Introspection and hyperbole control

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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#1
Words are useful only to the extent they help us distinguish certain things from other things. In this hobby, which generally is subjective listening oriented and thus usually not quantitative or scientific oriented, we typically use words, and not numbers, to express our subjective views about, our impressions about and our evaluations of, the sonic characteristics of audio components and of high-end systems. We describe, among many other characteristics, the magnitude of improvement or degradation in one or more aspects of sound quality; our estimates of frequency ranges and sonic characteristics within each frequency range; spectrums of macrodynamics, microdynamics, brightness, timbre and speed; perceptions of relative amounts of detail; linearity or lumpiness of perceived frequency response; etc.

If someone has an elaborate, very expensive, state-of-the-art type of system which he has been optimizing, tweaking and perfecting for years, and he changes the input tubes in his pre-amp, I am sure there will be differences in sound qualities between the old tubes and the new tubes which at least some of us will be able to hear. But does that change in input tubes cause a major improvement in sound quality, a small improvement in sound quality or a tiny improvement in sound quality? Is that improvement in sound quality actually a net improvement on an aggregated basis, or has the listener improved one sonic attribute to the detriment of one or more other sonic attributes? Is an improvement in one aspect of sound quality (e.g., “less analytical”) offset, or more than offset, by losses in other aspects of sound quality (e.g., less dynamic and lower “jump factor” and, therefore, less “live” sounding)?

If a member with a revealing, dynamic, full-range and linear frequency response system tapes a two foot square piece of sound absorbing material above each of his speakers in a large, dedicated listening room, is it truly accurate to report a “significant” increase in soundstaging or a “dramatic” reduction in instrumental smearing? What is the starting point intending to be referenced? Did you explain to us that starting point in your post? Are you articulating accurately and authentically the magnitude of the difference you believe you hear, and not merely gleefully reporting your understandable and justifiable excitement about having made a very small, marginal improvement to an already stunningly believable system?

Does replacing the Stillpoint Ultra SSs with Stillpoint Ultra 5s underneath your speakers really make your speakers sound like “new” or “different” speakers? Are you trying to describe a significant increase in some sonic attribute or an incremental increase in that sonic attribute? Are they truly a “major upgrade”? How are you defining “major”? Is your description carefully thought-through, evaluated and as accurate as you can articulate? Are you sure that “like new” truly is what you mean? Is the difference really that significant? Did going back to the Ultra SSs really cause your soundstage to “collapse”?

I hereby respectfully request greater introspection about how each of us describes the differences each of us hears, and about the magnitude of the differences each of us hears. This is a plea to each of my fellow WBF members to think carefully about how you think about and evaluate and describe the changes you believe you hear and the magnitude of the changes you believe you hear.

The level of intellectual discourse on WBF in general is already remarkably high, I think. I am hoping to raise our standards even higher.

By being careful about hyperbole and unintended exaggeration, and by thinking long and hard about the sonic difference you are evaluating and the magnitude of the sonic difference you are evaluating, and the relative importance of the change in question versus the “before” sound of your system overall, you are helping each of us to better understand what you are attempting to describe, and you are explaining more convincingly the changes you made to the sound quality of your system.

Disclaimer: The examples used herein do not refer to any particular member or any particular posting. Any similarities to any member or posting are purely coincidental and unintended.
 
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DaveC

Industry Expert
Nov 16, 2014
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#2

rbbert

Active Member
Dec 12, 2010
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#3
I seem to recall similar sentiments expressed in the past. I also seem to recall what turn out to be just differences initially touted as "huge improvements", later downgraded to "I ended up returning to my original (setup, component, whatever)"
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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Beverly Hills, CA
#4
Dave, while I do not think we all hear things differently (i.e., I am sure we could categorize listeners into a number of groups) you certainly make good points.

That what's a major change to one person may be minor to another is, I think, closely related to the problem of the incomparability of interpersonal utility (e.g., there is no principled way to prove that I like chocolate ice cream more than you like vanilla ice cream).
 
Jul 22, 2010
380
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SF Bay
#5
Ron,

Thank you for requesting everyone give some thought to the relative changes in system sound with the changes they make. I can understand the enthusiasum we all have when an improvement is made in our systems, but it can be hard to relate to some of the incredible gains with system tweaks.

