Are You More of an Audio Objectivist or Subjectivist? - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
View Poll Results: Are You More of an Audio Objectivist or Subjectivist?
Objectivist 121 55.00%
Subjectivist 99 45.00%
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post #1 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 10:30 AM - Thread Starter
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Are You More of an Audio Objectivist or Subjectivist?



The battle between these opposing approaches to audio evaluation rages on. Where do you stand?

Mark Henninger's excellent report from the New York Audio Show restimulated an age-old debate in audiophilia—objectivism versus subjectivism. Objectivists rely on measurements of test tones as an essential part of evaluating and reporting an audio device's performance—perhaps even giving these measurements the final say—while subjectivists rely mostly on their perception of a device's performance playing real music. They must also use words to describe their experience, which much more difficult than presenting test results.

Both camps have their strengths and weaknesses. Measurements can reveal a lot, but the results often depend heavily on how they are performed, so those results might be misleading. For subjectivists, the final arbiter is how "good" a product sounds playing real music, but what's good for one listener might not be good for another—this is the very essence of subjective experience. Plus, I've seen cases in which a product did not measure well but was judged by reviewers to sound great, and vice versa.

Where do you stand on this issue? Are you more of an objectivist or subjectivist? Of course, most audiophiles consider both approaches if possible, but which one has greater weight for you?

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post #2 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 10:46 AM
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Both.

I rely heavily on instrumented testing of test frequencies to dial in the parametric eqs on my subs, as well as to determine initial placement and amounts of room treatments, but in the end the ear gets the final say.

-Suntan
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post #3 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 10:57 AM
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Nice OP. These debate and how one designs say a pair of speakers depends on a combination of both. For example, if one listens to live music one tends to get tired after a while. Depending of course on the instruments, there will be a lot of high frequency info. Whether you hear it depends in part on how far away from the instrument you are and your high frequency hearing which for most will be substantially diminished. When a loudspeaker designer designs a speaker, he measures usually at 1 meter although most listen at say 3 meters. This will make the speakers quite listenable at 3 meters because of the HF roll of at that distance.some designers, such as the departed Jim Thiel measure at 3 meters and his speakers are considerably liver than say Richard Vandersteen's who designs at 1 meter. So what's better, designing for accuracy at the listening position which might be very fatiguing or designing for long term listening?

Assuming one measures wherever, and sets everything up for accuracy by the numbers. Likely it may sound like garbage to ones ears. Remember most all here have diminished hearing. we may have to compensate by boosting the highs over what the measured response at are listing position would be accurate. To me subjective would trump but the starting point must be measured and set up accurately and then subjectively adjusted.

For HT listening with multi channel, most of the set up would be objective but some high frequency subject boast will often to required to accommodate the let us call impairment of the listeners. Hope this helps and I, of course, am always open to correction and not at all sensitive to correction or even strong disagreement.
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post #4 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 11:09 AM
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I like the Toole approach of "bridging the gap" between subjective and objective evaluations. Measurements aren't useful if they have no correlation to what we hear, but neither is simply listening if it has high variability from non auditory bias. A reasonable compromise seems to be to use bias controlled double-blind listening tests to find out what measurements are most useful and use them to predict preference. When those measurements are known, they can be used alone to predict preference with a higher degree of precision than sighted listening tests.
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post #5 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 11:17 AM
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Seeing this video is probably getting old for some, but it is compelling. Anyone who thinks he/she can "trust [his/her] ears" needs to watch it.
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post #6 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 11:22 AM
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As important as measurements may be, I really do rely/trust more what I am hearing than data on a piece of paper.

Simply put, I guess I am a subjectivist.

