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Science and Subjectivism in Audio Engineering Effects Pedals, Units & Accessories
Old 25th May 2015
  #1
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redgrovesound's Avatar
Science and Subjectivism in Audio Engineering

An old but a goody from the great Doug Self. Unfortunately I think the state of things has gotten much worse in the almost 30 years since he wrote this:

The Dan Rather Approved Douglas Self Site
Old 25th May 2015
  #2
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The Audio Guild's Avatar
 

What's the frequency, Kenneth?

Yeah, Doug's a pretty good chap. Worth a read for those who hadn't already.

se
Old 26th May 2015
  #3
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redgrovesound's Avatar
Probably my favorite excerpt:

"A startlingly close parallel in the history of science is the almost-forgotten affair of Blondlot and the N- rays. [3] In 1903, Rene Blondlot, a respected French physicist, claimed to have discovered a new form of radiation he called "N- rays". This was shortly after the discovery of X-rays by Roentgen, so rays were in the air, as it were, and so was a desire to keep up with the Germans. The N-radiation was apparently mysteriously refracted by aluminium prisms; but the crucial factor was that its presence could only be shown by subjective assessment of the brightness of an electric arc allegedly affected by N-rays. No objective measurement appeared to be possible. To Blondlot, and at least fourteen of his professional colleagues, the subtle changes in brightness were real, and the French Academy published more than a hundred papers on the subject.

Unfortunately N-rays were completely imaginary, a classic product of the "experimenter-expectancy" effect. This was demonstrated by American scientist Robert Wood, who quietly pocketed the aluminium prism during a demonstration, without affecting Bondlot's recital of the results. This was widely reported by the famous reporter/explorer William Seabrook, and the N-ray industry collapsed very quickly. It was a major embarrassment at the time, but is now almost forgotten. For more on N-rays, see the new N-ray page

This demonstrates with brutal clarity that it is quite possible for large numbers of sincere people to deceive themselves when trying to perform subjective assessments of phenomena."
Old 26th May 2015
  #4
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So? That doesn't prove that N-rays don't exist. You're just not measuring the right things.

se
Old 26th May 2015
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Audio Guild View Post
So? That doesn't prove that N-rays don't exist.
Correct. Because it's impossible to prove that something does not exist. The absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence.
Old 26th May 2015
  #6
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The Audio Guild's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Watson View Post
Correct. Because it's impossible to prove that something does not exist. The absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence.
Right. So no one can prove that my N-ray treated cables don't sound much better than our competitors'.

se
Old 26th May 2015
  #7
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redgrovesound's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Audio Guild View Post
Right. So no one can prove that my N-ray treated cables don't sound much better than our competitors'.

se
Yes... but it is possible to prove that there is no subjectively detectable difference in your N-Ray treated cables, by quietly replacing them with non N-Ray treated cables when you're not looking.

It not so much about disproving something exists. It's about challenging the evidence given that it does exist (especially when that evidence is subjective and unmeasurable).

Just because 10 people say the N-Ray cables sound different is not evidence that they do. In subjective assessment, expectation bias, and group think are prevasive.

If that subjective difference can be repeated in a blind test, then you're on to something.

But any subjective difference that could be repeatable in a blind test would be measurable through objective means. If someone could find an example where listeners could pick out a difference between two systems in a blind test, and there was no measurable difference using classic techniques (Frequency Response, THD, Phase, etc...). I will gladly buy you a beer.
Old 26th May 2015
  #8
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The Audio Guild's Avatar
 

Blind tests are flawed. They don't show what is clearly audible.

And you do know I'm just being a smartass I hope.

se
Old 26th May 2015
  #9
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redgrovesound's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Audio Guild View Post
Blind tests are flawed. They don't show what is clearly audible.

And you do know I'm just being a smartass I hope.

se
Haha, yes I was able to catch the sarcasm.
Old 26th May 2015
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by redgrovesound View Post
Haha, yes I was able to catch the sarcasm.
Ok. I kind of figured as much but there was just a tinge of doubt so just wanted to be sure.

se
Old 27th May 2015
  #11
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I think we all agree that low THD, high SNR, low crosstalk, high dynamic range, etc. are appropriate goals for engineers.

But even the author agrees that good specs don't always result in "nice sound," which is a subjective preference.

Quote:
The "valve sound" is one phenomenon that may have a real existence; it has been known for a long time that listeners sometimes prefer to have a certain amount of second-harmonic distortion added in, [13] and most valve amplifiers provide just that, due to grave difficulties in providing good linearity with modest feedback factors. While this may well sound nice, hi-fi is supposedly about accuracy, and if the sound is to be thus modified it should be controllable from the front panel by a 'niceness' knob.
I would also like to know why perfect linear accuracy should always be the goal, when human auditory perception is not linear. Isn't there a GML compressor that supposedly "hears how we hear"?

If people prefer a certain amount of even order harmonic distortion and hi frequency roll off, then if they aren't getting it from their playback systems, it will have to be applied in the mix as processing. Which is exactly what we have.

Everything is fine.

Last edited by Yummerz; 27th May 2015 at 05:35 PM..
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