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    joelha

    Guest Editorial: Why did audio stop being about audio?

    How many forum threads on this site (and others) devolve into heated exchanges about whether people actually hear what they say they hear? Without “proof”, listeners are often mocked, insulted and their experiences discredited.


    Challenges range from assuming the listener has been influenced by expectation bias (I believe it will sound good, so it does sound good) to faulting his unwillingness to rely on measurements or blind testing.


    What bothers me most is reputations are attacked so casually. Everyone from Chris Connaker (one of the most decent people I’ve known in the industry) to reviewers and manufacturers are accused of lying, cheating and taking bribes. People, whom I suspect in most cases haven’t even heard the product they’re attacking, will smear the reputations of others they probably don’t know. Those who are attacked rely on their reputations to earn a living. That’s to say nothing of the personal attacks on the listeners themselves. And the attackers attack anonymously. Unless the case is black and white i.e. I sent you money and you never shipped my product or there are repeated, unresolved product defects, trying to ruin a person’s name is evil. Nothing will undo a person’s life faster and more effectively than giving him a bad reputation. And doing it anonymously and without hard evidence is cowardly and arrogant. In such cases, it’s highly likely the charge is far more unethical than the action being charged.


    Some will say measurements make their case open and shut. But there are too many examples of how measurements fall well short of telling the whole story. There are tube amps with 3% - 5% distortion that sound better to many than amps with far better measurements. Are those products a scam? Vinyl doesn’t measure nearly as well as digital and yet many strongly prefer its sound. Should fans of vinyl be told that turntable, tonearm and cartridge makers are scamming them as well?


    For some of my audio choices, some would say I’m deluding myself. Let’s say I am. If I’m happy with my delusion, why should the nay-sayers care? It’s an audio hobby. Why can’t I enjoy my system and post about my experiences, allowing others to judge? The nay-sayers might say “That’s fine, we’re just posting to protect others from being taken in.”


    Fair enough. But these are not always cases of “I have one opinion and you have another”. Many of the arguments are too heated, personal and frequently repeated to only be about audio.


    I believe these debates are about religion and before you conclude that I’ve lost my mind, consider the following:


    Many claim they have experienced God or have witnessed miracles with little or no evidence. The debates concerning those claims are often very intense and personal. Challenges commonly include: Where’s your evidence? Where’s your data? Only because you want to believe do you believe.

     

    Sound familiar?


    This is why I believe the challengers care so much. Allowing audiophiles to post their subjective conclusions without proof brings them one step closer to accepting those who relate their religious experiences without proof. For them, science is god and a subjective conclusion upends their god and belief system. They fight hard so that doesn’t happen.


    This is audio folks. Whether I think I hear something or not isn’t that important. If my audio assessment matters that much to you, I’m guessing you’re anti-religion and/or anti-God. That’s fine. But that explains why something as innocuous as describing the sound of someone’s ethernet cable could elicit such strong and often highly inappropriate comments.


    I’m old enough to remember this hobby when people would meet at audio stores to just listen and schmooze. We’ve lost too much of that sense of camaraderie. We may differ on what we like, but we all care about how we experience music.


    Whether I’m right or wrong about any of the above, would it hurt to return to the times when people’s disagreements about audio were friendly? Can we stop assailing the reputations of the people who rely on this industry to care for their families and employees? Can we respect the opinions of those who differ with us by not trying to shut them down with ridicule?


    It’s not about “religion”. It’s just about audio.

     

    - Joel Alperson



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    That was enjoyably short and to the point.  Timely too, invoking the reason for the season.  What I especially enjoyed was questioning not whether any one of us personally feel called to god, but to behave like one.

     

    is-calling-you-remind-me-message-gulag-accept-24944060.png

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    1 hour ago, Archimago said:

    "I know of audiophiles who are objective and religious (perhaps even yours truly 😉)."

     

    I agree and never suggested otherwise.

    1 hour ago, Archimago said:

    Impossible to not think about science/engineering whenever a product reads and converts digital to analogue for example. Likewise, all the scientific principles that have to go into properly reproducing vinyl (eg. tonearm geometries, capacitance, quality of RIAA EQ in the preamp...).

