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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. KeithEmo
    Interesting.... but I disagree with your final premise.
    (I consider both looking at a Rembrandt painting and listening to a song to be equally "experiences of things"...)

    Philosophically, I see little difference between:

    1) A painting that I know is a forgery - even though I am unable to see the difference.
    2) An audio clip which I know isn't recorded accurately - even though I am unable to hear the difference.

    Why would you find the experience of looking at a really good Rembrandt forgery any less satisfying than of listening to a really good quality compressed file?
    In both cases, we have something which we know is "technically inferior to the original in measurable ways"...
    But, in both cases, we assert that we are unable to tell the difference...

    Let me phrase that differently....

    Assuming you were to be offered the opportunity to own a real Rembrandt or a good Rembrandt forgery ...
    You may ONLY look at it...
    You may not sell it and you needn't worry about it being stolen...
    Would you agree that "if you can't see the difference then a forgery would be just as good as the original"?
    Or would you, for some intangible reason, still find it more satisfying to have "the real thing"?
    (Would you even wonder if, even though you see no difference today, someday you might notice one?)

    To me, an AAC file is "just a really good forgery of the original"...
    Whereas a true lossless copy is exactly the same as the original (so, in effect, it is the original)...
    And, as such, even if in a particular situation I can't hear the difference, I find it less satisfying based on that knowledge alone...

    I think you also missed my original point - and I'm afraid that is partly because I didn't explain it very well.

    Let's assume you were to come into possession of the estate of a superb forger.
    Among the contents, you find a long lost Rembrandt, and a really superb forgery of that same painting.
    You have an opportunity to show both to a bunch of people, ask each to tell you which they believe is the original and which the forgery, and analyze their responses.
    (This would be the equivalent of comparing two audio files in a blind test - you are using inexperienced subjects and limiting them to a single form of input.)
    Assuming that you were to analyze your results and find that "statistically people were unable to distinguish the forgery from the original" (their guesses were dead-on 50/50).

    Which would be your response:
    "I guess, if statistically nobody could tell the difference, then it really doesn't matter which is which, because they're obviously equally good".
    "I know, from my tests, which is the original... and I consider it to be valuable because I know it's the original.
    The fact that a bunch of test subjects couldn't see any difference doesn't convince me that there is no significant difference."

    (Note that, if you picked #2, you have just conceded that the measured differences are more important than the lack of perceptible differences.)

  2. AudioThief
    Let me ask you another question:

    Would someone be able to EQ a pair of Sony MDR-7506 in such a way to make it indistinguishable sound wise from the headphones I mentioned in a blind test?
  3. KeithEmo
    Just for the record - I happen to agree with you - that electrostatic headphones often do something that makes them sound better than dynamic headphones.
    (I personally prefer the sound of even mid-priced electrostatics to any dynamic headphones that I've ever heard - at any price point.)
    I'm inclined to suspect that it involves a very good transient response, which would show up on a waterfall plot, which I've never seen measured and presented for headphones.
    (This would make sense from the point of view of physics - a very light diaphragm, which stores very little energy, lacks a pronounced resonant frequency, and couples well to air.)

    It would also seem obvious to me that those of us who prefer electrostatic headphones above others place a very high priority on this particular characteristic...
    While others may not...

  4. AudioThief
    Makes sense to me, but what you said would be just speculation - not something that could be stated as fact. Its probably pretty obvious that I am confident I could personally differentiate my L500s from the Sony MDR 7506 in a blind test - but I can't conduct one. I am also confident that if you got 1000 subjects and showed them say a Stax SR-009 and a Sony MDR-7506 and heavily laid into them about how incredible the Sony's were - maybe with an extremely exclusive presentation etc, i.e loading them with positive bias, I believe that bias would be overriden by the superior sound quality of the Stax. That is my personal belief.

