What do you think about subjective opinions without any scientific basis?
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KeithPhantom

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I always had that question since I learned the basics of audio processing and reproduction. I remember when I didn't know anything about audio and was looking for bettering my experience with it. I started like everyone here, reading the other forums, thinking that everything made sense: amps have sound signatures, all cables made a difference, the same with DACs...

But, after learning the science behind the components that allow audio reproduction, I can't stand to have feelings between sorrow and laughter when I see other forums that aren't sound related, their terms, and especially how they improve their audio. Caring for things such as jitter when time-based errors on competently engineered gear are not going to be revealed by our faulty and very insensitive ears. The use of external clocks, "better" power cables, and such just make me think about how I was in the same place and how ignorant I was.

It was a great journey to learn and understand what I know, because I started in the same place as them, but I had the motivation to move on and actually ask why the equipment worked as it did and what was the scientific basis of many of the claimed differences between amplifiers and DACs. I stumbled between raging threads with sides arguing to have heard differences and some that dismissed those claims. Those made me read the evidence presented and then I chose a camp.

For the last year, I started reading more about audio and realizing I didn't know anything, and all my experience with different gear was just biased by other's opinions or community hype, that was the hard reality I had to face. I humbled down and started reading more about topics I had an interest in, learning more about their actual inner workings, and how they correlated to what I was hearing.

Personally, I do not have any issues with other's opinions, but I started to have issues with a kind of people: the ones who claim their senses are absolute and no science can better explain any possible differences. Respecting their opinions and learning why they think as they do is something that I see of interest and I try to acknowledge it whenever possible, but the absolutism that they bring sometimes obfuscates the ultimate goal of this subforum: the use of science to explain audio-related topics.

Finally, I would like to add that I have a sincere curiosity about how do you feel with subjective opinions and the ones which do not make any scientific sense. Tell me what do you think when you read those post, and what would you tell them if you had the opportunity,

Thanks for reading,

KeithPhantom
 
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castleofargh

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ClieOS

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I have a scientific background, one thing I learned is that: Always be skeptical about subjectivity, but be just as skeptical about "objectivity". Then try to live in peace between the two.
 
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I have a scientific background, one thing I learned is that: Always be skeptical about subjectivity, but be just as skeptical about "objectivity". Then try to live in peace between the two.
I still hear with my ears, but I never deny measurements when done in a controlled manner and I will use them to make informed decisions. In the end, we don't buy better gear to measure it, we do it to listen to it.
 
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A subjective impression is a guess. It's step one. Step two is to test your guess to see if it's correct. Very few people get to that step. I'm Diogenes looking for them.
 
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I have a scientific background, one thing I learned is that: Always be skeptical about subjectivity, but be just as skeptical about "objectivity". Then try to live in peace between the two.
I have a professional musician's background and then a professional sound/music engineer's background and the one thing I learned is that: Always be sceptical about subjectivity but never be sceptical about objectivity itself! Then live in peace by accepting objectivity as the actual facts/truth/science but understand the importance of subjectivity and how it can be influenced/manipulated. The actual facts/science do NOT live somewhere between objectivity and subjectivity, as anyone with a scientific background should be aware.

[1] I still hear with my ears, but I never deny measurements when done in a controlled manner and I will use them to make informed decisions.
[2] In the end, we don't buy better gear to measure it, we do it to listen to it.
1. That's a fundamental misunderstanding in the audiophile world, which underpins many/most of their false beliefs. We hear with our ears but we perceive with our brains and most audiophiles don't appear to even understand these two things are different, let alone how one affects (or doesn't affect) the other. This is why many audiophiles do deny measurements or more commonly, circumvent measurements by effectively claiming the existence of some sort of magic that can't be explained or measured but can somehow be recorded and reproduced by audio equipment, that only certain members of the audiophile community can "hear"!

2. Agreed ... but again, hearing and listening are two quite different things. We can consciously change what we perceive when we are listening, even though there is no difference in what we "hear with our ears". An obvious example: We can "hear" exactly the same recording twice, back to back, on exactly the same system, from exactly the same listening position, with exactly the same settings but focus our concentration/listening on a specific instrument (or other specific aspect of the recording) and perceive a difference, more detail or clarity in what we're focused on for instance. The sound entering our hears obviously hasn't changed but our perception of it has.

In response to your question: "what-do-you-think-about-subjective-opinions-without-any-scientific-basis", there are two fundamental dangers here:

Firstly, which things are "subjective"? Some of the things we perceive appear to be entirely objective because we all perceive them the same (or similarly) but are actually subjective. A good example: Most people would assume that "loudness" is an objective property of sound but it's actually a subjective perception. And, music itself is a subjective perception, what differentiates music from sound or noise would appear to most people to be a self-evident objective determination but it's actually an entirely subjective determination.

