I recently had a Kiwi visitor with a buncha cables in his backpack. He is an audio importer/distributor from New Zealand who amongst many other products handles the Acoustic System Int. LiveLine cables. He duly stripped them off their Teflon dielectric to pronounce them mo betta, then set out to design his own 'inspired by' variants. Because he's a regular reader who has converted many of our reviews into lines he carries; and because he had business in Vienna; he asked whether he could hear his new cables in my setup. I agreed.

In a prior e-mail, he'd mentioned sonically deleterious effects from Franck's use of soldering together dissimilar metals. While that's a popular conceptual reaction, having lived with these cables and compared them to many others, I was surprised to see a potential competitor identify the 'special feature' of the LiveLines as their weakness.

Long story short, we replaced my entire LiveLine loom with the Kiwi equivalents. The sound shut down and became restrictive and mechanical. When we returned to the ASI loom, my guest volunteered "now it sounds right again". Clearly flummoxed, he also muttered that "now I don't hear any of the problems with Franck's cables I hear in my system at home or those of customers - none."

This makes a perfect lead-in. One can only solve a problem after having correctly diagnosed its true cause. This gentleman was clearly dumbfounded when his diagnosis—that the solid-core LiveLine cables are compromised by their spliced construction which is audible as a coarseness in the treble and various dynamic nonlinearities—was faulty. The solution of his own cables which were based on this diagnosis then proved ineffective as well.

Of course that wasn't an isolated occurence. It's in fact the bread + butter norm of high-end audio. Behind each and every purchase lies the desire to improve the sound. Yet without a correct diagnosis of what causes the present limitations to identify a correct solution, audio upgrades are shots in the dark. Worse, without knowing what's possible, one stops well prematurely. One celebrates having arrived when really, one has barely scratched the surface.

Here are a few sobering facts:

Nobody knows what's really possible. It's the root cause for "I didn't know I suffered this or that until component X appeared and made me aware what I'd put up with it all along".
• Most of us can't properly diagnose the causes of our various audio ailments. We might diagnose the effects accurately enough but to introduce a true cure requires knowing what causes the ill.

Taken together, ignorance about what's ultimately possible—for argument's sake, this could be reduced to knowning what "the world's best system" would sound like—and an incomplete or altogether faulty understanding about what causes our ongoing dissatisfaction are the root cause for:

• Endless upgraditis
• Endless claims which can't be categorically proven or disproven
• Faulty or incomplete diagnostics which cause at best incomplete cures that aren't universally effective but suffer side effects

Consumer audio lacks a universal impedance standard. Input and output impedances diverge wildly to introduce gross variables which compel most electronics designers to design for broadest compatibility, not peak performance. Acoustic interactions between speakers and room are unknown and nearly invariably not addressed or at best insufficiently. Current measurements account for many factors but particularly time-domain and dynamic behavior of actual music rather than test signal still leave much unaccounted for to which the human ear is sensitive.

This a very coarse sketch of the general scenario that faces each well-intentioned music lover who chases audiophile satisfaction. Inherent in our communal setup is a lack of a clearly defined goal; and our incapacity to properly diagnose the cause for specific issues.

It creates an open-ended endless pattern of trial & error which can arrive at satisfactory results by accident. Usually though, it fails at a true understanding which would translate outside our own very specific circumstance and make for useful advice elsewhere.