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The Emperor's New Clothes

post #1 of 29
Thread Starter 



Like the Emperor's New Clothes, many people let themselves be conned into believing that a higher truth exists, even if they cannot hear it. There is no disputing that hearing can be improved with practice and that you can learn to recognize detail, but that is certainly not the same as imagining something that doesn't exist to begin with. And, logically speaking, just because a large number of people believe something does not alone make it the truth. Even more important, all the audiophile tweaks in the world are meaningless compared to such basics as installing proper acoustic treatment in the control room and using solid engineering techniques.


It is difficult to prove or disprove issues like those I have presented here because human auditory perception is so fragile and our memory is so short. With A/B testing - where you switch between one version of a signal and another to audition the difference - it is mandatory that the switch be performed very quickly. If it takes you fifteen minutes to hook up a replacement amplifier, it will be very hard to tell if there truly was a difference, compared to being able to switch between the two amps in less than a second. Even when switching quickly, it is important that both amplifiers be set to exactly the same volume level.


When all else is equal, people will generally pick the brighter (or just louder) version as sounding better, unless of course the sound already was too loud or bright. People will sometimes report a difference even in an "A/A" test, where nothing at all has changed! And just because something sounds "better," it is not necessarily higher fidelity. Goosing the treble and bass or adding a little compression often makes a track sound better, but that doesn't mean the result is more faithful to the original source material.


Psychological factors like expectation and fatigue also play an important part in one's assessment of sound, even when nothing physical has changed. If I brag to someone about how great my studio's playback system sounds and then that person comes over to hear it, my system always sounds worse to me while we're both listening. Finally, it's important to consider the source of any claim, though someone's financial interest in a product doesn't mean the claims are exaggerated or untrue either. But there's probably more than a little truth to the popular sentiment, "The most important person in a company that makes audiophile speaker wire is the head of marketing." 

post #2 of 29

Well I'm glad you've explained it all for me. I'll just start selling my stuff right now then.

post #3 of 29

I am not sure what to make of your post.

It seems you wrote down some of your thoughts/finding but without making it into a fitting whole.

But that's ok.


My own thoughts, right after I read yours is that I just trust my ears, I don't care much about 'truth' or 'faithful to the original source material', if for instance compressing a track would result in making the music more listenable, then why not?

I am listening for my own pleasure, why would I purposely annoy my ears with a bright, crap recorderd cd if I could just turn the treble a bit down?

That said, I do feel the gear must at least have a hint of neutrality in order to make the best of everything, although I am not sure what I mean by that :)

post #4 of 29

Come over to the sound science forum evil_smiley.gif- the home of deep discussions on the psychology of preference, bias and auditory self-delusion.  An added bonus is a license to discuss DBT, the only way to factor out all influences but pure auditory experience, which is sadly banned outside of that forum.

post #5 of 29
Well, I got rid of three sets of Beyer DT-48's including a DT-48S, 20 years ago, only to find out last week what an incredible difference the cushions make. You just never know, but Nirvana may be right at your fingertips and you'll never, ever know it.
post #6 of 29

There's a lot of truth in what you've written, Dubwicht. (In fact I'd dare to suggest it should be made a sticky). Your comments strike at the heart of much that's assumed here as self-evident, like that A-B testing is inherently reliable even when there's a time lapse such as when changing cables. Personally I'm not even certain that A-B testing is reliable when it's instant, as many of the differences are simply too subtle to show up as anything but a vague impression during longer term listening. However, not many people are going to listen for twenty minutes using one component then twenty minutes with the next; so we end up with a heap of meaningless hyperbole like, "The Aztec 430 just blows the 320 out of the water" -- "I changed the op amp in my Zeus 22 and just couldn't believe it--it sounded like a different amp" etc. Unfortunately most of the posts here (and elsewhere) can be dismissed out of hand as the result of inexperience, impulsiveness or just plain over-excitement.    


I also like your observation about one's system not sounding as good when demonstrating it to someone else (and here I thought it was just me!). Again this ably demonstrates the unreliability of subjective impressions and how affected they are by mood and circumstance. Another example: I wonder how many people have bought a new component, spent the evening marvelling at how much better it sounds, then got up the next morning to have another listen only to find that the great sound of last night has deteriorated into something no better than you had before. A very perplexing hobby, hi-fi.

post #7 of 29

There is a thread about "craps songs" that people have found themselves liking when they listened on their awesome headphones. I think that pretty much sums up a lot of this forum. Not to mention my other favourite, "non-audiophile reactions to audiophile headphones".

post #8 of 29
Thread Starter 


 These are actually not my words.  I pinched them from this article:




I particularly like this line:


"The biggest variables in audio quality come from transducers - microphones and loudspeakers that, being mechanical devices, must physically vibrate. When assessing frequency response and distortion, the finest loudspeakers in the world are far worse than the cheapest electronic device. And any room you put the speakers in will exaggerate that already poor response even further. "


I hate to see people waste money on hyped equipment that does not significantly alter the listening experience.  However, speakers/headphones are important and there can be a big difference between models.  I have been building audio speakers for about 10 years and driver selection is critical to the sound and each driver combination is audibly different.  In the turntable days the cartridge made an audible difference in the sound quality.  In the digital age the difference between source devices is much less noticeable.  I believe that spending on quality headphones and speakers is worth it to a point depending on the budget.  My Hifiman HE-5’s sound audibly  better than my Beyerdynamic DT990’s even though the 990’s sound quite good. 


I would like to see headphone amplifier reviewers try this test.  Have someone cover the amplifiers and do a blind sound test and if you can identify each amplifier you indeed have golden ears.  I suggest that this would be very difficult!  Of course the amplifiers should be of reasonable quality. 


