Compairson ground rules....should we have them?

More often than not, someone will ask, 'How do you compare...' regarding two products--speakers, or electronics. This is fair game, this is a blog site--but too often the comparisons become the 'last word' of the product's value, and with little or no thought to be paid to the relationship of cost between the two products.
This is fair too--but..and a big but here (think Kardashian) if we're talking about the THIEL 3.7 and we start railing about it's lack of deep bass (when comparing it to a speaker costing 2 or 3X as much)...I KNOW, and maybe some of the more traveled audiophiles know...but without context...does the typical person, or neophyte know? Or do they walk away, storing only the statment, 'THIEL 3.7 has limited bass output', in their memory banks--this being misleading.
Audiogon is a constant source of amazement to me--or should I say, 'Human Nature' is that source?

'My name is Dilbert, and I own a pair of $38 dollar, not thousand dollar, Sony speakers that I bought 23 years ago...I'm thinking of replacing them with the MBL 101's...has anyone compared these two?'
At that point someone will offer a comparison of the two with little or no regard for the price differential--in other words an emperical not practical comparison. Don't get me wrong, emperical and practical are both good, and both relevant but rarely part of the discussion.
I suppose this bothers me because people always seem to do this with THIEL--compare them with speakers costing multiples of the THIEL price, as if that's somehow Kosher.
I suppose that it bothers me, because the shortcomings of speaker A (THIEL in this case as I'm harking to a comparison of THIEL versus Egglestons) are highlighted in great detail, as compared to B (the multiple thousand That, coupled with my personal impressions of the Egglestons which is that they are not neutral sounding AND I don't happen to prefer the colors that they've chosen...but now we're in to the crux of audio preferences...chose the 'color' you like.
Whether you're splashing the walls with paint, or splashing the walls with sound, shouldn't a comparison be based on some commonality if we're delving into the two personalities of speakers?
I got cross ways with someone on another A'gon post and made this same point, but it got no traction whatsoever--someone comparing the 3.7 with the Tidal...which at that time was about 2X the price. My comments were...OK, the Tidal may be better, but how does the Tidal compare with speakers costing twice THEIR price? Within that context, let's detail the shortcomings of the Tidals now.

I suppose I'm really saying that questions should have the caveat--I'm asking this question for edification, not to damn with faint praise nor condemn by comparing. CNO comparisons(Cost no object) which would be emperical...all comments are of the 'absolute' variety...any shortcommings of product A, (the lesser priced one) should be taken in context of that obvious price differential.
In my lexicon, Quality is a constant, Value is more elastic...and very time dependant...i.e. where is the buyer's financial health at the moment in question?
My best friend always talks about how much of a 'value' the Mercedez is...yes, of course in his world this is true--at $115K it's a good car...but for the masses, maybe the $39K Buick LaCrosse might just hit the mark more easily. Now, am I going to pretend that the Buick is the equal of the S Car...NO...but all comparisons deserve context.
Just sayin'

Good listening.
I think you have a very valid point, but I don't see anything like ground rules ever happening.

Sometimes, I think that people on this forum forget what it's like to be a the owner of much less expensive system than their own. While power cords and other cables may be a significant improvement in some systems, I think that these types of mods are recommended to far too many people that have systems that likely won't benefit much at all.

I've compared $7 hardware store speaker cables to $2,000 Nordost cables on a Pathos integrated and Focal speakers and while there was a difference it wasn't worth $1,993. That same amount of cash could yield better results for someone with a home theater receiver based system, for example, being spent on something else.
Not only the actual differences are an issue. Folks abilities to distinguish subtleties are all over the place, along with the ability to express those subtle differences.
'My Jaw Dropped' is the 'standard' phrase for noticing a difference.
Then a small barely noticable change is usually reported as a bigger difference than it really is.
This is human nature.
Anyone asking strangers for opinions usually ends up with something seriously value challenged. But you are right, many that come to forums believe that everyone has two good ears, good equipment, good environment, good set up, some degree of expertise, and accepts their advice as gospel. Even when they are accompanied by all of the overly used, non-descriptive terms, such as killer, best, worst, etc!

IMHO, the only value of most opinions in forums is the value they contribute to a very broad consensus, except for those which are very explicit and fill in all the detail needed to understand their value. Even then they are still just personal views, not science or fact.

I recently posted on a thread involving an ARC SP10II, a pre-amp I have used (with others) for over 25 years. The accepted consensus was that the line stage was not well resolved, the phono stage was great, still approaching SOTA by some, and one poster went so far as to say the line stage was "horrible"! Another dissatisfied poster apparently doesn't like the tone, or lack of resolution, but happens to (disclosed in another thread) admit to a serious hearing disability in one ear which of course negates anything which might extend to something like 'stereo imaging', especially subtle differences.

