It’s the time of year for saving money!
In engineering, solutions to problems or design initiatives are approached scientifically. If something is done in a particular fashion it will produce results in a certain way. Alter the design and the results will change. This concept is well known in far more circles than audio. Sometimes the design changes and the results they produce are known entities. Other times they are the result of trial and error. And sometimes, positive, or conversely, negative results are achieved by simple happenstance.
In audio, there exists the ever-present struggle of why we hear what we hear and if aural perceptions are the result of anything measureable. There are those who find difficulty in accepting any result without scientific confirmation. Those so inclined will typically want to see test data in support of a particular sound. Others still place their belief structure in the simple act of listening.
Dichotomy is defined as “a division into two especially mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities.” How, then, does that equate to an examination of whether or not we trust our ears based on what we hear, or trust measurements that by practical standard cannot be false?
We use instruments on a regular basis to show test results. One frequently used is the simple dB meter. We can continue to increase the amplitude until the music sounds too loud. Or, we can use a dB meter to know precisely how loudly the music is actually playing in the room. Oddly enough, on occasion, reducing the noise floor, or the level of distortion the system sends to the speakers, can easily make what I call the “perceived amplitude,” or how loud the music sounds to the listener, seem as though it is not as loud as it previously was. I have heard this before, for example, after the addition of anti vibrational devices. This is a result of our ears and brain playing a trick on our eyes. Our ears tell us one thing, our eyes reading the dB meter tells us something different.
We use real time analyzers (RTA) to check frequency range. Another popular tool is Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) that converts audio signals from their original domain (often time) to a frequency domain. It therefore stands to reason that taking an RTA reading, or performing an FFT analysis, and the results show bass response is not as low as it sounds to our ears when the music is being played, we then have a decision to make. We can either trust our ears or trust the test results. Perhaps the better choice is to listen to what our ears and brain are telling us. For me, this is often the route I take. If the bass sounds pleasing to me, and I like what I hear, having the knowledge that it is not as good as it might be is a two-edged sword. And not always will that knowledge be well received. Knowing improvements are possible is often times a gnawing inconvenience in search of a mitigating solution.
“Contradictory groups or entities.” That is what it all boils down to, right? Our ears and brain might be telling us one thing, measurements and test results might be telling something else entirely. That is the one central question and one supremely difficult to answer – just because it measures less than ideal, does that automatically mean it sounds bad? Because that is the real crux of the equation, right? How does the thing sound? Can we have one without the other? If history is any barometer, the answer is a resounding yes.
Take a low wattage, high distortion SET amp, for instance. Some of these components have disturbingly high distortion figures. If a potential buyer were judging the worthiness of an amp exclusively by the numbers, once they saw the distortion, they might very well disregard the inclusion of an SET amp on the short list of potential products. And that would be a mistake because anyone who has ever heard a well-built SET amp knows how magnificent they can sound – high distortion and all.
To a certain extent, ours is a hobby of scientific discovery. It is one reason why I so enjoy being an audiophile. Understanding, for example, the physics of how sonic energy moves through an enclosed space, in our case a listening room, the better that room may be designed to improve the musical portrayal. So, if a hobby so supremely dedicated to electronics, math and physics tells me one thing, should I heed those results or eschew them completely for something totally unverifiable like how something sounds?
We have a variety of names for this condition – “objectivists, subjectivists, flat Earthers, well, there are certainly more. Irrespective of into which camp one might fall, the fact remains we are constantly faced with this struggle of which perception should be the standard bearer. Do we err on the side of test results, secure in the knowledge that a fine audio system is predominately about numbers? Or do we instead choose the actual sonic portrayal and simply ignore what modern science is telling us?
I suppose many of us try to find some balance between both. If I take an FFT reading and the results are troublesome, yet despite this I am happily tapping my toe and feel the need to sing and dance, is a meter actually necessary? Conversely, if the meter indicates I need better bass, and I am unhappy with what I am hearing, is this alone an indication of a required change? Or is the meter possibly delivering false positives and I became convinced a change was needed exclusively because of a metered result?
Either way, it’s a dichotomy.
Single measures that don’t account for room acoustics numbers of speakers and their placement, other critical environmental factors let alone individual hearing characteristics seating position etc. Simultaneously simulating listening experience and reproduction are all fraught with significant challenges in mapping and measuring.
Breaking paradigms through innovation in design or execution are a constant in this hobby and industry. Separating truth from marketing fiction requires multiple sources of opinion and measurement. Don’t you chase multiple sources? Magazine A with measures B & C and consumer owners opinions X Y and Z? Surely…especially if you’re able to process often contradictory information.
I am reminded of the wine drinkers’ cliché – do you drink the label or the wine in the bottle?
