Schiit Happened: The Story of the World's Most Improbable Start-Up
Mar 31, 2021 at 10:53 AM Post #74,416 of 74,878

darkarn

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Great chapter, Jason!

It also applies to most other hobbies one can think of, adapting accordingly.
As an amateur photographer, I can definitely relate to pretty much all points from the perspective of camera gear, if audio wan't enough...

Yeah, sometimes it's not about the gear but rather how you use it and promote your work
 
Mar 31, 2021 at 10:55 AM Post #74,417 of 74,878

macdonjh

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Best chapter so far IMHO. I think Nelson Pass summed it up well when he said that audio shouldn't be taken too seriously - "this is entertainment, not dialysis". It is a fun hobby, though.
I just knew Nelson Pass to be a genius. His amps have helped me resist upgrade-itis for more than two decades. And they have great big VU meters.
 
Mar 31, 2021 at 11:13 AM Post #74,422 of 74,878

Voxata

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Nice chapter! I myself have done some churn over the years. I'm thankful to have settled into a good synergistic combo. I have found that doing rough A/B comparisons were not ideal for long term enjoyment.
 
Mar 31, 2021 at 11:21 AM Post #74,424 of 74,878

adydula

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2021, Chapter 5:
How We Fool Ourselves



I’m sure you’ve all heard these proclamations before:

“OMG, I just got the new Arglebargle A200-33KX DAC and it’s a completely different ball game! It totally opened up the soundstage and the high end is so natural, I can’t believe how much better it is than my Crapstorm 5000!”

And:

“I just chose the best-measuring product, because measurements are what counts—the only scientific way to choose gear. Why accept a lesser-measuring product when there’s better out there?”

Uh-huh. Riiiiiiight. On both counts.

Yes Virginia. It’s time to piss off both the subjectivists and objectivists…again.

This time, by examining the myriad ways in which we fool ourselves.


Short-Circuit: Where We’re Coming From

“Again?” some of you are asking. “What do you mean, piss them off again?”

Well, for those of you who are new to this whole Schiit Happened thing, we have a long history of irritating pretty much everyone in audio. People who want to spend billions of dollars on cables and magic stones don’t like us, and people who want to select gear based on APx measurements alone don’t care for us either.

Why?

In short, due to chapters like “Measurements (With a Side Order of Sanity)”,”The Objectivist/Subjectivist Synthesis”, and “Lighted By the Blind.

Go ahead. Check them out. They’re all linked above.

Aside: And yeah, the Measurements chapter is wayyyyyyy outdated now (we now have an APx555, two APx525s, six Avermetrics, and one Stanford Research SR1, in addition to GHz scopes, FLIRs, spectrum analyzers, ESD generators)…holy moly, we have a lot of test stuff! I need to update that chapter soon.

Or, you can take this TL;DR summary of where we’re coming from:
  1. Differences between audio components are much smaller than most audiophiles make them out to be, at least to the majority of listeners.
  2. There are, however, differences that aren’t readily explained in terms of one frequency, one measurement, one number, and these differences may matter to some listeners.
Yep. That’s it. A lot of practicality, mixed in with some magical thinking, arrived at after many, many years in audio (Mike’s been doing this since the 1970s, I’ve been doing this since the 1990s). That’s where we’re coming from.

If this doesn’t gel with your perceived vision of the audio universe, that’s fine; you can move on from this chapter and continue on happily in your own bubble reality.

However, if you want to pry at your own notions of right and wrong, and maybe understand a few of the reasons some people think there are life-changing differences between components…and why some people think there aren’t, maybe this is worth a read. This chapter is intended to be both for objectivists and subjectivists. It tries to document some of the myriad ways in which we fool ourselves into thinking our gear is great/bad/same/different.

Because humans are subjective.

Because as unbiased as you think you are, you really aren’t.

