The Fairy Tale Twist

September 3, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

I was recently having an email conversation with a very nice gentleman who had written me about a subject we’re all more than familiar with, the sound of cables.

He had never heard one cable sound different than another. Couple that with the fact he’d read articles focused on convincing people those differences do not exist, he was hard pressed to make space for a different set of experiences.

How could that not be true?

How many of us are open and anxious to have our hard-won worldviews changed to those of someone else?

As humans, we’re hard wired to get a taste of what’s around us and then catalog and sort those experiences into boxes that fit our reality. It’s how we construct our view of the world around us.

In a recent podcast called The Fairy Tale Twist, one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, opened my eyes to how a long-held societal belief was crafted from a more modern version of fairy tales.

Prior to the 18th century, the moral outcomes of fairy tales—those stories that first begin to construct our worldviews as children—was that good things can happen to average people. That even the biggest fool in the village might get the magic potion or become a prince. Then it all changed. During the Age of Enlightenment, classic fairy tales were rewritten to adhere to a different idea. That good things only happen to good people and bad things always happen to bad people.

That’s a lovely story to set a moral compass but it’s one that is neither true nor helpful to children forming their worldview. A good way to make a child who does bad things (and what child doesn’t?) worry themselves to death that bad things are now going to befall them, is to feed them the story at the basis of modern fairy tales.

This is a tough concept to grasp because this notion of good things only happens to good people is so ingrained into our collective minds that most of us won’t be able to see past it.

It was a real eye opener for me.

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36 comments on “The Fairy Tale Twist”

  1. I’ve never been convinced about the cable thing, and all the tales and fables around them. I do believe they can be designed to exclude external noise, whether power or signal cables. Also that running power down a data cable is not ideal, so I use CAT6 and fibre optic cable to get data in, nothing with copper. The other thing I believe is that there is no such thing as a good cable, only a less bad cable, in that a cable can only take away or distort the signal, never improve or add. That’s one of the main reasons why I use integrated systems – no cables. I’ve yet to hear a good argument against it.

    1. At the cheaper end of the market (my Marantz CD6006 CD player) I agree with you Steven
      …transport & DAC together in one box.
      However at the high(er)-end of the home audio equipment market where separate power supplies & isolation for separate tasks become sonically important, I would disagree with your assessment.
      There is wiring (cabling), or at least copper tracks, you just can’t see it.
      (Copper is copper regardless of whether it’s circular or whether it’s flat)
      Remember there is internal copper wiring/tracks (cables) running around the inside of the (integrated) ‘box’.
      If I was to hard-wire (solder) my interconnects to the output section of my CD player & to the input section of my amplifier (bypassing the input switch) & solder my loudspeaker wires (cables) to the output section of my amplifier & to the crossover in my loudspeakers then there would be no difference to the whole system being ‘totally integrated’, except for the lengths of said wiring…5″ or 30″ (interconnects) or 75″ (loudspeaker wiring)

      1. As Paul suggests, people have fixed ideas about these things.

        On power supplies, they became focus for some people because they are so critical to Class D amplifiers. The Hypex nCore have become hugely popular because of the supplies that they offer. They are almost impossible to beat for the price, so many brands just put them in unmodified.

        One of the most successful DACs ever was the Audiolab MDAC. I bought the MDAC+, the main improvements being sophisticated regulated internal power supplies. I bought the Innuos server because it offers several separate internal linear power supplies, as opposed to a single external power source. I also bought a Linn Akurate 2200 and Devialet Expert because of the quality of their power supplies.

        You will find few wires inside a Linn Akurate 2200 and none inside the Devialet Expert. Many manufacturers use extensive copper or alloy shielding, such as the Marantz SA10 and SA12, SGM servers, the more expensive Linn Klimax range and the Devialet Expert (the entire enclosure is a minimum 4m solid copper). Linn and Devialet are built using micro-electronics to keep the amount of metal and signal paths to the absolute minimum.

        So it’s not just the fairy tales you are told, but the ones you make up as you go along. The fact is, there are advances in design and technology, some people are willing to accept them, others are not.

        1. In 1993, when I had my Harbeths, I bought an Audio Alchemy – ‘DEE v1.0’ external (as they were called back then) DAC, which came with it’s external ‘factory’ power supply.
          A friend of mine built me an after-market (his own design) external power supply that had six times the current supply of said ‘factory’ one.
          The difference in the DAC’s sonic performance was like the proverbial chalk ‘n cheese.
          That’s when I learned about the importance of power supplies vs. internal copper tracks or external cabling on high-end gear.