    Then again, I believed DACs made a difference only 24 hours ago, so who knows.
  5. castleofargh Contributor
    EQ alone never. with more advanced DSPs it might be possible to come very close under the condition that what the DSP is asking of the headphone, doesn't push it into significant distortions somewhere(like maybe trying to compensate a big low frequency roll off). but making 2 headphones sound completely indistinguishable, in most cases I doubt it. more likely there will be something noticeable even if we did everything right and somehow managed to make a listening test where the listener cannot guess which headphone is on his head from pads or weight.

    you know, headphones are usually by far the lowest fidelity component of a playback system, and there is no clear consensus on the frequency response one should aim at so we see vast differences in signature. so you can't and shouldn't try to apply the same reasoning to transducers that we have used for DACs. nobody here is claiming that we shouldn't be able to tell those headphones apart by ear. literally nobody! the measurements alone suggest clear and easily audible differences, so your opinion that you could tell a difference is this time the consensus on the subject. don't mistake our absolute certainty that some biases affect your uncontrolled impressions(and everybody else's), with a claim that you're making everything up and that there are in fact no audible differences to be heard.
    AudioThief likes this.
  6. bigshot
    The lead designer of the Oppo PM1s told me that the difference between expensive cans and midrange ones isn’t so much design and materials as it is manufacturing tolerances. He was aiming for under a 1dB variation, and to achieve that, they had to test on the production line and weed out copies that didn’t make spec.

    I think you might be able to hear a difference between one set of Stax and another, even if they are the same model. As I said, transducers are the wild card in any system. You calibrate the rest to make up for the error in the transducers.
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2019
    AudioThief likes this.
  7. AudioThief
    Thank you for answering all my questions. I also want to mention that having frequented different forums and participated in many discussions with probably close to 100 000 forum posts on different topics, I want to applaud @castleofargh , @gregorio & @bigshot for being (generally at least) very to the point, educational and intellectually honest. I can't remember having posters take their time and carefully explaining concepts in such a manner on other boards.

    My "audiophile" journey has lasted in excess of 2 years, and for essentially the entirety of that time I have read reviews and forum posts describing headphones and other equipment. And I learned that oftentimes, the consensus was wrong to my ears (I didn't really like the HD650 that much, but I did like the TH 900 although it measures worse etc). So I would sift through and find posts from users who oftentimes liked similar gear to what I had already heard and liked - Obviously with my newfound view of things, I will put even less stock in peoples descriptions and perceptions about gear.

    I said earlier in one of the stax threads that I would comment on my new SR-L500 headphones, and compare them to other headphones I've owned and/or heard. Now I'm starting to think that if I did that, I would just go back to audiophoolery. At the same time, I can't help but imagine that my percetions about these headphones, although hard to prove or be factually correct, could help someone looking for a pair of headphone. Is the general consensus here that to even comment on the sound of headphones, considering the differences in human hearing, biases etc, is just cluttering and confusing the audio world?
  8. castleofargh Contributor
    impressions have value. many people want to read some and do find them helpful. so please don't muzzle yourself if you have impressions to share. I would simply suggest that you check your posts to make it as clear as possible that those are your opinions and personal impressions, not some definitive claims about what the headphone does. even a warning at the start, or a small "IMO" here and there, can go a long way IMO ^_^.
    AudioThief likes this.
  9. AudioThief

    One more question - are there some descriptions that are more egregious than others? I am thinking that its probably hard to measure that a headphone is "dry" vs "wet/liquid" yet it feels as if these are perceptions that stay quite consistent from peoples impressions on varying headphones. I don't think I've heard anyone ever call the HD 800 "liquid sounding". I could easily call a headphone "bright" and back it up with measurements that makes sense. But that probably isn't true for dry vs liquid (I thought perhaps transient response could be measured and better = drier, but when I think about the 007 (liquid) vs lambda (dry) that doesn't make sense either - both measure well across the board I would imagine)
  10. bigshot
    Analogies to other senses can be vague and analogies don't really say anything specific about sound. So referring to sound as something you see or a texture you feel doesn't say much. Neither do flowery descriptions or descriptions of emotions sound makes you feel. Sound is basically made up of frequency (pitch), amplitude (volume) and time (rhythm). And sound fidelity is judged by specific aspects of sound- frequency response balance, distortion level, noise level, dynamics and timing error. Modern solid state electronics and digital recording has pushed most if not all of these aspects of sound fidelity beyond our ability to hear the error. It isn't easy to find a DAC, player or amp that sounds worse than any other. If you do find one, the odds are that it is a manufacturing error.