Seriously:
  • Even if you think you have assembled a reference system that allows you to make unbiased subjective selections among a host of components that all sound different, the reality is you’re boned as soon as you put mood into the equation.
  • Even if you think everything sounds the same, as soon as you choose a piece of gear based on how smooth the knob is or how slick the UI is, your objectivity is toast…you’re now hopelessly biased.
Bottom line: everything is subjective, and humans are rationalizing animals, not rational animals.


Sound Foolin

Okay, so let’s start out by talking about sound, because that’s the crux of most arguments.

Does the Crapstorm beat up the Arglebargle? Does it “punch above its weight?” Does it sound smooth, bright, liquid, clear, nuanced, warm—or does it sound different than any other competently-designed component at all?

Most people make pronouncements about sound in grand and declarative terms: “It totally floored me! I heard stuff I never heard before! The emotional connection was so deep, it made me cry tears of joy!”

Aside: What’s hilarious is that many of these pronouncements are made after listening to unfamiliar music for 30 seconds on a noisy show floor. But more on that later.

Here’s the problem: these pronouncements are inextricably tied up with things that affect your perception—things that cause you to fool yourself.

Things like what? Things like this:

1. Good mood or bad mood.
What kind of day did you have? Did fedex lose the package you’ve been waiting for since you woke up? Did you get dumped by your significant other? Or did you just get a big raise at work, or meet someone new and dreamy?​
If you’re in a bad mood, your gear may sound, well, awful. Because you’re stressed, depressed, and hyper-tuned-in on every tiny thing that isn’t going right at the moment. That slight stridency in your shiny new product may suddenly be a deal-breaker. Or you may just be fooling yourself because you’re in a bad place.​
If you’re in a good mood, everything may sound great. If things are going your way, heck, nothing sounds better than a new super-expensive ultra-matched NOS tube set! Or, again, you may be fooling yourself, because nothing can get you down, and the world is a beautiful place to live in (thank you, Devo).​
Maybe I’m crazy, but I’ve totally had some crappy days where nothing sounded right, and the next day when everything was going better, it sounded great. If you don’t think your mood influences audio perception, you’re also, er, fooling yourself.​
2. Altered state of consciousness.
Sooooooo…how sober were you when you heard that life-changing gear and spent a small mortgage? After a few beers, or a THC vape pen (legal in CA, don’t roast me), things will sound very different. (And yeah, wine, whisky, heroin, E, don’t be pedantic).​
Hell, a couple of beers made hearing the difference between Vali 2 and Magni Heresy very, very hard, at least for me. (See the “Lighted by the Blind” chapter.) And I don’t particularly like THC, since all it makes me want to do is listen to music and watch cartoons—and all music sounds great when I’m baked, no matter what equipment we’re talking about. I mean, I probably couldn’t tell the difference between a broken component and one that was operating properly!​
So, I could be cynical and say, “This is definitely a call for audio retailers to start serving alcohol (and maybe more in states where that is legal,” or I could be more level-headed and say, “Making decisions based on altered states of consciousness can be very costly.”​
3. The total experience.
When you found that magical component you just had to have, did you discover it at an amazing dealer while out with your best friends, or did you hear the worst thing you’ve ever heard when your were caught in a downpour, and were soaked and miserable by the time you hit the dirty, dingy, odd-smelling store?​
Yeah, if it was me, I’d probably throw out both audio perceptions, because both were too much intertwined with the whole experience. Again, mood. Again, it matters.​
4. Operational preferences.
So wow, that new amp is super-powerful! All you have to do is crack the pot and you’re blown out of your chair!​
(Or it has a lot of gain or an aggressive pot taper and it’s not powerful at all.)​
Here’s the thing. Controls are tricky. You can fool yourself into thinking something sounds very different, just due to the volume pot ramp. Something that ramps up quicker will sound more powerful, even if that isn’t the case. You can make snap decisions based on the feel of a switch. Relay volume control is monumentally weird, if you have never used it before. A manufacturer’s decisions on the user interface (even if you’re talking knobs and lights) can deeply influence how you feel about a product…​
…and how you feel can fool your ears.​
5. Packaging bias.
So the new piece of gear you’re lusting after is an amazing tour de force of machining, hewn out of a solid block of aluminum with 32 hours of tooling time and a pile of shavings that will keep aluminum recyclers in business for the next year.​
But, don’t you have to ask yourself: is the packaging itself the cause of my lust? Will it make the gear sound better? Or is it just the thing separating a 5-figure price tag from a 4-figure price tag?​
And yes, I know, it looks sexy. But you’re not buying for your eyes, right?​
