It has been a very busy week at work and obviously the world this week has been going through all kinds of turmoil on account of Coronavirus and the very real effects it's having on travel, production, the economy, and of course health care!
Over the last week, I spent some time on Audiophile Style chatting with the folks there in the thread on "Why are objective assessments important...". As you can see, many topics were covered including subjectivity, objectivity, what is a "perfect" reproduction chain, whether objective results correlate with subjective experience, all the way to a discussion of neuroscience, the mind, etc...
Instead of repeating too much from the thread, let's hit on a few key points and elaborate. The problem with forums I find is that often thoughts become lost in threads, requiring that at some point, a review be done, otherwise topics just end up being recycled ad nauseum (remember back in the day when people kept asking "does FLAC sound the same as WAV?"). Furthermore, it's hard to elaborate on ideas in the midst of discussions compared to a self-contained blog article.
I. The Big PictureNo matter what we do, we should never lose sight of the "Big Picture". This principle applies to everything IMO. Knowledge is made much more useful when we maintain the broad perspective and can appreciate how it all fits together. Only then can we have a sense of relative importance whenever we talk about specifics. I don't know about you guys, but it's rather frustrating in life dealing with obsessive-compulsive folks who spend extreme amounts of time on minutiae of insignificance!
The diagram above is I hope a straightforward representation of how I see the audiophile hobby which as I've expressed before, is a combination of the "Music Lover" component with the "Hardware Audiophile" element.
While as audiophiles, we often do not speak much of this, we must never forget that unless one records one's own music (!), the PRODUCTION part of music has an intrinsic relevance for us. "Pro" audio people for the most part are NOT like audiophiles ;-).
The PRODUCTION side is complex. It incorporates music labels, producers, financial interests, audio engineers, and of course the artists themselves. The music can be "made" totally virtually on computers, at home, in a state-of-the-art studio like Abbey Road, and anywhere in between. The music can come from live feeds, well controlled intimate "natural" recordings, to complex studio productions, to completely synthetic data constructed in a DAW like Avid Pro Tools. Just think of the varieties of microphones, placement techniques, instruments used, room acoustics of performances, and of course mind-boggling variety of synthetic plug-ins, sampling manipulations and digital tools available!
We as consumers generally do not have much to say about the music production. This is why I have the red barrier between the "Pro Audio" and "Consumer Audio" sides. As I've expressed over the years, it sure would be nice if consumers and the press provided more feedback to the PRODUCTION side about aiming for better sounding content like demanding higher dynamic range. One way is to have different masterings of music released on the various formats (for example, a "Standard Resolution" master in CD-quality, and an "Advanced Resolution" for hi-res).
There are some audio/mastering engineers who do speak out and cater to the audiophile segment (people like Steve Hoffman, Barry Diament, and Mark Waldrep), but for the most part, audio engineers don't typically accept the values or apparent superstitions promoted by audiophile companies. Likewise, I know a few musicians, and when I tell them one of my hobbies is as an "audiophile". For the most part, they don't seem that fascinated by speakers, what amps, which DACs or spin vinyl for that matter. The love for music is obviously there, but their focus is not on the hardware.
To the far right of that diagram is PERCEPTION. Whereas the PRODUCTION side is complex, consisting of numerous people including artists, engineers and such, PERCEPTION is ultimately solely determined by the "One" - each of us. We determine our own preferences. We decide what is worthwhile "art", which song sounds "good", what artist "speaks" to us. This is the domain of subjectivity. Even if one day, some kind of brain scan is found to correlate nicely to "prove" that a person is "enjoying" the sound... So what? It was never up to anyone else how the "subject" experienced the "qualia" of an artistic impression, or the joy elicited.
Between these two poles of PRODUCTION where the common audiophile / music lover has essentially no power, and that of PERCEPTION where the "subject" is all that matters, lies the products we use for REPRODUCTION. As audiophiles, this is our battleground. This is where the Industry battles for our mindshare and money as well!
Do we go for the low-end budget "consumer" gear at Walmart, or are we going to climb the rungs of quality to the "mid fi" tier, maybe crossover to see what the "Pro" world has to offer, or go all the way to "hi-fi", perhaps soar to the stratospheric level of the "hi-end" luxury products?!
In straddling between the two poles, REPRODUCTION acts as the conduit for the music that is produced and the subjective world of perception. The question of course, is just what kind of conduit do we want? And this leads us to the next topic...
II. IntentAs you can see below each box in the diagram, I've listed possible intentions that we may need to consider. These intentions, or values will interact across the domains.
On the PRODUCTION side, there is of course the intended sound of the artist working with the producer, recording engineer, mixing engineer, and mastering engineer before the music shows up on your CD, vinyl, or download. Along the way, I guess "corporate" has a hand in making decisions on how much money is available to support a project, considerations on how well the product will sell, etc. Online, you'll see many articles talking about creating an "optimal mix", or mastering targeted for small/mobile speakers. In fact, as an audiophile, check out Gearslutz at some point and read some of the headline articles, see what the "pro" audio guys talk about on their discussion forums.
As audiophiles, the intent when we PERCEIVE music is hopefully that it "sounds good" - satisfying the illusion of "space", the sound of a "real" instrument, the dynamics of a "true" performance, and the emotions that come with this experienced sense of "success" in creating that illusion. Since perception always is filtered by our biological mechanisms - ear and mind - human hearing is "psychoacoustic", the field of interdisciplinary study that has allowed us to find such elegant solutions for lossy compression for example by understanding the physiological, psychological, and cognitive limitations of auditory perception. Remember that when people ask questions like "When do measurements correlate with subjective impressions?", the answer to that question will come through studies of psychoacoustics correlating with whatever objective measure is being performed. Realize that there will likely be a range of answers or at least we must appreciate that any one person's perception must be graded along a population curve with varying norms likely affected by age, gender, intellectual ability, musical ability/experience, perhaps even down to genetically determined traits.
Remember that to enjoy good, "euphonic" sound, one does not have to be an "audiophile" or what I believe is more appropriately labeled "hardware audiophile". "Music lovers" already perceive beauty without wringing hands over whether USB cables make a difference, if their speaker cables are good enough, or whether one might want a tube amp! In fact, one could argue that loving music, enjoying the sound from whatever device one has is a blessing, and the neurotically obsessive "hardware audiophilia", the curse.
So then, what about that middle box that we audiophiles wring our hands over, the elusive "perfect" REPRODUCTION gear?
