On Responsibility

On Responsibility
Mike Silverton
23 November 2000

In the December, 2000 issue of Stereophile, we see these words in Industry Update under Jonathan Scull’s contribution, US: INDIANAPOLIS:

“A larger Richard Gray’s Power Company Model 1200S debuted at CEDIA…. To test the product’s ‘flywheel’ effect, Mr. Gray himself put on a demonstration dubbed ‘The Edison Test.’ A 110V light bulb was attached to two 6V batteries. The bulb didn’t light up, of course. Incrementally, three Richard Gray’s Power Company units were plugged in parallel to the circuit. A push on a doorbell switch disconnected the batteries momentarily from the bulb. Only then did the bulb flash, increasingly more brightly with each additional RGPC in-circuit. ‘This indicates that the core of the [RGPC] will store and release sufficient energy to overcome the resistance of the cold light bulb filament in order to light the bulb.’ What can I say? Worked as advertised.”

What can he say? A good deal more than an archly dismissive “Worked as advertised.” For the reader who needs reminding, Scull’s earlier Stereophile review savaged the Richard Gray’s Power Company in unusually harsh and contemptuous terms, including a heavy dose of skepticism regarding the above-demonstrated technology’s validity.

Here’s the relevant part of that review:

“The following will come as no surprise: I’m no engineer. But I’ve met some fascinating people and learned just enough to be dangerous. (To me, learning is like music: It keeps you alive.)

With the Richard Gray’s Power Station, certain issues immediately presented themselves: First, what exactly is the energy-storage capacity of the 400S? This is actually a question of relatively simple physics and mathematics, and neither subject is a forte of mine. But they are of Stereophile‘s Shannon Dickson, who explains it quite succinctly:

‘The calculations are simple equations that define many of the parameters of any parallel inductor. Using a 120V power line, a 6-Henry inductance, and a DC resistance of around 9.8 ohms (my direct measurement of the device) yields a maximum RMS current of around 53 milliamps. Then, to find the magnetizing current of the device or energy-storage potential of the magnetic field around the inductor, you apply: ½ x L x I squared (one-half times inductance times current squared), which results in a maximum of just 0.01VA per second, otherwise known as Joules.

‘When you daisy-chain extra Power Companies, this stored energy value is additive, so two paralleled units would provide only 0.02 joules of energy storage, and three would provide just 0.03 joules. Compare this to the typical large current demand of a power amp during a large transient demand, which can be measured in multiple joules (footnote 1). Yes, the 400S does store some energy, but apparently not very much.’

And which way will that energy, of whatever magnitude, flow? If the impedance the parallel inductor sees toward the service panel is lower than that ‘looking’ at your audio rack, back it goes into the power grid. [To judge from the punctuation, this is Scull’s interruption of Dickson’s explanation. M.S.]

Another issue is that of surge protection. Shannon again: ‘MOVs provide decent lightning protection for at least one or several nearby transient events, but the claim that the parallel inductor itself ‘absorbs or shunts to ground lightning and transient surges’ requires more thought. For one, since protective earth ‘ground’ forms part of a current loop, it is therefore not a bottomless pit into which unwanted currents can be made to disappear.’

Nothin’s black ‘n’ white.”

Mark well the self-effacing tone of the man’s hey-I’m-no-expert-but-here- goes-anyway opening. We find Scull admitting to a less than iron grip on the arcana strewn, unattributed, throughout his reviews. (Here at least he permits Shannon Dickson to speak for himself, albeit off the mark.) In commenting on an audio component, Scull frequently engages in a patois that would furrow the brow, I suspect, of even the reader who holds an advanced degree in electrical engineering. If, as Scull says, he is less than fully inflated regarding these highly specialized matters, whence the techno-gas, presumably his, that perfumes ever so many of his reviews? Is it somehow inhaled and discharged, unabsorbed? I suspect so. And yet rarely does Scull begin with an exculpatory “According to the designer” or something like.

In the way Scull goes about his business, I speculate as well as ventilate disdain for what I perceive as a disingenuous modus operandi. But there is nothing in the least speculative in identifying Scull’s unsatisfactory CEDIA follow-up. One would never suspect from his words the issue’s corrosive background. Scull’s original, nasty pan could well have put a young company out of business.

If a subjectivist reviewer tells us that the thing under scrutiny sounds fine, flawed or awful, we are obliged to accept the opinion as-is, unavailable to protest. Like a belief in a deity, it’s a matter of faith, ergo indisputable. I can’t prove to anyone that God does or doesn’t exist. We hear what we hear, and there you are. However, a negative review can at least open itself to suspicion if a great many knowledgeable people take exception to it. But still, it’s a matter of faith. My sophisticated listener can beat up your sophisticated listener. Oh yeah, sez who? And so on. This gets us nowhere.

But purely in terms of fair play and decency, isn’t Scull under an obligation to own up to a damaging faux pas? He and his expert are quite simply wrong regarding the RGPC’s storage-capacity claims. It’s Scull’s move still. “Worked as advertised” doesn’t quite cut it.

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