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Testing audiophile claims and myths

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by prog rock man, May 3, 2010.
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  1. Phronesis
    I suggest that you do the blind test and see what the results are. I don't accept that results of typical blind tests necessarily fully generalize to normal listening, but performance on such tests should still have value, and if you think differences between audio files are easy to hear (for you, with your gear), you should be able to hear them with blind tests.
    SonyFan121 likes this.
  2. castleofargh Contributor
    he is who he says he is. not that it should matter in determining facts.
    if you make a statement and someone contests it and asks for supporting evidence, it is your role to take back what you said, or do your best to provide some supporting evidence to show that you were indeed correct. those are the basic rules of discussing about reality. but of course it goes both ways, if @gregorio claims something you believe to be false, it's is your right to contest and ask for evidence.

    under such circumstances, some evidence is provided and we can all decide if they're of significance or not. or no evidence is provided and anybody is free to reject the statement entirely as being nothing but an empty claim on the web. I believe it's a solid system that gives a chance to all and puts the responsibility on the person claiming something. everything else about measuring penises and attacking people instead of the points they makes, IMO they're signs of a failure to argue(and I'm saying this to both of you in this case).
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2019
  3. KeithEmo
    In recent years I've always used dBPowerAmp to RIP CDs.
    It always seems to do a good job and never seems to get errors.
    I might suggest ripping several commercial CDs that are in the AccurateRIP database, just to confirm that your CD drive and other hardware are performing well, when you start.

    As far as data storage and reliability - there are several ways of looking at that and a lot of it depends on the user.

    First off, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS 100% RELIABLE DATA STORAGE at the level of a single copy.
    (This is true for vinyl, data discs, VHS tapes, and even movie film...)
    Even discs that are "designed" to last a very long time can be subject to occasional manufacturing defects or accidental damage.
    The key to reliable data storage is redundancy - keep more than one copy.
    One of the main benefits of digital data storage is that it is so easy and economical to do so.

    There are several benefits that you CAN get from all forms of digital storage - but you have to put a little effort into it too.

    Perhaps the "zeroth" benefit is that all copies are identical to begin with (unless the duplicating machinery is broken the 1000th CD off the original will be identical to the first).
    The first benefit is that, with most forms of digital data storage, you have several easy methods for VERIFYING the accuracy of data you have stored.
    The second benefit is that it's very easy to make backup copies...
    And part of that second benefit is that copies of digital data are identical to the original.
    If I have vinyl albums there is no way to make a duplicate or a backup copy without some "generational" loss of quality.. or buying another copy of the album itself.
    If I copy a CD, and do it correctly, the copy will be EXACTLY the same as the original.
    That will be true for the first generation copy, and the tenth, and the ten-thousandth.
    CDs also have data redundancy; they contain extra data which can be used to invisibly and perfectly repair any damage that does occur.
    By the spec, if I punch a 1 mm hole through a CD, lots of data bits will be destroyed.
    However, when I play that disc, it will still be PERFECT - because extra data will be accessed and used to replace the missing data.
    It won't be "almost as good", or "patched so well you won't notice it"; the original data will have been restored to perfection.
    (So, in fact, if I have a disc that has "correctable damage", and I copy it, the copy will be MORE PERFECT; not only will it play perfectly, but the damage will actually be removed.)
    The only time we get "noticeable errors" on a CD is when it has so much damage that it exceeds the ability of the system to correct it.

    In practice.......

    I have several thousand albums that I originally obtained on CD or in other digital formats - and which I keep in my permanent collection.
    All of them have been ripped and stored onto a single USB hard drive.
    And, yes, there is the possibility that any single CD, or that entire hard drive, might fail someday.....


    My entire collection fits on a single hard drive that cost about $150 (I still have the CDs).
    This is much more convenient than thousands of CDs (and I don't have to worry about misplacing the occasional CD).

