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Subjective / Objective , Philosophy of Science

Tatl

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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.



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It seems wildly arrogant to assert "we're at the end of audio science" the way "objectivists" do.

 

It seems equally so, to mis-characterize what "objectivists" do in the way that you have.  

 

Setting up a straw-man leads to a very weak argument.

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12 minutes ago, wgscott said:

It seems equally so, to mis-characterize what "objectivists" do in the way that you have. 

 

Setting up a straw-man leads to a very weak argument.

 

If you have a better depiction, by all means offer it here. I'm primarily interested in advancing inquiry, not throwing eggs. The eggs are just for fun. And relief..

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The best way to refute someone else's argument is to first formulate it as strongly as possible, not to invent an imaginary untenable position for your opponent.

 

For example, I have never heard anyone suggest "we're at the end of audio science."  That sets you up to argue against an assertion that no one (that I know of) believes.

 

 

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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.

 

That's the heart of the matter ... to measure these areas is currently not easy to do, though most certainly is doable. And, it's not "technological aspects" that are the problem, nor is it "mysterious" - it's lack of attention to detail ... I once used the analogy of a swimming pool that always leaks water, meaning it constantly has to be topped up - does something radical or magical need to be done to stop the need for this repetitive action? Not in the slightest ... merely, every area of the swimming pool surface has to gone over, methodically, and each crack and area of bad construction be attended to - end result, pool level stays constant!

 

This is the process that has to be followed, for "palpable", "in the room" sound - I've used this approach on a variety of combinations of gear, and it always delivers. Plus, very low cost components will do this - usually the cheaper the gear, the more 'stuff' has to be looked at; but it can be done, as a proof of concept.

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I have a friend down the road who uses a ridiculously cheap setup, by audiophile standards - but regularly coaxes "big sound" out of the combo. He's learnt, over time, to have this super fussy attitude to every aspect of the system - and is reaping the rewards ...

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15 minutes ago, fas42 said:

I have a friend down the road who uses a ridiculously cheap setup, by audiophile standards - but regularly coaxes "big sound" out of the combo. He's learnt, over time, to have this super fussy attitude to every aspect of the system - and is reaping the rewards ...

 

I'm aware of you, Frank! I read your old blogspot back to front, and many of your posts here. Your approach certainly interests me.

 

Your assertion that "palpability" can be achieved at lower cost is exciting. I believe you. You remind me of old studio-technician culture. Elbow grease and intuition. Curiosity, tinkering.

 

I think we need to try to make a catalog of "Frank Tweaks" since your approaches are so unorthodox (to most modern audiophiles).

 

I want to know in more detail how you do what you do. I have very little experience with a soldering iron, or messing around with my power mains. I wouldn't know where to start!

 

Maybe you could even sell modded gear? Custom tweaked to conjure?? Relatively inexpensive?

 

From your blog, I get the impression that RFI shielding will have to be figured out more solidly to achieve "robustness".

 

You seem to live in an area with not many smartphones or wifi, whereas most folks are swarmed. And you note that one iphone in the home can kill your systems conjuring ability. How to guard against this?

 

It seems like you focus on:

-eliminating RFI

-Eliminating ground loops

-AC noise

-Replacing certain key circuit components

-Interconnects issues

 

The impression that I get from your writing is that.......what really lets a system conjure is for it to be noise-free. Would you agree?

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1 hour ago, Tatl said:

you guys are all eggs and no steak. 😫

 

The topic comes up as a new thread about once every couple of weeks.  It is almost always started by someone who labels themselves "subjectivist," and invariably they claim to have something new to say, and bash science and scientist with the zeal that one now associates with the White House spokespeople.

 

 

Strangely enough, it never seems to go anywhere.

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Thanks for that postive response, Tatl! 👍

 

I have had the thought many times of selling modded gear - the trouble is that it requires the whole system to be operating at a high standard to achieve the SQ I'm interested in; and I know that it's highly likely that the end result for the buyer won't match his expectations - because some area of his environment hasn't been addressed. That is, I always feel I don't have enough control over the end system, to get it over the line.

