My take on subjective vs. objective

I’ve been thinking about these words lately and feel there is a disconnect with how these words are being used in audio forums and how I would normally use them. I think of subjective statements as statements of value judgement while objective statements are statements of material fact, whether true or false. "The cat is on the mat." That’s an objective statement. "It is good and proper for the cat to be on the mat." That’s a subjective statement. So if an audiophile declares that one cable sounds better than another, that is on its surface a subjective statement - a statement about a preference. But there is an objective statement hidden in it, and that is that the cables do indeed sound different, as measured objectively by the listener’s senses, presumably by their hearing alone. The argument comes in as to whether they can still perceive that difference if they don’t have any other information to work with other than their hearing. Can the ears alone distinguish the sound or is the sound perceived to be different only when other senses are involved? This argument is purely an objective one about what can actually be perceived by the ears alone or what requires other senses to be working in conjunction with the ears in order for the difference to be perceived.

So the people that get labeled "objectivist" are the ones who want to know what can be heard when other sensory data is not available. The ones labeled "subjectivist" are the ones that want to know what they can perceive as sounding different when they are fully informed about what kind of equipment they are listening to. These are both objectivist. One should be called hearing exclusive objectivist while the other is called fully sensory informed objectivist.

A similar situation in the visual would be to compare lengths of things by eye. If a person looks at a piece of dowel sitting on a table, and then looks at another piece of dowel nearby and declares that one dowel is longer than the other, that’s a perceptual measurement they have made by eye - an objective measurement. They could also subjectively declare one length to be better looking than the other. They could then put the dowels side by side to give the eyes a more direct perspective. It may be noticed that they seem identical in length when right next to each other, so they then measure them with a gage that repeatedly and consistently reveals that one dowel will fit into a slot a bit easier than the other, so that indicates that one is slightly longer than the other. But maybe it’s not the one that the observer thought was the longer one. Maybe one dowel weighs more than the other, so this gave the observer a sense that the heavier one must be longer. It’s still all objectivity here. All objectivity requires perception. Tools give us different ways to assist our perceptions and perhaps draw logical conclusions. If the person insists that the heavier one is longer visually even though it fits in the slot easier, they are making an objective statement that it looks longer, not that it actually is longer.




You are correct! My ears can be quite sensitive to nuance and the whole of my ears and brain together can be quite discerning at times, for instance hearing distortion that my analyzer software has mistaken for background noise, or detecting a very slight shift in imaging that turns out to be a contact that needs to be cleaned or tightened down. 


 I consider myself a subjectivist that finds measurements useful. Measuring the placement of speakers very carefully can be quite handy as a starting point rather than just trying to eyeball them into position. If it still sounds off and you know the speakers are positioned very accurately and symmetrically, at least you know positioning is not the cause of the problem. Taking a near measurement sweep of one speaker and then the other and comparing them can tell a lot too. It may not reveal what the sweep should look like to sound subjectively best to you, but it's a pretty safe bet they should look very close to the same or the imaging will be off. 


Or look at it another way, if you go back 200 years, you won’t find anyone having this debate.

In fact you won’t find any audio playback equipment at all

Very true. Back then people worried about dying of starvation or disease.

Now we have to worry about which cable will provide the right about of "air".

Life is never easy.

Objectively speaking, if you don't subjectively like the sound of your system, you are wasting your time.


Life is never easy.


Unfortunately not.

Try as we may there just always seem to be too many variables at play for any lasting peace of mind.

Perhaps something is amiss in the human condition?

Or perhaps we’re just biologically built to endlessly go forwards, endlessly competing whilst forever seeking beauty, peace and perfection in some inscrutable Darwinian cycle?


Is there any wonder that so many of us still cherish the thought of a less complicated afterlife even though it’s quite beyond us to imagine how that would work out.

Now let’s imagine something a little easier, shall we?

How about this?

An audiophile walks into a dealers and asks for a loudspeaker that has full bandwidth dynamics, zero cabinet/panel resonances, a point source output with perfect omnidirectional sound and imagery, a ruler flat frequency response and a life-like instant transient response with no smearing whatsoever and with a real world instrumental timbre?

How would the dealers response go?


Perhaps something like this?

"I’m sorry sir, but we don’t currently have anything of the sort in loudspeakers, our loudspeakers are all hopelessly flawed in one significant way or another, but perhaps sir might care to visit our headphone department...?"