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Suggestion and Autosuggestion in the Assessment of Audio Products

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
First to get an idea of what I mean by Suggestion and Autosuggestion I, er, suggest you have a read of this wikipedia entry on the brilliant Émile Coué:
 
 
It is my belief that this capability we have to change our own perceptions and experiences is being made to work against us in the area of Hi Fi.
 
The apparently democratic and liberal approach, that the consumer is to make his/her mind up about sound benefits in products in fact works against the interests of the consumer because the products are accompanied with information and hype which leads the consumer to hear benefits in them due to this suggestion. This is then compounded by autosuggestion on behalf of the consumer who continues to hear benefits or even starts to create their own patterns of autosuggestion when listening to audio systems.
 
All consumers of audio equipment are highly susceptible to suggestion and autosuggestion including myself. Engineers, designers, reviewers are all highly susceptible as well.
 
I believe that our experience of hearing can be altered to a very great extent by suggestion and autosuggestion. Unfortunately no academic work has been carried out on this in relation to Hi Fi users, however tremendous work has been carried out for the treatment of various audio related afflictions such as the experience of tinnitus and misophonia as well as hyperacusis. To study this work I recommend reading up on the works of Dr. Pawel J. Jastreboff. I think that his thorough scientific approach has revealed that suggestion and autosuggestion are extremely powerful in human hearing.
 
I want to address how I believe  suggestion and autosuggestion manifest themselves in audio perception. The manifestation is not that sounds actually change in themselves, we cannot, for example, listen to a violin and make ourselves believe it is a saxophone. However we have huge control over which aspects of sound we choose to listen to. This "control" is most often exerted subconsciously, but we can do it consciously. Please consider the following situation in which subconscious control of what we choose to hear is active.
 

You are at a party and you have had the misfortune of being engaged in conversation with an extremely boring person (it's not me!). Over the shoulder of the boring person and about two metres away a small group of people is exchanging gossip about a friend of yours. They are speaking in hushed tones.

 
I think that in that situation you will leave it with no idea or memory of what the boring person said, but you might well have heard every word of the gossip about your friend. Even though the boring person was only, perhaps, sixty centimetres away and addressing you directly, and the gossip about your friend was two metres away and spoken quietly.
 
Here is another situation:
 

You work and live in a big city. Outside your workplace is the sound of traffic. Outside your home is the sound of traffic. On a day to day basis you don't hear, or acknowledge this traffic. On an early Sunday morning you go for a jog. There is, you believe, no traffic and so you set off on your regular circuit enjoying the quiet. You start crossing a road while jogging, you didn't look because it is so early on Sunday and you believed there was not traffic. While crossing the road you hear a car.

 

When you hear the car in the situation above you will suddenly become extremely alert. Your subconscious knows this car represents a threat. You will look all around you for the car, you need to know where it is, you don't wish to be run down.

 
So, while jogging your subconscious, unknown to you, changed how it was going to perceive the sound of traffic. When working in your office your subconscious knew that there was no threat from traffic and so reduces your perception of it so that it is, if you like, taken off the radar of your hearing perception. When out jogging your subconscious knows that the sound of traffic is a potential threat and so it has placed the sound of traffic at the most important level of perception.
 
The part of hearing which is adjustable by the subconscious, or the conscious is not the sounds themselves, those remain constant, but rather aspects of the sounds and the importance of different sounds.
 
In the examples above we can see the flexible way in which we perceive sounds is of great benefit to us, but unfortunately in the world of Hi Fi this ability is being used against our interests.
 
A given Hi Fi product has advertising from the manufacturer, reviews and discussion around it. All of this forms the crucial suggestion which will influence your perception of the influence of that product in your audio system. Often you wish for a product to be beneficial, so you form your own autosuggestion subconsciously, willing yourself to hear benefits.
 
Compounding problems is a form of machismo in audio culture concerning your ability to hear differences. To say that you have tried out a product and you cannot hear any difference with it will often be interpreted by your peers as revealing some deficiency in your hearing. So the stakes are high, and your subconscious knows this. Your subconscious will help you out, if there is no difference from the product in your system your subconscious will utilise the suggested differences from reviewers and advertising and will hone in on those aspects of the sound, increasing your perception of "bass tightness" for example. You will indeed hear these "changes" and you will report them to your friends in discussion. You are happy that you are not one of the people that say they cannot hear differences.
 
The stakes are very much higher for audio reviewers than for the ordinary consumer. Audio culture has made it very difficult for the audio reviewer to report that he or she cannot hear differences between one audio component and another. The subconscious of the audio reviewer knows the stakes are high and so the subconscious will "help out" the audio reviewer making sure they can hear those differences. When the audio reviewer reports the differences they heard in their review they are not in any way being dishonest. Their conscious mind did indeed hear these differences, but it was their subconscious that did the necessary adjustments in their hearing to make sure that the conscious "heard" those differences.
 
