True accessories

August 11, 2015
 by Paul McGowan

What’s a ‘true’ accessory? A product that hasn’t much purpose in life other than serving as an adjunct to another. Yet this definition is a tough one for, other than an old console stereo, what equipment is not dependent on something else to make music? Amps need speakers and inputs, preamps need ins and outs, DACs the same. So it’s a tough one. I might argue that an interconnect or speaker cable does nothing on its own, therefore it must be a true accessory, though my friend Bill Low of Audioquest argues otherwise. Bill believes cables are as much components as turntables and loudspeakers, for while they do nothing on their own, nothing can do anything without them.

I started this series suggesting accessories can be defined by their classic meaning: a thing that can be added to something else in order to make it more useful, versatile, or attractive. And what stereo equipment might qualify under this strict guideline? Perhaps racks, which help organize and make attractive. Or plug extension strips adding more outlets enhancing versatility. And what of usefulness? A power cord where none are built-in certainly makes products useful – yet I don’t think that gets to the core of the category.

Would we be correct in suggesting products like Power Plants, Power Conditioners, Digital Lens, jitter reducers, tape degaussers, isolation blocks, TICE Clocks, VPI Bricks, snake oil, and cable lifts are true accessories, effective or not? I think that brings us closer to understanding the meaning and tomorrow I want to take a look at one of these classic products.

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11 comments on “True accessories”

  1. Accessory is something not necessary.

    So cables are needed but fancy “accessory” interconnects would be more than what was basically required.

    So you’d have to say the entire stereo system is an accessory.

  2. Here are the definitions of accessory in google:

    noun plural noun: accessories

    1. a thing that can be added to something else in order to make it more useful, versatile, or attractive.

    “a range of bathroom accessories”

    synonyms: attachment, extra, addition, add-on, adjunct, appendage, appurtenance, fitment, supplement
    “camera accessories such as tripods”

    a small article or item of clothing carried or worn to complement a garment or outfit.
    “among the hottest items are hair accessories such as rhinestone-studded barrettes”

    synonyms: adornment, embellishment, ornament, ornamentation, decoration; More
    frills, trimmings

    “fashion accessories”

    2. Law
    someone who gives assistance to the perpetrator of a crime, without directly committing it, sometimes without being present.
    “she was charged as an accessory to murder”

    synonyms: accomplice, partner in crime, associate, collaborator, abettor, co-conspirator, fellow conspirator; henchman
    “two days after the murder, she was charged as an accessory”

    Of the two definitions, I think in this case the second one is more appropriate. Anyone still got their brilliant pebbles? And how about those rings you put on the rim of CDs? If you couldn’t afford those you had to settle for a green felt tip pen. Yep, definition 2 without question.

  3. All this seems pretty silly to me. But you are only continuing a labeling issue that has existed for years.

    If an item is essential to the operation of a device, how can it be considered an accessory? So yes, a speaker wire can do nothing by itself. But by the same line of reasoning a speaker can do nothing without being connected to an amplifier by that wire.

    And if anyone should argue that “specialty” or “upgraded” wire is an accessory, then why not also an “upgraded” speaker or amp?

    As I said, it all seems silly. ;^)

      1. The term, “snake oil”, as used here applies to many of the highly creative explanations for the benefits of some audio gear or accessory, not to preamps. I have found that my preamp allows more volume on my system on HDCD disks than the output of my Directstream volume control will permit. I have a relatively low sensitivity main speaker, the Magnapan MG20.1, which has something to do with the volume issue.

        I good preamp has other functions than driving your digital system, and it offers much greater flexibility for the audio system. Sometimes I prefer the sound of the DS volume control, and at others, I like the sound of the preamp better.

        I think voodoo might also qualify as an adjective to apply instead of snake oil when thinking about the benefits of far out audio accessories!

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