    2. A cable is more than only a piece of wire. However every wire can act as antenna sending and catching noise! (I remember the tonearm of my first Dual turntable catching the signal of the military radio station some 300 m apart.) Add all kind of connectors and you get a more or less audiophile cable – it’s now the quality of the electrical contact which primarily matters and the quality of shielding (see BNC-connectors).

  2. The notion that only good things happen to good people may well be ingrained into our psyche from childhood, however, once we start to live life as an adolescent & as an adult what was ingrained can also be blasted out of our psyche from living or/& just observing reality.
    It starts with the realisation that the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause & the Boogy Man are fictitious (yes folks your parents lied to you; big time) characters & then once those realisations become concrete…we-e-e-ell, it just kinda rolls downhill from there 🙂

    As far as home audio wires & interconnects (cables) go:
    Some people can hear the difference between different cables & will openly admit it.
    Some people can’t hear the difference between different cables & will openly admit it
    & some people can hear the difference between different cables but will not admit it to anyone,
    even themselves…like some people who are in hospital ICU wards gasping for breath but still wont admit that they have CoViD-19; this sort of stubborn denial is…well…very strange to say the least.

  3. I have never been convinced of the quality of hifi systems. Not even close to “the real thing”.
    I don’t think there are good amplifiers and speakers, only less bad amplifiers and speakers. (hmm…semantics ?).
    Anyway, trust me, if I don’t hear a difference in soundquality, then it does not exist.
    After all my hearing is better than anybody else’s. Lucky me 🙂

    1. “After all my hearing is better than anybody else’s. Lucky me ”

      I’m shocked to about this! My wife says her hearing is better than anyone else’s. I will have to talk to her about this. 😉

      1. My late wife (16 years now) was a professional speech/language pathologist and also an amateur pianist. Her trained listening skills were quite discerning, freely admitted as being better than mine. But she was not an audiophile, I brought that baggage, for better or worse, into our marriage. About a year after our wedding, I thought it was time to add digital into my, now our, system. She obliged me (ahhh, young, well middle aged, love) and we went to buy our first CD player. We had agreed to stay below $500, 1989 vintage, less expensive being desirable. From our Lincoln-Omaha, NE pool of brick-and-mortar dealers, we were able to evaluate 5 models from 4 dealers within our locale (1989, remember). And, huzzah! We both agreed on what was the clearly best choice for sound quality: a Denon unit (model number forgotten) for about $400, well built with a good feature set, too.

        1. I had a relatively inexpensive Denon (model escapes me) in the early ’90s, for a couple of years before I bought my first Marantz (CD-80) & it was a cracking unit.

  4. Just get Tchernov cables.
    They know what they are doing.
    And only give appropriate options – 5 of them.
    I have gone for the Reference cables – 2nd highest.

  5. Completely off topic :
    I guess most (everyone ?) read the news: RMAF canceled, so no cat (the one that’s out of the bag) to listen to.
    Something curious about the “cat post” : almost with every post the picture has some relation to the post. Not this time. A picture of a cat (and bag) instead of a speaker would have kept us in suspense a bit longer.. 😐

    1. I know what cat’s sound like when they fight or procreate at 4 am right outside my
      bedroom window, or when I accidentally (on purpose) step on their tails.
      I really hope, for Paul’s sake, that the FR30’s sound just a little bit better than that.

  6. Just get Shunyata cables. They know what they are doing.
    Or MIT cables. They know what they are doing.
    Or Siltech cables. They know what they are doing.
    Or…no I stop. The list is too long.
    But thanks for the tip nickmerrylees.

  7. I have settled on broadcast quality cable that I tip with KLE connectors, as my system is not fully balanced. It took some playing around with different cables, before I settled on something I liked. While I hear differences in cables, they are nothing close to something like a speaker change.

    I prefer to save upgrade funds towards speakers vs. more sideways(ish) moves I get from flipping components and wires.

    1. Reed, I agree that speakers and phono cartridges make much bigger differences in what you hear than cables do. Cables do impact what you hear, but most importantly you want to choose cables that do the least harm to what you hear.

      When I bought my first serious stereo system 20 years ago I bought the best cables I could sensibly afford. Between 2015 and 2019 I upgraded just about every component in my system except those cables which continue to serve me well. It has been my experience that cables do not wear out.

