Saturday, 14 April 2018

MUSINGS: On the joy of numbers... Yet more on that audio "Subjectivist" vs. "Objectivist" debate.

You might recognize the opening graphic from a previous post years ago where I commented that I actually believe it's healthy to maintain balance rather than seeing extreme polarities. In that post, I mentioned an article by Michael Lavorgna from AudioStream that I thought was grossly off base. That was in 2015. Here we are again in 2018, with another post on AudioStream, but this time penned by Herb Reichert called "Audio Without Numbers" that I think needs to be addressed. (Hmmm... What's wrong with numbers? :-)

Before getting into the discussion, let me lay out a couple of suggestions not just for this post, but also in general when we're simply talking about audiophilia, the science and philosophy behind our hobby.

First, let's talk plainly. Yes, we can bring up the names of long dead philosophers all day long... Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle of classic fame, to more recent men of high thinking like Hume, Kant, Poincaré, Popper, and Kuhn - they likely all have something to say about this debate depending on philosophical leanings around the nature of "truth", "knowledge", and other metaphysical ideas. Over the years, I've dropped a couple of these names as well where I thought a quote or reference might be meaningful, but ultimately so what? Time has passed since these thinkers put down their words, scientific knowledge has advanced in ways that the thinkers above have not been privy to and perhaps they would have vastly different ideas if alive today. For example, other than Kuhn and Popper, the rest of them were gone by the time the double-helix was discovered, or the advent of modern molecular biology or neuroscience to explain sensory phenomena and the limits of perception. Besides, I'm not sure any of them were audiophiles :-).

Second, let's not appeal to scientific domains that more than likely have no practical relevance to the hobby. Yes, relativity, Einstein, and Hawking were way cool guys! Likewise, quarks, hadrons, superstrings, the wave-particle duality, and Erwin Schrödinger and his cat are also very much worth pondering about. While these concepts have great relevance in this universe, as far as I am aware, there is no evidence that sound waves, the consumer electronics we're talking about, or even human perception "materially" requires that we engage in laws governing subatomic particles, the space-time continuum, or velocities approaching light speed. Who knows, maybe consciousness involves quantum-level phenomena (as per Roger Penrose for example), but this is highly speculative. To bring forth these theories as if of relevance is IMO at best engaging in some unnecessary science fiction writing, and at worst it makes the writer sound pretentious. BTW, I think audiophile companies need to keep this in mind while advertising their products to maintain some semblance of sanity (folks like thisthis, and this likely have crossed the line).

I think it goes without saying that we as humans are highly tribalistic. We naturally congregate in cliques, feel "at home" with those we're most similar with whether in appearance, shared culture, faith, or creed. And in so doing, we have a tendency to see ourselves as "us" versus "them". This binary tendency seems innate from the time we're young; just look at young children and notice the concrete tendencies and "black or white" thinking during the early years of moral development. So too I think we can see the "subjectivist" vs. "objectivist" debate as a shadow of that simplistic and rather immature worldview.

Like so many dialectical opposites in life, much of reality typically ends up in that gray zone rather than the radical extremes (for the most part...). I have not met a "radical" audio subjectivist who over a good discussion could not appreciate that measurements actually do correlate with sound quality. Conversely, I can appreciate another's subjective preferences and admittedly have my own prejudices about what kind of gear I like and what kind of "sound" I subjectively prefer. As such, I read Mr. Reichert's article as unrealistically divisive and unreasonably bitter when he calls out against the "Self-proclaimed audio objectivists, like those that troll audio forums, are not scientists, or audio professionals... They are pathologically self-centered people...". By doing this, he has created a fairytale, but more so, a logically flawed "strawman" whom he then sets off to attack as if there are legions of these narcissistic "audio objectivists" he needs to warn otherwise defenseless "subjectivist" audiophiles against.

He of course obliges with an attack on the "self-proclaimed audio objectivists" strawmen as "self-declared enemies of poetry, love, and humanist culture". Yes, how predictable - and inane...

A few weeks back, I already posted an article on the definition of what the terms "subjective" and "objective" imply and characterstics of each. The way I see it is that "objectivity" in audio is simply an attempt to get directly at underlying "constructs" of how we understand this world works not based simply on an individual's beliefs, but scientific foundations built on empirical evidence over the generations. These are not the "quasi-imaginable cultural abstractions" that Reichert speaks of in his article. Rather, we are talking about concepts of science and technology that applies to every culture on planet Earth. Clearly concepts like frequency, noise floor, dynamic range, time-domain characteristics correlate to external physical phenomena whether one lives in North America or in rural Asia regardless of culture, language, transcending time into the generations of men and women who have graced this Earth. History may have dictated certain outcomes such as our use of certain units of measurement (eg. Hz, dB, μs, V, Ω, etc...), or the modern use of the A-440 pitch standard in Western music. Just like the physical properties of "a rose by any other name" will remain measurably "rose-like", the physical properties of sound waves define the stimulation of the cochlea and ultimately mental processing even if at the individual biological level, we each are different.

An audiophile who appreciates objective analysis can state that these foundational properties can be comparable between different devices. This is a logical proposition because these measurable scientific concepts (frequency, noise level, various distortions, jitter, etc...) permeate through the whole endeavor of audio engineering from hardware design to the recording/production chain to home playback and room characteristics. As referenced above, these physical principles creating sound waves are not materially governed by the complexities of relativity nor require quantum mechanics principles when it comes to accurate mathematical modeling. To bring these advanced physical principles up (as per Reicher's paragraph about "Enlightenment Paradigm" being "rejected by scientists and philosophers" like "Einstein, Heisenberg, et al.") when simply discussing consumer electronics - even if "high end" and expensive - sounds ridiculous! Just because Newtonian physics can be seen as a subset of a greater understanding of physics doesn't mean it's not more than adequate for the calculation of projectiles on planet earth. Who's got a "puffed-chest" here?

