On Sound -

A Discussion On Sound

Much of the demands have been put on us as reviewers to give proofs, often in the form of numbers and measurements, if what we are describing as “good sound” indeed is a real thing. How can we do that? Who can show us proof that the entire gamut of information captured by the human ear can be translated into numbers?

The reason that we never go entirely with measurements is that we, as listeners, know that machines are severely limited when it comes to capturing the entire gamut of sound. They may be good in dealing with numbers and voltages, but the physical world require a far richer set of parameters to describe. It’s like trying to measure the volume of the ocean with a ruler. The tools we have, at least for now, are far inadequate when it comes to capturing the full reality observed in the physical world.

If you take a look at other fields involving the human senses, you would see that the human sense is far superior than any of the currently available machinery when it comes to observing the physical world. In fact, if you really take a deep study in science, you will find that science in itself has difficulties in coming up with a solution for many of its questions. For instance, why does Quantum mechanics radically depart from the laws of classical mechanics? Or the classic question “Where does the force of gravity comes from”? We can observe the effects of gravity, but nobody has been able to explain the source of that force. Science simply is inadequate to make an complete account of everything people observe in nature.

I still think that measurements is needed for design purposes. But an attempt to synchronize every listening impression to a chart is a fools’ game. From an interview in the Ultimate Audio magazine, famed amplifier designer Nelson Pass:

It is nevertheless possible to have a product that measures well but doesn’t sound so good. It is still a mystery as to how this could be, but there it is.

I don’t deny that Placebo is a real phenomenon. But accusing us of being fooled by placebo when we are giving our impressions is an entirely different thing. And just because someone, not us, in a completely different listening environment,  has been proven to be fooled by placebo doesn’t proof that we are suffering under the same psychological phenomenon when we are doing our reviews.

So my question for you is, show me some proof that a machine that can capture the whole gamut of sound that the human ear captures. I know for a fact that the latest and most advanced digital photography sensor in the world today only captures a small fraction of the rich color observed in nature by our eyes. Until the day that they can create a machine to equal the capacity of human senses, I would stick with the more superior instrument for audio observation.

 

 

 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1395527842 Juman Kim

    *double post

  • Anonymous

    I’d written a very long response but thought it might’ve been too much trolling. So here’s the shorter version. 

    It is absolutely true that no scientific instruments can match the human senses in some cases, the CCD/CMOS vs. eyes is a perfectly good example. What I normally hold grudge against is when people claim that they can discern the most minute difference in audio reproduction simply with their ears without giving any measurements. 

    Sure our eyes are good at handling the whole color gamut and incredibly large dynamic ranges, but can you detect single photons hitting your retina one at a time? An avalanche photo diode can. Similarly, nobody can hear things to a signal level as low as a mediocre oscilloscope can detect it. I know this is not going to happen with most review sites or reviewers, but wouldn’t it be nice to have some objective evidence to back up your objective claims? Especially when it comes down to some of the very fine details of sound reproduction. I understand not every aspect of the reproduction can be measured as of now. 

    DISCLAIMER: on the other hand, I realize all this audio enjoyment is very personal. And if somebody claims something is superior and willing to pay a whole lot of money for it, that’s his/her business and his/her money to spend. After all, it’s all about how everyone makes him/herself happy by listening to the music they love. Placebo or not, it’s ultimately a very personal experience. 

    EDIT: for what it’s worth, classical/Newtonian mechanics is only a special case of quantum mechanics in the classical limit, and gravity is proposed (proposed being the keyword here) to come from elementary particles called gravitons.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Kong, 
      You said this:
      “I understand not every aspect of the reproduction can be measured as of now. ”

      That actually contradicts this:
      “What I normally hold grudge against is when people claim that they can discern the most minute difference in audio reproduction simply with their ears without giving any measurements. ”

      If not everything can be measured, then how do you propose people should be able to give any measurement for those differences they hear?

      • Anonymous

        “not every aspect of reproduction can be measured as of now” = some aspect CAN be measure with current instruments. 