  8. So using a vintage moral frame work: good sound comes only from good (saintly?) cables and bad sound always comes from bad (evil?) cables? I don’t know much about that, but I do know that when a good cable goes ‘bad’ (with corrosion, shorts or loosens) it does sound bad.

  9. Fables and fairy tales.
    I think there’s a big difference between the two.
    A Happy ending is what most want….
    A false belief in either case (extremes) is no good either.
    Setting a solid morale compass, along with realistic expectations, and the ability to analyze plus affect self change are what really count.

  10. I had to re-read today’s post several times Paul, it was as insightful to me as Gladwell is to both of us. He’s a brilliant thinker. Here is where I’m still confused. Good and bad are like two sides of a coin. I believe that there are many shades of gray between black and white and that’s where people who are so stuck in their beliefs will most likely never be able to change their lives in meaningful ways. Pick any topic and more than likely the responses from most people indicate that they. are stuck in their own belief systems ingrained in them from an early age emanating from parental rearing and the many societal influences that mold our understanding as to who we think we are.

    It’s unfortunate that our mold has only two sides for so many of us. We are all products of our environment and hopefully many of us are eventually able to open our hearts and minds to the reality of life and learn how to break out of our mold and understand that any coin (topic) may have many sides. That opens the door to being more open minded in many aspects of our lives.

    History has shown us that good things don’t necessarily happen to good people exclusively and that every coin may be multifaceted.

    So after reading all of the community responses so far I leave today’s topic with the feeling… “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore“. Oh, there’s a Yellow Brick Road

  11. I’ve come to realize I have no control over whether good or bad things happen to me. However, I can control my reaction, and that is very empowering.
    There is something mythical about cabling, and AudioQuest even acknowledges this in their product naming. Nevertheless, I hear differences, some more meaningful than others, and I have no clue why. Nor do I care.

  12. But Shit happens…to everyone. Hope for the best plan for the worst. We choose how hard we try. No guy in the sky or planets aligning. I believe things like cables make a difference..i know i will never have a system or ears good enough to tell. Like Paul’s best friend Ethan,I believe is in the you can’t measure you can’t hear camp; but I’ve watched his video of his home system and treated living room and he stops and puts a blanket over the leather couch because it reflects the highs too much…I believe him but I’m pretty sure I can’t hear that difference either. Ill stop by Pauls place sometime to hear the system because i should.

  13. I have a great deal of faith in science. I’m also aware that we don’t know everything. Can we measure differences in cables? Certainly, grab yourself a good LCR meter and have at it. Cables can be thought of as an infinite number of resistors and inductors in series and an infinite number of capacitors in parallel that make up very weak filters. Good cables will have minimal measurable differences and the one parameter you should really be concerned with most in audio is resistance. As to whether you can hear a difference in cabling, listen and make up your own mind. Apparently some of us can hear a difference and some of us can’t which actually makes sense because everyone’s hearing isn’t the same.

  14. I honestly cannot see any value in fairy tales with respect to adult life. Since I have never been a parent I do not feel qualified to talk about how to best teach a child that terrible things like the 30 to 40 people who died in the flash flooding we had here in the NYC area two nights ago happens indiscriminately and has nothing to do with good or bad people. 🙁

  15. Why do you think they think they should redo the movie?

    Its become a world where he who has the dominate propaganda controls others to remake an environment so your own idiosyncrasies (even bad habits) will feel comfortable and accepted as a norm. Maladjusted people always hate the norms that make most people to be happy.

    Most people are all molded for better or worse by the VALUES they grow up with. If that were not the case? Why redo the movie? They want to change the propaganda narrative for the conformists to follow.

    Yet… there is always truth. Truth isolates a mind from all the conformists. But, that’s another story.

  16. “Good things happen to good people” is neither true nor false, at least in this lifetime. There are too many examples to the contrary: disease, poverty, enslavement, discrimination, execution and oppression. Most religions teach that good things eventually happen to good people, but they may have to wait until after they die for their reward. At least that is the carrot on the stick.

    When it comes to audio cables, good things may be immediate, not at all, or it might take a lengthy purgatorial burn-in time requiring more faith than you can muster. If the improvement made by a cable is not soon discernable, I have no use for it. Life is too short.

    The best-sounding interconnect in my system (Stealth Indra) was immediately discernable. Curiously, it has an impedance much higher than other high-end interconnects I’ve tried over the years, proving that “low impedance cables sound better” is not necessarily true, at least in my system.

  17. At the modest, but more than adequately good level that I operate at, the choice comes down to do I spend $250 for a new interconnect or get 10-15 new CDs? New music wins.

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