The funny thing is that while the detractors are right, that the line stage is less than highly resolved, it is because its design enlarges the sound field at the expense of absolute pin point imaging. PPI was not so greatly appreciated in the 80's. So it is a choice, no different from many others, such as picking a pair of panel speakers over dynamic speakers, or omni speakers. Except the difference with speakers is more obvious, easily recognized, and the differences are still seen as valid.

Another thing that bugs me are the comments so many folks make about tube equipment without regard to the differences made by the tubes selected. It ain't subtle, yet it is hugely ignored. Much as you must get irritated by folks who praise or dismiss speakers with out reference to amplification and set up.

So it goes I guess. Good luck on developing a format for intelligent equipment assessment from folks looking more for ego enhancement than anything else. :-)
Elizabeth outlined the basic reason such ground rules will never have any meaning, our perceptions of aesthetic & fiscal values are too variable and personal. Your points are very well taken though.
Another point is the level of knowledge assumed to be in the reader is very high.
Unless a thread is stating 'Help me understand', or such, I would assume the people partaking of the thread are knowledgable audiophiles. If the prices of two components are wildly apart, usally someone will chime in and complain the comparo is unfair.
The sort of assumption that because a comment was made in one post that a permanent stigma is attached to a product is small.
Anyway, in general most folks take stuff they read here with a 'grain of salt' at least they should!
Best to read and get a picture of the consensus before jumping off that cliff... And even then one needs to do ones' own thinking. Just because a pile of idiots says JUMP NOW! does not mean it really actually IS a good idea.
When comparing, recommending or criticizing stuff, I try to end posts with something along the lines of "Just my opinion. Everyone's ears, room and system are different." Hopefully they paid attention to that part and even applied it to other posts by other people in the thread.

I can't stand when people make absolute statements like 'there's no way x is better than y,' 'x component is anything but trait z,' etc. Several people said things like that to me when I went against the grain and criticized the Musical Fidelity V-DAC. I stated several times that I thought it was a great DAC for the money, but I found it dull and uninvolving. I also listed several DACs in the same range that I'd take over it. People didn't like that at all. One guy told me that the V-DAC sounds phenominal in his system with a $3k coax cable attached to it. $3k coax cable on a sub $300 DAC? The most absurd thing I've ever heard here.

I guess what I'm trying to say is A) people shouldn't make absolute statements, as their opinion isn't the absolute truth; and B) some people need a lesson in perspective.

All in my opinion, of course. I'm sure many will disagree.
(I use that one often too!)
Larry, I fully agree that all things need a context. But I look at it a little different. I would like to see reviews compare all of their reviews to a single speaker with in 50%-200%. A bass line speaker and price could be the Watt Puppy line for example. They are 26k and could be compared to a $13,000 all the way up to a $52,000..... so it could be "not as good as a Watt Puppy ' or "better than a Watt Puppy" and then elaborated on the subject.

With that said I would not give people on audiogon a hard time. Professional reviews are just as bad about it....

"But, if the gear in front of the Thiels is capable of matching them, and the interconnect and speaker cables are capable of passing the signals properly, the CS7.2 can stand toe-to-toe with any loudspeaker I've ever heard. At $13,500 a pair, I'd put 'em against anybody's $80,000 contender. Hoo-ah!"

"The Thiel CS2.4 is a great loudspeaker, one of the very best I've heard regardless of price. Its treble soars and its bass plummets, but all the while the CS2.4 sounds utterly neutral and musically communicative. This speaker looks gorgeous and has the earmarks of heirloom-quality craftsmanship. The CS2.4 will be at home in a tweaked-out dedicated listening room or in a finely decorated living room, and its moderate size means it won't take up much space in either."

"I briefly auditioned the Thiels while the Avalon Indras that I reviewed in October were still here. The two speakers were essentially cut from the same cloth—both had startling clarity and detail without the in-your-face quality usually implied by "detail." Like the Thiels, the Indras lack a sock-'em bottom end. Of course, the difference in price could buy the Thiels a pretty good subwoofer system. But shipping schedules kept the Indra/Thiel comparison brief, so I trotted out the trusty Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 8 system, because it's such a known reference point for a compact high-quality monitor."