        This does not contradict my later comment because some (obviously, not all) of the most minute difference can indeed be measured. My comments are not directed at you or headfonia but rather refer to reviewers (officially self-claiming or not) in general.

        My later comment is meant to point out that if your ears can hear a change in treble/mids/bass, you bet some instrument can measure it, because the lowest absolute detection level is much lower on instruments. It is meant to be an extension of my earlier parallel which compares human eyes to an APD. The comment, however, is probably more relevant to those claiming how various cables make difference, but that’s just another swamp of muddle water and I shall not get into that. 

        Thanks for commenting. 

        EDIT: Again, “not everything can be measured” is not the same as “nothing can be measured”. therefore, some form of measurement should be applicable to some aspect of the reviews. Though I’m definitely telling you how to do your job here. You asked for a discussion, and I simply stated my opinions.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Thanks for commenting too, Kong. 

          :) 

        • Anonymous

          Depends on your viewing audience Kong -some reviews are designed for listeners over tech merchants. I find both to be equally informative and both to say the same things with different words.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1395527842 Juman Kim


    I don’t deny that Placebo is a real phenomenon. But accusing us of being fooled by placebo when we are giving our impressions is an entirely different thing. And just because someone, not us, in a completely different listening environment,  has been proven to be fooled by placebo doesn’t proof that we are suffering under the same psychological phenomenon when we are doing our reviews.”
     
    I enjoy reading headfonia reviews, but I don’t think you, (or anyone) should call yourself immune from the placebo effect…

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Read it again.
      I never said that I’m immune from placebo.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1395527842 Juman Kim

        “I don’t deny that Placebo is a real phenomenon. But accusing us of being fooled by placebo when we are giving our impressions is an entirely different thing. And just because someone, not us, in a completely different listening environment,  has been proven to be fooled by placebo doesn’t proof that we are suffering under the same psychological phenomenon when we are doing our reviews.”
        still sounds like you’re saying you’re not affected by placebo.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Good argument there, Juman. It would have been valid if I was only doing ONE review based on ONE listening test. 

          But the fact is that we do thousands of hours of listening tests, and the probability of me being under the effect of placebo constantly during those tests.. I don’t know? What do you think the probability is? 

          Okay let’s take a step back from our little discussion because I don’t think it would be constructive to continue. The reason I stated that little sentence you found offensive was never to proclaim an attitude of “Hey I’m the perfect reviewer, I don’t make mistakes”. Honestly. 

          It was just there because people like to use the placebo effect to attack reviewers. What I’m saying is, they witnessed some one they know fall under the effect of placebo, and they think that every listening impression out involving a $1000 gear must be affected by placebo.

          Actually I can probably choose a better way to say that paragraph, and if it gives you the impression of me being arrogant, I’m sorry. Never intended to. 

          Maybe I should rewrite it, so that someone else in the future won’t get the same false impression.

  • john oh
    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks for sharing that, John.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joshua-Akagos-Yeo/1101247359 Joshua Akagos Yeo

    I have commented earlier in another post that soundstage can be predicted by phase response. 

    “If you try measuring the phase response of tube amps, I’m sure they will measure worse than solid state designs.”

    I think using both our ears and measurements are important which of course, out ears being even more so. That’s why I used the word “predict” because predictions do not tell everything at times, like in the case of the musical performance in the Playback Designs DSD DAC.  However good measurements mostly proves good performance that you can hear whereas bad performance usually predicted bad sound. That being said, I too have listened too and liked tube amps(its a major exception anyways) for their warm and sometimes more “lifelike” sound. 

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks, Joshua.

      The thing is I’m not preaching about the warm sound of tube amps. I’m strictly talking on the basis of soundstage reproduction which is something concrete. Phase response curves, I don’t think you can take a look at two different curves, and explain to me how the soundstage would differ from amplifier A to amplifier B.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marco.bardoscia Marco Bardoscia

    I would state the problem in a slightly different form: why should I trust the opinion of another person more than objective measurements? Maybe we have anatomically different ears, maybe we have different tastes (I may like an accurate, neutral rendering, while someone else may like a more funny sound), maybe we listen to different kinds of music.

