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My head hurts...

post #1 of 39
Thread Starter 

Hi everyone. I'm new to the forum so please excuse me if I'm asking questions about things that have already been settled.

 

I've been trying to make sense of all the adjectives that people throw around to describe audio equipment performance ("accurate",meaty","smooth",sibilant","neutral","sloppy") and I was asking myself "why don't they just provide some measurements instead of using all these wacky words".  I'm used to having to learn a new vocabulary for new hobbies, but usually there are clearly defined words with clearly defined meanings.

 

So then I stumble into this part of the forum and I run across the words "Objectivist" and "Subjectivist". I don't know if the definitions of these two camps are completely agreed upon, so let me quote from wikipedia for a moment:

 

Quote:
Those who test and evaluate equipment can be roughly divided into two groups: "Objectivists", who believe that all perceivable differences in audio equipment can be explained scientifically through measurement and double-blind listening tests; and the "Subjectivists", who believe that the human ear is capable of hearing details and differences that cannot be directly measured.

 

Is this correct? Are there people who genuinely think that the human ear is a more sensitive measuring device than test and measurement equipment? Really?

 

I don't get it, but maybe I'm missing something here..

 

 

 

post #2 of 39

This will turn in to an argument unfortunately as no one can settle on anything. But that is pretty much the definition of Objectivist vs Subjectivist.

 

This whole hobby is subjective, what sounds good to one, might not sound good to another depending on tastes.

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/220770/describing-sound-a-glossary - theres a glossary for you

post #3 of 39
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ostewart View Post
 

This will turn in to an argument unfortunately as no one can settle on anything. But that is pretty much the definition of Objectivist vs Subjectivist.

 

Ok, without argument, at least I am understanding this correctly: there is a major branch of this hobby made of people who believe humans hear things that can't be measured?

 

 

The glossary sort of seems tautological. Here's what I mean:

 

Analytical: Highly detailed.

 

Detail: The most delicate elements of the original sound and those which are the first to disappear with lesser equipment.

 

Delicate: High frequencies extending to 15 or 20 kHz without peaks.

 

So, if Analytical means detailed, and detailed means delicate, and delicate means 15-20 kHz, why not just say that Analytical means the frequency response in the 15-20 kHz range? That's something that can be measured.

post #4 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brownstone View Post

 

Is this correct? Are there people who genuinely think that the human ear is a more sensitive measuring device than test and measurement equipment? Really?

 

I don't get it, but maybe I'm missing something here..

 

 

There are certainly people who believe that, but they are sadly misinformed. 

In short, I disagree with the definition you posted. 

 

There are objectively *differences* between different things. There are also things that are objectively the same. 

Once we get past that, there are only 2 things that any objectivist has ever said:

This measures (or sounds, based on DBT) the same/different from that. 

This follows a given standard more/less accurately than that. Which is objectively the same as saying "this follows a given standard very accurately" or "this does not follow a given standard very accurately". 

 

Fair warning. There are a LOT of objectivists who cant deal with the fact that there are things that are different from each other and skip the line about "meeting a given standard" in their claims of superiority. No, this is not objectively better than that, it meets a given standard more accurately. There are plenty of other standards you did not account for. 

 

Subjectively some things that are objectively different are better than others. Some things that are different are worse. 

 

They are very yin and yang. Be biased towards objectivity, as otherwise you could spend (OMFGhowMuch?) on cables and meaningless tweaks, but accept that at some point 2 things will sound different (everyone agrees) and *you* will have to make a choice for yourself. 

post #5 of 39
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by nikongod View Post
 

 

There are certainly people who believe that, but they are sadly misinformed. 

In short, I disagree with the definition you posted. 

 

I can see what you say, and how it is different from the definition I posted. Let me paraphrase to see if I am getting your point correctly.

 

One could measure that device A introduces X distortion into the signal.

One could measure that device B introduces Y distortion into the signal.

Objectively the distortion can be measured. But given that X and Y may be different in characteristics, it is a subjective decision which is "better".

 

Is that what you mean, because I don't see any argument with that.

 

Here's where I'm getting stuck:

 

Device A and device B behave identically according to all possible technical measurements. But someone claims that they can hear the difference between A and B.


Edited by Brownstone - 1/23/14 at 10:53am
post #6 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brownstone View Post

The glossary sort of seems tautological. Here's what I mean:

 

Analytical: Highly detailed.

