Pursuit of placebo perfection!

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by Madmaccc, Nov 3, 2017.

  1. Madmaccc

    Madmaccc
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    I am a perfectionist on a budget.

    I am constantly researching ways to tweak and improve my budget sound system to the max, at least on paper, and in my many searches I came across one very interesting article.

    I must confess I felt disarmed. I sent the article to a couple of audiophile friends of mine and the only answer I got back so far was: "bahhhhh..." This really makes me consider the placebo effect, which I always took into account, to a whole new level.

    Obviously, if we were the ones listening to this blind test we would like to believe that we would easily identify the "best" system, like I'm sure all 34 test subjects believed beforehand, but the reality shown mathematically by the test results is a lot cruder and harsher.

    Will this throw me off improving what I've got? - Not really, as I have fun doing it and learn a lot of new things in the process, but one thing is for sure, if I already believed that most (if not all) of the high end audio products are snake oil, now I am left without doubts.

    Sure you can show me all your graphs and measurements proving the astonishing difference between X and Y, but unless you're that 1 in 1000 with the "golden ear" (which you probably think you are, but you're not...), you will probably not be able to tell the difference between them on a blind listening test.

    Here's the article:

    Matrix HiFi --> Blind testing high end full equipments

    P.S. I don't mean to offend anyone or diminish in any way they're audiophile listening capabilities, let it be clear.
     
  2. BlueWizard

    BlueWizard
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    A lot of factors come into play regarding whether you can hear a difference in equipment or not. In the case of the Matrix HiFi Test, 5 people are sitting on folding chairs trying to hear a difference in equipment.

    1.) Acoustics - The Room and the Room Acoustics play a big part. I see they have some Acoustic Panels being the system, seeming a bit haphazardly placed. But did they test too room to make sure it is free of Nulls and Nodes.

    2.) Time - The time between equipment switches matters. If it takes them 30 second to swap from one system to another, that is hardly side-by-side comparison. If they can switch instantly between systems, that would give you a much clearer picture of the actual difference if there is any.

    3.) Music - The song or music you like best in not necessarily the best to test audio equipment. The music has to be chosen very carefully to have the characteristics that would allow a difference to be heard. You have to choose music that has all these characteristics -

    - Separation
    - Dynamic Range
    - Clarity
    - Balance

    4.) Stress -
    I've always contended that the stress of the demand to hear something and to get it right biases the result. To meet any degree of Scientific Standard, such a test would have to be very carefully design and implemented to reduce as many secondary and psychological factors as possible. The test you linked to does NOT seem to have come close to that standard.

    There is contention in this area. There are a group of people who demand we all believe that ALL AMPS SOUND THE SAME, or that all CD Players sound the same, or that all DACs sound the same, even though that flies in the face of the direct experience of millions of people spanning many decades of time.

    I was once in a discussion on this forum with someone who claimed that all amps sound the same. I kept pressing him to tell us what amp he had, until he finally admitted he had a £4000 NAD Master Series Amp, and tried to justify that by saying he got a good deal and it had certain features that he wanted.

    The point is, you will notice that virtually none of those who claim that all amps sound the same have this amp -

    Yamaha A-S201 Amplifier

    If all amps sound the same, then why spend £4000 when ...apparently... £150 will do the exact same thing?

    Though I think we can all agree that mechanical devices like speaker can sound noticeably different. Though even that difference is still subtle.

    And Different does not mean better. Even if you could hear a slight difference between two amps, it would be a matter of opinion which sounded better. You would get as many in favor of one as you would in favor of the other.

    So, rather than strive for some degree of theoretical perfection, simply find an Amp you like that you can afford, and enjoy it.

    Steve/bluewizard
     
  3. Madmaccc

    Madmaccc
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    Hi Steve,

    "(Important note: not more than 2 testers were allowed simultaneously, to avoid noise and concentration breaks)"

    1 Acoustics - They tried to recreate a home listening environment, but added the acoustic panels and some glasswool on the ceiling, which, lets face it, it´s probably better than what most of us get in our own homes.

    2 Time - Again, the instant switching between systems wasn't used intentionally to avoid claims of interference: "We are convinced that the best way to identify differences in between systems (or individual equipment parts) is by instant commutation. However, some people challenges the use of an external ABX box (usually by people unused to conduct DBT's) arguing that the use of a commuter like the ABX might modify or flatten the response of the systems, masking the differences they so easily claim to hear at home or at an audio store (or even at some shows)."

