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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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Human hearing, hearing loss and audio memory

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  • #16
    Yeecn,
    You just might be the person who can answer a question for which I have never found the answer.

    Why is that a musical melody played in a minor key most likely evokes a sad feeling (as opposed to a major key)? (e.g. Satie's Gymnopedie No. 1 and other compositions).

    I presume that it is related to the particular combination or progression of frequencies that are within the minor key, but why?
    Granted, one can embellish the melody to increase the likelihood it will evoke sadness by playing it slowly instead of rapidly, or play it at a low volume instead of high - but at the basis of it all is that it was played in a minor key.

    Comment


    • #17
      Originally posted by A.S. View Post
      ...what I'm pleading is that you, the consumer need to be far, far, far more cautious in the absence of any baseline whatever. Otherwise, you are just setting yourself up to make purchases that don't give long term satisfaction...
      One of my pet subjects is the fallibility of the human senses including vision and hearing. Anyone who places undue confidence in any of our senses is just daft - so the world of science and measurement evolved to augment the limitations of our senses, enabling us to make better informed decisions about the environment around us.

      Ignoring hearing - the main topic of this HUG, how about our visual sense. How reliable is it? How reliable even when we make the equivalent of an AB switchover, flicking our eyes between adjacent images?

      Judge the shocking facts for yourself. It was so hard to accept the result that I opened and checked the image in Photoshop as you'll see on the last page. My point is that even presented with the means of making an immediate, instantaneous side by side direct comparison, not relying on memory, we still cannot arrive at a reliable conclusion. So 'comparisons' - i.e the ghost of a vague memory - separated by time - minutes, hours, weeks are completely worthless in my opinion.
      Attached Files
      Alan A. Shaw
      Designer, owner
      Harbeth Audio UK

      Comment


      • #18
        I too had to check the RGB for the two squares and they are exactly the same. That is scary.

        Alan, during your designing stage - when you are listening to the playback of musical sounds and tweaking various components within the speaker to produce the sound that you are seeking - do you take into consideration that you may be affected by the phenomena of fallibility in what you think you are hearing and defer to making the adjustment based upon what some sound meter denotes? Or is there a place for welcoming and incorporating that inherent fallibility because you are designing your speakers for human ears to hear.

        Are there conditions in which you would tweak using results from an instrument over what you hear and vice-versa?

        Comment


        • #19
          Yes, it's really concerning that, in a courtroom situation, I think we would both swear on oath that one square was unquestionably darker than the other. But as we've seen by simple meansurement, they have equal colour characteristics. What has swung our perception is the presence of a pattern and the larger object casting a shadow. So, we have been hugely influenced by not the core subject (A v. B) but peripheral issues. I'm sure our ears are equally susceptible to being tricked - yet we would say, with unshakable certainty - that we truly believed A sounded better than B. And we'd mean it. But we could be completely wrong, as we are with the colour squares.

          We are designing speakers to be listened to by fellow humans. The trick is to use the measuring and designing tools to keep the technical, objective measurements good (for example, flat-ish) yet to make the speaker sound natural. I've illustrated two aspects of the design process here and here in videos. In fact, now I look at these I can see that in reality, the way I work is actually on a daily basis a combination of the two ... that is, I am measuring as I listen as I tweak as I re-simulate. A four-way design loop. Which is why it takes so long to balance the hard objective data with an acceptable subjective sound. After all, when being peer reviewed, good measurements are expected.

          The turning point for me was about twenty years ago at, as I recall it, the London Penta hi-fi show. I had hurriedly assembled a pre-production pair of speakers the day before the show and hadn't checked them carefully. The sound at the show to my ears and the public visitors was beautiful. I was completely seduced by my own creation. Imagine the sweat that broke out a few days later, back at base, when I discovered that I'd wired both tweeters out of phase. I should have heard that, but I was so romantically wrapped-up in the experience I dropped my objective guard. Since then, test equipment has always been a few steps away. You can hear what you want to hear.

          It's to be expected that the public, unfamiliar with the speakers room or music would not hear my stupid mistake - but it was shocking indeed that I, purporting to be a professional, after three days exposure didn't.

