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March 2015
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Skoffin' Up Food For Thought
Cucumbers Stuffed With Pearls
Roger Skoff calls on ancient Araby to help prove a modern point.
Article By Roger Skoff


Cucumbers Stuffed With Pearls   Do you remember Scheherazade? No, not the 1888 symphonic poem by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, but the legendary Persian queen who was reputed to have saved her life and gained her exalted position by telling the tales of A Thousand and One Nights. As the story goes, Scheherazade was married off to a king who, having had his first wife disgrace him by being unfaithful, took both his pleasure and his revenge by marrying a new virgin each day, having his way with her that night, and having her beheaded the following morning. By the time he got around to Scheherazade, he had already done away with 1000 such ladies, and she was resolved that there should be no more.

That's where the stories came from: In a truly inspired fit of salesmanship after her wedding ceremony and after her lovemaking with the king, she asked him "I know I shall lose my head in the morning, but before we go to sleep now, may I tell you a story?" The king (actually, the "Shahryar", as kings were called in ancient Persia), probably laid-back and enjoying a post-amorous puff on his water-pipe (they didn't have cigarettes in those days), was relaxed and fascinated, and bade her continue, and she told him a fabulous tale that, because he was SO relaxed, he fell asleep right in the middle of it, and didn't hear the end.

In the morning, he asked her to tell him how the story came out, and she, saying that it would take too long, and would interfere with her beheading, declined to do so, at which point, he said that she could continue to live another day, but must finish the tale that night. Thus began and nightly continued an interlocking series of a thousand tales that, by the time she had finished, left her not only still alive, but the queen in more than name only, and had the Shahryar ready to believe her every word and act upon her slightest wish. Among the tales told by Scheherazade was "the Story of the Speaking Bird", and in it, Scheherazade told of another Princess, one Parizade, who, to prove a point to a certain sultan named Khosroo Shah, once caused to be served to him a dish of cucumbers stuffed with the finest and most beautiful pearls.

Costly it was, yes; and rare and exotic, certainly; and just exactly the sort of thing that one would expect a sultan who may have been tired of mere lark's-tongues and other such more ordinary dainties to delight in. As it was, however, this particular Sultan proved to be a more practical man, and, so the story goes, "...as soon as the sultan saw the dish of cucumbers set before him, thinking they were stuffed in the ordinary manner, he reached out his hand and took one; but when he cut it, he was extremely surprised to find it stuffed with pearls.  'What is this?' said he; 'and why were these cucumbers stuffed with pearls, since pearls are not to be eaten?'"

And thus, finally, we get to the subject of audio. And how can that be? What could cucumbers stuffed with pearls possibly have to do with our hobby? Well, did you ever hear of carbon fiber? Carbon fiber is a cloth of woven tiny carbon threads held together in a polymer binder to produce super-strong, super-light at one time viciously expensive, but becoming more affordable all the time parts for various applications that have an immediately recognizable and really-quite-pretty appearance. Functionally and in concept, carbon fiber is quite similar to the far more ordinary fiberglass, but of course the fibers are made of pure carbon instead of glass.

When it was first introduced, some three decades ago, it was touted as a "space-age" material, and was, in fact, far too expensive for use in anything other than aerospace, but now it's finding application in any number of other areas, including aircraft, wind turbines, and, increasingly in cars and motorcycles, where its potential for overall weight reduction is so great that there are even some who believe it could play an important role in solving the world's impending "oil crisis".

Carbon fiber is even finding its way into High-End audio. It's doing so in the form of carbon fiber shells on RCA connectors, on speaker lugs (spades, "bananas", etc.) and on AC connectors, and is also seen as the chassis or decorative trim on some ultra-expensive turntables and electronics; and undoubtedly on or in other things that I simply haven't yet seen. And do we really have need for super strong or super-light connectors? Have you ever had trouble lifting the ends of your interconnects, speaker cables, or power cords to plug them in? Have they ever pulled out of your electronics or your wall because they were too heavy? Or have you, perhaps, found them not strong enough? No? Well then why are people using carbon fiber, when other materials might work just as well or even better, and would certainly be cheaper?


Why Would Anybody Stuff A Cucumber With Pearls?
Like Scheherazade doing a masterful selling job to save her life, or Princess Parizade proving her point with an expensive but inedible dish, carbon fiber at least in its present hi-fi applications is just there because it does have a pretty and instantly-recognizable-as-expensive appearance, and because it does attract buyers. But, just like pearls as a stuffing for cucumbers, it serves no practical purpose that I know of that could not be served just as well (or maybe even better) by something less costly.

Gold and silver are other things that people use to display their wealth or to attract customers or to seek to prove that an expensive thing is worth buying, and, like carbon fiber, they too have found their way into high-end audio. The difference is that one can at least point to some potential value for them other than just their beauty and conspicuous costliness: Silver is a whole five percent (WOO-WOO!) higher in conductivity than some of the cheaper grades of copper. Not that conductivity is all that big a deal; after all, you can get less resistance by just using a shorter cable(!) and some people do believe that it does impart a distinctive "sound" to cables that use it or even silver plating on their conductors. Gold also has some practical value, in that it never tarnishes, so it does (except for RF applications, where it's not the recommended plating material) make an ideal conductive coating to protect connectors from corrosion. Other than that, though because its conductivity is just 70% of that of copper, gold conductors in cables (Siltech) or gold-plated chassis for electronics (Goldmund), seem to me, because I know of no other compensating benefit they might offer, to be just like carbon-fiber shells for connectors or gold-plated brand badges on a Lexus just one more way to stuff a pearl into a cucumber.

Unless narcissism or conspicuous display is your thing, why not just stick to materials that actually do something; pay prices for your equipment based on its real performance and not just its beauty or claims to be "space age" hip, and then put a record on, sit back, and...

Enjoy the music.














































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