    After I put each new album on that disc I use a data verification program to calculate a checksum - which is stored in a database.
    Using that program, I can push one or two buttons, and absolutely confirm that any track on that disc is still identical to when it was stored there.
    And, even better, every several months I leave the program running overnight, and it verifies that every one of the thousands of tracks on the drive is still perfect.
    (After it runs it will give me a nice report - either showing "no errors found" - or listing any files that have become damaged.)

    Because the drive cost so little, and drives can simply fail outright, I keep a duplicate copy of the entire drive.
    For the cost of another $150 drive I can have perfect duplicate backup copies of every track in my entire correction.
    (It takes overnight to copy my entire collection - but all I have to do is press a few buttons and go to bed.)

    That fellow at "the Institute of Josef Stefan" made a functional, but remarkable inefficient and expensive, decision.
    If he has had the occasional CD fail, then the easiest solution would have been to keep duplicates of ALL his CDs.
    (CD media is very cheap, takes only a few minutes to copy, and, as I mentioned before, the copy is identical to the original.)
    And the easiest and most reliable solution would be to replace 5000 CDs worth of data with a single hard drive......
    Then make three or four copies of that hard drive.... put one in the basement, another in a vault in another city, and take one home and bury it in the back yard.
    And all of that would have been FAR cheaper, more efficient, and more reliable, than recording 5000 VHS tapes.
    (I suspect that his decision was made many years ago - today you would have difficulty finding VHS recorders, players, or media.)

    Just to reiterate that - in perspective.....

    It's not especially unlikely that a single CD, or a single hard drive, will become damaged or simply fail in the next ten years.
    However, the odds of a hard drive, and a backup copy of that drive, both failing in the next ten years are extremely remote.
    And the odds of the original drive, and TWO backup drives, all failing in the next ten years, are astronomically small.
    At current prices, a hard drive large enough to hold the content from 5000 CDs costs about $125 .
    So, the cost to store all the data from 5000 CDs on hard disc, IN TRIPLICATE, is less than $500 (It's actually far less; I didn't even consider compression).

    I should also note a few additional things....

    First, modern hard drives are very reliable, and fail FAR less often than hard drives from a few decades ago.
    (SSDs and flash drives DO have a finite life expectancy - and should NOT be used for long-term storage.)

    Second, while hard drives are not considered to be "reliable for long term storage", modern ones usually remain viable for many decades.

    Third, if you have REALLY valuable data, because making copies is so easy, it's relatively simple to extend the life of backups indefinitely.
    There are several "formal backup strategies" that are routinely used to preserve important data - all made possible because it's so easy to make perfect digital copies.
    In general, as long as you have AT LEAST TWO backup copies, and verify that both are perfect every few years, the odds of both failing are pretty slim.
    (Every decade or so you add a new drive, and retire the oldest one, so at least one drive is relatively new.)

    Groups like the IRS, who save huge amounts of data, use more complicated strategies and equipment...
    Where files that aren't used for a long time are automatically shifted to storage devices that are slower to access but have a longer shelf life.

    HOWEVER, for a typical home listener, simply keeping a backup copy of your music library on a second drive, in the back of the closet....
    And, perhaps, a second backup copy at grandma's house, or in your safety depisit box, will be quite adequate....

    SonyFan121 likes this.
  4. castleofargh Contributor
    even in the mid range, some hair cells will get damaged over the years(loud noises, physical impacts), the result could be lower stimulation, or possibly extra noise. then getting old and having stuff working less efficiently is sort of the norm for our body I doubt the part of the brain dealing with sound is any different.

    most hearing thresholds get worst for adults. the pretty graph for equal loudness contour going below 0dB SPL in the midrange, that's not for seniors apparently.
    stolen from https://www.researchgate.net/public...iometric_thresholds_of_young_and_older_adults

    about the hearing tests, the setting of the signal's loudness is massively important to compare with other people, and you most likely don't have that information when you try some online stuff with your headphone.
  5. Phronesis
    The age-related decline in FR is apparent in the graphs, but there's individual variability, and maybe my decline is less than average? And FR is still different from perception of detail in music, I'm not sure how much these graphs tell us. Also, I recall that the research by Harman et al didn't show a big age-related difference in preferred tonality of speakers and headphones, so that's further evidence of the brain adjusting to changes in the ears.

