I just made an account here. First post. I'm a 26 year old musician/producer/mixer. I started taking interest in audiophile questions about two years ago, stemming from a quest for dead-accurate monitoring. I've been all over the audio internet, and I've heard a good deal of systems in person. Audiophile and pro, analog and digital, cheap and expensive. It's funny how the audiophile world and the pro world don't really like to mix, even when they're taking interest in the same questions.
One of my favorite audiophile writers is Herb Reichert, because he's obsessed with sound that is -direct- and -naked-. Corporeal and palpable. "In the room" explicit. He is allergic to sheen or gloss. His writing asserts that there must still be technological aspects essential to convincing playback that we haven't yet learned to measure, since systems with textbook A+ measurements can still lack this elusive naked quality. Herb prizes this directness over perfect frequency response, dynamic response, or resolution. For him, it is its own parameter with its own merit, and its origin and relation to the others remains mysterious, though he is constantly investigating. Systems that check other boxes, but lack this essential quality, are for Herb false and deceptive, since they offer everything but the soul of the music.
Now of course, there are many in the audio world who feel this way, or who perhaps feel similarly about some other quality they've discerned. Most people call them "subjectivists". To me...it seems like they're misunderstood. Their general claim is simply: we haven't learned to measure everything that's important, so one has to keep an open mind and seek undiscovered correlations. We hear differences outside of what is reflected in the measurements.
Philosophically speaking, any measurement that reliably correlates to reality, ever made, in any science, was initially correlated to the human subjective senses, or rests on proofs, which ultimately rest on correlations to our naked senses. The most basic proof for 1+1=2 is that you can pick up one twig, pick up another, and there, you have two twigs in your hand. The subjective layer is the FIRST data layer. You always view numbers on pages THROUGH this layer, and interpret them through mental proofs BASED on it. All accepted science is based on subjective impressions our ancestors agreed on.
Even the number one is based on subjective experience. The experience of a whole. The experience that an object can be separate from it's environment in the first place. The experience that a pebble is a separate thing from the air or water around it, and that it has a high enough degree of self-consistency to be given a name at all.
It seems wildly arrogant to assert "we're at the end of audio science" the way "objectivists" do. What if we aren't? In the past, whenever we thought we were, in any field, were we? No. It's not an intelligent position to take, as far as I'm concerned. Staunch objectivists make a wager: "I bet our theories are perfect." Does that seem like a good bet?
The measurements obsession, in my view, and the philosophy it begets, becomes a kind of fascism that grows in the mind. One ends up losing trust for one's sensory impressions, and dogmatizing the impressions of others. OBVIOUSLY blind tests are better. Obviously people's minds can trick them. Obviously measurements are useful. But the fact is, with self-awareness and curious self-skepticism, one can improve one's recognition of sound, in incredibly various ways. We aren't aware of the limits. There are hearing masters who slay blind tests. Charles Hansen posted about a man he knew who could reliably make insane calls blind, including about gear riser materials, etc.
In science, data has to be critically interpreted, and fit into hypotheses and theories. Data is also reinterpreted. Endlessly. It always should be. Hypotheses are recrafted and retested. Ultimately, the human is the master of science, not the tool. People seem to be forgetting this...and it honestly creeps me out.
One of the most magic parts of life is that you can actually improve ALL of your senses. And you can have a critical, evolving relationship with how you interpret them. It's amazing. You don't need to be a measurement machine's bitch, or a slave to whatever theories are in hegemony. You get to develop your own experience and your own ideas. You can actually plumb the depths of human sense down paths no one has gone before. And you can craft interpretations which are entirely new. Forever.
We ought to hammer this out more so we don't lose more folks to the personless, non-critical void.