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Hifi/audio myths

Welwynnick

Distinguished Member
One of the things you can look for is a dominance of low order over high order distortion harmonics. This is usually preferred, and reflects the spectral composition of most instruments.

Amplifiers with very low total distortion often have a low level of low order harmonics, but don't have an EVEN LOWER level of high order, and they're the ones that tend to sound analytical and un-musical.

Nick
 

oscroft

Member
One of the things you can look for is a dominance of low order over high order distortion harmonics. This is usually preferred, and reflects the spectral composition of most instruments.
But it would be more accurate to have no harmonic distortion and let the instruments reflect their own spectral compositions.
 

oscroft

Member
Although I agree to some extent it can go some way explaining why it does.
Oh, definitely, yes.

I actually like techie stuff like measurements, and I love to understand why things sound the way they do - I find all the stuff about DAC oversampling and filtering fascinating, for example.

My only beef is with apparent claims that measurements tell us how things sound.

You might measure electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of 680 nanometres - but that doesn't give you the faintest idea what red looks like. Sure, once you've seen red, you can then know what 680 nanometres looks like, but you have to have done the seeing first.

But what if you have a mix of 680, 550 and 410 nanometres? Even if you've seen all three individually before, you can't tell what the mix looks like unless you've seen that actual mix before. You might get some idea of what part of the spectrum a mix falls in, like whether it's likely to be more greenish or orangey, but that's about all.

With audio, you can read a measurements analysis, and it contains all sorts of different things, all different in some degree to all other similar equipment - but not remotely complete. And while you might, for example, have heard the difference between specific individual measured characteristics, you can't know what the equipment sounds like by examining the complex (and very incomplete) mix of measurements.

You can get some feel for what some general things like, say, odd or even harmonic distortion are going to contribute to a sound, but it won't give you anything like an accurate idea of what, say, an individual amplifier sounds like.

Very experienced people who have listened extensively to a very wide range of equipment, have compared their listening experience to measurements, and understand the measurements properly, will have a better idea of what specific measurements are going to contribute to an overall sound - but they have to have that listening experience first. The great majority of us simply do not have that experience, and measurements can tell us very little about what something sounds like.
 

Khankat

Active Member
Oh, definitely, yes.

I actually like techie stuff like measurements, and I love to understand why things sound the way they do - I find all the stuff about DAC oversampling and filtering fascinating, for example.

My only beef is with apparent claims that measurements tell us how things sound.

You might measure electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of 680 nanometres - but that doesn't give you the faintest idea what red looks like. Sure, once you've seen red, you can then know what 680 nanometres looks like, but you have to have done the seeing first.

But what if you have a mix of 680, 550 and 410 nanometres? Even if you've seen all three individually before, you can't tell what the mix looks like unless you've seen that actual mix before. You might get some idea of what part of the spectrum a mix falls in, like whether it's likely to be more greenish or orangey, but that's about all.

With audio, you can read a measurements analysis, and it contains all sorts of different things, all different in some degree to all other similar equipment - but not remotely complete. And while you might, for example, have heard the difference between specific individual measured characteristics, you can't know what the equipment sounds like by examining the complex (and very incomplete) mix of measurements.

You can get some feel for what some general things like, say, odd or even harmonic distortion are going to contribute to a sound, but it won't give you anything like an accurate idea of what, say, an individual amplifier sounds like.

Very experienced people who have listened extensively to a very wide range of equipment, have compared their listening experience to measurements, and understand the measurements properly, will have a better idea of what specific measurements are going to contribute to an overall sound - but they have to have that listening experience first. The great majority of us simply do not have that experience, and measurements can tell us very little about what something sounds like.
Like you, I enjoy reading the tech and spec. But what decides matters for me are cost and whether I like the way a piece of equipment performs, how it sounds. There's no substitute for auditioning.
 

dannnielll

Well-known Member
Like you, I enjoy reading the tech and spec. But what decides matters for me are cost and whether I like the way a piece of equipment performs, how it sounds. There's no substitute for auditioning.
Two linked ideas.. life is short and we cannot experience everything ,so looking at graphs etc is a shorthand way of cutting through the dross... But as Oscroft says seeing or hearing is believing.. His comments brought me back some 50 years when I was a first year university physics student,learning to use those theodolite type spectroscopes ..looking through it I could see colours ,but my answers / calculations were wrong . The demonstrator looked in, saw I was looking at the internal reflection of a colour,moved the telescope onto the line... Once seen ,you always know what to look for in future. The same with audio.
 

T N Args

Standard Member
Oh, definitely, yes.

I actually like techie stuff like measurements, and I love to understand why things sound the way they do - I find all the stuff about DAC oversampling and filtering fascinating, for example.

