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Why is sound quality subjective?

post #1 of 38
Thread Starter 
I cannot seem to figure out why sound quality is viewed as a subjective thing. The goal is to reproduce an audible event without having to be at the location at the same time that it is being produced. At the location that the event took place, the sound waves passed through a point (mic, ears) in a particular form. Does it not make sense then that audio reproduction should have an objective measure? Obviously since the system is analog for much of the transmission, there are many factors that would contribute to the reproduction of the waveform at another particular location, but in the end there is a measurable goal. Is it just too expensive/hard to test this, too hard to convince people that a $xxxx product is more accurate than a $xxxxx one, or that is it just too hard to get people to accept that certain sound is indeed inaccurate after they spend $xxxxx on an audio system focusing on a certain "distortion"?

Any thoughts?
post #2 of 38
In my opinion, there is no true way to hear the way the musician wants the recording to sound outside of the studio it was recorded in. All equipment is different. if you change the monitor speakers in a studio, you will end up mixing differently. All of this is subjective, because as we tune our listening systems, we basically make the music sound how we want it. and since all of us hear things differently, (and we do), there is really no way to ever be sure that what we hear, is what someone else hears. This is why some love grado for its brightness, some hate it.
so, in my humble belief, you will never hear exactly what the musician wants you to hear, BUT, you can make it sound unbelievably good.
post #3 of 38
Most listeners have no objective gauge of accuracy and they, despite whatever they claim/believe, are merely looking for a sound they enjoy/prefer listening to. In terms of what is the cause of that subjective difference, no idea and it seems unimportant. I find it's best to talk in relative terms since many Head-fi'ers will have tried certain equipment. Usually when I'm assessing whether I should purchase something I'm thinking 'A sounds similar to B and B sounds kind of like C and I like listening to C'. It's that simple for the majority of the audio market.
post #4 of 38
Thread Starter 
I agree that it really does not really matter for listening to music, but in science, I think it would be important to be able to recreate certain sonic properties in a space. I do not know how feasible that is, but assuming that something can be reproduced to 99.999%, 98%, whatever, wouldn't you then be able to make the case that system A is better than B.

If this technology is possible and feasible outside of science, then one would assume that well established recording studios would invest in whatever provides the 99.999% realistic recording and then consumers would be able to purchase with confidence knowing that, for all practical purposes, their system is being compared to a standard and is placed on a known scale.

I am not trying to start an argument about whether we hear differently, but dont we, as critical listeners, want to be as close to what we would hear if at the ideal concert in the ideal seat as possible?
post #5 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by jvgig View Post
I agree that it really does not really matter for listening to music, but in science, I think it would be important to be able to recreate certain sonic properties in a space. I do not know how feasible that is, but assuming that something can be reproduced to 99.999%, 98%, whatever, wouldn't you then be able to make the case that system A is better than B.

If this technology is possible and feasible outside of science, then one would assume that well established recording studios would invest in whatever provides the 99.999% realistic recording and then consumers would be able to purchase with confidence knowing that, for all practical purposes, their system is being compared to a standard and is placed on a known scale.
I think (correct me if I'm wrong) the problem is objectively recording sound. Even though sound waves follow fundamental mathematical and physical laws, there's no way to perfectly capture them in any way. All microphones are non-perfect, they're subjectively equalised and they have physical limitations, so all recordings are fundamentally flawed. Sure they sound almost the same to the original instrument (otherwise we wouldn't be here), but that means there's no need for 100% accurate reproduction of inherently flawed recordings. I don't think it's possible to define 100% audio accuracy with current recording technology.




EK
post #6 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by jvgig View Post
I cannot seem to figure out why sound quality is viewed as a subjective thing. The goal is to reproduce an audible event without having to be at the location at the same time that it is being produced. At the location that the event took place, the sound waves passed through a point (mic, ears) in a particular form. Does it not make sense then that audio reproduction should have an objective measure? Obviously since the system is analog for much of the transmission, there are many factors that would contribute to the reproduction of the waveform at another particular location, but in the end there is a measurable goal. Is it just too expensive/hard to test this, too hard to convince people that a $xxxx product is more accurate than a $xxxxx one, or that is it just too hard to get people to accept that certain sound is indeed inaccurate after they spend $xxxxx on an audio system focusing on a certain "distortion"?

