael Wolff because their partnership attracted attention. Michael was a known US cable maker, and he had a following. This was not my case. My remote location and the fact that I am unknown in high end audio gave Grover an opportunity he could not resist. He saw the open door and dashed through it without hesitation.
But there's more. Grover is a devout Christian. He cultivates the image of a moral businessman. He lets friends know that only good Christians make it to the here-after, and hell and damnation await those not of his persuasion. Then it occurred to me. In wonder how Grover, in good conscience, can take cable orders from non-Christians? Musically, he reminds me of the Louvin Brothers, forever singing about God and sinners. Lamentably, religion and hypocrisy often go hand in hand. Some Buddhists run to the temple on the weekend to "make merit" after indulging in mischief all week. And some Christians run to Church on Sunday after a week of shenanigans. In case you may be wondering, many of my friends are Buddhist and Christian.
I confronted Grover over his un-Christian actions, aware that hypocrisy was nigh. He stated he was not worried. He did no wrong in our partnership and, after all, he and I are not going to the same place after this life since we are not of the same religion. Grover presumes he is going to a better place when he passes on because he has the right religious affiliation, and will therefore be judged appropriately.
Maybe. But I believe God judges our motives and actions on an equal basis -- no matter what our religious affiliation and no matter how fervent our beliefs. We are all God's children. I believe God looks for goodness and the truth, irrespective of religion. Otherwise, there would be only mockery and righteousness would depend on religious affiliation -- like party politics. I don't believe God allows wrong actions for those in the "right" religion no matter how fervent and self-righteous the believer. I do not believe God is fooled by merit-makers or Sunday pietists.
Be not deceived; God is not mocked:
for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
August 5, 2016