My only beef is with apparent claims that measurements tell us how things sound.

You might measure electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of 680 nanometres - but that doesn't give you the faintest idea what red looks like. Sure, once you've seen red, you can then know what 680 nanometres looks like, but you have to have done the seeing first.

But what if you have a mix of 680, 550 and 410 nanometres? Even if you've seen all three individually before, you can't tell what the mix looks like unless you've seen that actual mix before. You might get some idea of what part of the spectrum a mix falls in, like whether it's likely to be more greenish or orangey, but that's about all.

With audio, you can read a measurements analysis, and it contains all sorts of different things, all different in some degree to all other similar equipment - but not remotely complete. And while you might, for example, have heard the difference between specific individual measured characteristics, you can't know what the equipment sounds like by examining the complex (and very incomplete) mix of measurements.

You can get some feel for what some general things like, say, odd or even harmonic distortion are going to contribute to a sound, but it won't give you anything like an accurate idea of what, say, an individual amplifier sounds like.

Very experienced people who have listened extensively to a very wide range of equipment, have compared their listening experience to measurements, and understand the measurements properly, will have a better idea of what specific measurements are going to contribute to an overall sound - but they have to have that listening experience first. The great majority of us simply do not have that experience, and measurements can tell us very little about what something sounds like.
I really don't accept this as regards measurements, and it is much too dismissive i.e. "you can't know what the equipment sounds like". Remember, audio playback is a reproduction exercise, so if the measurement of deviation from original is below audibility thresholds, that tells us pretty much everything about "what it is going to sound like".

As for your "very experienced listeners", if their listening is sighted, then it is basically tosh. And sighted is the absolute default mode for these people.

It's funny: getting people to understand this is almost like asking them to change religion, instead of simply learn. And who put that religion in their heads? The reviewer and sales industries.
 

oscroft

Member
I really don't accept this as regards measurements, and it is much too dismissive i.e. "you can't know what the equipment sounds like". Remember, audio playback is a reproduction exercise, so if the measurement of deviation from original is below audibility thresholds, that tells us pretty much everything about "what it is going to sound like".

As for your "very experienced listeners", if their listening is sighted, then it is basically tosh. And sighted is the absolute default mode for these people.

It's funny: getting people to understand this is almost like asking them to change religion, instead of simply learn. And who put that religion in their heads? The reviewer and sales industries.
You might be surprised that I'm largely going to agree with you here. Reading back over my comments, I can see I've mixed up thoughts on human perception with practical aspects of audio equipment reviewing.

Here I'll just address some practical aspects, and I'll come back to the human perception angle later when I have more time - I specifically want to answer the 'so if the measurement of deviation from original is below audibility thresholds, that tells us pretty much everything about "what it is going to sound like"' thing.

When I was talking about very experienced listeners, all I meant was that our chance of matching measurements to sounds improves with our experience - well, theoretically at least. And, more, that without sufficient experience, our chance is effectively zero.

A specific harmonic appearing on a measurement? You have no chance whatsoever of knowing what that might sound like unless you have experience of listening to that same harmonic on multiple different pieces of equipment. Whether those with that experience actually will hear it objectively - whatever that means - is a very different question. And I'm well aware that there are very experienced professionals out there who seem to become more divorced from reality with every note they hear.

And I definitely did not mean to suggest that we should make our buying choices based on what reviewers say, no matter what their experience. And yes, sighted comparisons are tosh.

Even without following the scientific and statistical evidence, I know from my own experience how subjective my own listening can be. I can compare two things and clearly prefer one over the other. Then, another day, I can't hear a difference. Later still, I might prefer the other one. Even knowing and accepting how unreliable I am in sighted comparisons, I'm still unreliable in sighted comparisons.

On that score, I'm still amazed at the arrogance of some reviewers who claim their hearing is so good they're above the need for any kind of blind test because they can put all their possible biases aside and listen objectively. When someone says that, I immediately conclude that they're not worth listening to.

Yes, the gold standard is the double blind test. But it's very hard for us ordinary folk to achieve (and the professionals who could do it won't, because they don't want to show they're just human like the rest of us).

Over the years, whenever I've had the help of similarly obsessive friends, I've done a number of single blind tests. One person changes connections to the equipment under test, and the other listens without knowing what they're listening to. That's still fraught with potential errors, but it's the best I've managed.

So what should we do? I think the best is to accept our limitations and just listen as best as we can - and choose whatever makes us happiest. And even if there's a placebo effect, I'm ahead of many people because I know placebos really do work :cool:

Anyway, I find this a stimulating conversation - will talk more later.
 