A great example is the Carver Challenge in 1985.  Please read this very interested article:




Carver challenged the experts at Stereophile magazine to differentiate between there reference amp and a $700 Carver amp and they could not.  These are folks that do this for living!   


post #9 of 29

Thank you for improving head-fi by cutting and pasting other peoples articles into your own posts. 


Originally Posted by Dubwicht View Post 


A great example is the Carver Challenge in 1985.  Please read this very interested article:




Carver challenged the experts at Stereophile magazine to differentiate between there reference amp and a $700 Carver amp and they could not.  These are folks that do this for living!   


This borders on a strawman. Saying that a fairly inexpensive amp and a "reference" were indistiguishable without the minor detail of custom modification... look at my right hand, its the one im typing with. pay no attention to the fact that Im really cutting and pasting someone elses article with my left.


The carver amp challenge was Bob carver Smacking stereophile in the face for saying he was a talent-less designer. 


The amplifier used was HIGHLY modified, and not a production unit. Anyone who reads the article will quickly see that the STOCK amp and the "un-named" amp it was to go up against sounded HUGELY different at first. He simply wanted to prove that he could design anything he wanted to, but designed his amps to sound the way his target customers wanted them to sound. 


Dont let yourself be a crow and fall for this scarecrows. SOME amps or preamps do sound different, so do SOME CD players. There are larger and more reliably found differences in transdeucers, but if you think that all electronic devices sound the same you have been lied to.

post #10 of 29
Originally Posted by Dubwicht View Post


Carver challenged the experts at Stereophile magazine to differentiate between there reference amp and a $700 Carver amp and they could not.  These are folks that do this for living!   


That's not the only thing the article says. The article says the experts could easily differentiate between the amplifiers at first, but then not after the carver designer had modified his to sound identical.

post #11 of 29
Thread Starter 

The point is that the amplfier even after adjustment cost only $700.  I can't imagine the cost of the reference amp! 


Here is an interesting test a fellow did with a friend between an expensive Bryston combo and a $200 Onkyo rig.  There are many many examples out there yet the high end gear continues to sell.  People dis integrated chips yet designers have the most control over outputs and the distortion levels are amazingly low.  From what I have read the bottom line is moving a signal from the source to the speaker with the lowest distortion possible.  In my opinion high end amps and preamps are more about collecting  and having the latest and greatest than the sound (sell the sizzle).  Some argue that the new stuff is superior because of modern technology and better parts.  Why is it that tube amplifiers using 1950's technology is all the rage in audio circles?  Perhaps moder parts are more reliable but there is no scientific evidence to prove that capacitors and resistors sound different. 



post #12 of 29

You are not accounting for the design time spent on the Mass produced carver amp, or the several days he spent essentially redesigning it. 


Why does it bother you that people want to buy nice things?


Some gear DOES sound different. The goal is partially achieved through low distortion, but that is not mandatory: many amps that sound different, and are almost unuversally liked dont measure particularly well at first glance. Single ended tube amps for example seldom measure well on paper, but have TONS of loyal followers.

post #13 of 29
Amps really do sound and behave differently. You can tease this out through a number of repeatable experiments and measurements. Unlike some audiophile "products," you can run a battery of tests on an amp with a variety of test gear, find actual differences and others can repeat those tests using different test gear. That's science.

These "all amps sound the same" tests are usually full of holes. I saw one where this was asserted and people couldn't tell the difference. However, if you read the test's rules, you would come to a much different conclusion. The rules excluded anything with tubes and amps with different topologies. In light of the rules, the results would be better described as "all amps sound the same except for the ones that don't." If you're going to exclude a DHT SET from comparison against a class AB transistor amp, that is an admission that there is a real difference between the two.

When that's pointed out, you usually get an argument in response that because a DHT amp isn't accurate enough, it shouldn't be compared.

Again, nonsense. A lot of us love DHT amps and their wonderful mids.

If you want to argue that you can get very good sound from a $50 receiver connected to good speakers, I'll agree. You don't have to spend a ton for solid state on speakers to sound good. However, there's still value in high-end amps, especially tubes. Doing tubes right costs money and there's also labor required for good build quality. A solid build and a nice case are worth it to some of us. As is the sound - a well-made tube amp can sound different from anything else, regardless of price. If you don't want to pay that much or build it yourself, then you can go with an inexpensive option. Nothing wrong with that. But many of us get a lot of pleasure from a high quality amp.
post #14 of 29

This thread makes me wonder.

I may be totally off base with this so please don't shoot me if I am! I'm no expert in high end audio, and this is only what I've gathered from a lot of reading over the last few years. Over at gearslutz.com they talk about something I think they call the 'straight wire' microphone preamp. That's a preamp that basically just takes the signal from the mic and amplifies it with as little distortion or color as possible. In other words, it's very transparent...what comes out is the same as what went in....only what comes out is much louder. FWIR, you can get a very good amp of this sort for under $400. It's made by Grace, and it's highly regarded as giving a clear detailed signal free of color. I would imagine you can get a very good headphone amp like that for around the same price. So what makes people lust after the vintage neve preamps and the like and spend several thousand bucks to get one? It's the color they're adding....though you may wish to call it 'magic' or 'vibe'....it's still basically color as far as I can see. Nothing essentially wrong with that. If I had the bucks for a nice tube amp I'd like try one myself. I'm also curious if I could differentiate between an expensive ss amp and the LD mkV that I have now that cost $200 second hand. I try to keep an open mind, but I have a feeling that the difference wouldn't be all that noticeable unless one just happens to have better synergy with one of my phones. I'm more than willing to be proven wrong if someone wants to ship me one for a test using the k702. 

post #15 of 29



     Why arent threads like this being moved straight into 'Sound Science' ??


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