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AudioQuest Defends HDMI Marketing

AudioQuest CEO Bill Low agrees with HD Guru that TV refresh rates have nothing to do with HDMI cable, but says company must match the competition with messaging.


AudioQuest CEO Bill Low: “I chose the words very carefully ... Delivers 100% of the data required for 120Hz, 240Hz and 600Hz displays.”

As we all love to do, HD Guru Gary Merson recently took aim at HDMI cable manufacturers who mislead with their product labeling.

The gist of his article is this:

Have you seen HDMI cables online or in stores labeled “120 Hz,” “240Hz” and “480 Hz”? It’s easy enough to slap such labels on HDMI cables but it’s a sham. … The same HDTV signal flows through all HDMI cables, whether labeled “120Hz” or “480Hz.” …

Clearly the intent of the refresh rate labeling is simply to confuse you into spending more money on HDMI cables than you need to. …

Monster, Audioquest and other HDMI cable makers mislead consumers by mis-labeling their step-up quality HDMI cables with the various refresh rates used by set makers to improve picture quality. The signal fed by an HDMI cable to a set never exceeds 60Hz.”

AudioQuest takes offense to Merson’s claims. (Monster Cable probably does, too, but we didn’t hear from them.)

CEO Bill Low posted comments on Merson’s story as well as our own rehash of the HD Guru article.

The pieces, he says, “make me smile and make me wince.”

The smile part is that I'm delighted to see deception and purposefully confusing claims taken to task, and I'm proud of how carefully I balanced responding to market pressure by only telling the truth. And, I wince at the less than perfect muckraking which is unfairly tarnishing AudioQuest.

Issue One: Refresh Rates

After giving us a long lesson on TV response time, refresh rate, and frame rate, Low concedes, “HDMI cable has next to nothing to do with any of them.”

Even so, he tells us, it isn’t a crime to suggest that a cable may be relevant to a certain refresh rate, just as (using Merson’s analogy) a garden hose might be labeled as especially well-suited for sod lawns.

And, when other manufacturers are doing it, it’s tough to compete without joining the rhetoric.

As Low puts it:

Because of the confusion in the general market about refresh rates and frame rates, because salespeople are also sometimes confused, because no warrior wants to go into battle unarmed ... AudioQuest received great pressure to put 120/240/600Hz on our boxes, or risk losing business.

Low says he went kicking and screaming into that battle, and finally came up with the verbiage that he says balances the “need” of the marketing department with the “truth” of HDMI engineering.

“I chose the words very carefully,” he says: "Delivers 100% of the data required for 120Hz, 240Hz and 600Hz displays."

I happen to agree with Low’s assessment:

Who can read that and call it a lie? I carefully use the refresh rates as adjectives modifying "displays." The cable "delivers 100% of the data required" totally true, not a shred of BS. If someone thinks this is misleading advertising, rather than simply harmless self-defense, then take a look at laundry soap commercials, much less diet plans.

He goes on to defend AudioQuest’s marketing by telling us that all AudioQuest HDMI cables carry the same messaging: “We don't down-rate some models in order to make a more expensive model falsely appear to be more desirable.”

Issue 2: Cable Data Rates

There is one more major claim that Merson raises in his article: It’s misleading when manufacturers claim higher data rates than the HDMI specs call for.

“There is absolutely no picture quality advantage of purchasing a cable that is rated higher than the HDMI “High Speed” standard of a 10.2 Gbps!” Merson writes.

He highlights Monster’s shameless plug of a “Higher Performance” 17.8 Gbps HDMI cable.

Such claims are defensible, Low says: “Our experience at AQ is that past a point, past not much more than HDMI's High-Speed requirement, higher bandwidth has no effect on audio or video performance ... but it's not criminal for others to believe differently.”

Furthermore, he explains, since cable length is the enemy of data rate, manufacturers might look suspicious if they portray two different cables of different lengths but similar construction as having the same data rates.

Who’s Right, AudioQuest or HD Guru?

On the main points of the article, Merson and Low agree: 1) The scan rate of the TV has nothing to do with the cable and 2) data rates beyond a certain threshold don’t matter.

So why do manufacturers make consumers think that these data points are somehow relevant to HDMI cable? Low tells us that AudioQuest needs to play the same marketing game that Monster and others are playing. Who could argue?

Even so, the messaging discussed here sets a bad precedent. "By relying on misleading labels," Merson tells us, "under-educated consumers will think they need to spend more money to buy a cable that gives them no added benefit."

But there's something that troubles Merson (and me) even more: "Consumers rely on salespeople to help them choose the right equipment, in this case the right cable," he says. "But salespeople often rely on the package labeling."

How many times do you ask for a salesperson's help in selecting the correct product for your application and they simply do what you would have done anyway -- check the labeling?

