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The Harbeth User Group is the primary channel for public communication with Harbeth's HQ. If you have a 'scientific mind' and are curious about how the ear works, how it can lead us to make the right - and wrong - audio equipment decisions, and about the technical ins and outs of audio equipment, how it's designed and what choices the designer makes, then the factual Science of Audio sub-forum area of HUG is your place. The objective methods of comparing audio equipment under controlled conditions has been thoroughly examined here on HUG and elsewhere and should be accessible to non-experts and able to be tried-out at home without deep technical knowledge. From a design perspective, today's award winning Harbeths could not have been designed any other way.

Alternatively, if you just like chatting about audio and subjectivity rules for you, then the Subjective Soundings area is you. If you are quite set in your subjectivity, then HUG is likely to be a bit too fact based for you, as many of the contributors have maximised their pleasure in home music reproduction by allowing their head to rule their heart. If upon examination we think that Posts are better suited to one sub-forum than than the other, they will be redirected during Moderation, which is applied throughout the site.

Questions and Posts about, for example, 'does amplifier A sounds better than amplifier B' or 'which speaker stands or cables are best' are suitable for the Subjective Soundings area only, although HUG is really not the best place to have these sort of purely subjective airings.

The Moderators' decision is final in all matters and Harbeth does not necessarily agree with the contents of any member contributions, especially in the Subjective Soundings area, and has no control over external content.

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{Updated Oct. 2017}
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Audiophilia and keeping a distance from the hardware

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  • Audiophilia and keeping a distance from the hardware

    Recently, on the thread on amplifiers, the question was raised about "audiophilia". Why does this engender in some people an emotional attachment to audio electronics, impeding a dispassionate and rational discussion about their function? Why does this type of association seem to be largely limited to home audio equipment, and not other forms of electronic device (such as cameras)? As discussed, in some, audiophilia goes so far as to generate a false association between the audio equipment and character in the music, obscuring its real purpose of being (at best) a characterless conduit between the listener and the musicians - ie a mechanism for conveying sound minimal distortion.

    This (subconscious and misplaced) association between the audio equipment and the music itself, which happens more with music than other arts (photography was mentioned as an example), partly stems from how deeply and universally music touches us. Music is noteworthy in it bears an almost universal attraction whilst being an entirely abstract (ie non-representative) art form - which in some why must be related to the regions of the brain stimulated by music. It's not difficult to find people who are entirely disinterested in painting or sculpture (particularly in their abstract variants), for example, but finding someone with no interest at all in music is rare indeed. It's interesting to note that our language lacks a genuine noun for this ethereal art, as if it were indefinable - strictly (though the word has become accepted as a noun) we only have an adjective describing it: "music". This sound induces euphoria; it's euphoric. This sound induces catharsis; it's cathartic. This sound is of the poets; it's poetic.This sound is inspired - it is of the Muses; it's music.

    However, part of this difference between "audiophiles" and, say, photographers stems from the different role of end-user audio equipment compared to a camera. A camera is an optical instrument (in both senses of the word - both as a telescope is a scientific instrument and a violin is a musical instrument); it is used by the photographer to create art (an image), as a violin is used to create music. Hi-fi equipment, however, is passive - it's used by to access the art that others have brought into being, rather than create it in the first place. Perhaps that lack of involvement in the creating of the music leads to ambiguity and false associations. On the whole, it seems that people involved in creating art tend to be more focused on the art itself, and to see the instruments of their art as tools, rather than things of dominant intrinsic value themselves (in much the same way as it has been pointed out that a recording engineer doesn't get emotionally attached to a microphone or mixing console). That's not to say there cannot be beauty in a well-made tool, but that beauty exists primarily in relation to the tool's purpose and function.

    There are, of course, counter examples to this last argument, which brings to mind an anecdote between two great clarinetists, Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, which Shaw related in a 1992 interview:

    "I had lunch with Benny one time, and I was trying to talk to him about something that had nothing to do with music at all. And all he wanted to talk about was the clarinet. So I finally said:

    'Benny, you're too hung up on the clarinet.'
    And he said to me: 'I thought that's what we both played, isn't it?'
    So I said, 'Well, I'm trying to play music, Benny.'

    It was like talking to a surgeon who's in love with a scalpel and saying, 'Look how good I can use this scalpel.' He's missing the point."



