Food for thought for all us audiophiles

Hello fellow Audiogon members,

I came upon this article the other day. I'm afraid the sentiments revealed in it are all too common to those on the outside of our hobby.


I completely agree with the issues raised in the article and find it quite well reasoned. There are infinite ways that our perception can be colored, as the article concludes. I think that most rational people will agree. Note that the author refers to phenomena at the edges of our perception but stops short of condemning all subjectively perceived differences. There are those of us that are convinced that there are differences in the sound of wires, whether they can be scientifically quantified, or not. But this does not mean that we should not be vigilant about the ease with which our perceptions can be altered by outside means.
It is an interesting article but the author fails to recognize the crucial importance of work by Sherif and others on cognitive dissonance etc.

Sherif’s study suggests that in such situations, you will align with the group. You can imagine that this tendency to conform is quite useful in many real-life contexts, but it does mean that wine sampling and stereo testing are unlikely to reflect anything other than your tendency toward conformity. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, of course.

The two examples given in the article have no real negative connotations as sensational claims and groupthink do almost no could agree they are a simply a bit of "fun".

Wine tasting big deal, nobody gets hurt and wine makers make more money and everyone has a good time disucssing it.

Stereo listening....even less people to be concerned about here, just the audio nuts to revel in their discussions and they have fun too!

Now what about "Global Warming"? Might some good old conformity stuff be going on here too? Do some of the alarmist statements remind anyone of Chicken Licken? There might be a good reason that Mum used to tell me that tale.
While I think this article hits ONE nail on the head, I think there are many more nails holding this hobby together. I can think of a few reasons why someone might buy a $7,200 pair of speaker cables: 1) Some people just have more money than they know what to do with. To them, buying this cable, like any other luxury item ($1,000 purse, $20,000 watch, $1,500 shoes, etc.), makes a statement; that I've arrived and by buying this cable I've accomplished something. 2) Some people just want the best. Even if the best means paying for a companies R&D costs that find a way to squeeze one more [insert measurement here]. Willing to pay $100,000 for a pair speakers whose measrurements are just marginally better than a pair of $20,000 may be worth it. Same reason people buy $500k Ferrari's when no speed limits are higher than 70 MPH in this country. Further, $7,200 cables probably do sound great. Could I tell the difference between them and pair of Kimber 8TC? Maybe. Maybe not. If I made $750k a year would I buy them and enjoy them? Maybe. Maybe not.
I agree with much of what is said. I believe if company truly believes in their product, double blind tests should be a welcome test. They are not welcomed. I would like to point out that for me aesthetics, joy of touching/operating are important. I don't want to look at a pair of monster cables. Besides, if you listen at my house, you will notice my cables taste like sandal wood with a slight hint of tobacco.
Although there is clearly SOME validity to what's being said, I'm still left to wonder: If there's such a tendency for "convergence" among audiophiles' opinions, then why do so many people argue vehemently for diametrically opposed viewpoints on this site and many others? That phenomenon would seem to "diverge" from the convergence assertion of the article.
The only "convergence" I can discern is that most audiophiles believe that some things sound better than others. That "convergence" starts to disappear when the discussion turns to "what" sounds better and "why". If there's someone out there that thinks all audiophiles agree, they've got a screw loose!
As we all know, audiophile opinions are quite diverse!
Mdhoover. Great point. Seems like folks here can't agree on anything.
So the point is we are just fooling ourselves when we spend a lot of money on audio gear. Or maybe it's that we are wasting money. Well what business is it of anyone else how one spends their own money? What should we buy instead? Who decides what's appropriate for me? My guess is there is no shortage of people who will volunteer for the thankless job of dictating your life in the name of "fairness".

After all, the article borrows from the "Journal of ABNORMAL and Social Psychology". Yup, that explains our inability to live in the real world where the Wilsons and Boses are equally special.

To borrow from the article: there are two camps of audiophiles - those who are subjective and want to understand why there are (or are not) differences in audio components, and those who are envious of audiophiles who can afford the seven grand speaker cables. It's that simple IMO.
I guess cognitive dissonance would not apply if you are actually cost conscious. There are many times I want the cheaper, more reliable, lighter gear to sound better but just can't talk myself into keeping the cheaper, inferior sounding equip.. (Unless I subconsciously think that expensive gear are better.) LOL
The fact is (and that's a fact of life): there will be people (audiophiles?) who are purchasing audio components whatever the asking price. If I would make a (good sounding, though not better than the $2,000 version)$100,000 preamplifier, I'm convinced that there is someone who will buy this preamp. The same holds true for a $20,000 interconnect cable and so on... There are people who are so wealthy, they don't even know how to spend their money.

I disagree with his graph showing how hearing degrades with age. And that he states that if you trust a reviewer who is older than you, you are a fool.

