Out of Control

I was looking at one of my highend mags the other day. And looking at the spec's of some speakers and find it hard to believe the outragous prices. I mean does it really get that much better at 10k, 15k, 30k and up. I've listened to speakers in the 25k range and was not impressed at all. I've been also looking at subs and some of them in the 1,500 and up catagory were paper treated, I always thought woven carbon fiber or poly was used for the top notch and whats with a class G amp in that sub when you spend 3k or better. Let's take power cords at 1k, I audioned one at home and took it a part, I can buy the same material under $100. I cannot really comment to much on amps, but some of the nicer ones above 3k have less parts, to me that means it took less time to build. Tweaks are another one I won't go into. Sometimes you just feel overwelmed. I was just wondering if anyone else gets a bit raddled about this. I know they have to make money, but lets be real. Just a bit bored today, so I thought I'd start a new thread. Don't get me wrong, I still have a few more pieces to add.......
Hi there Pcc. Yup,I'm witcha.The only positive I see on this is the rich kids buy the toys, then after a year or so;we get to buy them for 30/40 cents on the dollar.

The review on the Karma Exquisite got me. 80k +5k for the stands? another 5k for speaker cables???

I see in ads: a Jadis ja400,new is 50k /sell for 11k. At the heafty weight of 600 lbs;the shipping in itself, may require a cosigner.
"Bottom dweller" fits me nice, in this extravagant hobby
I suppose if I could spell hefty;I could ascent to "mid bottom dweller"
Specs mean nothing. Put very simply, a 15000 Hz (or whatever) pure tone and completely distorted 15000 hHz tone are the same spec on paper (15000 hz). I can sing (some) of the same notes Pavarotti can, but it sounds better when he does it. He charges more than me also.
If we were preamps, I am a used CJ Sonographe, Pavarotti is the CJ ART. I might get $200, He gets $20,000. I sound good I am told, but it's still no contest at all.
Pcc et all,

Of course there is over the top. As long as people are willing to pay over the top prices, there will be; no matter whether it's audio, cars, houses, clothing, food, you name it. Image and Marketing are everything.

A question that is intruiging to me is how low you can go without making too much of a compromise? I own a Sharp system which includes in a tiny single box: Amp, CD, MD and tuner. Comes with two tiny speakers, as big as the box itself. Whole thing cost like $500. It sounds Very clearly inferior to my other systems.

So where between $500 and way over the top is the magical boundry? Is there perhaps a cutoff point? Like, you hear the difference clearly between a $100 speaker and a $1,000 speaker, but not between a $10,000 and a $20,000 one?

I guess it would be worth adding that IMHO, there are $50,000 houses that are preferable over $300,000 houses, there are $20,000 cars that are prefereable over $50,000 ones, and there are $19 jeans that are nicer to wear than $200 ones.... I also think there are $2,000 speakers that sound better than $10,000 ones, etc. etc.
........in some cases, eg amps, less really is more. Pass Labs Aleph amps have relatively "simple" circuits but sound great. In this case, I think we're paying for high quality engineering, and brilliant designs. But I agree that some "high end stuff" is way over priced, to the point of gouging. Craig
same as it ever was, same as it ever was... pick up a stereophile from, say, 10 years back and chances are better than even that you'll find a letter to the ed. expressing the same sentiments as those of pcc here. fact is, if it weren't for reviews of exotic cars in road & track or exotic audio gear in s'phile and tas, those whose interests lead them to buy such mags wouldn't have much to talk about. can you really imagine endless comparisons of onkyo and pioneer receivers? it'd be like watching the weather channel for its entertainment value.
I agree with the cost/ performance/ image arguments. But there is the fact that a "simple" ciruit means your signal suffers less degradation (loss/ glare/ grain/ EMI/ RFI/ gain/ "coloration" etc..) AND, the simple circuit designs more often than not are composed of components that are MUCH more expensive and/or exotic to manufacture than the garden-variety stuff you find in mid-fi gear. WE pay for the next generation of equipment when we buy the new stuff.