    I agree here as well and, again, I never suggested otherwise. As Chris asks in a later post, the issue isn't whether science should be applied, it's how emotional people become about advocating for the scientific assessment of a product and how personal they can be about the opinions of others that are only subjective.

     

    For those who become inappropriate, I believe an anti-religious bias is at play for reasons I've already mentioned in my OP.

     

    My article was not written to address those who are respectful as they invoke science to make their arguments.

     

    Joel

     

     

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    49 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Hi Archimago - I love your closing line - good to find balance. 

     

    How do you rationalize the fact that people get so heated about another's opinion. It can go both ways, objective <> subjective, but for now let's focus on the objective attacks toward subjective opinions. It just seems like something else is at play when people fall all over themselves to make points that often aren't invited.

     

     

    Hi Chris,

    Yeah. I think there's a bit we can say about this. It's complicated isn't it when things get emotional and "attacks" happen, that's the issue. Sounds like a good blog discussion topic at some point 😁.

     

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    Dear Joel,
    Audio and Religion, can you compare the antagonism of Religious and Agnostic (science?) with Subjectivists and Objectivists?

    I think not, here is why:

    I feel that the discussion about Religion has far more dimensions in its fabric than science does know as of today.
    It has a dark history of power, mobster mentality, betrayal, domination, influence, revenge, racism and genocide, just to name a view and a pleasant reality of forgiveness, self-empowerment, solidarity, love, determination, education and hope on the other side of the balance. Nearly everyone has been touched by presence or absence of Religion in one way or another, and it may have been different for any two person in a room.
    The reality is, the administrators of Religion are still in the game for power, influence and money, and the name of God is used in so many different languages and Religions to punish the agnostics or the ones to be dominated/repressed due to ethnicity, skin color, gender or sexual orientation, that it (imho) cannot be held as antithesis of science or be compared with dualism of objective/subjective. Belief, maybe, Religion not.
    I respect everyone who has profited personally from his/her beliefs to any kind of Religion, as long as they accept that Religion with its peculiarity in society is a monster in need to be tamed (for most), as the benefits have never been globally or socially evenly distributed, but offered gains only for individuals or for some hierarchical structured organizations like churches. And that his/her experience are personal and may be different for me and others. That is what I call tolerance.
    I am personally convinced (I believe) that science relies on some fundamental principles that are valid for (almost) everyone. And as a person, I may have the right to subjectively dislike that or feel different, which just doesn't make me immune to the existence of gravity when I am standing on a mountain top ...


    Where I totally agree with you Joel, is that even I know that I am correct in a "scientific" way, I need to acknowledge that my opponent does not criticize me personally because he has a different way of regarding/hearing the things (under which bias ever). This works in the other direction as well. So far for the communication I'd wish for in our forums.
    In recent times we undoubtedly are in need to grow more skin to resist the impact of often unfounded critic that targets us only for just having found a target.

    I see as well that we are acting members of a changing industry, where investment interest often play an important role, which to a certain extent impacts the behavior of company representatives and their strategic decisions concerning their products. May it be half baked products, fake marketing promises and quality issues packed in nice promises about an update that never arrives.

    With the distribution channels changing from the decried old and personal HiFi shop experience, places we visited to talk with other enthusiasts and experts, towards online marketplaces and big electronic stores with just the same range of goods in every other city, be it Pacific or Atlantic division, the marketing activities have changed their character and faces.

    Imagine you have received a bad product and the company behind starts playing the game improperly, decries unfair treatment, bad testing scenarios or let you feel its industry related power if you want to publish a less than mediocre experience about one of their products, then you know that this is a hobby, where lots of people hold different kind of stakes in. And a serious business. We usually say then, we pay with our customer satisfaction and vote with our wallets, though it might cost us a bit more than we wish for - especially in the high end sector.
    Even this picture is not really a desirable development, it is far away from the mobster mentality of the Religion business.

    Stay tuned, Tom

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    29 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    I don't believe that causal relationship is supported by any data.

     

    Give me ten British  Audiophile Companies.

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    8 minutes ago, Archimago said:

     

    Hmmm, hang on @joelha, I'm just not sure who you're talking about when you said this:

     

    "Allowing audiophiles to post their subjective conclusions without proof brings them one step closer to accepting those who relate their religious experiences without proof. For them, science is god and a subjective conclusion upends their god and belief system. They fight hard so that doesn’t happen."

