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The Counterintuitive Nature of Audio Sanity?
Willakan
post May 29 2012, 22:01
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Let's imagine I know nothing about audio. I have a nice computer, but I'm looking to get better sound for my music collection. In the UK, I might:

1. Read the brochure for the UK's largest hi-fi retailer, Richer Sounds, complete with some of the most incomprehensible subjective recommendations for each piece of equipment, courtesy of What Hifi?.
2. Head over to some PC enthusiast sites (which I trust), where I find, amidst reviews of computer components that they wouldn't dream of comparing outside the numbers, a professional reviewer complaining about the "turbidness" of an expensive sound card's output and other such subjective gems.
3. Go Googling and likely end up on a forum surrounded by people debating the different sounds of USB cables.

I did all three, give or take, upon first getting into audio. It wasn't so much that I weighed up any evidence or made a conscious decision to buy into BS: it never occurred to me that there was anything outside the BS. The BS was simply the facts of audio reproduction, unquestionable in their ubiquity.

I almost ended up buying an amplifier with a fatally flawed topology (God knows how it would measure) and some esoteric DAC with an overheating problem, both of which would have cost not inconsiderable sums of money. It strikes me that the only reason I didn't buy these things is due to the slightly obsessive amount of research I did, which most normal/sane/busy people would not undertake.

If you ask a random person with little interest in audio about, say, audiophile speaker cables, the response tends not to be one of "That's silly," but "Caring about differences that small is that silly - I bet they're really hard to hear." That there are audible differences between all these things (excluding the differences from things like impedance) is now taken as fact.

From that perspective, how do you see audio returning to sanity? Audiophilia has succeeded in not so much skewing the ridiculous "Woo vs Science" argument, but rendering it irrelevant to 90% of consumers by removing the choice as to which to believe. You believe what you are presented with, and by the time you are aware of other views you've very likely bought into (in a very literal sense!) the silly belief system, and a whole array of powerful cognitive drivers come into play to keep you onboard.

How *can* audio return to sanity when the *intuitive* position, for someone who is new to it, is one of "Everything sounds different and the best way to judge it is by sitting down and casually listening", reinforced at every possible turn by virtually everything?

By the time it transpires what a terrible position the intuitive one was, all is lost, if you'll pardon the hyperbole...communities that even approach HydrogenAudio's stance seem destined to remain a minority...
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skamp
post May 30 2012, 10:04
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QUOTE (Willakan @ May 29 2012, 23:01) *
If you ask a random person with little interest in audio about, say, audiophile speaker cables, the response tends not to be one of "That's silly," but "Caring about differences that small is that silly - I bet they're really hard to hear." That there are audible differences between all these things (excluding the differences from things like impedance) is now taken as fact.


That's still a pretty sane stance, in my opinion.

Whatever the field, you're likely to "do it wrong" if you're not educated about it (i.e. the chances that you do it right by pure luck are small). In the case of audio, I'd like to think that people would understand that purely subjective impressions do not qualify as "education". Surely they would get the sense that a technical field can't be treated like wine tasting.

The main problem for me is when pseudo-science is thrown into the mix. That requires even more education to sort out the bullshit. Personally, I've decided to simply not care either way when an explanation requires an engineering degree to understand it wink.gif


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honestguv
post May 30 2012, 11:38
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QUOTE (Willakan @ May 29 2012, 22:01) *
From that perspective, how do you see audio returning to sanity?

Have you considered that the luxury goods audiophile industry is perfectly sane and that the typical poster here is simply not part of the population their products are intended to appeal to? What would happen if the currently audiophile-focused home audio luxury goods industry switched back to focus on those with more of an interest in "high fidelity"? Clue: why did they switch away after the stereo boom?

Consumers have the choice of whether to get educated about a topic or not. If they opt not to then they get to choose who to believe/follow. When it comes to luxury goods it is hard to make a case for government funding for an educational program when the consequences would not be good for local employment/business/taxes/...