To me, the answer is straight forward because my intent has always been to achieve "high fidelity" and "transparency". By taking this position, it automatically determines for me how I adjudicate the adequacy of many devices. Testing DAC quality is very straight forward. Whether computer streamers, playback software, digital cables make a difference is elementary (as you know, "bits are bits"). Understanding this intent and with objective testing, it's quite obvious that digital-to-analogue conversion these days is simply one of life's "solved problems". Furthermore, there is obviously nothing much to cables. Don't worry about bit-perfect streaming devices. It's better to focus our attention on what might be the "least perfect" of system components like vinyl playback (if one is into that although I consider LP's ultimately qualitatively limited), amplifiers perhaps (these too perform very well these days), definitely speakers and room acoustics.
Other than aiming for transparency, one could aim for a more "colored" sound intentionally. Nothing wrong with intentionally using EQ for example, or liking the sound of a tube amp with known high levels of distortion so long as one is not strictly adhering to the maintenance of high-fidelity or transparency.
Finally, let's also remember that we must consider the concept of "value". All consumers must consider this; surely even multi-millionaires and billionaires are wise enough to make sure that money is well spent! It would be foolish if one did not consider this intentionally in every purchase we make.
I believe that if we can express our intent for the kind of reproduction we want, then there will be much less conflict between audiophiles.
III. In the Big Picture, not "everything matters"When we look at a painting, do we need to analyze every brush stroke to make sure it's perfectly "correct"? Must we be distracted by a slightly misplaced dab of color in that painting? Do we need to "pixel peep" a digital photograph in order to be satisfied? Of course not. So too it is with audio reproduction and the choice of components we pick. While the ideal for me is "transparency" for my main system, I'm happy to spend time and disposable income to get things "right", what I've come to learn is that there's no need to sweat the small stuff. There is certainly a point where I can say the system is "more than good enough" for what I can hear, in the service of allowing me to enjoy music in the evenings!
Various audiophile articles, especially Industry sponsored ones like this one about Nordost, claim that "everything matters". I'm sure it matters to them to impress upon audiophiles that garnishing a system with cables "north of $350,000" would be good for the company's bottom line; but I seriously hope audiophiles don't feel that this is even close to being true!
The PRODUCTION does not need to be perfect to be enjoyed. Likewise, our PERCEPTION does not need to be (and is not!) perfect. In fact, not everything matters to a subjective "music lover" - there will be many artists one will have no interest in, likewise there are probably musical genres we might never even explore in our lifetimes.
So too in the objective world. Not every measurement matters. As I've referred to many times, jitter is measurable but not necessary worth paying attention to from a sound quality perspective. This doesn't mean jitter measurements are useless though because they could be a reflection of the quality of engineering which is worth knowing about when considering a high-priced component.
It is a sign of the hardware audiophile's neuroticism that he should even consider purchasing high-priced, objectively unsubstantiated, lacking-in-common-sense cables "north of $350,000". That this would somehow provide a valuable contribution to his system considering the significantly more substantial limitations across each of these Big Picture parts of audio and music.
IV. High-Fidelity from the vantage point of modern audio electronics...Finally, let's remind ourselves that we are living in a time when modern audio electronic devices are already highly refined. Pay no mind to some audiophiles who might thumb their nose at $100 DACs, OFC 12AWG zip-cord cables, or "cheap" Raspberry Pi music streamers.
While the question mentioned above: "When do measurements correlate with subjective impressions?" is still worth asking and be explored through the psychoacoustic lens, let's not be surprised if the answer seems difficult to find these days!
We are living in a time when other than some of the cheapest components, much of what we have already perform at very low distortion levels! When inexpensive DACs are routinely way less than 0.01% THD+N, an excellent amplifier like the Hypex NC252MP is capable of -90dB THD+N @ 1W into 4Ω for less than $500, would it be at all surprising to consider that these might be below the threshold for human hearing already when subjected to controlled, blinded testing? Is it any surprise that even iPhones and old CD players are indistinguishable from an Oppo UDP-205 with a flagship ESS Technology ES9038Pro Sabre DAC (as tested last year)?
Remember, on the PRODUCTION end, we routinely have music these days that are highly dynamically compressed with typically high noise floors. The other day, I was listening to Canadian Andy Shauf's new album Neon Skyline. Here's the title track's noise level during the fade out at the end of this DR10 track:
For a modern rock/pop song, DR10 is quite decent, and as you can see, the noise level is down around -110dB (64k-point FFT) - better than most modern productions if you have a look at the data in an audio editor. In fact, this is better than many so-called "high-res" recordings in 24-bits.
Compare this to the collection of DAC noise level measurements below. Even an inexpensive <US$90 Topping D10 can rather easily provide lower noise level than what the music demands:
As for human PERCEPTION, realize that with blind tests, like MP3 vs. FLAC lossless, results are not suggesting that most people can significantly differentiate between high bitrate 320kbps MP3 from the original lossless. Objective techniques can easily show us the difference between lossless and lossy such as using a null test. This is the power of psychoacoustic modeling of human hearing; even when we drastically reduce the amount of data, perceptually, the sound can remain practically "transparent". Compared to MP3, how much "change" do you think USB cables can impart? Do you think objectively "good" DACs at similar volume levels will differ to the point of removing masked frequencies that MP3 encoding performs? Oh, yeah, what about power cables? ;-)
So... If on both sides we can show that there are limitations to music PRODUCTION, and we can show that human PERCEPTION likewise has limitations, just how much fidelity does the REPRODUCTION components have to be to consider it as "good enough" especially since we as consumers actually have the power to measure these things and listen to them in a controlled fashion?
The data suggest that devices like DACs have already reached a level where measurements like noise and harmonic distortion are low enough that there is actually no point asking "do they correlate"! I believe human hearing is actually inadequate as a gauge for the true resolution. If we were living at a time where devices could only achieve 1% THD+N at best, and routinely 5+% THD+N, I bet nobody would be having a debate as to whether the measurements and sound quality correlated and audiophiles would very much celebrate the arrival of a new source component able to reach the next lower level of distortion like 0.5%THD+N!