In order for suggestion and autosuggestion to influence you the necessary triggers must be in place. If you are assessing product X simply knowing that product X is in use is the necessary trigger for suggestion and autosuggestion to influence your subconscious. You probably plugged in product X yourself and you will see clearly that it is in use. The trigger of seeing product X in your system will bring the baggage of suggestion about product X to your subconscious. As you probably paid for product X you will want to hear these differences and your subconscious will oblige.
 
For you to assess product X without the influence of suggestion and autosuggestion you must listen in a series of well conducted double blind listening tests. Obviously this is impractical for the regular consumer. I believe that audio reviewers must review equipment in the context of well conducted double blind listening tests. I believe that the influence of suggestion and autosuggestion is very strong indeed in audio and that a reviewer who has a sense of duty to his or her readers must review in an environment where the triggers are removed.

Edited by p a t r i c k - 1/8/13 at 10:59am
post #2 of 16

There is quite a bit of evidence to support Patrick on what he has said. A quick search on Google expands on what he has said quite a bit.Although if I paid eight hundred bucks or for that matter fifteen hundred bucks on a set of of headphone cables I would be very adamant that they sounded much better as well. There is much to be said about the power of suggestion..and also the power of the double blind test!

post #3 of 16

Yes, p a t r i c k, we all know that, but so what?

 

You might even know it if you were an audio reviewer, but what are you going to do for a living instead? It was basically because audio equipment was reaching a general level of quality that there wasn't any need for reviewers anymore that they invented all this 'subjective' BS in the first place.

 

The question is, how are we gonna change it? ...or maybe even - do we want to change it? After all, a lot of jobs depend on it. Virtually the whole of Head-Fi apart from Sound Science would disappear if it changed. Not to be controversial, or anything...

 

Did I say that?

 

No.biggrin.gif

 

I think it will eventually wither and die. Audiophiles are basically old guys. Old guys with money. Hell, I'm an old guy myself, I just don't have a load of money. Every now and then a young guy gets caught up in it, but not enough to replace the old guys that die. So the rump will get smaller and smaller. People who want to demonstrate their superiority by spending money will hang on the longest, but eventually they'll have to move with the times. 

 

After all, it's a load of rubbish. Flat-earthers took a while to disappear, but eventually the evidence and time ground them into non-existence.

 

Audiophiles say that young people (who listen to MP3s) have no appreciation of sound quality, but this cannot be true, it's just all part of the mythology, necessary to sustain the belief system. Scapegoating. Every myth of superiority needs it's inferiors. Part of what motivates the whole business is that some people can claim superior hearing, or taste or whatever. This too will pass.

 

Then there will just be audio equipment. It'll be taken for granted that it works superbly. All of it. Except transducers. Microphones, headphones and speakers, and even they'll get better, particularly if there are some technological breakthroughs, maybe laser-positional-feedback. 

 

w

post #4 of 16

You hit it right on the nail. As for the tinnitus thing....I have it although the severity depends on the person. For some it really is way to loud to function.

 

Strangely enough....the most effective solution to better audio quality(room modification and speaker choice) are usually ignored and sidelined. People get 1-2 sets of awesome speakers and then blow tons on amps, cables, gold plated accesories, and worthless BS.....

 

Why not trade up speakers? Nah! Better blow $200 on TOTL spikes for my $500 speakers.....confused.gif

 

People like spending money....spending money is fun even if it isn't really helping.....

post #5 of 16
This is something I wonder about. I believe headphones sound different to each other because they are made of different materials and designs,etc.
I don't believe in cables sounding different, that just sounds odd to me.
I really not sure about an external dac, sounds a bit like marketing to me, I wish I could bypass my dac in my dac/amp combo. Isn't it either doing its job or not? So it either works or doesn't.
Amps, my headphone sounds better amped but is that just because i listen to it louder and as that's what they are designed for, will all amps sound the same unless there is a fault or design flaw.
Compressed audio, as most of the deleted info is beyond our hearing does it matter so long as its not poorly implemented? I can't remember why I bought it but the only album I have ever had ruined by compression was bought from amazon. I find the most important thing is the original mastering. I've got mp3's that sound better than lossless tracks.
post #6 of 16
Ops forgot balanced rigs, I quite fancy the Centrance hifi m8, but will my headphones sound better balanced or will I just think they do because I'm using a special connector?
post #7 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by jiminy View Post

Compressed audio, as most of the deleted info is beyond our hearing does it matter so long as its not poorly implemented? I can't remember why I bought it but the only album I have ever had ruined by compression was bought from amazon. I find the most important thing is the original mastering. I've got mp3's that sound better than lossless tracks.

 

I noticed that as well.

