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An experienced reviewer's argument in favour of blind testing of audio eqpt.

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  • An experienced reviewer's argument in favour of blind testing of audio eqpt.

    I found this a fascinating article (please note. The conclusion seems to be that our open eyes make a significant contribution to the subjective evaluation of audio equipment.

    http://www.revelspeakers.com/News/Story/135

  • #2
    The truth about the ear is liberating!

    I've heard that the issue of amplifier comparisons that we've been pioneering here on HUG has slowly started to make an impact in other forums. At the very least we seem to be past the oft-reported misconception that 'Alan says all amplifiers sound the same', which I have never said. What I have said is that if the starting point is that an amplifier should behave in a completely characterless way (that is, after all the very definition of high fidelity input > output), how is it that ordinary listeners, me included, can and do hear some differences between amplifiers. How are those two observations compatible?

    The common thread is, of course, that under casual, unstructured, uncontrolled listening, where the observer is presented with two amplifiers, asked to plug them in and advance the volume to taste, there are numerous uncontrolled variables that have crept into the comparison which make it, as a piece of objective reporting, unreliable. As a process, it would be torn to shreds in court by expert witnesses who have at the core of their scientific work the importance of quantifying, reducing and ideally removing confounding variables that lead to experimental bias. The pharmaceutical companies are experts at controlling confounding variables, as lives depend upon understanding the efficacy and side-effects of drugs. In the selection of audio equipment, lives are not at risk (thankfully, or society would have a serious issue to deal with) but there is much cash wasted procuring equipment based on entirely faulty comparisons, and that gets in the way of music. In a democracy, behind closed doors, who cares how wealthy people behave providing that they keep their opinions to themselves. And that's the problem that aggrieves me: those who rave about audio electronics, based on ludicrously inadequate 'comparisons' that wouldn't stand a minute of cross-examination in court, dominate the airwaves motivating others to make the very same, fallacious purchasing decisions.

    In a rare recent reading of this issue reported elsewhere, I couldn't help but wonder again what fundamental point is being missed by these casual comparers, since on the face of it, they seem to be normal, reasonable folk, judging by their writing style, even though they will fight to the death to support their deeply entrenched views about the sound of their favourite equipment. A closed mind is not healthy because it will inevitably close-off opportunities that could enrich, and in the case of audio electronics, save money and offer better features, and possibly save energy - that has to be good.

    So what is the core point that is being repeatedly missed? It has to be this: there is zero appreciation of how the ear actually works as opposed to how certain folk think that it works. It's a mystery as to why this should be so, because the ear is one of the best understood parts of the body, with a hundred year cumulative knowledge behind it, all available on-line at the touch of a button. So why is there such resistance to approach the subject of the ear and psychoacoustics with an open mind and actually discover for yourself its structure and operation. It's as if cave man is provided with a TV set but insists against all reason in believing that it's the work of the devil, that real people are trapped, squashed inside the case and outright rejects the concept.

    I'd like to look at one aspect of the ear which perfectly and comprehensively describes the issue as they relate to audio equipment: the ISO standard ISO-226 here. It's the one and only piece of acoustic research that the audiophile needs to grasp in outline - yes needs to be get a grip on of if he is to escape from the mental dark ages of audio comparison, to grow up in the light of knowledge and get out of the mental cave. Basically, to see the world through adult eyes, not through those of a child disconnected from true knowledge.

    I need to simplify ISO226 which means I have to prepare some drawings and examples, which will follow over the next few days.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

    Comment


    • #3
      The liberation of an open mind

      The 'closed mind problem' is not exclusive to audio, if we analyse the behaviour of many people in other areas of life, we will see much adhesion to old outdated beliefs, also supported by irrationality.

      This is really is a sad phenomenon because it reflects an outlook which by limiting information input to the individual, also reduces his ability to grow, and thus I argue lowers his quality of life, also resulting in an immature state of development.

      The insistent holding of beliefs which are illustrably illusions, can only be to provide a comfort zone for the individual concerned, but he then is in constant conflict trying to deflect information which counters or threatens his belief system. Often the result is exhibited neurotic behaviour.

      It is actually liberating to dispose of this tendency, and accept that life is full of change which requires adaptation, and in the micro world of the field of audio we see 'flat earthers' often desperately trying to hang on to fixed and outdated older beliefs.