But... Back to the topic at hand. Out of control is right. Obsessive/ compulsive disorder is the flavor of the day. Some of the stuff out there is irresistable. Diffrent strokes for different folks. I drive a beat up Nissan minivan. I could have a new Porsche, and a spare Audi in the garage for just the cost of my source components and speakers. And I'm paying a mortgage on a house that's only 2 years old. It's not status for me. It's the hype behind the gear and the passion for "taking it to the next level". And as long as you don't go (too far) into debt, it's a relatively safe obsession, right?
Components with LESS circuitry in them are actually harder to build. This is especially true of amplifiers. Since the manufacturer has NO idea of what type of load ( speaker cables and speakers ) that the amp will be used with, he has to worry about stability, reliability, etc.. Building a very simple circuit that can deal with all of this is extremely tough and actually takes MORE time than using all of the gimmickry like feedback, etc...

As to the comments about wires, etc... I agree wholeheartedly. Why do you think that many reviewers refer to them as "wire bandits" ??? Then again, some of these specialty cables DO require tons and tons of hand labor that is quite time consuming. While it might not be worth hundreds of dollars per hour to you or me, someone WILL pay that much for it. It's the law of supply and demand. Demand something expensive and exotic and someone will supply it. At great cost of course.... : ) Sean
Craig,you are so right about the "simple" Pass Aleph's! I opened up my 3 after I got it for a look and I said "nothing there"! Cant believe this thing listed for $2500.00! The price sure isnt for the metal and whats inside.
I am very curious about the pass amps -- other than the air inside, do they sound good? Or is Pass a case study for "out of control?"
CWlondon--Pass does build fine products. I've owned the Aleph 3, and I was very impressed with the performance it offered. It's bass was a little weak, and it didn't have the headroom I needed, but it had the deepest soundstage I've ever heard and other attributes that make it a relative bargain at the used prices it commands.
I can't add a thing to what's been written! I totally agree.
I've never heard a Pass designed amp that had "killer bass". Nonetheless, most of them sound phenomenal from about 200 - 300 Hz and up. Soft yet still fully articulate and loaded with detail. Combine this wih "air", a deep and wide soundstage and overall sonic beauty and you have the trademarks of Nelsons' handiwork. If your not into "slam", you owe it to yourself to check these out. Sean
PBB agrees with Pcc, for whatever that's worth. There is one constant in Audiogoninsane and the written press in general: bigger bucks always equate with better sound. How insecure are audiophiles anyway? Can you really hear a significant difference between a pair of Bryston 7B-STs (MSRP $5,260/pair) and, let's say, a pair of Accuphase M-2000 monoblocks (MSRP $33,000/pair) , unless you strain your ears or your imagination or both? If, at least, people were honest enough to say that pride of ownership is the one aspect that makes one chose one amp over the other, but no, the true audiophile will swear up and down that he hears a significant difference and that he actually is getting value by spending six and half times the money. Hearing an irrationally priced piece of equipment is tantamount to going to the Gypsy woman to get your fortune read, even if you don't believe in it, it plays on your mind. And to many the only way out of temptation is to succumb. The $7,300 cable has to sound better than the $73 cable right? Well, just in case, let me have it, where do I sign the loan document? Maybe too preachy, but right nonetheless. How is Albertporter these days anyway. Which cable is now the one to buy this month? And what about cooking one's cables. Sorry, I have to go and sharpen those spikes, damn the high frequencies are bad when the spikes get a bit dull...
Pbb, I beg to differ on yr amps example because I have heard HUGE differences, in an unrestrained manner. This said, however, the whole system was commensurate (Accuphase quality levels). Also, I listen to classical, a lot of it live -- which influences my tastes...

As to the cables example... comparing branded cables, IMO the 7,4k one WILL sound better than the $73 one, for ONE simple reason: the 7,3k is *priced* higher. This does not necessarily mean that production cost is 100x higher..!

