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why I'm a subjectivist

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by raddle, Jan 4, 2014.
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  1. raddle
    Not all listeners care about accuracy, but let's deal with the situation that we are recording an acoustical concert and judging the result on speakers using experienced listeners. And these experienced listeners care about how closely the reproduction comes to the original.
    I'm a subjectivist because accuracy is subjective.
    Let's say we are comparing two speakers, A and B. The measure differently and there is no debate they sound different. There is also no debate that neither is perfect; they both have distortion. The only way to determine which is more accurate is to listen. Plain and simple.
    And two experienced listeners could reasonably disagree about this. That's because different listeners listen for different things. One may care about rhythm more than timbre, and another the reverse.
    It's real simple folks. Different listeners care about different things. Everyone who has listened a lot has trained themselves, whether consciously or unconsciously, to listen for particular things.
    Some objectivists will reply that measurements are useful because they are objective.
    Look, here's a point that seems to get overlooked constantly. Audio exists to create an experience in the listener. Not to make amplifiers that measure well.
    Now, if measuring well can be correlated with the particular listening experience, then and only then is the measurement useful. And the only way to determine a correlation is to have people listen.
    So it goes back to listening.
    It goes back to people listening and trying to report their experience in some form. Whether it's a musician who "reports" by saying speaker A sounds more like real instruments, or whether it's a test subject who rates speaker preference by ranking two speakers, it's all about listening.
  2. higbvuyb
    This is just another 'rebuttal' of the strawman idea that there are these mythical 'objectivists' who buy equipment and sit there measuring them over and over again and don't actually listen to them. 
  3. mikeaj
    When you talk about reproducing an acoustic performance, now we're dealing with a lot of issues of micing and the recording process. Do you define accuracy with respect to what sounds most like the real instruments and sounds or, if we're focusing on playback, which sounds closest to the recording?
    No, that depends on how you define accurate. If you want to know which sounds more perceptually accurate to you over a range of certain conditions, a good approach to tell would be for you to listen to them under those conditions. If you want to know for people on average in general, maybe you do an experiment with multiple listeners. However, because the amount of psychoacoustics research and audio measurements out there is not zero, you might be able to get a good idea of which more people would rate as accurate just by taking measurements. It might be pretty obvious for some A and B. You could be pretty confident that a phone loudspeaker is going to be rated less accurate than a typical studio monitor by most people without having anybody listen to either. If you're comparing some device A and B where you don't even know what they are but are given say a frequency response graph of either, you might have some decent idea if the FR of A is mangled and spiky all over the place. You get a better idea the more information you have (if you later learn that B has 200% THD at a normal listening volume, you may need to reassess whatever guess you had based on just the FRs), be it from measurements or from some listening tests.
    You could define accuracy in some other way that doesn't involve what people perceive. In this case, you wouldn't need people to listen, but you might anyway if you wanted.
    Generally if you want the experience to be a certain way this involves amplifiers that measure well in relevant parameters on both recording (if applicable) and playback sides. If you are looking for perceptual accuracy there is little to suggest that one would aim for component nonlinearities in recording and playback because then you're mathematically and psychoacoustically (based on prior listening results) deviating more from the original sounds. However, especially with the frequency response and overall sound it depends on how the music was mixed and mastered. If a recording of acoustic instruments didn't have enough midrange for whatever reason, then if the playback system added extra midrange it might sound more natural and/or accurate (relative to original sounds, not to the recording) to listeners.
    This has been done a lot, and parameters describing "well" have been established and refined over the years, though they're not perfect. It's also been done a lot for things not measuring well in certain ways.
    However, it could still stand to be done a lot more.

