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Some thoughts about evidence and subjectivity

post #1 of 48
Thread Starter 
I am often surprised by the hysteria with which some people attack evidence-based assessments of audio equipment. I've thought about it a bit and came to the conclusion that much of the hostility stems from a misunderstanding of the implications of subjectivity.

Take burn-in as an example. It's fairly well-established that the effects of burn-in are minuscule, and that the fantastic changes in sound quality people often report are subjective and properly accounted for by psychoacoustics. The problem is that people often reflexively take 'subjective' to imply 'counterfeit' or 'fictitious'. They read into the term accusatory or pejorative overtones, and they shouldn't. The fact that the change is subjective does not mean that it's not real, or significant, or that a person is lying when they report a markedly different listening experience from a pair headphones they've recently acquired. The change is real. It's just being attributed to the wrong piece of equipment, so to speak.

We should delight in the fact that our brains are capable of gradually adapting themselves to new inputs, particularly since the adaptation is positive in the overwhelming majority of cases, if Head-Fi is at all representative. Your brain is, in away, the finest piece of audiophile equipment you'll ever own.

Here's a lighthearted suggestion for anyone who feels let down by the thought that burn-in is subjective. Think of Subjective™ as the very finest makers of audiophile equipment, and of yourself as the proud owner of their flagship product, the Subjective Mind™. It is incalculably finer and more sophisticated than anything else on the market. It features Subjective's revolutionary and patented Psychoacoustics™ technology, which is actually capable (among other things) of steadily increasing your enjoyment of a new pair of headphones. Not too shabby now, is it?
post #2 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by zelak View Post
Here's a lighthearted suggestion for anyone who feels let down by the thought that burn-in is subjective. Think of Subjective™ as the very finest makers of audiophile equipment, and of yourself as the proud owner of their flagship product, the Subjective Mind™. It is incalculably finer and more sophisticated than anything else on the market. It features Subjective's revolutionary and patented Psychoacoustics™ technology, which is actually capable (among other things) of steadily increasing your enjoyment of a new pair of headphones. Not too shabby now, is it?
HA!

Perfect!

Great post. Thanks!

se
post #3 of 48
Great post. I think you are right that people take the possible fallibility of their own experience as a slight instead of thinking of it as actually pretty cool. It's odd because most people think optical illusions are interesting and wouldn't feel insulted by anyone suggesting what they experienced was mostly in their head.

http://www.ritsumei.ac.jp/~akitaoka/rotsnake.gif

Somehow it's a bone of contention in the audio hobby, it would be great if we all had a lighter touch as you suggest.
post #4 of 48
This is a great post and summarizes some of my own thoughts. IMHO, people often take this suggestion as a negative because it implies they made a foolish purchasing decision. That may not be true with burn-in, but it definitely applies to cables and power cords or power conditioning products.
post #5 of 48

Burn In...

very good!

I can somewhat understand burn in having some effect on drivers in loudspeakers/headphones - as those are actually mechanical devices and we accept that car engines for example can and do benefit from "seating" in. Aside from that... I really just can't get my mind around cables etc. benefitting at all from this and in the case of tubes, LPs or stylus etc, that these mechanical components are actually wearing out over with each use (being mechanical)
post #6 of 48
Oh, come on.

Head-Fi wouldn't be half as much fun without the Magical Realism.

I love cables, burn in, cryo, anthropomorphic metals, etc. every bit as much as much as I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez' books, cryptozoology, the UFO Museum in Roswell, quack medicine, and anything similar.

The difference is that I don't take any of those seriously. Well, I take the Marquez books seriously, but I don't believe they are a literal description of reality.

The various scams, follies and outright lies people fall for and believe in are amazing and always entertaining.
post #7 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by Uncle Erik View Post
Oh, come on.

Head-Fi wouldn't be half as much fun without the Magical Realism.

I love cables, burn in, cryo, anthropomorphic metals, etc. every bit as much as much as I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez' books, cryptozoology, the UFO Museum in Roswell, quack medicine, and anything similar.

The difference is that I don't take any of those seriously. Well, I take the Marquez books seriously, but I don't believe they are a literal description of reality.