      Letting go of investments in illusion is so liberating actually, work load being diverted from desperately trying to maintain archaic beliefs, to enquiry and research in the reality of the world, and acceptance of all its incremental evolution.
      Last edited by Pharos; 28-11-2014, 12:55 AM. Reason: inserted ommited word 'the'

      Comment


      • #4
        Old-style reviews

        It is interesting to read and contribute to other forums from the Harbeth/AS perspective. The objectivity of component commentaries is normally directly proportional to the poetry of the language. Even industry reviews are sometimes long lists of music listened to. Do we need to know this? My audio reading is music based - 'Gramophone', HFN and Record Review and occasionally 'Record Collector'. I remember looking a few months back at 1960s and 1970s amplifier reviews in Gramophone. They were usually a purely technical assessment of performance, sometimes without any reference to having used to amplifier to listen to music. A pure bench test review.

        There was an interesting thread elsewhere recently about 'reference tracks' which I understood to be music one might use to audition a pair of speakers, rather than turning up at the dealer with an oscilloscope and voltmeter. As you might expect, it was a list of favourite tracks, often very similar. Not even an attempt to select music that might address different aspects of sonic performance.

        It could be said from that, that audio component choice is totally subjective and unscientific, but someone said that if they just want to listen to heavy bass all day long, why not get a pair of speakers that does that and get on with it. If you want to go fast buy a Porsche, don't worry how you are going to get the shopping in the back at Sainsburys.

        Comment


        • #5
          The power of expectation

          Regarding your article, EricW, I don't think there is the slightest doubt that the eyes have a significant impact on how we think equipment sounds. Our expectations have an enormous influence on our perceptions, not only in audio, but especially there, and of course appearance contributes strongly to our expectations.

          I rather imagine that Harbeth users (who are buying equipment that is not cheap and is also firmly marketed as uncoloured, neutral and designed on a basis of rigorously repeatable measurement) have too much common sense to get involved in the real lunatic fringe of audio - but it's a remarkable world of self-deception.

          I used to enjoy reading the bizarre claims and counter-claims made in the 'Isolation Ward' section of Audio Asylum, and the wonderful marketing madness of products such as Brilliant Pebbles, Quantum Purifiers, special pens to colour the edges of CDs, and greatest of all, the infamous Telephone Tweak (you ring up, pay $60, and your hifi sounds better).

          Now apart from mixed feelings of hilarity at the inventiveness of this nonsense, concern at what amounts to fraud, and despair that people show such a lack of common sense, I find the really interesting thing about this is that there's no doubt people often really do hear an improvement, where physics tells us there cannot be one. This is where it comes back to the marketing of real products such as insanely expensive Italian speakers. It just shows the genuine, unarguable power of expectation, and makes one realise that without really controlled blind testing one cannot trust one's own senses.

          Comment


          • #6
            Furniture that makes a noise?

            Originally posted by Rob_deas View Post
            Regarding your article, EricW, I don't think there is the slightest doubt that the eyes have a significant impact on how we think equipment sounds. Our expectations have an enormous influence on our perceptions, not only in audio, but especially there, and of course appearance contributes strongly to our expectations.

            I rather imagine that Harbeth users (who are buying equipment that is not cheap and is also firmly marketed as uncoloured, neutral and designed on a basis of rigorously repeatable measurement) have too much common sense to get involved in the real lunatic fringe of audio - but it's a remarkable world of self-deception.

            I used to enjoy reading the bizarre claims and counter-claims made in the 'Isolation Ward' section of Audio Asylum, and the wonderful marketing madness of products such as Brilliant Pebbles, Quantum Purifiers, special pens to colour the edges of CDs, and greatest of all, the infamous Telephone Tweak (you ring up, pay $60, and your hifi sounds better).

            Now apart from mixed feelings of hilarity at the inventiveness of this nonsense, concern at what amounts to fraud, and despair that people show such a lack of common sense, I find the really interesting thing about this is that there's no doubt people often really do hear an improvement, where physics tells us there cannot be one. This is where it comes back to the marketing of real products such as insanely expensive Italian speakers. It just shows the genuine, unarguable power of expectation, and makes one realise that without really controlled blind testing one cannot trust one's own senses.
            On the matter of the insanely expensive Italian speakers, it cannot be avoided that speakers are a piece of furniture that cannot be hidden and the aesthetic is often a major issue. Said Italian speakers, to my eye, make an uncanny reference to a famous make of insanely expensive Italian motor launch (Riva - for the uninitiated), both in the panelling and the raked design. I doubt that is accidental. I suspect the box of said speakers accounts for 90% or more of the manufacturing cost. Whether they sound good, or fabulous, I doubt is an issue to most purchasers, who are probably buying as much as a piece of furniture.