     

    Who are the "they" in this excerpt? Who are these "religious objective" people who worship this scientific "god"?

    Archimago,

     

    You're taking one part of my article out of context. But I'm glad you asked the question.

     

    The "they" are not only objectivists but the inappropriate objectivists.

     

    "Emotional force" is fine. Attacking others personally isn't.

     

    That's the "they" I'm talking about.

     

    Joel

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    2 minutes ago, Rt66indierock said:

     

    Inappropriate comments are  the cost of weaning people from authority figures in audio. It will die down as authority figures are seen for they truly are salesman. The same pattern occurred in golf and things have calmed down. 

     

    The market doesn't have to shrink.

     

     

    By your own statement, that's not happening in our industry, Rt66indierock.

     

    If you say there was a lot of anger since the 70's, the anger proposition doesn't seem to be working or is working way too slowly.

     

    I'd rather have some of the bad players out there in the industry and a friendlier overall environment.

     

    If you want to disagree, you can have the last word as I've made my point.

     

    Joel

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    40 minutes ago, HiFiHeard said:

    Such an interesting discussion and I couldn't help but sign up just to join this community and partake in the banter.

    1. Just like any other passionate hobby, you have tribalism (Mustang vs Camaro, 911 vs Corvette, digital vs vinyl) where we conflate our self identity with the things we consume. This I think is completely normal because it is one of the defining characteristics that drive human survival (seeking like minded individuals to form stronger teams). 

    2. The key to avoiding toxicity is respecting the others' tribal choice (exotic cables vs amazon specials), but the problem arises when we have evangelism: where an individual or group seeks to establish absolute positions like "I'm right, you're wrong", in lieu of "I like this, and it's OK if you don't like it."

    4. Or worse, we are unable to separate unimportant hobbies (home audio) with the truly important tribalism issues that affect our society (vaxxers vs anti-vaxxers). And so toxicity ensues because certain posters elevate the importance of the discussion from "let's agree to disagree" to "my sanity requires that I change your mind."

     

    Well stated HFH. Your 4th point is the best. Thanks for joining the community.

     

     

     

    22 minutes ago, Rt66indierock said:

     

    Give me ten British  Audiophile Companies.

     

    Even if I couldn't give you one, you haven't established the causal relationship between snake oil and a declining HiFi industry. You're taking the current facts, and imposing your unsupported reasoning on how we got here. 

     

     

     

    21 minutes ago, Archimago said:

     

    Hmmm, hang on @joelha, I'm just not sure who you're talking about when you said this:

     

    "Allowing audiophiles to post their subjective conclusions without proof brings them one step closer to accepting those who relate their religious experiences without proof. For them, science is god and a subjective conclusion upends their god and belief system. They fight hard so that doesn’t happen."

     

    Who are the "they" in this excerpt? Who are these "religious objective" people who worship this scientific "god"?

     

    Rather than looking at objective-leaning audiophiles as religious themselves or anti-religious as to desecrate the subjectivists' god, what about simply the idea that objective people get emotional and could fight hard at times because they have concerns about lies as it pertains to things that were engineered by humans using scientific principles? Since we're not naive to how the world works, one has to admit that advertising departments exist to create emotional impressions and sales people lie simply because there is/might be a financial motive.

     

    To me, much of the emotional force coming from the objective camp is more about recognition of money and psychological factors rather than any religious/spiritual dimension...

     

    Very interesting Archimago. Honest questions:

     

    Is there a larger "problem" if the objective people don't fight hard? In other words, what happens if they let a conversation go with people believing what they want? Will science eventually be relegated to second class? Or something completely different?

     

    I believe fear is a strong motivator for both the sub and obj groups. Objectives > Fear of attacks on science (end result unknown to me) and Subjectives > fear of losing a hobby or source of enjoyment. I don't believe either is rational, but that's just me.

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    41 minutes ago, emcdade said:

    They derive great satisfaction that blind tests and measurements say that their $9 Apple dongle DAC would be indistinguishable from a $100,000 DCS stack.

     

    I'm super interested where you read that at. Please post a link.

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