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HUG - here for all audio enthusiasts

Since its inception ten years ago, the Harbeth User Group's ambition has been to create a lasting knowledge archive. Knowledge is based on facts and observations. Knowledge is timeless. Knowledge is human independent and replicatable. However, we live in new world where thanks to social media, 'facts' have become flexible and personal. HUG operates in that real world.

HUG has two approaches to contributor's Posts. If you have, like us, a scientific mind and are curious about how the ear works, how it can lead us to make the right - and wrong - decisions, and about the technical ins and outs of audio equipment, how it's designed and what choices the designer makes, then the factual area of HUG is for you. The objective methods of comparing audio equipment under controlled conditions has been thoroughly examined here on HUG and elsewhere and can be easily understood and tried with negligible technical knowledge.

Alternatively, if you just like chatting about audio and subjectivity rules for you, then the Subjective Soundings sub-forum is you. 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.

The Moderators' decision is final in all matters regarding what appears here. That said, very few Posts are rejected. HUG Moderation individually spell and layout checks Posts for clarity but due to the workload, Posts in the Subjective Soundings area, from Oct. 2016 will not be. We regret that but we are unable to accept Posts that present what we consider to be free advertising for products that Harbeth does not make.

That's it! Enjoy!

{Updated Nov. 2016A}
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"Subjective" v. "Objective" in Audio

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  • #16
    Somewhere in the MIddle

    IMHO the purely objective approach fails to capture the essence:
    Grownups love numbers. When you tell them that you have made a new friend [Amplifier A], they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead they demand: “How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?” Only from these numbers do they think they have learned anything about him. [The Little Prince, Saint-Exupéry]

    But the purely subjective approach cannot yield credible statements, since, as Alan has pointed out,
    My point (again) is that you are not able to draw any valid conclusions that are worthwhile (i.e. as a piece or rational science) unless you equalise the levels and frequency responses exactly and make instantaneous switchovers between the amps. And when you do take the trouble to set up and construct a rational scientific test, those differences that you're sure that you hear and you'd swear on your grandmother's grave are tangible, suddenly diminish to virtually nothing or less.

    I'm reminded of the poor parents of autistic children, parents who were absolutely convinced that their autistic child, with a parent's hands on the child's, could communicate using a ouija board. Imagine the joy in becoming convinced that your autistic child could now express her intelligent thoughts. Sadly, several blind tests confirmed that the parents, not the children, were, without realizing it, the ones doing the communicating.

    The nature and value of real scientific testing, and blind tests in particular, are severely under appreciated in the general population.

    Bruce

    Comment


    • #17
      Blind test: single or double?

      While we're all on this topic of blind testing, I'm wondering if the distinction between single and double-blind testing is that important, at least in audio.

      As I understand it, in a single-blind test, the test subject is not aware which of the two products (let's assume it's an amplifier test) he/she is listening to at any given point. The person administering the test does know, however, and presumably says something like "this is amplifier A" or "this is now amplifier B".

      In a double-blind test, neither the tester nor the subject is aware of which of the two amplifiers is being listened to - all anyone knows is that a switch is occurring, and the results are analyzed later.

      Presumably the double-blind test is considered preferable because it elimates the possibility of the tester unwittingly influencing the choice of the test subject, even if the influence is unconscious.

      So my question is this: do we know for a fact that the influence of the tester's knowledge in a single-blind test is so significant that it will skew the results, as compared to a double-blind test? If so, how do we know this? Is there data confirming the effect, or is it just supposition? And does it make a difference whether the tester has any feeling one way or another about the alternatives on offer? Suppose it's a non-audiophile tester who has no feelings either way about, say, whether the amplifier is a Bryston or a Sony - how then is any influence possible?

      Thanks in advance for any input.

      Comment


      • #18
        Originally posted by Euler View Post
        IMHO the purely objective approach fails to capture the essence:
        Grownups love numbers. When you tell them that you have made a new friend [Amplifier A], they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead they demand: “How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?” Only from these numbers do they think they have learned anything about him. [The Little Prince, Saint-Exupéry]
        Not like that at all. Let me describe one particular form of blind test - the ABX test. There are two channels connected to equipment A and B respectively. And there is a third channel X, which is connected to either to A or B. The participants are asked to determine whether X is A or B. The participants are allowed to switch freely between the channels for repeated listening. There is no time limit in ABX test. Theoretically it can take days or months.

        This is basically sound matching. No numbers, no calculations and no rational thinking process is involved at all. It you can't get that right - whatever 'essence' you attribute to the equipment is pure imagination.

        EricW - I hope this answer your question as well.

