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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. TheSonicTruth
    You did the right thing, confronting him! Now just don't buy any of his future material.

    Often times it isn't audiences who demand unnecessarily loud concert volumes. It can be the same people who demand stupid-loud mastered CDs or downloads: The artist themself, their management, their label. In the case of the concert, it can be the venue management or chamber of commerce demanding such loud volumes. Ignorance comes from many sources, not just the people in the audience. It can also come from the so-called 'authorities' - management, the engineers teching the event, et al.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2019
  2. KeithEmo
    I absolutely agree.
    Anecdotal evidence should never, in and of itself, be considered to be proof of anything.
    But, the more anecdotal evidence there is that seems to agree about something, the more it indicates that there is something there worth testing.

    You also need to remember that a lot of what we call "fact" is actually more accurately what science refers to as a model.
    For example, for a long time, we were told that "matter is made of three basic types of particles, protons, neutrons, and electrons, and none of them can be broken apart".
    This is what I was taught in school as "fact" - and that model was pretty much accurate enough to allow us to design nuclear reactors and atomic bombs.
    Of course, it wasn't a fact. but merely a model... and now, after doing more research, we've discovered that those particles are actually made up of smaller bits and pieces after all.
    (And we're back to devising more and better experiments to learn more about those pieces.)
    The old model is still quite useful - but we are no longer able to ignore anecdotal evidence that conflicts with it.

    We humans also have a nasty habit of assuming that OUR context applies to everyone.
    For example, I would agree that I would not expect to hear audible differences between various audio interconects, placed between a modern preamp and power amp.
    The reason is that most modern gear has a relatively low output impedance that won't interact very much with the range of capacitance we typically see in interconnects.
    HOWEVER, the exact opposite is true of vintage consumer level tube gear, and modern tube gear based on many vintage designs.
    (A lot of high-end vintage tube gear had a low impedance output, but the output impedance of most consumer level preamps was between 100 kOhms and 1 mOhm.
    And, with that high output impedance, the differences in capacitance between interconnect cables would often produce audible and measurable interactions.
    In fact, even modern magneitc phono cartridges are sensitive enough to load capacitance to interact differently with different interconnects - between the cartridge and preamp.)

    Considering the fact that so many people anecdotally claim to hear differences between DACs, doesn't that suggest the need for extensive and thorough testing?
    Does it really seem that tests of the limits of human hearing, conducted using static sine waves, are likely to be universally valid under all conditions?
    And, even if a few people do turn out to be imagining differences that aren't really there, does that make it safe to conclude that ALL of the reported differences are imaginary?
    And, yes, if all of the existing tests are so flawed, and so easy to pick apart, doesn't that make you wonder if they MIGHT have missed something important?

    Likewise, an awful lot of people claim to hear differences between amplifiers...
    How can you be sure, without a lot of testing, that "they ALL must be imagining it"?

    As for "absolute extremes"....
    I believe it's up to the individual to decide for themself how important they are...
    Assuming, for the sake or argument, I had a DAC that sounded different, but that difference was only audible with five songs, a certain amplifier, and a certain pair of headphones...
    Wouldn't it be up to me whether I considered that to be important enough to influence my decision about which DAC to own?
    How about whether I decide to pay extra for an amplifier and speakers because they can reproduce that Telarc recording with the cannons in it without clipping?
    Isn't it my money - and my choice about how to spend it?
    And, just as being any sort of collector, isn't being an audiophile sometimes about "excellence for it's own sake".
    Just knowing that, even if you can't hear a difference, the distortion on your new amplifier is much lower than on your old one.

    One time I actually owned a MIL-SPEC signal generator that was rated to be able to operate at the North Pole - at minus fifty degrees.
    I never went to the North Pole... but it was a cool piece of gear anyway (no pun intended).

    To me it's also a matter of semantics...
    If there is an exception to the rule, then it isn't a rule after all, and we should say "it's usually true " or "true most of the time".
    However, we should never say "something is always true" if it isn't.
    That would be misleading (even with the best of intentions).

  3. KeithEmo

    Unfortunately it can be difficult to reach the folks who get to decide...
    And convince them that they are losing customers by playing the music too loud...
    (Odds are, based on their actions, they currently believe the opposite.)

    analogsurviver likes this.
  4. analogsurviver
    I have heard from the sound guys musicians compete in game called "who will have the biggest/highest stack of speakers on stage". With band B trying to outdo the Band A on the NEXT concert, only to be repeated by the Band C vs Band B on yet another concert after that.

    And all three bands turning down the use of far superior then spanking new speaker system, because it is - onobrustive on stage. Bigger is better ... and to hell with the facts and truth!

