Why Blind Listening Tests Are Flawed? Per Robert Harley! - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 03:26 PM - Thread Starter
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An interesting read by noted audiophile and audio magazine writer and editor Robert Harley on why blind listening tests are flawed:

http://www.avguide.com/forums/blind-...l?src=Playback

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post #2 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 03:28 PM - Thread Starter
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Mr. Harley in the article points out that a blind listening test found that
a pair of Mark Levinson monoblocks, an output-transformerless tubed amplifier, and a $220 Pioneer receiver were all sonically identical. (“Do All Amplifiers Sound the Same?” published in the January, 1987 issue.)

I don't even think Curt Palme would agree with that?

Probably not even Chu Gai.

Or even DougWinsor (wherever he is that lets him frequent a forum these days)!

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post #3 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 05:08 PM
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Steve,

If you find an articles blasting blind testing in a peer reviewed scientific journal, I'd enjoy reading it. Absolute Sound, the audio equivalent of the National Enquirer, does not qualify. The article is so full of logical fallacies it's painful to read. But at least the article had some meat to it - all 851 words .

Harley provides a link for an article he says he presented to AES but the link does not go to the article. If anyone finds it please post it.
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post #4 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 05:33 PM
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Originally Posted by steve bruzonsky View Post

noted audiophile

In Latin that is written as...... Phallus Maximus.


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post #5 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 05:54 PM
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Originally Posted by QQQ View Post

Come on man, how can you not take what he says seriously? He's a "noted audiophile" .

I just read it again. I don't have the time, or inclination, to deconstruct it, but it is a seriously flawed piece of effluent.

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post #6 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 05:59 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Bruzonsky View Post

Mr. Harley in the article points out that a blind listening test found that a pair of Mark Levinson monoblocks, an output-transformerless tubed amplifier, and a $220 Pioneer receiver were all sonically identical. (Do All Amplifiers Sound the Same? published in the January, 1987 issue.)

Do you think that this particular blind listening test was flawed? Or do you accept their conclusion? Please explain. Thanks.

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post #7 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 06:25 PM
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This makes perfect sense. Blind tests are flawed, so audiophiles should not pay any attention to them and continue spending bags of dollars on gold plated HDMI, cryo cables, and monster power conditioners.

Somebody must make money, right? These are tough times!
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post #8 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 06:30 PM
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audiophilia - a mental disorder/delusion causing the obsessive/compulsive search for the ultimate in audio reproduction.

This disorder can and does convince people of all sorts of nonsense, and as such, stimulates the economy through the rapid replacement of exotic high-end electronics costing tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of dollars. As with any endeavour in this area is likely to - any "real" improvements trickly down to the mass consumer space rather rapidly, causing a renewed search for the next best - based upon the assumption that unless it costs "an arm and a leg" it can't possibly be good.

Thankfully, now that we are in the age of digital electronics - we can objectively test all of the gear in an infinitly reproducable fashion and cast aside the ghosts and deamons of analog audio's past.

In other words, it is not just about how it sounds, but how it makes you feel as well. A SMART car and a Maybach will get you to the same place in about the same amount of time. However, they make you feel differently.

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post #9 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 07:34 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hd_newbie View Post

This makes perfect sense. Blind tests are flawed, so audiophiles should not pay any attention to them and continue spending bags of dollars on gold plated HDMI, cryo cables, and monster power conditioners.

Somebody must make money, right? These are tough times!

Just because blind tests are flawed doesn't mean that audiophiles should believe all the reviews and advertisements, either. I do not use Monster power conditioners. HA!

Funny how no one answers my question above re the receiver vs the Mark Levinson amp. The blind test is they sound the same so why buy the expensive amp?

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post #10 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 07:41 PM
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Wow. What a seriously demented thread. Has anybody on this thread actually compared an inexpensive receiver and a Mark Levinson (insert expensive, competently engineered brand name of choice) amplifier and heard identical performance in a double blind situation?
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post #11 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 07:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Bruzonsky View Post

Funny how no one answers my question above re the receiver vs the Mark Levinson amp. The blind test is they sound the same so why buy the expensive amp?

I haven't read the article, but something failing in a blind test does not mean there aren't differences that would be found in other blind tests. The better the blind test that comes up with no differences the more evidence that other blind tests wouldn't find any differences, but it isn't proof and the quality of the blind test matters a lot. I could go grab some person off the streets and see if they could tell the difference between 480p and 1080p (kind of like Fox), but them not seeing any differences doesn't mean others wouldn't.