    Transducers are where the rubber hits the road. Anything mechanical is going to have a significant degree of error. Some of that you can correct for through sound processing (i.e.: equalizing response imbalances) but other things aren't so easy to fix. The most important purchase in any home audio system is the transducers, and nothing beats auditioning them before buying or a no questions asked money back guarantee.

    I've been a hifi nut for over four decades now. The big thing I've learned is to keep focused on practical things. Numbers on a sheet of paper are great if you can estimate what they represent in real world sound, but chasing better specs for the sake of better specs is a fool's errand, because beyond a certain point, you just can't hear a difference. The best thing you can do is listen critically. Analyze what you hear by the attributes of sound fidelity... Can I hear a response imbalance? Can I hear distortion? Then verify that you are hearing what you think you hear with a simple controlled listening test. If you establish a problem, then try to figure out where it's coming from and address it directly. Too many people randomly swap equipment in hopes of achieving better sound, but random swaps only result in random sound. You have to have a strategy.

    Forums like this are a great place to bounce problems off other folks and learn. I've learned a lot here myself. That's why I'm here. Hang around. Not all forums are full of crazy people. We only have a few of them here.
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2019
    WoodyLuvr and AudioThief like this.
  11. GearMe
    To some degree, Sonarworks seems to be aimed in this direction
  12. Steve999
    Sorry I wasn't there to follow up this morning--I had to, you know, like work. Looks like everyone did a great job helping you though, probably better than I could have done. Home now and listening to my Sony MDR-V6s right now for fun. As you no doubt know by now they are very much like the MDR-7506. Yeah, they're really good. However, things to know: they are are kind of bright compared to a lot of let's say, luxury headphones, which often try to tame the highs a little--you could say that makes the luxury headphones more sophisticated, or easier on the ears, or you could say it makes them less accurate--people can argue day and night over that one; they come with a coiled cord. And they are a little tight when you first start using them but after you use them a lot they loosen up and become a lot more comfortable. I've had this pair of V6s I really don't know how many years. Is this the pair I bought in about 1985? I'm not sure. I've changed ear-pads on them a couple of times. The original Sony ear pads are always on Amazon, and then there's kind of a little micro-industry of off-brand pads for them. I'm a little wary of straying away to the off-the brand pads, even if they are leather or velour or whatever, because Sony got it right with THESE pads.

    Also if your signal path has ANY noise in it (from the amp or in the recording, for example) the Sony's are much more likely to make it audible whereas many other headphones wouldn't.

    Additionally your ears might feel hot or sweat a little or even be a little sore after long periods of listening.

    And here's a cherry-picked article to make you secure in your choice:


    One warning: If you get the V6s DO NOT take the "for DIGITAL" stickers off, and if you get the 7506s DO NOT take the "PROFESSIONAL" stickers off. It's an emotional and spiritual thing. Just don't do it. :wink:

    And maybe you'll have this same pair of headphones 34 years from now. They don't really break. Just the ear pads wear out now and then. They're good benchmarks if you ever do get another pair of phones--you might say, are these new phones really better than my 7506s? It's a pretty high bar, IMHO. You might want something a little tamer in the treble and with an open design and designed more extensively for comfort to pair them up with. And if you want a good idea of everything that's in a recording, the 7506s / V6s are quite good for that.

    Or maybe you'll decide you don't want to get them--that's cool too. I tried to give you all the negatives here so you wouldn't be in for any surprises.
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2019
    WoodyLuvr likes this.
  13. TheSonicTruth
    From the days when it was implied and believed that digital 'did something' to the sound of a recording or finished album.
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2019
  14. WoodyLuvr
    Don't know if it is true or not but I do remember reading (back in the late 80s to early 90s) that Sony's MDR-Vx line was specifically engineered and tuned for CD (digital) playback as they no longer had to worry about (cover up) the analog hiss from cassette decks... thus explaining the "for Digital" label. Yes, still rather gimmicky, but nearly everything analog was being burned at the stake during this period ;-(
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2019
    TheSonicTruth likes this.
  15. old tech
    I bought some Pioneer Elite stereo components back in 1986 which had "Digital" proudly labelled on their facias. It was not only on the CD player (a redundant label given CDs are well, digital), but also on the analog cassette deck, the amplifier and the AM/FM tuner! If I bought the matching speakers they would probably have had a digital label as well.
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2019
    bigshot and WoodyLuvr like this.
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