Written by 5:09 am Audiophile

What It Means When You hear No Differences

Sometimes it is hard to hear the differences when doing an A/B comparison between two components. Is that because the products sounds so similar they are indistinguishable, or are there other forces at play here?

AR-ear2.jpgDoes every piece of gear have it’s own unique sonic
signature? Logically, unless two components share a majority of the same parts
and technologies they should sound different from each other. During 40+ years
of listening to audio systems and doing A/B comparisons, occasionally I can’t discern
any sonic differences between two pieces of gear in a real-time matched-level
A/B test. Sometimes, when I’ve had a chance to live with both components for a
while, I’ve formed a sonic preference for one over the other. What’s that
about?

The most obvious
reason for not being able to hear a sonic difference between two components is
that the rest of the system doesn’t have sufficient resolving power to allow
the differences to pass through it.  A
gross example of an opaque system is one of those early wireless FM
transmitters that had about a 20dB SN ratio due to the background hum. You
could connect a Levinson or a Lloyds to it; the sound wouldn’t change a bit,
and you sure couldn’t tell them apart.

Another reason for not hearing a difference is more subtle
– the nature of an A/B comparison – switching back and forth doesn’t give your
ear-brain enough time to discern the subtler aspects of a component’s
performance. You can only notice the grosser and more blatant differences in an
A/B test, while the equally important micro-details don’t factor into the
evaluation process.

In a perfect world every sound component’s sonic performance
would so far exceed human beings’ perceptual abilities that all components
would, indeed, sound identical. But we sure aren’t there yet. 

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