We've been asking ourselves this question since we did some of the first ABX tests back in the late 1970s. Here are some answers that we have come up with based on over 35 years of observation:
Most audio industry insiders know about the results of doing good listening tests but are in denial. The common denial strategies are:
(1) Double Deaf Denial. These individuals believe that even though tens of thousands of people of all ages and levels of experience with audio obtain the same null results, they are all hearing-challenged.
(2) Magic System Denial. These individuals believe that even though audio systems of just about any cost, opulence, or performance level in existence have been used during ABX tests and obtained similar outcomes, people would start hearing differences if they stopped using such cursed equipment in their DBTs and used the right magic boxes instead.
(3) Procedural Denial. These individuals believe that the various added controls used during DBTs change the listening experience in subtle but profound ways that even what they think are obvious differences are totally masked. A sales guy helicoptering over and buzzing around the listeners like you find at your typical high end audio salon would greatly improve listener performance.
(4)"It is a business", Denial. ABX, schmabx. ABX has been around for almost 40 years and there has been a great business to be done while ignoring it. Why change?
(5) Philosophical Denial. Only Objectivists do ABX tests, and only Subjectivists can set up good sounding audio systems and know how to listen.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply Arnyk... The only other denial strategy I might add (though I suppose it's a variant of #3) is the "Testing Axiety" denial. ...The silly notion that differences which are sooo apparent during normal listening suddenly disappear when subjects are put under the duress of testing. ..Ugh.
Yes, I agree that Testing Anxiety Denial is part of Procedural Denial. Anxiety Denial basically claims that listening tests where thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars in equipment purchases are at stake are less stressful than listening tests where at most bragging rights are at stake.
A test of an anonymized pool of all of the Stereophile reviewers has been rejected, with anxiety being given as the reason why.
Philosophical point - negative hypotheses are difficult or impossible to prove or even just support. Even though there is no negative in the phrase "It sounds the same" it is a negative hypothesis. So We avoid trying to prove that all amplifiers sound the same, instead we test amplifiers and find that we frequently fail to find the allegedly obvious differences that their purveyors and fan boys say are so easy to hear.
Line up a supplier of cheap but cool looking speaker cables (with blueish annondized connectors and maybe even a wood box for packaging) then using DBT's compare them with the most expensive Stereophile class "A" recommended speaker cables, then use the results in my marketing. ..Something like, "In carefully controlled blinded trials, subjects found my $85 Excalibur cables to be absolutely indistinguishable from the $2500 AudioQuest Celestials (..or whatever). And to make it even more compelling, my cohort of listeners would include Univ. of Penn. music dept. students plus as many area audiophiles as I could line up. ....Of course, I'd happily provide details of the testing protocol and equipment used in the "fine print" of my ad. ..I wonder if I could be sued for doing this by AudioQuest (or whomever)? ..Don't see how I could if I adequately substantiate my claims. ..Alas, I don't have the stomach engage in such shenanigans.
Line cord versus whatever was the hottest high end cable at the time was tested using cable-swapping DBTs by The Audiophile Society of Westchester County, if memory serves in the 1980s, with the (random guessing) results published as a letter in The Audio Amateur (now Audio Express or whatever they call it today). If you look at the quantification of technical differences among good power amps and compare that to the differences among reasonble cables, there should be no surprises.
Everybody who advocates high end cables as some kind of panacea or prerequisite for the best sound quality is basically slipping on a pointed cap and seating themselves in a corner. They are thus making themselves very easy to recognize! ;-)
Edited by arnyk - 7/24/13 at 9:25am