Paul
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post #7 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 11:24 AM
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I would have to say I am a bit of both. If I had to quantify it, I would come down more in the objectivist camp. I have been into high end audio since the mid 80's. When it comes to sonic differences between different types of gear, my philosophy is that if I think their may be a difference or if I really have to think about it, there isn't any. Pretty simple actually and it has always worked for me. I haven't heard much difference in interconnects and speaker wire over a certain price point which for me is about $500 tops. I have heard differences in power cords up to about $100. After that I am firmly into the there may be mindset and hence, I reject it. as noted. I hear differences between tube vs solid state. I prefer the sound and reliability of solid state. Where I hear the most in the way of differences is between speakers which is the most important aspect of sound reproduction, along with the room. Too much of the current high end is audio bling for my taste. I don't find the uber expensive stuff all that pleasing frankly as I have noted before. I have heard some really good sounding expensive stuff but find that the more modestly priced stuff most times sounds every bit as good and often times better. That pretty much sums up my audio "philosophy".
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post #8 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 11:31 AM
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It would sequential with objective measurements and then subjective adjustments. It is really irrelevant what percentage is assigned to them, the subjective adjustment even if it is only a small percent trumps.
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post #9 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 11:34 AM
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My take on subjectivism vs. objectivism is different than the way Scott described it. All of us are reacting to / perceiving the sound of audio equipment subjectively. In that sense, we're all subjectivists. However, it's a fundamental premise of objectivism that real differences that are perceived arise from measureable (and therefore knowable) differences in objects that are external to the observer. Perceived differences that aren't real arise in the mind, meaning there are no actual meaningful differences in the external objects. This is why the objectivist emphasizes measurements. The die hard subjectivist refuses to acknowledge this difference, and states that all that matters is what he perceives. He is hostile to any procedure designed to separate what is in his mind from what is externally real.
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post #10 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 11:47 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott Wilkinson View Post
objectivism versus subjectivism. Objectivists rely on measurements of test tones as an essential part of evaluating and reporting an audio device's performance—perhaps even giving these measurements the final say—while subjectivists rely mostly on their perception of a device's performance playing real music. They must also use words to describe their experience, which much more difficult than presenting test results.


Your definitions were written by, or given to you by, a subjectivist camp member and are inaccurate.


A subjectivist relies on sighted evaluations of themselves or "expert" reviewers. They may or may not take measurements and try to do any correlations of them to their sighted experience. Data that doesn't correlate well is disregarded and is considered proof that "Our ears are better arbiters than test instruments" rather than considering the sighted evaluation may have been keying on some other cues or influences, possibly subliminal to the test subject (the listener), such as, for example, small level differences < 1 dB, the price tag, etc.. Oddly data that does correlate is trotted out as proof they were "correct", so interestingly measured data always fits their overall agenda!

An objectivist, AKA a person whose data the AES might actually consider for publication, uses blind (ideally double blind) tests of groups of people in order to establish if an audible difference can be discerned with a predetermined level of statistical significance. If one person is found to have "golden ears", or is specifically trained to hear subtleties, such as how Harman research is often conducted, then they are often hand selected to do further, more refined testing.

In A/V reproduction accuracy, there IS no concept of "accounting for personal taste/preference". As art consumers we don't "pick" the level of bass, nor the tint/brightness of a scene's sky, any more than we pick the ending of a novel or Mona Lisa's type of smile. "High fidelity" means "high truthfulness", faithful to the original artist's intent: an unmodified, neutral, accurate copy of the original master, ideally being exact and with no discernable alterations, aka "transparency".

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post #11 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 11:58 AM
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Wait, which one is good and which is evil?

I subjectively find myself to be an objectivist. Others may disagreement with me, but that's ok...
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post #12 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 12:01 PM
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You actually hit the nail on the head, Scott, when you asked your recent subjectivist magazine reviewer in a podcast I watched [paraphrased], "But doesn't finding just one test subject who can reliably hear a difference prove there's an audible difference?"

What you got was a bunch of hand waving and misdirection, but the correct answer to your very good question is a simple "YES". If under carefully designed conditions made to preclude outside variables we find just one person who can reliably show statistical significance in repeated tests, then we can safely say "It is audible (under at least some circumstances to some individuals)".

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post #13 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 12:06 PM
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Everyone is both the debate is the illusion when its all said and done and the two sides are reconciled its happy listening "Kumbaya" Just look at society today (and perhaps always) once something gets labeled your now forced into taking sides or joining a clan or faction or worse identify oneself with said label

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Wow! now does the above indeed make me a philosopher? Indeed I do wonder

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post #14 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 12:18 PM
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post #15 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 12:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by m. zillch View Post
That is a great link! Being in the hobby for 40+ years, I still "listen" - probably makes me more of an anarchist!
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post #16 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 12:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by m. zillch View Post
You actually hit the nail on the head, Scott, when you asked your recent subjectivist magazine reviewer in a podcast I watched [paraphrased], "But doesn't finding just one test subject who can reliably hear a difference prove there's an audible difference?"

