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Old 21st January 2010, 08:05 AM   #61
fwater is offline fwater  United States
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I've been looking around at a lot of evidence presented by amateurs and experts alike regarding sound perception. I can't help it, I'm intrigued by what happened to me with this experiment. A strongly held position by many expert-types says that the perception of sound is overwhelmingly ruled by expectation. I can't remember where I got the link (here or the PE board), but there is an hour long presentation on Youtube with a couple of demonstrations of this principle. After hearing what the panel had to say and the being fooled by the little tricks presented, I am able to form a better opinion on what happens when I do this excersize detailed in this thread. Pretty simple, I guess...in what is statistically all normal cases, we hear what we want to hear. The problem is, I was nearly convinced that there was going to be no improvement in sound quality after playing the 1KHz track. It would stand to reason that if I had an expectation that it was going to sound identical before and after, then that is how it would turn out. But that didn't happen; it seemed that the sound was better afterwords. Well, digging a little deeper into the interweb gave me a possible answer.

Human hearing is so unreliable (it is said by the experts) that it cannot be trusted to differentiate even large variations when in the context of something as complicated as music. They will go on to say that only carefully restricted A/B utilizing very simple sounds can yield even marginally acceptable data. My experiment was carried out under wildy chaotic (by scientific standards) conditions with dozens or more variables. Compound that with my expectations and bias and I will declare my reports to be purely anecdotal. I will not disqualify what I have said in previous posts, but my theory is that...and again, it's only me I'm talking about...the results are probably all in my head.

What is still interesting here is the fact (for me and some others) remains that the percieved sound has improved through a simple excersize. I posted not long ago on another thread that's poking fun at this one, where some people were commenting that the use of sedatives or hallucinogens (which give a real and measurable effect on the brain) can be often found to improve the experience when listenning to music. The assertation there is that claims of unusual (or what some descibe as absurd) excersizes or tricks cannot possibly improve the sound; you are just fooling yourself into thinking the music is better. But some of those people are perfectly comfortable saying that a fattie and a glass of whisky actually will make the experience more enjoyable. But the two methods have nothing in common, right?

Too much ambiguity and too many variables and no reliabiltiy of human hearing make the 35 second tuneup unsubstantiable, in my humble and self-satisfactorily researched opinion. In other words, I heard something, but what really happened? What do you hear?
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Old 21st January 2010, 11:48 AM   #62
Colin is offline Colin  United Kingdom
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Interesting stuff. I would suggest that a read through some of the psychology literature about perception might be in order. We are very easily fooled. Without a proper blind test, any reported subjective impressions for something like this are essentially worthless. I certainly wouldn't trust my own resistance to being fooled if I did it sighted.

Threads like this are always interesting because they pull in a few people who genuinely know the science behind the subject - such as the post about working with transformers etc earlier. So reading about snake oil solutions can be informative for those of us who are naturally sceptical. (The best one to date was the thread about a cable burn in device.)

btw, hands off the phrase Snake Oil Solutions. I may have just devised a new career.
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Old 21st January 2010, 11:59 PM   #63
fwater is offline fwater  United States
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin View Post
Threads like this are always interesting because they pull in a few people who genuinely know the science behind the subject - such as the post about working with transformers etc earlier.
The guy who posted about working with transformers has a point when macro-electronics are concerned. At very small scales, such as in some of the electronics found in amplifiers and such, strange things begin to happen. For instance, at very high frequencies (and yes, I know that it cannot be translated into music), current will actually be bounced back upstream into the source if it encounters a corner. Bandwidth can changed by kinking a cable. I am not opposed to a hypothesis about what might be going on at a micro-electronics scale, but I think it is quite unlikely.

Bear in mind that people's jobs don't always somehow make tham better suited to talk about a certain subject. I'm an EE, but I don't throw that around as a qualifier. There's plenty of things I don't know. Be cautious of the opinions from the guys who break down the door and shout "Listen up! I work at blah and I know blah blah blah".

By no means is this commentary directed at the guy who works with big transformers. I consider myself a little knowledgable and I am confused to what is actually going on when I tried the 35 second tuneup, so I won't bash anyone's opinions...
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Old 22nd January 2010, 05:49 AM   #64
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fwater View Post
Human hearing is so unreliable (it is said by the experts) that it cannot be trusted to differentiate even large variations when in the context of something as complicated as music.
Yes a lot of experts say that hearing is unreliable. They may be right.
Although if large variations in music cannot be reliably differentiated, it makes me wonder about a few things.
For example how does a conductor refine the sound of an orchestra to suit his requirements? Or how can we tell the difference between one set of speakers and another? How is it possible for people to 'fine-tune' amps, pre-amps and crossovers by ear using music? How do we adjust speaker stuffing so that it 'sounds right'? Or how do we determine speaker placement in our listening room that gives music the most satisfying sound - by ear?

