Posts Tagged‘premium’

Audiophiles, Cables and the Quality Delusion.

When I worked at Dick Smith Electronics I had one of the greatest staff benefits around: all items in the store could be had for cost price plus 10%. This meant for heavily marked up items (the most common things being add-ons or bulk items) I could get them for a steal, sometimes an order of magnitude lower than what the sticker price was. One particular area where this came in handy was audio/video cables as they were routinely 10x~20x their cost price. Being the budding audiophile that I was these cheap cables were a godsend, allowing me to hook up my various bits of AV equipment for a fraction of the cost. One thing started to become apparent though, the shelf price difference between the premium cables (them fancy gold plated, oxygen free copper deals) was no where near the gap in their cost price, leading me to wonder what the difference really was.

Once I began my studies at university however the differences, or more aptly the lack thereof, became quite apparent. Indeed there was little difference between those cables, especially when used in real world circumstances. Further I was confounded by the idea that digital signals, ones carried by optical TOSLINK connectors, could be somehow influenced by the transmitting cable. In my own tests with some of the cables from the store and the same cable that came with my MiniDisc player (yes, I spent way too much on one) I couldn’t find any differences in the resulting recordings, despite the store cables being noticeably thicker.

The reason for this is, whilst there’s a little bit of room to argue that a better quality cable will produce a better quality signal for analog, a digital signal either makes it through completely or not at all. The cable quality then, whilst needing to be above a certain threshold for it to work, makes no difference whatsoever once its past said threshold. This hasn’t stopped the premium cable manufacturers from claiming otherwise however charging rather ludicrous for products that amount to, let’s be honest here, nothing more than a $5 cable. I’d also go as far to say that  premium cables for pure analog signals aren’t worth it either, especially at the price point that some of them command.

Of course I don’t believe you should just take my word for it (however compelling you might find it to be) nor do I advocate running out and spending wads of cash on cables to see if there’s a difference. Instead just have a look at posts like this one on Audioholics where self proclaimed audiophiles could not reliably distinguish between a premium speaker cable and ordinary speaker wire (and even coat hanger wire). Indeed anyone who’s attempting to sell you cable based on the idea that it will somehow improve the quality of the picture or sound on the other end is either deluded, misinformed or simply ignorant of the underlying science that governs modern audio visual equipment.

There will be those who will say that I don’t understand the differences and that there’s tangible benefit in getting these ludicrously over priced cables. In all seriousness those expensive cables might actually sound better for them, through some wild psychoacoustic  placebo effect where they’re actually willing themselves into believing that its better. It’s an unfortunate situation for them as the cheaper cables (as long as they’re aware of them) will in fact sound worse. It’s from these people that the premium cable manufacturers will continue to extract value and unfortunately I don’t believe there’s a whole lot that can be done about it.

So if you’re on the fence about getting those expensive cables or if you don’t know if you should then the answer is pretty clear: don’t. Your cash is much better spent on a higher quality TV set or speakers than it ever will be spent on cables to connect those devices together. Should a salesman tell you otherwise ask for a demo of them side by side and see if you can spot the difference yourself. If you do then I won’t stop you from buying them, but know that in reality the difference is all contained within your head.

iiNet Buys Internode, Australia’s Broadband Future Looks Brighter.

Ever since I’ve been able to get broadband Internet I’ve only had the one provider: Internode. Initially it was just because my house mate wanted to go with them, but having zero experience in the area I decided to go along with him. I think the choice was partially due to his home town being Adelaide, but Internode also had a reputation for being a great ISP for geeks and gamers like us. Fast forward 6 years and you can still find me on an Internode plan simply because the value add services they provide are simply second to none. Whilst others may be cheaper overall none can hold a candle to all the extra value that Internode provides, which I most heartily indulge in.

In Internode’s long history it’s made a point about being one of the largest privately owned Internet service providers (ISPs) in Australia. This is no small feat as the amount of capital required to become an ISP, even in Australia, is no small feat. Internode’s reputation however afforded it the luxury of many geeks like myself chomping at the bit to get their services in our area, guaranteeing them a decent subscriber base wherever there was even a slight concentration of people passionate about IT and related fields. In all honestly I thought Internode would continue to be privately owned for a long time to come with the only possible change being them becoming publicly traded when they wanted to pursue more aggressive growth strategies.

Today brings news however that they will be bought out by none other than iiNet:

In a conference call this afternoon discussing the $105 million takeover announcement, Hackett said that because of NBN Co’s connectivity virtual circuit charge, and the decision to have 121 points of interconnect (POI) for the network, only an ISP of around 250,000 customers would have the scale to survive in an NBN world. With 260,000 active services, Internode just makes the cut. He said the merger was a matter of survival.

“The size of Internode on its own is right on the bottom edge of what we’ve considered viable to be an NBN player. If you’re smaller than that, the economics don’t stack up. It would be a dangerous thing for us to enter the next era being only just quite big enough,” he said.

Honestly when I first heard the news I had some very mixed feelings about what it would entail. iiNet, whilst being a damn fine provider in their own right, isn’t Internode and their value add services still lag behind those offered by Internode. However if I was unable to get Internode in my chosen area they would be the second ISP that I would consider going for, having numerous friends who have done so. I figured that I’d reserve my judgement until I could do some more research on the issue and as it turns out I, and all of Internode’s customers, really have nothing to worry about.

Internode as it stands right now will continue on as it does but will be wholly owned by iiNet. This means that they can continue to leverage their brand identity (including their slightly premium priced value add business model) whilst gaining the benefit of the large infrastructure that iiNet has to offer. The deal then seems to be quite advantageous for both Internode and iiNet especially with them both looking towards a NBN future.

That leads onto another interesting point that’s come out of this announcement: Internode didn’t believe it couldn’t economically provide NBN services at their current level of scale. That’s a little scary when one of the largest independent ISPs (with about 3% market capture if I’m reading this right) doesn’t believe the NBN is a viable business model for them. Whilst they’ll now be able to provide such services thanks to the larger user base from iiNet it does signal that nearly all smaller ISPs are going to struggle to provide NBN services into the future. I don’t imagine we’ll end up in a price fixing oligopoly but it does seem to signal the beginning of the end for those who can’t provide a NBN connection.

Overall the acquisition looks like a decisive one for iiNet and the future is now looking quite bright for Internode and all its customers. Hopefully this will mean the same or better services delivered at a lower price thanks to iiNet’s economies of scale and will make Internode’s NBN plans look a lot more comepetitive than they currently are. Should iiNet want to make any fundamental changes to Internode they’re going to have to do that softly as there’s legions of keyboard warriors (including myself) that could unleash hell if they felt they’ve been wronged. I doubt it will come to that though but there are definitely going to be a lot of eyes on the new iiNet/Internode from now on.