When in doubt, they will recommend, and you will buy, the product that looks like it fits your specific need -- whether you need a hose to water your sod lawn or an HDMI cable to connect to your 240 Hz TV.

But Wait, There’s More

For Low’s entire 2,000-word response, including comments about audio-over-HDMI, see page 2.

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Article Topics

News · Product News · Wire and Cable · HDMI · Hdmi · Audioquest · Hd Guru · Gary Merson · · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson. [More by Julie Jacobson]

19 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Michael Hamilton  on  08/26  at  03:34 PM

Hearing a demonstration of Audio quality using the previous generation of entry-level Audioquest HDMI cable compared to two B&M’s private label cables and a competitor’s similarly priced cable, for me the difference was strikingly disparate. Associated equipment was an entry-level Integra DVD player’s HDMI output into a DTR-50.1 input and a pair B&W CM-1 bookshelf speakers…nothing that would be termed “exotic”.
The B&M’s entry level cable was the interface, and a passage of music - sans any video - was played. A simple arrangement….not Holly Cole, but in that genre, was the piece. Next, the “enhanced performance” B&M’s cable was played, and there was only incremental, if any difference. To defer to Ivor at Linn, it might have been the hearing once more and attaining a familiarity of the passage that hinted at a slight improvement in musicality.
Next, the “direct competitor’s” cable was put into the chain. Bass improved and overall, the quality of sound took on an improved sense of spaciousness with edge and definition to the instruments.
Lastly was the Audioquest. Not expecting much beyond what the “national” brand delivered, not only myself but all in attendence - some among the cognoscenti while others were merely dispassionate listeners - gasped at once. Suddenly, in the same passage as played three previous times, additional instruments that were completely absent in the previous plays appeared. My recollection is they were a guitar and the drummer’s brushes on the
high hat.
Lest you think I should be calling Art Bell and George Noory, be assured that subsequent listening with varied music, arranged simply or with complex passages of multiple instruments and layers, the differences were utterly startling.

With that demonstration remaining in mind, a few months later I moved from one company to undertake a position of purchasing and revamping the product mix at another and among the first things done was to contact the Audioquest regional and arrange to secure the line.

Audioquest explains that while they feel there are differences that can be seen in the video performance of HDMI format cabling, the display receiving the signal is reprocessing the information for its intended purposes and at lengths under 3 meters, it is a challenge to differentiate, visually, competently designed cables. However, if the application calls for sending a video signal from a source product with a secondary HDMI out for strictly audio, I urge all of you to try this for yourselves. Cable construction and materials composition seem to be an afterthought for many manufacturers, and as far as Audioquest is concerned, the results may (should) amaze you.

Posted by AVVouyer  on  08/26  at  05:13 PM

.....This should be good…....

Posted by Dave Stevens  on  08/27  at  06:07 AM

Thanks for, “getting it.”

Thanks for the article.

Thanks for your honesty.

Articles like this should be mandatory reading for uneducated sales people, and to consumers that believe our entire business, (high-end), is nothing more than snake oil.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  08/27  at  06:13 AM

Yes, thank you Audioquest.

Posted by Brent McCall  on  08/27  at  07:23 AM

There is constant pressure being put on mfgr’s to fluff the truth.
This is a daily call to our sales staff.
(Dealer) Why don’t your cables say 1.4 on the package?
(Ethereal sales) Sir, we are not allowed by HDMI LLC to put that on the package, the cables are now called “High Speed”.
(Dealer) Well your competitors have it on theirs.
(Ethereal sales) If they are a properly tested and licensed product they do not.
(Dealer) How do you expect us to sell it if it does not say 1.4?

These call will be followed up by one to me saying (again) “we gotta put 1.4 on the package to sell cables”.

There is a lot of confusion in the minds of consumers, dealers and mfgr’s about HDMI rev’s. In theory the new HDMI package guide lines are supposed to reduce this.
In my experience it has only made it worse.
Telling the truth will get you ignored (I guess because it is bland) and people expect the package of their cable to match the package of their electronics.
I am constantly seeing “Cheap Chinese” (sorry but is the only phrase that is correct) cables that say 1.4 or promote some ridiculous claim on store shelves and it burns me up.
We (Ethereal) spend a lot of time/money to jump thru HDMI LLC hoops to be fully legal/certified and follow that up with even more intensive DPL certification so that the dealer knows he is getting a real working product.
Follow that up with the call from a dealer saying “it’s gotta say 1.4” makes you see why a mfgr. Might want to stretch the truth (we don’t but it can be tempting).

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  08/27  at  07:42 AM

Amen, Brent!

Posted by AACTrent  on  08/27  at  08:50 AM

I’ll add to the “amen chorus”, Brent.