  4. xnor
    Well, then they are not interested in hi-fi in its true meaning.
    But anyway, I can still use measurements to find equipment with high distortion, boosted bass/treble etc. if I like that.
    So much information is lost in the stereo recording process, that reproduction of the original performance is imho wishful thinking. Accurate reproduction is about accurately reproducing the recording. The recording is the artist's means to convey his message and emotions.
    If accurate reproduction cannot convey that then the artist or engineers failed.
    Yes, listeners interested in high fidelity will care about accurate reproduction. That is both subjectively test- and objectively measurable.
    "Accuracy" is by definition the "conformity to fact" or how close measurements match the actual value.
    I don't think you're talking about accuracy here, but preference.
    Someone preferring really boosted bass, or high distortion .. doesn't magically make it accurate reproduction.
    We've all seen all kinds of nonsensical subjective reviews not only by hobbyists but also "professional" reviewers. Why? Because of bias. They make no attempts of eliminating bias, so they hear whatever they want to hear deluding not only their readers but primarily themselves.
    If these people actually did proper listening tests then their reviews would be much more useful, reproducible.
    Well yes, there is a correlation. Sean Olive, for example, did tests with trained listeners and speakers - they preferred those measuring more accurately.
    But this was done under blind-listening test conditions, not some random guys buying some speakers, putting them into their random room and writing biased reviews.
  5. nick_charles Contributor
  6. castleofargh Contributor
    do I have to understand that your definition of accurate is also subjective? because if the sens of accuracy changes from people to people, it's not accuracy anymore. at best it's interpretation.
    dictionaries are made by misled objectivists too, trying to force one definition of a word onto everybody.
     about listening to get good at listening.  listening to something wrong for years never made anybody an expert in sound. at best it changes the person's tastes as the brains will adapt to make that sound into the reference.
    if we stay forever on an individual level then it really doesn't matter does it? we're all free to like whatever we want and believe anything we want.
    but when you need to interact with others, accuracy is a real need.
    when you know from measurements what accuracy is, you can then learn to recognize it yourself in some ways. it creates the path for a common language. your way of thinking would make people debate about a red color being pink or not, because we refuse to set it in stone once and for all for everybody to learn it the same way. it doesn't matter if it's right, it's just a name, what matters is that we can communicate that value without to much error.
    and it doesn't matter in the end that we like the hifi sound or not, I don't. but I'd rather go for pretty accurate gear and then put the phone that will change sound to my tastes (or EQ a little), instead of juggling at random with gears and praying for a result I would like.
    I'm sure I could end up getting it, but it's just not convenient.
    and when I'm here talking about this or that phone, I will say it's bassy knowing I'm not talking nonsense as I will have tried it on a pretty accurate source. (again accurate as in "the same as what we use as reference").
    accuracy is a tool.
  7. Steve Eddy

    And I find that to be something of a folly.

    No one seems consider what exactly is encoded on "the recording." No one seems to consider the fact that the decisions made during the recording process is guided in large part by the playback system, most particularly the monitors.

    Consider the countless recordings made in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Altec 604s were ubiquitous in studios. These were a 15 inch paper cone woofer with a compression driver mounted coaxially and fitted to a multi-cellular horn. They were crossed over at 2 kHz. Yes, a 15 inch paper cone woofer being driven up to 2 kHz. That's the "filter" through which those recordings were made. And what's encoded on those recordings is sort of an inverse transform of that filter.

    So now you want to get all "hifi," which is about accurately reproducing the recording, because hey, that's the artist's means to convey his message and emotions, and we want to be true to those messages and emotions, right?

    Now play one of those recordings back through some modern, state of the art speakers, which will likely be three or four way, using stiff, well damped composite cone drivers for bass and midrange, some beryllium or titanium dome tweeters, etc. Is that recording going to sound just like it did back in 1960? Is it going to sound like the artist intended at the time? Of course not. You're playing back that inverse transform that's encoded in the recording without the original filter of those old Altec 604s. If you want fidelity to the artist's intent, you need to get on eBay and see if you can score yourself some 604s.

