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