The JC Whitney syndrome


Those of you that have tinkered with cars as a hobby probably remember the JC Whitney catalogue. This was a mail order catalogue that offered various performance upgrades that could be installed on your car. What always amused me were the claims made by each product. There were literally hundreds of add on products, each claiming to "increase HP by x amount" and/or "improve gas mileage by y MPG". I used to joke that if you installed all the accessories being offered, you would be able to add thousands of horsepower while getting over 100 MPG.  This is not to say that each product taken on its own wouldn't have some merit, but the improvements are not necessarily cumulative.

Same goes for audio. Every product (I'm referring mainly to "tweeks" here) claims to offer "tighter and more extended base, clearer highs, better transparency, freedom from coloration, less listening fatigue, greater detail, etc., etc. The benefits (real or imagined) of audiophile wall sockets, power conditioners and chords, cables, vibration pods and spikes, equipment racks, cable supporters, binding posts and terminations made of unobtainium, etc. etc. are typically not cumulative. While any of the aforementioned items may provide a sonic benefit on its own, that benefit may be lost or diminished by the addition of additional tweeks. In such cases, 1 + 1 often equals something less than 2. Your system may have reached a point where the addition of a normally beneficial tweak provides no audible benefit at all. 

Don't fall victim to the JC Whitney syndrome.

J.Chip
jchiappinelli
Actually in practice in audio, unlike cars perhaps, you may see the reverse. The effects of tweaking a system is often the opposite of the “law of diminishing returns” and 1+1 often = 2.5

Think for example about “lowering the noise floor”. Let’s say you make a change to the system that does just that. As a result you can now hear the impact of other subsequent changes that previously would have been masked in the noise now removed ... hence the increasing returns from fine tuning a system. This effect is especially prevalent in two areas: A/C power treatment and vibration management,

It often doesn’t matter in what order you make a series of changes but in any sufficiently resolving (btw not necessarily at all expensive) system the incremental and cumulative effects of further optimization should be very evident,
JC Whitney is still very much in business, so I'm not sure why you refer to the company in the past tense.
Totally disagree with the OP. For the past 3 years, my main components have remained the exact same. Yet, the quality of the sound has increased multifold. All thanks to ’tweaks’. The tweaks showed how good these components actually are.  Attending to the details is often the key to improving something.  I thank the many members of AudiogoN for sharing their experiences in how they improved their sound.
I think my point is being missed. In my post I make it clear that tweeks can have sonic benefits. My point is not that the addition of a new tweek to a system already tweeked won't still yield a benefit, but rather that the sum of the tweeks is not 100% cumulative. 

For example, let's say you are considering upgrading your speaker wire. I wholeheartedly agree that upgrading your cabling, when properly done, can have a significant sonic benefit. The cable maker claims "you'll notice a step change improvement sounstage, bass control, etc". As long as you're at it, you consider cable supports to elevate the cable off the floor. The manufacturer claims similar benefits to soundstage and bass control.  
You most likely will detect a sonic improvement from the new speaker wire by itself, and you may notice a sonic improvement through the use of the cable supports by themselves. However, each subsequent addition will not provide the same dramatic change as when it was the only week added. 

J.Chip
I'd rather not have a stranger tell me how to improve my system based on some vague principles he came up with. But thanks. Anyway, I disagree.
Jaybe,

I'm not telling anyone how to improve their system. Just suggesting that any improvements added are not necessarily 100% cumulative. We can agree to disagree.

BTW, this whole forum exits where strangers make suggestions and voice opinions on how to improve another person's system, most of which are purely subjective. 

J.Chip
Tweeks can move the system in any direction.  Some tweeks were for you and your system some don't
Thanks for the Warning! Yuk, yuk!
jchiappinelli

I'm not telling anyone how to improve their system. Just suggesting that any improvements added are not necessarily 100% cumulative. We can agree to disagree.

BTW, this whole forum exits where strangers make suggestions and voice opinions on how to improve another person's system, most of which are purely subjective.

Not telling anyone how to improve their system, no. What you're doing is much worse. You just insulted experienced tweakers, implying we're as dumb as the people buying the JC Whitney catalog crap. 

And yeah a lot of this is subjective, and there are a lot of opinions. We all have to judge which have merit. On that score, way down at the bottom of the heap, are unfounded opinions based on zero personal experience that run counter to what we know to be true.

But hey, feel free to keep em coming! What we're here for... according to you, anyway.

FWIW, OP I get what your point is, I also get that you were not disputing the worthiness of tweaks.
For all the tweakers, Jeez, give the guy a break. This is a forum after all and no one should be ridiculed for posting their thoughts.
Run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes. Not everyone may salute. 😁
In the 70’s I bought some parts for my Camaro from JC Whitney. While waiting for the order they went bankrupt. They were back in business 6 months later and of course kept my money. The catalog still says in business since 1915.
Jeez, I cant believe how sensitive and insecure some of the responses have been.