The pro-audio sector is not woo-free but it is at a level more in line with other consumer sectors like cameras, computers, etc... Going to a music shop rather than a home audio shop is a solution to many of the issues with the audiophile sector for those with more of an interest in music rather than possessing luxury goods.

Personally I find the audiophile industry interesting and audiophile beliefs useful in rapidly identifying people that probably are or are not worth listening to on technical topics.
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post May 30 2012, 14:12
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QUOTE (Willakan @ May 29 2012, 17:01) *
From that perspective, how do you see audio returning to sanity?


In order to return audio to sanity, I first cured myself by inventing ABX testing for audio, doing a bunch of tests and informing myself about technology and psychoacoustics well enough that it all started fitting together in my mind. I had already joined myself with a group of at least six like-minded people and we set forth to tell the rest of the world.

QUOTE
Audiophilia has succeeded in not so much skewing the ridiculous "Woo vs Science" argument, but rendering it irrelevant to 90% of consumers by removing the choice as to which to believe. You believe what you are presented with, and by the time you are aware of other views you've very likely bought into (in a very literal sense!) the silly belief system, and a whole array of powerful cognitive drivers come into play to keep you onboard.


Obviously, some place along the way you found this little hotbed of audio sanity. ;-)

QUOTE
How *can* audio return to sanity when the *intuitive* position, for someone who is new to it, is one of "Everything sounds different and the best way to judge it is by sitting down and casually listening", reinforced at every possible turn by virtually everything?


Education.

QUOTE
By the time it transpires what a terrible position the intuitive one was, all is lost, if you'll pardon the hyperbole...communities that even approach HydrogenAudio's stance seem destined to remain a minority...


I think that all that is needed is a big enough minority that favor the HA-style viewpoint that most people have at least got a chance to hear the truth before they are too far gone.
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julf
post May 30 2012, 15:41
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QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ May 30 2012, 15:12) *
I think that all that is needed is a big enough minority that favor the HA-style viewpoint that most people have at least got a chance to hear the truth before they are too far gone.

But as long as that minority only hangs out on HA, they are easy to ignore. I am happy to see that a small bunch of us seem to have steered CA into a slightly saner direction, head-fi is probably a lost case. :-/
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Willakan
post May 31 2012, 11:42
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@Skamp

The problem is that the stance is only superficially reasonable. Once you've taken it as a given that the problem with speaker cables, power cords, and magic topologies is not one of a complete lack of special functionality but a subtlety in functionality that is often overstated, you've already abandoned the correct position for subjective sillyness. Upon attempting to do research, your errors are likely to be amplified and consolidated by what you find (eg: I never knew DACs all sounded so different...)

@honestguv

I don't care so much about the silly-expensive not-really-about-sound audiophile goods, more their influence on the rest of the market. The high-end calls the tune, and everything filters down from there. Again, this wouldn't be a problem were it not for the fact that they monopolise the hobby of home audio reproduction. If they monopolised their own separate hobby, that would be fine, but audio reproduction has been largely subsumed by their belief system.

@Arnold

As regards education: that's the problem, IMHO. It is in the best interests of almost nobody to perform this education: the most hardcore objectivist-designed gear still carries recommendations from The Absolute Sound on the sales page. If anything, HydrogenAudio and others have become more marginalised over time, as those who participate in those communities are increasingly perceived as mad zealots who just want to stamp on all the proverbial sandcastles.
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post May 31 2012, 12:37
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QUOTE (julf @ May 30 2012, 10:41) *
QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ May 30 2012, 15:12) *
I think that all that is needed is a big enough minority that favor the HA-style viewpoint that most people have at least got a chance to hear the truth before they are too far gone.

But as long as that minority only hangs out on HA, they are easy to ignore. I am happy to see that a small bunch of us seem to have steered CA into a slightly saner direction, head-fi is probably a lost case. :-/



CA = Computer Audiophile?
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julf
post May 31 2012, 12:55
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QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ May 31 2012, 13:37) *
CA = Computer Audiophile?