 

Your point about the smartphone is spot on - my simple solution? Turn them off! Which is not going to work in an environment where people need to have them running, etc - I haven't a full blown solution for this, as yet - in part because I don't understand where the key interference paths are.

 

Yes, the system needs to be below a certain level of noise for the 'magic' to happen. That noise can arise from a great variety of causes, and you need to knock them over, one by one - you know you've done enough when convincing sound starts to emerge, and from that point things can only get better! :)

 

Cheers!

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, wgscott said:

 

The topic comes up as a new thread about once every couple of weeks.  It is almost always started by someone who labels themselves "subjectivist," and invariably they claim to have something new to say, and bash science and scientist with the zeal that one now associates with the White House spokespeople.

 

 

Strangely enough, it never seems to go anywhere.

 

Oh yes, it goes somewhere!

 

I, as a subjectivist, will never convince you.

 

You, as an objectivist, will never convince me.

 

Why will we never agree? That could be given at the moment you understand that not everything is about science, listening to music is an art where the senses, guided by individual tastes, are those that reign.

 

Of course science helps in the technical parts, but you can model and do tricks to give the pleasure that satisfy our senses. Very different from human to human, so if we stick strictly to science there would be no way that we are all happy.

 

Best,

 

Roch

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3 hours ago, wgscott said:

And bash science and scientist with the zeal that one now associates with the White House spokespeople.

 

Strangely enough, it never seems to go anywhere.

 

1 hour ago, elcorso said:

Oh yes, it goes somewhere!

 

I, as a subjectivist, will never convince you.

 

You, as an objectivist, will never convince me.

 

I'm sad that you're both going to these places. They both miss the point of the blog, which tries to show how both positions interlink for a truer, integrated one. Maybe I should have been less...something. Nothing about what I wrote bashes science.

 

elcorse is arguing something I'm not. I believe in "accurate" playback. I just believe it's currently beyond measurement , so we need to use our senses to get there.

 

There's nothing wrong with adding euphony on top of accurate playback. But accurate playback is possible, imo. Improving accuracy happens.

 

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9 hours ago, sdolezalek said:

Fear is the real basis for the subjectivist/objectivist argument. The subjectivist fears challenges to the world as they hear it, see it, taste it etc. even if all of those are learned or acquired tastes that might actually be re-learned or changed over time; but the fear is of the new and the uncertain.  For most objectivists the fear is that the laws, rules, principles they have learned may neither be sufficient nor even accurate in describing a state of affairs, but so much time and learning has been spent acquiring the knowledge and understanding of those principles, rules and laws of science and physics that again fear of having to abandon learning, or re-learn a difficult subject, or change the rules prevents the objectivist from being open to challenge. 

 

But progress almost always means change, it means writing new rules and developing new tastes, or adjusting old rules and tastes to fit new facts, circumstances or possibilities.

 

I agree with all of this. I should have positioned myself and Herb not as subjectivists, but as some truer third category, to help ppl grasp what I'm trying to say. You're right about all the fear stuff. Gotta banish the fear. And invite the future.

 

9 hours ago, sdolezalek said:

If music were capable of being fully captured by the rules of physics, electronics, chemistry and science we already know, it would not so capture our attention -- it is the magic of being there in that moment and hearing that sound in the context of the place, moment and mood in which we hear it that we challenge ourselves to replicate -- and there is more to that magic than can be described by the laws of science or replicated by electronics.

 

Than CURRENTLY is described....but I believe we'll get it all in numbers, etc, one day. At least enough to reliably "conjure the illusion" (fas42) that there is literally a live band in one's house, etc.