If "the receiver" vs "the Mark Levinson amp" came up sonically the same in every blind test people could come up with, then I would say that the only reasons to buy the more expensive one would be things other than to improve those sounds by quality of component, when those couldn't be differentiated in extensive blind tests.

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post #12 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 08:30 PM
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there is already 4 pages of discussion on this article / topic:

http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1153470

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post #13 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 08:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Bruzonsky View Post

Funny how no one answers my question above re the receiver vs the Mark Levinson amp. The blind test is they sound the same so why buy the expensive amp?

Perhaps because it's impossible and largely a waste of time to argue against logical fallacies. As Chris said in the other thread "It's a waste of time applying any test of logic or reason to Mr. Harley's beliefs."

So let me ask you Steve. According to the article a test was done in which listeners could not hear differences between a $200 receiver, a tube amp and a ML amp. What do you think could be some of the possible causes of that result? Then please explain which if any of the possible causes would invalidate blind testing, and why.
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post #14 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 09:38 PM
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I believe the article is crap, some excellent responses in this thread above by teh usual subjects.

I believe that blind tests are accurate. After all, when a/bing anything, be it cable, amps, speakers or projectors, are you not trying to remove any external bias that might/will affect your listening/viewing decision? If so (and that's the case whenever I've a/bed something, a blind test has always been the way to go.

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post #15 of 914 Old 06-11-2009, 10:33 PM
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I remember reading the infamous 1987 study when it was first released. As I recall it was done by Clark an Ann Arbor MI engineer. I believe it actually was published in a peer reviewed journal along with Stereo Review. I went through the methodology with my experimental psychology class. At the time I thought it was well done.

Anyone nutty enough to buy $25,000 mono blocks and thinks this translates to a quality audio experience probably also believes that the stock market functions as a rational entity.

Double blind controls are standard in real science. Pseudoscience audiophilia is another matter.

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post #16 of 914 Old 06-12-2009, 04:30 AM
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The answer is actually pretty simple. Mr. Wacko Audiophile heard the expensive amplifier, liked and bought it. Same thing happens with video. Customers go to a demonstration of a Sim2 C3x, or perhaps a DPI Titan 1080p with all of their biases firmly in place, look at the image and decide whether or not it is of value to them. I'm pretty sure that most of them are not engaging in double blind video tests in order to make sure that they are not being fooled into purchasing something of no value.

The big problem with double blind testing as it relates to audio and Harley's article is that the results sometimes do not apply to the real world. Good science attempts to make useful predictions. In the case of double blind studies where the test results do not jive with real world consumer behavior, we can logically conclude that the testing methodology and the results that it generated were flawed. Good science would then conclude that the test did not reveal something about how people hear, and then redesign the test.

Of course there is another explanation, which is that there are far more crazy people in the world than I suspected.
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post #17 of 914 Old 06-12-2009, 08:09 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Bruzonsky View Post

Do you think that this particular blind listening test was flawed? Or do you accept their conclusion? Please explain. Thanks.

No. His logic, and perhaps yours by extension, is flawed.

A blind test is designed to determine audible differences, it is not designed to determine that things sound the same. Depending on the test, one may find that given the test parameters the differences aren't audible within the confines of that test. However, that doesn't mean that the test is flawed, or that there are no audible differences. This is key.

You can have two components which are clearly and audibly different, and measurably so. One can design two tests, one of which makes hearing that difference easy, and one which makes it very difficult. The former results in a positive result for audible difference, the latter does not. The latter test doesn't prove in any way, however, that there are no audible differences between the components. All it does is show that within the particular confines of that particular test, the differences aren't audible. Just because such a test failed to demonstrate audible differences doesn't mean that either audible differences under a different scenario aren't possible, nor does it mean that all other blind tests are likewise inherently flawed. That conclusion is idiotic.
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post #18 of 914 Old 06-12-2009, 12:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Patrick Butler View Post

In the case of double blind studies where the test results do not jive with real world consumer behavior, we can logically conclude that the testing methodology and the results that it generated were flawed. Good science would then conclude that the test did not reveal something about how people hear, and then redesign the test.