Do we actually think that respected "high end" hardware designers don't understand these underlying principles when they create good gear? Are these physical characteristics of sound not universal and apply to all audio engineers and circuit designers transculturally whether designed and built in the USA, the UK, Germany, or China? While we can say that some designers might not be aiming for technical perfection and perhaps there are corners to cut at certain price points, surely it would be ridiculous these days to suggest principles of objectivity such as measurements are not highly important in design and verification of these machines! A device that deviates from reasonable measurements of basic electrical (eg. DAC, amplifier) and ultimately mechanical characteristics (eg. transducers like speakers and headphones) beyond a certain amount will be audibly different and potentially no longer be capable of "high fidelity" reproduction.

Compared to direct assessments and measurements of sonic attributes with objective methods, subjectivity refers to an indirect type of assessment. If I were to ask any audiophile to assess for me these physics constructs like smoothness of frequency response, time-domain accuracy, amount of detail retrieval, etc... I'm sure an audiophile would give it his/her best effort by listening to some music or even a frequency sweep if he/she wants to use a controlled signal. But that assessment would have been a complex sequence of steps having the sound processed by one's ears, mental auditory processing, comparisons made with previous memory of events, cross-referenced with the lexicon of words to use, and then consciously expressed in language. This is not even to mention other important variables like accounting for the room being used or the ambient noise level, etc. that would have significant bearing on the perception.

We can grab a hundred trained listeners to study the qualitative aspects of their perception and experience (Which DAC / amp / speaker sounds "better"? Which one sounds tonally the most natural? Which one reproduced the best detail?). In this way we can get a numerical survey based on some kind of standardized scale (which will also need to be tested for validity), thus "objectifying" the exercise by obtaining subjective measurements. The results can give us nice "group effects" and we can calculate things like standard deviation or even plot out the results and perhaps see a typical "normal" curve. Ultimately, we would still say that each person as an "instrument" of perception will be providing an opinion based on his/her subjective experience governed by listening acuity, and sharpness of mind. Group results therefore could point us in the direction of general preferences but would also reflect the variance in the population tested.

In this context, Mr. Reichert is absolutely off base when he claims:
"Dutifully, I remind these dismissers, that, by definition, an 'objectivist' is an experienced, unbiased and unprejudiced observer; and that every editor at Stereophile, Analog Planet, InnerFidelity, and AudioStream fits that description."
An individual may be "experienced", but when we do not control for the multitude of variables, there is no way any of us can humbly and realistically claim that we're "unbiased" and "unprejudiced"! To insist that as conscious, complex beings with intrinsic preferences, experiences, and emotions can be "unbiased" is absolutely unwise, obviously lacking in insight into the nature of humanity and especially ridiculous coming from an "artist". Apart from the objective measurements in Stereophile, InnerFidelity, and occasionally in Analog Planet, the "observations" by the editors might be accurate, but if the method of evaluation is that of uncontrolled sighted listening, then the opinions rendered are obviously not in any way derived objectively. Yes, we can hope that Atkinson, Lavorgna, Reichert himself, etc. possess developed, elevated, and educated "auditory palates" or "golden ears" when they review these devices by virtue of experience. However, we cannot know their perceptual limitations (eg. age-related loss in high frequency hearing) or whether recommendations are made based primarily on idiosyncratic preferences. Furthermore, if the claim is that some kind of rigorous comparison is being done mentally, we cannot know what "standards" they have in mind when making judgments. Over the years, we have seen examples where objective evidence clearly demonstrates limitations of a device not caught by numerous subjective reviewers precisely because performance characteristics can be directly assessed (like the limitation of the Wadia 121 I discussed years ago).

For those who want to watch an interesting lecture that combines objectivity/subjectivity, art/science, here's one of the most respected names in audio recorded in 2015:

It is this kind of knowledge and understanding that I hope brings joy to the inquiring audiophile as it satisfies the intellect!

Dr. Toole reminds us of the importance of controlled testing (10:50). He also uses objective testing to explore the ability to predict with some level of accuracy the preferences among most "subjects" for various speakers but of course not everyone will have the same preference.

We can imagine subjectively that some people might prefer the sound of a speaker with significant high-frequency roll-off below 10kHz or a DAC that is incapable of >16-bit performance, or an amplifier with high THD. Although personally I would not see these characteristics as indicative of achieving high fidelity, that is the privilege and freedom of subjective opinion and I would not say anyone is "wrong" to have such preferences. Remember though that there are also situations when subjective opinions (beliefs) are simply wrong. For example, an uneducated man looking at the horizon might come to the opinion that the Earth is flat based just on that sensory evidence. I do not know if there are many true believers in the "Flat Earth" cosmology still these days but this belief permeated human history for most of the time Homo sapiens have been around. Opinions based just on one's perceptual limits while ignorant of the wider scientific context can obviously be fantastically incorrect!

Coming back to audio then. Ultimately, we each will have to find an insightful balance between our idiosyncratic preferences and awareness of physical properties of the devices. We should find a way to be satisfied with what we like intellectually and emotionally. Subjective opinions whether stated by an audiophile friend or "professional" reviewer are good to consider while accurate direct objective measurements remind us of external realities.