    Actually there is a simple way of preventing placebo effect (even if it has some obvious limitations): doing blind comparisons.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      That’s really funny because no body is saying you have to read these reviews. You have a choice man.
      While at it I suggest you omit reading the newspaper altogether because everybody know how un-neutral the media are.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Okay so I suppose all those wine and restaurant reviews, and driving impressions from car magazines are obsolete now. 

      No body is saying that you have to read these reviews.

      While at it I suggest you omit reading the newspaper altogether because everybody know how un-neutral the media are.

      • http://www.facebook.com/marco.bardoscia Marco Bardoscia

        Usually an incomplete information is better than no information at all, but here the point is another one: is there some source of information (a single subjective opinion) which I can trust more than another one (an objective measurement)? My opinion is that it may be reasonable to trust an opinion on which several reviews express some consensus, because I can convince myself that the opinion is independent on the reviewer preferences, meaning that there is a good chance that I would express the same opinion.

        If I there are only a small number of reviews it may help to have some finer details (like in this specific recording, with this audio path I hear these things).

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          You see, Marco. Being a cynic like that won’t get you very far in life. 

          For every news report you hear, obviously you can’t trust them since you can’t trust the reporter and you have to go out to investigate them yourself. 

          Every time a friend tells you that a certain restaurant has good food, you can’t possibly believe him. Not until you visit the restaurant, order a meal and taste it yourself. But hey, if the food is good that day, it may not be good the day after. Who knows, the chef may got lucky with the ingredients that day. 

          Say someone does do every single measurements you can think of. Still that is not a proof in itself since his methods may be flawed. You really need to go down to his place, examine his measurements device, calibrate them, make sure he’s not doing a mistake taking the measurements. 

          Descartes tried to pursue that train of thought and the only thing that he can be certain of is “I think, therefore I am”. For everything else in life, you’ve got to learn to trust people’s voices. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/marco.bardoscia Marco Bardoscia

            Maybe I have not been clear. 

            If only incomplete information and subjective information exist I may very well try to trust it (I am out with a friend and he proposes to go to a restaurant he thinks is good). If a large amount of subjective information exist I can still trust it (a website is reporting 100 reviews of a restaurant and the 95% of them agree). Now let’s come to the interesting case: what if both a highly incomplete subjective information and an objective information exist? Obviously I know that objective does not mean perfect (there may have been errors, wrong calibrations, etc). Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case for audio gear: in fact many producers do not publish exhaustive specifications.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Yes, thank you.

      • Hoan Cai

        Well, just like everything else, those reviews are taken with a grain of salt and people RARELY buy cars without test driving them themselves.

        There comes a point, a threshold, after reviewing a $10 speaker set versus $100 speakers will net a difference, in build quality, overall sound quality and stage (more to do with arrangement, unless you’re talking about headphones). When you’re looking at $2000 dollar cables  compared to one another is where the BS really comes out because lets face it, when an audio device is getting good clean power, it will perform EXACTLY like it was designed.  The only way it will sound different, is if you under-power it, but even that has little to do with the cable. It has more to do with the quality of power coming into your house and if the wires in your house are below spec.

        The whole measure things philosophy is to keep companies in check to stop marketing bad designs and marking up the price  (Nuforce) just by saying, “UuUUu, the sound is open”, “OoH, so much stage presence”. The fact of the matter is, NOISE and latency were measured in these devices yet people praised these devices. Human hearing is not good, it is subpar, that is a fact.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          For someone pressing for scientific facts, you’re not very consistent.

          “Human hearing is not good, it is subpar, that is a fact.”Any scientific proof?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=793059760 Paul Leskinen

    Mike, I never saw you discuss Marco’s suggestion in his first comment about blind comparisons. I would like to hear your opinion of  blind (or even basic A/B using a switching box) testing when comparing, say, headphone amplifiers. Obviously this technique is nearly impossible for comparing headphones, but for other elements in the signal chain it is certainly useful. It’s been shown over and over that the human brain has a short memory for audio, as well as a tendency to be biased in sighted tests. Blind A/B or ABX testing overcomes both of these issues.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Good comment, Paul.