    For the third concert, sound guys did put yet another "floor" of speakers on stage - but no cables were abused for connecting that surplus "floor". They were there just for the show and all to see that Band C had the biggest array of speakers on the stage.
  5. bigshot
    More anecdotal BS doesn't make it any more real. The way to determine if something is real is to test it. No one needs to worry about extremes beyond their ability to hear. They can worry if they want. It's a free country. But they are dumb to waste energy on stuff that doesn't matter when a simple test would tell them everything they need to know. A recording that can't be played on a normal stereo system is an out of spec recording. I have thousands of CDs and thousands of records, and I can think of only one out of spec recording. It was an audiophile LP. Sucker bait. I'm sure that album forced a lot of people to upgrade, but it didn't matter because nothing could track it properly. The CD of that album works fine. The problem was the groove width, not the sound quality.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2019
  6. gregorio
    1. Indeed, which is why it has been tested!

    2. Do you have even a single scrap of reliable evidence that the facts of digital/analogue/electrical audio signal behaviour are not facts but just a model AND even a single scrap of reliable evidence indicating a flaw in the model which materially affects the known facts of signal behaviour? There's probably nothing in human history more well understood/proven/demonstrated than the behaviour of digital/analogue/electrical signal behaviour, if our "facts" are incorrect our modern world simply would not exist! So although your assertion maybe correct, it is utterly irrelevant/inapplicable to audio. Congrats on employing YET ANOTHER classic audiophile tactic/fallacy.
    2a. The particle that we deal with in audio is the electron, do you have some evidence that an electron can be "broken apart"? When it was discovered that protons and neutrons could be "broken apart" (into quarks, etc.) which of the known/accepted audio facts were thereby rendered incorrect and had to be changed?
    2b. So, because you personally were incorrectly taught at school (that an unproven theory was a fact), therefore that what the rest of us accept as audio facts are just unproven theories (which are maybe wrong).
    2c. As you've just perfectly demonstrated!!!

    3. Indeed it does, which is why we have done extensive, thorough testing.
    3a. No it doesn't, in fact common sense (in addition to reliable evidence) dictates that it's likely to be universally invalid! For example, it's been demonstrated that the limit of human hearing in response to random jitter is around a nano-second or few but this is with a signal (and other conditions) specifically designed to optimise detection. However, this specific isolated signal and other conditions do NOT exist universally, in fact they never exist when a consumer listens to music/sound recordings. Therefore, "universally" the limits of human hearing are very significantly poorer (with the one exception of this specific signal/conditions)! Another example, when testing high freq response, we compare an isolated static sine wave with silence, which is the optimal conditions for reliable detection. Detecting those same high freqs when they are part of a music recording is substantially more difficult. Therefore, while your statement is true, your implication that under other conditions the actual limits might be higher is utterly false, the reliable evidence (and common sense) demonstrates the exact opposite!
    3b. Firstly, it's not a "few people", it's a lot of people over many decades and Secondly, when those who report audible differences (which are below audibility) are tested under controlled conditions, they invariably cannot detect those differences. Until there is some reliable evidence to the contrary, it is obviously both "safe" and common sense to conclude that reports of inaudible differences being audible are imaginary! What common sense alternative is there?
    3c. Firstly, all of the existing tests are not "so flawed", they typically have at least one flaw but that may or may not have a significant effect on the findings. Congrats on employing the exact fallacy I mentioned only a few posts ago, the equivalency of flaws. Secondly, everyone: Countless tens of thousands of scientists, professionals, etc., over the course of numerous decades, all over the world have "missed something important", with the exception of audiophiles, who don't know what that "something important" could be and have absolutely no reliable evidence for it! That's you applying common sense is it?

    And so on, apparently infinitum. Packing so many fallacies into a single post is impressive but even more impressive is that they're all pretty much just repeats of the classic "golden oldie" audiophile fallacies/myths which have been so thoroughly debunked. Amazing!

    Last edited: Jun 16, 2019
  7. Phronesis
    All of our interactions with reality are through models. Depending on the situation, some models are judged to be better than others. No model is perfect, but some can be very good. Models in the physical sciences tend to be better than those in the social sciences with respect to predictive ability, and our understanding of the human mind is still quite limited - that has a lot of implications for audio stuff.
    SoundAndMotion likes this.
  8. sonitus mirus
    Some of us consider social science to be physical as well. I don't see the properties of a human to be any different from any other object in the observable universe. There is no evidence to suggest that there is freedom of choice, and the best information that I can find on the subject indicates that any other explanation is most likely an illusion of our perception. Though, why would we include common social models to design audio equipment? I only care about the audio signal, not the countless interpretations of that signal. It would be ridiculous to try and evaluate audio equipment by emotions.
    StandsOnFeet likes this.
  9. Phronesis
    I agree that everything is (maybe) ultimately physical, but I don't think we can expect to model biological systems and minds effectively with the same types of models, especially quantitative models, which are used in physical science.