You only need to trust your ears when your chosen speakers transform the voltage signals presented to them into sound waves. Until then, we are only ever dealing with voltages which test instruments can be trusted to easily discern as part of simple signal analysis work.
Exactly. Since LIKING the sound of something is purely subjective. Even if the sound I like is not true to the original recording or live music, it’s my tastes that I’m striving to please. I use the specs of equipment as a baseline to narrow down products I may want. I then listen as best I can in a showroom, to then buy the ones I like. It may not be the most expensive, it may not have the best specs, and it may not be liked by
professionals, but if it suits me I’m happy.
My ears are the only reference for my choices in audio gear. The same ears used to listen to live non amplified music. If one does not know what a piano or violin sounds like live then they have no reference when auditioning gear. Tonality and harmonic structure of the reproduced sound must be as close to reference as possible ” The Absolute Sound” of live event. We have yet to reach that 1005 but were real close.
To date only one brand of gear has achieved that accolade from a magazine and that is Lamm.
Very simple, my room , my system ,my ears, my money. I am an audio dealer [ Rollo Audio ] and my customers do not ask me for the spec sheet. They ask me if they bring it home and listen in their system.
With your reasoning no trial just buy a spec sheet. I’ll say it again go buy a Japanese receiver with those stellar measurements.
I think it was Floyd Toole who said, “we only really started having major problems in rooms once we starting measuring them.” Pretty funny. You can have a system that has given you enjoyment for years, and once you throw a mic on a tripod, place it in the MLP, run a few sweeps and observe the results in 1/48th octave resolution, you’re inevitably going to find at least a few anomalies that you cant believe you’ve been living with. Chasing them and trying to apply a “fix” can often (not always) do more harm than good. Bottom line… You’re ears light candles and make sweet love to the music. A microphone has missionary sexual intercourse with it under bright white florescent lamps.
Measurements are necessary to verify if a certain device (any device before the speaker actually) performs up to spec. As soon as sound comes out of the speaker I’d say: trust your ears to know what you enjoy, but never to determine how good your playback chain is.
The published science of the last 85 years is wrong. Pollsters know that how you ask the question can produce very different results, and audio is subject to the same rules. Self-reported data always carries the risks of subjectivity, and we are asking the wrong questions in service to inutile objectivity. When the scientists commands “Raise your hand when you hear the tone!”, they have over-simplified hearing to the point of grave error.
Continuous tones are like vowels, which contain much more harmonic information than sine waves; but more importantly the musical consonants (how the notes start, stop and transition) which have under 5% of the energy and time contain over 50% of the meaning. Transients and transitions are critical not only to determining the nature of the sound source like the difference between a violin and an oboe, but also its position and mapping the acoustic space.
I use conservatory trained musicians as my test subjects, and taking acoustic ear training into account produces a scientific but very different model of human hearing and audio criteria. The FR/RTA/FFT/THD model of sound has low correlation with musical truth, which needs blazingly fast transient response, near zero energy storage, phase coherence of wavefronts at all angles, spatial congruence to the original instruments, and suffers from miniscule amounts of IMD.
Professional musicians are insensitive to frequency response variations and listening room comb filtering, but ten times more sensitive to temporal, transient and spatial distortion than the general public. In fact, musicians can determine when notes start and stop ten times better than a theoretically perfect linear algorithm, breaking Fourier’s proofs. Once you realize that Fourier, Nyquist and Shannon can be surpassed by non-linear active systems like hearing, you can throw out all the “scientific proofs” that we can’t hear a difference in sound with extended bandwidth and lower jitter.
You can also throw out using headphones, tones, noise, and even music that has been processed, mixed and panned as test material. Reduction of variables which has been astoundingly successful in the mineral world invariably yields the wrong answers with the hyper-complexity of biological systems. Science and math need to catch up to well trained hearing, or they will have partial relevance to audio nirvana and result in continued local sub-optimization and random walk processes.
For years now, you have been posting these contentions on this site without a single citation of a study that backs them up. You state that “The published science of the last 85 years is wrong,” thus claiming an accomplishment on the order of Einstein’s 1905 works. Either you are the greatest audio genius of all time, or a crackpot. It appears to me, at least, that the latter description is more appropriate. You may be able to persuade me if you present substantial evidence supporting your extraordinary claims … and that’s assuming you understand the concept of evidence at all, which I doubt. Sorry to be so negative here, but I’m tired of you trashing the work of talented, dedicated professionals from the safe cover of anonymity.
Tell that to nelson Pass. It is not Dialysis it is entertainment. Distortion plays an important role in the final sound. Maybe you should have been present at the Burning Amp festival to hear the experienced designers agree on that with Pass and many other top notch engineer/designers.
Now your attacking what we sell. Guess Lamm gear is not good enough for you.
Troll now ? Gee wiz there Grim. I guess it is Grim for a reason. I’ll pray for you. I will never make it personal unlike others.