Right?
Yeah. Fooled again.​
6. Brand bias.
How many times have you heard someone breathlessly proclaim, “OMG, Arglebargle is coming out with a new DAC! GOTTA GET IT!”​
Really? Well, maybe Arglebargle has a good history with DACs, but who knows? They may have boned this one. How do you really know? And yeah, maybe you’ve bought lots of their products and always been happy, but again, maybe this is a mulligan.​
(And yeah this applies to us, I know a lot of people like our stuff.)​
In a perfect world, brand wouldn’t affect perception. But again. Humans. Rationalizing. Not rational.​
Getting it now?​
7. Place bias.
Like our made in USA. Or made in Germany. Or made in Japan. Or made wherever. Certain locations conjure specific associations, and some people want those associations in their gear.​
But does it make it sound better? Ah, no.​
8. Review goggles.
How many times have you heard someone say, “Well, it gets great reviews!” as a way to justify a new audio purchase?​
I get it. Most people like to have some confirmation of their fine taste and wisdom to purchase an excellent product, so something that gets good reviews is going to be perceived to “sound” better. Even if it doesn’t.​
But who’s reviewing the product? What’s their experience? Are they coming at it from the objective or subjective side? If you hew to the objective side, does it have great measurements? If you stick to the subjective, is it synergistic with your system?​
And let’s go further? Which reviewer? How much experience? What are their biases? What is their system? Any chance they are financially compromised?​
Really, everyone…if it sounds great to you, you shouldn’t care if 99.9% of reviewers say it sounds like ass.​
9. Measurement glasses.
“Oh, but I just go by the measurements!” you say. Cool. Yeah. And you’re fooling yourself if you don’t think this doesn’t influence your perception in the same way as reviewer goggles. If you think everything that measures a certain way sounds the same, you’re going to be more likely to think it does, even if it doesn’t.​
“But everything does sound the same, the measurements say so!” you say. Again cool. Again yeah. But what is the limit of human perception? Is it -80dB? Lower? On which frequencies? On what harmonics? All? Some? High-order only? Are there any tests we are missing in audio? Are some humans different in their perceptual ability?​
Here’s the thing: there’s not a lot of peer-reviewed reseach here, mainly because there’s not a ton of money in audio. But that’s foreshadowing. I’ll leave that till later.​
10. Scientism.
See above. Also hewing too close to something that sounds technologically sound or sciency, but isn’t, will probably have you hearing what you want to think as well.​
There are tons of companies using sciency stuff to claim different sound or perfect sound. It’s probably worth asking if any actual peer-reviewed research is involved in these claims.​
And yeah, I know, we have our buzzword bingo. But it’s not science. And we don’t make audio claims. And when I say something sounds great/different/better, I always slather it with a lot of “I may be crazy.” So there you go.​
11. Topology prejudice.
Okay, now we’re going deep. Because this really takes some esoteric knowledge (or ingestion of much design/marketing kool-aid.) Some people think any amount of solid-state components wreck a tube amp. Some people think anything besides op-amps are inaccurate sonic insanity. Some people think all tube amps are soft and warm. Some people think single-ended Class A is the way to go. Some people think balanced and differential.​
Here’s the thing: all of these thoughts affect perception.​
If you think “Class A or the highway,” you’re gonna be biased against everything that isn’t Class A. Class AB? Can’t possibly sound as good! Heck, it’s right in the name.​
If you are anti-sand (solid-state components used in a tube amp, as in “sand vs glass,”) then you’ll be more likely to hear “something disturbing” in a design that uses transistors or MOSFETs as well as tubes, even if they are in the power supply.​
Would you hear it in a blind test? Maybe. Maybe not.​
But again. You may be fooling yourself.​
12. Designerism.
Some people think some audio designers are infallible. Here’s the truth, coming from an audio designer: we are not.​
Nor is a “house sound” as much of a thing as people make it out to be. Yes, a designer can steer towards certain characteristics (that is, if you believe that competently designed components sound different), but there’s less control than you might expect. Especially if you’re comparing vastly different designs, at vastly different prices.​
Buy by designer…maybe great, or maybe they’re having an off day. I can confidently state none are infallible.​
13. Boredom, or familiarity breeds discontent.
Have you ever discovered an amazing song…and listened to it over and over and over again, until it doesn’t give you the same visceral reaction, until it becomes simply background noise?​
Hey, that’s music. That’s art.​
You think it ain’t different for components? Oh yeah. Once you get used to something, you may get an urge to move on. Because it’s familiar. Because it’s comfortable. Because you know it too well.​
(But, you know what? Maybe there’s really nothing wrong with it at all. You’re just bored.)​