 

Detail: The most delicate elements of the original sound and those which are the first to disappear with lesser equipment.

 

Delicate: High frequencies extending to 15 or 20 kHz without peaks.

 

So, if Analytical means detailed, and detailed means delicate, and delicate means 15-20 kHz, why not just say that Analytical means the frequency response in the 15-20 kHz range? That's something that can be measured.


Don't put too much weight into these exact definitions -- you've put these three together in a way that implies detail only exists in the 15 to 20 kHz range. We all know what the word detail means. Just use your intuition. Detail is not limited to high frequencies only. 

When it comes to audio terms, a lot if it is just mumbo jumbo. IMO, it is best to use common sense to decide which terms you understand, and then ignore the rest. For example, I still don't really know what "air" is supposed to mean and I can get by just fine without ever really figuring it out. 

You also have to understand that people use these kinds of terms in different ways, so looking a term like "delicate" up in the glossary won't necessarily tell you what a given person using that term really means. 

As for subjectivist vs. objectivist, yes, there really are people who think that they can hear all sorts of things that can't be measured.

Sometimes the subjectivist viewpoint is caused by scientific illiteracy (e.g. neither understanding or wanting to understand what can be measured and how to interpret measurements), sometimes this viewpoint is caused by post-purchase rationalization (e.g. I just spent $800 on a power cord so I'm going to hear an improvement, and if someone tells me this improvement can't be measured, the only possible response is that I can hear things that can't be measured), often a combination of both. 

The objectivist hardliners are not without fault either. You might see objectivists making claims like all solid state amps sound the same, or that no DAC is capable of sounding better than some inexpensive model. Similar to what we see with the subjectivists, post-purchase rationalization causes this viewpoint to be taken too far. With subjectivists, it's "I spent all this money, so X product has to sound better." With objectivists it's more often "I can't afford expensive gear, so I'm going to say that my gear gives the best possible sound and people who prefer more expensive gear are fooling themselves." 

Of course, these are all sweeping generalizations. It's best to walk the middle line. Be skeptical about whether or not a new piece of equipment is worth the money, but never write anything off until you've heard it. Likewise, accept that there are often meaningful sonic differences between gear, and that measurements must always be interpreted carefully and in context. Most importantly, learn to be happy with your system without feeling the need to build up a bunch of mental constructs about the performance of your system. 


Edited by manbear - 1/23/14 at 11:37am
post #7 of 39

If we put that person in an A/B blind test and claims s/he can hear a difference between A and B even though they behave identically using all possible technical measurements, then shouldn't we ask the question as to why people have different perception. If you're put into a blind test, wouldn't you try to hear a difference? Then we go into placebo effect.

 

But isn't it just based on opinion? If someone hears a difference but another doesn't hear a difference, who would you believe more?

post #8 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brownstone View Post
 

 

I can see what you say, and how it is different from the definition I posted. Let me paraphrase to see if I am getting your point correctly.

 

One could measure that device A introduces X distortion into the signal.

One could measure that device B introduces Y distortion into the signal.

Objectively the distortion can be measured. But given that X and Y may be different in characteristics, it is a subjective decision which is "better".

 

Is that what you mean, because I don't see any argument with that.

 

Yepp. 

 

There are some interesting studies (at various levels of formality) regarding how people react to odd VS even harmonics or how people react to "low order" vs "high order" harmonics. 

 

You could also be choosing between 2 different speakers where one has very low THD but limited frequency range and the other has higher THD but wider frequency range. 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brownstone View Post
 

Here's where I'm getting stuck:

 

Device A and device B behave identically according to all possible technical measurements. But someone claims that they can hear the difference between A and B.

 

Yea, Once you have exhausted reasonable measurements and DBT its just crazy-talk. 

I think a lot of people just expect to hear a difference in everything because there are so many places where there are actual unavoidable differences. 

 

When all there was was tubes every MFR had their own design techniques, and often used all sorts of subtly different parts, and got their own sound from them. *

Transistor-amp-designers who don't try to be outright measurements first guys also all sound a bit different. *

As always the differences between 2 "good" (whatever good means) speakers is HUGE compared to just about any amp. 

When the majority of people listened to records (and among the minority who still do) it was well known that different MFR's of cartridges had different "house sounds." Heck, even within the same brand there were often big differences from model to model. 