Dan
 

DaveC

Industry Expert
Nov 16, 2014
2,430
255
83
#6
Dave, while I do not think we all hear things differently (i.e., I am sure we could categorize listeners into a number of groups) you certainly make good points.

That what's a major change to one person may be minor to another is, I think, closely related to the problem of the incomparability of interpersonal utility (e.g., there is no principled way to prove that I like chocolate ice cream more than you like vanilla ice cream).
I don't think we physically hear things differently, at least not by a lot, and the Harman tests seem to indicate our preferences are not as unique as we'd like to think... but our interpretation of the magnitude of changes certainly varies quite a bit!
 

spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
7,790
598
113
E. England
#7
We're definitely guilty of hyperbole.
I opened the Entreq thread and 100+ pages later, it's still going strong - and yes, I laid one superlative upon another early on
Interestingly, I disconnected it all a few days ago, and despite the changes not being as negative as I might have imagined, so many aspects of the sound just weren't right. Even on reconnecting, there remained a disconnect from the music, that only righted itself 24hrs later.
So, has it been as worthy of praise by me?
I'd still say yes, but the changes in some way are more fundamental than I first noted, despite not being as black and white as i FIRST posted.
 
Nov 3, 2014
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#8
I don't think we physically hear things differently, at least not by a lot, and the Harman tests seem to indicate our preferences are not as unique as we'd like to think... but our interpretation of the magnitude of changes certainly varies quite a bit!
I agree very much with the concept of this thread, and also your post, DaveC. The question then becomes what determines our "interpretation of the magnitude of changes" and what makes them vary by so much? I suspect a number of key factors, beyond the oversimplified notion that we just hear things differently. Yes, we do hear things somewhat differently. But, there are other factors underlying that beyond just hearing acuity.

Obviously, there is the question of the extent of listener experience with other systems. That is a major variable with Internet posts, where we often have no idea of the extent to which unknown posters have meaningful listening experience. Too often, they clearly have too little of that. Even among reviewers, it is quite obvious that many have little audio expertise outside of a certain niche of equipment "genres" and musical preferences.

But, I think the main reasons for all the hyperbole that seems to be the norm infecting ordinary audiophiles are manufacturer marketing copy, salesy dealers and magazine or internet reviewers. If we are older and wiser, I think we expect to take the manufacturers and dealers with a huge grain of "let the buyer beware" salt because of the obvious biases. That is of course true beyond just audio.

My biggest problem is with published reviewer opinions, which, with rare exception, overdramatize sonic differences and overinflate listener expectations. There are only a handful of reviewers, two of whom I know personally, that courageously avoid that and keep a realistic perspective of sonic magnitude in assessing audio gear. But, there is a tsunami of all the others who regularly pollute magazines and web reviews with over the top, hyperbolic prose that magnifies small differences, turning them into the proverbial "big" differences. I have known a few of those, as well, but I do not consider them friends because I do not respect their intellectual integrity. Some have even agreed with me that their systems under review were very good, but not over the top. That did not prevent the published front cover and featured review hyperbole, however.

This is not something new, of course. It goes back into the 70's and it seems to have gathered increasing momentum over the years. It has become a culture, a norm, not easily checked as generations of new reviewers and wannabes have jumped onto the subjective bandwagon emulating their peers. I do not wish to name names, but my impression is that, JGH in the old Stereophile - the first high end audio journalist - was clearly not guilty of this. It all seemed to go sour as the high end movement and purely subjective reviews gained popularity. That, and ad revenues based on mag circulation (or web views) replaced reader subscriptions as the predominant source of revenue. You gotta be nice to the advertisers or you might not get future review samples. The exceptions among reviewers, whom I praise and rely on, remain relatively rare and far between.

There are no well defined standards for subjective reviews, of course. That would seem to allow an "anything goes" attitude in reviews and in web postings. Who is to say they are wrong? Well, me for one, because I have my own sense of perspective and what their review samples sound like.

Have I become a total cynic? Perhaps. But, these are reasons I prefer more technical data, more "audio science", upon which to verify claims based on only sighted, subjective listening and the creative prose based on questionable experience we get fed regularly.
 