Those days of gradual, meaningfully improving resolution for most devices are long gone. We would have to look back at the advances of the 1940's to early 1980's. Notice that those years also happen to be the era when audiophiles actually also appreciated the importance of objective measurements and "high-fidelity" audio was still the cool technology to have at home. I bet you it has been a long time since JBL ran an ad in Playboy (here's one from 1976):
We can see cases in audiophile writings online like this one by Peter Qvortrup (of Audio Note) and Rafe Arnott about "High Fidelity, the Decline of the Decades" where they seem to be grasping at similar thoughts as this post although obviously with different perspectives and conclusions. While I agree from a PRODUCTION perspective that many of the recordings from the 50's and 60's (like the works of Rudy Van Gelder) sound great, this is a reflection of the skills of the engineer who crafted the art of capturing and producing material with more natural techniques which REPRODUCE well using 2-channel audio. There is nothing stopping modern artists and producers from doing the same and achieving even better results. It's a happy coincidence that Qvortrup/Arnott recognized replay equipment and amplification to have improved over the years (I consider this a coincidence because they claim amplifiers got better because of SET triode reintroduction - that's IMO ludicrous).
Look at the pictures and the words selected. It's obvious that Qvortrup has an issue with the fact that audio gear has achieved excellent quality at lower cost which speaks to his bias towards luxury and IMO poor value by targeting objective evidence, the rise of digital audio and advances like negative feedback as his unsubstantiated complaints. Most puzzling, I'm really not sure how Qvortrup/Arnott can justify the claim that "loudspeaker quality" has dropped down to 4/10 by the 1990's and peaked at 9/10 back in the 1930's and 40's!!!
While I disagree with Qvortrup that modern speakers should be ranked so poorly, it is still true that speakers and rooms are where we must look to squeeze out the highest levels of performance today.
V. Let's conclude...As you can see, we've hit a number of topics here. That is to be expected when we look at the "Big Picture". My hope is that this might be a reasonable way to see audio/music reproduction from a "bird's eye view". From that vantage point, I think we can look at the Big Picture "parts" - PRODUCTION, REPRODUCTION, and PERCEPTION - and imagine how the pieces interact, and more so, are actually interdependent when it comes to the final human experience. Furthermore, I hope by doing this, we can consider attribution. If we can understand that some issues we face are results of the PRODUCTION system, then we shouldn't try to fix them with our REPRODUCTION devices. In fact, knowing this means we stop trying to make every recording sound good because high-fidelity reproduction of a poor recording is supposed to sound poor. Likewise, there are all kinds of factors that will change PERCEPTION. Moods change, stress levels vary, there may be time-of-day effects. Noise exposure changes hearing acuity. Previous listening experiences affect how well and what we listen for. Perception also has its limits as we age. This perceptual variability is why we must always consider the validity of purely subjective testimony. Developing insight into our own limits and psychology is important, I do not believe everyone is capable of good insight.
Having said the above, I believe that if an audiophile claims that he can hear something scientifically questionable (eg. USB cable differences), then the only reasonable suggestion is to invite the person to try some kind of controlled blind listening to ascertain that the claim is true. This is the only way to move forward in a sober fashion with a reliable foundation if we are to honestly make declarations. Otherwise everyone will end up confused as to what to believe.
I have heard audiophiles claim that "objectivists are no fun". Well, I think learning and gaining knowledge is fun ;-). However, at the same time, reading a science fiction or fantasy story is fun as well! But is that what we're aiming at here with audiophile products? Again, only you can answer this for yourself.
I'm certainly not going to be dogmatic and insist that people cannot have "fun" discussions, sharing ideas about what products to get, what to try... In this world, people spend all kinds of money on ideas and claims that IMO are without merit (or frankly untrue). I think so long as one can afford it, everybody's aware that claims are based on opinions rather than substantiated fact, and apply a bit of common sense, it's "mostly harmless".
In life, there are certainly times when we should "regress in the service of the ego" in order to enjoy the pleasures that life may have in store. Go ahead, have fun buying, trying, and listening, but realize that there are times when one needs to get back to the world of adult thought and appreciate that unless connections can be made with controlled listening, the level of evidence of a significant effect is likely low.
Please don't ever get stuck just reading sci-fi and fantasy!
Notice that Munich is (was) scheduled for May 14-17. That's actually quite awhile off. Of course as the spread of infections continues over the months ahead, we'll have much more information about the risk factors around morbidity and mortality by mid May. The fact that Asian COVID-19 numbers are not looking that bad and they're ahead of North America and Europe by weeks, is encouraging news. The real question is whether health care systems are able to manage the most severe cases needing acute interventions. I suspect we'll look back on this as an important "stress test" of systems including fueling debate between countries with publicly-run "universal" vs. private health care models. Also, questions around regional and economic disparities likely will arise.
Stay healthy, friends...
March is here. I'm certainly looking forward to Spring Break coming up with the family. Hope you're enjoying the music!
Again, remember to try out the THD blind listening test. I believe it is only with doing more controlled listening tests that we can approach subjects like "How do objective measurements correlate with human perception?" with any kind of confidence.
Jeez, could you be any more insulting to those you claim that you allow the freedom to chose. Man that's an arrogant, basically calling anyone who doesn't agree with your objectivist/measurist world view is childish & you are the adult telling them the truth.ReplyDelete
"Go ahead, have fun buying, trying, and listening, but realize that there are times when one needs to get back to the world of adult thought and appreciate that unless connections can be made with controlled listening, the level of evidence of a significant effect is likely low."
Actually, I don't think that's exactly what I'm saying...
In life we cannot just accept anything. Maybe certain folks can hear the difference between things which are not measurable or have a plausible basis. The only way to bring that forward is to actually show that this can be done. It's simply a different, higher level of evidence.
Yes, I agree people can choose what they want but that doesn't mean I don't have an opinion about some things. Imagine this... Say I know you as an audiophile friend and over drinks one day you tell me that you've almost achieved the "ultimate sound system". But you're seriously thinking of buying one of these:
Yup, you want to spend $299 on a Machina Dynamica "Clever Little Clock" because you believe that this device indeed will allow you to "hear less distortion, more information, a deeper, more coherent soundstage and more air".
What would you want me, as a friend to say? Obviously I'm not going to stop you (you are free to buy), but am I to accept that even if you buy it and claim to hear a difference, that I must accept that with no doubts expressed?
Do not mistaken having an opinion and speaking out as arrogance. Honest talk needs to be like that, because otherwise it means we don't care if we can't even express our own strong reservations about things like this.
Friends shouldn't let friends buy Machina Dynamica audiophile stuff. Prove me wrong. :-)
And if we can potentially agree on that, are there not other companies and products we should also think about that might be worth debating about as friends?