You clearly don't understand DBTing nor what it is intended to test in this case. The tests clearly jive with the world. If you bother doing a little research you will find that expectations and personal bias have A LOT more to do with what people hear when comparing audio components, than actual audio differences. This applies even in the case of speakers, where differences are much easier to discern. Futhermore, it is clear that the manufacturers of "high-end" audio products also noticed the value of these findings (just read their literature and look at their products).

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post #19 of 914 Old 06-12-2009, 12:31 PM
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I get it. If the Double Blind tests give you the result you want, namely that the more expensive an item is, then it sounds better, then the tests are great.

OTOH if the tests show no hearable or viewable difference, but the price difference is orders of magnitude different, then the tests are flawed.

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post #20 of 914 Old 06-12-2009, 12:48 PM
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Originally Posted by reedl View Post

I get it. If the Double Blind tests give you the result you want, namely that the more expensive an item is, then it sounds better, then the tests are great.

OTOH if the tests show no hearable or viewable difference, but the price difference is orders of magnitude different, then the tests are flawed.

...Got it!

Thats exactly it.

You can then take it up a notch with Triple Blind testing. Thats where you completely ignore the results the test participants report, and then totally fabricate the result that suits your purpose. I believe that's the current gold standard in the AV industry

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post #21 of 914 Old 06-12-2009, 01:08 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Patrick Butler View Post

The answer is actually pretty simple. Mr. Wacko Audiophile heard the expensive amplifier, liked and bought it. Same thing happens with video. Customers go to a demonstration of a Sim2 C3x, or perhaps a DPI Titan 1080p with all of their biases firmly in place, look at the image and decide whether or not it is of value to them. I'm pretty sure that most of them are not engaging in double blind video tests in order to make sure that they are not being fooled into purchasing something of no value.

The big problem with double blind testing as it relates to audio and Harley's article is that the results sometimes do not apply to the real world. Good science attempts to make useful predictions. In the case of double blind studies where the test results do not jive with real world consumer behavior, we can logically conclude that the testing methodology and the results that it generated were flawed. Good science would then conclude that the test did not reveal something about how people hear, and then redesign the test.

Of course there is another explanation, which is that there are far more crazy people in the world than I suspected.

That is absolutely ridiculous. Beyond unfathomable. People buy all sorts of things all the time, someones behavior doesn't serve as any kind of proof about the accuracy or quality or performance of a piece of equipment. If that were the case, then Bose speakers would be bar none the best sounding loudspeakers in the world. Rolex watches would keep better time than a $19 wristwatch. Expensive and esoteric HDMI cables would provide better pictures than cheap ones.

Behavior of a group of people doesn't trump objective science. Or the world would still be flat, evolution wouldn't exist, and global warming would be a fraud.

Or we could simply go by your unbelieveably ignorant perspective and simply disregard science based purely on the opinions and behaviors of most people.

That a person could even suggest such a concept is simply beyond me...
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post #22 of 914 Old 06-12-2009, 01:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by reedl View Post

I get it. If the Double Blind tests give you the result you want, namely that the more expensive an item is, then it sounds better, then the tests are great.

OTOH if the tests show no hearable or viewable difference, but the price difference is orders of magnitude different, then the tests are flawed.

...Got it!

I agree.

I would encourage everyone to take articles like this with a grain of salt if for no other reason due to the simple fact that any company with a high-end product line would be willing to spend considerable amounts to have articles like these publicized, whether they are true or not.

I am not saying this was the case in this article, but I am saying we should keep that possibility in our minds before jumping onto any conclusions.
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http://www.goodsound.com/editorial/200905.htm
This reviewer believes in blind tests.
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post #24 of 914 Old 06-12-2009, 02:55 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hd_newbie View Post

problem with listening is that it is biased. if you think you will hear a difference, you certainly will end up hearing a difference.

"And if you think you won't hear a difference, you certainly will end up not hearing a difference."

I do not disbelieve in blind tests.

I believe in unbiased properly done blind tests by participants not biased in either direction.

I have done both blind and unblind tests in my system. And I have at times heard what I did not expect with either type of test.

I brought up the article for a topic of discussion - not to necessarily agree with its author or with some of you. HA!

"Doug Winsor" used to troll at some AV Forums as "Steve Bruzonsky"! My home theater at:
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post #25 of 914 Old 06-12-2009, 03:20 PM
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This may help...



At the end of the day you have to either accept that if i can hear no difference, then while there may indeed be one, maybe i have no need of paying for something that i cannot hear.

