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On the differences between music and HiFi, and what we pay for.

The nice thing about music and Hifi is how inclusive it is. Or it should be...

I have long been a participant on HiFi forums, although these days I mostly limit my time to one or two at most. It feels healthier to do this. In the past I have corresponded with music lovers all around the world, and enjoyed the differences in audio culture that stimulate fresh thought in relation to 'received wisdom' (perhaps itself an oxymoron?). My experience leads me to the impression that there is more that unites audiophiles around the world than divides us. I am not so naïve to suggest the audiophile world is a happily united collective that enjoys all aspects of music and audio equipment in unison, but if you look carefully even the divisions are similar wherever you go. There are always the technically minded types who like to have certainty and clarity, and will robustly debate about what they understand to be important (which sometimes does not include graciousness). Then you have the tweakers, the lovers of the kit, who love to upgrade what they can, who are always wondering and learning, stumbling down blind alleys but thoroughly enjoying themselves. You have the heritage aficionados, those that love to save vintage equipment in it's original condition, perhaps performing a sympathetic 'oily rag' restoration. There are the recording professionals, the insecure, the uninitiated, the unbelieving, and sometimes the unbelievable. It is the same as it ever was, it is the same everywhere. One thing that has changed, and not for the better, is the lack of interest in the technical side of audio as a hobby. The proliferation of marketing based on shallow premises and deceits is disheartening to observe, although it is hardly unique to HiFi. I honestly think that when AI starts writing copy for audio advertising, we will not notice the difference (although the grammar may improve!)

At ABCaudio we recently had the opportunity to look into power connections and plugs for the upcoming revision of the EWA power cables range. Colin's clear interest is in the safety margins and engineering of each product, especially the maximum breakdown voltages thereof. At one end of the market, amongst really expensive competitors, we found two visually similar plugs for multiple hundreds of pounds. Can you guess what happened next?

Let's get this out of the way first: If someone wants to pay over £300 for a power plug, that is their business right? But, I think it reasonable to insist that such an expensive item, a product that is positioned in the marketplace as a 'premium' item, should perform more than adequately. Yet while one plug did indeed perform really well, exceeding the British Standard requirements by a factor of more than two, the other (similarly priced, similar looking) plug failed to meet the legal standard altogether. That just is not good enough.

Another thing both (well established) manufacturers had in common was really polished marketing blurb, and a long line of reviewers willing to say how great these plugs sounded. Will we tell you which plugs we examined? No, of course not. Obviously though, you will not find a sub-standard power plug on an EWA product, so do not worry. Interestingly, the plug that performed so well is technically matched by other products further down the ranges in terms of safety and engineering. So our approach was to find the most economical point in the range where the performance is high, and place that item on our shortlist for sonic comparison and evaluation.

EWA MCS-40 mains power cable, designed by Colin J. Wonfor

Around ten years ago, Colin took one of his earlier designs to a facility for type approval in the UK (he is a chartered electrical engineer, so can actually self certify). Interestingly, the cable was the first ever tested successfully under the most extreme conditions that could be bought to bear: It simply sat there taking all the punishment (this was without plugs, they would have gone up in smoke long before). It was supposed to be tested to destruction but this could not be accomplished with the certified, calibrated test rig. That is engineering! And that really should be the main point: an expensive item in audio is intrinsically and implicitly overengineered, often to a ridiculous standard. It is what the enthusiasts want. But sadly, so much of what is sold every day cannot measure up. High engineering standards, extremely broad capability across substantially over-specified usage parameters, will almost always result in a product that is demonstrably a strong performer.

This doesn't take into account what might sound good: there is no good in over engineering a poor sounding product, after all! But we really shouldn't have to tolerate tat that subjectively 'sounds great' but is of inferior quality by any reasonable standard. The trick is combining the both - great engineering and superb sound. With the right approach, this is exactly what the best designers and engineers can accomplish. It is just hard to find these products through all the 'noise'. But you can find them here: EWA audio cables, designed by Colin J. Wonfor.

EWA IC-40 interconnects


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