But you do have a point in general. My biggest pet peeve is when people talk about sound-stage between equipment. It is VERY set up and room dependent. Also some speakers are just not integrated well and have weird off axis dispersion and send sounds unevenly all over the room. Some would call the sound stage huge as they can add a false sense space but in reality the speakers do not sound accurate....
The issue in discussing equipment also has a problem in that everyones sound is unique. Either the room shape, size, electrical power delivery, the components each one possibly different themselves, the wires, and then the listener. The Listeners skills at listening, and the listeners skills at describing what he/she has heard.
Such a huge nuber of differences, lucky we can discuss stuff at all and be anywhere near the same place.
one area that may lend itself to some ground rules (good luck with enforcement) is that you only comment if you actually heard the item in question. More than a few responses are puked up-rehashed-read it and want in on the party, stuff.
Paulsax - Or at least provide an honest perspective of our experience or lack there of with the product in question. I think it's possible to provide some seeds for thought or insight without hearing a specific product.
Thanks for mentioning sore point was a review that someone posted on A'gon, a supposed review of my LSA Designs, the Statment 1's. The guy hated literally EVERYTHING about the speaker...all he did was completely dismantle what I know to be a good speaker. Later, we find out that the poster of the review, didn't own them, was 'house sitting' AND had joined Audiogon that day, or that week. Then, he posted four more comments within that week, only to disappear forever from Audiogon. The review was so harsh that I had suspicions, but when you, as the designer take exception, you can look like an idiot or a 'proud father' who's been told that his beauty pagent daughter is not very pretty and or lacks talent.
Because of what happened later, (knowledge of his joining the day of the review, then disappearing) it became obvious that this was almost certainly a 'set up'...harking back, I said at the time...that to sound 'that bad' something had to be wrong with the speakers, unseen shipping damage or something similar---and I offered to replace them at which time the 'wheels came off' as he admitted to being a house guest.
This is off the beaten path, but it does point out how incredibly iffy some communications on Audiogon can be at times--and how credibility can be in question under such extreme circumstances.
Back to the original post...context is king in comparisons and or reviews. Someone who owns a 'beginner system' has every right to post opinions, but how can we assign maximum credibility to a newbie audiophile, who visited a show in Denver...heard the MBL's and talks about how 'horrible' they were. They well may have sounded bad...but I'm not going to assign the same 'weight' to this opinion as I would TVAD, or Blindjim, or a host of others that I respect so very much, and enjoy reading.
It would just help to have some context of their experience as a contributing member.

I agree Paulsax--one shouldn't comment without first hand experience...and Mceljo, if one is providing those 'seeds', make sure you've given the totality of your experience...context again.

Good listening,

The real key to me is actually listening to gear.

However, while I consider myself an audiophile in that I can describe differences in sound when I hear them; I am relatively unknowledgeable because I have heard maybe 20 different speakers and not 200, ten amplifiers and not 50, etc.

Listening to a component before purchasing it can be hard to accomplish. At that point, it is useful to me to refer to Audiogon for information. My thought process is that if I have heard a component that someone else has heard, that is a place to start. If that other person makes a change in that component and then describes what difference the change made, I think that can be valuable information.

Tweeters in and Tweeters out for Maggies is an obvious, easy example. Maggie 1.2 versus Maggie 1.6 or 1.7 is another. You can form a somewhat educated opinion especially if there is a consistent volume of information that seems to be saying the same thing.

Where it gets complicated is trying to determine if the other person’s opinion of the new component is fair and complete. For example, a former Maggie 1.6 owner may state that Ohm speakers sound like Maggies on steroids. They rave about the bass, the fullness of the sound, and wider sweet spot. Well and good. But what are they not saying about image focus and sound detail?

I am not sure what ground rules would help with this. I do not know that dollar ranges would necessarily help either. As a buyer you should be aware of what stuff costs. And how do you decide to believe someone if they state that a $2000 component is easily equal to a $6000 component. Does that mean that the $2000 dollar one is that good or the $6000 one that bad? At that point, I would want to read a fairly consistent volume of comments that reached the same conclusion.

So...after writing this did I just paraphrase Lrsky?
Audiogon is the Wild West; there are no rules here because there is no sheriff. There are of course plenty of wannabe 'know it all' sheriffs but if you dig a little you will find their badge is fake.

People don’t come here for the land, they come to give or receive an opinion. There is no 'last word' just 'words' the value of which is the sole discretion of each reader to decide.

The beauty of the place is clearly not the cacti, lawlessness or perceived injustice – but that you nearly always receive what you came to get – an opinion – and it should be perfectly obvious that to freely obtain that there can be no rules or sheriffs.
Well said--I'm especially fond of the 'opinions' people seek for medical treatments...Why would you ask a bunch of audiophiles about a medical malady?? What value does that have...I always reply, and just did within the past
What could any of us 'non physicians' offer to someone that would assuage any pain or give them hope?

"The best thing about opinions is the cost involved in getting them."

