I anticipate that an objectivist is going to respond something analogous to this:
"Emergent properties don't matter, because if you get all the shapes, lines and colors right, it won't alter the emergent properties"
But we are comparing reproduced sound fields that differ from the original. There is no doubt they differ and that those differences are audible. Many important comparisons will include two devices with audible nonlinearities.
It's simple. We are comparing two objectively inaccurate reproductions and determining which one is perceptually most accurate.
Your anticipation is spot on, but you aren't able to defeat this objection. Let's accept for a moment that accuracy is subjective and relative to what a person is trained to notice. Imagine this notion of accuracy as some kind of processing applied by the listener -- sound goes into the ears, and the specific perceptual qualities and emergent qualities the listener notices enter the listener's mind. Reproductions apply a similar sort of processing -- recorded sound goes into the speakers, and certain qualities are emphasized more than others depending on the speaker setup.
Here is where you go wrong: you are trying to say that a reproduction is more accurate if the speaker setup's processing emphasizes qualities that the listener is more likely to notice. The listener's processing is applied to the reproduced sound in the exact same manner as it is applied to the original sound -- raw sound from the speaker setup is converted to perceptual properties using the same procedures and rules as raw sound from the original event. Thus, the listener's mental perception of the reproduced sound will be most similar to his mental perception of the original sound when the raw sound, the shapes, lines, etc., of the reproduction, are most similar in an objective, measurable way to the original sound. Perception works in a consistent manner. Perceptual outputs match when the raw inputs match.
If reproduction emphasizes qualities that a listener is more likely to notice, the listener's perception of the reproduction will be like an oversaturated caricature of the original sound. These qualities will have been emphasized twice. Once by the reproduction, then a second time by the listener. But these qualities were only emphasized once, by the listener, during the original event. The listener may find this exaggerated perception to be preferable, but the listener will not find it to most accurately resemble the original perception. You are confusing preference with accuracy. I think getting a setup that matches your preferences is a better goal than getting an accurate system regardless of preference. But it doesn't mean that accuracy is subjective. It means preference is subjective. It sure is. Accuracy is still objective.
A simple example: I like bass. I like headphones that emphasize bass. However, I do not think headphones with more bass sound more accurate. They don't. I just like the bass to be exaggerated.
Edited by manbear - 1/18/14 at 8:47pm