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
 

MRehorst

Member
2002-05-17 8:48 pm
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
 
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
 

Brett

Member
2002-01-07 6:02 pm
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.
 
Brett said:
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
 
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
 

MRehorst

Member
2002-05-17 8:48 pm
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
 
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.
 
S and O are only a matter of degree along a continuous spectrum.
I'm going to have to strongly disagree here. Objectivist implies that there is some quality that can be independently agreed on by multiple parties, and which does not rely on subjective impressions. We may be able to objectively identify a blown tweeter by the measurable effects, even though we cannot measure any difference in interconnects. (again, we could get into some philosophical discussions about the nature of perceptions but I think we can confine the discussion to trusting our perceptions of our measurements)

Even double blind experiments are not objective when they rely on human perceptions; all they prove is that the percievers are hearing what they thought they were. That is, if the reviewer consistently liked A better than B, then all we know is that to the reviewer, a difference exists. Whether you or I could detect it, or whether A sounds better than B, could be personal preference. This is different than medical studies, which can rely on some objective criteria (e.g. existence or non-existence of tumors).

Now, I have a feeling you are saying something more like "in some cases, subjective experiences are sufficiently universal that we can come to a unanimous agreement." Within a certain body of people, I'd agree with that. But, like you point out, there will always be the oddball that doesn't agree--this is ultimately a subjective test.

I think Won has made some good points. We will never find a group of measurements which completely define "quality" on a scale of 1 to 100. The subjective experience of different people simply will not allow it. Even in cases where Person A and Person B might agree that the overall quality of a component is the same, A might still prefer one over the other because he values dynamics over bandwidth, etc etc.
 
tiroth said:
Even double blind experiments are not objective when they rely on human perceptions; all they prove is that the percievers are hearing what they thought they were.
That's good enough for me.

If someone can demonstrate that they can hear the difference between copper and silver wire (without knowing ahead of time which one is which) then that tells me there is something to this particular issue.

If they can't tell the difference under a DBT (even when conducted by other believers of the same persuasion) then it's harder for me to accept that this is anything more than snake oil. The beauty of a true double blind test is that the person administering the test doesn't know which is which so they can't subconciously give away the "correct" response.

I will leave the concept of "better" to the individual, all I really care about is "is it real". Because if it is real then that means there is something for me to investigate. If it's not real then I'm not interested.

For what it is worth, part of my own belief structure is that higher price does not automatically equate to better performance. My impression of quite a bit of the tweaks and hype in Hi-Fi is that it is more about crafting gear out of "unobtainium" than it is about actually improving the sonic experiance. A $25 cap is only better than a $1 cap if the change in characteristics matter to the circuit it is in. The circuit isn't impressed by how much the part cost.

Phil
 
haldor said:
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.

They don't necessarily fit because those which you refer to as "subjectivists" actually aren't subjectivists but in fact they are objectivists.

A true subjectivist (or what I've called the Zen Hedonist) concerns themself purely with the subjective experience when it comes to experiencing reproduced music via our audio systems. They neither question it nor attempt to justify their experience as there's no need for any such justification. It is an individual experience and its ultimate truth lies solely with the individual doing the experiencing.

Those you refer to as subjectivists are actually objectivists in that they operate from the premise that their subjective experiences are a direct and unerring reflection of a universal physical reality beyond that of the individual doing the experiencing. In other words, if they subjectively perceive some difference, the ONLY cause for that perception MUST be some physical change in the equipment which is producing an actual audible result.

To that end, they believe that whenever they subjectively perceive some difference, they can subsequently claim it as a universal, objective truth.

And this is where things get cocked up. Because the basic premise is founded on the absolute and complete denial of one very important, very well established, universal objective truth: That our subjective perceptions can be influenced by things OTHER than objective physical realities.

And until that very real possibility has been eliminated, one cannot, without making a huge leap of ego and illogic, make any claims as to objective realities based on subjective perception alone.

So, my advice is, if you want to be a subjectivist, then be a true subjectivist and don't attempt to justify your subjective experiences or assert them to be any universal objective reality.

If you want to be an objectivist, then don't live in denial of certain universal, objective realities simply because they my threaten your ego.