The various scams, follies and outright lies people fall for and believe in are amazing and always entertaining.
...and people who have backed up their magical thinking with their hard-earned dough can get defensive when it is pointed out they could get the same effect with a marvelous piece of gear...the human brain! The defensive reaction is in direct proportion to the smugness with which the message is delivered.
post #8 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by zelak View Post
I am often surprised by the hysteria with which some people attack evidence-based assessments of audio equipment. I've thought about it a bit and came to the conclusion that much of the hostility stems from a misunderstanding of the implications of subjectivity.
Quality post :-) . I'd can't help but to use a little Artistic license, if I may, and clarify a few key points.

"I am often surprised by the hysteria with which some people attack evidence-based assessments of Life. I've thought about it a bit and came to the conclusion that much of the hostility stems from a misunderstanding "

Hehe.Having wrote that though I can understand why many people can not swallow some scientific 'evidence'.As science looks for answers other than Rhythms it seem to use allot of theory based 'not 100%' proved facts to back up some wild claims which undermines the genuine facts,based on real physical evidence.

For example popular scientific fact states the myth that the sun is a non infinite source of power .And that one day it will die and become a super nova etc etc .My logical understanding of life and existence shows that everything in life is built upon something else with no exceptions,all is connected.

Relativity if you will. The sun is a primary source for life .A foundation.The laws in which evolution moves in this life are of course and effect.

Evolutions method is survival.In fact the key ingredient for life is the knowledge of survival, even if only by the passing on of D.N.A.

Knowing that all is connected as 1 .The sun is infinite as is life .And is too far away for scientists to completely understand with their method of calculation.

Of course the pure logical truth is not subjective at all ( I'm right and if you don't agree then you must be wrong ;-)).Though everything is relative ,so even two people speaking the exact same 1 truth will be saying it in different ways.

For me and I'm sure many others that is the beauty of sound .

It speaks one language for all humanity.
post #9 of 48
Zelak -- Fantastic post. Best of the year so far.

And that's my subjective opinion.
post #10 of 48
I think my wife is prettier today than the day I married her. If that makes me a fool, I can live with that. Burn in beats burn out in my book.
.
post #11 of 48
Good post - but at the same time, it's something of a shame that it has to be posted, especially given the content of the trainwreck that was the burn-in thread.


The problem is, that the level of complete, uncontrolled subjectivity is at the 'core wisdom' of so many opinions that are taken for granted by this community as a whole. So while you could argue the case for objectivity, it's actually a far bigger job, since complete subjectivity which simply happens to agree with a decent chunk of the community since we're not that dissimilar forms a key part of what the community assumes to be true.


If we don't make some sort of move away from total subjectivity, we'll never get away from the impassioned, ego-driven-I'm-right-and-you're-wrong arguments that can break out from time to time, because it is foolish to argue, and ultimately fruitless to counter-argue, a point that only has real relevance to each individual's unique point of view. I for one am sick and tired of the unsatisfying way most halfway civilised arguments end: "Well, I think we'll agree to disagree because it's my ears that counts in the end". That is rubbish. If you're going to argue on the basis of your own total uncontrolled subjectivity, don't bring the damned argument in the first place.


Why haven't I been an active member of Head-Fi? It's not entirely because I'm 'done'. Although at the upper and I am, I've made plenty of movements in the mid-fi space since I stopped actively participating. I stopped participating since I fully realised that the way I evaluate what is better (and this is for my own benefit, when I buy something that is billed to be better, I like to actually know it's better beyond what my ego / need to justify an expensive purchase tells me) has absolutely no fit in how the Head-Fi community at large works. No-one else seems to spend a substantial portion of their audio gear spend on test gear. No-one else seems to spend time thinking up control methodologies. I'm not saying subjectivism is completely irrelevant, but it has to have a basis in something quantifiable... because far more often that not, we're not actually talking about "What I like". We're talking about "What is better".


It's why I've ended up completely dismissing every single review ever written in publications like 6moons. When I buy what they're reviewing and subject it to a controlled test, it becomes absolutely apparent that it's not even being reviewed under experienced relative subjectivism: As far as I can work out, it simply comes down to how much it costs, how plausible it looks and feels, and how the reviewer was feeling that day. Like law, the involvement of music somehow seems to make us lose sight of a good chunk of common sense.


I can't say how to make it better, since it requires a shift in the way you think about writing about your opinions. It also requires a lot more preparation - a big part of why I never got around to finishing reviews I started writing. I can write for England but since I have a life, the work involved in producing a review I can actually call valid sometimes takes too long. But I can say what's broken. Sorry to end on a downer.
post #12 of 48
a strong asset to this theory is that burn-in never worsens things up hah...I used to be amazed by things like the LM4562 opamp for a few days, then always ended up finding them worthless 2 days later...burn-in doesn't always "work"
post #13 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by bangraman View Post
Good post - but at the same time, it's something of a shame that it has to be posted, especially given the content of the trainwreck that was the burn-in thread.