  • #2
    Image capture vs. audio reproduction

    The comparison between audio replay equipment and a camera may not be the most apt.
    A camera (lens + image storage medium) is more analogous to a microphone and an audio recorder.

    If you consider video playback equipment, in the heyday of the CRT display, certainly there were avid fans of the various Sony Trinitron monitors and TV sets. Today, some plasma and LCD type displays each have their own fervent advocates.

    Comment


    • #3
      Taking better pictures

      Originally posted by EvilDrPain View Post
      Why does this type of association seem to be largely limited to home audio equipment, and not other forms of electronic device (such as cameras)?
      As a photography enthusiast, I can say that this association isn't missing with cameras either. People dump perfectly good equipment for the latest and greatest without having fully exploited either capability or service life of the replaced camera. People do the same with mobile/smart phones too.

      One important difference though is that the camera is the interface to the picture taking process and one that is a joy to use tends to be used more. And in many cases, the more the pictures one takes, the better one gets and the higher the number of good images captured. So changing to one that is a better one to handle/use can have an impact on outcomes.

      As you have correctly pointed out, in comparison audio equipment is passive so reasons for upgrading regularly are even less justifiable than in the case of cameras. Which itself is rarely justifiable.

      Comment


      • #4
        It's another religion

        The human perception of music is not visable or measurable. In this grey area everyone can claim to hear things others don't.

        (We can all see if a picture or television is sharp or not) It is a platform for people who distinguish themselves from normal human beings, and for some sort of reason they need to be special. They are more sensitive, more critical and demanding than others and they choose to be an audiophile because no one can catch them. When you are so sensitive and special you deserve the best equipment, which has totally nothing to do with music.

        The only link I see with audiophilia is the link with religion or some kind of sect, especially when they come together in small groups and behave themselves rather strangely.

        Comment


        • #5
          Audio snobbery!

          Originally posted by hendrik View Post
          The human perception of music is not visable or measurable. In this grey area everyone can claim to hear things others don't.
          It definitely is!
          Blind testing answers to this very question: are you really able to distinguish between two or more sound sources by ears alone?
          This concept has not been invented by audio skeptic people, but as an invaluable decision making tool in far more serious and concerning fields like pharmacology.

          I'm perfectly ok with people preferring this or this other object for many a reason apart simple audio performances, but claiming to hear differences without accepting any burden of proof, just because I'm a golden ear and you a semi-deaf poor thing, I have only a name for it: snobbery!

          Comment


          • #6
            Hearing or delusion?

            Originally posted by hendrik View Post
            The human perception of music is not visable or measurable. In this grey area everyone can claim to hear things others don't.

            (We can all see if a picture or television is sharp or not) It is a platform for people who distinguish themselves from normal human beings, and for some sort of reason they need to be special. They are more sensitive, more critical and demanding than others and they choose to be an audiophile because no one can catch them. When you are so sensitive and special you deserve the best equipment, which has totally nothing to do with music.

            The only link I see with audiophilia is the link with religion or some kind of sect, especially when they come together in small groups and behave themselves rather strangely.

            This is a fun take on the subject - A/B test of the new high-resolution "Pono" player versus an iPhone by David Pogue.

            It's not clear exactly what was being compared - the Pono store supposedly stocks files up to 24/192, but apparently the majority of the files are 16/44.1.

            The iPhone files seem to be coming from the iTunes store, so 256 kbps AAC files, substantially below CD-resolution.

            But in A/B testing, people either can't tell the difference or prefer the iPhone.

            https://www.yahoo.com/tech/it-was-on...496883039.html

            Comment


            • #7
              Might as well be magic!

              Originally posted by hendrik View Post
              The only link I see with audiophilia is the link with religion or some kind of sect, especially when they come together in small groups and behave themselves rather strangely.
              The late Arthur C. Clarke one wrote: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

              The reproduction of sound is clearly a pursuit that has to rest on a scientific and technological base. And not just one discipline, but many: acoustics, physics, electronics, mathematics, mechanics, etc.

              Pre-scientific man (in northern Europe, let us say) explained thunder as the god Thor banging his hammer. They observed a phenomenon, and they sought an explanation. And they found (or invented one) - it just wasn't a scientific explanation. I'm no anthropologist, but it seems clear that human beings have always invented stories to explain the world around them, and to explain phenomena they did not understand.