      Thing is, a properly executed blind test is a whole different thing than just giving a gear to people with their eyes blind folded. For instance, consider these two situations: 1. Some people can perceive differences in a long term listening session. Now, if you’re doing an AB or ABX test where each listening session is more than a few hours, that becomes really impractical.
      2. We’ve done some blind tests during meets. You have your friend changing the one variable and see if you can tell the difference. One possibility that I see happening is that the subject of the tests actually gets nervous about the whole ABX test. He doesn’t want to come to the wrong conclusion and so he tries extra hard to listen, and he started picking up things that weren’t even there. Clearly the situation of the test in itself does things to the mind of the tester. You really should give it a try. Ask the guys in your office to assist you with a blind test, see how you do.
      So yes, in theory, blind tests are wonderful little devices. But in practice, it’s really hard to pull one off properly.

      • Anonymous

        Perhaps there’s a different reason that you or I can’t tell the difference in a blind test. I ask this in all sincerity: have you considered the possibility that competently designed solid-state electronics sound the same (i.e. have no sound of their own)? Amplifiers, for example… I’m not talking about the puny built-in DAP ones, but anything with a decent power supply and linear output.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Sorry, I have never found two different amps that sound the same. Some people may argue that this is placebo, but there is that possibility (no matter how small) that our ears do pick up more things than an electronic measurement device.

          • Anonymous

            First, thanks for the reply! I appreciate hearing back from you, and I’ll do my best to (briefly) explain this topic.

            I’ve certainly considered the possibility that there are unmeasurable subtleties to audio reproduction. But there aren’t any.

            Yes, there are strong subjective qualities to music enjoyment. But that doesn’t mean that – for example – headphone cabling with identical R, L and C measurements from different manufacturers will sound any different at all. It’s not a matter of subjectivity or opinion, it’s basic engineering. There simply aren’t any audible differences in this example. To claim otherwise is either ignorant or deliberately misleading.

            I have no doubt that people who claim to be able to hear unmeasurable differences between equipment do so honestly – other than marketing copy writers, that is. However, this belief is false and has been robustly disproven many times over.

            Thanks for the dedication and work that goes into this site, by the way, and it’s good that you’ve brought this subject up for discussion and (I naively hope) enlightenment.

  • Evan Roth

    I know there is a lot of objectivity vs. sound first debates going around right now, but I’m not sure why we’re not allowed to be a little bit of both. Firstly, I do feel for many of your comments mike and highly enjoy following your website. Anyways, audio listening can be very personal experience plus the fact that everyone’s ears/hearing differ. Most importantly, as consumers we are all entitled to spend our money on whatever we enjoy and like (even if some people think it is WAY overpriced).

    That being said I think there is something to be said about companies not providing how their products measure. I feel that in this day in age it can be viewed as mere courtesy to the consumer base. While many upscale/audiophile companies simply either refuse to provide independent testing results or just find it unnecessary (as they design things with a how it sounds philosophy), there are plenty of high-end audio companies that do a bit of both. Anedio and Violectric and many others are good examples of what I just mentioned.

    Just as it is seemingly ignorant to dismiss certain high-end products for having something to hide by not providing measurements, I think it is also misguided on the other side of the picture. I may enjoy the experience of one amp over another simply based on my ears or experience, however as a consumer I still feel entitled to at least having the opportunity to review the specifications and raw performance of the product I’m going to spend a lot of money on.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yes, Evan. Good question.

      I think consumers can demand measurement graphs from manufacturers.