        Comment


        • #19
          Originally posted by yeecn View Post

          EricW - I hope this answer your question as well.
          It doesn't, actually. What I was curious about is whether there was any evidence that a double-blind protocol would lead to a significantly different results to a single-blind protocol, in which only the person undergoing the test does not know which of the two products he/she is evaluating at any moment, but the tester does know.

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          • #20
            Originally posted by EricW View Post
            It doesn't, actually. What I was curious about is whether there was any evidence that a double-blind protocol would lead to a significantly different results to a single-blind protocol, in which only the person undergoing the test does not know which of the two products he/she is evaluating at any moment, but the tester does know.
            Sorry - I mean your earlier question regarding Nelson Pass.

            Comment


            • #21
              Originally posted by yeecn View Post
              Sorry - I mean your earlier question regarding Nelson Pass.
              Nope - but that's okay. I won't lose sleep over it.

              I didn't actually have a question about Nelson Pass. Whether or not one likes his amps, I was just struck by an attitude in his quote that was somewhat open-minded and free from zealotry. I found that attitude sensible and attractive. Others may disagree.

              Comment


              • #22
                The power of emotion over fact .... Rolls Royce engines

                As I step onto an aircraft I always take a look to see if the engines have the sliver RR (Rolls Royce) logo sticker. As a boy I vividly remember the bankruptcy of RR Engines because of the frozen chicken/carbon fibre problem, of how the British Government rescued the company in the national interest (rightly so), of the Spitfire Merlin engine from WW2, the beautiful engineering of RR cars. So the mental stage is set for me to have strong emotional - subjective - attachment to the RR engine, and to feel reassured and safe when flying their aero engines.

                It occurred to me on the British Airways flight back from Hong Kong (I discarded my Virgin ticket and bought a new ticket from a real airline) that although I felt snug in my RR equipped 747, I actually knew nothing whatever about the engines technical performance, design, reliability or any other hard fact. My subjective feelings of safety were based solely on seeing the logo on the engine casing, and then creating a mental fantasy based on my preconceptions of the RR engineering quality - of their cars.

                It further occurred to me that, if I was an industry insider, I might, or might not have an entirely different and conceivably contradictory insider's perspective of the engine situation. Data analysis of in-service records might prove that another brand of aero engine - say, a GE unit - had in fact a much better in-service reliability, lower operating cost, was quieter and lighter with less moving parts to go wrong. So my fact-less attachment to the RR engine could be nothing more than a romantic fantasy. I could even by flying in an aircraft fitted with RR engines but not displaying the RR logo on the casings and feel less safe. In other words, the visual cue of the logo was associated with positive feelings towards the engines, and when deprived of the visuals, my illusory feeling of safety evaporated or even reversed. But the actual factual performance of the engine would remain the same.

                How does this apply to audio equipment? We must not underestimate the impact that seeing a piece of audio equipment has on how we subjectively feel about it - positive or negative. But in a blind test, we are unable to link to our preconceptions; we are forced to evaluate based on what we hear alone. And under those conditions, deprived of (visual) preconceptions, our preferences may be neutral or even reversed. Even though all I know about aero engines is their power output - one specification amongst thousands - I am as ill informed as the well intentioned neighbour who believes that that power output of his amplifier is the sole defining characteristic.

                In fact - Rolls Royce aero engines are a hugely successful business with cutting-edge technology and a full order book which again, in the absence of any facts, reassures me on the basis that 600 airlines can't be wrong. But see how we confuse and substitute subjective opinions for objective facts? We do it so effortlessly that we're not aware we're doing it.

                Rolls Royce Trent 900 used on Airbus 380 video here. Boeing Dreamliner Trent 1000 here. Note in particular the resistance to the explosive detachment of a front blade at 3000rpm and the bird strike (frozen chicken) testing which in the case of the 1970's RB211 destroyed the engine, and the company. My emotional preconceptions reinforced by RR's recent success with the A380 and Dreamliner merely reinforce my subjective feelings towards the product, based on not a shred of hard evidence.
                Alan A. Shaw
                Designer, owner
                Harbeth Audio UK

                Comment


                • #23
                  The great thing with aircraft being not only costly to make but also costly to operate is that an incredible amount of research effort goes into their development - and everything that can be measured, is. The prime goal for airliner engine designers is efficiency, and even a fractional of a percent improvement in efficiency is enough to swing the market behind a manufacturer. This is because less fuel is needed, resulting in a lower take off weight, resulting in less fuel being needed, etc... a truly virtuous cycle.

                  An aero engineer colleague once remarked that a rule of thumb in aircraft design is "when the weight of the paperwork equals the take-of-weight of the aircraft being developed, it is ready to fly" (oh BTW the chicken gun fires thawed chickens, otherwise it wouldn't be a fair contest...).

                  Oddly enough at the time (or just before) there had been a bone of contention amongst engineers, not unlike our present debate - the HP vs Texas Instruments calculator wars. A bit like tubes vs. transistors, that one!

