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Old 17th September 2002, 08:12 PM   #1
haldor is offline haldor  United States
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Default Subjectivist vs Objectivist

Reading the heated thread about the benefits of removing plastic covers from caps got me thinking about something I have seen happen repeatedly to cause strife between subjectivists (S) and objectivists (O). I am going to use those labels even though they don't necessarily fit.

S (subjectivist) hears an improvement when they do X.

S tells world about X. Someone tries to figure out why X would have the reported effect on the sound quality. Theories get bandied about.

O's dismiss the theory as so much hot air, pointing out logical or factual problems with the theories (never said engineer types have social grace).

S's get defensive about O's dismissing their observations.
O's get defensive about S ignoring their objections to the theory explaining X.

What nobody seems to understand is that S and O are upset about totally different things.

S is mad because what they hear is that they are being called ignorant fools and that their observations (and ability to make observations) are being called into questions.

O's get mad because they don't hear anyone responding to what they are saying. Instead they hear themselves being accused of being ill-cultured robots who listen to their sound system by email.

The truth is that O is usually not claiming that S didn't hear an improvement when X happened (although in the heat of the moment this can blurt out). What O is really objecting to is lame theories being put forth to explain X.

And the other truth is that S is not claiming their theories are the foundations of a new brance of science, they are mostly just idle speculation on possible reasons for what they have observed.

The fact is we need to give each other room to explore new ideas without dogpiling on each other. I tend to the objectivist side of most arguments, but I don't pretend to be able to know what someone else can or can't hear. By the same token my eyes glaze over pretty fast when someone starts invoking quantum mechanics to explain why putting a green rock on top of his CD transport improves stereo imaging (why green, why not red, or blue?).

And on the other hand if you are engaging in idle speculation, then don't get huffy when someone pokes holes in it. If someone convincingly dispels a theory you put forth, then be a man and say, "yah that couldn't be it, I wonder what could really be behind what I heard". Objectiviest are just as eager to spin theories as subjectivists, just ask.

Sometimes there just isn't a "why" answer (science just hasn't figured whatever is behind what you noticed yet. That doesn't mean you can't take advantage of what you notice.

And sometimes it really is just individual perception. I find my own systems performance can be dramatically influenced by my mood. Also by how much I had to drink the night before (turn that subwoofer off NOW).

Phil
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Old 17th September 2002, 09:10 PM   #2
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Do you see the logo on the upper left corner of the web page? That should tell you all you need to know about what to expect here. This truly is a forum "by the fanatics, for the fanatics".

In short, no one wants to hear less about your religion that the man who wants to tell you about his.

And we ARE talking about religion here...

MR
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Old 17th September 2002, 09:16 PM   #3
Won is offline Won
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I agree with the implicit subjectivist point that taste matters, and that it is a personal thing, and that what sounds good to one might sound bad to another.

I agree with the objectivist opinon that the only way to really eliminate uncertainties and vagaries is to conduct double-blind tests. Alot of people hear "differences" because they predispose themselves.

There was a "candid camera" like experiment where so-called wine conisseurs (sp?) tasted two samples of the exact same wine out of the exact same bottle. Some of them claimed vast differences between the two samples when were obviously more alike than different. There's some food for thought: don't be "that guy" who tries to seem knowledgable by inventing and amplifying minutia. This is an unfortunate subjectivist condition.

Also, don't rely solely on measurements to determine quality, because we simply don't know what all the measurements mean, and which are important. This is an unfortunate objectivist condition.

I think the most important thing is to listen (to music) more than you argue (about audio philosophy) because in the end you are the only one who is accountable to yourself. As for the endless subjectivist/objectivist debate -- I think it's rather futile to participate and silly to identify with one camp or the other in the first place.

Of course, there is not a little bit of irony and hypocrisy, since it's been a while since I've dusted off my SACDs, and I haven't yet tried my new Senn HD600s.

-Won
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Old 17th September 2002, 09:20 PM   #4
BrianGT is offline BrianGT  United States
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Default Objectivist...

I saw the topic and I thought you were discussing Ayn Rand...

Ayn Rand Institute: The Center for the Advancement of Objectivism
http://www.aynrand.org/

--
Brian
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Old 18th September 2002, 01:51 PM   #5
Won is offline Won
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Good lord, I wouldn't want to be mistaken like that.

-Won
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Old 18th September 2002, 02:32 PM   #6
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Phil,

I pretty much agree with what you've posted.
Where *I* see the breakdown is when the S and O sides cannot see <i>any</i> benefit to the other's point of view. In the end, how pleasureable and involving (suspending beleif) it sound to the listener is all that counts.

When developing a product, I design it and calculate some objective parameters. When built, I'll measure it to make sure it's close to what I thought it would be, and if better or worse by a large degree, investigate why. I'll also listen over a period of time, as all sorts of psychological factors can determine my opinion also. But I trust myself and my hearing enough to know if I hear something awry, it should be investigated, irrespective of what the meters indicate. Basic audio measurements have little or no correlation to a device's sonics, but can still be a useful tool.