Everyone is different, some have great hearing that lasts a long time, others probably stick closer to that graph. But, the author is making a ganeral statement that if someone is older than you, they have worse hearing than you.
Not mentioned in the article is something that surfaced in FI magazine (no longer published), that the hearing of different cultures is significantly different and it can be measured. The article explored how americans and the british hearing was differenct. In summary, it indicated there is something called a 'cultural equalizer'. Lay all that on the 'class' factor and you really have cognitive dissonance.
Well I will leave the psychology to the professionals and those with psychology degrees like my mother. Speaking of mothers, we mom and I attended RMAF on saturday. If any one can hear the difference in systems she can at 60 years of age she still has execelent hearing. She agreed this years show was much better than last, other than alot of the rooms being to loud.

This article reminds me of a scene in a movie where Robin Williams is an english teacher at a private school. The students are in the courtyard and he has them walk one at a time. He pays particular attention to how each persons stride is different. He then has them walk together they start out all walking to their own beat and it doesn't take very long for everyone to start walking in the same cadence. I for the life of me can't remember the name of the movie.

The article reminds me a pavlovs dogs (oops I said I wouldn't do that) are we all cut from the same mold, do we all conform to what others in society think we should be. Do we even conform to our social class structure.

This forum brings out the best (About Lugnut) and worst in us (The great cable debate). As a comunity do we shun others for having a less expensive system than our own. I don't think in the past 4 years I have ever read a comment bashing someone for not being able to afford the outlandish.

As for listening I noticed monster cable was chosen as the competitor. Does monster make a bad cable no they make a perfectly acceptable cable. Is it over priced IMHO yes.

I guess what I am trying to get at is, at my point in life I like to think that I now have just enough wisdom to develope my own opinions and not follow the crowd.

Happy listening

An interesting article. I suspect that much of the differences many of us hear can be explained by this. I personally have caught myself "hearing" differences based on my expectations and desires rather than what I actually hear. And I call myself an especially objective, analytical person. But there is one major problem with this article. In fact the problem is pretty the same as the problem the writer is lambasting. The article contains no information on testing "audiophiles" to determine if they actually can hear a difference. In other words, the writer made up his mind then dragged together a bunch of semi-related information to support his position, rather than running double blind tests himself. A bit hypocritical if you ask me.
Instead of suggesting the convergent effect for cases of consensus, I’d like to suggest sheer politeness. It’s better than turning to the person listening next to you and asking “Are you DEAF?!?”

"Apart from the overall lack of evidence and the sheer physical implausibility of some of the products, there is some classic research in social psychology that have implications for this topic."

‘Overall lack of evidence’ of what? Is there proof Led Zeppelin is better than Beethoven? It’s about perception (and preferences). I’m sure perceptions can be colored, but more important is simply the ability to perceive and the value placed on differences. Years ago, my brother thought I was crazy for spending money on expensive cables. He is an electrical engineer and thought there should be no audible difference in speaker wire. I sat him down one day and played the system through lamp cord then through the cable I had at the time (MIT MH-750 – yes, it was awhile ago). He said’ yea, it sounds a little better’, shrugged his shoulders and left the room. To me it was like night and day but he was just not as passionate about sound as I was. The difference meant nothing to him even though it existed. The same difference in sound can be experienced as completely different magnitudes by different listeners. It’s similar to how one person finds a painting beautiful while another sees it and walks by without giving it a second thought. Oh, and well engineered products usually test better, sound better, and cost better. :)

"While our senses are rather limited, our ability to fool ourselves is almost endless."

Speak for yourself.

"In fact, cognitive dissonance theory predicts that the more you pay for the cables, the more inclined you will be to conclude that they sound good, regardless of the actual quality of the cables."

I would argue there are more people who set up brand new expensive pieces of equipment and are disappointed at first hearing it, than those who love it, until of course it breaks in. How then would this be explained? (OK I’m sure someone will say its initial buyer’s remorse that the kids will never get braces…..until you get over that.)

I don’t think (in most cases) owning expensive equipment is simply a matter of people being able to afford it so they buy it. I used to work in an audio store and most of the audiophiles were from modest means. They bought expensive products for the sound it created, not because they were wealthy and could afford it.

"Is it really possible to tell the difference between normal high-end equipment, and equipment that veers into the audiophile range?"

Yes. I have many friends who are not into the hobby but have heard expensive systems and “get it”. They have been able to hear the differences in equipment incredibly well even though their ears are not ‘educated’. In fact one of them is a building contractor whose hearing is becoming impaired and he is an incredibly astute listener.

"In other words, it’s not really worth trusting an audio reviewer who is older than you are, because there is a range of higher frequencies that you can hear while they cannot."

How do you know a 25 year old reviewer hasn’t blown his/her eardrums out with ear buds/pyle driver subs/the new straight pipes he put on his Harley?

As a person ages, their hearing normally changes very gradually. Perception of live music, and reproduced music will change as well – but equally. This does not mean that a reviewer cannot distinguish differences in equipment it’s just their frame of reference has changed. Even with reduced sensitivity to higher frequencies acuity can be spot on. I would be more inclined to take the advice of someone with 40 years experience than rookie with ‘fresh’ ears. Therefore I would suggest extending a reviewers useful life to 62 years so they can at least collect Social Security.