Yes.
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zima
post May 31 2012, 23:57
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QUOTE (skamp @ May 30 2012, 10:04) *
Surely they would get the sense that a technical field can't be treated like wine tasting.

The main problem for me is when pseudo-science is thrown into the mix. That requires even more education to sort out the bullshit.

Now now, we are about audio, but don't give wine tasters any free pass tongue.gif
Price tag can change the way people experience wine, study shows [...] "Will these findings replicate among experts?" he asked. "We don't know, but my speculation is that, yes, they will. I expect that the enophiles will show more of these effects, because they really care about it."

(BTW, any similar studies out there for audio? Hopefully using quite ordinary audio equipment, maybe even... wink.gif )


QUOTE (honestguv @ May 30 2012, 11:38) *
Consumers have the choice of whether to get educated about a topic or not. If they opt not to then they get to choose who to believe/follow. When it comes to luxury goods it is hard to make a case for government funding for an educational program when the consequences would not be good for local employment/business/taxes/...

At which point it descends into fraud? (and many places do have regulation about standards of advertising, etc.)

And anyway, there's not much of a choice there: you can't possibly track every body of knowledge that you would consider quite important, if you started tracking it - probably we aren't able to keep an eye even on 1% of issues that form our comfy modern lives. That's what societies and so on are about.

When it comes to luxury goods... I do think it's worthy to exert an effort of resisting such primitive impulses (generally, positional or even veblen goods; especially vs. sustainability of our lifestyles).
"Good for local employment/business/taxes/..." feels like going in the direction of broken window fallacy. Imagine how we could benefit if all those efforts and resources weren't, really, wasted on spurious activities and pursuits.


QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ May 30 2012, 14:12) *
Obviously, some place along the way you found this little hotbed of audio sanity. ;-)

Yeah, now I wonder - how did I find this place, anyway? (must... resist... going through some of the archived old HDDs, to possibly find browser history from the week of registration)

1. Hm, probably thanks to ~promotion of foobar2000 by one regional tech blog, since its very beginnings at the turn of 2002/2003 - and I believe fb2k made HA its ~home quite early on?

...ironically enough, it was largely promoted there on the basis of being better in audio quality (yeah, with the usual lossy encodes of decade ago, and typically poor audio hardware of ~kids frequenting that tech blog), if I recall correctly - "yeah, maybe it looks like notepad, but it sounds better than Winamp" (well, how Winamp was in a bit of a turmoil with version 3, back then, didn't help its image). Heck, the technical (audio pipeline) aspects were possibly given undue importance also in early ~"official" fb2k PR, IIRC?

2. Perhaps also partly via interest in Musepack (after stumbling at files encoded in it)


QUOTE (Willakan @ May 31 2012, 11:42) *
If anything, HydrogenAudio and others have become more marginalised over time, as those who participate in those communities are increasingly perceived as mad zealots who just want to stamp on all the proverbial sandcastles.

So... how do we promote ourselves?
And, actually, many companies / manufacturers should be onboard, I imagine - those promoting "inferior" lossy audio downloads, or portable players and mobile phones for audio playback (why aren't they? Maybe all this is not such a problem after all?)


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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Jun 1 2012, 00:32
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QUOTE (julf @ May 31 2012, 07:55) *
QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ May 31 2012, 13:37) *
CA = Computer Audiophile?


Yes.


Got some heavy golden ears over there. Do they have anti-ABX rules?

This post has been edited by Arnold B. Krueger: Jun 1 2012, 00:40
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Wombat
post Jun 1 2012, 01:37
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QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ Jun 1 2012, 01:32) *
Got some heavy golden ears over there. Do they have anti-ABX rules

Nonetheless sometimes it makes fun to read over there. At least they talk about special releases of recordings and compare them.
These golden ears eat themself when you read enough. It can happen someone feels the superiority of 24bit all the time but also find some really lousy sounding records extremely resolving!

On the other hand there are absolutely capable members with serious engineering background that know their stuff and math, some to support their products directly there.