          P.S. There is a small (and only small) justification in my favour. I was standing continuously at the rear of the room, well above tweeter axis. The actual phase of the tweeter so far above axis would probably not have been material. But for the public, seated more or less on axis, the effect would have been magnified. Since then, I've not completely trusted myself sans test equipment.
          Alan A. Shaw
          Designer, owner
          Harbeth Audio UK

          Comment


          • #20
            Originally posted by A.S. View Post
            Yes, it's really concerning that, in a courtroom situation, I think we would both swear on oath that one square was unquestionably darker than the other. But as we've seen by simple meansurement, they have equal colour characteristics. What has swung our perception is the presence of a pattern and the larger object casting a shadow. So, we have been hugely influenced by not the core subject (A v. B) but peripheral issues. ....
            But not just any "peripheral issue" in this case, but rather, one which clearly been carefully designed to fool the human perceptual system. The shadow is obviously the key: the brain continues to see the contrast between light and dark squares under the shadow, and generalizes that contrast across the board. In other words, the brain creates a perceptual map of what it "knows" is there, even if it's not what actually is there. What no doubt aids in this illusion is the fact that, in the real world, we have a very strong bias in favour of seeing chessboards with just two alternating tones or colours, and we really don't expect to see any variation.

            I've been thinking about this a lot recently as I've been contemplating the purchase of a new pair of Harbeths. Again, I've had the opportunity to compare my P3ESRs to the Monitor 30s, the Compact 7s, and the Super HL5s. I love the articulation of the P3ESRs but I want something bigger. I almost pulled the trigger on a pair of Monitor 30s but then reconsidered. Perhaps wrongly, I don't know.

            My ultimate yardstick was not so much a comparison of the speakers to each other - you know, "this one has more detail, that one has better bass, etc. etc.", the usual hi-fi, audiophile stuff. Instead, I tried to focus more on how I felt when listening to each speaker. Was I involved? Removed? Tense? Relaxed? How much did the music grab me? How much did I want to listen to the next track? The next disk? And so on.

            And by that yardstick, the comparisons became a little easier. The P3ESR is a wonderful speaker, but it's a "head" speaker - it doesn't have the bass necessary to let you feel the music below the neck. It's analytical: you hear it, but you don't feel it. I guess it's a kind of illusion.

            The M30, to me, is similar, though with more body to the sound. It's a wonderfully detailed and articulate speaker, and I have no interest in critiquing it in any "audiophile" way - it just wasn't quite as relaxing to listening to as I would like. I don't know why, but there it is. The Compact 7, which has gotten universal raves, didn't involve me as much as the M30, and I wasn't crazy about it. I couldn't point to a single fault with it, however. It's just how I felt.

            But the Super HL5, ah, that's a wonderful, warm relaxing sound. Even in my small study, everything sounded great: Mozart, jazz, rock, you name it. I enjoyed it all. Don't get me wrong: it has all the clarity and detail one could ever want, but somehow it all adds up to a sense of relaxed, sensual involvement in the music: it's not as much an "in the head", analytical kind of experience as the others.

            Note, however, that I am described only my own subjective reaction to the various speakers, in a sighted unscientific test. However, that's how I actually would use them, so I think that's okay. For me.

            Comment


            • #21
              As I've admitted - to the disbelief of some on my Far East tour - I don't listen to hi-fi at home. I have several (treasured) portable radios scattered around the house. So when I was at Tropical Audio in Kuala Lumpur I had a rare opportunity to listen to all the models in a concentrated demonstration over an hour or two. It was very interesting, and not quite what I expected. There were differences that I didn't anticipate (or remember) and I can better understand why each model has its fans. And yes, there is something special about the SHL5.

              One difficulty I have is that I can't just listen to music reproduced over the loudspeakers without deconstructing what I hear and trying to attribute the sound to this or that aspect of the design. That's because if I could distill the essence of the sonic differences with certainty, I could then continue to purify or emphasise those characteristics in future models. There are, in the designs, measurable differences in the energy spectrum and it is no surprise that this reflects on the sound balance. But which model is really right? That's for you to say.

              There is a commonality at basic design between the SHL5 and M30 - both in production for many years - and these are slightly different as I've mentioned to the C7ES3, M40.1 and P3ESR. Again, which do you prefer? All of them create an illusion; there is no perfect answer. But my experience in Malaysia has brought me closer to really understanding the SHL5, designed over twenty years ago, and which I am still in awe of.

              I'm now off to the pub to hear some live, traditional jazz!
              Alan A. Shaw
              Designer, owner
              Harbeth Audio UK

              Comment


              • #22
                This is a fascinating little discussion! As someone interested in the philosophy of mind/cognition, I frequently encounter sensory phenomena such as this. One phenomenon that I find particularly interesting is the McGurk Effect. It provides a nice example in which two seemingly disparate sensory modalities overlap and indeed interact with one another. In simple terms, what we see (e.g., someone's lips moving) actually affects what we hear. I'm sure you can find an interesting example via google.

