Lying specs

May 10, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

I received an email from a reader on a rant about lying specs. How manufacturers simply lie about the performance of their products.

In calming the person down by explaining manufacturers generally don't print falsehoods—at least no manufacturer I have ever known—I pointed out that while only a rare few are lying there are specs that qualify as misleading by careful selection of what's being measured or obfuscation by lots of technobabble.

Part of the problem for manufacturers is trying to decide what to publish for specifications. Too much and we run the risk of confusion. Too little and we're not doing our job.

On the one hand, there are the essentials to decide if a product is going to work: input impedance, sensitivity, gain, wattage, power consumption, etc.

On the other hand, there are specs whose sole purpose is for comparison with competitors: distortion, frequency response, noise, etc.

And lastly, there are specs and measurements like square wave and pulse response that mean a lot to an engineer but little to most prospective buyers.

Published specs rarely lie though the story they tell can be anything from a revealing novel to a fairy tale.

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30 comments on “Lying specs”

  1. ****Off topic to start***

    On this day of May10th…

    1869 – The First Transcontinental Railroad linking the eastern and western United States, is completed at Promontory Summit Utah with the golden spike.

    1872 – Victoria Woodhull becomes the first woman nominated for President of the United States.

    1975 – Sony introduces the Betamax videocassette recorder

    2021 Paul celebrates another birthday.

    A Happy Birthday to you Paul. Enjoy! Another year wiser? 😉

    Posted by request of the 2 stooges. Thanks Guys, 😀

    1. Now back to the regularly scheduled topic of the day.

      I can’t think of one piece of audio gear that I ever bought on specs alone. The ‘sonic signature’ ( as I hear it) has always been part of the equation. But that’s not to say I just ignore the specs either.

      So I don’t find specs or purchasing by ‘ear’ mutually exclusive, but rather a symbiotic existence between the two.

    2. I too would like to chime in on off topic and say Happy Birthday to you Paul my friend. I hope that today brings you safety and wellness along with continued great "EARS"!!! Keep teaching us, passing on your vast wisdom, expertise and knowledge of this "sport of audiophile" (like that?) we all love so much. 🙂

      As always my friend and just for you today, take time today to LISTEN 🙂

    3. Indeed! Staying with the resent topic of cartoons, in the immortal drawings (use your imagination) and words of Sandra Boynton:

      HIPPO BIRDIE TWO EWES
      HIPPO BIRDIE TWO EWES
      HIPPO BIRDIE DEER EWE
      HIPPO BIRDIE TWO EWES

  2. Equally off topic from the second stooge.....

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY PAUL

    I was wondering what you might get an audiophile for their birthday and came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter because they wouldn’t be completely happy with it and would soon want to change it for something better 😉

    Hope that’s not the case for you.
    Have a good day and keep climbing those mountains.

  3. Klipsch overstates it's SPL by about 6dB/W/m.

    Oh, & from stooge #3...HAPPY BIRTHDAY PAUL, & here's to many more.
    I hope that Terri can find you an electric cat, possibly a SONY, for your birthday present...
    you know, to aggravate your one year old electric dog.
    I'd love to see you blow out all of those candles 😉
    May you have a terrific day of celebration sir.

  4. Hey Paul:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY !!!

    From all your minions in the world

    Thanks for all you do.... bet you didn't know that you’re one of the few people in the world that we can actually tolerate?

    I wish you never stop enjoying all the happy, little moments in your life.

    A million magic wishes to you!

    Let’s raise a toast to you and your life.

    Blow out the candles of your cake.
    They will not leave you in the dark,
    Who round with grace this dusky arc
    Of the grand tour which souls must take.

    You who have sounded William Blake,
    And the still pool, to Plato’s mark,
    Blow out the candles of your cake.
    They will not leave you in the dark.

    Yet, for your friends’ benighted sake,
    Detain your upward-flying spark;
    Get us that wish, though like the lark
    You whet your wings till dawn shall break:
    Blow out the candles of your cake.