And there are some folks like "Julf" that has some nice discussions over there that lead to some concrete results. Even an abx test was realised here:
http://www.computeraudiophile.com/blogs/ju...d-kiloherz-165/
Over all i lurk there since a while now and often find something worth to read or just watch what new gear is around.
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Canar
post Jun 1 2012, 03:03
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QUOTE (zima @ May 31 2012, 15:57) *
1. Hm, probably thanks to ~promotion of foobar2000 by one regional tech blog, since its very beginnings at the turn of 2002/2003 - and I believe fb2k made HA its ~home quite early on?

...ironically enough, it was largely promoted there on the basis of being better in audio quality (yeah, with the usual lossy encodes of decade ago, and typically poor audio hardware of ~kids frequenting that tech blog), if I recall correctly - "yeah, maybe it looks like notepad, but it sounds better than Winamp" (well, how Winamp was in a bit of a turmoil with version 3, back then, didn't help its image). Heck, the technical (audio pipeline) aspects were possibly given undue importance also in early ~"official" fb2k PR, IIRC?
There were a bunch of features foobar2000 had right from (near) the start. Advanced dithering, Replaygain, all-float audio pipeline, sane/multiple DSP architecture. Nowadays most software does this. However, the position around these parts has generally focused on what is audible. foobar2000 was a seed planted in the fertile soil of this community. The first private alphas were available to a cabal of users here. It's been hosted on HA servers since the first public versions. You're correct to mention Winamp3, because without the W3 team rejecting Peter's suggestions for improvement, the chances are really good there would have been no foobar2000.


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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Jun 1 2012, 11:00
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QUOTE (Wombat @ May 31 2012, 20:37) *
QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ Jun 1 2012, 01:32) *
Got some heavy golden ears over there. Do they have anti-ABX rules

Nonetheless sometimes it makes fun to read over there.


Unclear - do they have anti-ABX rules?

This post has been edited by Arnold B. Krueger: Jun 1 2012, 11:00
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2Bdecided
post Jun 1 2012, 11:53
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QUOTE (Willakan @ May 29 2012, 22:01) *
That there are audible differences between all these things (excluding the differences from things like impedance) is now taken as fact.
You say that, but it's kind of irrelevant when most people have stopped buying pure hi-fis.

It's kind of ironic. Back when there were huge sonic differences between most pieces of equipment, review magazines of the day barely mentioned them! (all the archive of gramophone magazine are available on line - take a look at the 1960s hi-fi reviews!). Manufacturers strove for sonic transparency, but the technology of the time made it difficult.

Then today, when lots of stuff really does sound the same, and even more importantly some expensive stuff doesn't aim for sonic transparency, we get differences invented for the samey stuff, yet idiotic design choices for the expensive stuff are excused (because they pay for adverts!).

But it doesn't matter. Because normal people just aren't buying this stuff any more. And you could speculate which is cause, and which is effect.

Cheers,
David.
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honestguv
post Jun 1 2012, 12:15
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QUOTE (zima @ May 31 2012, 23:57) *
At which point it descends into fraud? (and many places do have regulation about standards of advertising, etc.)

Is telling children fairy stories fraud? Is telling adults fairy stories about luxury goods fraud? Both get pleasure from the fairy stories and the educated population recognise them for what they are and so there would appear to be no real problems. As far as I am aware, prosecutions for fraud in the audiophile industry have tended to be for things like claiming "made in America" rather than "less distortion". Some adverts have been pulled for the latter but I don't think this is viewed as fraud but more failing to get away with the usual BS in adverts.

As others have said, the key is to get educated. Learning what the penalties are, if any, for making objectively false statements about home audio equipment is useful. The worst offences tend to be committed by third parties like reviewers and not the manufacturers themselves.

QUOTE (zima @ May 31 2012, 23:57) *
And anyway, there's not much of a choice there: you can't possibly track every body of knowledge that you would consider quite important, if you started tracking it - probably we aren't able to keep an eye even on 1% of issues that form our comfy modern lives. That's what societies and so on are about.