A while back I heard about a guy who'd made an IMP type rig for testing amps into real loudspeaker loads, with multitone 'bursts' into some lab grade test gear. he made the rig because he could hear something odd, but couldn't measure it, and followed his hunch to find out why. This is the correct approach IMO, both S and O, yin and yang.

Cheers
Brett

PS: I think DBT is a flawed methodology, because of the psychological difficulties.
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Old 18th September 2002, 05:09 PM   #7
haldor is offline haldor  United States
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Quote:
Originally posted by Brett
PS: I think DBT is a flawed methodology, because of the psychological difficulties.
I can see how that would be so. I imagine a public, double blind test could be a very stressful situation for someone, especially if it is being conducted by someone else who is out to prove you can't hear the differences you claim you can. I would not expect my own perceptions to be at their best in that situation.

Now a DBL test in the privacy of your own home with no one to see you fall on your face except your best buddy, that I think that has lots of merit. If only to show you if the difference you hear is physically real (ie reproducible). I am willing to accept that kind of test results as valid data. A lot of "comparison" results in the audio media and message postings don't meet that level of rigor.

Before I suggest someone do something strange or against normal best principles (in accord with standard engineering practices), I would want to be very sure in my own mind that I have removed as much of my own bias and human nature as possible first. So doing things like having a buddy swap the cables while I'm not looking is the least I could do.

P.S. One complaint I have heard against DBL testing relates to break-in. I have never heard that stuff needs to be broken in again everytime you power it down, so I am assuming if you do your break-in voodoo on both items before starting the test, then break-in issues would not invalidate the test results. Correct?

Phil
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Old 18th September 2002, 05:27 PM   #8
haldor is offline haldor  United States
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Voodoo was an unfortunate choice of words (although accurate based on some of the posts I've read over at audio asylum). I do understand physical transducers (like speaker and microphones) do change their characteristics over time and that it is possible that a piece of gear may not perform optimally out of the box.

Not trying to start any wars, so please accept my apology if my choice of words offended you.

Lets see what else can I stir up here, directional wire, audibility of different metal conductors, green markers, C37.

Read a great quote from an engineer at Belden on directional wire. Over at the www.live-audio.com board, someone used the fact that you can order cable from Belden with directional markings on the spool as proof of the directional nature of wire. A Belden application engineer posted a response stating "The warehouse guys are always willing to stencil an arrow on a spool before shipping it, if requested by the customer". Cracked me up.

Phil

Phil
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Old 18th September 2002, 05:42 PM   #9
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Ah, the "shyness" effect!

The ESP fanatics will tell you that scientific testing of ESP doesn't work because the effect is "shy" and only makes itself visible when it is not being tested! Maybe a lot of audio phenomena are like that...

Clearly there are things that can be perceived for which there are no measurements. For example, loudspeaker imaging- some speakers clearly present the illusion of different point sources of sound, other do not. The effect is also quite dependent on speaker and listener placement in the room and the source material. As far as I know there are no direct measurements of that effect, but maybe some hints at it buried within other measurements of speaker performance.

S and O are only a matter of degree along a continuous spectrum. If the effect to be observed is large enough (a blown tweeter in a speaker, for example), then few would argue that a nonDB listening test can accurately reveal that difference. If the effect is much smaller (say a change in power cables) then it is not so clear that a nonDB test is adequate to reveal a difference.

Knowing whether a difference is large enough for a simple listening test is not so easy. The S's say listen and see. The O's say that you will never get a false result from a DB test, so use DB method for ALL tests. Listening tests don't cost much and can be performed relatively quickly. DB tests are difficult and expensive. So, on one hand you have a cheap test that may give false results, and you have an expensive test that will not give false results. Which do you do? 99.999% of the time, you do the listening test, because who wants to spend their money on a proper DB test?

Finally, differences are one thing and improvements are another. Improvements are a matter of taste. Some people may prefer the sound of a speaker with a blown tweeter.

MR
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Old 18th September 2002, 05:43 PM   #10
tiroth is offline tiroth  United States
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Although I tend toward the objectivist viewpoint myself, it is interesting to ponder whether there is such a thing as "correct" perceptions; e.g. the person used to listening to unnaturally soft treble who thinks "correct" treble is too harsh. Who is really right in this situation? Should both listeners be happy with their experiences, or should the soft-treble-person be "taught" the error of his ways, and be forced to seek a "higher quality" experience to obtain the same subjective enjoyment? There is ample evidence that we can learn to like certain qualities in music even if those qualities are anathema from an audiophile or objectivist viewpoint (Ed. note: I am not equating one to the other). [now think about people that grew up with vinyl and their viewpoint on CDs...no, I am not starting a war!]

Although we are really talking about philosophy at this point, it is worth pointing out that at some point we can probably say that perceptions have diverged to the extent that one person really is wrong, or at minimum comparison of their impressions is impossible. For instance, many people have slightly different perceptions when it comes to colors, even excluding the large colorblind and tiny trichromic populations. However, a person under the influence of certain drugs might have their perceptions skewed so far that their subjective experience is different by an order of magnitude when compared to the deviation of the normal population.
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