I trust my ears and my senses... i do not trust my biases.

i just added vinyl to my home setup. now my home setup is a Sony all in one cd uner tape thing that my wife bought ten years or more ago. the record player is an ION USB turntable (analog out to the phone in with regular RCA cords) speakers are (at the moment) a pair of JBL control 25's. (there is a much better system in the garage that has just not been hooked up.)

So i think we can agree that i have no business on this part of the forum ok...

HOWEVER, when i am listening to the vinyl, i would SWEAR that it sounds much better than an equivalent CD. but the reality is that there is no way in hell that is the case.

But my BIAS tells me it is better. even though i will argue all day that a CD has more accurate info that is more accurately presented through a competent system.

So while the conditions in some tests can cause fatigue and make you uncomfortable so that you dont trust yourself and you overthink... etc, etc, etc. at the end of the day, we have to find some way to do a test where our biases are mitigated as mush as we can easily do so... and a DBT (in some fashion) is the only real way we can do so.

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post #26 of 914 Old 06-12-2009, 05:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Bruzonsky View Post

"And if you think you won't hear a difference, you certainly will end up not hearing a difference."

I do not disbelieve in blind tests.

I believe in unbiased properly done blind tests by participants not biased in either direction.

I have done both blind and unblind tests in my system. And I have at times heard what I did not expect with either type of test.

I brought up the article for a topic of discussion - not to necessarily agree with its author or with some of you. HA!

fair enough
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post #27 of 914 Old 06-12-2009, 05:07 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dizzman View Post

This may help...



At the end of the day you have to either accept that if i can hear no difference, then while there may indeed be one, maybe i have no need of paying for something that i cannot hear.

I trust my ears and my senses... i do not trust my biases.

i just added vinyl to my home setup. now my home setup is a Sony all in one cd uner tape thing that my wife bought ten years or more ago. the record player is an ION USB turntable (analog out to the phone in with regular RCA cords) speakers are (at the moment) a pair of JBL control 25's. (there is a much better system in the garage that has just not been hooked up.)

So i think we can agree that i have no business on this part of the forum ok...

HOWEVER, when i am listening to the vinyl, i would SWEAR that it sounds much better than an equivalent CD. but the reality is that there is no way in hell that is the case.

But my BIAS tells me it is better. even though i will argue all day that a CD has more accurate info that is more accurately presented through a competent system.

So while the conditions in some tests can cause fatigue and make you uncomfortable so that you dont trust yourself and you overthink... etc, etc, etc. at the end of the day, we have to find some way to do a test where our biases are mitigated as mush as we can easily do so... and a DBT (in some fashion) is the only real way we can do so.

Dizz,

Nice cartoon!


So you find what you consider to be the perfect blind test. You conduct the test. You don't hear a difference. You take out the Mark Levinson monoblocks and Mark Levinson surround processor. You insert the $500 receiver in their place. And over the next few weeks you find you no longer hear or feel the magic you had in your audio part of your system. So you stick to your blind test and are unhappy and stop using your system much - or you put the old stuff back in. And then you postulate about what was wrong with your blind test, where you "blindly" went wrong???

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http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1158431
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post #28 of 914 Old 06-12-2009, 05:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by apesma View Post

http://www.goodsound.com/editorial/200905.htm
This reviewer believes in blind tests.

Thanks for the link! Here's his next editorial: http://www.goodsound.com/editorial/200906.htm
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post #29 of 914 Old 06-12-2009, 05:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Steve Bruzonsky View Post

Dizz,

Nice cartoon!


So you find what you consider to be the perfect blind test. You conduct the test. You don't hear a difference. You take out the Mark Levinson monoblocks and Mark Levinson surround processor. You insert the $500 receiver in their place. And over the next few weeks you find you no longer hear or feel the magic you had in your audio part of your system. So you stick to your blind test and are unhappy and stop using your system much - or you put the old stuff back in. And then you postulate about what was wrong with your blind test, where you "blindly" went wrong???

Audio is about a lot more than the sound coming out of the speakers. For many people it fulfills needs beyond just the enjoyment of music.
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Originally Posted by Steve Bruzonsky View Post

And then you postulate about what was wrong with your blind test, where you "blindly" went wrong???

Then you realize that your preferences have little to do with sound, and more to do with your personal bias; e.g. bling factor, pride of ownership, big piece of hardware, nice aesthetics, etc.

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence, than it does knowledge. Charles Darwin
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