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Audiophile -
The Quintessential Aesthetic Listener

I came upon an "audio site" recently while doing a Google search. It was a paper where the author was debunking (so he thought) many of the enhancements that are made to audio equipment and accessories.

The author picked the topic of dielectric absorption. He stated that the manufacturer's claim of audiophile-grade speaker cables, to have low dielectric absorption was nothing but drivel. He stated that any achievement of enhancement was undetectable by a human being.

As a very brief explanation...

A dielectric is the insulating material (or lack there of) between the 2 plates of a capacitor, or between the wires in a cable, or between any two conductors that have a voltage impressed across them. Common dielectrics are: glass/ceramic, mylar, polystyrene, Teflon, polycarbonate, air, vacuum, and on and on.

I must digress for a moment to comment on the article. I was amused by this author. He gave a reference to a Wikipedia page on dielectrics. Then he proceeded to give an explanation of the shunt losses of the dielectric material and concluded that they were so small that no human could detect them.

In fact, dielectric absorption is a completely different phenomenon from shunt losses. and the dielectric absorption phenomenon is measured with a completely different instrumentation technique.

Shunt losses are the dissipative losses (they create heat) of a (usually) small component of current flowing through the dielectric. Dielectric absorption, on the other hand, is a phenomenon of the dielectic material holding charge after the applied voltage has been removed. Materials that are highly characteristic of this phenomenon are called, electrets. Note the spelling. They can be likened to the electric field equivalent of a permanent magnet.

So in the eyes of an electronic engineer, physicist, chemist, etc. the author pretty-much disqualified himself to write on this topic.

  • How Sensitive Is the Human Species?
  • The answer is simple. We are incredibly sensitive.
  • How sophisticated is the human mind (brain) in interpreting what our 5 senses detect?
  • The answer is simple. We are incredibly sophisticated.

Let's explore these.

Human Sensitivity - Hearing

Our ears have a dynamic range of 90 decibels. That is a ratio of 1 billion, from the quietest sound that we can detect to the threshold of auditory pain. We have never made a microphone/amplifier that spans the frequency range of the human ear which possesses this range of listening.

Human Sensitivity - Sight

A 100 watt light bulb has roughly 10^18 photons emitting from it every second. From 20 feet away, this would be uncomfortable to look at. We are near the threshold of pain. Now try to get your mind around this number.

10^9 is 1 billion

10^12 is 1 trillion

10^ 15 is 1 quadrillion

10^18 is 1 quintillion

Now, the human eye, when it is "dark adjusted" (it has been in the dark for a minute or so) can detect just 2 photons of green light.

Say we are talking about a dynamic range (from the smallest we can detect to the threshold of pain) that is close to 1 quintillion.

In our world of communications and Internet, we are supported by very high tech fiber communications. The sensors that detect the incoming pulses of light (the data) typically have 10^3 or 10^4 dynamic range. That is a lot less than 10^18.

When I was in aerospace, we had to design a flight-borne laser sensor with 10^8 dynamic range. We did it by using 4 separate sensors of 10^2 each. 10^8 was impossible to achieve in one sensor and 10^8 itself is much less than 10^18.

I said it before, I'll say it again, we are incredibly sensitive.

So then, the human audience, the Audiophile, has sensors that are considerably beyond modern technology.

Human Comprehension

One could spend years on the topic of human comprehension. Indeed neuro scientists and Vedic schlolars have done just that. What I include here is just the "faintest of teasers" for getting a tiny glimpse of the immense capability of the human mind.

The mind (brain) interprets what the senses detect. There are approximately 100 billion neurons in the human brain. A person's ability to comprehend, to know, to have memory, is associated with the possible connections between these neurons. In other words, "groups of cells".

To mathematically quantify these combinations we need to know the number of cells (100 billion) and the size of the "groups of cells" that we are considering.

If we look at the groups of just two cells, there are roughly 10^21 combinations.

If we look at groups of millions of cells, we get a number that quickly approaches, or even exceeds the mass of the known universe in kilograms.

What does this mean?

It means that the human brain can comprehend infinity.

Final Note

With the exceptional sensors and the far, far reaching comprehension and breadth of awareness, the Audiophile can hear, interpret and appreciate subtle sounds, textures, and nuances that an electronic instrument (like a distortion analyzer) would lose in its own internal noise. The Audiophile can comprehend the ensemble of a musical piece. Indeed the Audiophile can hear appreciate and dwell in the Wholeness that becomes manifest when the music is rendered.

Small, small changes in the quality of the recording and reproduction are not only discernable by the Audiophile, but in the case of "disturbances" or "discrepancies" to a perfect recording, the Wholeness is lost. When Wholeness is lost, pure Joy and Ecstasy are nowhere to be found.

A great saint was once asked, "What is the purpose of creation?"

He replied, "The expansion of happiness".

On that happy note, I wish you pure bliss in the pursuit of, and the enjoyment of, the renderings of the great masters of music. Don't let anyone occupy your attention, even for a minute, with talk that assails your refined aesthetics with "dis-integrated ideas". They have yet to realize their own true nature.

Robert Palma Jr.


The energy associated with an individual photon is quite minute. For instance, a photon in the visible spectrum would contain an energy of approximately 4 X (10 to the power of -19) joules. Thus, a perfectly efficient 100-watt light bulb would emit approximately 2.5 X (10 to the power of 20) photons per second. D. J. Lovell Bibliography: Goldin, E., Waves and Photons (1982). Copyright 1995 by Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.

We have chosen 240 NM as the wavelength of light for our model because it is in the ultraviolet range of light where oxygen absorbs most readily. The value for the absorption cross section of O2 at this wavelength is 1.0 x 10-28 m2. The photon flux from the sun at this wavelength, I0, is 7.61 x 1017 photons/(m2sec).

An organization of the US government spent untold 10's of millions of dollars, and many, many years to develop a machine that could read fingerprints and compare them, reliably to a database of known fingerprints. This huge effort went towards performing a task that was readily accomplished by human eyes and a human mind. Today, that system, while fast and automated, probably still lacks in absolute accuracy to the human counterpart.

Greg's brother former "Rocket Scientist"

Engineering experience includes numerous flight avionics subsystems (electronics, electro-mechanical and electro-explosive devices and subsystems) for (17 total) spacecraft and launch vehicles, as well as "racks" of ground test and simulation hardware for each of those flight systems. These subsystems/disciplines included: instrumentation, control, communications, power conversion/conditioning, radio frequency, electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), reliability, safety.

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