    The problem of free will is vexing, and my hypothesis is that we do have free will, or at least partially free will, though I have no good answer for where freedom of will might 'reside', except to say that models of mind which don't account for the subjective experience of consciousness are likely to be incomplete in important ways that we don't understand.

    With respect to audio, if you're interested in how things subjectively sound to people (which is what most buyers of gear are interested in, not measurements for their own sake), I think you have to contend with subjective and cognitive aspects in your models, or otherwise accept that your models have limitations which may reduce their usefulness to a degree which is somewhat unknown.
  10. castleofargh Contributor
    that reason also justifies investigating alien abductions, healing crystals and "water memory". so I have a hard time agreeing that it's a legitimate one. if human resources were unlimited, then sure, why not have some bored people go test every completely unsubstantiated claims that somebody else made, or any idea someone thought was good when 99.9% of the time it will turn to be yet another garbage idea. if we had no limit in researchers and funding, I'd agree with you for the fun of it and out of pure curiosity.
    but in real life, looking for something is inevitably time spent not looking for something else. it just makes more sense to estimate the value of a statement through the amount of supporting evidence that come with it, and just dismiss the rest. even more so under those circumstances where many people making the claims could have spent 1 hour of their lives trying to demonstrate what they could effectively notice or not by ear with a somewhat controlled experiment, instead of just deciding that if they feel something under casual listening, then it's objectively the sound difference causing it(which to me is evidence of ignorance, not evidence that there is probably something to be heard). all in all, I see your approach as pushing the burden of proof on anybody but the very guys claiming that there is something to investigate.
    maybe there is, maybe there isn't, most likely there is something, sometimes. what's really going on is what's really going on and I'm fine with that no matter what it is. unlike some, I'm not here trying to oppose reality. but I can only think of one instance where investigating anecdotal unsupported claims is necessary IMO, and that's when there is potential danger in ignoring the claim. if someone claims he smelled gas near the kitchen, I won't demand supporting evidence and controlled testing, I'll rush to the kitchen to check. but I'm not elite audiophile enough to consider possible tiny audible differences between some DACs under some conditions to be a matter of life and death for anybody. so I'm fine waiting for actual evidence and keep spending my time tuning my EQ and finding cool tracks to listen to. because I do have evidence that those stuff make a clearly audible difference.

    edit: saying we shouldn't test something unless it's supported by evidence, in the topic about testing audiophile myths was not my brightest moment. ^_^
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2019
  11. KeithEmo
    Let's be perfectly honest here...

    It isn't going to kill anyone to buy a DAC and find out later that it isn't audibly perfect.
    But, then, it isn't likely to kill them to spend an extra $100 for better performance they can't actually hear either.
    We're essentially talking about luxury items here.

    The factors that affect DACs, and the types of flaws they exhibit, are quite different than the sorts of flaws typically seen in Class A/B amplifiers.
    DACs do different things right, and different things wrong, which seems to suggest that tests that apply to one may not apply well to the other.
    For example, Class A/B amplifiers most often exhibit THD, IMD, and noise.... so those are the factors that tests for them focus on.
    But DACs most often exhibit near perfect THD, IMD, and frequency response measurements.
    However, in contrast, DACs are more prone to complex combinations of ringing, and non-harmonically-related artifacts.

    Yet, we're expected to accept that tests designed for amplifiers are likely to highlight audible differences between DACs.
    To me, the whole point of discussing "testing something" is to discover flaws in previous tests and design better tests to achieve more accurate results.
    Finding yet better and more convincing excuses not to test something "because you're sure it doesn't matter" just doesn't seem to accomplish much.

    Read back a few dozen pages in this forum.....
    See how many posts were dedicated to "new and interesting things we could test"...
    And how many to "suggestions about testing things in new and interesting ways that might produce new and interesting data"...
    And how many were dedicated to "reasons why we shouldn't bother to test something because we just know the results won't be interesting"...

    If you accept what some people seem to be claiming....
    - we know that all cables sound the same (I would tend to agree there)
    - we know that all decent DACs sound the same
    - we know that all decent amplifiers sound the same
    - we seem to agree that there's no point in testing speakers or headphones "because they're a matter of personal preference"

    So what exactly ARE we all talking about testing?

    Could someone please point me to the most recent post ABOUT ACTUALLY TESTING SOMETHING.
    (Specifically; one that wwasn't shouted down with a thousand replies of "we already know all we need to about that one"?)

  12. analogsurviver
    Agreed on all counts - BUT one ...

    If anyone frequent on this thread ever again writes that ALL cables in audio, for all aplications do not mater and can not make BOTH audible and measurable difference - there WILL be trouble.