Any thoughts?
The keywords are highlighted. Although what others have mentioned I also agree with (subjective taste etc), the main problem is that when you're somewhere listening to live music, your own head, shoulders and ears are there doing the recording (and filtering) for you. They provide a specific sound (called a head-related transfer response) that your brain has learned to process and decode into a realistic spatial listening experience for you. The presently used recording techniques can't accomplish the required personalised listening experience.
post #7 of 38
What about physical differences between people? The size and shape of your ears makes a difference, as does the condition of your hearing. Moreover, hearing is interpreted by your brain. If you're a musician, your brain rewires itself differently. I think that has quite a bit to do with how you perceive and process sound, independent of the gear.
post #8 of 38
Thread Starter 
It is true that different people have physical differences that marginally affect the sound they hear; however, the same sound waves hit that person as they would if a different person were in the same location, so it should be possible to record an audio performance for human listening that is 99% accurate and again distributed with 99% accuracy (assuming cost was no object).

For this application 100% accuracy would not be required for the aforementioned differences between human ear construction and the limitations of human hearing.

This is very similar to color accuracy in displays. There are ways to record and distribute the information with extremely high accuracy, but just because a monitor can be set to those "ideal" standards with computerized calibration, the individual may still boost a certain color or play with sharpness to achieve a perceived "better than perfect" image; although the resulting image is distorted.
post #9 of 38
I guess I'm confused at this point to what the OP is looking for. are you asking if it is possible to make an exact recording of something? or are you speaking on the performance of the gear playing that recording?

This is a very difficult thing to try to discuss, as there are so many factors. but hey, interesting none the less

op - please re-ask your question, if I may be "that guy"
post #10 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by Uncle Erik View Post
What about physical differences between people? The size and shape of your ears makes a difference, as does the condition of your hearing. Moreover, hearing is interpreted by your brain. If you're a musician, your brain rewires itself differently. I think that has quite a bit to do with how you perceive and process sound, independent of the gear.

That's a point, but I'd go further.
It's not just the difference between the people or how their brains learned to cope with sounds.
I'd say that even the time of day or everyones daily rhythm has a huge influence on the perception of sound.
If you break it down to volume only...
In the morning I just can't listen to "loud" sounds. Even a conversation at an otherwise usual volume will split my ears. As the day goes on I become less sensitive towards higher volumes and in the evening I crank up the volume on speakers or headphones. Also I become less sensitive towards shrill highs.
At night the ears kind of reset themselves and hearing becomes more sensitive again.
So I would say that SQ is highly subjective.



I wouldn't say that the goal is to reproduce an audible event as accurate as possible. Maybe that's true for scientists, audiophiles or musicians, but the music industry has a different goal. They don't invest in artists to get a 100% accurate reproduction of their sounds. They invest to get quick and good results in selling records.
post #11 of 38
Because not all audiophiles seek an accurate, 'artist intended' sound. Some people like coloration in their sound.
post #12 of 38
Let me see:
* Physical differences. Head and ear size/shape, ...
* Listening environment.
* Different brains.
* and I am sure more.
post #13 of 38
Sound quality may be subjective but sound accuracy is not, when they design earphones speakers etc they have a goal and that is usually to recreate the source without colouring it (although some brands do the opposite).
post #14 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by astroid View Post
Sound quality may be subjective but sound accuracy is not, when they design earphones speakers etc they have a goal and that is usually to recreate the source without colouring it (although some brands do the opposite).
not 100% true. In developing microphones, they are all colored, they all bring out certain areas of what they are recording. I forgot which company right now, but they developed a mic that reproduced the voice exactly, with no coloration at all, and people hated it, it was a flop. thats why some old vintage microphones are sought after. they color just right. so even from the dawn, we have been focused on making good sounding recordings, not necessarily "accurate" recordings.

as they say, "its all in the mix"
post #15 of 38
The funny thing is that audio seems incredibly subjective until you get to "summit-fi", or highest end audio. In the 300-500 dollar range, everyone has their own preferences, and dislikes, yet I think pretty much everyone agrees that the Orpheus is the best headphone ever made- and even if they don't they tip their hat to it and probably prefer something else because they like the way it skews the sound.

In the 300-500 dollar range, headphones must make sacrifices, manufacturers focus on one aspect of the sound and another is left sub-par. Grados focus on midrange and treble attack, detail, but they sacrifice a balanced/neutral sound, and soundstage of course. The AKG K701 focuses on that airy, detailed sound, and they sacrifice body and weight, and bass response. etc, etc.

In this price range, people decide what is most important to them, and ignore the rest. But if we can have it all, the detail, the soundstage, the weight, the natural tonal reproduction, good, detailed bass response, etc like in the HE90, then everyone likes it.

So what I'm saying is that I don't think audio is that subjective, but that when we can't have perfection, we make sacrifices and choose what is most important to us. This is also backed up by the notion that headphones are good with certain genres of music, which IMO, is just because certain headphones are so unbalanced in their strengths, that they only work with genres that highlight those parts of the spectrum. The more all-round well balanced (though budget) headphones I own do everything equally well- though of course they do nothing as well as the orpheus
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