Anyway, that's my two cents worth.

se
 
tiroth said:
Even double blind experiments are not objective when they rely on human perceptions; all they prove is that the percievers are hearing what they thought they were.

No, blind tests can in fact be objective.

There's more to blind testing than simply the listener not knowing the identity of what they're listening to. It also involves a statistical element.

If the perceived differences are due to something other than an actual audible difference, then there will tend to have about as many correct identifications as incorrect identifications. In other words, it's effectively a statistical 50/50 and it's a wash and no conclusions can be drawn either way. This is what's called a null result.

If the perception is due to an actual audible difference, then the correct identifications will tend to outnumber the incorrect identifications by a statistically significant amount. In other words, it becomes less and less likely that the results are due to just random chance.

By effectively filtering out random chance, blind testing can produce objective results. But only with respect to positive outcomes. Null results are just that. Null. They neither establish actual audibility or inaudibility.

So anyone objectively claiming that no one can hear differences between cables and then cites linstening tests with null results is blowing smoke up your bottom.

se
 
that's my two cents worth

More like about $200 worth. :tons: I guess I will be a SOB. (Subjectivist and Objectivist Both) Nobody has focused on the premis that changes are often heard when one is not often not looking for them or expecting them. I have a couple of real tweak friends that often make changes that they don't mention untill after I have listened to a system. What happens when one hears changes when one is not looking for them or even aware that a change in the system has been made? Seeking a rational for some of the physics behind changes makes me an objectivist since I would like to learn from the listening experience and develop repeatable methologies for tweaking and design. Hardly mutually exclusive I would say. You would be suprised how much really good audio equipment gets designed this way. :note:

Art
 
Steve Eddy said:
So anyone objectively claiming that no one can hear differences between cables and then cites linstening tests with null results is blowing smoke up your bottom.

Someone claims they can hear a difference when the direction of a particular speaker cable is reversed. A real cable and a real amp, no polarity sensitive funny business put in just to make this possible.

A DBT is done with that person and that cable.

If the results are valid then you have proven they are in fact able to hear a difference. Yahoo. Subjectivist is vindicated and Belden really starts paying attention to cable direction (instead of faking it). Plus all the objectivists go around kicking the ground and looking sullen (I am going to persist in using the terms objectivist and subjectivist the way the rest of the audio world does).

If the result are null then you have proven nothing, except that at this particular test that person was not able to hear a difference. Ok I can buy that, it is logically impossible to disprove the existance of anything.

However, from a practical standpoint how many null tests are enough? If I claim I can do calculus then how many problems can I get wrong before people conclude I can't do what I say and stop listening to my claims? At some point you have to either do what you claim you are able to do or else quit talking about it.

In normal human relations, the burden of proof is on the person making an exceptional claim, not the skeptics.

Phil
 
Re: that's my two cents worth

artnyos said:
More like about $200 worth. :tons:

Thank you. I think. Not sure whether that's a compliment or you just converted my two cents over to Canadian dollars. :)

I guess I will be a SOB. (Subjectivist and Objectivist Both)

Actually I am both subjectivist and objectivist.

When it comes to the enjoyment of listening to reproduced music and deciding whether I prefer one thing over an other, I'm totally subjectivist. My Zen Hedonist side.

When it comes to objective, physical realities such as the physics involved in audio, I'm totally objectivist.

The difference is that I keep both sides wholly separate from each other which is perhaps why some of the things I've said has caused confusion among those who apparently can't seem to distinguish the two.

Nobody has focused on the premis that changes are often heard when one is not often not looking for them or expecting them.

Well, at least not CONSCIOUSLY looking for or expecting them.

However there's a whole other world going on below the surface of our conscious mind. The more egotistical seem to be in denial of this as well or believe they can consciously control it or block it out.

I have a couple of real tweak friends that often make changes that they don't mention untill after I have listened to a system. What happens when one hears changes when one is not looking for them or even aware that a change in the system has been made?

That depends upon how the change actually came about.

The change could be due to nothing more than your noticing something that was there all along but you simply hadn't noticed before. Or the change could be due to something happening in the system that wasn't happening before.

