Let's think for a moment what "audiophilia" is about...
'We' love music so the likelihood is that 'we' have lots of albums to listen to. That's one of the great things about computer audio - a unified, easily accessible library. (This is of course not necessarily the case for everyone.)
'We' enjoy talking about hardware that can make the sound better. 'We' in fact often spend a lot of time considering how to match the pieces of an audio system to extract the most out of the collection above.
'We' argue about what's "best" in terms of the hardware because 'we' are passionate about the pastime and it is fun to find ways of making things sound better. When passionate about something, natural human biases (especially among men!) will result in arguments, disagreements, and debates, does it not? Just ask the guys rooting for their favourite team or the "friendly" competition between nations in international sports... The way I see it, there's nothing wrong with this. Debate sparks thought, hopefully ideas which come to fruiting with advancement. Of course, sometimes things do turn ugly and we see unfortunate brawls or riots with alleged fouls or outright unsportsmen-like anger or hatred. Last I checked, nobody got murdered or trampled to death in audio-related debates thankfully.
It is interesting that in the audiophile world, perhaps more than in other technology hobbies, we do have this "tension" with epistemic authority (as the title of the Perlman article Golden Ears And Meter Readers: The Contest for Epistemic Authority in Audiophilia (2004) suggests). That is, where do we find our compass with regards to actual "knowledge" about what we believe to be true? Is it "experiential knowledge" in the subjective sense - "I know it because I feel/experience it." Or does one gravitate to "empirical knowledge" which is born of objective attempts at verification - "we know the basis in science, so let's see if we can show a difference/quantify it". This "big debate" will likely rage indefinitely, but we can still show humour, grace, and gentlemanly behaviour through this. Plus, I have never suggested that this is a true dichotomy since we can embrace elements of both; experience and verify.
Within this dichotomy, there are of course smaller "battles". One which this article (The Computer Audio Wars on AudioStream) highlights is the debate over the merits of DSD64 vs. PCM24/96. It's not a new debate - much of it already well-travelled - for more than a decade as technical folks mull over the ultrasonic noise, noise floor, time-domain, phasic accuracy, and overall accuracy of the two different encoding methods. It's an interesting intellectual argument with merits on all sides and which most objectivist audiophiles would appreciate and can figure out for themselves whether they prefer DSD or PCM (remember, there are all those practical issues with tagging, compression, and difficulty with DSP apart from sound quality; not to mention relatively little DSD content available).
But what I don't get is the ugly "subjective is best" tone to that article which does not seem to present a coherent, defensible position...
1. The author quotes John Siau: "Nevertheless, the differences between PCM 96/24 and DSD 64 should be inaudible. Both systems are capable of delivering high-resolution audio, and both systems exceed the performance of the CD by a significant margin." Yup. Agreed. Yet he follows this quote with "Oh. You mean one is not "better" than the other and both can be enjoyed? I'm shocked!" Huh? What's that sarcastic tone supposed to imply? That objective people cannot enjoy what they hear? Nonsense. Realize that ultimately it really are the folks who can hear "everything" that adds to the fear, doubt, and anxiety about what we have and what we hear (like this article from him where apparently the jump to DSD resulted in a "holy crap", "real space" moment). As far as I know, no objective-leaning audiophile would argue that they can't enjoy a great piece of music in DSD64 or 24/96 because 'we' generally accept John Siau's statement as likely correct - audible differences are likely minimal. The argument between what's "best" is an academic one and that is exactly the kind of interchange between Murison - Waldrep - Siau, no need to add a melodramatic flair. The author of this article really has nothing of value to add in the academic discussion. The fact that we can read about the exchange and consider for ourselves the different points these folks raise does not change one's ability to enjoy anything, but if we were offered the choice, we can develop our own judgements based on the facts as to which side of the debate appears to have more merit.
2. Why the anti-intellectual stance? "Facts, the truth, and science, are often paraded around as the saviors of ignorance and gullibility." Well, are facts and truth (derived from the scientific method) not the antidote against ignorance? Remember folks, we are talking about audio hardware, and even more so, computer audio hardware. We're not arguing about what album you like or which piece of art gives one the goosebumps. There are indeed facts to contend with, to be known, to be understood, and to apply to decision-making. Of course, not all decision making is based on sound quality alone; consider those "non-utilitarian functions" discussed a few weeks back. Nothing wrong with those reasons for spending money.
3. Why the cult of personalities? Whether it's "Monty Montgomery", "Neil Young" or "Experts in the field like Mark Waldrep, John Siau, Bob Stuart of Meridian and MQS [sic], Dan Lavry of Lavy Engineering, and countless others like Cookie Marenco of Blue Coast Music, Mort Lindberg of 2L, and Jared Sacks of Channel Classics..." So what? It's easier to throw out a name and claim this guy says this or that, but much more fruitful to consider the facts and learn, don't you think? They are all humans with idiosyncrasies. Focus not on the person, but whether the thoughts are logical, sound minded, and cognitively consonant. No man/woman is without his/her biases, in my experience especially when financial reward is a motivator.
4. Oh boy. This last one is a doozy. "Placebo is the pat answer from the "right". One problem with this argument is placebos do in fact work in medicine, often times better than even approved medicines from the pharma world, and we are still learning important things about the placebo effect including how long it lasts. In other words, people crying Placebo don't know what they're talking about." So let me get this straight... It's OK to sell something that purports to improve sound quality (which is the Holy Grail of hardware upgrade), knowing that it's a placebo, and so long as people subjectively "feel better", that's somehow OK and justifies the product? Is this ethical? Does it really matter how the placebo effect works when by definition, the thing itself is knowingly inefficacious? Sorry, not in my world view. That's called fraud.
Speaking of placebo and medicine, realize that in this day with numerous medications demonstrated to be significantly beneficial, in many areas of research, it is in fact unethical to be doing placebo-controlled trials any more. For many drug trials, to pass FDA (and related) approval or obtain medical institutional ethics support, one actually needs to perform head-to-head trials of a new agent against a recognized older agent because to use placebo (ie. not treat with something that is generally known to work better) is unethical and exposes the patient to potential harm. I seriously wonder what experience the writer has in the field of medicine to make such a claim about the placebo effect... Please, no more romantic fantasy claims about what we know or don't know about the placebo effect, OK?
Coming up soon... Results from the Digital Filters Test.
Have a great week everyone!