As much as Mr. Reichert wants to caricature the "objectivist" as a souless, artless, cultureless, utilitarian nerd, he has only successfully shown himself to hold on to beliefs of an extreme subjectivist audiophile stuck in a pretentious imaginary world with little to show in actuality. A state where the "truth" of sound quality is nothing but faith in oneself and one's "ears" to the exclusion of objective universal principles. Ultimately this philosophy appears to be a form of solipsism. Perhaps in this mode of thinking, numbers in audio mean nothing to him.

In my opinion, if we as humans are gifted with emotions, are able to engage in artistic appreciation, reasoning, and able to understand the concepts that technically constitute the sounds we hear, then why not embrace it all? The "objectivist" agenda I speak of is one where both numbers and emotions commingle (remember, from the start I have always said this blog is about being 'more objective', never to the exclusion or repression of one's feelings). There is no need to almost fear the ability to judge sonic attributes with numbers, or comparison charts, or graphs (this reminds me of Art Dudley and his issue with scientists a few years back).

Dear audiophiles, let's be rational - appreciate both objectivity and appeal to subjective desires without dogmatic fervor. Live in the gray.

[Note that parts of this essay was based on a response to miguelito on Computer Audiophile but highly reworked for this blog post.]


It looks like Stereophile is in the process of going through some changes. I see that there have been no updates at all on AudioStream since Mr. Reichert's April 4th article. As much as I have had some strong disagreements with the comments and articles in the magazine and affiliated sites like in today's post, I certainly do wish everyone well. I hope change can bring new insights, benefits and improve respectability for this hobby through the press.

Hey folks, here's what the UPS Guy brought me the other day:

Yup, as I said last week, it's the Oppo UDP-205 UHD Blu-Ray player. I'm in the process now of playing with this, enjoying some movies and music. Early impressions in the first few days regarding sound quality: subjectively excellent, and technically beautiful based on some early explorations :-).

There's quite a bit of interesting stuff to explore with this device, so I'll probably take my time and demonstrate/discuss over a series in the weeks/months ahead as work demands are heating up.

Enjoy the music!


  1. "I see that there have been no updates at all on AudioStream since Mr. Reichert's April 4th article. As much as I have had some strong disagreements with the comments and articles in the magazine and affiliated sites like in today's post, I certainly do wish everyone well."
    I do not. Lavorgna was finally fired and Reichert's April 4th article is indication that there is still more dirt to be scrubbed. I read it and agree with all your comments. But you argued in good faith with the guys who created a separate post modern universe where the most absurd claims had to be accepted because well "my narrative is as good as you narrative". In this universe 10l Ethernet cable can change the sound of 100k system beyond recognition, and MQA was compared the the Copernicus model of solar system.

    1. Hi Andrzej,

      Indeed, I am trying to argue in good faith with these individuals in hopes that calm, rational minds will prevail. To argue otherwise will be no better than the mildly entertaining mythology that many in the audiophile press have been concocting with the unsavory elements of the Industry for decades. Over the last few years with not just MQA but the fantasy being peddled with unconscionable megabuck cables (ethernet or otherwise) has IMO pushed the "audiophile press" beyond the precipice at a time when plenty of good information can be found elsewhere with greater expertise and insights.

      Yes, I heard about Michael Lavorgna being "released". Ironic I think considering the recent items on AudioStream like the April Fools video about "The Forums" and then this Reichert article. "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Obviously, the quality of the work on his website is not only lackluster in the eyes of "The Forums" but even in the organization he works at in the face of restructuring.

      Philosophically, I agree, Lavorgna and Reichert's post-modern extreme relativistic worldview is a failure - certainly in how they are evangelizing it to audiophiles! It has not passed my notice that these battles in the world of the audiophiles are an illustrative microcosm of so many other conflicts in society these days.

      I'll stay gracious to Mr. Lavorgna as a person. He has received the wages of his work and whatever circumstance he finds himself in at the moment. Maybe it'll give him time to reflect. Who knows, I want to believe that men can change and maybe he'll find a different niche for his aptitudes.

    2. Thanks for stating what I felt just 30 minutes ago after reading Herb Reichert’s article. I quit commenting on the Stereophile, InnerEar, Audiostream because if you’re contrary it’s either deleted comment or you’re bullied to submission to believe they are right and you “litttle guy with no access to Western Electric gear will never understand.” I wonder if they realize how thy resemble the upper management of a cult?

  2. "...they have not directly experienced the giant Sound Lab speakers or the acoustic-wind of a 15A/13A Western Electric horn system"

    "When I report that DAC A is boring and annoying..."

    The problem is transducers are very different from DACs and cables. Even "troll objectivists" know about this fact. Using dramatic examples like hurricane are useless. Such an introduction made the article extremely amateurish.

    Yet some of the points are valid, for example trust nothing but numbers and measurements. Traditional parameters like THD, IMD, jitter and so on usually have not much to do with psychoacoustics. Those test equipment don't listen to sound the same way as human do. Of course the same applies to zooming an impulse to sub-millisecond and claiming night and day differences. Also the use of linear scale to display frequency so that more than 3/4 of the spectrogram are used to display > 20kHz content. The funny thing is more than 400 years ago people already realized human hearing does not work in this way.

    There are software modeled to simulate human hearing, for example Melodyne:
    The video is ten years old but still impressive. Of course it is an ad so it only shows the good side. I actually used it and it has many limitations.