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                  • #24
                    Originally posted by A.S. View Post

                    ... in a blind test, we are unable to link to our preconceptions
                    It's actually an ancient idea. This is why Justice is traditionally depicted as being blind - so as not to be influenced by things that don't (i.e. shouldn't) matter. See attached image, here

                    A good symbol for double-blind testers, perhaps?

                    Comment


                    • #25
                      Originally posted by EricW View Post
                      This is why Justice is traditionally depicted as being blind
                      hear hear, very apt and a beautiful example, EricW. Unfortunately that is how we pick our leaders who then pick our pockets with their eyes wide open.

                      Comment


                      • #26
                        Proper governance - William Haig

                        Originally posted by kittykat View Post
                        ...Unfortunately that is how we pick our leaders who then pick our pockets with their eyes wide open.
                        One problem is the rise in the importance of oration as a primary skill amongst our leaders. President Obama is a master orator, as was Edward Kennedy, who spoke with more emotion and, in my opinion, created a bigger vision.

                        Our new Foreign Secretary, William Hague is an example of how fickle the pubic are about electing their leaders. Haig was briefly leader of the Conservative (now ruling) party, but never found his feet. He is an exceptionally bright man and a very good communicator. His handicap is that he speaks with a northern English accent (Yorkshire) which to those in the elite south makes him sound like a displaced farmer amongst those speaking the Queen's English. So, on the basis of accent alone he didn't survive as leader. Cameron's souther accent sound much more acceptable.

                        I have the highest regard for William Haig as a typical tell-it-like-it-is Yorkshireman and providing our overseas friends can understand him, we are in safe hands indeed.

                        Haig at his best here. What he has to say about thirteen years of failed governance is an absolute outrage. Now we have a new Government - long overdue.
                        Alan A. Shaw
                        Designer, owner
                        Harbeth Audio UK

                        Comment


                        • #27
                          Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                          ...

                          His handicap is that he speaks with a northern English accent (Yorkshire) which to those in the elite south makes him sound like a displaced farmer amongst those speaking the Queen's English. So, on the basis of accent alone he didn't survive as leader. Cameron's southern accent sounds much more acceptable.

                          I have the highest regard for William Haig as a typical tell-it-like-it-is Yorkshireman and providing our overseas friends can understand him, we are in safe hands indeed.
                          Well, I can tell you he sounds quite comprehensible to me. I don't think you need to worry. Having the "right" accent, which seems to be so important in Britain, is an almost complete non-issue in the rest of the English-speaking world. I can tell that he's not using RP, but aside from that he sounds just fine.

                          Comment


                          • #28
                            Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                            His handicap is that he speaks with a northern English accent (Yorkshire) which to those in the elite south makes him sound like a displaced farmer amongst those speaking the Queen's English. So, on the basis of accent alone he didn't survive as leader. Cameron's souther accent sound much more acceptable.
                            This Yorkshireman says "Ouch!"

                            William Haig's leadership failed, I think, because the time for the Tories to advance had not yet arrived.

                            But read this

                            http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/com...cle7129129.ece


                            Cameron and Clegg: who is more upper crust?
                            It’s an intriguing, very British – and entirely pointless – pastime to work out which of our leaders is the posher
                            Of more concern is the fact that a very high proportion on MPs from all parties were educated, not in Government financed schools, but in Independent, fee taking schools.

                            Look also at the undergraduates in science, maths, engineering and modern languages - the hard subjects - most come from the Independent Sector.

                            Comment


                            • #29
                              Originally posted by EricW View Post
                              Mr. Yee, I did not understand Nelson Pass to be arguing against blind tests. In fact, in the quote he makes it quite clear that he's used them and that, under those conditions, people will often either hear no differences, or (same thing) "hear differences which could not possibly exist". Either way, I read that as an affirmation of the methodology, not a repudiation, and I'm not sure why you think otherwise.
                              Refer to my earlier post on ABX test. Blind test has a very simple procedure and a equally simple, well defined goal. There is no ambiguity whatsoever. Nelson Pass mentioned the term blind tests briefly - but what followed has nothing to do with blind tests whatsoerver. It gave a wrong impression of what blind tests was about. It is misleading. It certainly mislead you.

                              Either Nelson Pass passed the blind test on his own amplifiers, or he did not. He did not say. Why? That't everybody's guess.

                              Comment


                              • #30
                                Mr. Yee, I am happy for you that you are no longer a neurotic, tormented audiophile.

                                But have you perhaps just exchanged one kind of obsession for a different kind of obsession?

                                ABX tests are the bee's knees. Nelson Pass is whatever you say he is. Now relax, put your feet up, have a drink, put on your favourite CD. Or go for a walk with your wife.

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