      But there are a few problems:
      1. Say all manufacturers comply. They send frequency graphs, square wave graphs and so on. What makes you think that all these graphs are calibrated to a certain standard. It’s like battery life specs when you buy laptops (or mileage figures on automobiles). They make for a VERY rough guideline and you know that you’ll never get 7 hours of battery life out of that laptop. 2. I have personally see cases where two measurements on one headphone, done by two authoritative figure on the internet, to differ greatly. I’m not talking statistical difference, more like one graph has a bass hump and the other has a bass valley precisely around the same region. How do you account for this? Honestly I have no idea. It just goes to show that even graphs are not absolute. 3. Interpreting graphs are difficult. People on our forum have discussed this before. They had a graph of Etymotics’ ER4 IEM, which everybody agrees are neutral to bass-thin, but the graphs suggest that it has more bass than some headphones that we do know are bassier in sound. What happens in this case? I don’t know.
      Now, last case scenario. Even if manufacturers give out graphs, and all graphs are configured to the same standard so there would be no conflicting graphs on one gear, have you ever take a look at two graphs of two different equipments, and be able to deduce what sort of sound signature you will get?
      I think numbers (or graphs) have their purpose. I also think that the written words have their own purpose. You cannot say that one is better than the other. In my experience, it’s just easier to describe (and understand) sound with words. I can tell people that an amp is warm sounding and the majority of enthusiasts will understand it. But I absolutely have no idea how a graph can describe a warm sounding gear. And that’s just one parameter.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5TPV34TSFOMZXSGHI5ZJETZBXQ Nantonos

    The problem is that the one superior instrument (the ear)  is not being used alone.  That other highly capable instrument (the eye) has already taken in the brand name, the price tag, and the external build quality.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      So you’re suggesting bias? 

      Well good point and indeed we are liable to bias. 

      But seriously, if we try to apply the same standard of scrutiny into numerical tests, can we honestly say that they are always a 100% perfectly accurate? You realize that issues like testing methodology can easily induce far greater margins of error. Or even consider professional scientific studies done by certified professionals in a certified lab. The moment you know that the company sponsoring the study has a conflict of interest (i.e A medical company sponsoring a test on the effects of certain enzymes), won’t you have doubts on the validity of the results?

  • Hoan Cai

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hearing_range
    Also, do you guys do hearing tests for all your reviewers? Because if you can’t hear above 18khz frequencies than those  thousand dollar amps are kind of a waste.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hoan Cai, 
      I took a hearing test before, around 3 years ago. I don’t remember the results, but I don’t remember being told that I have a problem with my hearing. 

      Honestly, I’m not sure if I can hear above 18kHz. 

      But seriously, thousand dollar amps is not about 18kHz++ reproduction.. For most people, midrange is the most important aspect of sound reproduction. Some people like bass, but even the majority of mainstream music doesn’t require accurate reproduction of sub-bass frequencies. Some people like treble, but we’re talking something in the range of 2kHz to 12kHz, definitely not so far into 18kHz++.

      Thanks for bringing that up though. Good question.

    • Anonymous

      I had another test last year when I had my customs done. all good so far, one a tad better as the other but nothing to worry about. I never listen to loud music and when I’m at a party or concert I wear my custom hear protectors. You get weird looks from time to time but I’ll probably be the one laughing last

      • http://www.audioexcursions.com/ Austin Morrow

        Same with me. I can hear a click above 18 kHz. And no, those thousand dollar amps aren’t a complete waste if you can’t hear to extremely sibilant extremes. It’s not very hard to tell when an amp has great extension in each part of the spectrum, and as long as you have decent hearing, you can judge high end amps.

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    Reading the comments, I think too often we tend to press on the limits of the reliability of human impression. But we fail to apply the same standards of scrutiny into scientific tests.

    “But seriously, if we try to apply the same standard of scrutiny into numerical tests, can we honestly say that they are always a 100% perfectly accurate? You realize that issues like testing methodology can easily induce far greater margins of error. Or even consider professional scientific studies done by certified professionals in a certified lab. The moment you know that the company sponsoring the study has a conflict of interest (i.e A medical company sponsoring a test on the effects of certain enzymes), won’t you have doubts on the validity of the results?”

