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We shouldn't be able to do this with sighted subjective listening, but we did...


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A friend and I recently received two audiophile things from a third party to test. (At this point I am not free to tell you what they were, not even whether they were hardware or software.) What I *will* tell you is that doubts have been expressed in some quarters as to whether these audiophile things can create a sound quality difference.

 

The two things were designated only by two different letters, and the question was simply which we preferred.

 

My friend and I each arrived independently at the same conclusion regarding preference. So far unremarkable: 50% chance of that. But in each case the preference was quite strong; second place wasn't close. Well maybe it's the easy answer - maybe one is louder? Nope, volume matched.

 

However, one of these things was buggy and had audible, unpleasant distortion. Hah, now we've got the obvious reason for preferring the other one!

 

Well no, actually - both of us strongly preferred the buggy one. Each of us thought what we heard *through* the distortion sounded much clearer and more accurate than what we heard from the non-buggy version.

 

So - thoughts, anyone?

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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So - thoughts, anyone?

 

Many people prefer the sound of a little added "Jitter" or extra even order harmonics, even with solid state gear .

It can often indicate a system that is less than transparent. A little added "Jitter" for instance may help to overcome the effects of wideband low level noise masking very low level higher order harmonic information by appearing to enhance HF detail.

 

How a Digital Audio file sounds, or a Digital Video file looks, is governed to a large extent by the Power Supply area. All that Identical Checksums gives is the possibility of REGENERATING the file to close to that of the original file.

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Many people prefer the sound of a little added "Jitter" or extra even order harmonics, even with solid state gear .

It can often indicate a system that is less than transparent. A little added "Jitter" for instance may help to overcome the effects of wideband low level noise masking very low level higher order harmonic information by appearing to enhance HF detail.

 

It is possible the thing we both strongly preferred had more jitter. However, I will say the audible distortion from the buggy version was not a "little" anything, it was absolutely unmissable to the point one had to make an effort to listen past it.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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Well tubes are an example of distortion that many prefer to fidelity. So what sort of distortion is this? LP is another example. Listen past distortion, surface noise and clicks/ pops yet still find it your preference.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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A friend and I recently received two audiophile things from a third party to test. (At this point I am not free to tell you what they were, not even whether they were hardware or software.) What I *will* tell you is that doubts have been expressed in some quarters as to whether these audiophile things can create a sound quality difference.

 

...

 

Well no, actually - both of us strongly preferred the buggy one. Each of us thought what we heard *through* the distortion sounded much clearer and more accurate than what we heard from the non-buggy version.

 

So - thoughts, anyone?

 

Ah ... more information? Kinda hard to answer a question without knowing anything about the type of "distortion" you are hearing, or even what type of music you are listening to :)

 

Generally I've seen a number of situations in which equipment can sound to "clinical" even though it measures perfectly. Either that or you are masking other problems. But for example LP and tubes often sound terrific even though have more distortion.

 

Let me guess: a new positive current feedback amp with a VFET transistor and the feedback level was set too high? :cool:

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Distortion was something like occasional clicks and pops plus a very obvious "flutter" with steady tones that was particularly evident to me in the midrange. Neither was the least euphonic in any way.

 

Edit: Type of music - for me, a lot of Shadowfax lately. At least from DR values and my ears, it seems to be well recorded.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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Distortion was something like occasional clicks and pops plus a very obvious "flutter" with steady tones that was particularly evident to me in the midrange. Neither was the least euphonic in any way.

 

 

Except your expressing a preference indicates exactly that it was euphonic. Flutter on non steady tones might well sound flattering, soundstage enhanced, and remove sharp edges. If the flutter is continuously occurring though only sometimes separately perceptible that is likely why the euphony. Then you ignore clicks.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Yes, more information please. When you say "much clearer and more accurate" can you give us examples of this please? Sometimes more jitter/noise can be perceived as a more detailed sound - I would call it over-etched, however.

 

Imaging/soundstage was more believable, "solid," "coherent," "immediate." Re clarity, instruments sounded more "like themselves" to me.

 

I've always hated artificial detail. When comparing USB cables, I thought a widely praised Furutech cable had that quality, and thus rated it lower than another cable a third its price.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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Except your expressing a preference indicates exactly that it was euphonic. Flutter on non steady tones might well sound flattering, soundstage enhanced, and remove sharp edges. If the flutter is continuously occurring though only sometimes separately perceptible that is likely why the euphony. Then you ignore clicks.

