Written by 4:06 am Audiophile Music • 10 Comments

Does It Sound Better Or Is It My Imagination?

Paul Wilson thinks about whether or not system improvements are real or imagined…

Why do audiophiles ever, at any point in time, make a change to their system? Why bother to perpetually fiddle around with speaker placement, buy new components, replace cables with better ones, hang room treatments all over the place, be absolutely positive there are as few reflective surfaces as possible (I even used the smallest diameter LED light bulbs with the highest wattage I could find just to minimize glass in my audio room) and all the other micro and macro things we do to improve sound? Why? Well, the simple and obvious reason is to do that thing we all seek – improve our system’s sonics. Sort of stands to reason, right? 

AR-IsItRealSmallFormat.jpgSo, when we’ve done all that, and we sit down to listen, if things sound better are we disposed of that belief because we are sure it does, or because we want it so? Does it sound better because we are convinced beyond measure that making all those precipitous changes actually improves sonics? Could it also be that because we did make those changes, doing so MUST enable moving the sonic needle forward? Does one happen singularly because of the other, or because we want it to happen because of the other? Is the perceived improvement actual or imaginary? Let’s face it, after spending lots of money on that new set of speaker cables, we absolutely, positively, for sure must be the happy recipient of better sound, right? 

I once bought a power cord a manufacturer told me would be at least equal to, or in his belief, better than the main power cord I was using. Never mind this “replacement” was a fraction of the cost of my then power cord. I was convinced beyond measure of impending failure. Know what? It failed. Miserably. I removed it after five minutes and went back to my reference power cord. My suspicions confirmed. I gave it to a friend of mine to use on his system, not telling him anything about my experience. I simply suggested he try this cord on his integrated amp. Surprise, surprise, he absolutely loved it. Told me it improved his sonics immeasurably. He was, to steal a phrase used by Jonathan Valin, “gobsmacked” by what he heard. 

AR-TimeToImprove.jpgThis brings up an interesting question. I was convinced the power cord would fail. It did. My friend had no such preconceived notions, he tried the cord out of simple curiosity. He loved it. He is still using it, in fact. Wait though, there are other conditions at foot here. My system is far superior in sonic capability and far more expensive than my friend’s system. Doesn’t that have something to do with the sonic capability of a power cord? Certainly, a lesser grade thing won’t make substantive improvements to a better grade thing, right? A set of el-cheapo tires might work well on a four banger sub compact, but on a world class sports car, what then? Think those el-cheapo tires could corner and have the same handling ability as a set of “super car” tires? 

Judgments of what we hear on our systems are formed by our own personal opinions. We make changes to our systems in the inestimable hope of conclusive improvements. Personally, I think that is part and parcel of perhaps one facet of the audiophile gem. Sometimes we are guided by what we want to occur. We replace a speaker system, component, cable or cord not with the hope of improvement, but because we trust improvements will likewise follow. Spending whatever sum of money we spend must yield superior results, our sonic lives greatened. If no changes to a system’s sonic capabilities are practiced, will the status quo provide enduring satisfaction? When, and at what point in time will that status quo no longer be musically fulfilling? So making a change to move the needle forward must – it has to provide the desired result. Failing that, our money is wasted and we simply cannot tolerate that. Is that why the new whatever sounds better? Many would say yes. 

AR-ProductReviews.jpgIf this were a true condition, how then could we ever reliably believe an equipment review? If a reviewer loved a set of speakers in which we might be interested, and we try them out for ourselves, do we do so convinced we will hear the same improvements the reviewer heard? Or are we patently skeptical of measurable improvements? Wait though, we rely on reviewers to draw fair and unbiased conclusions about those products under review. Does it not seem reasonable that because someone IS a product reviewer that unbiased opinions follow? Does a reviewer begin a review convinced as was I the review sample would fail, or do they check preconceived notions at the door? I  would certainly expect the latter. 

In the end, improvements are really nothing more than a matter of opinion. I despise Brussel Sprouts, others love them. Is then, liking or disliking an audio component really any more difficult to discern? Like it or not, Audiophilia is predominately a largely singular hobby. I love to have people to my home to hear my system. Doing so hopefully provides validation of the choices I made, the money I spent, and how I chose to build my system. And as wonderful as that may be, I am most fulfilled when it is just me in my listening chair, listening to my music, that which I like best. It is those times I cherish. If I make system changes and I am heartened by what I hear, does it really matter if my observations are factual or perceived? As long as I am convinced that what I hear is pleasing, as long as the music that reaches my ears moves me and strikes my fancy, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. As long as it is good for me, that’s all I need.

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