Gregm, I have three words for you, which will forever and a day relegate me to the level of the great unwashed tin-eared mid-fi legions: "double blind testing". I'm sorry, I am a sceptic. My point is that the power of suggestion is such that we, as humans, are apt to believe that something, anything in fact, that is very expensive has to be better. We may quibble and say that brand x is better than brand y, notwithstanding the fact that brand x is costlier, so long as brand y is also so expensive as to make it attainable only to a few. My question to you, in closing, is the following: do you actually know what goes into making those recordings? Put another way, do you honestly think that you can get mo' better music coming out of your lp or cd than is actually put there in the first place by the process of amplifying the signal? Isn't the whole notion of high end audio, at the listening end of the chain predicated on the belief that the recording process is so far ahead of what we have to play the recording with that we can still wring out improvements by heroic means on the listening end? I know, for some, everything in the chain is a signal processor, has a sound signature, from caps, to copper, to cables, to the chassis in which all of this stuff is put. If every minute detail was perceptible and as important as strato-high-end audiophiles say and want them to be, we are indeed the zenith of God's creatures. It has gotten to a level where some audiophiles can actually hear the sound of sub-atomic particles. Give me a break! I am, and shall remain, a sceptic. There is a difference between a good system and a not so good system. The rest is the trivial pursuit of keeping up with the Jones' of this audiophile world and the daily feeding of neurotic anxieties. More emphasis should be placed on listening to the music, understanding it in a technical, musicological and aesthetic way. Luckily, people are free to choose how they want to use their time and what they want to believe in. I simply have no time to spend on being duped. Making of minute differences in sound, that are barely, if that, perceptible is, to my mind at least, trivial. If you have to strain to hear a difference (a.k.a "improvement") when a component is changed in a good quality system, it probably just isn't there. The small, tiny, incremental improvements can add up to something of significance, I agree, but again, on close inspection, you realise that the sum of all of these is not the revolution that the audio press and ad people for high end manufacturers announce every month.
Pbb, answering your question: I agree. S/W is the first limitation in our (my) reproduction chain. In this respect, discussions are about "getting the best out of my (limited) s/w".
In "emphasis should be placed on listening to the music" - (rather than the machines): I couldn't agree more! Just that in playback we listen *through* machines...

Hence, discussion often centres around the means of reproducing music rather than the music itself. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that members of this site are machine junkies. On the contrary, most (all?) are like-minded with you: listening and enjoying music is our "drug"!

As to prices of equipment... all I can say is, I've listened to expensive equipment (badly tuned, maybe?) that performed less well -- to my ears -- than less expensive equipment. And vice-versa. Indeed, in our small niche market, the cost of producing AND MARKETING, say, a pre is quite high; components can be expensive as they get better, getting the circuit design right is time consuming and expensive, etc -- and reaching the end user (us) is VERY expensive.

Maybe the latter explains why in Europe, there is a trend towards buying direct from small garage constructors!

Gregm, and, oh, by the way, what are those HUGE differences you heard between the two components used as an example and how were those two (should I say four?)amplifiers auditioned? Where? When, concurrently, at one sitting, or on separate occasions? For how long a period? With what associated equipment? Using what source material? Were the levels equalized? Were you alone at the time? If not, who was with you? Another audiophile or a consultant, perhaps? Did you exchange any observations on the sound heard as you were auditioning? did you take notes? Did you buy either of these components? Sorry if this looks like the Great Inquisition, and you probably will never reply, but I do feel that my questions are valid. Does anyone else out there think that these questions are valid? I am not asking whether I have any right to ask them and certainly not whether Gregm (or any one else for that matter) has any obligation to reply to my questions. I am just interested in ascertaining what, if any, are the parameters of a valid audition. What the person has to say is not at issue. You can like or love a component or the opposite, but, like people, do you really know much about them until you have lived with them?
Pbb, you state "do you really know much about them until you have lived with them?"