Hey everybody has an opinion..... right?Delete
It's the arrogance of you saying that these people may leave their childish ways & "get back to the world of adult thought" - this is the arrogance & insult in your final statement.
The arrogance comes from the assumption on your part that you are correct - you have no doubt. Do you ever consider that you may be wrong & your friend buying the "clever little clock" may well be correct? I know you will claim measurements are on your side but have you ever considered the possibility that your measurements are not showing all that auditory perception is revealing?
And if your friend hears the exact same improvements that many hundreds of others do, do you even consider that it might be wort investigating in a deeper way than the usual measurements of noise, SINAD, etc.
Do you ever consider what these measurements may not be showing? We all know they do not correlate with what we hear & yet some people use them to claim we cannot hear such & such.
Archimago didn't say to put blind trust in measurements, he advocates controlled listening. You would better try to understand other people's point of view and intention before insulting them.Delete
Um, okay dweeb4. I'll just smile and nod. I appreciated this week's post, Archimago. I'll reflect on it. Consider what I think is reasonable. And what I think is not. And move on. <:-)Delete
Let's get into this because you raise an important point and in fact this is at the heart of so much discussion and unhappiness in the audiophile world. Let's take a step back and see if we can come to terms with this.
First, yes, I stand by my statement and believe there is much childishness in audiophilia. That is my honest opinion and nothing in all the years of writing this blog or interacting with various audiophiles or interacting with the Industry has shown me otherwise. I understand this is an opinion and some will be unhappy with this assessment; so be it. One is free to disagree and in the interest of debate, there is no need for Holy Wars and nobody needs to die based on opinions around a hobby which isn't even an interest to the vast majority of people in the world.
I suspect that for many audiophiles, the natural response to a friend saying "I'm thinking of getting the Clever Little Clock from Machina Dynamica..." is simply "You're kidding me, right!!!???". A reflection of the idea that this is some kind of joke, childish jest. This is what I mean by the idea of "regression in the service of the ego" which is an old psychoanalytic idea that sometimes we do "regress" from adult modes of thinking, feeling, "being" in order to satisfy desires, and pleasures in life.
I don't get offended when my wife calls my audio system "his toys". There too is another reference to this idea of regression. And like I said "Go ahead, have fun..." but let's not see these things "seriously" as if operating on a literal plain. Most of the time, there are no issues except when companies and some audiophiles INSIST that what they hear is physically "true" and start expressing it in "obviously audible difference" terms that are IMO clearly not correct - I've already spoken of things like cables, jitter, bizarre tweaks, all manners of "snake oil", and companies like Machina Dynamica, Synergistic, etc...
In the world of fantasy which is a regression from the "real world", yes, "2+2=5" is allowed. Santa Claus can be a "real" person. All kinds of messiahs and angels and demons can live there. This is where Jedis do mind tricks, and young wizards come to life.
There is a time and place for us as adults to partake in this sci-fi and fantasy world. It's a place where creativity and emotional experience can be elicited for personal and even altruistic benefit. But that's not what I'm doing on my blog and I don't believe it is appropriate for a technological hobby like audio. Therefore as a "more objective" audiophile who also aims to be "rational", this is why I address these issues.
Remember... I am not saying that adults cannot or must not engage in this kind of thinking, fun, etc. Just that if we want to get to the bottom of what is most likely at the level of confidence of say >99% when it comes to electrical devices (especially DACs, amps, cables), there's no need to indulge in fantastical thinking around whether there's actually audible differences. This doesn't mean owning $$$$$ audio gear isn't "cool" or "fun" for all kinds of other reasons.
BTW, if your friend asked you for your advice then yes, give him/her your opinion, otherwise what's it to do with you? I'm sure your friend has purchased & owned many items you wouldn't consider worth purchasing - do you give your opinion on each of these productsReplyDelete
Come on, that is arrogance!!
"BTW, if your friend asked you for your advice then yes, give him/her your opinion, otherwise what's it to do with you?"Delete
Just keep the perspective here: Archimago isn't talking about becoming a jack-booted objectivist gestapo breaking down people's doors to insist they are deluded or to deny them the right to buy whatever they want.
Archimago is talking about getting the skeptical case out there for dubious claims, so anyone can make an informed decision for themselves.
If you were about to buy a diamond engagement ring and your friend knew that dealer was selling you a fake diamond for your $8,000, wouldn't you like to know that? Wouldn't you want a friend who knew about that scam to have given you that information? If there are jewel dealers committing such scams, isn't a good thing that there would be people who make people aware?
You are of course free to go ahead and pay tons of money for a fake diamond if it still makes you happy, but an informed choice is generally preferable to an uninformed choice, right?
I have been VERY grateful that over the years I've seen many people with technical knowledge taking on the claims of many high end manufacturers - especially in the tweakier end of things like AC cables etc. It compelled me to take the claims more cautiously and even do some of my own blind testing, which has been really beneficial in saving me both money and "audiophile angst" over the years. I think Archimago is caring on that fine tradition and anyone can do what they want with the information.
Hi dweeb4 and Vaal,Delete
Well said Vaal and I've elaborated on this in the comment above as well where I stand with these things...
Oh, I didn't know you were linking to an actual product in your reply, one chosen as an outlier - let's make it more mainstream & he wants to buy a new DAC or a USB Regen - do you butt into his choice uninvited?ReplyDelete
Absolutely, and hardly a mainstream decision.Delete
Sure, if it's a good friend, why wouldn't I or shouldn't I "butt" into the decision if he brings it up for discussion? I'm pretty honest with my friends and I appreciate that if I needed some nudging around questionable decisions, they would speak up as well.
I imagine I'd voice my opinion, we'll have a discussion about pros and cons, and ultimately it's not me who's going to be sending out credit card information.
My friends know how I feel about stuff like the USB Regen and I've been open:
Sounds like it hurts you that someone is willing to speak up against these IMO unwise decisions for some reason. I've given my rationale... Why would you be so invested in questionable stuff like this anyway?
dweeb4 my view is start a zero and prove your case. Something high end audio is having a tough doing.ReplyDelete
I got involved in audio again to stop MQA and educate people about what matters in the listening room. You would call that arrogance, others call it disruption. I call it education.