Quote:
My experiment was carried out under wildy chaotic (by scientific standards) conditions with dozens or more variables. Compound that with my expectations and bias and I will declare my reports to be purely anecdotal.
Agreed. So are mine - and everybody else's in this thread.

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What is still interesting here is the fact (for me and some others) remains that the percieved sound has improved through a simple excersize.
Works for me.

Interestingly, I've tried this with friends who aren't into audio without telling them what I was doing. They listened, left the room (out of ear shot) while I played the tone, then came back and listened again. They heard the difference and their description of the changes correlates with my own perception of the changes.

IMO there is something more going on than just 'perception based on expectation'.

Cheers,

Alex

Last edited by Alex from Oz; 22nd January 2010 at 05:52 AM.
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Old 22nd January 2010, 06:31 AM   #65
fwater is offline fwater  United States
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex from Oz View Post
Yes a lot of experts say that hearing is unreliable. They may be right.
Although if large variations in music cannot be reliably differentiated, it makes me wonder about a few things.
For example how does a conductor refine the sound of an orchestra to suit his requirements? Or how can we tell the difference between one set of speakers and another? How is it possible for people to 'fine-tune' amps, pre-amps and crossovers by ear using music? How do we adjust speaker stuffing so that it 'sounds right'? Or how do we determine speaker placement in our listening room that gives music the most satisfying sound - by ear?
I didn't think about how my use of the word "large" could be interperated. Obviously every single example you've given here is perfectly valid. Let me define my use of the phrase "large variations" by example.

Many people can't immediately tell if an instrument was included in one recording and out of the other, but the condutor could. Or, a long guitar solo performed differently on two tracks or even lengthened or shortened will not be readily apparent to most. The effects are compounded when the pieces being compared are longer than just a few second, and can be further compounded if the passage is unfamiliar to the test subject. There's a big difference when we are listening for something in particular, such as in all of the examples you put forward. Wow, it sounds like I'm backpedalling here. My point is, pulling 2 singers out of a recording made with 5 originally is a large variation. Getting answers like "the lyrics were a little different" or "the song was faster/slower/in a different key" when a test group was questioned about the difference in the two tracks is a testament to unreliability. And no, I do not have a link to the page I saw this on, and yes, I know how that makes me look. But there are other examples that I'm sure some of us have seen.

Another possible answer to your questions about how a person can hear differences when tuning an XO or adjusting stuffing (like I've done enough times) or whatever lies in the fact that we most times hear what we want to hear. Has anyone here ever tuned an XO by ear using aligator clips, bumped the big mess of wires knocking off a parallel component, and been much more satisfied with the sound that remained actually unchanged, or changed in a way you didn't expect? I have. How about making very fine adjustments to an EQ and experienced a great improvement only to find the "defeat" button was engaged? Yep, me. Once again, I'm using words that have ambiguity like fine and great.

Well, one thing remains...I cannot explain whether it's the placebo effect or actual changes taking place with the 35secTU (do you like my abbreviation?). But I also cannot exactly explain what I think is better about the music after than before the "treatment". I don't know what's causing me so much frustration with this subject. Perhaps I don't like thinking that I'm not as smart as my brain is.
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Old 22nd January 2010, 08:42 AM   #66
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fwater View Post
Well, one thing remains...I cannot explain whether it's the placebo effect or actual changes taking place with the 35secTU (do you like my abbreviation?). But I also cannot exactly explain what I think is better about the music after than before the "treatment". I don't know what's causing me so much frustration with this subject. Perhaps I don't like thinking that I'm not as smart as my brain is.
I think the frustration comes because we all want the assurance that what we are hearing is 'real' - particularly for more controversial things.
Some couldn't care less and just get on with enjoying it.
Some might invite friends and associates over to see if they can also hear the difference.
Others make an executive decision that if it hasn't been 'proven' it doesn't exist. Therefore, when someone claims to hear audible differences without 'proof', the only logical conclusions available are placebo, imagination, self-delusion, snake-oil etc.

I no longer try to explain what's different after playing the tone, nor am I concerned about 'proof' - been doing it for so long it's not an issue any more.

I do agree that most people's ability to identify and describe exactly what changed between the tracks in a short period of time is generally unreliable.
However, generally speaking, I believe our hearing and discernment would be closer to that of a conductor than most people.

Here the context is one of enthusiasts who enjoy numerous listening sessions over time, to familiar music, on a familiar system, in familiar surroundings.
IMO, we are far more likely to reliably detect any 'audible' effects (if they exist) from changes to the system.
So, in that context and IMO, the 35secTU changes something in the system and the effect is 'real' and audible.

Cheers,

Alex
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