 

If you think hearing Chuck Greenberg's (late lamented Shadowfax member) beautiful, clear alto sax sound like it was being played underwater was pleasant, you are very much mistaken. When I say "buggy," I mean obviously defective.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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Imaging/soundstage was more believable, "solid," "coherent," "immediate." Re clarity, instruments sounded more "like themselves" to me.

 

I've always hated artificial detail. When comparing USB cables, I thought a widely praised Furutech cable had that quality, and thus rated it lower than another cable a third its price.

Sounds like just the right flutter for you. That's the kind of effect you might expect. So is this flutter due to some genuine timing or variable speed of playback?

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Imaging/soundstage was more believable, "solid," "coherent," "immediate." Re clarity, instruments sounded more "like themselves" to me.

 

I've always hated artificial detail. When comparing USB cables, I thought a widely praised Furutech cable had that quality, and thus rated it lower than another cable a third its price.

Great, that puts it in perspective & shows me that you are not mistaking some distortion for more accuracy (never doubted this but always best to ask)

So - I'm not sure what your question is? You are hearing past some obvious distortions which are uncorrelated with the music signal - it's not that unusual. The much more difficult distortions to "hear past" are signal correlated ones - they can't as easily be separated from the music signal

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Do you think the distortion was causing more vibrato? that might make it preferable?

 

You are saying that you preferred the "buggy" sound until you knew it was buggy, what about after?

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To explain a bit more: It may be confusing that I have said both that instruments sounded clearer and that the alto sax sounded as if it was underwater.

 

On Shadowfax's albums the drums can sound almost shockingly immediate, as if they're in the room with you. At the very same time the underwater sax was burbling away, those drums were Right There. So if you could make yourself ignore the obviously distorted sax, the drums were just as they should be. By contrast, the version without the obviously distorted sax portrayed the drum sound as less dramatic, slightly duller, a bit "rounded," like a nice audio presentation but not Right There in the room.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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Do you think the distortion was causing more vibrato? that might make it preferable?

 

You are saying that you preferred the "buggy" sound until you knew it was buggy, what about after?

 

As I think you might understand from my immediately preceding comment, there was no "until." The distortion was quite "in your face"-level obvious from the beginning. It was what could be heard *aside from* the obvious distortions that sounded better.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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To explain a bit more: It may be confusing that I have said both that instruments sounded clearer and that the alto sax sounded as if it was underwater.

 

On Shadowfax's albums the drums can sound almost shockingly immediate, as if they're in the room with you. At the very same time the underwater sax was burbling away, those drums were Right There. So if you could make yourself ignore the obviously distorted sax, the drums were just as they should be. By contrast, the version without the obviously distorted sax portrayed the drum sound as less dramatic, slightly duller, a bit "rounded," like a nice audio presentation but not Right There in the room.

OK, now you have confused me - I though ALL instruments "sounded more like themselves"

Without hearing what you're hearing I don't see any way of remotely judging this

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As I think you might understand from my immediately preceding comment, there was no "until." The distortion was quite "in your face"-level obvious from the beginning. It was what could be heard *aside from* the obvious distortions that sounded better.

 

OK so let's say that device "B" was better but also produced distortions (buggy) and when fixed would be even better? If that's correct, then I'd say the improvement in one area outweighed the distortion in another area?

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Well no, actually - both of us strongly preferred the buggy one. Each of us thought what we heard *through* the distortion sounded much clearer and more accurate than what we heard from the non-buggy version.

 

So - thoughts, anyone?

 

That's why I do my own tests.

 

:P

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OK, now you have confused me - I though ALL instruments "sounded more like themselves"

Without hearing what you're hearing I don't see any way of remotely judging this

 

Nope, remember I said there was an obvious flutter in steady tones, particularly noticeable in the midrange. Those steady midrange tones were produced by instruments of course, so those instruments were obviously distorted. But on the other hand, as I noted, the drums for example (not an instrument that produces steady midrange tones) sounded much more real.

 

Yes, I understand it's probably impossible to imagine just exactly how this sounded. I've never heard precisely these sorts of distortions (combined incongruously with excellent sound otherwise) before myself.