    On the hearing tests, two of them said to set a reference at a comfortable level, so that's what I'd, not loud and not quiet.
  6. bigshot
    SonyFan121, let me know when you have time to take the listening test. That will tell you more about the differences between codecs than arguing about it will. You don't know until you take the test for yourself.
  7. castleofargh Contributor
    I have no idea how your hearing is, I wasn't talking about that.

    my guess comes from how quieter music will have a deep psychoacoustic impact. so even if all else was fine and properly compensated, I'd expect even the most basic and quasi linear loss in sensitivity to have various consequences on our experience. how? I have no clue, the brain keeps adapting and compensating, playing the double game of trying to make us sense what we used to sense, but at the same time if it lasts too long, trying to make the new normal the reference for further changes. so how that balancing act works out when changes are definitive? IDK, I imagine that depending on the impact in real life, the brain will just give up on trying to compensate... IDK. but I'm not confident that we can always tell when something changes in our hearing or in our brain. if we start to miss out on some cues needed for speech comprehension, I'm guessing we become aware, but is it that we notice the change, or only that we notice the consequence of having to ask people to repeat what they were saying?

    anyway for you who's always thinking about subconscious and stuff below obvious observation, it shouldn't be hard to imagine a world of changes between a youngster with a great many very reactive sensors, and an adult with fewer working sensors in the ear. if a bunch join up into a neuron in the brain, given how neurons work, having some of the paths not sending a signal could mean that the neuron never again reaches action potential(I'm free wheeling, I have no clue how things turn out and how much of the famous brain plasticity comes into play). but whatever turns out to happen, I don't think we can just assume that we boost the gain in our head and all is the same once more. even listening louder to compensate for the lower sensitivity probably doesn't result in the same mechanisms being involved. I'd expect the brain to try its best to make our favorite album feel like it always did in our memory, but there surely is a limit to compensating.

    here I'm only considering damaged hair cells and only lost in sensitivity as a result. I have no idea what other changes occur in the body as we age. I'd guess hormones and consequences could be a nice starting point.
  8. Phronesis
    I agree, we can't say for sure how our perception and perceptual ability changes over time - we just perceive what we perceive - and the problem of fallibility of memory comes up again when we try to make those comparisons. I haven't seen any good research on this (but I haven't spent much time looking for it), so for now, based on my own experience, I can say that I haven't noticed a degradation in my ability to perceive music as compared to what I remember from decades ago, and my performance on those few online hearing tests was good, with no indication of significant hearing loss. My hypothesis is that the brain can compensate quite well, or more than well, through middle-age for many people, but in older age probably that compensation isn't enough for the vast majority of people. I'm not looking forward to experiencing that latter stage firsthand!
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2019
  9. james444 Contributor
    Recent research suggests that the opposite may be true, and that age-related hearing loss should be taken seriously even in earlly stages. The brain area used for hearing can become reorganized, and compensatory changes in other brain areas may increase the risk of dementia.

  10. KeithEmo
    When you get into the subject of "perception" things get very complicated.

    For example, when you listen to your favorite album, how much of what you "hear" is what your ears are picking up today, and how much is from your memory of all the times you've heard it before?
    Have you ever noticed how, when you have a song where the lyrics are somewhat muffled and hard to make out, they seem much clearer after you read them and know what they are?
    It's pretty obvious what's happening is that, while the audio in the song isn't any clearer, it seems clearer when your brain already knows what the words are and what you're supposed to be hearing.
    (There are many examples where words mixed in with background noise, or muttered indistinctly when you play a certain song backwards, become obvious ONLY after you're told what to listen for.)
    And, as you get older, while your actual physical abilities are declining a bit, you are accumulating a huge library of stuff you already know, and a huge collection of ways to think about things and figure things out.
    (In many modern situations, like driving, the ability to interpret and understand the input data is much more important than the actual quality of the data itself.)