              I suppose I'm suggesting that something not entirely dissimilar is going on in the audiophile world, except that the explanations can vary in believability and some even sound moderately believable from a scientific perspective. That's what makes the whole thing so confusing. If I don't understand the underlying mechanisms at work, who am I to say that a green pen on a CD won't make it sound better, or that little resonators stuck to my wall won't improve the sound? It seems to me that it's actually a kind of modern folk mythology, where congregants get together to agree (and sometimes vehemently disagree) on whose version of reality is the correct one.

              But it's all magic (to bring it back to Clarke), because even if it's not cutting-edge technology in absolute terms, if you don't understand what's happening, it might as well be.

              Comment


              • #8
                The consumer society

                From Kumar Kane, post 3;
                " People dump perfectly good equipment for the latest and greatest without having fully exploited either capability or service life of the replaced camera."

                This I think illustrates a problem generally with a consumer society in which new equipment is produced necessarily to keep the manufacturers in business, and their advertising is designed to make us want the newest and latest of everything so that their business is 'healthy'.

                What then follows is massive and excessive consumption, often without the previous model/version being fully explored; as a parallel, in my childhood my Father rightly complained that I had not fully used my toys.

                I have a music studio rack containing three synthesisers and two samplers, and very powerful computer software, and I used to buy magazines on the home studio. I remember well one article, maybe 20 years ago, stating that dealers, on receiving old synthesisers in exchange for new ones, that about 90% of them had never had even one 'voice' (sound), edited, of the probable 120 or so, so these users had only played the keyboard using the factory preset sounds. This is a very sad state of affairs, especially in the context of a creative aspiration, and each voice may have had about 16 variables to play with to produce very different sounds.

                My feeling is that in our consumer society much potential is not even explored in many areas because of this turnover; it somehow defeats discipline, and results in us buying new equipment which we then do not fully explore, and so we are constantly not mastering anything.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Flawed test?

                  Did you read the test conditions? No one would be able to tell the difference. They connected both players through a Radio Shack switch to a pair of Sony MDR7506 headphones. I use the 7506 for tracking, and it's good enough to let you hear gross problems, but it's hardly a very refined headphone. The test is flawed from the outset. Plug each of those into a pair of Sennheiser HD700 and you will hear a difference.

                  Originally posted by EricW View Post
                  But in A/B testing, people either can't tell the difference or prefer the iPhone.

                  https://www.yahoo.com/tech/it-was-on...496883039.html

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    The fallacy if lossless very. Lossy

                    Originally posted by EricW View Post
                    The iPhone files seem to be coming from the iTunes store, so 256 kbps AAC files, substantially below CD-resolution.

                    But in A/B testing, people either can't tell the difference or prefer the iPhone.
                    Not surprising that, neither can I, even via a very decent quality system. All my CDs are ripped lossless because it is easy to do so, but I now buy music only from ITunes, 256kbps files. I can't distinguish between the two - indeed, many ECM albums from iTunes sound better than many lossless CD rips that aren't as well recorded. As do many quality internet radio stations with 192 to 320 kbps streams of which the three Linn radio stations are a good example. Recording and mastering quality are the real influencing factors to the sound quality heard.
                    Originally posted by Pharos View Post
                    in my childhood my Father rightly complained that I had not fully used my toys.
                    I think we now start very young with this. A child can be perfectly happy with the simplest of things - even a paper and pencil, or simple wood blocks of different shapes and sizes for instance - that can allow it to be as creative as it is able to be, have endless hours of fun using imagination and learn in the process. In contrast, I see my granddaughter have so many toys around her, supposedly made to sharpen all sorts of skills, that she ends up getting confused about which one to play with and ends up toy surfing.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      How good/bad is AAC objectively?