  8. StoneJack
    I think general physical parameters can be determined and then analysed. Based on these data, the accuracy can be objective. 
    Experiences, especially private ones, of course are subjective and cannot be measured in exact way. 
  9. andrewberge
    A good point, and one i've wondered about. But i guess there's no perfect solution to that problem. Every album is mastered in different environments with different hardware, it's not feasible to reproduce the conditions for each one. The best solution i see remains with accurate speakers/phones and EQ.
  10. Steve Eddy

    Which is why "faithfulness to the recording" is largely meaningless.

    Or whatever approach gives the end user the most enjoyment and satisfaction.

  11. xnor
    No it isn't if you listen to well-produced music...
    You're basing your argument on badly produced music. That's like saying you don't need a good monitor if you have low-res pictures.
    I see nothing wrong with preference diverging from accuracy, but in audiophile circles this often feels like an "ignorance is bliss"-like approach.
  12. Steve Eddy
    I'm sorry, but "well-produced" doesn't get around the inherent limitations of the recording and monitoring chain typically used back in the 50's and 60's. I certainly hope you're not trying to tell me that the decisions made in the recording process back in the 50's and 60's would be the same decisions made if using modern equipment. If so, then I think you should give a little more thought to what "the recording" actually represents and just what is "encoded" into that recording.
    No, I'm basing my argument on the fact that there were quite a few flaws and other limitations in the equipment used back in the 50's and 60's and that those flaws and limitations drove many of the decisions made when producing a recording. I'm also basing it on having some experience recording music over the past 30+ years.
    No, what I'm saying isn't like that at all.
    What I'm saying is more akin to going from black and white film to color film. In the black and white era, the decisions made for lighting, makeup, etc. were made based on the limitations of the medium as they tried to make the most of what they had to work with. When color came along, quite different decisions were made for lighting, makeup etc.
    Same holds true for recordings made back in the 50's and 60's. They made decisions based on the limitations of what they had to work with at the time in order to try and get the most out of it. And what you don't seem to get is that those decisions are "encoded" into the actual recording itself. And if you play that recording back on a high accuracy, modern system which doesn't have the inverse of that original "encoding," then you can't say you're being true to any sort of artistic intent, just as if you took an old black and white film and added color to it you couldn't say you were being true to the original artistic intent as the artist wouldn't have made the same decisions shooting in color as they would have with black and white.
    Ignorance of what exactly? Ignorance of what someone else thinks they should be listening to?
    Claritas likes this.
  13. xnor
    I'm talking about well-produced by today's standards. Call it "produced with bad/limited equipment" (again by today's standards) if you prefer, but that doesn't change what I said.
    Basing your argument on those flaws makes the argument flawed itself, unless you can afford additional speakers for that kind of music or you rarely listen to well-produced stuff. But then you're not interested in high-fidelity and accuracy anymore, which was my point in the first place.
    So if you want to see old movies like in the old days you need an old b/w TV set, which could probably considered as electronic waste today, but might work very well with those old movies because of all the flaws that distort the picture in such a way to hide the flaws of the movie.
    I'm fine with that if someone is into that.
    Ignorance of the fidelity of components, especially cheaper stuff. I know people that have spent big bucks on audiophile-grade rigs, but the sound is meh.
    Also ignorance of where to spend money, how to split your budget, what is important and what isn't..
  14. raddle
    "Preference" and "accuracy" are two different things. Both are subjective.
    I have some musical training and I've noticed over the years that musical training is a way of practicing using my attention in certain ways. There is a very deep unconscious process that goes on--at very deep levels, the perception of music is altered over time.
    So when a listener is listening for accuracy, their perception will depend on prior experience and training. That is, it differs from person to person.
    Some people find digital recordings to be truer to life, and some find analog recordings are truer to life. They are both right. Because "true to life" is subjective.
    Did Sean Olive's experiments try to correlate measurements with preference or with perceived accuracy? Because those are two different things.
  15. xnor
    This again turns into a circular discussion about terms that are not being defined properly...
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