    And although human are liable to errors, we have to have a certain level of trust that the majority of human being does give honest, unbiased impressions. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marcos-Moreira/100001905706776 Marcos Moreira

    Mike, great comparison with photography, i think you have a very good point (and i’m sure you know there will always be someone that disagrees with it). This happens in photography all the time and appears to be a growing trend, where people are much more interested in raw numbers (“can i shoot it at iso 430.000.000?!”; “does it has 35fps?!”) than in the impressions of the reviewer, who often has decades of experience, great instincts and technique etc. People that love to stare at a DXOMark result but wont bother reading a thoughtful, albeit “less scientific” approach by sites like The Online Photographer or Luminous Landscape. For what its worth, i “know for a fact” that many people prefer the latter :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks Marcos. 

      Yes all my years as a pro photographer (and still am), I never once use DXOMark results or those 100% crop ISO3200 noise test results as a reference for choosing a camera. 

  • Anonymous

    wel..mike, i see the comments section on this page has turned into a messy one, lol.. 

    while i don’t agree with some parts of your stance written on this page, i won’t argue it with you.. what i want to say is, the whole objective vs subjective thing has been going on in audio world for decades. I don’t know what was your motivation when you published this article.. but I’d suggest just keep on doing reviews.. those who found yours useful would still view them as so, and those who had always viewed them with a truckload of salt would keep doing that.. nothing will change because you’ve stated your stance on this matter.. so, cheers.. and happy listening.. looking forward to your next article.. :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Well true it’s been said before.

      But one of the main reason I wrote this is that once in a while someone would come in with the usual “You guys are all on placebo, show me the graphs or I think you’re all lying marketing reviewers”.
      Now with this page, at least everytime somebody comes in with those arguments, we can move the discussion here.

  • Anonymous

    wel..mike, i see the comments section on this page has turned into a messy one, lol.. 
    while i don’t agree with some parts of your stance written on this page, i won’t argue it with you.. what i want to say is, the whole objective vs subjective thing has been going on in audio world for decades. I don’t know what was your motivation when you published this article.. but I’d suggest just keep on doing reviews.. those who found yours useful would still view them as so, and those who had always viewed them with a truckload of salt would keep doing that.. nothing will change because you’ve stated your stance on this matter.. so, cheers.. and happy listening.. looking forward to your next article.. :)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MBR7WIWYBOUNKI7IMIHRLGNHJI Jacob

    This article is about 90% misinfomration. Just because you are ignorant of this technology doesn’t mean it does not exist. I suggest you visit nwavguy.blogspot.com and actually read it. :(

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Care to elaborate the 90% misinformation?

    • Anonymous

      Great link, Jacob. Thanks!

  • http://www.audioexcursions.com/ Austin Morrow

    While I don’t agree with everything 100%, I think Mike presents a very understandable and valid point. Everything in the world is subject to opinion. Do cables make a difference? Do amps make a difference? Do DAC’s make a difference? It’s all subject to debate. In a nutshell, if you hear a difference in sound, then feel free to read the reviews and enjoy the article. If you’re someone who doesn’t believe in “does it make a difference in sound” then you don’t have to read the reviews. People seem to have no respect nowadays for other people and their beliefs. I get made fun of continuously by people all the time just because I’ve had an encounter with a undocumented North American Ape otherwise known as Sasquatch, just because it’s not proven to exist, despite all the evidence.

    Same with cables and amps, I can hear a difference in both amps and cables, yet us reviewers are always getting ridiculed on our opinion. While it’s mostly positive, there is a lot of negative feedback. Science isn’t everything, and I’ve actually find science to be quite biased lately. Just because science says it doesn’t exist or there is very little evidence for a sound improvement does NOT mean that the sound or creature does not exist, if you are seeing what I am getting at. All in all, we all have different ears, and just we should all keep our opinions to ourself when it comes to sound and if it “makes a difference” or if it’s “really audible or not.”

    My apologies for the rather long rant, but the amount of disrespect that people get based on their opinions and observations really needs to stop, as it’s starting to get a bit out of control as of late.