But what has it to do with "proof" of anything other than my own perceptions? If many others have exactly the same perception, great. If I find down the road that what I thought sounded great once, no longer does then it's my choice, it's my journey, it's my perception. Or if I find that I still like my choice but something I hear sounds better, gives me a better connection with the art of the music reproduction, then I can choose to go with it or not, as the case may be. Perception is my perception & doesn't have to be validated or proven to anybody else or remain fixed at one point, one choice in time - it is not an instrument that has to be nailed down, calibrated in this manner.Delete
I don't have "friends" who butt into my choices with arrogance or asking for "proof" - else they wouldn't be my friends for long.
Anyway, it's just audio playback & not that important but it is one of the pleasures mentioned in "enjoy the pleasures that life may have in store"
My systems are instruments that have to be calibrated.Delete
And if my friends didn't butt in they wouldn't be my friends. I include Arichamago as a friend. Andy Quint of The Absolute Sound and I generally start a conversion by butting in usually by text since we live far apart.
Audio playback is an important part of my life, I'm sorry you don't feel the same way.
Well, what can one say about the whole MQA "thing"...Delete
A beautiful example of a bad mix between what is "science" (indeed there is engineering that went into embedding data in that stream) and "hype" to hook in those who unquestionably accepted the words of specifically one well known name in audiophilia and of course, who can forget, the audiophile press.
It's one thing when a company releases a single product which only affects a few customers. However, I seriously hope the Industry remembers this kind of thing when they start introducing stuff that could potentially affect many and expect companies to sign up; especially if products might affect the music itself and the freedoms audiophiles enjoy.
If they're going to do that again, they need to make sure to be open with consumers as to what they're doing and demonstrate efficacy. Hype. Weird graphs. Sketchy games with filters. Refusal to perform A/B listening. Misuse of terminology like "lossless". Questionable fingerprinting of file for the sake of "authentication". Getting audiophile magazines and writers who IMO are viewed as advertising mouthpieces these days to spread mistruths...
A beautiful combination of follies that IMO was bound to fail... (As I write this, MQA isn't "dead" yet; more like a rather slow moving torso-transected zombie crawling around with his fingers in a barren landscape hoping to come across a desperate streaming service to infect.)
Great post Archimago,ReplyDelete
I love it when you state "In fact, one could argue that loving music, enjoying the sound from whatever device one has is a blessing, and the neurotically obsessive "hardware audiophilia", the curse." That's the best thing I've read about audio in a long time.
And I've knows for quite a while that I'm probably a 'bad audiophile' so it doesn't surprise me that I agree with you when you state "There is certainly a point where I can say the system is "more than good enough" for what I can hear, in the service of allowing me to enjoy music in the evenings!" Right on!
I like the "bad audiophile" part :-). That idea of being "bad" because we have the gall (balls?) to call a spade a spade despite the general claims of the "high end" Industry is fascinating to me.
It's not like the invitation hasn't ever been extended for companies like these to present their findings to audiophiles so consumers can consider what they're doing and what kinds of differences many of these devices are actually capable of accomplishing.
Time to pump up some "Bad To The Bone" :-):
Great post! I had some thoughts following what you wrote. I addressed them in this thread in ASR: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/some-thoughts-following-archimagos-latest-post-good-enough-and-everything-matters.11840/ReplyDelete
Hi Fluffy. Thanks for the note... I pop in once awhile but as you can imagine, there are only so many forums I can stay engaged in at any one time :-).Delete
When I think PRO AUDIO, I think of AV designed for abusive recording studios and sets. I picked up a SONY MDR7510 ... a unit that's designed for audio studios. It's uuuuuuuugly. But it survives wear and tear like nobody's buisiness. Oh, and it came with a service manual where I can buy replacement parts. Nice.ReplyDelete
Well there you go PN :-).Delete
Certainly different values and goals with the products. "High end" audiophile gear needs immaculate brush metal finishes, aeronautical grade aluminum, and of course shiny piano finishes. Spare parts cost an arm and a leg often...
Modest systems today can deliver a music experience that is deeply satisfying. Many modestly priced speaker systems sound just fine to most folks ears and to mine as well. Today, you run into the law of diminishing returns rather quickly. There are differences of course, especially on the speaker end of an audio system. The real difference in quality is the artistry of the performers and the quality of the recording from tracking, to mixing and mastering. I have multiple audio systems using new and vintage components. A great recording delivers a very satisfying listening experience on every system. The lesson here is simple. Get deep into the music you love and don't worry too much about the components. Buy more music. Spend less on the audio components. This will help the folks who provide the music we love.ReplyDelete
Very true Pastor.Delete
That is the essence of what the love of music should be. And as for the equipment we use, they have been a reflection of advancing technology over the years. Less expensive, better quality, smaller. One could pay a premium to improve fit and finish, add luxury to the products.
Absolutely, we quickly run into those diminishing returns even at modest prices...
Great blog. Thanks for all your work, you have single handly improved my listening experience and enabled me to have a much better system without investing substantial amounts of money. I recently have used Acourate (because of this blog) in conunction with Roonlabs as the music streamer to tune the speaker response through a FIR filter. Its brilliant and the single most cost effective item I have done. What is interesting is that if I compare it to this product: https://www.chord.co.uk/product/chordohmic-transmission-fluid-hi-fi-contact-cleaner/ which is about the same money I think I can safely say I have got a better bang for the buck. I would not buy the trasnmission fluid, I think the science behind it is poor. We need more people like Archimago not less, keep going. P.S. Archimago will by buying Chord Transmission Fluid. ;-)ReplyDelete
Greetings Nich Bull,Delete
LOL - ChordOhmic Transmission Fluid. I left a note on AS when I first saw this that the immediate thing that came to mind was some kind of "manly" product to improve sex drive, maybe for erectile dysfunction or just straight lubricant. What a name; kudos to the advertising department on this one!
Glad to hear you're experiencing benefits from Acourate and Roon. Definitely my "go to" listening solution these days.
At £200, I would love to see what characteristics of the sound has been affected by this ChordOhmic tweak. Compare this to the clearly audible, measurable change with DSP room correction. I would love to understand just what kind of "value" this fluid provides at the price point. I don't see any testimonials on the website yet... ;-)
I also enjoy a lot about learning things about this hobby. Nothing against enthusiast who love to change gear every now and then to test things, but certainly not my cup of tea.ReplyDelete
Likewise, I have nothing against folks who do this either Gedeon.Delete
At one point in my life, things changed a lot as well ;-). We live and learn as we go along. I just hope folks are wise enough to not accrue too many regrets and remain open minded to discussions on both sides of a contentious issue.