Yes, those are common sentiments outside our hobby and even inside. It seems like the objectivists have such a hard time with the subjectivists. Art is subjective and fun. Is that a problem?
"Instead of suggesting the convergent effect for cases of consensus, I’d like to suggest sheer politeness. It’s better than turning to the person listening next to you and asking “Are you DEAF?!?”"
Wonderful observation, and hilarious too!
Curious all this.

My wife's sister's husband is an engineer, music lover, and wire skeptic. Big amps and Ohm speakers? OK. But wire is wire. He also says old men (which he is rapidly becoming) can't hear the difference if there is any anyway because "our hearing is shot".

I am in early middle age and my eyes are going and I have to ask people to repeat themselves. But my "ears" have never been better. By that, I mean I am able to pick out subtle differences in musical performances, recordings and stereo systems that I could not detect or articulate as a younger person. I have "learned" to listen better. I would also argue that there is a lot more to "hearing" than high frequency extension, such as things like spatial cues and PRAT.

With that said, I am wondering if any of you can point me towards any published double blind tests that describe:
1) perceived differences in audio equipment - say one of the recognized "best" CD players under $500 vs the "best" under $2000 vs the "best" over $10,000
2) perceived differences in audio cables across a similarly broad price range
3) a test of a group of self-proclaimed audiophiles vs a group of non-audiophiles in terms of ability to distinguish differences between wires or equipment
4) a test of a group of older people vs a group of younger people in terms of ability to distinguish differences between wires or equipment?

Turns out the wife of the above mentioned engineer (otherwise known as my sister-in-law) is an epidemiologist who recently developed the double blind test for a successful cancer vaccine. If I can find the time and overcome inertia, I am considering trying to get the wife to design a little study to address these silly questions, and support or refute her husbands biases. And that would be either a very good or a very bad idea, or both.

Now I just need to convince a local stereo dealer to lend me several $100K worth of stuff...
Curious that the response to this article has led a few members to actually fall into the holes the article refers to.
S7horton has decided they "disagree"(?!) with the graph; on what basis? Because it might be right? Of course it's true that not everyone will lose hearing exactly as the graph shows, but the point is that ON AVERAGE (that's how science creates graphs) we all lose our hearing bit by bit as we age, and that varies depending on how we treat our ears.
Then Hifibri has presented a pointless comparison between cheap lamp cable and purpose-made hifi speaker cable. No-one would argue that quality speaker cable wont sound better than bell-wire, but the article was talking about at what point spending any more becomes pointless, such as whether $7000 cables can really sound better than $70 or $700 cables. It's no different to saying "this $10 watch tells the time better than a sundial, so this $5000 watch must tell the time heaps better than the cheap one." Chances are they are both as accurate. My own real experience is that my $20 TAG copy from Bali has worked flawlessly for 15 years, while my $500 Seiko failed after 6 years.

Back to audio... To me the simple mistake is that too many audiophiles - myself included - use terms such as "better", "improved" and "accurate" interchangeably. Yet these are not the same.
For example, a new IC cable may make my system sound "better" or make an "improvement" to my ears and brain, but may have actually made my system less accurate in terms of a faithful reproduction of the original recording. Whether that makes a costly cable worth the money comes down to my own tastes. But whether that cable actually carries a signal more accurately can't truly be tested by human ears, as this is too subjective.

That's my 2 cents worth...
I think that it merits pointing out that most of the music is still in the midrange and one can still have excellent midrange hearing acuity in spite of having a high frequency deficit. And yes, I just turnted fifty and do not wear ear plugs at concerts, mea culpa.
Carl109, I’m not sure I understand the point(s) you are trying to make but I believe we are in agreement on at least two. As you noted:

“For example, a new IC cable may make my system sound "better" or make an "improvement" to my ears and brain, but may have actually made my system less accurate in terms of a faithful reproduction of the original recording. Whether that makes a costly cable worth the money comes down to my own tastes.”

This shows we agree there are audible differences between high end cables and therefore we both disagree with supposition of the article. We also agree that whether the differences are ‘worth the money’ is a personal decision. That is not the point of the article but it is (in part) the point of what you called a ‘pointless comparison’. A person’s perception of those differences are the key. The example I used was to show how differences can mean more to one person than another. It was night and day to me, but not a difference worth considering for my brother and therefore would not be ‘worth the money’ to him. Additionally, there can always be differences between cables or any piece of equipment without the listener being able to decide which is better. Different does not mean better.

As far as your point that cabling may make your system sound “better” or make an “improvement”, but may change your system in terms of faithful reproduction of the original recording, don’t sweat it. You probably weren’t there when the recording was made so you can’t know how it should sound. Besides the recording is only a facsimile of the event. It is not THE event and it is impossible to recreate the original event from the recording. It’s more important to choose the equipment that sounds best to you. Seek the equipment that increases your enjoyment of the music because that’s what it’s all about (for me anyway). And remember, there is no accounting for taste, personal preferences are not debatable.