What you got was a bunch of hand waving and misdirection, but the correct answer to your very good question is a simple "YES".
Here it is, at 6m14s, with his 5 minutes long evasive response following:

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post #17 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 12:49 PM
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See! to many labels

Now choose

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post #18 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 12:50 PM
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I'm in full support of acoustic measurements to be taken before, during and after the build of the room. With proper selection of equipment and set-up, it should sound awfully good.
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post #19 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 12:51 PM
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trick question. Listening is what counts, but I would have a hard time even trying speakers that had lousy measurements.
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post #20 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 12:57 PM
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The primary point of contention I've most often noticed isn't that objectivists claim that measurements can provide you with all necessary information but that subjectivists often refuse to acknowledge the power--and sometimes even the presence--of listener bias. Subjective observation is important, but without removing variables and all forms of bias its value is at best anecdotal.
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post #21 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 01:04 PM
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Unfortunately, the objectivists largely aren't approaching things the right way. It would be easy to prove if the objective tests hold water. Use the objective measurements and compare them to double blind testing of people's subjective impressions. If those two patterns show that the objective tests largely correlate to the subjective testing then you'd know whether or not the objective hypothesis is useful or useless.

I've never seen an industry to hell bent on not testing anything and so many people willing to give money to things that if they bothered to look for 10 minutes would show that's an utter waste of money.

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The primary point of contention I've most often noticed isn't that objectivists claim that measurements can provide you with all necessary information but that subjectivists often refuse to acknowledge the power--and sometimes even the presence--of listener bias. Subjective observation is important, but without removing variables and all forms of bias its value is at best anecdotal.
A study showing that their subjectivity was or wasn't correlated to the objective tests would settle the whole debate.

An easy way to do this would be to have 8 tower speakers of various price ranges. Do a double blind test. Test the objective measurements of each one. Test the subjective measurements of each one. See if these two are correlated. If they are, then the objective measurements matter. If they don't, the subjective measurements matter.

In terms of buying patters on this forum, you see people going both ways. People tend to love the X-4000 mid-range AVR since it has solid room correction. The people who I've read who have tested multiple AVR's in a blind test don't pick it as the best sounding AVR. They make their choice based on objective criteria. In other cases, it's purely objective.

The industry just needs someone with a few resources to fix this.

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post #22 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 01:22 PM
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Had a friend whom subjectively LOVED his HT system. Running it with two subs for a few years now with a really nice amp that has DSP on it (but not used).

I come over and measure the room and there is a large suck out 7-8 dB worth at 54Hz and a 4 dB rise at 70Hz. Able to position one sub and get back 2dB.

We next go into the DSP, add 5dB of boost, set the proper delay and go back in and play some movie snippets. All the sudden for him it is like having new subs.

I've seen way more measurements of rooms and what the system is capable of with the Objectivists vs the Subjectivist and the best systems I have heard are from the Objective crowd.

An audiophile likes to talk about how much they spent and how good it sounds.

A DIY'er likes to talk about how little they spent and how good it sounds.

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post #23 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 01:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott Wilkinson View Post
Objectivists rely on measurements of test tones as an essential part of evaluating and reporting an audio device's performance—perhaps even giving these measurements the final say—while subjectivists rely mostly on their perception of a device's performance playing real music.
The classic Meyer and Moran study, who are both objectivists, didn't rely on measurements, test tones, or number crunching of the SACD vs. CD players' distortion, jitter, frequency response, etc., at all, in their AES published study. It was exclusively an analysis of what people hear under carefully controlled conditions which are immune to the biases of sighted evaluations.
http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=14195
http://www.drewdaniels.com/audible.pdf