There is a distinction between home audio as a hobby where the individual is "educated" and a casual consumer who knows they are uneducated. I can see no case for society to help the former with the purchase of luxury goods but prior to the audiophile phenomenon entering the mainstream in the mid to late 70s efforts were being made to help the latter with, for example, requiring less misleading specifications of power output for amplifiers. Then it all went quiet when thick, one-way, gold plated speaker cables started appearing in the shops on the high street.

Western society has evolved since then to require the consumer to be more educated in sorting out the misleading information coming at them from all directions. There is an upside as well as downside.

QUOTE (zima @ May 31 2012, 23:57) *
When it comes to luxury goods... I do think it's worthy to exert an effort of resisting such primitive impulses (generally, positional or even veblen goods; especially vs. sustainability of our lifestyles).
"Good for local employment/business/taxes/..." feels like going in the direction of broken window fallacy. Imagine how we could benefit if all those efforts and resources weren't, really, wasted on spurious activities and pursuits.

After the stereo boom, the home audio companies in the UK that held onto a "high fidelity" approach, favoured by most of the posters here, largely ceased trading although quite a few of the brands survived in other hands. Whereas companies like Linn and Naim that embraced the new "audiophile" approach were successful and grew providing pleasure to their consumers, jobs for their employees, paying taxes, etc... The price versus performance of home audio equipment doesn't really matter to society because they are luxury goods. But jobs and taxes do matter.
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DonP
post Jun 1 2012, 13:31
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QUOTE (Willakan @ May 29 2012, 17:01) *
If you ask a random person with little interest in audio about, say, audiophile speaker cables, the response tends not to be one of "That's silly," but "Caring about differences that small is that silly - I bet they're really hard to hear." That there are audible differences between all these things (excluding the differences from things like impedance) is now taken as fact.


There seems to be some of this in lots of fields. Wine was mentioned. From what I've heard in class (yes, wine class), back in the day when the premier French estates were making their reputations, the high end wines were going for maybe 20% more than the run of the mill (but competent) stuff. The spread since then is supply and demand and marketing.
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Wombat
post Jun 1 2012, 14:52
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QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ Jun 1 2012, 12:00) *
Unclear - do they have anti-ABX rules?

Hehe, no anti-abx rule i know of but you can try to do ABX over there. Good luck, this may only make you one of the deaf over there if it happens you donīt hear blacker blacks. Others i saw elsewhere posting but lost credibility still feel comfortable to post over there. So when it comes to realistic, proven differences in audibility, better look elsewhere.
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Willakan
post Jun 1 2012, 18:08
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QUOTE (2Bdecided @ Jun 1 2012, 11:53) *
You say that, but it's kind of irrelevant when most people have stopped buying pure hi-fis.

It's kind of ironic. Back when there were huge sonic differences between most pieces of equipment, review magazines of the day barely mentioned them! (all the archive of gramophone magazine are available on line - take a look at the 1960s hi-fi reviews!). Manufacturers strove for sonic transparency, but the technology of the time made it difficult.

Then today, when lots of stuff really does sound the same, and even more importantly some expensive stuff doesn't aim for sonic transparency, we get differences invented for the samey stuff, yet idiotic design choices for the expensive stuff are excused (because they pay for adverts!).

But it doesn't matter. Because normal people just aren't buying this stuff any more. And you could speculate which is cause, and which is effect.

Cheers,
David.


I think we're seeing/going to see a resurgence of some kind of popular hi-fi in the form of headphones: celebrity-branded headphone gear may not be exactly great value for money or provide the best sound quality but it's a considerable leap over earbuds, and very large quantities of them are selling.

The question is whether such an influx of people into the hobby of audio reproduction is going to swing the consensus (considering that they tend to be somewhat skeptical about hi-fi in general, as the target market for these headphones seems to be those who have somewhat neglected sound quality up to this point through this skepticism) in a good direction or whether such individuals will merely be absorbed into the morass.
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