  • http://twitter.com/shigzeo shigzeo

    Interesting essay to say the least.

  • dalethorn

    I read through this for the first time (I think). It’s very familiar though. The difference in amps, difference in cables – it’s easy to miss with most recordings. Then if you’re lucky (or unlucky if on a tight budget) you stumble across a very revealing recording like Emily Palen’s ‘Glass’ album, available as 96 khz WAV downloads. Then all of a sudden you hear those differences, which as I said can be a bummer if you can’t afford the gear.

  • http://twitter.com/Original_Ken Ken Stuart

    I came across this quote today:

    “If it measures good and sounds bad, it is bad; if it measures bad
    and sounds good, you have measured the wrong thing” ….Daniel von
    Recklinghausen, Chief Engineer at H.H. Scott

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks for sharing that, Ken.

      I think the issue with internet discussions is that very rarely do you get to hear the real Pros talk. Only Internet pros.

  • Unreformed

    It really should only be one of many tools in a designers tool shed… Engineering metrics cannot measure beauty…. Music is fundamentally art and therefore trades heavily on its perceived beauty. One guy will look at a Jackson Pollack painting and say “My five year old could do that!” and the next person will stare at it for an hour having a profound emotional experience with it. So goes for the eye goes for the ear…. if you take a certain song and feed it through source equipment that an engineer measures to be 100% transparent providing it as it was when it was recorded (WHICH IS ITSELF A HUGE VARIABLE!) one person may say it sounds beautiful and engaging and perfect…. and the next may say it sounds clinical and sterile. Beauty is a perceived thing and it is far too subjective to properly measure with things like linear error, distortion, crosstalk, etc. I get using measurement as A tool in your analysis of design but not THE tool… Music is a bit more complex and profound than that.

  • G_A

    “I don’t deny that Placebo is a real phenomenon. But accusing us of being
    fooled by placebo when we are giving our impressions is an entirely
    different thing. And just because someone, not us, in a completely
    different listening environment, has been proven to be fooled by
    placebo doesn’t proof that we are suffering under the same psychological
    phenomenon when we are doing our reviews.”

    Of course, if you had any faith in your own qualifications as audio reviewers/experts/avid listeners/keen ears you’d take an ABX-test. Your attempt at discrediting an ABX comment in another comment is difficult to take seriously. You can set up the test however you want, wherever you want, whenever you want.

    You say the tested can imagine he’s hearing things that aren’t there due to stress, but face it – when you make a living describing what you hear, then this excuse just doesn’t hold up. You claim your listening is good enough to deserve to be read and relied upon, and pay your wages. Then taking such a test is the *very least* that could be expected of you.

    As to why you don’t, there is really only one realistic answer I, as a visitor to this site, reading several reviews, then this page and its comments, can come to: You either consider the risk of failing to be too great, or you already know the outcome won’t favour you.

    Wile a neutral dac+amp and neutral headphones might sound boring with different tracks, this is either because
    a) The source title is poorly produced
    b) Your opinion on how the song “should” sound differs from that of the person producing it.

    In either a) or b), purchasing a specific amp for each track, album, genre, headset or a combination requires you to have a lot of amps. The solution to b) are
    i) Use EQ suited to your taste
    ii) Use EQ suited to your taste considering the mastering of the music you are listening to.
    iii) Use EQ suited to your taste considering both the mastering of the music you are listening to and the headphones you are using (or buy more neutral cans)
    The soution to b) is
    i) Boycott poorly produced music (This makes much current music no-go-zone though)
    ii) Use EQ to compensate for the error of the chimp at the mixing table

    The point of PLAYBACK of music vs. PRODUCTION of music is that the sound is supposed to sound as close to the produced media as technically possible. And then, if one doesn’t like the result, due to subjective preference, bias or whatever (after all, no one perceives the same colour exactly alike, audio isn’t any different – we are all individual) it should be quite obvious that the solution is to use an adjustable EQ, which we can vary to always get the desired sound out of an track, any production, any genre and any (reasonably good) set of headphones. Not buy an amp per combination of not-quite-satisfactory source and cans.