Secondly, off the top of my head, I can't think of any subjective opinions that are without any scientific basis. If we take the example of say two cables, a fairly cheap one and an expensive audiophile one, both of which measure identically within the range of audibility but someone has the subjective opinion that the audiophile cable sounds significantly better, there IS a scientific basis for this subjective opinion, perceptual biases for example. This is (or at least should be!) an obvious example but there are many other far less obvious examples. Western music is entirely based on this fact: A number of perceptual biases, which are related to human perception's propensity to search for patterns and find certain pitch relationships subjectively pleasing or displeasing. There's a large body of evidence incorporated in the field of Musicology/Music Theory, started ~2500 years ago by Pythagoras.

G
 
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In the world of audio, the word 'subjective' has two meaning:
a] in the pro audio world, it's an ears only description, rating or preference.
b] in the audiophile world, it's whatever the audiophile says, becomes true.
 
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I have a scientific background, one thing I learned is that: Always be skeptical about subjectivity, but be just as skeptical about "objectivity". Then try to live in peace between the two.
Could you try to explain this in a way that doesn't allow dozens of wild interpretations? Because I can read this one way and just obviously agree, or I can read it another way and think that it's such a dumb yet expected audiophile thing to say. And those are just the 2 ends of a wide spectrum of ways I can interpret this. my first read was neither of those.

maybe let's start with the elephant in the room, do we all agree that no matter the source, sound is an objective event happening in the real world?

ps: for those who believe in the multi world interpretation of quantum mechanic theory, please start another topic in the dedicated realities.
 
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I think Clieos is correctly trying to draw our attention to the fact that even what is known is almost never completely known. There is room for new knowledge. I am first and foremost an objectivist and I believe fully in the scientific method and scepticism, but I agree with Clieos in the sense that science demands we also be sceptical of science itself. Epistemology suggests that what and how we know things to be true is contested and imperfect. Clearly this doesn't mean nothing can be known and true, but it does suggest that we need to be sceptical anyway and always have the desire to be willing to retest and scrutinize what it is that we know, and how we went about learning it.

Take one example, the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology was held as fact, and it said in essence one gene creates one enzyme and thus had a very definite relationship with a particular protein. It was fully believed that once we mapped out the human genome we would be able to develop personalized medicine as we would know the code. Then along came epigenetics and we started to learn that in essence nature could hack the code and that once what was thought to be a knowable fact, our genetic map, is again fairly mysterious. So nature has shown us that even if the gene sequence remains the same, different results are still possible. Knowledge is a moving target in that sense.
 
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I think Clieos is correctly trying to draw our attention to the fact that even what is known is almost never completely known. There is room for new knowledge. I am first and foremost an objectivist and I believe fully in the scientific method and scepticism, but I agree with Clieos in the sense that science demands we also be sceptical of science itself. Epistemology suggests that what and how we know things to be true is contested and imperfect. Clearly this doesn't mean nothing can be known and true, but it does suggest that we need to be sceptical anyway and always have the desire to be willing to retest and scrutinize what it is that we know, and how we went about learning it.
Nothing in the future of scientific discovery, will eliminate the need that all listening tests be ears only (aka blind) listening tests.
 
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Nothing in the future of scientific discovery, will eliminate the need that all listening tests be ears only (aka blind) listening tests.
Of course not, I am an ardent supporter of multiple trial, blind listening tests. I consider sighted listening testing less than useless.
 
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KeithPhantom

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I think Clieos is correctly trying to draw our attention to the fact that even what is known is almost never completely known. There is room for new knowledge. I am first and foremost an objectivist and I believe fully in the scientific method and scepticism, but I agree with Clieos in the sense that science demands we also be sceptical of science itself. Epistemology suggests that what and how we know things to be true is contested and imperfect. Clearly this doesn't mean nothing can be known and true, but it does suggest that we need to be sceptical anyway and always have the desire to be willing to retest and scrutinize what it is that we know, and how we went about learning it.

Take one example, the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology was held as fact, and it said in essence one gene creates one enzyme and thus had a very definite relationship with a particular protein. It was fully believed that once we mapped out the human genome we would be able to develop personalized medicine as we would know the code. Then along came epigenetics and we started to learn that in essence nature could hack the code and that once what was thought to be a knowable fact, our genetic map, is again fairly mysterious. So nature has shown us that even if the gene sequence remains the same, different results are still possible. Knowledge is a moving target in that sense.
I agree with you. We have to always challenge what we know with new knowledge and embrace it if there's evidence for it. Challenging the establishment is not bad, is actually what science should do, even with its most basic assertions.

I would also like to add that improvements and advancements for the sake of them are not bad, first of all that will further our knowledge about that subject, secondly, new advancements could be a stepping stone into new discoveries or implementations. We don't know what we can find by striving further and deepening our knowledge, even if it doesn't change our experience of it, at least economies of scale will benefit, making old technologies cheaper. That's what makes science so interesting, you don't know what's one step ahead.
 