                Lately, however, I've been focusing on instances of change blindness and inattentional blindness. Absolutely fascinating stuff, which provides prima facie empirical support for otherwise unpopular philosophical theories. What these experiments suggest is that the content of perceptual experience is not as fine-grained as we ordinarily take it to be. To use the example of visual perception, we usually report that we take in a great amount of detail in a visual scene. What is noteworthy, however, is that such detail is usually limited to foveal region or center of focus. Change blindness and inattentional blindness make this explicit, by demonstrating that we fail to detect rather significant changes in a scene, when our attention is directed to some feature in particular, or when our attention is briefly interrupted. Here are some interesting (and somewhat popular) examples:

                Change Blindness here
                Inattentional Blindness here

                Such empirical work is beginning to support a growing trend in the philosophy of mind/cognition, which attempts to reconceive the nature of perception. The general idea, as it were, is that what we perceive is determined, in large part, by the way in which we actively engage with our environment (which, in turn, is partly determined by the kind of creatures we are). This is in response to the 'traditional view' that perception is passive, whereby the world makes sensory impressions upon us. I dare not elaborate further, for fear of mischaracterizing the position, but if anyone is interested, here are some interesting books on the subject:

                'Action in Perception' (2004) - Alva Noe: Clearly written, very accessible, and nicely incorporates recent empirical research. Due the accessible style, Noe is sometimess imprecise with his analyses and can be seen contradicting himself in some places. Still, highly recommended.

                'Mind in Life' (2007) - Evan Thompson: A much more holistic approach that combines biology, complex systems theory, phenomenological philosophy, psychology and neuroscience. Thompson argues that we cannot reduce everything to mere brain processess, as this is only part of the picture, so to speak. His larger goal is to gesture toward how we might bridge the gap between the 'mind sciences' and lived experience/subjectivity. Very comprehensive and compelling.

                'Mind & World' (1994) - John McDowell: This is not for the faint of heart. Considered somewhat radical in philosophical circles, but chaulked full of interesting ideas and novel insights. Probably the worst contemporary writer in philosophy, although one should not dismiss him as a result.

                Comment


                • #23
                  Originally posted by A.S. View Post

                  We are designing speakers to be listened to by fellow humans. The trick is to use the measuring and designing tools to keep the technical, objective measurements good (for example, flat-ish) yet to make the speaker sound natural. I've illustrated two aspects of the design process here and here in videos. In fact, now I look at these I can see that in reality, the way I work is actually on a daily basis a combination of the two ... that is, I am measuring as I listen as I tweak as I re-simulate. A four-way design loop. Which is why it takes so long to balance the hard objective data with an acceptable subjective sound. After all, when being peer reviewed, good measurements are expected.

                  The turning point for me was about twenty years ago at, as I recall it, the London Penta hi-fi show. I had hurriedly assembled a pre-production pair of speakers the day before the show and hadn't checked them carefully. The sound at the show to my ears and the public visitors was beautiful. I was completely seduced by my own creation. Imagine the sweat that broke out a few days later, back at base, when I discovered that I'd wired both tweeters out of phase. I should have heard that, but I was so romantically wrapped-up in the experience I dropped my objective guard. Since then, test equipment has always been a few steps away. You can hear what you want to hear.

                  It's to be expected that the public, unfamiliar with the speakers room or music would not hear my stupid mistake - but it was shocking indeed that I, purporting to be a professional, after three days exposure didn't.

                  P.S. There is a small (and only small) justification in my favour. I was standing continuously at the rear of the room, well above tweeter axis. The actual phase of the tweeter so far above axis would probably not have been material. But for the public, seated more or less on axis, the effect would have been magnified. Since then, I've not completely trusted myself sans test equipment.
                  Clearly summarized and explained. Now would be a good time for me to revisit your two videos.
                  Thank you!

                  Comment


                  • #24
                    Re:Can_you_trust_your_senses.pdf

                    That is exactly what our brains are all about. They don't see or hear like machines. It reinforces most audiophiles(or videophiles) belief that measurements may not able to prove the differences we hear or see and validly so because they only exist in our mind.

                    Taking the example of the darker square – can we dismiss one’s perception that one square is darker than the other because scientific tests and measurements say they are the same shades of colour? Another example that I would like to share is the batman symbol. I always see a mouth with teeth instead of a bat. I can see the bat but I only saw it for the first time when it was pointed out to me. Even before posting this I double checked and I still don't see a bat at first instance, I have to look for the bat. So, for more than 20 years my brain is incapable of recognizing the bat at first instance despite I know it’s a bat symbol. My brain’s interpretation is different than most people (there are many others who couldn’t see the bat at first instance besides me- in case anyone suggesting I need to check my head). A machine would probably interprets the symbol as a bat. But what if the machine decides to say it is actually an opened mouth with huge teeth? Neither the bat nor the mouth looks anything like what you see in the real world.

