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.


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...?"


'Research proved that in a live musical environment, approximately 30% of what we hear is direct sound while 70% is reflected from walls, ceilings and floors and only reaches our ears a few milliseconds after the direct sound.

The human brain uses direct sound for identification and to calculate location, but uses reflected sound to determine musicality and spaciousness, as well as direction.'


Definitely something worth knowing.

This probably explains why the venue matters so much at concerts.

I wonder what the ratio is in most domestic arrangements?

I guess a lot must also depend upon the distance you're sat from your loudspeakers. 


"I ask myself all the time why do I enjoy my boombox at work? Never even give "sound quality" a thought. But dislike (somewhere between tolerate / listen through the audiophile smog to hate) my home stereo?

Is it expectations based on price?"


Yes, I'd say so. It's natural to expect something that costs many many times more to perform considerably better. That's the reason why I usually wait a while before watching highly rated new films or listening to '5 Star' reviewed albums.

Otherwise they're usually a disappointment. They're bound to be.


"Is it that a cheap, but well balanced, system beats an expensive one if something is off?"


Yes, always. Sometimes you can learn to hear through defects, mainly by focusing on strengths, but sometimes you just can't.


"Does the home stereo reveal too much or is interaction with the room a problem?"


Well, yes, resolution can be a double edged sword as anyone who's a fan of selfies might tell you. Apparently there are still loudspeakers out there that have the infamous BBC/Gundry dip around the 2kHz mark to deliberately soften the sound a little.

I've never had room problems, probably because I've never had speakers that could go down low enough, but I think it's also undeniable that some rooms are just better (more lively?) than others.

I can remember from my days of amateur radio how most studio microphones would improve the sound of the presenters voice, especially whilst they were sat in a tiny room.

None of them actually sounded like that in real life.

And no one sounds the same outdoors.