There is a bit more to it, but records made at different times in different places did not necessarily sound the same. 

 

Logic follows (and fails) that since these things make or made a difference, cables should too! 

 

When you include a bit of audiophile pride in the following statement, it should be REALLY clear:

"I can hear the differences because my ears are better than yours."

 

*We as a community could rid ourselves of the differences between amplifiers (or other purely-electronic things like DAC or phono stage), but that would make the hobby sooooooo boring. As it stands the differences between amps are relatively small compared to the differences between speakers, cartridges, or the actual recordings. 

post #9 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by reddyxm View Post
 

If we put that person in an A/B blind test and claims s/he can hear a difference between A and B even though they behave identically using all possible technical measurements, then shouldn't we ask the question as to why people have different perception. If you're put into a blind test, wouldn't you try to hear a difference? Then we go into placebo effect.

 

But isn't it just based on opinion? If someone hears a difference but another doesn't hear a difference, who would you believe more?

 

A properly conducted AB/x test will clearly show that they are guessing. 

Or not. 

 

I would believe the one who could pass an AB/x test. Well, at least that to the point of believing that there are differences. 

post #10 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brownstone View Post

 

Device A and device B behave identically according to all possible technical measurements. But someone claims that they can hear the difference between A and B.


It's not often that we actually have all possible technical measurements available to compare, but even if we did, there would invariably be some people to claim to hear a difference between A and B. Don't expect to ever truly understand the thought process of these people, other than to dismiss them as making biased guesses (maybe the one that costs more or that looks cooler sounds better...) and not realizing it. 


Edited by manbear - 1/23/14 at 11:37am
post #11 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by reddyxm View Post
 

If we put that person in an A/B blind test and claims s/he can hear a difference between A and B even though they behave identically using all possible technical measurements, then shouldn't we ask the question as to why people have different perception. If you're put into a blind test, wouldn't you try to hear a difference? Then we go into placebo effect.

 

But isn't it just based on opinion? If someone hears a difference but another doesn't hear a difference, who would you believe more?

a proper DBT eliminates placebo and opinion.  either there is a difference or there isn't, and DBT (double blind) will easily flush that out.  

 

if you showed me a piece of equipment where 2 people did a DBT ONCE (one song) and one heard a difference, one didn't...i wouldn't believe either of them, not enough data and hence an opinion

 

if you showed the same test with 20, 50 or more different songs, and the results were exactly the same (one heard a difference, one didn't) then i would know that there was an error in equipment, or that one of the testers is outside of "normal" for hearing, or something like that.

 

now, if you did the same test with say 50 sound clips and 50 different people, i'd believe the results of the test without question (assuming the parameters were good at least).

post #12 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by manbear View Post


Of course, these are all sweeping generalizations. It's best to walk the middle line. Be skeptical about whether or not a new piece of equipment is worth the money, but never write anything off until you've heard it. Likewise, accept that there are often meaningful sonic differences between gear, and that measurements must always be interpreted carefully and in context. Most importantly, learn to be happy with your system without feeling the need to build up a bunch of mental constructs about the performance of your system. 

This x1000
Edited by ostewart - 1/23/14 at 11:48am
post #13 of 39

I lean on the subjective side but will tell that when comparing measurements, they must be made using the same standards and conditions. Also for example two amps may have the same THD figure but one will sound bad because the harmonic distortion is odd ordered,

One important thing that is usually not spec'd is Transient Intermodulation Distortion (TIMD) which can add a nasty edge to what you hear. IMO when it comes to audiophiles/etc. the flash mob of posts can have a big affect on what is reported, especially by people that have never heard the item under discussion or understand the discussion. Under the right circumstances, one person's bark can spread like a wildfire.

post #14 of 39
Thread Starter 

Ok, thanks everybody, my question has been answered and I can tell this is a sensitive topic to some.

 

I just discovered that ABX testing is banned from discussion (other than on this subforum) by the terms of service. That is somewhat baffling to me, but oh well. I guess there is more to this than meets the eye.

post #15 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brownstone View Post
 

I just discovered that ABX testing is banned from discussion (other than on this subforum) by the terms of service. That is somewhat baffling to me, but oh well. I guess there is more to this than meets the eye.

 

Discussions about ABx quickly get out of hand when released in the "open" forums. 

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