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The Human Factor in Audio Systems



In a couple of responses to one of my blog entries there were some thoughtful comments about how we humans perceive sound and changes in sound.  Human perception is a very complex and is subject to many influences.  I do not pretend to understand them.  The influences around us are sometimes very hard to recognize. Things like confirmation bias are very real.  I want to at least recognize the fact that there are things that influence our perception that we should try to understand.  


This blog is about Audio technology, terminology and physical things. It is targeted to be simple and informative.  I would like to acknowledge human factors with this blog post as an important part of our learning and enjoyment of audio.  I hope to learn some things.  Maybe this is a start!


Here is an optical perception problem that could be considered a parallel here:


What color is a bluejay?

Looks deceive.







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I find it rather interesting that so many who dabble in "high-end" audio always seem to bring up the human factor thing.  I mean every industry is just as susceptible to the phenomena you call the human factor.  Yet, it seems almost daily to rear its ugly head in high-end audio.  The question is why?


It's not always easy to comprehend another's potentially awkward mindset and/or motivations but I'll take a stab at it.  


My suspicion is that because so many spend so little time training their ears and/or working on their systems they have no other justification for lack of hearing things others claim to hear.  For example.  If I swap out all of the stock fuses in all of my gear at the same time with aftermarket cryo-treated fuses and hear a nice little but still distinct improvement and another hears no such difference, then perhaps the difference I heard was the result of a good bowel movement that morning.  Or perhaps the other hearing no difference is because of their unpleasant bowel movement that morning. 


I also suspect that it's one's pride and arrogance preventing them from looking within so instead they look without.  It's usually the science-minded or psuedo-science-minded types (not saying you specifically) that raise this subject matter.  Dare I say it's usually those educated beyond their intelligence?   But I suspect they love to inject this human factor thing presumably due to arrogance, ignorance, laziness, and/or immaturity.  For example.  If I was born with 2 good ears and passed a hearing test last year and profess my love for music and Joe over there hears things I cannot hear (think discern), then perhaps Joe is smokin' something or his "human factor" must be doing a real number on him.  Because I cannot hear (think discern) what he hears and because I'm of such an objective mindset I know for a fact it can't be me so it must be him.  So let's study him instead of me.


So IMO this human factor thing that keeps raising its ugly head is really nothing but a cheap lame excuse or justification for remaining lazy and ignorant toward a hobby one claims to love. 


What's the solution? There are several suggestions but all of them are simply an off-chute of one primary solution which is, first and foremost, to realize that our ability to discern / interpret what we hear is not a skill inherited at birth and like anything else requires much training.  Also to realize that a trained ability to discern / interpret what we hear is absolutely paramount to everything about this audio-only industry and without this realization we've already completely missed the boat.  


Those lacking this basic and essential skill are only fooling themselves and others like minds while making themselves and the industry look rather dumbed down and foolish.


That's my short take anyway.


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