It seems like the only manufacturers that are taken to task for violations of the HDMI spec (such as with KSV verification and limitations) or for marketing requirements (such as the new “High Speed” labeling requirements) are the legitimate producers of product. 

The low cost manufacturers seem to never be confronted by HDMI, only the upstanding “good citizen” brands who do their best to play by the rules.  In doing so, the good guys are penalized versus the competition, who operate under “anything goes” rules and can still buy HDMI chips and use the HDMI logo with impunity.  Their keys don’t get revoked…they don’t get sued for using the logo on non-compliant parts.

No wonder customers are confused, and no wonder many legitimate manufacturers hate HDMI for the headaches it creates by its very existence.

Posted by Dave Stevens  on  08/27  at  09:15 AM

I too agree 100% with you Brent. Even dealers, (who hate to admit it), are confused. In my book, any brand HDMI cable that has an approved DPL rating works for me. The only problem is that there are as many dealers as consumers who don’t even know what a DPL rating is. Thanks Cedia!

@AACTrent: Unfortunately for all of us, the higher end mfg’s do not have the resources to legally chase after every, “Gucci Knock-Off,” mfg. Not to mention, many dealers have no problem selling these high profit margin crap cables because they’re trying to make up their profit margin on the flat panel TV they sold at cost to lure the customer into their store.

This reminds me of the old days whereas big box dealers would sell well known brands & models of turntables at, or below, cost, but then would sell a 2 cent cost phono cartridge for $65+.

History has a nasty way of repeating itself, and it’s not about to change any time soon.

Posted by AACTrent  on  08/27  at  09:45 AM


I work for one of those higher end manufacturers.  It’s not our responsibility as manufacturers to chase after HDMI violators - it’s the responsibility of HDMI, LLC to enforce the same provisions fairly across the spectrum of licensees (and to defend their trademark when it’s being used without authorization).

That’s part of the deal - HDMI doesn’t get to take our money and then shirk their responsibility through selective enforcement.

Posted by Michael Hamilton  on  08/27  at  10:37 AM

Thanks Dave…while I have somewhat dated, but traditional and substantive “high end” gear at home in many rooms and have been formally involved in this grand industry since 1976, it is still with utter scrutiny that I assess claims made by manufacturers. Not to solely single out Audioquest as if I was schilling for them, I can say unequivocally that all claims to enhanced performance made by them can be effectively verified and demonstrated.
The first I was introduced to, and to me - a classic - was the use of a “boom box” to demonstrate speaker wire (“you had me at Type 2”).

And credit or course is due to Noel Lee who, as us old guys say - back in the day - put up with a tidal wave of abuse from the likes of Julian Hirsch regarding wire making an audible difference. Their suppositional premise was if it didn’t measure better, it couldn’t sound better.

Ahhh…those were the days!
I feel like one of the three Monty Python characters reminiscing about their youth…“you try telling kids that today, they don’t believe you!”

Posted by Jim  on  08/27  at  11:16 AM

Interesting discussion. 

I was struck by Merson’s comment that data rates beyond the minimum specification do not matter.  The history of our industry is filled with stories that reliably and consistently prove such comments wrong.  If the current measurement technique does not seem to correspond with or document the audio or video performance differences between two different components or cables, then we are measuring the wrong thing.  Differences in performance continue to be audible and visible in products that seem to measure identically.  This proves only that we have yet to discover the specific characteristic or measurement that corresponds to the perceived difference.  Blanket statements that ????? doesn’t matter are not helpful to our progress as an industry.

Posted by AACTrent  on  08/27  at  11:39 AM


Are you claiming that products can somehow be intentionally designed to take advantage of forces that science cannot measure, define, explain, or understand?

How can an undiscovered characteristic or measurement be designed into a product?

On the contrary, statements that basically claim that high end cables are magical are not helpful to our progress as an industry.

Posted by Michael Hamilton  on  08/27  at  11:56 AM

@ AACTrent

Are you inferring that you’ve never had the pleasure of dialing in the “clock face” time of Shun Mook Mpingo discs?

Stop with the sheltered life….live man, live! smile

Posted by jeffzek  on  08/27  at  12:12 PM

What a great technology =(.  How long has HDMI been out, since 2002?  It amazes me that this standard has been around this long and still has this many problems.  Nothing like having Hollywood and their influence to drive a frustrating technology that everyone is stuck with.  For all of their pirating concerns, the technology they are behind is not, and will not, stem the tide of piracy.  Hollywood needs to figure out a new business model.

Posted by AACTrent  on  08/27  at  02:13 PM


I must admit - I had to Google that one.

For anyone else who’s interested in having their head explode on a Friday afternoon:

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