 

My point is first that both I and someone else listening independently had the same evaluation, that the buggy version had the better sound apart from the distortions; and second, that this seems quite unlikely to occur by coincidence. If we'd both preferred the version that was *not* obviously distorted, this would be completely understandable. The fact that we both much preferred the buggy version says to me that version may in fact be doing something better.

 

So it's not merely that I preferred it, but that both of us did, and quite strongly, that has to be explained.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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OK so let's say that device "B" was better but also produced distortions (buggy) and when fixed would be even better? If that's correct, then I'd say the improvement in one area outweighed the distortion in another area?

 

That's what I think could be happening - we both could be hearing that device or software version B was in fact better, and would presumably demonstrate its superiority if/when the bugs were worked out.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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Well no, actually - both of us strongly preferred the buggy one. Each of us thought what we heard *through* the distortion sounded much clearer and more accurate than what we heard from the non-buggy version.

 

So - thoughts, anyone?

 

It is hard to say anything without more information.

 

However, it is my observation that people like "colored" sound. It is obvious with something like Bose speakers that will have more takers from the general population than something like Genelec speakers. Even among audiophiles, I'm always surprised they prefer the pops and crackles of a vinyl setup as opposed to studio monitors that are more sterile.

 

It will be interesting to learn more with the big reveal, should that be forthcoming.

Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world - Martin Luther

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I'm wondering whether this is just another case of our "instinctual" ability to listen past noise to get to signal. Same as the crack of the twig in the forest. Put differently, because of the distraction of the noise your ears heard the true signal as if it were more real (without the noise you would have heard more of the imperfections in the original signal, those imperfections making it sound less "real" when you hear it "without the noise").

 

I have often wondered whether that is part of why people enjoy listening to records -- the slight clicks and pops are more "real" and immediate than the underlying music, so they fool us into thinking the whole thing is more "real."

 

A similar situation occurs when you watch video. If you look at a still image of a frame of video, you suddenly notice all its imperfections and its insufficient resolution. Put it in motion and our brain substitutes the "reality" of the motion for the imperfection of the indivudual frame.

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It is hard to say anything without more information.

 

However, it is my observation that people like "colored" sound. It is obvious with something like Bose speakers that will have more takers from the general population than something like Genelec speakers. Even among audiophiles, I'm always surprised they prefer the pops and crackles of a vinyl setup as opposed to studio monitors that are more sterile.

 

It will be interesting to learn more with the big reveal, should that be forthcoming.

 

I don't feel as if I like colored sound, but then I would say that, wouldn't I? :) However, I'll note two things:

 

- I've seen very, very few people refer to my speakers as colored, and no one I can recall has ever described my amp and pre-amp that way. So insofar as my equipment suggests my preferences, I'd say it suggests I prefer what others have often described as accurate.

 

- I've heard the system of the other person involved, and would not say he prefers colored sound either (but then I would say that, wouldn't I? :) ).

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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Anything with distortion as obvious as you described is surely colored. It far more likely the other less obvious effects are to your liking than it is you are hearing some genuine better fidelity marred by imperfections. Especially as the effects go away with the distortion. It isn't impossible simply unlikely.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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I'm wondering whether this is just another case of our "instinctual" ability to listen past noise to get to signal. Same as the crack of the twig in the forest. Put differently, because of the distraction of the noise your ears heard the true signal as if it were more real (without the noise you would have heard more of the imperfections in the original signal, those imperfections making it sound less "real" when you hear it "without the noise").

 

I have often wondered whether that is part of why people enjoy listening to records -- the slight clicks and pops are more "real" and immediate than the underlying music, so they fool us into thinking the whole thing is more "real."

 

A similar situation occurs when you watch video. If you look at a still image of a frame of video, you suddenly notice all its imperfections and its insufficient resolution. Put it in motion and our brain substitutes the "reality" of the motion for the imperfection of the indivudual frame.

 

I like my records cleaned. :)

 

The "distraction" theory is one that occurred to me, and the proof of that pudding will come if/when the bugs are worked out.

 

However, those drums are quite dramatic (if you have Tidal/Roon, listen to Shadowfax's "Another Country"), so I don't know that distraction is a good explanation there.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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