So we're left with a conundrum. How does one TRULY know which is which? You have a singular experience of the observer (i.e. there's something different), but two distinct possibilities that may account for it.

Our egos would like to tell us that it's not possible we could have simply overlooked it. But our egos are not always very rational.

In any case, until one of the two possibilities can be safely excluded, we're left with an ambiguity and therefore can reach no safe conclusion.

Seeking a rational for some of the physics behind changes makes me an objectivist since I would like to learn from the listening experience and develop repeatable methologies for tweaking and design. Hardly mutually exclusive I would say.

No, not mutually exclusive at all. However it's not a pursuit that I'm particularly interested in. All I care about in the end is my ultimate subjective satisfaction and that satisfaction operates on a number of different planes, from the physical, to the psychological to the aesthetic.

Any attempt to develop some repeatable methodology for tweaking and design out of that mess is more than I care to undertake. :)

You would be suprised how much really good audio equipment gets designed this way. :note:

Hehehe. Yes. But then that's just YOUR assessment of "really good audio equipment." Obviously "good audio equipment" is a highly subjective judgement and there is never any universal consensus. Sure, you might find a majority of people who feel a particular piece of equipment is good. But you'll also find significant numbers of people who feel it stinks to high heaven.

I learned long ago that there simply are no universal truths when it comes to subjectivity. And that suits me just fine because the only subjective truth that has any real meaning for me is my own. And to that end, I keep it to myself and make no attempt whatsoever to assert it as any sort of universal truth.

I think if more people were humble enough to be content with that, there'd be a lot less bickering going on. :)

se
 
Re: Re: Subjectivist vs Objectivist

Steve Eddy said:




And this is where things get cocked up. Because the basic premise is founded on the absolute and complete denial of one very important, very well established, universal objective truth: That our subjective perceptions can be influenced by things OTHER than objective physical realities.

And until that very real possibility has been eliminated, one cannot, without making a huge leap of ego and illogic, make any claims as to objective realities based on subjective perception alone.

So, my advice is, if you want to be a subjectivist, then be a true subjectivist and don't attempt to justify your subjective experiences or assert them to be any universal objective reality.

If you want to be an objectivist, then don't live in denial of certain universal, objective realities simply because they my threaten your ego.



se



And this is were things are really getting cocked up.

You shouldn't be neither objectivist nor subjectivist, because perfect reality doesn't exist. Depending on situation, your mood, environment, other people, things around you, things you do, you should always be able to judge the reality, choose proper approach and act accordingly. When I test and tweak equipment I prefer to be objectivist, but when I'm finaly done with it, I become subjectivist. It is easy and convenient. If other people would be able to do it as well, threads like this wouldn't have to be created.;)

And this were my 3 cents, but I'm running out of change.;)
 
haldor said:


Someone claims they can hear a difference when the direction of a particular speaker cable is reversed. A real cable and a real amp, no polarity sensitive funny business put in just to make this possible.

A DBT is done with that person and that cable.

If the results are valid then you have proven they are in fact able to hear a difference. Yahoo. Subjectivist is vindicated and Belden really starts paying attention to cable direction (instead of faking it). Plus all the objectivists go around kicking the ground and looking sullen (I am going to persist in using the terms objectivist and subjectivist the way the rest of the audio world does).

If the result are null then you have proven nothing, except that at this particular test that person was not able to hear a difference. Ok I can buy that, it is logically impossible to disprove the existance of anything.

However, from a practical standpoint how many null tests are enough? If I claim I can do calculus then how many problems can I get wrong before people conclude I can't do what I say and stop listening to my claims? At some point you have to either do what you claim you are able to do or else quit talking about it.

In normal human relations, the burden of proof is on the person making an exceptional claim, not the skeptics.

Phil

Yes, I agree.

What ultimately puzzles me though is why some people have such a burning desire to assert their subjective perceptions as objective facts.

Why is it so important? I can't think of any particular reason outside of sheer ego.

I subjectively perceive differences myself. However I can't think of any reason whatsoever why I should attempt to assert my subjectively perceived differences as anything other than subjectively perceived differences.

se