But not so open minded that one's brain falls out (as per Walter Kotschnig) along the way of course.
Perfect balance is impossible, that's the key. Hence we must always be aware about the path we are following.ReplyDelete
Right. Which is why I do advocate that we develop insight into what we believe. And from there hopefully be able to examine ourselves and our beliefs. Plus use a bit of humor when needed...Delete
What some of the readers here call out as arrogance, should in fact be seen as honesty and kindness as in "I care for you".ReplyDelete
If my friends knew I had spent around 18k USD on my system, some of them would tell me "You are insane!" Even if this system only represents the bottom fringe of what some would call high end, but from their perspective, they are right. From another persons perspective, it's hardly worth a raised eyebrow. Such is the world of hifi, splitting up people who are otherwise nice and empathic, but our emotions and feelings suddenly get involved, and this is what in all situations should serve as a pause catalyzer. Arch would never bring up his opinion, if he already knew with any kind of certainty, that it would seriously hurt his friend. From my perspective, he is doing his friend a favor. And this I can say with personal experience with some of the artifacts from Machina Dynamica, which IMO is off the rail by several miles. Whatever holographic stickers, obscure handwritten messages in the fridge, or "cream" to smear on interconnets I've tried out from them, I'd categorize as a hoax, snake oil. Won't work, not anywhere, not any time, I'd most likely do the same as Arch.
One of the serious problems with us humans, is we have no hand brake when it comes to acknowledging when a remark sets our personal feelings to "ON". We jump the gun, based on that instant feeling, and this is not healthy. We all have to learn to stop and think, before responding. And please also be aware that a response and a reaction is not the same. A response typically involves a period of reflection, whereas a REACTION does not necessarily involve a period of reflection. In other words, a reaction is typically instantaneous, but a response isn't. While this difference presents no problem in many situations, it does the moment out feelings are involved.
Calling out arrogance is usually a sign to me, that someone's infected toe has been stepped upon.
Well said Duck!Delete
I like that last bit about stepping on infected toes :-).
Also, wise words about the difference between "reflection" vs. "reaction". I've certainly on many occasions in audiophile forums been in heated debates/arguments and have had to just step away from the computer, maybe do some domestic duties (eg. washing dishes always helps me :-), before responding with composure.
As usual, this is just a hobby. Nobody wants to take away anyone's sense of "fun". The hope is that if we can argue ideas openly and honestly, then maybe we'll all be educated about how things work, where to look if we have concerns around sound quality issues, and we'll all be better for it.
Of course, those selling "snake oil" will not be impressed. But those are not the people I hold my allegiance to.
The problem in all these discussion is that people fall for a false premise that measurements of audio devices are the final arbiter on what we hear - unfortunately this is not the case & is the origin of the arrogance. As we know measurements do no tell us what a device will sound like & how our auditory perception will perceive that sound. Until we reach that point, I'm afraid Archi's blog shows a lack of self-examination about what he's doing. The second claim is about "controlled listening" which usually means a half-assed blind listening "test". Perception is being "tested" & it requires lots of experience in such tests to conduct a blind listening test which has validity. unfortunately, such half-assed blind tests are what is used as "evidence" which will invariably leads to the arrogance seen in the statement "one needs to get back to the world of adult thought".ReplyDelete
I'd like also to amend some impression that my last post might be giving - I'm not suggesting that the quantum, crystal, resonators, etc are of value, just that everything seems to be lumped into this category - what I'm reacting to is the idea that I already mentioned - I don't regard people who hear differences between DACs or amplifiers as people who "need to get back to the world of adult thought"Delete
Objective measurements are a starting point for many. It's not the finish line, it's the filter for what equipment to consider.Delete
Some poorly measured Schiit Modi is never going to be a consideration for me.
An audiophile switch that has been proven not to positively impact DAC output is never going to be a considered device.
I don't care if you can find 1100 people that believe the earth is flat. Mass hallucination doesn't make something a fact.
"I don't care if you can find 1100 people that believe the earth is flat. Mass hallucination doesn't make something a fact." And here's another example of jumping to the outlier/ridiculous/exaggerated example to prove a point when all that's being discussed is not that outrageous or ridiculous or require that "mass hallucination is at play or that people "need to get back to the world of adult thought"Delete
All that's being suggested is that people can hear differences in audio which measurements have not yet caught up with & it doesn't warrant an arrogant attitude towards this fact.
The problem with using measurements as "the filter for what equipment to consider" is that you are caught in a self-imposed logic trap - I'll be somewhat arrogant & let you figure out what that trap is.
Here in lies the problem:Delete
All that's being suggested is that people can hear differences in audio which measurements have not yet caught up with & it doesn't warrant an arrogant attitude towards this fact.
Not a single kool aid drinker will sit down and prove that their ears are golden.
That's the real arrogant attitude. The fact is you can't see the hypocrisy.
Two posts of your already deleted - I presume inappropriate in tone?Delete
Anybody truly searching for the truth in these matters (rather than trying to win debates) would be objective about the tests they are claiming shows something is inaudible & the half-assed blind tests guaranteed to give a null result?
Of course I'm making a presumption here that a search for truth is the goal of objectivists but maybe I'm wrong in my presumption
Nope, just some grammar I wanted correct.Delete
Bottom line is if you say you can from a standing position jump straight up 10 feet. All I'm going to do is bring a tape measure.
It's pretty neat how quickly a devotee can be cleaved from their beliefs.
Yeah, Matt is right, there were no posts deleted... Just some corrections he wanted to make.
Lemme see. In my "Let's Conclude" section, where did I say that those who claim to hear differences between DACs and amplifiers needed to get back to "adult thought"? I hear differences between amps. I can hear differences between DACs (eg. PonoPlayer has a "special" audible digital filter). I certainly don't think I've made those generalizations...
In fact, throughout this blog, I have actually shown differences between DACs and amplifiers on measurements and have spoken to audible differences when I noticed them. It is those things like USB cables that have zero measurable differences that I believe those who fetishize such things might want to evaluate if beliefs are true rather than flights of fantasy.
I think what you don't seem to like is the idea that measurements for the most part actually already correlate nicely to what we hear. For example, if a DAC or amplifier measures well, I generally cannot hear a difference between similar performing products. I don't see this as all that controversial! I disagree that there is much that is audible yet not measurable these days. Some devices like speakers are more difficult to measure and correlate to audibility, but that doesn't mean measurements would not have shown a difference.