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13 hours ago, Tatl said:

 

 

I'm sad that you're both going to these places. They both miss the point of the blog, which tries to show how both positions interlink for a truer, integrated one. Maybe I should have been less...something. Nothing about what I wrote bashes science.

 

elcorse is arguing something I'm not. I believe in "accurate" playback. I just believe it's currently beyond measurement , so we need to use our senses to get there.

 

There's nothing wrong with adding euphony on top of accurate playback. But accurate playback is possible, imo. Improving accuracy happens.

 

 

I am not against science, but you mention something very important, measurements.

 

Someone, whom I respect in this forum because he has been in contact with a lot of equipment, cables, recording formats, etc., said "maybe we have been measuring wrongly and we have overlooked other measurements ..."

 

I could give as an example, where objectivism and subjectivism converge: Certain companies that manufacture audio equipment, audio software, etc. They use a human listening panel, where after designing and measuring their equipment the panel gives final approval. In this final revision, some of the electronic components can be replaced without affecting the final standard measurements.

 

I do not want to talk about euphony, the only thing that interests me is to listen to music effortless, especially that not cause me musical fatigue.

 

I am a Bonsai artist for many years, I know and apply all the science within my reach, but as I do in the Rainforest and 99.99% of the Bonsai books have been written by authors who live in climates where the four seasons rule, much of the science does not apply in my climate. You may find the comparison strange, but think about your auditory system and your tastes and maybe find it reasonable.

 

Roch

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17 minutes ago, elcorso said:

Someone, whom I respect in this forum because he has been in contact with a lot of equipment, cables, recording formats, etc., said "maybe we have been measuring wrongly and we have overlooked other measurements ..."

 

I could give as an example, where objectivism and subjectivism converge: Certain companies that manufacture audio equipment, audio software, etc. They use a human listening panel, where after designing and measuring their equipment the panel gives final approval. In this final revision, some of the electronic components can be replaced without affecting the final standard measurements. 

 

Yes. Somehow almost everyone leaves their education without understanding this sort of thing. They don't have an archetypal idea of how the scientific process begins....and how it is edited.

Subjectively. Obviously this doesn't damn measurements.

 

Its like school plops people down into the middle of the scientific process, such that they can't see how the beginning comes about...

 

They can't be their own scientists, they only become little scientific worker bees.

 

I think the audio world needs better means of measuring RFI and shielding, esp with the smartphone revolution currently exploding. They probably already do this well in certain military sectors, etc.

 

My guess is that all these "digital chain" improvements which are so focused on on this site have to do with inadvertent improvements in RFI isolation and mains noise isolation.

 

And that if we understood these processes more specifically, we could capture the problem entirely instead of just having a constantly rotating cast of new boxes taking a whack at it.

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4 minutes ago, Tatl said:

 

I think the audio world needs better means of measuring RFI and shielding, esp with the smartphone revolution currently exploding. They probably already do this well in certain military sectors, etc.

 

My guess is that all these "digital chain" improvements which are so focused on on this site have to do with inadvertent improvements in RFI isolation and mains noise isolation.

 

That's exactly correct.  A scientific experiment starts with a guess.  But you need to have a way to test the guess, and that typically involves construction of experimental controls and figuring out what measurement to take.

 

You assert that the world needs [a] better means of measuring RFI and shielding.  Why do you think this is the case?  Are you somehow detecting what all the measuring devices are missing, and if that is the case, what is the mechanism by which you are detecting RFI?  Do you think Maxwell's equations are sufficient to understanding radio frequency radiation and its interference with electronics?  Do you need to even invoke quantum field theory, let alone dismiss it as insufficient to take on the task of detecting radio signals?

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Let me try this a different way:

 

If I claim that we know all of the physics and engineering principles that go into printing and assembling a book, and we know all of the chemical principles to understand ink and paper, am I then claiming that the poem or logical proof printed on the paper is fully described by science?

 

Anyone who gives that two seconds of thought recognizes it as an absurd claim.