    It also makes you wonder whether, when you meet someone who is convinced that his old favorite vintage vinyl sounds so much better than a new CD, he can make a fair comparison at all...
    Or whether what he's comparing is a sort of composite image, made up both of what he's hearing now, and what he remembers hearing forty years ago.
    (He is comparing the current sound of the CD to a composite of the sound of the vinyl album today combined with his memory of how he remembers it used to sound.)

    It's also worth noting that, quite often, our brains adjust both our memories, and the references to which we compare them.
    So, when you remember "how great your favorite old song sounded".....
    - your memory of what it actually sounded like is almost certainly not very accurate
    - your interpretation of the memory that "it sounded great" may not convey the same meaning now as it did back then

    Taken together, that suggests that your ability to compare a current song to one you heard fifty years ago is unlikely to be at all accurate.
    (And, since you did hear it fifty years ago, and retain information about it, there's no way you can choose to make a fair comparison based only on what you hear today, because there's no way to "wipe" the existing information.)

  11. Phronesis
    I find it interesting how songs I thought had great sound quality 30-40 years ago, on systems that aren't as good as what I have now, sound like they have somewhat poor recording quality to me today, as compared to more modern recordings. I wonder how much of that is due to me caring more about sound quality (rather than just music quality) these days, as compared to when I was young.
  12. KeithEmo
    I suspect that our brains associate a lot of cues and associations with everything they store in memory.

    How good that song sounded probably depended on everything from how carefully you were listening to the lyrics, to the tune, to the sound quality.
    Add to that the mood you were in the first time you heard it, the mood you were in when you usually heard it, and quite possibly the time of day involved.
    There was also how it compared to other music you were familiar with at the time.
    A whole slew of different factors probably affected your initial response to it.

    And that, in turn, affected your response to it later (the next time you heard it you had fond memories of its being a song you liked).
    Now, when you think about it, you can add to that "fond memories of happier days", and how you're feeling today.

    I have many fond memories of enjoying music on a cheap cassette player that I have little doubt would sound unlistenably awful today.
    Yet, in my memory, I have no detailed recall of precisely what they sounded like, but I still remember them as "sounding nice".
    (At most, I seem to vaguely recall that particular cassette player as "sounding better because it had a little bit bigger speaker".)
    I've often found it to be somewhat sad to find a copy of a song that I thought was great twenty or thirty years ago - only to find that I am no longer able to enjoy it.

    The philosophical types would say that "the you who heard that song back then is a different you than the one who is listening to it now".
    After all, "you" are simply a sum of all your experiences.
    The tricksy part is that you can't simply erase part of the memory and "decide to listen to it without all that baggage attached".
    It's simply not possible.

    Phronesis likes this.
  13. old tech
    I think you are conflating a number of issues. As @castleofargh points out, all our senses decline with age, including body function and our brains. These are objective facts even though most people don't notice the decline (up to a point) as it is so gradual, so it is no surprise that you would be unaware of the degree your hearing has declined over time. It is a bit like having constant contact with one of your rellies and not really noticing how their kids are getting taller - but if you haven't seen then for years then the growth is very obvious, like instantly turning the clock back to 18 years old in my previous example. btw, those on-line exercises do not really test the issue, it is not so much about thresholds and being able to hear the lowest levels (important as that is), but rather being able to discriminate between various levels of quiet tones of different frequencies under the background of louder tones of different frequencies.

    No doubt middle aged drivers generally have a safer driving record than teenagers or young adults, despite the degradation of eyesight into middle age. This has little to do with perception but a lot to do with experience (by that age the driver would have experienced many hazardous situations and has more of an idea how to anticipate or deal with them) and the driver is likely to be more sober and cautious, ie less likely to speed in inappropriate conditions or drive under heavy influence. Of course, there will be a crossover point with many very old drivers where the decline due to age is greater than the experience and sober habits, and becomes more of a risk on the roads. Where this crossover point lies depends on several factors including age, presence of mind, the driving task at hand etc - how many 50+ yo Formula 1 drivers are out there?