    Also lossy audio codecs. For example the opus codec used in Youtube streams:

    ...and the iZotope RX you have:
    The developers attempted to make their software understands what is "noise" in the same way as human do. The NGU algorithm in madVR also involves deep learning, as well as the NNEDI3 algorithm used in old versions of madVR.

    These examples are what I considered as real improvements in audio technology, and can be easily proved by "illusionist parlor tricks like ABX" :P

    1. Thanks Dtmer,

      Excellent links to and extremely good points.

      It reminds me of the impossible position "golden ears" are in. On the one hand, electrical measurements as you noted are able to measure things which I agree will not any audible differences much less claims of "obvious improvement"... Reasonable jitter and digital filter changes come to mind as well. Thus acoustic measurements in the room (as per Dr. Toole's video) I agree are much more valuable.

      The problem with "golden earism" ends up being a central belief that the ear is capable of essentially unlimited resolution and mental perception is highly reliable. That the reviewers are able to hear what the Industry claims it can - whether it be ethernet cables, expensive USB tweaks, megabuck bitperfect streamer/servers, femtoclocks, fuses, and physically impossible "room treatments" without measurable effects. Furthermore, the typical audiophile press brand of "golden ears" like HR seem to even transcend human limits and can appreciate quantum phenomena (or at least seems to be saying so with their name dropping of scientists and philosophies)!

      As Andrzej noted above, I think these nonsensical beliefs need to be "scrubbed". We seriously need rational, educated, curious, temperate, and assertive folks at the helm capable of good reality testing (compared to HR's example of "loose" thought form). The culture needs to change even if the Industry might not be pleased.

      BTW: Impressive Melodyne video! Powerful.

  3. I am not an audiophile, but I am interested in music, and, as such, follow the magical-thinking wing of the audio industry. Mr Lavorgna beleives in fairies, and he is very hostile to anyone who disagrees with him, so I would say good riddance. I have been reading Audiophile recently in digital format - I have one of those "all you can read" magazine subscriptions - and I don't think his departure will change the magazine much. They're still beholden to advertisers, companies that sell ludicrously priced audio equipment ($40K for a turntable is the definition of insane) and can't go against them. The hi-fi industry has been destroyed by the high end, with its ridiculous prices, and has created its own problems at the low end. People get buy with cheap Bluetooth speakers in part because the hi-fi industry is such a morass of lies and deciet that they simply don't trust any of these manufacturers any more.

    1. Hello Kirk,
      Great to have music lovers like yourself here. At the heart of this endeavor is exactly that opportunity to enjoy the music and the goal of the equipment is of course to do it in a way that is accessible to everyone and ever dropping price points!

      The problem with the "high end" is that deflating price points do not sit well with them. A $300 DAC these days can easily, verifiably, objectively and with blind listening tests blow away the high-resolution performance of anything "high res" a decade before at 10 times the cost. By not going with the trajectory of technology, they set up a market not based on techological reality but priced alongside luxury goods.

      IMO, this is a very significant aspect of "high end" which typical consumers would not be very interested in!

  4. Hi Arch,
    I salute your mission of maintaining a rational and respectful platform for investigating what is ultimately a 'subjective' experience (no getting around that.)
    I was incensed by HR's characterization of any expression of alternate opinions as 'trolling' and would liked to have ripped him a new one. But you took the high road and once again provide an example of how audio reviewers should act.
    Why do so few of them act in that way? Revenue is probably the biggest reason.
    For myself, I have been straddling the ob/sub fence for years now, since the notorious green pen CD treatment debate. Of course, I heard a difference in Ladysmith Black Mambazo after the treatment, but I simply could not buy any of the 'technical' explanations for this, so I forced myself to question my own perceptions and recollections. Since then, we've seen things get really crazy, with Shun Mook disks, kilodollar power cords and Bybee quantum BS-ifiers. I don't need to audition these things in an uncontrolled environment to know that they are an insult to our intelligence and I find it hard to retain respect for those who convince themselves otherwise. I suppose I'll just have to admit that they have the right to spend their money on whatever they like, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone.
    Keep on keeping on,

    1. Hi Phil,

      Yeah, I think it's no secret that $$money$$ permeates all of this and by nature will affect the dialogue and bias judgments. Advertising revenue, personal relationships, "longterm loans", etc... all play a role.

      Here's a thought...

      Imagine a magazine that functions similar to today: take advertising revenue to run, have known editors, some core columns, and a core "team" of reviewers. The folks can still visit trade shows and get to know what's out there. But change the review process: perhaps have an expressed policy of "no longterm loans" beyond say 1 year so there is some opportunity to compare recent products but not be viewed as obtaining indirect "perks", the piece of equipment can be shipped to a number of staff to experience without the knowledge of the company, and maintain objective measures. Here's the catch: the subjective reviews are all done and published ANONYMOUSLY or using a pseudonym. Other than the magazine staff's knowledge, it is forbidden to speak about the source of the review and each writer signs an agreement to not speak openly about the review except in response to "Letters" questions.

      A guy like Fremer can keep his column as the resident vinyl expert, and guys like Hal Rubenstein can keep digital/multichannel discussions going. Objective reviewers can be done by one person but since objective reviews by nature are what they are, it's easier to remain impartial and report what is shown. But by maintaining the anonymity or use of a pseudonym for the subjective reviewer, he/she is more free to speak his/her mind. The manufacturer can still receive a preview of the review and provide feedback. Likewise, the public would still be able to express what they want to say and still "follow" closer those whom they enjoy the writing style of or have similar tastes. Might be an interesting experiment!