In A/V reproduction accuracy, there IS no concept of "accounting for personal taste/preference". As art consumers we don't "pick" the level of bass, nor the tint/brightness of a scene's sky, any more than we pick the ending of a novel or Mona Lisa's type of smile. "High fidelity" means "high truthfulness", faithful to the original artist's intent: an unmodified, neutral, accurate copy of the original master, ideally being exact and with no discernable alterations, aka "transparency".
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post #24 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 01:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DDailey View Post
That is a great link! Being in the hobby for 40+ years, I still "listen" - probably makes me more of an anarchist!
"Anarchist!" That's me. Why isn't that an option on the poll? ;p

Seriously though - more objectivist in any place where it can be reasonably applied, more subjectivist where there is no truly objective evaluation. Speakers and headphones - more subjectivist that objectivist. Electronics - more objectivist than subjectivist. Not purely either in either circumstance.

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post #25 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 02:09 PM
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I've seen way more measurements of rooms and what the system is capable of with the Objectivists vs the Subjectivist and the best systems I have heard are from the Objective crowd.
Then you have just sampled subjectivists that don't know what they are missing.

Pure objectivity says that my subs should be running anywhere from 10db to 15db hotter than my mains (depending on who's objectivity you find more correct) with a roll off through the transition. But I don't really like to listen with the subs that loud. Instead I only like about 3 to 6db more.

I objectively use measurement to ensure my subs aren't suffering large dips/peaks, but I subjectively decide that my ears prefer it a way that your established parameters say is "bad." So what do I do? - Go with what subjectively makes my ears happy in my theater.

-Suntan
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post #26 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 02:52 PM
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Originally Posted by SyntheticShrimp View Post
Seeing this video is probably getting old for some, but it is compelling. Anyone who thinks he/she can "trust [his/her] ears" needs to watch it. - the McGurk Effect video
This is probably just as old, but anyone who thinks they can trust their eyes could look at this:



The squares marked A and B are the same shade of gray.

http://web.mit.edu/persci/people/ade..._illusion.html
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post #27 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 02:56 PM
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Suntan, I suspect you set your subs not to what is objectively "bad" but rather to what particular equal loudness contour "sounds correct to an average human, for that given SPL being used" which if often markedly different than "flat", true, but certainly doesn't break any objectivist rules, in actually it follows them:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal-loudness_contour


You also can't assume the CDs/movies we buy are EQd for reproduction in a room with an actually flat response. They aren't.

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post #28 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 03:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RayDunzl View Post
This is probably just as old, but anyone who thinks they can trust their eyes could look at this:



The squares marked A and B are the same shade of gray.

http://web.mit.edu/persci/people/ade..._illusion.html
Excellent example of why those subjectivists who claim that whatever they perceive defines Ultimate Reality are dead wrong.
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post #29 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 03:28 PM
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I voted Objectivist. I certainly use test instruments but I've listened to so much live orchestra music, chamber music, unplugged folk/jazz...etc. that I think if have a pretty good ear. When I was mixing audio a lot I could eq a room by ear pretty quickly, now I'm doing mostly video so I've gotten slower at eq'ing audio.

An audio system should both measure right/test right and sound right.

When I played music a lot as a musician my intonation was impeccable but I still tested myself on a daily basis. My ability to play in tune was learned through hard work and was not innate, I could usually tell when something was off but didn't know what adjustment to make untill I tested myself, eventually I learned to play very much in tune. Is that objective or subjective? I think ear training through objective means can be very much objective even though it may look and feel subjective at times.

The same music group playing in two different top quality venues can sound very different. Is one room wrong/bad and the other room right/good? I don't think so. They're simply different.

At some point does audio objectivity break down? Should the music simply be allowed to take on a life of it's own? If so then where in the audio chain does objectivity break down? Are some peoples audio systems so subjective they essentially create a remix? I know people that have listened to so much bump and sizzle they've gone bass and treble def...are these people really hearing things closer to flat when they turn up the bass and treble now?

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post #30 of 264 Old 10-16-2014, 03:58 PM
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Objective to short-list....subjective to choose.

Same with cars: a series of criteria, specs and data will help me narrow a the field from thousands of options down to an STI, Evo or S4, but only a drive can make the choice obvious.

If you want a 7.x system of a particular form factor to reach a certain SPL across a given Hz range (+\- XdB) at a given distance for a set amount of money....stats help to narrow the field.

From there, "which one sounds best to you?"
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