Take for example the simple statement “I’ve tried that and can’t hear any difference.”

Sometimes we speak in such sweeping generalities that our original meaning is lost. Take for example the simple statement “I’ve tried that and can’t hear any difference.” Instead of digging deeper we either dismiss this rather bold statement as poppycock if it doesn’t agree with our experience or use it as proof if it matches our own thoughts. We need to dig deeper to uncover truth.

I was recently reminded of this problem when at Music Direct in Chicago. My son, Scott, and I were there to introduce the new P20 Power Plant and, of course, they wanted a demo. If the P20 really does improve the sound quality of a system it should be easy to perform a simple A/B test to prove that. And it was, but not with every track of music.

Listening tests must be performed with the right music on a revealing system. Get either of those two requirements wrong and you may come to the wrong conclusion.

For our comparison test, I knew the track of music we’d want would be something simple with plenty of acoustic space. This is because a Power Plant helps restore missing information like reverb and upper harmonic decay. A track played without benefit of regenerated power, or through a passive conditioner, masks both of these traits. If the track selected doesn’t demonstrate what a device under test restores, you would draw the wrong conclusion.

For this particular demo, I dug out of their stored library an oldy but a goody. Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz’ album Fairytales. This is well-recorded and track one, The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress, is exemplary for this task. There are only two instruments: Toneff’s angelic voice and Dobrogosz’ expressive piano. The simplicity of their performance offers a magnifying glass into the reverb on her voice, the intensity of the piano’s attack and its harmonic decay. Plugged into an expensive power conditioner the track sounds just fine. Move nothing more than just the power amplifier from the passive conditioner to the P20 and suddenly you’re aware of all that was missing: deep, rich, extended reverb and overtones that last twice as long. No one could miss the differences between the two.

Not everything’s the same. It’s important to find the right setting and material for any good demo

Paul McGowan