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drummerman

Active Member
I read somewhere that our actual memories for sound apparently are very short term. After that we simply recall memories from subsequent occasions where we quoted what we think we remember ...

... or something like that 🙃
 

Welwynnick

Distinguished Member
I read somewhere that our actual memories for sound apparently are very short term. After that we simply recall memories from subsequent occasions where we quoted what we think we remember ...

... or something like that 🙃
Absolutely. Some people insist that you have to listen to something for a long before you can assimilate the whole experience. I don't agree at all.

Ten years ago I took all this very seriously and set about doing player and amplifier comparisons and modifications. In particular I was the first person to (publicly) replace Meridian switch mode power supplies with linear supplies. I had a modified 861V2 vs a stock 861V4. To begin with they were superficially similar, and extended listening didn't help.

Then I changed tack and tried playing a very short clip over and again, switching backwards and forwards lots and lots and lots of times. The differences between them were then laid bare, it was like broad daylight, and very easy to distinguish, and what was once the best thing I'd ever heard (the stock 861V4) became unacceptably grotty. Of course, having very transparent electrostatic speakers helped as well....

My point is we don't remember sounds well, and hoping to remember what A sounds like after you've heard B in an ABX DBT is rather optimistic.

Nick
 

Ron Hilditch

Active Member
So we are actually discussing the hobby intelligently, and your response is "stop interrupting my uninformed retail therapy." Way to go. I can't imagine what you are doing in this thread. What were you hoping we would sell to you? :p
Think you must be on irony blockers!
 

Numpty112233

Active Member
I read somewhere that our actual memories for sound apparently are very short term. After that we simply recall memories from subsequent occasions where we quoted what we think we remember ...

... or something like that 🙃
Define "very short term"
Minutes? Days?
In many respects this could well be true, however one recent experience contradicts this. I had Monitor Audio Silver 8 speakers on my system for a couple of years before temporarily swapping them for MA Gold 300 speakers. "Temporarily" was maybe 6 months before swapping back and I was genuinely surprised that I instantly recognised its unique sound signature like a long lost friend, like recognising a particular flavour I haven't had for years or smell.
True it was me who changed them over and I didn't do it with a blindfold on....
 

Ron Hilditch

Active Member
Define "very short term"
Minutes? Days?
In many respects this could well be true, however one recent experience contradicts this. I had Monitor Audio Silver 8 speakers on my system for a couple of years before temporarily swapping them for MA Gold 300 speakers. "Temporarily" was maybe 6 months before swapping back and I was genuinely surprised that I instantly recognised its unique sound signature like a long lost friend, like recognising a particular flavour I haven't had for years or smell.
True it was me who changed them over and I didn't do it with a blindfold on....
Think you are spot on! There is a sonic signature and if you are familiar with a brand, you can recognise their particular sound. Like a taste with food, some brands stand out more than others. With me it's Naim and I can't stand their particular sonic signature. They are like Marmite and I don't like either.
 

nylonsyorks

Standard Member
For me the biggest myth has already been mentioned, the 5 Star , Best Buy, Recommended, Best Choice scenario.

Nobody can tell me what my ears like to listen to. I can make that decision all by myself and only I can.
 

simonblue

Distinguished Member
For me the biggest myth has already been mentioned, the 5 Star , Best Buy, Recommended, Best Choice scenario.

Nobody can tell me what my ears like to listen to. I can make that decision all by myself and only I can.
But its nice sometimes to have a starting point,also depending on where you live it's getting harder & harder to find,an hi fi shop with a large range of stuff to try.
I for one still enjoy reading the odd review.

:)
 

nylonsyorks

Standard Member
I concur, I also enjoy reading reviews, we all do I think. I just don't subscribe to the idea that somebody can assume what another person hears.

I remember an hifi company years ago, it may have been cambridge systems tech, AR perhaps who claimed overkill on advertising and 'pushing' audio equipment was counter productive and they usually had a page in an hifi magazine that was brief, definitive, to the point and I think their slogan was ''Listen and you will see''.

To me that summed it up perfectly.
 

oscroft

Member
Speaking of reviews...

Many years ago, I was living and working overseas and I wanted a CD player. There was nowhere I could go for any demos, but I could get UK hifi mags and I checked those for reviews.

One of them reviewed a Denon at about £250 (quite a lot then, but within my price range), and reckoned it was so good there was no justification for buying anything more expensive. I thought that sounded unusually honest, when the main job of the mags is to sell as much expensive gear as they can. I found a shop selling the Denon and got one - and I loved it.

Then, over the next couple of months, the mag backtracked over its "no justification for buying anything more expensive" claim, taking pains to point out the ways in which more expensive gear can be better. I assumed they'd got a lot of backlash from the companies advertising in their pages.
 

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