Some of my MP3s are near lossless whereas others sound like garbage.

 

I suspect most of the compression issues come with bad sources....also some people use really old software for ripping. I'd imagine Mp3 ripped prior to 2000 probaly sound worse than current mp3 rips due to improvements. Something tells me most web sources don't upgrade their older rips hence the difference in quality on some rips.

post #8 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by jiminy View Post

Compressed audio, as most of the deleted info is beyond our hearing does it matter so long as its not poorly implemented? I can't remember why I bought it but the only album I have ever had ruined by compression was bought from amazon. I find the most important thing is the original mastering. I've got mp3's that sound better than lossless tracks.

 

 

as far as the compressed audio, there is a theory out there that the sound outside of our hearing range actually does affect the overall sound a lot....these inaudible sounds still mix with the audible sounds (and each other) and create beat patterns/harmonics/etc. that some say will change the overall sound.  i feel there is at least some merit to this theory...live music always sounds different, even than a live recording.  obviously there are other reasons for this as well, but the concept is there.

post #9 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by ferday View Post

i feel there is at least some merit to this theory...live music always sounds different, even than a live recording.  obviously there are other reasons for this as well, but the concept is there.

 

Why not go and listen to some of the audibility examples on Ethan Winer's site and see if you still believe this...

 

http://www.ethanwiner.com/

 

w

post #10 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by GenpattonJames View Post

There is quite a bit of evidence to support Patrick on what he has said. A quick search on Google expands on what he has said quite a bit.Although if I paid eight hundred bucks or for that matter fifteen hundred bucks on a set of of headphone cables I would be very adamant that they sounded much better as well. There is much to be said about the power of suggestion..and also the power of the double blind test!

 

Thank you GenpattonJames it is worth searching Google a bit on this subject. I did not give any specific URLs in the article because it is difficult at present to find something on the web that is neatly and "instantly applicable". However if people read about Jastreboff’s neurophysiological model (use that as a search phrase) it will take them to a lot of interesting stuff.

 

It is in the treatment of tinnitus that Jastreboff's work is most often deployed. However the key to his work is that how we perceive sound is flexible, in fact our perception is amazingly flexible.

 

At the end of 2006 I experienced tinnitus for, what I felt was the first time in my life. In 2006 I had been meditating each day for about 30 mins and what had happened was that during this meditation while sitting in quiet, my mind has "latched on" to the sounds of tinnitus. In fact those sounds had been there all my life, but now that I was sitting so quietly each day my mind had become interested in them. So my mind then worked on those sounds and they got louder and louder until the total sound was a cacophony. This led me to a great deal of distress, so I sought expert advice, and that expert put me onto the Jastreboff model. It is the studying of this model and its practice that has led to the tinnitus now being completely "gone", or to be more precise back as it was before the meditation. If I look for the sounds of the tinnitus it is back, but if I do not look for it then it is absent from my mind.

 

The Jastreboff model works just as well for external sounds. These can be made hugely significant or have their significance reduced to nothing.

 

It is with this personal experience of the Jastreboff model "in action" that I realise how incredibly flexible out perception of sound is. Of course we can not change the actual sounds themselves, but their significance can be increased and decreased over a massive range. Most of the time this is done subconsciously, but we can do this consciously as well, as we do when implementing the Jastreboff treatment for tinnitus or other sonically related problems such as misophonia or hyperacusis.

 

On the subject of very expensive audio cables. It is my belief that these exist primarily to assist in the selling of the "merely expensive" ones. I think this is a practice used throughout the Hi Fi industry. The company will create a range of cables, the most expensive being something astonishing with a four figure number. This means that the cables for which they charge a "mere" 100 $/€/£ seem comparatively reasonable. Those 100 $/€/£ cables are probably manufactured for a small fraction of that figure, but the consumer is distracted from thinking about such practicality by the knowledge that cables are being sold for four figure sums.

post #11 of 16

We exactly hear what we want to hear, if we know what we want to hear.

 

This works for 'hearing' as in listening to sound/music.

This also works for 'hearing' as in listening to arguments, whether it be about purchasing stuff, or any other matter in life. 

 

The only way around is to reflect and evaluate 'what we want'.  Do I want X, or do I want to gather as much information as I can about X, or Y so that I can have options?

post #12 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by p a t r i c k View Post

On the subject of very expensive audio cables. It is my belief that these exist primarily to assist in the selling of the "merely expensive" ones.

 

Now that is a good point, which hadn't occurred to me.

