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Why conviction is stronger than truth

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Green markers, or why conviction is stronger than truth

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1990, The Syracuse Newspapers

Can a green pen make your hi-fi system sound better?

This is not an April Fool's joke. A lot of people are serious about this.

Audiophiles around the country are drawing green rings around their CDs to turn them into super-fi discs.

They are using standard green marking pens. The idea is to coat the edge of the CD—the vertical edge of the disc, not the flat surface. As soon as you do that, they say, the CD's sound quality goes from "good" to "great."

Even the engineers at JVC, the company that pioneered high-quality CD production techniques, have been quoted as agreeing with this claim, although they could not back it up with laboratory tests.

Let's establish an important point right away. No scientific evidence exists that the green band does anything to alter the sound. And my own tests turned up absolutely no difference in the sound of discs that I had marked with green.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't even have bothered testing such a silly hypothesis. So-called "golden ears"—the audiophiles who insist they can hear minute differences in recordings and components—have been making outrageous claims ever since Edison stuck the first needle in a groove, and most of these assertions have been too foolish to worry about.

One claim, for example, is that putting bricks on top of your amplifier or receiver will make it sound better. Another is that speaker wires as thick as battery cables make the loudspeakers work better. I have even heard one "golden ear" say his record player sounded better when it faced west. (He didn't say which way he was facing when he listened.)

Generally, only a fringe group believes such claims. But the little-green-marker people seem to have grabbed the attention of many mainstream audiophiles.

Executives of some of the world's most prestigious recording companies have even endorsed the idea, and I would not be surprised to find CDs being sold with green bands already painted on at the CD pressing plant.

In part, the record-company officials are worried about alienating these audiophiles, who often buy a dozen or more discs each month.

But a less sinister attitude is at work here, also. Because hearing is a private experience, no one can know for sure if someone else is hearing the same thing. Only a truly scientific test, in which neither the test taker nor the test giver have inside knowledge of the test data, can be used to separate claims from facts.

But even that kind of evidence is of little use to someone who believes in green markers. Conviction is more powerful than truth, even in such a silly issue as this.