      As for the Shun Mook disks, kilobuck cables, etc... I can hear some subjective guys say "How do you know unless you try???"

      To that we can easily say:
      "If I observe a tin can with the sides bowed out or if a sandwich is foul smelling, do I need to taste the contents of the canned food to make sure there's no botulism or take a bite from the sandwich to make sure it's not rotten?"

      Clearly logic tells us we need not "try everything" before having an informed opinion! Even though these tweaks, cables, etc. aren't as dangerous for one's health, they can be rather unhealthy for the bank account.

    2. An intriguing concept, Arch... I suspect the egos of the 'celebrity' reviewers might be a roadblock to that approach, but I would be pleased to see someone try it. Or we could recommend a blind panel of listeners, but I think that with the exception of transducers, the results would be inconclusive, and would reflect whatever individuals were 'listening for' at any particular moment. (I vaguely recall a Quebec publication that took that approach, and opinions on electronics were all over the map... basically useless.)
      At any rate, there is no publication or subjective reviewer I trust now, having been burned once or twice by a reviewer's enthusiasm for a product that in some space of time proved disappointing to me, in terms of sound or reliability. There are a few dealers who will allow 'try before by' trials that might be good, if we can avoid being carried away by the shiny new piece of machined aluminum or rosewood or whatever...and there are manufacturers who offer a trial period as well. Those might be our best bet as music lovers, consumers or hobbyists. The hobby side of things is better served by DIY projects: I have lots of speaker drivers to keep me busy through my coming retirement, and that's a lot more fun than just buying gear.

    3. I think you've hit the nail on the head with the idea of "celebrity" status, Phil. If a reviewer is joining to write as some kind of ego boost or expand one's sense of being one of the "elite", because of the subjective nature of the reviews, that mindset itself will likely affect the output.

      It's worth asking of a reviewer what is in it for him/her? Of what personal gain would one have to write articles?

      Over the years, I have asked this of myself and I hope my motivations are reasonably clear. I don't need to make money off this stuff, am not interested in "loans", nor do I care about "status" as some kind of member in the high priesthood of audiophiles. In fact it's liberating to remain anonymous and have an internal conviction that one remains honest with exploring truth and not be "beholden" to any system that requires building up of market share, sales and advertising. For me, the ultimate goal I think is to educate and inform the community to a (hopefully) higher levels of understanding so they could discuss about concepts that truly matter!

      Hey, IMO if the audiophile press can change in a way that I could be happy with, then I think I could happily "retire" from blogging about this stuff as well and not feel I need to respond to nonsense like Reichert's article!

      I'm sure in time I'll join you in retirement and do my own DIY's instead :-).

  5. I love your common sense, "let's be civil to each other" approach. People like you make the world a better place.

    Thank you,

    1. Wow, thanks Gabriel,

      Just doin' what I think makes sense :-).


  6. It is ironic that Reichert used the word "pathologically," as his mendacious and vituperative presentation demonstrates his own pathology, and it ain't pretty.

    One tipoff is his resort to the same sort of argument one gets from creationists and anti-vaxxers: "Science has been wrong before, so we can't take anything a scientist says as valid." Bushwa, sir.

    Most risible is his description of objectivists as ignoramuses who have a "middle school smattering of Newtonian physics..." Really? Floyd Toole, Richard Greiner, Ken Pohlman, these are "middle school" amateurs? Does Mr. Reichert have degree in electrical engineering? Does have any grasp at all of what the science is? He should go over to Hydrogen Audio, where his type of nonsense is not tolerated without proof, and see how many qualified, degreed professionals there are there.

    Say what you will about Atkinson (and there's an awful lot to say), he at least took honest measurements, and they were often jarringly inconsistent with the subjective observations of the Stereophile reviewers writing the main article about the component under test. Atkinson isn't a fool. He just knows where his bread is buttered. He knows that there is no field of scientific endeavor that doesn't rely on objective analysis. Heck, any first- or second-year psych major knows what "expectation bias" and the placebo effect are.

    Reichert's hostility and wilful distortions actually need little rebuttal - they are so "pathological" as to betray his true belief: He knows for a fact that the more expensive a component is, the better it sounds, especially if tubes are involved. No one will change his mind about this, because it is his identity, it is who he is, and to acknowledge the validity of objective testing would shatter his self-image.

    Of course, I am just as passionate in this post, and therefore vulnerable to criticism for the same obstinacy. But I do try to be open. A little history: I used to be a prosecutor. When studies started showing that eyewitness identification was the most unreliable type there is, I immediately dismissed it. Or thought I did. But I read, I studied, and I changed my mind in the face of evidence and experience (such as realizing that a man identified by six different rape victims was, in fact, the wrong guy). Same with false confessions. As a prosecutor, I rejected the concept. But research and study furnished the evidence showing I was wrong, and I now consider confessions to be presumptively suspect. Probably most are valid, but they must be viewed at the start with great skepticism and corroboration is imperative.

    I still carry around a lot of beliefs in my head that are likely totally wrong. We all do. But we must always be ready, as objectivists, to admit error. We all must accept we can be wrong, sometimes gravely so. But it's not about us. It's about what is true.

    1. Thanks Jeff,

      Love your writing and given your background, I can certainly see why it is so!

      Great background information as well about eyewitness identification and how someone was misidentified by 6 witnesses. That should be a humbling realization for anyone who wants to honestly recognize his/her own limitations...

      It's one thing to tell the difference between a boombox and high quality separates. But another thing altogether comparing cables :-).