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I think Clieos is correctly trying to draw our attention to the fact that even what is known is almost never completely known.
This is fun. I'll add one more of the dozens of interpretations...

I think Clieos is pointing out that objective measurements are objective, but how we apply that knowledge to our own intents and purposes adds a layer of subjectivity to it. You can't exist as a human being being perfectly logical and objective and doing everything the optimal way. You'd never get anything done. It would take you all day just to figure out how to put your pants on in the morning!

We live in a world of compromises. There is such a thing as "good enough". When it comes to that, the modest abilities of the fleshy apparatus connected to the sides of our head are the funnel that everything has to pass through. Human perception counts. We don't hear measurements. We hear with our ears. Removing them from the decision making process is a great way to become massively inefficient.

The biggest mistake audiophools make isn't believing things that aren't true, it's believing they can hear things their ears can't possibly hear. Ultimately, all the numbers on a page have minimal practical value when it comes to listening to a recording of a symphony orchestra in your living room. More numbers won't make it sound better than the ears can hear, and they won't make a lousy recording sound good. CD sound played with modern, moderately competent electronics is good enough. In the words of Goldilocks, "This porridge is just right!"

For consumers listening to music in the home for pleasure, transparency is the ultimate goal. You don't need anything better than that. And the best way to judge the threshold of transparency is with ears, not measurements.

That said, transducers are always the wild card. They have considerable variation, not just from model to model, but within the manufacturing tolerances for the same model. Different head shapes and sizes can make it so two people don't hear the same thing. Different tastes in sound signature can make one prefer one coloration over another. All of that is A-OK. Viva le Difference! The smart thing to do is to just worry about transparency for everything upstream from the transducers, and then use a combination of measurements and subjective impressions to figure out what the best transducer is for each unique individual.

I would also like to add that improvements and advancements for the sake of them are not bad, first of all that will further our knowledge about that subject, secondly, new advancements could be a stepping stone into new discoveries or implementations.
Pure science has a different goal that applied science. Pure science is about discovery and adding to human knowledge. Applied science is about using scientific principles to solve a problem. With applied science, if a problem is completely solved efficiently and elegantly, there isn't much reason to keep developing it. That would be like reinventing the wheel.

Home audio is 100% applied science. We use scientific principles to solving the problem of "How do we achieve high fidelity sound reproduction of music for listening in the home." That problem defines what is successful and what isn't. The yardstick you judge by is how well it solves the problem. Creating amplifiers with noise floors several orders of magnitude below the threshold of human hearing in a normal living room is a complete waste of effort and time.

If you are a pure scientist, go ahead and build a particle accelerator in your garage and contribute your bit to human knowledge about science. But if you are a designer using various acoustic and electronic principles to solve the problem of high fidelity for home use, you should keep your eyes on the prize and not run down theoretical rabbit holes. Efficiency and suitability for the purpose are what really matter. The better mousetrap wins.
 
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For the most part I maintain my lurker status. But as a scientist in the audio industry I thought I would chime in.

Subjective evaluation is a large part of my work and a large part of the audio industry a la Sean Olive and Floyd Toole. It is done in controlled settings and always has a hypothesis driving. We use subjective evaluation for many things in audio. We try to correlate findings to objective measures. But some things you can't put a microphone or an analyzer on. So you use humans.

A few things that are done in sub eval.
Audio Codecs, eg. MP3, AAC, AC3, AC4, MPEG-H, all audio broadcast codecs go through a massive set of subjective eval in different states and countries to assess the CODEC before it is accepted by an agency (EBU, NTSC, ITU).
Compressors/Limiters, EQ of a system, any digital effect reverb, etc, Speaker system design, Spatial Audio Processing,(My Speciality), room modeling. The list goes on and on and on.

The food you eat, the wine you drink, the movies and tv you watch all go through a process of subjective evaluation.

Attached is an example of the process of subjective eval. This document is available to anyone to download and is a google search away.
 

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I don't know if anyone here has read a biography of Thomas Edison, but it is interesting how different scientists were in the past than today. Edison had very little interest in pure science. He was entirely focused on solving the problem. When he invented the light bulb, he wasn't interested in the science behind the materials he used for the filament, he just tried everything he could think of until he found something that worked... he used horse hair, wires of various types, fabric, weird things he found in the bottom of kitchen drawers... it didn't matter. He was looking for a solution, and he would keep looking until he found it. This is a totally different mindset from today. Now we experiment to try to figure out things in theory and then try to think of a way to apply it. Edison turned that around and developed the practical application first, and then he thought about the theory. With that approach he created all kinds of technology, from recording to movies to electricity to light bulbs... even building structures with reinforced concrete! In his time, he was hailed as a genius of science, but if he was alive today, he would have mainstream science poo-pooing him, telling him that he was doing it all wrong. Food for thought!
 
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