I just finished a review of cables. I also have a Ph.D. in astrophysics with a concentration in electrical engineering. How can this be? In this little blog, I want to give you my take on objectivism and subjectivism in evaluating audio equipment. This is my personal take on the subject, and I have no desire to change your mind if you have strong feelings on the subject. I figure it would be good for you all to know my ideas so you can take what’s in my reviews accordingly. Just a few bullet points should do the job:
The primary reason we all have home theater and audio equipment is to listen to it. Therefore the primary tool for reviewing audio equipment should be the human ear. What sounds subjectively better is better, period.
It really doesn’t matter why a person thinks some change in their system makes it sound better. If whatever change, imagined or not, makes the system sound better to them, then it does. The brain listens to the sound, so if the brain thinks it sounds better, then it sounds better.
What sounds better to one person might not to another. When I review something, I try to give you my personal impressions. Those may or may not be the same as your impressions listening to the same equipment and recording.
Measurements can help in determining why one piece of audio gear sounds different or better than another. They have little place in determining if a piece of audio gear sounds better than another.
If a given measurement is identical for two pieces of audio gear, but they sound different, then you measured the wrong thing, or didn’t measure well enough. To think that a few simple measurements decided on by the audio industry decades ago can explain all there is to know about the sound of a component, is in my opinion, ridiculous.
If two pieces of audio gear measure slightly differently, it is not valid to blindly conclude “you can’t hear the difference.” Research in pyschoacoustics is not advanced enough to conclude that we know all there is to know about how the brain hears and interprets sound.
Double blind testing is great, but requires a HUGE sample size to detect small differences. Huge meaning thousands or tens of thousands of samples. Doing a double blind test with a few random listeners each listening to a few recordings could statistically tell the difference between a cassette tape and a SACD. Maybe. Double blind testing with a large enough sample to test small differences between components is not feasible for pretty much all audio companies and reviewers. That doesn’t stop some from trying and making statistically unsupported conclusions from those tiny samples like “all amplifiers sound the same” or “CDs have perfect sound.”
I could come up with plenty more bullet points, but that’s enough for now. If there are any rabid objectivists or subjectivists that would now like to have a verbal cage match throwdown, feel free to have it amongst yourselves. I personally have no desire to argue with you, but I’m sure there are others that will oblige.