      BTW. I see that in today's AXPONA 2018 report, Herb starts his post with "Most readers don't know this, but I am measurer (sic)." Claiming he has been measuring for 30 years...

      Hmmmm... He still insists with AC power cords "the effects are not subtle". And goes through different cables, with and without power conditioner and of course with each price point up we ratchet up the sound quality experienced. Who knows, maybe in the hotel, the power conditioner could make a difference, but I sure would love Reichert to "walk the talk" and show us what he measures to suggest non-subtle effects from the cable!

    2. I'd like to know what equipment he uses to "measure."

    3. Reichert offers little evidence of being a 'measurer'. What he is, on the evidence of his writing, is an intellectual pompinjay.

  7. I'm curious about the power cable thing.

    EMI is always a potential issue. (On my desk is a pair of KEF Q100s and a laser printer. I always know when someone in the household is planning on printing something because, for the 10 seconds before the printer starts up, there's a perfectly audible buzzing through the speakers.)

    Purportedly, these fancy-schmancy power cables reduce EMI. But I'm not even clear whether we're talking EMI from the AC power line, or EMI to it (and, if the latter, what effect it's supposed to have on the output of the components being powered).

    That's the thing about the "subjectivists." They seem chronically uncurious. If some tweak really does improve sound quality, surely it would be interesting (not to mention useful!) to understand why.

    1. Hey blog,
      Yup, good point. And indeed there are both forms of noise pollution - inducted across space and conducted through the system itself. I touched a little about this here back in 2015:

      Why they don't set up a test bench for example with a hair dryer connected to a power conditioner and compare the amount of noise suppression in the output of another one of the outlets, or maybe put a power cable at a close distance to see if RF/EMI can be induced as a measure of quality shielding, I have no idea...

      Notice that magazines reviewers seem OK with talking vaguely about sonic differences between devices but they almost never actually objectively measure and compare devices side-by-side!

      I imagine this is to appease manufacturers who probably would not be happy to compare their $1000 power cable with an otherwise good $20 AC cable from Home Depot, or their $10,000 DAC with a $250 China mass market eBay purchase :-).

    2. To be fair, that's why I am unhappy with the objectivists' usual retort that the only thing you care about in a cable is its impedance and that the impedance of a standard AC power cable (or 14-gauge lamp cord, in the case of speaker cables) is already so low that there's no improvement to be made.

      "I touched a little about this here back in 2015:"

      Actually, I was thinking of another measurement of yours: When you measured an RPi music streamer, you found 60 Hz line noise coming through the ethernet cable (even when the RPi was battery-powered). Of course, the noise level was inaudibly low, but it would be interesting to see whether "audiophile grade" ethernet cables were capable of filtering it out.

    3. I haven't heard of that problem for quite some time. And I am no expert.

      It used to be quite common that anything, especially something with a motor, would bleed through the speakers. I don't think you have a ground loop - that results in a hum.

      You might want to talk to an electrician or specialist. I am not aware of any fancy power cords that will fix it. A UPS likely would if you have about $700 to spend (I haven't extensively priced these.) Whatever you do, consult with an expert before buying. A lot of power conditioners might claim to solve it but won't.

      It's annoying, I know. But something is leaking into the mains. And it's more likely RF, not EMI, from what I read.

    4. Hi blog,

      Yeah, for that measurement of the RPi/ethernet, there was some 60Hz that came through the ethernet system... Of course that was also through the switch it was plugged into. As you noted, it was a very small amount. Whether audiophile ethernet cables would make a difference I don't know but suspect unlikely. Probably more beneficial might be a better "audiophile quality" ethernet switch? :-)

      Jeff: There again is an example of what could be explored by the audiophile magazines and reviews. Not that hard with access to fancy cables and conditioners for them to show the readers whether these devices can attenuate RF/EMI, to what extent on an objective basis instead of just saying stuff like "With the Super-Duper-Conditioner-X, my noise floor just turned black like a cosmological black hole." :-)

      They just don't want to do that! Because it'll just show the readers results like certain cables make no difference or even thousands of dollars worth of power conditioning might be worse than something relatively inexpensive like a Belkin or something like that.

    5. Yes, too true.I should think a good electrician would be able to trace the problem. Just don't hire anyone with the word "audio" in their ad.

  8. Hi Archimago,
    let me guess that you have read my comment on :)
    By the way, let me repeat how much, being a Theoretical Physicist, I appreciate how you reference my "colleagues".
    I'm here, however, to propose to solve another "mystery of faith".
    A very well known (and trustable) Italian Hi-Fi designer and maker recently pointed out that there is an interface problem between a DAC and the pre stage. He solves this problem allowing to tune (by a dip switch) the input impedance of the stage. This works for a tube stage, I don't know if it works for a transistor stage.
    He and his customers state that after this tuning the difference is (as usual) "dramatic". Unfortunately he doesn't propose any physical explanation for that.
    Purely subjective.
    Me, on the other side, I'm very skeptical. My DAC (Audiolab 8200CD) has an output impedance of 20Ohms. The (hybrid) amplifier (Xindaq XA6200 (08)) has an input impedance of 47KOhms. Why should I adapt that impedance?
    Purely objective.

    1. Good day Teodoro,

      Yes, I did see your response earlier to HR. Appreciate your input from the background you have. That is certainly part of the fun of running a blog and talking about these things... We get a chance to fire off ideas across the different disciplines! Already we have you from the perspective of theoretical physics, Jeff above with a legal background...