    Michael Walker

  5. Thank you all for such kind wishes. Yeah, it's amazing we all like (and tolerate) each other! But then, we're all kind of in this together so why the hell not?

    Thanks for every one of you for being on this journey with me. Let's keep a song in our hearts and music in our lives.

    And smile! That's my birthday wish.

    1. Happy Birthday Paul! 73 years young. Cheers to many more. There's nothing better than being an audiophile into our golden years. Who was it that said youth is wasted on the young?

  6. I gotta admit. SPL/Sensitivity and THD ratings are all I really care about. Impedance as well.
    I don’t over complicate things in my already overly complicated brain. 😉

  7. Sorry for being late, Happy Birthday Paul! Keep on keeping on.

    Now to the subject of today's post. I'm have never been a fan of government over reach, however, when comes to truth in labeling I am a big fan of truth and minimum requirements. There should be minimum federal standards for what must be included in the published specifications for any audio product sold in the USA. They should be straight forward and easy to understand. And no wiggle room, everyone must list them the same way.

  8. Happy Birthday!
    Well burned in but not burned out, like the Energizer Bunny: just keeps going and going and going...joyfully beating his drum.

  9. An anonymous query posted in "Notes and Queries" (1891 Oct. 10) asked this:

    DEGREES OF FALSEHOOD. – Who was it who said, “There are three degrees of falsehood: the first is a fib, the second is a lie, and then come statistics”?
    ST. SWITHIN

    Replies included:

    DEGREES OF FALSEHOOD (1891 Nov. 21). – There used to be a somewhat better version of this saying current in Lincoln’s Inn years ago, of a judge who recognized three degrees in liars: the liar simple, the damned liar, and the expert witness.

    and this one (same date)

    ...three degrees of liars, which are said to be the liar, the damned liar, and the mining engineer.

    "Engineer," hmmmm.

    Source for the above: https://www.york.ac.uk/depts/maths/histstat/lies.htm

  10. Old saying, but worth repeating: 'Figures don't lie, but liars figure.'

    In my previous profession as an environmental geologist for a state regulatory agency, my main duty was to evaluate site assessment reports and remedial action plans submitted by private geotechnical consulting firms for contaminated sites; supplemented by my and my colleagues own knowledge from other sources of information about the area from the likes of the U.S.G.S., state geological survey, water well drillers logs, county soil surveys, etc. There was/is an unspoken understanding that the consulting firm would often spin recommendations in their clients favor. The firm that didn't do so would not stay in business long. They knew it. We knew it. However, they were also required to submit their investigation information in the reports, which we took as accurate and we would make our own independent evaluations. Sometimes we were in total agreement with their report, frequently with some reasonable differing opinions, but only rarely with 'what is this male bovine fecal material; do it again and do it right this time; you're on the short leash now!' For any firm that was discovered to have falsified the information, that was a self-inflicted kiss of death. It never got to that point with any of the (mostly good) professional people that I worked with, but it was not an unknown situation to be on the alert for.

    1. Excellent point!
      The same issue happens with FDA reviews of new drugs. There is always some spin or interpretation of data, but the data itself is always there. You will end up with negotiations about the wording of the "label", as it is called, but usually things work out well.

      On very rare occasions, some things get completely out of whack with the way that data are incorporated, or unfortunately, not incorporated.

      This is why I am usually annoyed at people without any specific education that claim the FDA doesn't do their job well. Or that COVID vaccines are not safe. I ask them what parameters they use to make that assessment...

      Data matters.

      Any HBTP!

  11. Paul,

    Happy 44th Anniversary of your 29th Birthday...ENJOY! 🙂

    Appreciate the openness, honesty and sharing that PSA brings to the music loving world...keep er' going!!

  12. Specs do not tell one as to how something will sound, always. According to a well known audio personality up to forty percent of the description of a components abilities is hyperbole. Descriptive terms like night and day difference, Jaws falling to the floor, incremental improvements described as leaps and bounds etc. are all gross exaggerations in high end audio. Such descriptions may hold good if one was comparing a low fi or mid fi component to a high end component. Mostly it is sales pitch. The irate reader may very well have a point. Regards.

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