Lies, Damn Lies, and Cables

Fun, Feathers, & Games in The High End

An Overdue Response, By Franco Vitaliano

Tom Nousaine, a rigorous audiophile 'objectivist', gave a talk at a BAS/AES joint meeting in Boston, MA, in January 1995. Nousaine presented a paper that reported the experimental results of double blind tests with regards differences in audio cable sound. His paper essentially stated that all audio cables were sonically alike, and that not one of the experiment's participants could hear any differences when put in carefully controlled test settings. Furthermore, Nousaine went on to publicly state that all vendors'/dealers'/reviewers' claims of superior cable sound were bogus.

Now, as it so happened, the president of Transparent Audio, Jack Summer, was also in attendance. Summer was giving a talk immediately following Nousaine. Transparent is one of the better known audiophile cable makers. Summer was, not too surprisingly, miffed at Nousaine's contention that all cable makers' claims for audio performance are so much marketing nonsense.

In front of all present that night, including myself, Summer jumped up, and immediately challenged Nousaine to come to Chez Transparent in Hollis, Maine. Tom would then have an opportunity to do one of his cable comparison tests, using Transparent cables. Summer publicly stated that Nousaine would definitely hear a big difference in cable 'sound' . Nousaine grew testy, and rather red in the face, as he sparred back and forth with Summer. Things proceeded to get rather tense.

Like everyone else there that night, I watched all this with grim fascination. Quite frankly, given the players involved, it should not have been a totally unexpected development. Finally, everyone calmed down, and the evening's agenda proceeded.

Immediately following the meeting in Boston, Summer wrote the following letter to the Boston AES. Please note that Summer once again restates he is prepared to participate in a comparison test.

"To the Editor: January 18, 1995 Last night's Section meeting with Tom Nousaine was an interesting experience for me. I needed the experience to prepare for a talk that I am going to give to the New York AES section later this spring.

My undergraduate degree is in physics and my doctoral work was done in statistical analysis and research design. It is important to examine the validity of double blind testing at revealing subtle differences which audiophiles consider important. I intend to conduct an experiment in an area outside of audio to see what level of difference must exist for a double blind to statistically validate it. Perhaps someday I can share the results of this experiment with the Boston Section.

We invited Tom Nousaine to come to Maine to hear the difference in cables in our reference systems. I would like to extend the invitation to your membership, not for the purpose of comparing cables, although we would certainly do that if anyone wanted. The reason for anyone coming would be to hear a very good audiophile sound system in (a) very good room. The room was designed by Ed Bannon of TAJ Soundworks. It is about 29' x 19' with no parallel walls and solid construction. We have a variety of equipment to cover the upper range of audiophile tastes, and best of all, cable by Transparent.

Anyone can contact me at 207-929-4553 to set up a listening session. I look forward to attending more of your sessions this season and I intend to become a member.

Jack Summer
Transparent Audio
Hollis, Maine"

Fast forward several months, to the week of September 25, 1995. Tom Nousaine flies all the way from Chicago to Boston. His avowed mission: Take up Summer on his cable comparison offer. After all, President Summer had publicly made Tom a promise -- in writing no less. While in Boston, Nousaine also attended another Boston Audio Society meeting, on September 27th.

The day following the meeting, Nousaine, in the company of several other BAS members, including BAS founder Alvin Foster, drove all the way up to Maine, to Transparent Audio. Upon arrival at their destination, the President of Transparent said, quite incredibly, "What cable comparison? No way." Tom and Jack then got into another spirited discussion, which more or less followed along the puerile lines of "But you promised!" "Did Not!" Did Too!" Did Not." etc.

Nousaine and his BAS companions then said they were willing do a double blind; no one will know which cable is which. But the now Transparent Summer remained adamant in his position: No comparisons of any kind. No Pepsi cable taste test.

After more such highly transparent repartee, ruffled feathers were finally soothed all the way around. They all then sat down and listened to some nice Wilson X-1 music in Summer's very impressive home. Transparent cables were used throughout, of course. Tom, et al, finally drove back to Boston.

If I wasn't there in the BAS/AES audience back in January, 1995, I would have had difficulty in believing any of this wired-up fiasco. But I saw and heard Summer make his cable comparison offer to Nousaine at the January meeting. Summer even repeated his offer in writing.

The Inevitable Conclusion: The Transparent Audio President is the one who seems to be bogus in his proclaimed promises (but we still don't know about his cables).

And so it goes in the high end, in the never ending search for truth, beauty, good music, and profit

Copyright 1996, Franco Vitaliano, All Rights Reserved

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