Okay. Yeah. Time to sum up:

In terms of sound, everyone has biases. Everyone fools themselves.

But, you know what? It’s worse than that.


More Foolin

Oh yeah. You thought it was over. You thought that all the ways in which you fool yourself in terms of sound were bad enough.

Aside: I listed 13 ways above. I’m sure I missed a bunch.

But no. It gets worse. Go back to that statement early in the chapter: humans are rationalizing animals, not rational animals.

A lot of ways in which we fool ourselves have little to do with sound. Let’s have a look at them:

1. This one will be the last.
Have you ever told yourself, “This is the last thing I need.” Just one more component, just one more purchase, and that will be the pinnacle, the end, finito, done.​
Hold on a sec.​
I just…​
…I just gotta…​
…LOLOLLOLLLLLLLROFLCOPTER.​
Let me be blunt: you’re fooling yourself.​
Look up “cycle of addiction,” and see if the GIS images line up with your audio buying habits. If they do, welllllll…you may have a problem.​
Now, I’d definitely take an audio addiction over, say, a cocaine habit. But it is something you may want to consider, the next time you start browsing for new gear (while the boxes for the old gear are still cooling off under your desk), or the next time you say, “I just need this one thing, and I’m done with audio for a good long time,” and you realize the last component you bought was a week ago.​
2. This is my end game.
See above. Read again.​
3. I know what I like.
Yeah. I know what I like, too. It’s every new amp I design. If I’m doing tubes, I’m in love with tubes. If I’m doing solid state, I’m done with tubes.​
And then I surprise myself, and hit on something that shows me that my tastes aren’t immutable. I started doing very warm and syrupy headphone amps, because that’s what I liked (and many of the headphones of the era were bright), and moved towards more neutral and revealing products over the years. I long thought tubes were the only real answer for voltage gain, but recent products have put lie to that.​
So. Yeah. “I know what I like.” Until I hear better.​
4. This is the best thing/worst thing.
Absolutes should always be treated with skepticism. Especially when they are based on a minute of listening to unfamiliar music on an unfamiliar system at a noisy show. Or in any unfamiliar system, period.​
Do everyone a favor and save the absolutes. You don’t know their preferences or their system.​
5. There can’t possibly be any difference.
Yes. I know. There are things where there shouldn’t possibly be any difference. I get it. I am with you. And then there’s Unison USB, which I was so skeptical of that I pronounced it broken until I measured it.​
Here’s the thing: I think it’s important to keep an open mind. At least a bit open. The balance here is what matters. One way you’re declaring that anything that measures below a certain threshold sounds the same, the other you’re spending $5,000 on crystals to stick to your $15,000 isolation feet.​


Biggest Foolin

Is this over? Oh no. It gets crazier. So, buckle up. Let’s get to the two biggies.