    3 Music: "all kind of musics were played (female or male voices, pianos, disco music, orchestras, etc)..." "The testers could at all times ask for a swap from one to the other at any time and spend as much time listening to each system and/or each musical passage at will."

    4 Stress: "Another argument used against DBT's is that testers feels pressed by the surroundings or that time is not sufficient to identify wich is the system or piece of equipment subject of testing.

    Well, to avoid being subject of such arguments, we have gone from the usual DBT questioning "wich is the one"? to "wich one you like best"? This should eliminate the pressure that so often is called upon to demerit the use of DBT's, furthermore, on this occasion there were not preagreed a max listening time, and each listener/tester could use the music of his choice. "

    I really think they considered all aspects to get the most unbiased result possible.
    Truth is, 34 experienced listeners should massively be inclined to the dearest system if it was by far better sounding. It wasn't... or they are all deaf.

    P.S. I totally agree with you regarding that what matters is what sounds good to you. My point in this whole thing is: dearer does not mean better. and that applies to everything, amps, dacs, cables... Like you, I agree that the speakers might make the most difference in the sound, as such, if I was to improve (buy) anything that would probably by the first thing I would look into.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2017
  4. Khazul

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    Some simple tests to do yourself.
    Assuming you have a pleasant sound system you are generally OK with and a sofa in which to sit and listen (effect more pronounce on a leather sofa).

    Sit back and find a nice comfy listening position, stick on some music you like that also exercises most frequencies, particularly mid and upper.

    While listening, bury the back of you head a bit in the sofa, give that a chance to settle.
    Now sit more upright (head more away from sofa).
    Find a relaxed position sitting more upright (or folder away the headrest if its that kind of sofa) - make sure all muscles relaxed).
    Tilt your head up/down slightly.
    Tense the muscles in your neck.
    Move an arm a bit, for eg as if pressing a button with fingers (which in turn slightly tenses muscles in your neck which in turn affects your ears slightly)
    Turn head slightly to one side, listen, then to the other and listen (effect more pronounce in a more lively room).

    You may or may not perceive quite drastic differences in sound though all of these little exercises.
    Many people just don't really notice the differences at first (my wife didnt), but she did eventually.

    To me as a sound engineer these little differences as you move and tense muscles are drastic, not because I hear any better than anyone else (actually at my age and due to some abuse probably worse), but because over the years I've learned to become acutely aware of how little things such as this affect my perception of sound and therefore can affect the choices I make when producing audio.

    I have come across many so-called audiophiles who thought they had golden ears etc. There is no such thing as golden ears, its just training and learning to recognise things that normally you ignore.

    The other side of this coin is once you become aware of how little changes can affect your perception, then it may turn your next hifi shopping trip into a nightmare of second guessing etc :)

    When buying, I just find what I can live with (basic sound, aesthetics and function), get it set up properly and then learn to live with and enjoy it knowing full well that for the same price there may well be something that could have turned out to be better, but without having it at home long enough to be tweaked over a reasonable period, ill never really know, so no point in worrying about it and second guessing yourself afterwards etc.

    My normal job these days is a software architect and many years ago some wise architect once told me dont build a system with best of breed component everywhere, instead build a system with components that work best together as its less trouble for everyone. I think this very much holds true for home AV/hifi - what are you going to relax the most with at the end of a long day? Something you can just turn on simply and flop and enjoy, or something that you spend some time messing with before you get to flop and enjoy? Also don't forget that one of the most impactful audio components you have already and probably have to live with and that is your room.

    For that reason I'm often happy to sacrifice audio perfection in favour of convenience. Its keeps the wife happy too, which in turn makes my life more relaxing :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2017
  5. Nico72

    Nico72
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    An intersting read. Thanks for sharing
     
  6. gizlaroc

    gizlaroc
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    You 'just know' when a system sounds right.

    Now, I cold take my system that sounds right and put it in a different room and it may longer sound 'right'.

    AB tests are pointless, our brains have a very, very clever way of making something that we hear over and over sound the same. You need to live with a system for long enough to no longer think about the sound to know if it is the right system for you.
     

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