If there is no scientific basis to some things like USB cables, ethernet routers, power cable, bit-perfect software and there are no measurable differences even down to noise levels below -100dB for example, then I can't say I've heard any difference regardless of what the marketing (which includes mainstream audiophile press) says. As such, for these kinds of products, I would strongly advise staying away from purchasing after having examined the objective results. Is that not reasonable?
As for controlled tests, what's the big deal? I'm not demanding people do ABX tests. I don't typically suggest formal double-blind methodology although it would be great. Typically, I just want people to try doing it "unsighted". For example, if you borrow a new expensive interconnect, see if you can have a friend/wife/husband/kid hook it up without you knowing whether you're using an expensive or cheap one, out of sight. Listen, then maybe a few days or even weeks later, try another one for a few days. If you can "clearly" hear a difference, with "veils lifted", more "presence", more "effortless" sound, then great, keep whichever is best.
All I'm saying is that in my experience, I have never been able to hear a difference between stuff like 12AWG zip-cords and fancy speaker cables, nor have things like USB cables made a difference unless I hear error distortions. Since the "Golden Ears" refuse to be subjected to blind tests of various forms, and every time I have tried it for myself or with friends found no difference, then I think I have the upper hand in terms of speaking to the opinion that many claims are groundless.
Of course they don't sound any different if DAC or amplifier measures well - it's your strong expectation bias at play (& you can't get any stronger a bias than those invested in how their measurements tell them what they will hear)ReplyDelete
I didn't say "audible yet not measurable" - I said "measurements have not yet caught up with". I agree that is not very clearly expressed but what I mean is how much have you considered the weaknesses in your measurements - what is left out - what assumptions are you making. Are you measuring devices in isolation, not connected upstream or downstream? What test signals?
How do you justify your measurement/test regime correlates to what is heard?
As regards blind listening - yes we all do that in a personal capacity - this is just blind listening but you mention "blind test" so what do you want? If someone reported they heard a difference in a volume matched blind listening session would you be happy to accept it?
I & many others have done such listening & heard differences but I don't claim anything about having the upper hand
"As regards blind listening - yes we all do that in a personal capacity - this is just blind listening but you mention "blind test" so what do you want?"ReplyDelete
What does that sentence mean?
Do you mean you've done plenty of blind tests in which you did hid the identity of the gear you were hearing to rule out sighted biases?
Would this have been for any of the gear Arch is particularly skeptical about? For instance, have you identified sonic differences reliably between USB cables in blind tests?
I don't think Arch says that DACs can't sound different. I've posted here before about discerning differences in some blind tests I did years ago. DACs can be designed to deviate from neutral. But are DACs that are not designed to deviate from neutral, that are competently designed for low distortion, audibly different?
That's the interesting question. And measurements are going to be the way to decide those numbers. Then listening tests, properly blinded, would be best for finding out audible thresholds.
It's like someone claiming to hear 26K tones. Anyone who knows anything about what has been established about the human hearing range would rightly be skeptical of the claim. And "well, your measurements just haven't caught up to what I can hear" won't do. Because we really HAVE a lot of data on that. It would make sense to demand of a person who claims to hear 26K frequencies that they pass a properly blinded test to demonstrate that there IS a fact of the matter that needs to be explained. Just taking someone's word for it "I hear it," isn't good enough to settle such controversial claims, due to well-known confounding bias factors.
And this is where we'd be for claims about hearing differences between expensive AC cables, USB cables etc (used with properly designed equipment).
It means we've all done personal blind listening at some stage & most continue to do so sporadically. This is enough for most people to personally evaluate if there is a big enough audible difference.ReplyDelete
What I meant by asking Archi & now you about "blind test" was what is the passing grade for such a test? In other words you mention "sonic differences reliably" - so put some meat on this phrase.
Yes, I have heard differences between some USB cables & other things Archi has tested. The logical trap you & others in this camp fall into is that you make the statement that DACs which are audibly different are "designed to deviate from neutral" - can you show the measurements for such a DAC that Archi has tested & how this correlated with what was heard?
What I'm also saying is that I'd like people to justify why they think the stock measurements using test signals on a device isolated from the playback chain correlates to how that device performs when part of the playback chain (with it's various interconnections) & playing dynamically changing signals (music). Are we meant to just "believe" there is a correlation. Do you not see the shortfall in reality in this scenario?
"It means we've all done personal blind listening at some stage & most continue to do so sporadically. This is enough for most people to personally evaluate if there is a big enough audible difference."Delete
I'm still unclear about what you mean by "personal blind listening?"
Because very, very few audiophiles do blind testing, so you statement seems just obviously wrong. What do you think "blind listening" is? Is it different from "blind testing?"
"Yes, I have heard differences between some USB cables & other things Archi has tested."
Then you are inching in to "I can hear a 26k tone" territory, insofar as there isn't a good technical, measurable reason two competently designed USB cables should produce audible differences. That's why your claim is so suspicious and why I'm wondering what you possibly mean about your doing "blind listening?" Under what conditions did you "blind listen" the USB cables?
It means that when "blind testing" is used it usually implies some form of "proof" that entails a statistically significant number of trials etc. Usually this entails ABX testing. Blind preference testing is often dismissed as "audible difference has to be proven first" - again those who say this don't realise the logic flaw in their position.Delete
Your blinkered view of what's possible is limited by what I said about measurements early on. For instance does/has Archi tested for common mode noise, shield current induced noise (SCIN) in his testing of USB cables - it's not all about bits.
As I said stating that all possible measurements have been done needs to be supported by showing that ALL possible measurements HAVE been done & invariably this isn't the case, instead we are expected to "believe" that a limited set of measurements shows all that matters.
Sorry, but if the people doing measurements were aware of what they are neglecting to measure or at least do a scientific analysis of their measurement weaknesses, it would be refreshing.
A similar evaluation of the weaknesses of ABX testing & blind testing would again be a more objective, scientific & refreshing approach but invariably we get served a dose of arrogant self-assuredness which is pretty unscientific.
BTW Vaal I've asked you what you define as ""sonic differences reliably" but you haven't answered. What is your criteria for "reliably".Delete
I asked Archi the same question & also what measurements he doesn't do & why.