            From what I hear, they went through a patch of sonic mediocrity, have upped their game, but at the end of the day you are buying furniture first.

            Comment


            • #7
              Expensive = better? No!

              Originally posted by ssfas View Post
              On the matter of the insanely expensive Italian speakers, it cannot be avoided that speakers are a piece of furniture that cannot be hidden and the aesthetic is often a major issue. Said Italian speakers, to my eye, make an uncanny reference to a famous make of insanely expensive Italian motor launch (Riva - for the uninitiated), both in the panelling and the raked design. I doubt that is accidental. I suspect the box of said speakers accounts for 90% or more of the manufacturing cost. Whether they sound good, or fabulous, I doubt is an issue to most purchasers, who are probably buying as much as a piece of furniture.

              From what I hear, they went through a patch of sonic mediocrity, have upped their game, but at the end of the day you are buying furniture first.
              9 years ago I was replacing my cartridge (as sensibly priced one for my 15 year old one!) and in the store was a huge naim set up with a pair of Italian speakers, I think they were around 10 or 15 grand ($), I looked in awe at the set up, the dealer popped in a disc and out shouted this incredibly fatiguing sound, that is when I first became aware that expensive did not necessarily mean better.....HUG is letting me enter the next phase of audio scepticism.....
              Getting to know my C7ES3

              Comment


              • #8
                Form over substance

                Originally posted by acroyear View Post
                9 years ago I was replacing my cartridge (as sensibly priced one for my 15 year old one!) and in the store was a huge naim set up with a pair of Italian speakers, I think they were around 10 or 15 grand ($), I looked in awe at the set up, the dealer popped in a disc and out shouted this incredibly fatiguing sound, that is when I first became aware that expensive did not necessarily mean better.....HUG is letting me enter the next phase of audio scepticism.....
                It matters if you try and design from the inside out or from the outside in (otherwise known as form over substance or vice versa). There is a French/Italian preference for form over substance, such as taking a boat and trying to make it into a loudspeaker (OK, a bit cynical). The French did design a national library from the outside in and it fried the books. On rare occasions it can be done, proven by a recent trip to the new YSL Gehry Building in Paris, and the Alessi corkscrew.

                http://www.architecturaldigest.com/a...deshow_item1_2
                http://store.alessi.com/gbr/en-gb/ca...c=wdq7gg%3D%3D

                I sent someone to a Harbeth dealer and he bought the Italian rowboats. Very sad.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Pay more money, get worse sound?

                  ssfas.

                  I'm not sure what the main culprit of the fatiguing sound was: a high sensitivity input giving a shout sound, ie clipping, or the speakers, either way it was a learning experience for me to hear that 30 K of equipment could sound bad (as can any equipment at any price if levels are off or the speakers ill designed)....although perhaps they weren't using expensive enough interconnects.....(joking of course).
                  Getting to know my C7ES3

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Art masquerading as loudspeakers

                    Originally posted by acroyear View Post
                    ssfas.

                    I'm not sure what the main culprit of the fatiguing sound was: a high sensitivity input giving a shout sound, ie clipping, or the speakers, either way it was a learning experience for me to hear that 30 K of equipment could sound bad (as can any equipment at any price if levels are off or the speakers ill designed)....although perhaps they weren't using expensive enough interconnects.....(joking of course).
                    I had a fatiguing set of speakers that was probably due to their not having a flat response, rising at the top end. I searched for some frequency responses for said Italian speakers and the ones I found with a flat response down to 70Hz and all the way to the top were $22,000 when reviewed.

                    I was considering a pair of 3-way speakers and was informed by a well-known designer that designing a really good crossover for a 3-way is very much harder than for a two-way, and this may be part of the reason for the big price difference between the M30.1/SHL5+ and M40.1. From my searches, the M40.1 is very good value if it as good a 3-way speaker as the other Harbeths are relative to their own class. I can't say as I have not heard the M40.1 as my amplifier could not drive it. One manufacturer told me that his 3-way speaker (which is very successful) was £5,500 and had an optional crossover upgrade costing £3,000.

                    Getting back to said Italian speakers, to get to a really good 3-way design and with the cost of the box, the distributor and dealer margins and sales taxes, it is not surprising they come in at well over $20,000.