      Interesting about the Italian Hi-Fi designer. I guess it's good to have options like this dip switch to allow some customization to the input impedance. But like yourself, I'd prefer to know the measurement of the output/input impedance values to make sure devices are compatible :-). Not only is knowledge useful in this decision making but it also has implications if we actually measure things like the frequency response and correlate the matching. Great power to be had in objective knowledge (of again, what are clearly engineered devices that came from the minds of scientists/engineers rather than the local priest or witch doctor!).

      Hey look Teodoro, let me know if you're aware of any need for incorporation of quantum mechanics and relativity into the discussions here. You're likely the best judge of that :-).

    2. Relativity? hard to say ...
      Quantum Mechanics? You mentioned correctly the work of Penrose (don't forget Hameroff) on consciousness. It's a nice idea, that could lead to metaphysical reasonings (never read Dan Simmons and the "Hyperion" SF cycle?).
      Apart that, energies and speeds are to low to be concerned about this "hard" physics.
      For the moment I'm reading the Penrose book "The road to reality", I'll let you know.

    3. Thanks, will keep the other names in mind... I had forgotten about Hameroff and his quantum microtubules :-).

      Lemme know if "The Road To Reality" is a good read!

  9. but this time penned by Herb Reichert called "Audio Without Numbers"

    Cool, another dotard ranting and lashing out.
    Has anyone suggested Twitter to Herb, now that Lavorgna has been put to pasture?

    1. I'm sure he knows what others think about that article.

      Considering that there have been no further posts on AudioStream, maybe the site too will be put out to pasture... Will see if the Stereophile guys rejuvenate it and if so what kind of editorial leadership is being raised to the task!

  10. Great article. I read the Audiostream piece and couldn't find the words to articulate how I felt about it. You captured it really well. In the end I shrugged my shoulders and thought, why waste time thinking about this when I could be listening to music. More importantly, why is this even important. Any time, a person tries to characterize things in white and black and put labels on complicated stuff, gross oversimplifications arise. Your are 100% right about living in the gray zone. In the end we all have to find the sweet spot that may be informed by numbers and listening and budget. In any event, I'm not unhappy to see Lavorgna gone. I found him too narcissistic. Can't stand cliquey old boys audio journal guys that have to highlight too much of their personal life (such as his art). He wrote pretty good reviews of equipment though when he got down to business.

    1. Thanks for the note Unknown.

      While I obviously don't mind reading and writing about the philosophical bits, even if I didn't like this stuff, it's just got to be explored in the current audiophile culture expressed among the "mainstream" magazines/writings we're faced with. Agree... There are better uses of time for the most part like enjoying the music.

      However, I don't think it's wasted time thinking about this once awhile when I see articles like Reichert's out there. I think something needs to be said that this kind of viewpoint is obviously unconventional if not troubling in light of contemporary understanding of the world and technology.

      The way I see it, the philosophies and worldviews we hold play a huge part in how we conduct ourselves and what measures of success we achieve in life (this is one idea I stress to my kids and students alike).

      As passionate audiophiles, it's great to get wrapped up in the experiences and opportunities to express and share. In doing so, we show the world just what kind of people we are. As actors in this philosophical "microcosm", our ideas and behaviours likely also reflect how we conduct life outside of this hobby. I would like to think that if we can conduct ourselves honorably, insightfully, reasonably, gracefully - even in these kinds of tiny contentious "issues" - then maybe this also generalizes to how we treat truly more important things in life. "Zen And The Art of Audio System Maintenance" :-)

      Though most "music lovers" and casual listeners stumbling on this site will likely never become card-carrying members of the neurotic audiophile brother/sisterhood, hopefully they can see that there is also a respectable and reasonable culture in this hobby that is quite different from the views and claims of people like the writer of the article in AudioStream.

    2. Audio seems the last bastion in hobbydom (though I'm likely wrong about that) that has such a history of woo. Hanging around most of the online audio fora is depressing. There are still so many people who buy into the nonsense. Many of the posters sound like they have just come from a boutique audio salon, or at least way too many hours reading Stereophile or TAS. They have never been exposed to the actual facts about how this stuff works.

      The gamut ranges from the purely objective (Hydrogen Audio) to the subjective/ignorant (Audio Asylum). And it behooves us to be ready to correct the record on some of these places, because newbies don't know any better, and can run up quite the cable bill, say, before even learning they're being had. I've found that the best approach is to drop one comment in about DBT, or measurements, and then leave it there. Most of the denizens will sound the alarm, and the brickbats will come at lightning speed. The temptation to respond can be overwhelming, but perhaps it's best just to plant the seed, and hope it will grow.

  11. Hi Arch

    Another great write up and totally agree. At the end of the day, every (or most) objectivists are also subjectivists. They too have different tastes, perceptions and biases affecting how they hear the sound but the key difference is that they try to understand why, in an objective manner.

    One point though and slightly off topic, given your skills around critical analysis I'm a bit surprised you buy into that flat earth myth. If someone did not know better and looked at the horizon they can clearly see it curves. As far as recorded history shows, humans have known the earth was round thousands of years BC and probably long before that. The flat earth theory of early humans believing the earth was flat was conjured up in the 17th century as a bit of a spoof. It has hung around as myth ever since.

    1. Thanks for the note Prep...

      One thing about the "Flat Earth" theory is that I was referring to the likelihood that this form of belief probably existed for most of human existence which would be something like ~300,000 years ago. I'm guessing that the earliest humans throughout prehistory thought the earth was flat rather than round.

