Saturday, January 04, 2014

What quantum entanglement can teach classical music


The most profound scientific discovery of all time - anticipated by Einstein, formulated in Bell's Theorem, and confirmed by the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiment - is that the universe is nonlocal. What this comes down to in layman's language is something like this: if you separate two particles that have been paired and give one of them a downward spin, its partner simultaneously spins upward. This holds regardless of how far the two may have been separated, obliterating classical notions of space, time and knowledge.
In that passage from his introduction to Ann Jauregui's Epiphanies former MIT professor Huston Smith outlines the theory of quantum entanglement. A few months ago Elaine Fine commented here that "My latest hunch is that we are in the process of a cultural shift, and as the audio quality of recorded music continues to decline (when played on computers), people who need music (and there will always be people who need music) will seek out ways of finding satisfaction". My own search for extending my considerable satisfaction from music embraces both live performances and the reversal of what Elaine quite correctly identifies as the decline in the quality of recorded music. To appreciate good recorded sound a high-end audio system is required, and that system must comprise not only top quality components - CD player/turntable, amplifier and speakers - but also commensurate quality peripherals. This means my recent explorations have taken me beyond the contentious area of signal cable interconnects into the even more contentious area of the mains supply.

To give the cleanest possible power supply to my audio system, unswitched silver-plated wall outlets, shielded mains cable and audiophile quality IEC connectors are used. These were recently supplemented by the ultimate in audiophile esoterica, a Synergistic Research Quantum SR 20 mains fuse and the result was truly astonishing. Let's apply a caveat at this stage. Upgrading the mains fuse in a £100 ghetto blaster (do they still make £100 ghetto blasters?) will not produce an audible improvement. But if you have a high-end audio system - mine is Thorens TD125/SME and Arcam CD37 into Arcam 10 amplifier and Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 803s - based on my experience you will hear an improvement in sound quality that is so marked as to be almost inexplicable.

I say almost inexplicable because there is a scientific rationale for these high performance fuses. In very simple terms the mains fuse, like all other audio components, should, ideally, have linear characteristics. But as power demand increases fuses become increasingly non-linear until they reach the point at which they blow, and it is this non-linearity which, arguably, affects sound quality. Synergistic Research Quantum fuses are conditioned with 2,000,000 volts (header photo shows this process) to give greatly improved linearity, and that treatment comes at a price - the single fuse in my system retails for £40. Despite being a dedicated audiophile I was not acquainted with high performance mains fuses and the Quantum SR 20 was introduced into my system by our son; he has a masters degree in electronics but absolutely no connection with Synergistic Research other than a professional involvement in esoteric electronics.

As soon as I listened to the system with the Quantum fuse in situ my ears - which are well-tempered by great live music - told me that there was an improvement not only in transient response and dynamics, which can possibly be explained by an upgrade in the power supply line, but also in stereo imaging, which is a lot more difficult to explain. I would emphasise that these improvements were not self-fulfilling prophecies, because, as described above, I had no prior knowledge of the claimed benefits. But I was astonished to read after auditioning the improved sound that respected reviewers have reported exactly the same benefits.

Let's be honest, there is a very small market for £40 fuses. But there is far more to this post than audiophile bling. Quantum entanglement is at work in an audio system using a high performance fuse, just as quantum entanglement is at work across the entire spectrum of classical music from live concerts to recorded performances. Yet in our binary age classical music is viewed as a localised commodity that can be shorn of its setting, context, inaudible harmonics, ambiguous values and myriad other analogue components with which it is irrevocably quantum entangled. Which is a big mistake; because classical music is non-local, and once it is un-entangled and localised the magic - or engagement to use the marketing jargon - vanishes. In defiance of received wisdom, high performance fuses can change sound quality and, more importantly, quantum entanglement can teach classical music a lot about what to do - and what not to - in the search for new audiences.

* Update: new academic research confirms that classical music is non-local. Read the report here.

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10 comments:

A.C. Douglas said...

Bypassing your questionable quantum entanglement analogy, I most heartedly agree with your general thesis and freely confess the fuse thing kind of blew my mind. Never would I have guessed that the fuse was a critical factor in this business.

However, you've omitted a factor that's of cardinal — critical — importance in the accuracy of classical music reproduction: the acoustic of the listening room. If that factor isn't what it should be, all else is largely for naught (largely, but not, of course, entirely). I know this because in much earlier days (but hardly at all today as I now live in an apartment that makes using loudspeakers an impossibility) I, too, was a devoted audiophile — Thorens TD125, SME arm, Decca cartridge, Quad (aka, Acoustical Manufacturing Co. Ltd., later changed to QUAD Electroacoustics Ltd.) electronics (amplifiers, control unit, tuner), Quad full-range electrostatic loudspeakers (ESL63), and a specially designed for use with Quad ESLs subwoofer, etc., etc., etc. — and spent untold days (and nights) designing and testing my listening room until I'd made it everything it should be. No easy task, I can assure you, and appallingly expensive. That notwithstanding, it was all well worth the trouble, and in spades. I can assure you of that as well.

--
ACD
http://www.soundsandfury.com/

Pliable said...

ACD, fascinated to hear that your experience with high performance fuses mirrors mine.

I must confess that when I saw your name come up ahead of the comment I tensed myself for a rebuttal.

Just shows how we need to ditch our preconceptions...

Have a great New Year.

A.C. Douglas said...

ACD, fascinated to hear that your experience with high performance fuses mirrors mine.
-------------------------

Actually, what I meant was that your tale of the high-accuracy fuse "blew my mind." I never even considered the fuse to be a factor at all.

ACD

A.C. Douglas said...

Oh, and a great New Year to you as well.

ACD

Pliable said...

ACD - no problem; let's just rephrase that - great to hear your views on classical music being non-localised mirror mine!

Jon said...

You've finally reached a level of twaddle that prompts me to stop reading your blog. A shame.

Pliable said...

Many thanks for reading On An Overgrown Path Jon, and I am sure you will find writing more to your liking elsewhere among the many other excellent music blogs. And have a great New Year.

A.C. Douglas said...

Sorry for these serial comments, but I see from your last that I still haven't made myself quite clear.

What "blew my mind" about your tale of the fuse is NOT that I disagreed with it. Once mentioned by you, it made perfect sense to me and I agree with it as well even out of hand. It blew my mind because I can't believe I never even considered the fuse as a factor in the accuracy of classical music reproduction before.

ACD

Pliable said...

ACD, rest assured that you are not the only one who had never even considered the fuse as a factor in the accuracy of classical music reproduction,

Incidentally, those open minded enough not to dismiss this thread as twaddle should note that Synergistic Research Quantum fuses are sold with a a 30-day no risk money back guarantee.

Elaine Fine said...

So much of this goes far beyond my head (and my budget as a musician), but I am honored to have my words be part of your argument. Luckily I can get my musical jollies by playing great music on a great instrument with a good bow! I'll just have to trust that people who don't play themselves will go out of their way to hear what I have to play (if I still can by that time).