                    Harbeth were designed in the 1970s, possibly the peak of a UK design phase that started in 1951 at the Festival of Britain as we emerged from postwar austerity. I love 1970s design. So much of it was primarily functional and aimed at the emerging middle classes. I absolutely loathe a lot of modern design, such as those F***l French speakers and the ones that look like your inner ear or some kind of sea creature. If I want a sculpture, I'll buy a sculpture, not a loudspeaker masquerading as one.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Dieter Rams for me

                      Well, I do care for the design of such furniture. I am not stupid enough to confuse it with good soud, but it is relevant. I have a nice modern interior with some famous design classics by the likes of Poul Kjaerholm. So if you ask me, I would love all hifi to look like the stuff Dieter Rams designed for Braun, many years ago. I must admit I find Harbeth speakers, though beautifully crafted, a bit challenged in this respect.

                      So I am pleased to see the new high gloss versions, because I think they will blend more easily in a modern interior. But in the same vein: I love Apple design, but it would not sway my decision away from a PC or an android phone. Why pay twice as much for less? With big speakers, however, it is a concern. Not that I particularly like those evolved shapes you are referring to. Dieter Rams is still unsurpassed for me - just google his work. It exudes a rational clarity that is quite rare in hifi.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Looks over sound?

                        ...I usually hate things that look just like "showing of", but some of these italian ones really look stunning.

                        Some of them though cross the fine line to looking just shockingly expensive, and by that totally tasteless. Did not follow them to much over the years (allthough in fact owning one bookshelf from them for over 10 years, price far less than a P3 f.e.), but the one named after an italian opera looks horrible and underlines the theory of "looks over sound".

                        Mine though was a real step forward compared to a british floorstander of a well known producer (X&Y....) back then. Because: the italian one did NOT sound harsh at the top, the british one DID.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Speakers become part of the family

                          Originally posted by ssfas View Post
                          I had a fatiguing set of speakers that was probably due to their not having a flat response, rising at the top end. I searched for some frequency responses for said Italian speakers and the ones I found with a flat response down to 70Hz and all the way to the top were $22,000 when reviewed. ...

                          I absolutely loathe a lot of modern design, such as those F***l French speakers and the ones that look like your inner ear or some kind of sea creature. If I want a sculpture, I'll buy a sculpture, not a loudspeaker masquerading as one.
                          I believe that in a highly competitive market, there is nothing wrong with a company trying to survive, and to find a way of standing out from the others. Design (the shape) is a way of doing it.

                          By reading this user group, we all realise that it’s very easy to be fooled when buying amplifiers or speakers. The proof is: why did you buy these “rising top end“ speakers? This is to agree to these companies. (I actually did the same)

                          As for these fancy designs you’re referring to, it’s a matter of taste (Talking about taste would be a very different discussion). I personally like the appearance of my Harbeth speakers, but some of my friends would find it too old fashioned.

                          However I wouldn’t buy speakers I don’t like, because as you said, they sit in a living room for years. But at the end it is probably more difficult to find good sound quality speakers and I believe they are not many for a reasonable price.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Over-styling may repulse some buyers

                            All of this talk about the Italian loudspeaker is further proof of the value of blind testing. Despite the fact that one would ordinarily imagine that a luxurious, attractive appearance would prejudice people in favor of a product, this discussion has made it clear that it is also possible for people to form negative associations with a product based on a luxurious appearance. (i.e. style over substance allegations.)

                            I'm looking forward to the ISO226 discussion.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Bought Harbeth without wife permission

                              Originally posted by Sébastian View Post
                              By reading this user group, we all realise that it’s very easy to be fooled when buying amplifiers or speakers. The proof is: why did you buy these “rising top end“ speakers? This is to agree to these companies. (I actually did the same)...
                              I bought the "rising top end" speakers because my wife could not put up with the ugly (to her) speakers I had before. So style became a critical issue, against my better judgement! So I got a pair of speakers that sounded OK, in fact they were quite good, and met with her approval.

                              After a couple of years I got fed up with the fatigue and poor low level performance, heard some Harbeths by chance and just went for it, without her permission. She still complains from time to time, particularly about the Something Solid stands.

                              The original post and the article http://www.revelspeakers.com/newsdet...oth-sides.html is bang on the money.

                              The problem is that the style-substance compromise is a fact of life and it only took a few posts to this thread to reveal major differences on the style front.

                              If AS could design a great sounding speaker with killer looks irrespective of personal taste at a sensible price, then it would be appreciated. Perhaps he could solve word poverty at the same time (possibly an easier task).

                              Comment

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