Good listening.
value in one's opinion has to be earned with time.
imho, that is
Thanks Larry,

Regarding "opinions" on audio (as opposed to say medical) it has been my experience that people who come to this and other audio forums don't largely come for the answers – they come in search of affirmation...

To put this another way – people who travel to the AudiogoN Wild West are looking to confirm what they believe they already know. A synthesis has already taken place.

The above observation applied to the topic of this thread might lead us to conclude that the guy who thinks the THIEL 3.7 has limited bass output - likely believed this before visiting this site. Since we do not see things as they are, rather we tend to see things as we are or how we have already interpreted them – the suggested comparison ground rules are not likely to be helpful.

What do you think?

I agree with your last post and want to add some food for thought, context.

Context is very important, take a good pair of speakers with "great" bass output and add a sub. Turn the sub WAY up (like your 16) and listen to a few songs. After a few songs turn the sub off and I am sure your speakers with "great" bass will now sound thin and weak. Now they are not thin at all but in context they are and it can take a good bit of time to readjust.

I had this type of thing happen to me when I demoed the 3.7. I demoed the 3.7 a good number of times (5 or more, lost track). The first time I heard them I was impressed by their solid bass. It had good depth, power, tonality, and was very balanced, all in all it was memorable.

A few weeks later I listened to the Sophia 3 in the same room and then switch to the Thiel 3.7. The Sophia sounded fine and had lots of bass output with a clear hump in room at 80hz-ish. I got use to the bass output after listening to the speakers for a good hour or two. I then switch to the 3.7 on the same system. This was the same room and system I originally heard the 3.7 where I liked the bass so well..... after the Sophia's humped bass (in this room at least) the 3.7s sounded thin and weak. Even after 30 minutes the bass seemed weak.

So I have to ask myself was the bass really weak on the 3.7 or was the Sophia 3 colored tonally. I tend to think the Sophia is colored but other would disagree. But the demo did make me think the 3.7 may not have enough bass output for large rooms. I never questioned the bass depth of the 3.7 though. Thiels specs are very honest and it really does play down to 30hz. If the Thiels only go to 30hz in the room I heard them, many other brands are lying about their speakers because the 3.7 reaches far deeper (before taking a dive) than some speakers I have heard "rated" as low or even lower.

All in all context is often forgotten and I believe that is what Larry is really trying to make a point about. The context of money gets tricky though. How many times have you read a review or thought a speaker plays way out of it's price class? With so many good "budget" speakers playing out of their price class maybe we should expect more for our money. Maybe the over achievers are not over achievers but the expensive speaker is under achieving.
In audio forums you have a large difference in experience levels and technical knowledge the sad part about the audio forum concept in general is people usually give about the same value to comments, expert or novice all receive near equal voice and value. The less experienced have a harder time sorting the wheat from the chaff. Professionals are chased away by strict rules and accusations of self promotion. So in the end bias improper system set ups mismatches novice reviews all get reported and passed about as facts. Real experience and technical knowledge is drowned out by floods of those with little experience or technical knowledge. Today you can find wrong information to support most any bias. And its passed about as fact.
Hi James63,

I very much agree on the importance of context. What drives me over the edge is to read opinions proffered on one product vs. another when the context is very different, i.e. the products were heard in different locations and/or with different electronics. It seems to miss some folks that one of the biggest problems in evaluating loudspeakers comes down to the unavoidable fact that the speaker is at the end of a chain of other components, and that chain (particularly the amplifier) will impose its own character on the signal the speaker reproduces.

Even assuming two pairs of loudspeakers are heard in the same room and system there are still difficulties in proclaiming one product is better than another in part because the components being used and / or the inherent acoustics of the room may suit one loudspeaker more than the other. I've witnessed situations where I thought one pair of loudspeakers was superior to another - then I moved some acoustic panels around and my earlier thoughts were completely undone.

One (of many) potential other problems is one of expectation bias. We think one product should sound better than another even before the listening actually starts… We then look for affirmation of that expectation and we come to sites like AudiogoN to receive it.
I think that the point about context is really important, especially as you get into tweaking versus component changeout.

I shy away of opinions regarding speaker wires and interconnects because I question how many people get the context right - a true A to B comparison without knowing which one is A and which is one B.

This is an area where I have virtually no experience so maybe someone can provide some free advice regarding cables (or affirmation of my opinion!).
Old timers here may remember Sean describing how components sounded solely based on measurements and how it was designed (layout, type of components, etc.) To that end, auditioning becomes less meaningful and even irrelevant. Some designers of components like Lamm or YG do it solely this way and I understand their stuff sounds pretty good :-)

Before I get my head taken off, I just throw this out there because there's gotta be a better way than driving across the country to hear stuff or deciding on vacations based on stereo dealers.