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Placebo, how much does it affect audio enthusiasts?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by mgear, Apr 5, 2012.
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  1. Mgear
    After reading some things about "NVR Reducing resonator cups" and the mythical "cables do make a difference", I've been thinking to myself, at what stage on the hi-fi chain does the placebo start to take over? By chain I mean low -> mid -> high -> youearntoomuchmoney -> "audiophile", does advancement in audio clarity/perceivable quality end at electrostatic and then the placebo upgrades kick in or does it go way lower, into the cheaper planar magnetics? I understand audio is very subjective and there's a very steep logarithmic scale for buying audio equipment, but when does actual perceivable quality take a dive into the "the frequency response doesn't show it but it definitely sounds better"?
  2. Br777
    placebo is a HUUUUUUGE factor in audio.  dont let anyone tell you otherwise. 
    Karnitool12 likes this.
  3. Mgear


    I remember reading a quote a while ago from a member's signature, made my smile, went something like this:
  4. El_Doug Contributor
    your question cannot really be answered, because there is no way to define this "chain" you have come up with. 
    the real answer, though, is that placebo is everywhere, at every price level, with every kind of technology - the difference is the degree.  every single aspect of audiophilia is susceptible to all sorts of cognitive biases, and anyone who says otherwise is deluding themselves. 
    in the end though, the more outlandish the claim, the more likely the placebo effect is having a greater and greater influence.  preferring SR-009s to Skullcandy Hesh probably involves little placebo, while swearing your TICE clock plugged into your car's lighter socket improves your hi-fi soundstage probably involves slightly more :wink: 
  5. Br777
    furthermore, look up the mcgurk effect on youtube.. that should tell you LOT about how easy it is to let placebo slip into your judgement.
  6. Mgear


    I thought the mcgurk affect is associating/changing sounds dependant on visual stimulation unless I'm missing something.
    Or do you just mean that as an example of how easily our perceptions are swayed?
    But onto the topic, don't people who invest in these cables and expensive (almost homeopathic) equipment understand that it's probably placebo? I get that it's a placebo for a reason, but surely telling them it's a placebo or doing a blind test would give us proper results?
  7. El_Doug Contributor
    A very small portion do acknowledge the placebo, but since they hear a difference, they don't care whether it's real or imaginary. 
    FAR and away, more people are unwilling to accept that their brains are capable of being faulty.  After all, they do sense a change in the audio, so it must be real, and must be audible to them.  I don't blame them, as it is hard to admit that our senses are fallible.  Most of these folks will go on to spend time determining why an ABX test is a flawed concept, or why it does not apply to cables.  Those that do perform (and fail, as always) any cable-related DBT will always find a flaw in the testing process that somehow invalidates all the data. 


    Prog Rock Man likes this.
  8. Mauricio


    Right.  These folks will debate ad infinitum the alleged miniscule imperfections of the test methodology while ignoring altogether the big gaping holes in their own subjective appreciations.  Ultimately it is a dishonest gambit for if the science showed their perception to be true, they would embrace the science.  But if the science shows them to be hearing the sonic equivalent of leprechauns and unicorns, they stand to reject the science nail and tooth.  Not for nothing have I likened this panoply of subjective impressions that pass for replicable, objective knowledge to a peculiar type of religious fervor and faith.
  9. skamp
    Placebo comes at every price point. I can't ABX an onboard Realtek DAC yet I'm still glad my €65 FiiO E7 comes with a Wolfson DAC.

    What I find strange is that so many people don't seem to have a problem making wild claims even though they know that a lot of people will think they're batschiit crazy. I guess there's so many of them, that they don't feel singled out.
  10. Mauricio
    Placebo effect refers to a perceived improvement resulting from the remedy when there is no reason to think that the remedy will yield an improvement in the first place.  Placebo is a false positive.
    Expectation bias is attaching greater value or performance based on parameters that are not directly related to value or performance.  Confidence that your DAC is better because it has a Burn Sabrown or a Wolfman chip is more expectation bias than placebo.  Your confidence is based on your (biased) expectations of the brand name.
  11. jupitreas
    There is also confirmation bias ie. when one imagines a noticeable improvement due to how much they paid for an item. This is probably the most common of all mental tendencies amongst audiophiles, as it is very common to hear claims that very expensive equipment is immensely superior to much cheaper equipment. Even measurements typically don't break this form of bias. 
    The truth is of course that a reasonably priced headphone can perform just as well, or better, than a much more expensive model. 
  12. Magick Man

    When it comes to cables, I generally "allow" myself to indulge some expectation bias and don't question things very much. Mine are largely DIY, with very good materials so they're fun to make and look cool. Plus, they're comparatively inexpensive that way, so I'm not paying the usual 200-500% markup for finished products. Amps are another matter, my two favorites are a Kenwood Basic M2A that I bought at a flea market for $80 and my Cary SLI-80 Signature which was, umm, a lot more than that. Tube gear like the Cary I consider to be a type of artwork as much as an audio component, to me it's a functional 50lb steampunk-style sculpture. :cool:
  13. theeyealtering
    Just do a cursory count of how many hundreds of hours some people on this forum spend "burning-in" their gear and the kinds of amazing results they swear they can hear and you have placebo right there.
  14. khaos974
    That's a position I can understand, if a psychological blocage prevents you to enjoy a cheap CD player and you have enough disposable income, there's no reason not to invest more, you also get other things such as reliability or looks.
    Personally, I have a positive bias towards well measuring gear, even if it already theoretically measures past the audibility limits, tricking your brain to get more enjoyment is a perfectly sound attitude.
    Of course, you can go the other way, some people have reported that after several ABXes (cables, decent CDPs) ending with a negative result, their no longer subconsciously associated inherent qualities to those type of equipment. But a well done ABX is a serious investment in time as well.
  15. Sil3nce Moderator
    The effect of placebo is affected by placebo.
    I don't know why this is such a focused factor? There's plenty of other confounding variables involved with the efficacy of audio.
    Argo Duck, Currawong and sridhar3 like this.
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