Audiophiles Call Out the Amazing Randi

As much as I love the cross-genreness of James Randi, veteran debunker of paranormal claims, taking on overpriced speaker cable audiophile bullshit, I think he may have misjudged the scenario. Michael Fremer and Pear Cable are calling him on his challenge. The thing is, unlike spoon benders and aural viewers, some people really are redonkeykong good at hearing infinitesimal differences in the quality of sound reproduction. At least when they’re using ultra-high-end reference systems, under carefully calculated listening conditions, and after some practice. And Fremer doesn’t necessarily have to prove that the $7000 audio cables sound better than some cheapo throw-away $100 monster cables, just that he can tell which is which. As far as I know, there is no quantitative standard of “danceable”.

I’ll be sad if Fremer wins, and Randi has to pony up the million. I doubt if JREF will be able to raise another million to replace it, and the million dollar challenge is the main tent pole in the carnival of weirdo-baiting that he has conducted for so long. If he loses it will be more than usually satisfying, these audio snobs are really annoying, and clutter the music equipment reviews with so much black magic elitist nonsense as to make the signal-to-noise ratio worse than readable. (This is why I’m a fanboy of PSB/Paul Barton, who has spent a career applying gasp basic research to making cheap speakers sound pretty good. My desk is graced by a prized pair of LR1 speakers I got used for a fraction of the cost of the cables that will fill in as “offbrand” when Fremer tries to do his trick).

There is a third option, which is Randi setting the “win” conditions so tightly as it to make it debatable whether or not the contest was held in good faith. If that happens people will believe what they want to believe and JREF will keep it’s million and everybody will be suspicious of everybody. I hope that doesn’t happen, but given the ambiguity around “proving” something like this — how many times out of how many trials does Fremer have to spot the fancy cables? On whose system? Does he get to practice? Does he get to rest his ears in between trials? — I kind of expect it will.

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