    The same analogy can be used with a mastering or mixing engineer with decades of experience under his (or her) belt compared to a 22 yo wet behind the ears novice. The experienced engineer knows how EQ, limiting, compression etc will effect the music, often without listening as he has been there, done that, many times with different music and that experience will outweigh the degradation in hearing. Same is true with a seasoned audiophile, who has over the decades been exposed to a wide range of music, genres, stereo systems and knows how to appreciate high fidelity in a way that an 18 yo cannot, despite the 18 yo having much better hearing.

    This is not really about perception, or hearing tonal qualities correctly, but rather that with age, masking and clarity becomes more of an issue, whether your oblivious to it or not. Even with all our cochlear hairs intact across the full range of frequencies, they do not respond to stimuli as well as they did at a younger age. Additionally, the bones in our middle ear harden with age and our brains do not process the degraded information as efficiently. This manifests itself mainly as a decline in discriminating fine amplitudes within a frequency band, ie the sound becomes less separated. Perception cannot compensate for this which is partly evident with the cocktail party effect becoming more pronounced with age.
  14. Steve999
    For me, if I want to hear details I never heard before or alter my perception of music I'll listen closely to a piece of music I really love three or four more times. I'll read the lyrics if it has lyrics. I'll try to organize it in my mind. What our minds do with music is pretty close to magic. The lyrics will take on a different twist. I'll notice the bass line, or something in the drums, or what the clarinets and flutes are doing, or that great trumpet solo, and so on. With modern technology sometimes I'll say wait a minute, what was that, and go back several seconds three or four times, and then from then on when I hear that music I have a better idea what's going on.

    Maximizing fidelity is very cool but rapidly diminishing returns on that additional dollar spent hit early and hard for me. I admire and respect people who do better at the hobby than I do and if I can use their experience to identify that an obvious improvement is there for the taking for me I do it in a heartbeat. I want to hear everything on the recording (within the limits of my hearing) in a pretty good and even balance and to have control over the end sound (e.g., EQ) for my preferences.

    It is a luxury of life to have a nice hifi and it can be a true wonder and fulfilling hobby and even intellectually quite interesting and demanding and engaging if done well and smartly, but in my view it's not necessary to enjoy music to the utmost. Maybe that's the cruelest audiophile myth of all--that to really appreciate the music you need the nth degree in music reproduction so you can hear the music in all its glory. And the twist of the knife is manufacturers and salesmen misleading people so that they spend their money on the wrong things and in the wrong proportions and in preposterous amounts to maximize fidelity. Then they have veered way off course and wasted time and money and have been lied to and misled in pursuit of what is for me the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, which is to enjoy the music to the utmost.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2019
    Phronesis likes this.
  15. Phronesis
    One of those online hearing tests does involve discriminating quiet words in the presence of background sounds. I had no problem doing so with any of the tests, it wasn't even close to difficult.

    You haven't presented evidence that there's generally a steady decline in ability to perceive details in music from age 18 to 50. The idea that a 50-yo would be surprised by what their 18-yo perceived is an assumption, but can you point to any studies comparing 18 vs 50 yo people in that regard?

    In the driving example, middle-aged drivers do indeed have better perceptual ability, if you understand perception to be awareness and understanding of what's in their environment, rather than just visual acuity. It's the same when talking about perception of music rather than just acuity in distinguishing small differences in simple test tones. The top-down cognitive aspect of perception is fundamentally important, and that's why experience improves perceptual ability.

    Regarding F1 drivers, like other sports, there are rarely people of that age who are competitive at the most elite levels of any sport. But I bet there are plenty of 50-yo former elite racers who are excellent racers, and better than many 18-yo racers who'll never reach the elite level.
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