    Audio is NOT only RBCD player into some electrically strictly resistive load transducer - that should be by now CLEAR. If making that "all cables sound the same" remark again, please DO - clearly - state what are the exceptions. I know that you are aware of this and understand the mechanisms behind exceptions, but please do remind other of these too. I have absolutely no desire to repeat what two of the most known exceptions to the "cables sound the same" are - not for the upteenth time.

    Equally, saying there is no point in testing headphones or speakers is - silly, to remain on the polite side. No single transducer will ever be so universal that another will not trounce it in some, no matter how far fetched or rarely encountered in music feature. Of course it is personal preference - as well as is personal preference for a musician to own at least say 2 flutes at the same time - one for intimate chamber music and one for say Debussy's Faun in a LARGE hall. It is impossible to cover such extremes with a single flute - and that one can certainlly extend that for headphones and speakers, too.
  13. castleofargh Contributor
    I was going to contest your views because facts>beliefs blablablah, but then I remembered we're in this topic where testing apparently unfounded legends is exactly what we're here to do. so while I clearly maintain the opinion of my previous post in general, I have to admit that it's completely inappropriate for this specific thread and I was wrong. ^_^

    about measurement standards, I think most of them are antiquated and more like traditions than actual standards the industry must follow or express properly. with that said, DACs are a tricky thing in the sense that what an ADC or a DAC can do is about the limit of what we can easily test without having to resort to extremely expensive equipment. so beside revealing when something goes dramatically wrong in a DAC(like having horrendous aliasing or some unwanted noise leaking in somehow) we will usually have to conclude that "yup, it's a DAC".
    as to introduce other measurements, I doubt anybody here has anything against the idea. we certainly have plenty of headroom before we will reach technical information overload in this hobby:smirk:. the problem is that the industry usually doesn't share its research and extensive lists of measurements. so if we(consumers) don't even get to see what has been measured and known all along, what hope do we have to see innovative measurement protocols? I'm not optimistic about this.
  14. bigshot
    It's great to test things to the limits of our ability to measure. Thoroughness is certainly admirable. But ultimately, the information we learn may be more *interesting* than it is useful. The equipment we are talking about testing here has an intended purpose... faithfully reproducing commercially recorded music in the home. For the measurements to be useful, they have to fit within that context.

    Does it matter that a coo coo clock cannot operate under zero gravity? I don't think they are likely to have one on the Space Station. Does it matter that a player can accurately reproduce super audible frequencies or have a noise floor significantly below the inherent noise floor in commercially recorded music? Well, it might be interesting to know, but it really doesn't matter.

    There is such a thing as "good enough". Most of us make determinations similar to that every day in every aspect of our lives... Do I have enough gas in the tank to get to work and back today? Do I have a couple of quarters in my pocket for the parking meter?

    I've been interested in hifi for about 45 years now. I remember what turntables and tape decks were. Back then, it was all about optimizing every little aspect that you could... buy a better grade of tape, fancy record cleaning systems, noise reduction gizmos... Well, we've gotten past all that now. We have a format and equipment that is perfect for the purposes of listening to commercially recorded music in our living rooms. Nothing is missing. Nothing is degraded. Our ears are receiving every nuance of sound that they can possibly hear.

    Once you achieve that goal, what do you do? There are two options:

    1) You double down on perfect for the intended purpose and try to achieve better than required. That is an interesting exercise in seeing how far past the bleeding edge you can push it.

    or 2) You sit down in that comfy chair in your living room and immerse yourself in wonderful music presented to you with a fidelity that matches or exceeds your ability to listen to it.

    I have no objection to "obsession for obsession's sake". If someone enjoys calculating Pi to more decimal points than is necessary, I say, "Have fun with it." But if they are going to go into a forum like this and tell people that they are missing out on some sort of tangible benefit, or THEORETICAL tangible benefit, then I throw up the flag for a foul. No one is missing out on sound because they are listening to a CD instead of an SACD. They're only missing out on irrelevant frequencies that flat out don't matter for the intended purpose.

    When you conduct a test, you can go for abstract information, or you can try to solve a problem. The test should be designed with a purpose too. The problem here is twofold: People are demanding higher standards of others than they demand of themselves. And they are straying out of context into lala lands of "what ifs" and doubling down on tiny details.

    Neither of those two things will help you get a great sounding stereo system. It's more likely to lead you astray.
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2019
  15. GearMe
    Hmmm....I can yield to the idea that an esoteric 5 figure dac/amp/etc is 'technically' better than a value driven 3 figure one. That said, a well designed/run DBT with the right sample size/characteristics is the great equalizer for these scenarios. If the study yields no statistically significant difference, then I'm not buyin' what they're sellin' :wink:
    bigshot likes this.
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