 

Is the inability of engineering, physics and chemistry to explain the poem and your emotional reaction to it, or to explain the logical proof, and find the error in it, a failure of our current scientific understanding?

 

Similarly, I think anyone would recognize that as a ridiculous assertion.

 

No chemist, physicist or engineer that I have ever met would make such a claim.  I sincerely doubt you can find one.

 

 

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20 minutes ago, 4est said:

With all due respect, that is stated often, just not in so many words. Often we hear how amps have vanishingly low distortion beyond what is discernible or that modern DACs are mostly of high enough fidelity. Yet, people such as myself note large enough differences in these for us to continue to expend energy upon it. Clearly there is something amiss beyond simple bias and subjective desires, or subjectivists would be outliers and not more than half the pack.

 

I don't see where that contradicts anything I wrote or implied.

 

However, to make this go easier, I will suggest that such distinctly audible differences should be easily measurable with current technology and equipment.

 

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20 minutes ago, wgscott said:

You assert that the world needs [a] better means of measuring RFI and shielding.  Why do you think this is the case?  Are you somehow detecting what all the measuring devices are missing, and if that is the case, what is the mechanism by which you are detecting RFI?  Do you think Maxwell's equations are sufficient to understanding radio frequency radiation and its interference with electronics?  Do you need to even invoke quantum field theory, let alone dismiss it as insufficient to take on the task of detecting radio signals?

 

Our ears tell us that buying all the equipment that meets the highest measurement standards we have established so far will not, by itself, deliver us into audiophile nirvana.  That could mean that there are important measures we have ignored or not yet captured, it could mean that the order in which we prioritize different measures is wrong, it could mean that the trade-offs we made in choosing excellence in one domain over excellence in another were the wrong ones, etc.  

 

It doesn't mean measurements are wrong or unimportant.  They are because they establish guideposts for further learning.  Without measurements, rules and principles, everything would be open to debate. But the existence of measurements, rules and principles should not end the debate or the questions.    

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Where (currently established) science and measurements can help the most is with the subset of those audible differences that still persist when you have your eyes closed.

 

Although there are many examples of measurable differences that are not audible, the list of audible differences that aren't measurable is much shorter.

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10 minutes ago, sdolezalek said:

Our ears tell us that buying all the equipment that meets the highest measurement standards we have established so far will not, by itself, deliver us into audiophile nirvana.  That could mean that there are important measures we have ignored or not yet captured, it could mean that the order in which we prioritize different measures is wrong, it could mean that the trade-offs we made in choosing excellence in one domain over excellence in another were the wrong ones, etc.  

 

You forgot one other, very likely explanation: maybe what we hear is not measurable because it is not part of the electronic audio reproduction chain, but rather created by our own perception. In science, the simplest explanation that fits all the known facts is the one that is preferred. And our perception is the simplest explanation for most of these 'unmeasurable' differences.

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1 hour ago, pkane2001 said:

 

You forgot one other, very likely explanation: maybe what we hear is not measurable because it is not part of the electronic audio reproduction chain, but rather created by our own perception. In science, the simplest explanation that fits all the known facts is the one that is preferred. And our perception is the simplest explanation for most of these 'unmeasurable' differences.

 

Unfortunately, that is part of the standard "objectivist" platform -- "we have measured everything that matters, if you are hearing something else, it must be perception rather than reality." Even if that is true 99% of the time, progress occurs in the other 1% and by dismissing its existence we inhibit progress.

 

The opposite, is equally true -- just because I think I hear a difference doesn't mean there actually is one -- again perhaps 99% of the time it is expectation bias, perception or simply differences between end users, but here too that last 1% is the interesting one because it opens the door to asking whether there is something there, that we may previously not have paid attention to, that might be both measurable and matter.

 

After all, few people perceived we needed either cell phones or personal computers 50 years ago and it would be really had to find measurable data from back then that suggested our forward progress as a society depended on inventing and perfecting those things.

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