1) I haven't made any personal attacks on anyone
2) I'm not disputing the worthiness of some tweeks (thank you gillatgh)
3) It was certainly not my intention to insult "experienced tweekers. I'm a tweeker myself. Just expressing an opinion regarding the effectiveness of adding additional tweeks to an already heavily tweaked system.
4) never implied tweekers were dumb, nor that those who have purchased aftermarket items from JC Whitney were dumb.

I appreciate the honest feedback from those who have expressed their differing opinions without resorting to ridicule simply because they disagree.

J.Chip
Post removed 
J.Chip I know what you mean.It's easy to get carried away by adding thing upon thing until it's hard to remember which does what.Sometimes it's an improvement to remove those footers or tube dampers that were put in four years ago just to see what happens.
Yup, removing Tube Dampers is always an improvement. The only exception being Herbies Tube Dampers, all the others being excellent examples of how audiophiles embrace an idea that seems too good not to be true. 
I agree with the OP.  There are many tweaks that just don’t work and are just silly.  One man’s tweak is another man’s snake oil.
I do not think anybody is saying tweaks cannot and will not work at all..

I get the premise that too many tweaks piled upon top of each other could result in the fact that each individual tweak may not achieve its promise or full potential.

However it is also true and potentially likely that they may magnify each other's results as well with 1+1+1+1+1+1=16!

With tweaks anything is possible and as far as "snake oil tweaks".....

Well common sense should still rule the day.

Pity then that common sense is the least common of all senses nowadays.
Of the usual audiophile tweaks, including the really controversial and way out ones, one sees or reads about there actually has never been one that was found to be a hoax or a fraud or any such thing. On the other hand, what we do find are audiophiles who either didn’t follow directions, have serious problems or errors in their audio systems, an audio system that is insufficiently resolving, lack of listening skill or experience, or undiagnosed hearing problems.
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by the responses, but I was. Anyway, OP, I think it's a good post and I certainly understand it's point.

Tom
Thanks Tom. What surprised me is that some people took my post as a personal attack on tweekers. I consider myself just as much a tweeker as anyone in that I'm always willing to try something that can improve my sound as long as it's affordable. To a degree, I think all of us in this hobby are tweekers to some extent. I was just trying to make a point about the realities of diminishing returns. I can accept that some may disagree but I wasn't expecting the personal attacks.

J.Chip
But you still haven’t addressed the concerns some of us have with the “reality of diminishing returns” - which to many of us is the opposite of what we experience every day, and what makes this such a fun hobby in that there’s always so much more to be discovered 😁

ps I should caveat that I’m specifically here referring to the diminishing returns to tweaking, not $$
Bingo! There is no point of diminishing returns! Hel-loo!

Hi J.Chip

I wanted to come up earlier but needed to get caught up with clients "Tuning" no less, which is why I’m coming up now. One of the reasons HEA audiophiles get stuck in their tweaking efforts is because they have no method of listening. Tweaking to them is a very random sport or they get heading in a direction that ultimately they have to stop when they realize they are actually loosing audio signal information, and turn around and head the other way again to see where they messed up. This happens mostly with people who dampen and shield products or add too much mass. The word "overdone" is something HEA has fooled themselves into and they end up not being able to play as many recordings as they should be able to.

The audio signal is vibratory and as such variably tunable, too much is most times worst than too little when we are talking about preserving the audio signal through the audio chain. For a long time this industry has been way over doing things and ending up squeezing the heck out of the recordings. There’s a chapter of audiophiles who instead of killing the sound preserve it, that’s the chapter I belong to. We use the "method of tuning" to keep our systems and recordings in balance giving us a higher level of performance plus the ability to make sonic changes at will. This is where HEA will end up as the overbuilt days continue to die off. Not more or less tweaks just a clear method in how to tune the sound in.

Sad you’ve been bashed your first thread here, but now you have an idea for how unsuccessful listeners can’t stand when someone comes up with something sensible to talk about. You’ve heard the phrase "misery loves company", well so do unsuccessful listeners. Many of these folks have spent way to much money chasing things that they haven’t really studied, explored deep enough or had someone show them the ropes. They’re like touching the wrong end of the torch because it looks bright, only to have found out they’ve been burnt. Fact is the reviewers should have practiced their art before talking so much and only desiring to sell expensive components that don’t do nearly as much as they should. A good method of listening will provide excellent sound and cost little as compare to component collecting and plug & play.

Michael Green

http://www.michaelgreenaudio.net/

+10 michaelgreenaudio, well said! :)