    • Trent_D

      Everybody has a different idea of how they want things to sound, and how they want to arrive at that sound. You like complete neutrality, that’s great. You like a really dark, colored sound, that’s fine too. This isn’t a site about how things measure. They don’t do ABX testing. You don’t like that, that’s fine. Don’t read headfonia. Find another site to pass your time (there is some northwest audio guy you might like). This is a website run by two people who like to listen to audio gear and write about it. They do a good job telling you why they like or do not like something. Maybe you agree. Maybe you don’t.

      Now, I am going to say something that I don’t believe has been said here before. I love the placebo effect. That’s right! You heard me. I love it! The mind has tremendous power over the body. And if my mind is telling me that something sounds better (due to price, build quality, brand affinity or anything), THAT IS AWESOME! Free sound quality boost!

      • G_A

        Of course everybody have a different perception of sound (or like the sound a bit different, depending on how you look at it) – that is my point. And anyones specific preference usually requires a different EQ (or colourization from dac/amp/cans) for different genres or maybe even different productions/producrs in the same genre. Then it is sad to be stuck with an amp that makes Jan Garbareks sax just pop, but which just doesn’t cut it for metal, grunge, pop or whatever other music you also happen to fancy.

        I don’t always like my sound as neutral as the production team behind it did – but then I can adjust it with an EQ. And if I think some other music doesnæt sound as great ith that EQ, or my new cans make it sound bad, I can change it – in two seconds, and for free.

        I prefer an adjustable EQ (or at “worst” my speakers or cans) to be the only non-accurate parts in the chain. Why? because constant, unchangeable colourization is a bad thing.

        Of course an inaccurate amp can be a good choice for a specific type of music, and a specific set of cans! But how many people reading this site has had only one set of cans the last five years?

        ABX testing is to my mind not about testing equipment – it’s about testing the person doing the test. And any person who believes his subjective experience of audio equipment holds any value should either take it, or throw his hands in the air and say “I/My unconsciousness just make this shit up.”

        • http://twitter.com/Original_Ken Ken Stuart

          The problem is that an ABX test is designed by human beings. So, if you are accepting the test results, then you are just putting the subjectiveness one step further away, but you cannot remove it until all humans are gone, and robots test headphones in order to decide which get the best numbers.
          Here is the big point – headphones, and all audio gear, are for the purpose of subjective listening. All ears are different and all brains are different. So objective measurement is meaningless in this context.
          The purpose of all reviews is to find a reviewer whose tastes mirror your own – likes the same food, likes the same wine, likes the same sort of sound.
          There is no better or worse audio equipment.

          • G_A

            If you read what I actyually write, i say they should take an ABX test to test *themselves.*

            For example, pick the four amps that someone has reviewed and claimed major clear audible between, but who has similare neutral characteristic (objectively measured). Put them against each other.

            A reviewer who have claimed obvious differences between these amp in different reviews, should of courde be able to tell these amps apart. Either that, or he’s flat out lying (or deceiving himself as well).

            An ABX test can never objictevly tell which amp is “better” because the listener is still subjectively judging according to his preferences. But it can reveal a reviewer who pulls the “characteristics” he claim to hear out hi ass, or out of his imagination.

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=692862021 Nick Tam

              hehe no offense but you should do a spellcheck and grammar check… im amusing myself reading this.

              And I second anti-objectivity.

              If all headphones were tuned to have a boring flat frequency response, there wouldn’t be a thing called “music” coming out of them.

              The HD650 would be terrible at objective tests because of it’s heavy bass and lacking highs.

              • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                Nick,
                I’ve blacklisted the poster. Guy has nothing constructive to say on the site. Funny how he used subjective reasoning to defend his objectivism.

                Objectivity should always be the goal. But achieving true, 100% objectivity in the real world is a lot more complex than internet philosophers would like to believe.

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