                    While optical illusion can be reproduced on a paper auditory illusion taking place in our head cannot be readily demonstrated. You can’t reproduce the sound that you hear. An example of auditory illusion is here or read the papers about Glissando illusion which even shows that a lefthanders and righthanders hear differently. In a research conducted by Heidelberg University the general population can be divided into two groups of people into those who perceive missing fundamentals and those who primarily hear overtones.

                    So while measurements may prove non existence of differences our brain may legitimately conclude otherwise.

                    My 2 cents.

                    ST

                    Comment


                    • #25
                      Originally posted by Supersnake View Post
                      Why is that a musical melody played in a minor key most likely evokes a sad feeling (as opposed to a major key)? (e.g. Satie's Gymnopedie No. 1 and other compositions).

                      I presume that it is related to the particular combination or progression of frequencies that are within the minor key, but why?
                      Granted, one can embellish the melody to increase the likelihood it will evoke sadness by playing it slowly instead of rapidly, or play it at a low volume instead of high - but at the basis of it all is that it was played in a minor key.
                      Ha. I asked myself that question some 30 years ago, and I am still looking for an answer!

                      Anyway your perception is right. Human associate the emotion of music more with the tempo than with the major/minor key. In other words slow music is much more likely to evoke the feeling of sadness than music of minor key. See this report. What is more surprising is that even the 'sad' music evoked responses from the left frontal lobe - or the 'happy' side of the brain!

                      This can be interpreted as a dispute to the valence lateralization model of the brain, which states the left frontal lobe is the happy side and the right frontal lobe is the sad, melancholy side. But I am more inclined to believe that there is no sad music as such. Even funeral music is meant to offer relieve and consolation! The blue music with that tint of melancholy can be very seductive. It probably served much more to soften the man to get involve with the women than to drive them to suicide!

                      Anyway my current feeling is that the major/minor key are more like the brighter and softer shade of colors. They provide the necessary contrast that adds to the drama of music. The mode of the music is much more determined by the emotional state of the composer than anything else. One noted example is Brahms. His deep emotional nature is oozing out in every piece of his music. Even the supposedly sunny 2nd symphony in D major is almost drowning in a sea of emotion!

                      Read this as well: http://www.guardian.co.uk/notesandqu...-20342,00.html

                      Comment


                      • #26
                        It is said that each key has its own character or mood, never mind major or minor. Of course if they are played on an equally tempered keyboard they all ought to be the same (well the major and the minor), just at different pitches. Whether playing a tune in true or tempered intervals makes a difference, I don't know. I guess it must.

                        It is also said that the modes of medieval music preserved in plainchant, but found in other music all have their moods.

                        It is a fascinating subject, and I know far too little about musical theory and human perception to have much to say on the issue.

                        Comment


                        • #27
                          Indeed it is a fascinating subject and one that is still generating inquiry.

                          Comment


                          • #28
                            Originally posted by yeecn View Post
                            Music and the Human Brain


                            Levitin lists eight "dimensions" of music, meaning attributes that can be individually varied without affecting the other dimensions. Among the most important dimensions are: perceived pitch; rhythm; timbre; melody; and reverberation. It seems that the brain contains specialized modules for extracting each of these attributes. The evidence for this is that brain damage can cause a loss of one of the functions without affecting the others. (There is similar evidence in the case of speech, where it is possible to lose an ability to speak verbs, or to speak nouns, for example). The brain appears to be a collection of highly specialized modules that are seamlessly integrated by an hierarchy of higher order modules.
                            I have just got around to reading the rest of the page in this link, thank you.

                            I was interested in the particular point regarding brain modules and whether it had a relevance to one of the problems I have when auditioning equipment.

                            It often strikes me when comparing two set-ups that one will sound comparatively more detailed, will appear to more accurately reproduce timbre and so on whilst the other will be more musically satisfying, will render music in a way that I find more natural and involving. It doesn't always go this way but often enough for me to have thought 'can you have both' - does a system either have to be detailed or musical with the two being somehow mutually exclusive?

                            I have become more aware of 'artificial' detail; the things that, particularly speaker designers, can do to make their products stand out in this area - but distinguishing between the real and the artificial in what is essentially an artificial (ie. not live) situation is something I still struggle with.