You may like this. Or hate it.

1. I NEED this.
When you’re talking about expensive audio components, there is no “need.” None. Period. Sorry. This is BaFWP (beyond a first world problem.)​
Some people need an inexpensive cellphone or laptop to participate in the global economy, and sweat about the cost of such devices. Some people need shelter. Some people need supplemental oxygen.​
Nobody needs expensive audio gear. Sorry to be blunt.​
2. This is IMPORTANT.
LOL. No. Sorry. Audio, especially high-end audio, is not important. Not in the grand scheme of things. Delivery of supplemental oxygen on time to your gravely ill parent is important.​
As I mentioned before, there’s not a lot of peer-reviewed research in audio. Why? Because there’s not a ton of money in it. And investment, like it or not, is a measure of importance, at least on a big scale. If audio is important to you, that’s fine, I get it, but it’s not that big of a deal for the world.​
Maybe someday big-eared aliens with 1000000x the hearing acuity of humanity will show up, making audio reproduction absolutely critical for interstellar relations. Then the billions will flow. Then audio will be IMPORTANT.​
Until then, this is a fun pastime. Sit back, relax, and enjoy.​

Aaaand…know that you’re going to be fooling yourself. Probably in multiple ways.

Aaaaaaaaannnd…here’s the thing. If you’re not hurting anyone (or your wallet), that’s totally ok!
I often state that "Human Beings are Funny Creatures At Times....." yup we all are and we all have our bias for sure!

Alex
 
Mar 31, 2021 at 11:24 AM Post #74,426 of 74,878

arar

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My current setup has

2 inputs (DAC, analog from BluRay) --> Sys #1 for input switching --> Loki for bit of EQ if wanted --> Sys #2 for switching amps --> 2 amps.

The Sys does not introduce any noise or distortion that I can detect.

That sounds great. How are you operating Sys #2, exactly? I read that you can somehow sort of reverse the I/O behind it so that there's one input RCA and two output RCAs (rather than two in, one out), but I don't really get how that... Works. Like is it constantly outputing to both output RCAs or do you somehow switch between them?
 
Mar 31, 2021 at 11:25 AM Post #74,427 of 74,878

adydula

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""Here’s the thing. Controls are tricky. You can fool yourself into thinking something sounds very different, just due to the volume pot ramp. Something that ramps up quicker will sound more powerful, even if that isn’t the case. You can make snap decisions based on the feel of a switch.""

I often ask the vendor of an amp what the taper of the volume pot? Why...just for this reason....I see folks stating this amp is not as powerful as my amp xyz123 because i have to turn it up way more to get the same levels !!
 
Mar 31, 2021 at 11:27 AM Post #74,429 of 74,878

adydula

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And let’s go further? Which reviewer? How much experience? What are their biases? What is their system? Any chance they are financially compromised?Really, everyone…if it sounds great to you, you shouldn’t care if 99.9% of reviewers say it sounds like ass.
Ya gotta just love this one!!!
 
Mar 31, 2021 at 11:38 AM Post #74,430 of 74,878

yonson

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Another great chapter Jason!

Being someone that flops between being Subjectively Objective and Objectively Subjective I love these types of chapters! I guess I'm not a true Audiophile because I have pretty much settled on my "end game" setup. I only say pretty much because if my pair of Vidar didn't go into overcurrent protection when really cranking them in 4 ohm mono, I'd be perfectly happy with it (which is why I haven't gotten rid of my Parasound JC-1's, when I really want to jam I hook up those power hungry space heaters). Hopefully Tyr takes care of that...
 
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