      You're right though that by the time of the Greeks and certainly into the Middle Ages, the idea of a spherical earth had been documented.

    2. BTW: Regarding Flat Earthers and Audio

      I find it fascinating how some pure subjectivists refer to folks who use objective analysis as "Flat Earthers". This implies that in their minds, there is something "special", "different", or "unmeasurable". While I agree that we cannot fully measure or reductionistically identify how a human mind perceives music, and prefers sound, I don't think there's anything "special" or metaphysical about the devices, cables, etc. that cannot be detected with modern equipment.

      In fact, given that the devices were constructed with science rather than arising out of voodoo, those that believe in there being something "special" are in essence regressing into the days when the universe was inhabited by spirits, ethers and ultimately irrational fears where there need not be. And it shows in their descriptions and methods. Little "room treatments" that make huge differences, incessant power conditioners and cables that "cuts through the veil" yet again! Chains upon chains of USB "filters" and cleaners and jitter reducers... That is madness without knowledge, understanding and ultimately wisdom of what is or is not valuable.

    3. The claim by pure subjectivists that science does not know everything about music recording and reproduction, so therefore cannot measure everything that is relevant escapes logic. Claims of this nature intertwine universal objective analysis with individual subjective experiences.

      To my mind, objective analysis as to whether, for example, one recording/distribution/playback chain or element within it is flawless. At the very basic level we can compare an out signal with the input signal and null out any difference to make a comparison. So even if we play the subjectivist claim that there is something there that cannot be measured, we can still compare the signals. But even the claim that there is something about an electrical signal we do not understand is absurd when you think about all the modern gadgets around us such as smart phones, wifi and so on. Then of course is the other point you make - where did their stereo equipment come from? It was designed by real scientists and engineers not by a magician.

      If the debate is more around how we perceive music, again that has very little to do with objective analysis. The trap that many subjectivists fall into is the somewhat arrogant view that their subjective experience is the same for others. If that was the case, we would all be listening to the same type of music on similar stereos. What they fail to grasp is that if some types of music, or a production of it, sounds pleasing to their ears then it should sound better on a more (objectively) accurate playback chain, unless it is the inaccuracy of that chain that is changing the sound to make it sound more pleasing to that particular individual. There is no magic here, it is all in one's head.

      While there still is a lot to learn about human perception (including sound perception) we still know a lot more than what subjectivists care to admit. in fact they often appear offended by what we know that influences perception, ie expectation biases, frames of references and so on. So ultimately the position taken by many subjectivists is one of arrogance - a view that their perception is universal more valid than basic science and measurements.

    4. Flat Earth Theory

      Although we can never know, even the probability that humans believed the earth was flat 300,000 years ago is questionable. If you look at the horizon with an unobstructed view, preferably at some height, it can clearly be seen to be curved. And there were no (as far as we know) large human structures to obscure that view.

    5. Yeah, I suppose Prep. Don't know...

      Even if prehistoric man saw the curvature on the plains or across the savanna assuming no obstruction by trees or mountains, would he have deduced that this was a partial view of a larger sphere?

      Also, it looks like it depends on which part of the world one looks at. For example, it seems that the mainstream Chinese view of the Earth was still "flat" until the 17th century and changed after the Jesuits brought the idea over:

      Interesting stuff :-).

    6. Thanks for the link Arch. There is more to the history of this than I was aware. A bit surprised that the Chinese viewed the earth was flat until the 17th century - but there is no excuse for those that still hold that view today, a bit like the belief in magical properties within an audio electrical signal.

    7. "I find it fascinating how some pure subjectivists refer to folks who use objective analysis as "Flat Earthers" Whenever I see that, I don't know whether to call it some weird form of category error, or simply projection. Radical audiophile subjectivists are of course the actual 'flat earthers', by analogy to those who presume what they see (a flat landscape), to be the 'truth' of the situation.

    8. No, there's no evidence that the earth is curved. "If you look at the horizon with an unobstructed view, preferably at some height, it can clearly be seen to be curved. And there were no (as far as we know) large human structures to obscure that view."
      The only pictures that show curvature are too high for ancient man to be in, such as in outer space, not from on top of mountains.

    9. Well, you can take this as an anecdote if you like but I often travel to the outback where the coastline is some 60kms as far as the eyes can see. Sitting down on a rock ledge looking at the sunset in the horizon, my better half and I can clearly see the curvature in the distant edges where the ocean meets the sky. Is this an optical illusion?

  12. A not completely ignorant audiophile, I very much enjoy reading your posts. You are clearly well educated. But because you write well, you do not litter your thoughts with gratuitous erudition and pompous periphrasis.

  13. I see that the Stereophile stable has been bought out by the Hi-Fi News stable.
    Maybe that's behind the changes.

  14. Hi Arch, about the time I was trying to figure out equipment and the various rags I was a regular reader of Positive Feedback Online. This was about 2004. Did you ever come across Peter Belt, or his wife May and their writing and beliefs?

    1. Hi Nick,
      Yup. I even had some of Peter Belt's "Rainbow Foil" as a trial back in the day (I think I got a sample back in 1999). I did try them with some equipment I had including sticking them on the back of my CD players and on the CDs themselves.

      Can't say I ever noticed a difference.

      Unlike some in the audio-tweak industry (like certain cable manufacturers and promoters), I have no doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Belt believed in what they were selling. Can't help but think that there is a true delusional aspect to the belief rather than just for personal gain. I suppose I can admire their perseverence in the way a religious believer may sacrifice in a giving way for their cause even if one does not share the same views.