                            Back to the brain modules then; is it possible that if the first thing that we perceive is an abundance of detail, will the brain latch on to this and magnify it to the possible detriment of other functions such as rhythm or harmony ? Similarly, if there is comparatively less detail does our brain focus more on the musical elements?

                            I have also been looking through the 'designers notebook' sections of the main site with much interest, particularly with regard to measurements vs listening, or rather measuring + listening and wonder whether when things actually measure very similarly but sound substantially different it could in part be due to a magnifying effect that the brain applies when it is given a very slight abundance of one aspect of music.

                            Comment


                            • #29
                              Why do we hear what we hear

                              Below is a workshop from the 27th AES (Audio Engineer Society) Convention, NY 2009.

                              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYTlN6wjcvQ.

                              I posted this link earlier, but the subject matter is very relevant our current discussion. The first part is a staged snatch thief incident. The eye witnesses were interviewed after the incident. It was quite astonishing how wrong these witnesses can be!

                              With the fallibility and suggestibility of human perceptions as introduction, the rest of the workshop addressed many contentious issues like dither, eq, sampling word size (bits), masking effects, microphones, amplifiers, etc. These are stuffs that you won't get from an audiophile magazine.

                              This particular workshop is being debated at length and ad nauseam here. So I don't think we need to enter into debate about it again here.

                              -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                              Now here is a more elaborate explanation on the perceptual processes - and why we hear what we hear.

                              http://www.aes.org/sections/pnw/ppt/...hlevelnobg.ppt

                              To sum it up:
                              - When somebody guides your listening, you will change what you listen to.
                              - If you know something is changed in the system, you will expect changes in the output, and probably refocus.
                              - This is normal human behavior.
                              - It is something everyone does
                              - It goes along with cognition, and is very nearly a property of cognition.

                              Comment


                              • #30
                                Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                                Yes, we have a very handy constant frame of reference right under our nose - literally.

                                Most of the artifacts (or coloration) that we associate with loudspeaker reproduction cannot be attributed to the live human voice box. So speech, reproduced over those speakers switched via the comparator, is invaluable for exposing what simply could not be present in the original voice but is (sadly) present to one degree or another in the reproduced voice. The real-live human voice doesn't 'do' spitty, wiry, gritty, grainy, pinched, peaky, barking, biting etc. - so if you hear those (and other) characteristics brought to the fore by instantaneous cross-comparison you have educated yourself.
                                It never occurred to me that there can be so many description of human voice. It reminded that the Eskimo has 18 descriptions of snow conditions. That elaborate level of distinction of snow conditions has no meaning for most of the rest of the world - and it will mean nothing for us unless we were forced to live in the North Pole - and our life depends on it.

                                But Alan description of human voices means a lot for me. Well - I have to look up the dictionary what 'gritty' means, but apart from that I know what Alan was talking about. These are qualities that I hear in human voices and it is an important basis on how I differentiate the voices of the people around me.

                                Our human brain do develop great elaboration in human voice recognition as part of evolutionary necessity. But can we say of other type of noises - for example with regards to musical instruments? I heard a few descriptions that audiophile used to describe the equipments - fast, slow, analytical, musical, PRaT. But what do they mean?

                                I mean - what is a fast amplifier? I can tell that my wife sounded wiry today. The pitch is higher and her vocal cord is more constricted amongst other things, and that is most probably because she had a bad day beating the traffic jam.

                                I have some idea what 'analytical' means. I read references that certain speakers make one feels like one is right in front of the soloist. I think it is very likely that the speaker has a lift in the critical midrange. It brings out a lot of details that one would not usually hear, but at the expense of hiding a lot of details outside the midrange region.

                                Bit What makes a fast amplifier 'fast' - and what makes a slow amplifier 'slow'? The term 'slow' for example gives the impression that the amplifier is slow to response to the input waveforms, so there is a time lag of some sort. That is surely a sign of very serious harmonic distortion. Has anybody seen any measurements or charts about it?

                                I brought an voltage regulator a while back, because the seller insisted that it made the sound better 'harnessed'. I brought the device because I did not doubt the sincerity of the sales person. But after some frustrating time trying to hear how the device made the soprano voice more 'taut', I begun to think that something is amiss.

                                I still trust the integrity of the salesperson, but I no longer trust his judgments on sound. I would classify it under the 'Believing is Hearing' syndrome, or the Emperor's New Cloth syndrome.

                                And what does PRaT means? The term is so devoid of any objective reference that it feel ridiculous to discuss it.

                                Comment

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