Audio’s most contentious debate began about the time Wynton and Branford Marsalis joined the Jazz Messengers. It’s the argument about whether various accessories can improve the sound of an audio system. Browse a few high-end audio sites and you’ll find loads of these accessories, from fancy cables, to devices that clean up AC power, to vibration-isolating platforms and feet. Most advertise audible sonic improvements, such as lower noise and enhanced clarity. These claims are routinely confirmed by audio reviewers. However, many cannot survive scientific testing, which is always done “blind”—i.e., the listeners don’t know what products they’re hearing.
I’ve been performing blind tests of audio products for about 25 years. In that time, I’ve found a few accessories that did seem to improve sound quality—plus some that seemed to do nothing at all and some I’m still not sure about. While covering the entire range of audio accessories could fill an entire issue of JazzTimes, I’ll share my findings about a few basic categories.