If you answered the question I asked you would already have the answer to your question of me - the difference between "blind listening" & "blind testing"
Writing this, I am listening to Muddy Waters "Folk Singer" from MOFI on a Accuphase E-370 with DAC-50 and Dynaudio Contour 20 speakers. Just got the DAC yesterday.ReplyDelete
I admit that I am to a degree a subjectivist. Not buying into what I believe is plain BS, but I do trust my ears a long way. I've been listening to "hifi" systems since I was wearing a diaper, and been interested in reproduction since I first heard the biggest B&O system in 1964, which of course sounded impressive back then.
I am also aware that I don't hear a thing over 13kHz at normal listening levels, but somehow it doesn't prevent me from hearing differences in some components in certain circumstances. Even when there are no expectations, I sometimes hear differences, but other times I hear none. It mostly depends on which component I have changed. Interconnects can be very difficult to tell apart, for example.
But listening right now, I can't for the life of me imagine a cleaner reproduction than what flows through my living room at this moment. Not really sure about the bitrate and sample rate on the mentioned Muddy Waters album, so if it is a plain CD or not, I can't say, but my display says it is 44,1.
I am done chasing hi-res from now on, because when CDs can sound as good as they do after purchasing the DAC-50, what's the point? This is surely "good enough" for me. I sat and listened to CDs from 3:30pm yesterday, until 01:30am, and every redbook CD I spun sounded amazing, all the while my new DAC was burning in. If it will become any better during the next days, well who knows? But the WOW factor is already through the roof for me, so I don't care that much. I simply enjoy it as it is.
Buying this DAC is the single most revealing audio improvement of my entire life, and well worth the expense if you ask me. And it's not really that expensive.
I can't imagine a better pastime than reading Arch's blog musements while listening to great music.
Happy as a lark in Copenhagen, Denmark :)
Does anyone know how the hell all George Michael's albums have been destroyed beyond any conceivable imagination due to excessive use of treble and other useless effects?ReplyDelete
IMO, the 3 most important factors in HiFi are (in arbitrary order):ReplyDelete
The effort and knowledge of the guys in the mastering room
May I add my latest input?ReplyDelete
I am 67, have been listening to music since I was wearing diapers, and been interested in high fidelity audio since I was 13, when I heard the biggest B&O system in 1965-1966 or so. As such I believe I have lots of training in what to listen for.
Even though I can't hear test tones over 13 kHz, I still enjoy listening both to my music, and to my system. I lean more towards being a subjectivist than an objectivist to be honest. I trust my ears, and I have been able to hear differences in most equipment I have listened to over the years. Amplifiers, CD-players, speakers, speaker cables and power cables. The easiest to tell apart for me is speakers, then amps, then CD-players, then cables, but interconnects I find very hard to tell apart, unless there are major factors in play.
An example: A couple of years ago, I blew my amp due to a lose power cable in the IEC well on the amp. The power cable was about 100 USD, but it was very heavy, and didn't fit tight in the IEC well. That made the amp go on and off several times without me knowing it, and the output stage of the amp got fried.
I then had a break for about 5-6 years without an amp, but finally "inherited" my brother-in-law's Parasound set of amps. I then went and bought some Pangea power cables, which were around 125 USD for gauge 14, and 150 USD for gauge 9. Not very expensive, but they fitted very well in the IEC wells of my equipment, and were obviously extremely well shielded according to measurements, beautifully made, and of fine copper according to the manufacturers claims.
From the very start, the sibilances I had been fighting with on several media, were still there, but the background was black and velvety, and there was lots of punch in the bass and transients. But a couple of weeks later, the sibilances had gone away entirely except for in the few worst recordings (Eva Cassidy, George Michael etc.), and the overall sound got a bit more transparent too.
I regularly listen to different setups at my hifi dealers, and the other day, when having my first session with the Accuphase DAC-50 in the shop, it was inserted into an amp a couple of steps above mine, and connected to some huge speakers (with Beryllium tweeters) almost 5 times the price of my Dynaudio Contour speakers. I listened for 2 hours, and by then I had heard what I wanted. I also heard irregularities in the treble of those speakers that sounded to me like issues around 6-10kHz. Dyns are very pleasing in every frequenzy range, so this was a no brainer to detect.
Now, if my hearing was severely deteriorated at 67, and if my training had never meant anything, how would I be able to hear this? I played my own well known CDs at a volume level of around -80dB at the most.
I fully agree to the fact that technical measurements can be a great guideline for a listening session, or an eventual purchase later, but I am of the opinion that there are several important things some of us can hear, but no measurements can reveal as of yet.
But I accept, that listeners can have expectations, fall for unreasonable marketing lip flapping by "educated" people, and sometimes have a tendency to trust others. Especially reviewers, who make a living from this.
I do trust some of them (Mr. Reichert not being one), but I trust my ears more than I trust measurements, reviewers or salespersons. Why shouldn't I? They haven't failed me so far.
Call me what you like, I don't care. But please remember that I do respect the opinions of people on the other side of the fence, just don't tell me I am wrong. Nobody are wrong; we hear and measure and blind test, and whatever we beleive in, it is right for US, and we're in this "hobby" to please ourselves, to get endorphines released into our systems. Not to please anyone else.
Sorry for the error here:ReplyDelete
"An example: A couple of years ago..."
It was actually 7 or 8 years ago.
Do you realize there's a 12 word sentence you can communicate to your man... that will trigger deep emotions of love and instinctual appeal for you buried within his heart?ReplyDelete
That's because hidden in these 12 words is a "secret signal" that fuels a man's instinct to love, admire and protect you with his entire heart...
12 Words Will Trigger A Man's Desire Instinct
This instinct is so built-in to a man's brain that it will drive him to try harder than before to do his best at looking after your relationship.
In fact, triggering this powerful instinct is so essential to getting the best ever relationship with your man that the second you send your man one of these "Secret Signals"...
...You'll soon find him open his heart and soul for you in a way he haven't expressed before and he'll perceive you as the only woman in the galaxy who has ever truly understood him.
I guess many snake-oil buyers cringe when you give them proof that $3000 power cables are no better than $20 power cables; it's one thing (totally respectable and subjective) to pay $3000 for a vietnam-choppped-wood baffle encasing (cosmetic) but when scammers try to sell it as "super audio enhancers" and start to throw a myriad adjectives around them....measurements like yours are not going to be well received because they throw away their cards' castlesReplyDelete