                      Originally posted by jplaurel View Post
                      The test is flawed from the outset. Plug each of those into a pair of Sennheiser HD700 and you will hear a difference.
                      Have you ever tried yourself to tell a 256kbps AAC from its source in a proper ABX test? It's super easy to do at home, with a PC and your DAC, amplifier, headphone or speakers of choice.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Better than nothing at all

                        Originally posted by jplaurel View Post
                        Did you read the test conditions? No one would be able to tell the difference. They connected both players through a Radio Shack switch to a pair of Sony MDR7506 headphones. I use the 7506 for tracking, and it's good enough to let you hear gross problems, but it's hardly a very refined headphone. The test is flawed from the outset. Plug each of those into a pair of Sennheiser HD700 and you will hear a difference.
                        Granted, it was not the most rigorous of A/B tests. But it was at least an attempt to be fair and objective, which I thought made it stand out from the extreme subjectivity of most audio reviews. As for saying that there "will" be a difference through a pair of Sennheisers, how can we know that until someone actually tries it?

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          At the core of consumerism

                          Originally posted by Pharos View Post
                          From Kumar Kane, post 3;
                          " People dump perfectly good equipment for the latest and greatest without having fully exploited either capability or service life of the replaced camera."

                          This I think illustrates a problem generally with a consumer society in which new equipment is produced necessarily to keep the manufacturers in business, and their advertising is designed to make us want the newest and latest of everything so that their business is 'healthy'.

                          What then follows is massive and excessive consumption, often without the previous model/version being fully explored; as a parallel, in my childhood my Father rightly complained that I had not fully used my toys.

                          I have a music studio rack containing three synthesisers and two samplers, and very powerful computer software, and I used to buy magazines on the home studio. I remember well one article, maybe 20 years ago, stating that dealers, on receiving old synthesisers in exchange for new ones, that about 90% of them had never had even one 'voice' (sound), edited, of the probable 120 or so, so these users had only played the keyboard using the factory preset sounds. This is a very sad state of affairs, especially in the context of a creative aspiration, and each voice may have had about 16 variables to play with to produce very different sounds.

                          My feeling is that in our consumer society much potential is not even explored in many areas because of this turnover; it somehow defeats discipline, and results in us buying new equipment which we then do not fully explore, and so we are constantly not mastering anything.
                          Very well summarised identifying the heart of the issue.

                          Its an interesting (I wont call it sad) state of reality. But then, without some level of desire to consume, the "free market economy" will collapse.

                          Whether anyone likes the description or not, for the vast majority of people, HiFi gear is discretionary luxury spend, and therefore the very core of consumerism.
                          Last edited by SChat; 07-02-2015, 06:17 AM. Reason: Spelling mistake

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Sony headphones should be good enough

                            Originally posted by jplaurel View Post
                            Did you read the test conditions? No one would be able to tell the difference. They connected both players through a Radio Shack switch to a pair of Sony MDR7506 headphones. I use the 7506 for tracking, and it's good enough to let you hear gross problems, but it's hardly a very refined headphone. The test is flawed from the outset. Plug each of those into a pair of Sennheiser HD700 and you will hear a difference.
                            I endorse what EricW has said in post #12. Personally I do not think the test is flawed. At the very least it is going to be indicative of any sort of differences to be heard. I would like to think that if there was any difference to be heard it could be heard with a circa 80 GBP set of headphones such as the sonys used in the test.

                            My belief is (and I have said it many times on this forum) that the different source master used is much more likely to show an audible difference between hi-res and CD red book (or a high quality mp3). If the hi-res source master is also used to produce the CD red book (and high quality mp3) any difference between the formats is unlikley to be discerned.

                            To me the pono player is a poor conception. Even if there *is" a small amount of better quality who is going to be that bothered about it in a small portable player with a relatively small amount of onboard memory. I certainly do not want to walk around outdoors with Sennheiser HD700 headphones. To me (and I would think many others) lossy mp3 with circa 30 GBP headphones is good enough for portable use to carry around on my 'phone or to play through the car's stereo system.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Proving nothing?

                              Originally posted by EricW View Post
                              Granted, it was not the most rigorous of A/B tests.
                              What, in fact, is the point of A/B (/X) listening tests? They are an audiophile mirage as far as I can tell, and have never settled any argument, or contributed to any useful design that couldn't have been worked out on paper using actual science and engineering.

                              They only ever seem to find a negative result i.e. all amplifiers, DACs, digital formats sound the same - which a study of the measurements and specifications could have told you anyway - and the test conditions are never accepted by those who have a vested interest in disbelieving the result. For every listening test, there is someone claiming it has been "debunked", so as a tool it is a useless fantasy.

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