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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Defending a Monster

Posted on May 20, 2010 at 12:59 PM

For someone who has really done SO much for this industry, who battles a debilitating physically challenging condition, and who has been nothing but likable on the several occasions I’ve met him and heard him speak, Noel Lee, Monster Cable’s “Head Monster” is frequently vilified and treated like, well, a monster.

CE Pro recently ran an article where readers could post questions to ask Noel. Of the comments, the majority of them were just open attacks. “How do you sleep at night?” “Why are you so evil?” “Why do you claim to be a small family owned company yet earn many millions a year?”

Virtually any time the topic of cabling arises in any Internet forum or chat room, there are immediate, vicious attacks towards higher-end products, but the vast majority of these attacks are leveled specifically at Monster Cable. Often the claim is that they are unnecessary and that anyone spending the money on a Monster Cable has either been A) ripped off or is B) functionally retarded. A recent blog that made its way around the Web was entitled, “Why you should never pay more than $10 for an HDMI cable.” Ultimately it arrived at the decision of purchasing a Monster HDMI cable by answering the question, “Would you rather feed 500 starving children or be a douche nozzle.”

Why the anger? Why so much hostility?

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Noel on the telephone. (And I must say a big THANK YOU! to Matt and Sara over at DBA Public Relations for arranging the phone time.) And when speaking with him, the first thing you notice is that this is a CEO who totally knows his sh--. It’s instantly apparent that Noel Lee is not some guy who wanders – or Segways – around, disconnected, randomly signing off on stuff. He is super knowledgeable and can give you a detailed, exhaustingly thorough answer on why things are the way things are. My conversation with him was a spur of the moment thing (I called DBA to ask something cabling related – specifically about HDMI 1.4 standards – and Noel happened to be sitting right there). Clearly he had no time to prep or cue up notes. There was no stammering or searching for an answer. When there were figures to cite, he cited them, spot on, speaking with a speed and dexterity that my pen could barely keep up with.

In a nutshell, Noel believes in making cabling that is forward looking. Instead of just meeting the minimum requirements for today, he feels strongly that high performance companies and installers should be looking ahead towards tomorrow when things like 4k resolution, Deep Color, higher refresh rates and 3D are commonplace. This is especially true in cables of any length (4meters and above) where Noel explains that “there is a logarithmic drop in bandwidth over distance.” The HDMI performance standard has been *constantly* evolving, so to assume that we will see changes that will call for more bandwidth in time is certainly not much of a stretch. Noel is looking “beyond 1.4” to bandwidths of 15.8 and above so that his cabling will be prepared for technologies past the current generation.

For anything over 6-feet, Noel recommends purchasing the best, highest throughput cable that you can afford, as data rates are definitely respective of length. This is even more so if the cable is kinked, twisted or smashed with a staple or any other little thing during installation that can negatively affect the transfer rate. Lee also pointed out that the customer will never blame the cable when there are picture problems -- things like sparkles and drop outs or 3D images that revert to 2D. The user will look to the TV, the Blu-ray player, or the installer.

But regardless of what you think about the NEED for ultra-extravagant cabling, I don’t understand why there is so much hatred towards Monster Cable and Noel Lee specifically. First, in the world of high-end cables, Monster isn’t even really *that* expensive. There are many companies that sell FAR more expensive products. Also, it isn’t like Monster is selling faulty products; their cables work exactly as advertised. Just because cheaper alternatives are available doesn’t mean that the more expensive options are evil or that the company offering them is knowingly ripping people off or that the people that choose that option are “douche nozzles.” I never look out the window of my Honda and say that the guy in a Ferrari is a douche or that he was stupid for the decision to spend more -- a ton more -- for performance. Will he drive around at 200+ MPH? Probably never.

So, can you buy a cable at a fraction of the price of a Monster (or any other premium brand) that will work? Yes. Does Monster manufacture and sell cabling that is often far more expensive than other options? Yes. Is the Monster Cable of better construction? Possibly yes, possible no. Monster uses superior materials like silver coated conductors, larger gauge wire, gold terminations, nitrogen filled dielectric, lifetime guarantees, etc. It is a known level of quality which is generally lacking in no-name cabling. Does Monster offer superior performance? They move all of the data from the source to the display, but so do many lower-priced cables. Does it offer extreme performance? Monster offers cabling up to 21 Gbps data transfer. Will you need this performance? Now? Possibly, if you have a really long cable run where the bandwidth drops off severely. Will you need it in the future? Who can say.

I’d like to use a watch analogy. I own a Rolex Submariner. Can you buy a watch at a fraction of the price that also keeps time? Absolutely. Does my Rolex cost more than most other options? Yes, about 120 times the price of a $50 Timex. It does have superior construction, a sapphire crystal, stainless steel bracelet, and hand-built, 31 jewel movement. Does it offer superior performance? Actually, my Sub runs a bit fast and is not anywhere near as accurate as a Timex with a Quartz movement. Does it offer extreme performance? It is rated waterproof to 1000 feet where the Timex would implode. Will I ever use/need this performance? Not unless I fall off the side of a ship, at which point knowing the time will be the farthest thing from my mind.

I think the real crux of the problem is that people are displacing their anger towards Monster. I have heard *several* people tell me that Best Buy employees have told them that their new 120-hertz TVs will NOT work without a special, 120-hertz rated Monster Cable. This is a lie, plain and simple. The TV performs the 120-hertz processing internally, and no special cabling is required. Is this Monster’s fault? Do they send trainers around to indoctrinate salespeople with these lies? I don’t know, but I seriously doubt it. I do know that none of MY Monster training has ever included any lies like this, or suggestions of connecting one TV with HDMI and another with composite to show the differences between “good” and “cheap” cables. If you or someone you know was "tricked" into buying a $100 cable for your $150 Blu-ray player, this is not Monster's fault. Blame the store and salesperson. However, it still isn't like you were sold a bill of goods; the cable does exactly what it is supposed to, sending the highest quality image to the TV.

Also, with the blog-o-culture out there, everyone with a computer and an Internet connection is suddenly an "expert." The phrase “I didn’t see or hear any difference” means a lot less to me coming from someone who has been reviewing gear for all of about 6 months and who’s “reference rig” includes speakers that I wouldn’t consider fit to connect to my computer and a video display that likely isn’t calibrated and that was purchased based on the recommendation of some other, similarly qualified “expert.” Most of these new "reviewers" have no sense of true high-end. Give them some earbuds, an MP3 player and something that makes a picture and they seem to be happy; any more is superfluous. The majority of these people have some bone to pick with almost ANY product that carries a premium pricetag, likely because they can't afford it themselves. Hopefully they will some day learn that expensive does not equal evil. 

My system is wired with Monster Cable. My Pioneer Elite Plasma and Marantz video projector look stunning. My video and audio never drops out (unless my cable box is having a problem....DAMN YOU DEEE-VEEEE-ARRRR!"). Could I get the same results from a lesser priced cable? Maybe. But I don't care. Of all the things I have to worry over, my cabling isn't one of them.

Categories: May 2010, Rants, Electronics

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1 Comment

Reply Jeremy Glowacki
4:18 PM on May 20, 2010 
I have to say that even though I've always had mixed feelings about Monster (I like Noel Lee personally, but I can't alway believe what he's "selling,") I can't argue with your points. There are still a lot of unanswered questions stated in this post, of course, but it helps to read what you've experienced personally in your Monster training. I also see your point about the willingness of some consumers to buy higher priced products, whether they need them or not.