Apr 3, 2010
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Seattle, WA
#10
I think to a large extent, this is human nature. Here is a much simplified version of this. I have compared two files and found one to be much better. More resolution. More analog like. More real. Only to find out later that they were identical! So if we can manufacture such huge fidelity difference out of nothing, surely we are liable to do it even more if there are differences. I call this "euphonic amplification." :) When we are happy about a difference, even a small one (or non-existent one), we do hear much larger difference than there may be.

Unfortunately this is a two-edged source. The euphonic factor, being what it is, can disappear. Maybe that explains why the big differences we think there are, don't last over time and we go onto the next big difference.
 

treitz3

Super Moderator
#11
Hello Amir and good evening to you. That is too simplified IMO and with your ears being able to determine things that most can't, I would imagine that you would have picked up on something being identical. Either that or there were circumstances that lead you to come to the conclusion that they were different at the time you observed. I'm not talking about mind games, bias or BS. I'm talking about some kind of difference between a multitude of other things like playback mechanisms, different cords, etc...

Tom
 
Apr 3, 2010
16,021
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Seattle, WA
#12
Hi Tom. Thank for the compliment regarding my hearing. Sadly, it does not make me immune to imagining things. Five years ago, near inception of this forum, I created a thread on "most embarrassing moments" of my audio life. If you look in there, http://www.whatsbestforum.com/showthread.php?1014-Your-most-embarrassing-audio-moments, you will see two instance (#3 and #4) of this documented there. There have been many more, I am more embarrassed to admit :).
 
Jul 1, 2010
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#13
Hyperbole relief would be good. Better still would be a change in terminology. No need to join the science of audio forum, but if audiophiles would just describe what they hear in clear, defined terms -- a slight roll-off of upper trebles, lower noise floor leading to better dynamics, etc., that alone would temper hyperbolic language. "Soundstage" is a combination of definable ingredients. It doesn't have to be a mystery; that's just lazy and convenient. "Micro dynamics" is dynamics, period. And it is defined, primarily, by the depth of the noise floor and the resulting ability of the softest sounds in a recording to be heard. Using some universally accepted and understood language would really be helpful. Making it up as we go along just leads us to bad communication and worse poetry.

Tim
 
Jul 25, 2012
2,556
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NY
#14
. . . . If someone has an elaborate, very expensive, state-of-the-art type of system which he has been optimizing, tweaking and perfecting for years, and he changes the input tubes in his pre-amp, I am sure there will be differences in sound qualities between the old tubes and the new tubes which at least some of us will be able to hear. But does that change in input tubes cause a major improvement in sound quality, a small improvement in sound quality or a tiny improvement in sound quality?. . . .
or is it just DIFFERENT and the owner was in need of a change?
 

treitz3

Super Moderator
#15
"Micro dynamics" is dynamics, period.
Unless you have heard the difference, Tim. ;) It would be nice to have a universal and widely accepted "dictionary" of audible terms to make communication better for all though.

Tom
 
Jul 1, 2010
8,713
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#16
Unless you have heard the difference, Tim. ;) It would be nice to have a universal and widely accepted "dictionary" of audible terms to make communication better for all though.

Tom
I've heard very small details that are the result of improved dynamics, Tom. Their revelation are the result of things that are already in the dictionary.

Tim
 
May 30, 2010
14,942
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Portugal
#17
Unless you have heard the difference, Tim. ;) It would be nice to have a universal and widely accepted "dictionary" of audible terms to make communication better for all though.

Tom
Tom,

IMHO we already have such "dictionary". We know hyperbole is part of it. Many of us have been happily using it with success during many years in WBF and long before WBF.

I hope audiophiles do not want to become a children's choir!
 

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Ronm1

Member Sponsor
Feb 21, 2011
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#18
Dave, while I do not think we all hear things differently (i.e.,
Not so long ago a simple 'what is soundstage and imaging' turned into many pages of hyperbole that would challenge many copies of Roget's. Simple and succinct just won't do.
 

dallasjustice

Member Sponsor
Apr 12, 2011
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#19
One thing that bothers me is when a subjective opinion is camouflaged with objective terminology. For example, I read folks saying they "tested" a cable. In reality, they simply swapped a cable and listened. Their impressions of that cable are 100% subjective. It's not a "test" even though there's nothing wrong with expressing the subjective opinion.
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
6,144
696
113
Beverly Hills, CA
#20

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