 

w

post #13 of 16

Over the years I have seen in small ways how expectations (I am not sure it's classic auto suggestion but it's at least related)  effects my choices.  That's part of the reason I really try to do blind A/B or better yet, A/B/X testing when making final selections.  I know my expectations of equipment colors my assessment of it's sound quality.  I tend to favor equipment that more expensive, has quality assembly, is made by someone with a good reputation. For the last week I have done a fair bit of blind A/B/X testing of several amplifiers.  I level balanced everything and then my daughter wirings things up so I didn't know which amp was which switch position.  I am then free to switch between equipment and I do sound level adjustments at the DAC so I don't need to touch the amps. In the mix of testing was a Headamp Pico Power and a GS-X mk2.  In blind testing the GS-X was clearly better than the Pico Power (and everything else for that matter), but the Pico Power did surprisingly well. Last night I declared my testing done for awhile and went back to just listening.

 

This morning I was using my portable rig (Mac Air, DragonFly, Pico Power, HD800) in the office and found myself thinking... this is sounding a bit lifeless.  Hmm, last night I know I listened to this combination (blind) and I didn't describe it that way, I was very impressed.  I wondered, "what changed?".  The most likely answer are unconscious expectations.  When I was doing the A/B testing I was sitting in front of a rack of expensive audio gear with the Headamp GS-X mk2  right at eye level no matter what I was listening to.  Now I see that I am listening to much less expensive equipment.  I think my unconscious adjusted what I was hearing to reflect a less lofty experience.  Maybe I should move the DAC and amp behind the screen so I don't see them, and then use a screen saver with pictures of expensive equipment, or better yet, the artists I am listening to.

 

One nice thing though. We just had a power failure in the house... the expensive stereo being used in the other room went down and I am still grooving to my music and all of a sudden the music seems a lot sweeter.

 

--Mark


Edited by verber - 3/26/13 at 3:27pm
post #14 of 16
Quote:
First to get an idea of what I mean by Suggestion and Autosuggestion I, er, suggest you have a read of this wikipedia entry on the brilliant Émile Coué:
 

Reading the Wikipedia entry on autosuggestion didn't really win me over; I'll look at the other work (Jastreboff model) suggested to try and understand the perspective better. I do agree that our perception of the world isn't constant. I see it as variable and dependant on context. 

post #15 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by JadeEast View Post

Reading the Wikipedia entry on autosuggestion didn't really win me over; I'll look at the other work (Jastreboff model) suggested to try and understand the perspective better. I do agree that our perception of the world isn't constant. I see it as variable and dependant on context. 

 

Hi JadeEast thank you for your comment. I included the wikipedia article on Émile Coué to illustrate what I mean by "Suggestion and Autosuggestion".

 

It is very good to read about the work of Pavel Jastreboff.

 

Although developing an understanding of the different components in this really an excellent thing to do, I think that to be truly convinced you need to have an experience of the power of suggestion and autosuggestion in hearing.

 

In 2006 I became conscious of tinnitus. When I have had illnesses/problems my approach has always been to put energy into research. Read as much as I can about the subject. I am a great believer in "knowledge is power". The "cure" for tinnitus for me was to apply Tinnitus Habituation Therapy, which is a therapy developed from the work of Jastreboff. The therapy is entirely psychological, the sounds of the tinnitus are taken from the everyday conscious and made irrelevant, such that they no longer matter. The part of the mind that perceives sound is trained to ignore the tinnitus sounds and with gentle  consistent practice, a practice of ignoring, the tinnitus sounds effectively disappear from perception, although they remain present and can be summoned back into your life at a moment's notice. These tinnitus sounds are not trivial, in fact when I had the problem at it worst they were drowning out most other sounds.

 

Prior to my experience in 2006 I had believed that the reports in the Hi Fi press and other places were coloured by perception to a great extent, but I had not encountered any scientific investigation into the mechanism for this.

 

The great problem that we have in Hi Fi is that in the 80s (in the UK and I think also in the US) the press coverage of Hi Fi components changed from one that would be questioning of value of the impressions of the individual, to one that would be always validating the impressions of the individual. The idea of a scientific approach has become, bizarrely, considered to be the enemy of the consumer rather than the friend. Equipment is reviewed in an active context, as if it is the performer and not the music.

 

I do believe that individual impressions are important, but these must be along with an assessment of audio which is designed to exclude suggestion or autosuggestion. The way to exclude suggestion or autosuggestion is to remove the triggers, and this is best done by assessing with double blind listening tests.

 

I remember at the late 70s and early 80s some Hi Fi magazines did perform tests on audio equipment blind. These were not full double blind listening tests, but rather blind comparisons between different competing components. I mention this because it illustrates the mentality of the journalists at that time. The other thing which characterised UK Hi Fi magazines in the 70s and early 80s was an automatic skepticism about manufacturer's claims. As the magazines were "on the side of the consumer" it was natural then that they should be questioning in that way.

 

What I would like to see now is some aspect of the press (either print or web) engaging in double blind listening tests as the basis for their reviews. I would see this as being something that would accompany the regular individual's impressions that are now presented as reviews.

 
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