The problem is, that the level of complete, uncontrolled subjectivity is at the 'core wisdom' of so many opinions that are taken for granted by this community as a whole. So while you could argue the case for objectivity, it's actually a far bigger job, since complete subjectivity which simply happens to agree with a decent chunk of the community since we're not that dissimilar forms a key part of what the community assumes to be true.


If we don't make some sort of move away from total subjectivity, we'll never get away from the impassioned, ego-driven-I'm-right-and-you're-wrong arguments that can break out from time to time, because it is foolish to argue, and ultimately fruitless to counter-argue, a point that only has real relevance to each individual's unique point of view. I for one am sick and tired of the unsatisfying way most halfway civilised arguments end: "Well, I think we'll agree to disagree because it's my ears that counts in the end". That is rubbish. If you're going to argue on the basis of your own total uncontrolled subjectivity, don't bring the damned argument in the first place.


Why haven't I been an active member of Head-Fi? It's not entirely because I'm 'done'. Although at the upper and I am, I've made plenty of movements in the mid-fi space since I stopped actively participating. I stopped participating since I fully realised that the way I evaluate what is better (and this is for my own benefit, when I buy something that is billed to be better, I like to actually know it's better beyond what my ego / need to justify an expensive purchase tells me) has absolutely no fit in how the Head-Fi community at large works. No-one else seems to spend a substantial portion of their audio gear spend on test gear. No-one else seems to spend time thinking up control methodologies. I'm not saying subjectivism is completely irrelevant, but it has to have a basis in something quantifiable... because far more often that not, we're not actually talking about "What I like". We're talking about "What is better".


It's why I've ended up completely dismissing every single review ever written in publications like 6moons. When I buy what they're reviewing and subject it to a controlled test, it becomes absolutely apparent that it's not even being reviewed under experienced relative subjectivism: As far as I can work out, it simply comes down to how much it costs, how plausible it looks and feels, and how the reviewer was feeling that day. Like law, the involvement of music somehow seems to make us lose sight of a good chunk of common sense.


I can't say how to make it better, since it requires a shift in the way you think about writing about your opinions. It also requires a lot more preparation - a big part of why I never got around to finishing reviews I started writing. I can write for England but since I have a life, the work involved in producing a review I can actually call valid sometimes takes too long. But I can say what's broken. Sorry to end on a downer.
This post was incredibly refreshing bangraman, i want to thank you for that, along with the OP though as well, both very well written
post #14 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by bangraman View Post
No-one else seems to spend a substantial portion of their audio gear spend on test gear. No-one else seems to spend time thinking up control methodologies. I'm not saying subjectivism is completely irrelevant, but it has to have a basis in something quantifiable... because far more often that not, we're not actually talking about "What I like". We're talking about "What is better".
mostly because SQ cannot be measured IMHO...THD/SNR/IMD don't mean jack in the end.

you can use a colorimeter to calibrate a video display, a measurement microphone to do a room correction EQ, a luxmeter to check a videprojector light homogeneity...but you can't measure "SQ".
post #15 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by leeperry View Post
a strong asset to this theory is that burn-in never worsens things up hah...I used to be amazed by things like the LM4562 opamp for a few days, then always ended up finding them worthless 2 days later...burn-in doesn't always "work"
Ah yes, half full, half empty.

I always wondered why any given tweak always improved the sound.

Such as why does recabling make headphone sound better when you have had to break open the shellls and pull the drivers out from where they have been seated and sealed since new and then you reassemble the whole thing and it sounds.....better.

Different, yes different I could go with.....but always better?

The human brain is a great instrument, am I likley to get an improves sound by taking anti-depressants or by buying some electrostatic headphones?

I have an eye problem from birth which results in double vision and yet there are times when my brain can suppress this and give me binocular vision without corrective lenses, and at other times it will completey ignore the dodgy signal and give me monocular vision....and yet for me what i see is reality, not your reality, but my reality, I have no idea what normal is, I have never had normal.

The one tweak that made a difference to me and two other listeners was when I added my M5ABV filter into the mains feed, my kids didnt know I had it and they both came into the music room and asked if I had bought a bigger amp because they could hear more bass and more.....like a live feel to the music.
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