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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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    1 hour ago, HiFiHeard said:

     "I like this, and it's OK if you don't like it."



    I think that is a different issue.  Preferences are fine, tho worthy of discussion.  e.g. I can discuss or explain why I like some tube sound (but not too much); same for why I like the visual esthetic of Accuphase gear (panel layout and color combo), or the ergonomics of older Audio Research gear (the knobs & switches) - BTW I own The latter but not the former brand.


    Likewise I can explain why I prefer certain tradeoffs over others (e.g. why I switched from Vandersteen to Magneplanar - it took 3-4 months of intensive listening every night...)


    But what one likes with respect to SQ is not what is involved when someone is responding to to factors that do not affect SQ.  And that is why people od actual listening tests - to rule out extraneous factors.


    Now, if someone likes the look of component A enough to accept a lower SQ than for the 'uglier' component B, that is different.  And I'm fine with that choice, but they can expect some contradictory posts if they make a claim that simply cannot be true, or is highly, highly unlikely.

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    22 minutes ago, Ralf11 said:

    Now, if someone likes the look of component A enough to accept a lower SQ than for the 'uglier' component B, that is different.  And I'm fine with that choice, but they can expect some contradictory posts if they make a claim that simply cannot be true, or is highly, highly unlikely.


    Mostly my push back involves unsupported manufacturer claims.

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    44 minutes ago, emcdade said:

    "The iPhone dongle from Apple measures exceptionally well as a DAC. So yeah, "doesn't sound terrible and just works" for sure. But I'd also add, "will sound the same as high priced, well-engineered DACs."


    So this is something that could easily be blind tested for. Then the follow on question:


    If it's inexpensive and simply measures well under various aspects that represent a well-engineered DAC then it is what it is.

    The measurements I've seen paint the Apple Dongle as a competent traveling HP DAC but it's not top tier.  I wouldn't go get an AQ USB HP dongle over the Apple given the measurements. 


    So I wouldn't go as far as that poster. 


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    2 minutes ago, emcdade said:

    I understand the sentiment.


    Wouldn't it be more rewarding to be a crusader for the consumer if it were directed at something that actually affected people's lives?  For example predatory lending, credit cards, etc.?


    Plenty of advocates for those things. I like to advocate in areas that I have expertise in. As a network engineer that happens to be frame/packet/segment and understanding how buffered systems work.


    If I were a banker or economist then my efforts would indeed be better spent on predatory lending etc...



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    25 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    If that's what you believe then you're a larger problem than purely objectivists. For the most part they don't care about personal preference. You seem to have a problem with someone saying it "sounds good" when it measures bad. Who cares if something sounds good to someone. 


    Some people like the 2nd harmonic skirt that some devices, by nature of their topology, produce. Tube pre's and Amps come to mind. I've never had an issue with that. Obviously that's going to change some outputs on the speaker/HP side. 


    If I have 8 or 9 measurements and I have a $10,000 and a $500 piece of gear and they are neck and neck with good results. Well all that means is someone figured out how to do it for $500. 

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    Just now, kennyb123 said:


    There are plenty of opposing view expressed amongst the subjectivist side.  In fact, we welcome such views.  For example, some might argue a particular component sounds better with power supply A while another prefers power supply B - or one might prefer running AudioLinux while another prefers Euphony.  There's a recognition amongst this group that we each hear things differently and we each have different listening preferences.  There's no anger or bitterness.  These folks are just having fun...


    ... at least until the schoolyard bullies show up to try to spoil the fun by mocking us and demeaning us and repeated telling us that we can't be hearing what we're hearing - or that we are just pissing our money away. 


    There's a civility gap - and until that can be acknowledged by the side behaving in uncivil manner, things will never get better.


    Until you recognize to what degree this gap exists for both sides, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

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