Music-related "snake oil"?

I didn’t know this existed… and just read a ton about it… and realize there is a name for something I’ve experienced all my life: MEM! Oddly, I have voluntary MEMs: I can make it happen on demand. As a kid I called it “blinking my ears”.

An interesting thing about MEM is that it seems no one has yet figured out a consistent pattern to it: The effect itself varies widely in pitch, rhythm, and style. The triggers vary widely, too. Only thing that is clear is that the effect is a form of objective tinnitus (there is actual physical movement in the ear), and that it is rare.

So, sure, these devices might actually do something effective for you, but it would hardly be a market they could build a business plan around. Even so, do you think 5db will be enough of a cut make a difference for you?


EHX sells special batteries;)
Sag batteries for drives…
18v instead pf 9v for more headroom for some pedals.
Some old stuff and circuits sound better because of great ideas and implementation not only because of components.

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I definitely need to read more about it. I can - by moving my muscles (but it is not apparent from outside) - make both of my ears this crackling sound. Funny enough the only time when it doesn’t work is when I get really bad ear infection. I also suffer from tinnitus (and various other auditory things) and I wonder if this might be related.

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No offense but the fact this reply links to a forum post on GS kind of proves my point hahaha


SMT parts can have different parasitic effects, like less capacitance. That might make a difference in some cases, but probably not much for audio circuits. But the main thing is the SMT is cheaper – and possibly more environmentally friendly since they use less materials.


There are some things in the music tech world that are more obviously “snake oil”, but on the more nuanced side, I feel like it’s very easy to fall in the trap of thinking something matters a lot more than it does (and conversely ignoring some aspect that matters a lot). Marketing seems to amplify this cognitive dissonance.

One big trend I’ve seen is a montage of quick video testimonials of people (a lot of times the people are known in the field and their name/credentials are put there) trying something and then getting a “wow!” look on their face after the thing turns on. I find these very effective…at telling me whatever it is is a load of crap, hah.

Another thing I’ve seen a lot of (most common in the hifi listening world), are these articles where people describe the differences very poetically before and after some 5-figure cable was added to the system.

You really have to invest a lot of time learning and dive into the technical side of things if you are gonna explore these sound quality improvements (acoustics, transformers, etc.) because the marketing is not there to help you make good decisions…it’s there to get you to spend more money. In this vein, I think it’s easy to gravitate towards something because you’ve heard it “sounds good on everything” and not properly use it to get the most out of whatever you’re trying to do.

For some reason my brain tends to want to explore the possibilities of stuff I don’t have rather than the possibilities as yet unexplored of the things I do. I think sometimes knowing what else is out there can be useful for informing your art making practice, if you let it, but I think that you have to actively work for that to happen…buying something new is not instantly going to change your ability to make compelling art, however you define that.

To me, the signs that something is not snake oil are: that it has been open sourced (if not fully, maybe partially, or something like a schematic has been posted), there are firmware updates coming well after the thing has been released, there’s a focus on the community surrounding it, or there are a lot of thorough resources to learn more about it. Basically, if there are entry-points into investing your time into it, there’s a good chance it’s not just designed to get you to spend your money on it in hopes of it being a “game-changer”


For a lot of great debunking of audio snake oil, Ethan Winer is king:

Presentation at AES “Audio Myths Workshop”:

His page full of his work on all sorts of audio debunking:


I firmly believe that I get more interesting sounds from my STEIM Cracklebox when I use heavy-duty rather than alkaline 9v batteries. Unfortunately, I no longer know of any local stores that sell heavy-duty batteries.


R. G. Keen’s site is also a wealth of in-depth articles on the topic and on guitar-relevant electronics in general. This write-up about how carbon composition resistors are slightly nonlinear (resistance actually varies significantly with the voltage applied! resulting in possibly up to a couple percent total harmonic distortion, just from the resistors, at the 100s of volts used by tube amps) totally blew my mind as a teenager first learning about guitar amps and electronics.


Yes. I’m not really doubting it or calling it snake-oil, but it’s interesting how we develop that itch that makes us (me) so concerned/obsessed about that last 1% of the sound.

Because, yes I’ve been hoarding older battery-types myself, but I think I’ve run out of stuck. And yes, I do own an Analogman SunFace with white-dot (military spec) NKT-275 (germanium transistors with real 60s fairy dust). But not because I tested and decided it was the one for me, rather it was me buying into the whole storytelling. :smiley:

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This really is beautiful marketing:

Attaching a stick to very highly shielded cables like the coaxial Crystal Cable with its Kapton and Peek layers or the Nanotec interconnect with its robust copper foil should rationally allow for no such effect at least not of the sort we encountered now. Burke’s voice is that of a man of grand stature albeit with a slightly nasal top. Or so it was before the universal sticks entered the scene.

Now it seemed he’d blown his nose or inhaled some nose drops. His voice opened up from top to bottom and back up. The same happened to the band. Clarity mopped up the sound without introducing sharp ’s’ sounds and what emanated from the speakers had an extra inner coherence. Where prior the music had been great replay—i.e. reproduced stuff—with the AC and universal sticks in place the sense of being part of it all grew gloriously.

The Akiko Audio E-Tuning Gold mkII. $269 for a stick you tape to your power cord.


I can MEMs blink too!


I’ve always done this and just assumed it was normal! :exploding_head:

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My generalized take on “mojo” in synths and pedals is that if you know it’s there, it’ll sound better to you.


none taken, i anticipated a reply like this, so first read through the posts to make sure i’m finding reasonable opinions, not snake oil.

A lot of the GUI in audio software is a kind of snake oil. Just because the artwork on the screen resembles a physical piece of equipment doesn’t make them equivalent. Concentrate on the gap not the metaphor.


As always, I find your thinking fascinating, not always groking everything but generally being greatly inspired and provoked in the best way…

I do think that there can be some future-facing value in a kind of backward-looking nostalgia mining…

I’m thinking of things like retro-futurism, as exemplified by a book I have hung onto for decades called Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future…

To some extent, it can be illuminating to explore the positive aspects of the past and the paths not taken in trying to sort out what to do going forward…

Wondering what you think about this kind of thing…


And happy 4th if it’s relevant :sunglasses:

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One amusing source of musical snake oil marketing is the Altmann website, previous manufacturers of “Tube-o-lator” goop which, when applied to semiconductor packages,

“the indicated components will have a tube-like sonic character, best described as warm, full, natural and emotional sound. You will recognize, that you can easily listen to higher volume levels than before, because annoying frequencies will be filtered out of the signal.”

but by far my favourite thing on their website (which I’m not linking, it’s easy enough to find) is:

The Altmann-Starcycle, world’s most bicycle


I’ve found this kind of thing across all different kinds of hobbies that are dominated by men. My pet theory is that it is a soft spot of the western male psyche, the fixation on binary interpretations of situations and and a kind of compulsive reductionism. Seems like you can sell anything to a man if you convince him some detail of it is fundamentally superior in some area of engineering.

A woman trying clothes: do I feel good? Does it look good?

A man trying clothes: is it Full Grain Leather? Is it Super 180’s wool?


I think of it as obsessive optimization rather than compulsive reductionism, though they’re probably two sides of the same thing–seeking out a scientifically or mathematically sound method by which to obtain the Optimal Experience; whether or not the methodology is sound matters less than the use of such methodology.

Hence: turbo encabulators.