If you're going to start arguments here, PLEASE don't make it so easy to refute them using your own words.
This statement alone contradicts ALL of the antagonistic remarks that you made regarding differences in equipment and the need for double blind testing. As you've plainly made clear and acknowledged, some differences and how things react are quite subtle and can not be detected initially. It takes time to get to know someone or how something ( in this case, a piece of gear) actually works. While every person and audio component has "surface characteristics" that may be easy to ascertain, learning the intricate details takes time to become familiar with their multi-faceted personalities. Anybody that thinks that they can discern such differences and easily categorize them at the drop of a hat is either extremely well trained in that area or Superman.

As to your assertion that we should be enjoying the music for what it is and not fret so much about how it is reproduced, i agree to a point. Good music is enjoyable anywhere, much like good food and good company. It's just that sometimes any event can be made even better. Knowing how to do that and having the experience to heighten the experience can only improve things for all involved. Why settle for less when you have the means to do better and experience even greater amounts of pleasure ? Sean
do we need yet another thread on the supposed attributes of double blind testing? i say "no." i favor the rules at AA. you wanna' talk about dbx? then go outside. -cfb
Great! I've been invited out of the analog forum, now I can't even mention trying to set decent standards in judging a component's performance through the use of human hearing. Damn you audiophiles are difficult. I just don't have the time to go through all the submissions on Audiogon to see where the prevailing winds blow. I must have touched a nerve or something or maybe my lack of political correctness in the audiophile milieu is costing me. I have the greatest respect for the inherent right of all audiophiles to opine free of any constraints which methodology would impose. There I said it. Geez, I'm going to make sure I don't talk about science and measurements and other passé stuff that takes all the fun out of audio equipment. I'm not aging gracefully, I guess. Maybe I should set up a chapter of frustrated ex-Audio readers anonymous.
pbb: here's a site where you might find refuge. no political correctness nor graceful aging required:


Cornfedboy, Heck they're listening to electrical wall outlets there to. What's wrong with this world? You know what, the sound of the bloody computer is distracting when the music is playing, so I'll just turn it off and listen to the music and forget tho whole sorry Adiogoninsane thing, well for now at least. I think that's the best and cheapest tweak. And oh yes, I think I'll subscribe to Fanfare. Bye for now and keep up the good work. I didn't know how exclusive a club this is and to think I'm at the computer without a suit and tie! Have fun my friend.
Pbb, I have a question for you. You claim to be a skeptic and have thrown down the double blind testing guantlet to refute the claims of posters to this thread. Have you performed any of these double blind tests yourself? It is very easy to be a skeptic. It simply requires a willingness to disbelieve anything without "proof". And it even sounds reasonable - especially when science and mathematics are waved about like a talisman to ward off the evil of opposing views. But skepticism without a willingness to investigate all sides of the issue is no better than the blind faith you seek to debunk. It is also easy to forget that measurements and statistics are meaningless without interpretation; and are only as good as the instruments used to collect them. Even supposing that the measurements are perfect the interpretation of their meaning is not. You have only to recall that Aristotle, using accepted "scientific" methods, claimed that Earth was at the center of the universe. His interpretation of the data was incorrect. At least Aristotle was willing to expend effort in explanation, measurement, and reasoning to refute claims he did not believe to be true. If you have indeed conducted double blind tests let us know the results. And don't forget to include your testing methods and conditions.

I'll disclose now that I have not myself conducted any such tests. I might in the future - but at the moment my satisfication with this hobby doesn't require it.
Pbb, sorry for delay. Experience at a friend's house. The (modest) system: Clearaudio/Morch/Clearaudio Victory, YBA 1 cdp, CAT III line -- proprietary phono (tube), Avanti III speakers.

We were 4 people: i.e., the two "audio" nuts (:-) ) & our respective wives.

The differences were in the tonal balance, microdynamics, and presence. Dynamics (in classical) were unrestrained, "unfatiguing" also, in one case vs. the other.
One wife remarked at the sound's "raising the hairs on the arm" in one case vs. the other.

We listened to parts of, (cd): Mahler 2 (Klemperer/Bayerischen Rundfunks - EMI), An Die Musik (Universal, compilation Schubert songs), Mahler 8 (Horenstein/LSO - BBC classics). LP: Mahler 2 (Klemperer/Concertgebouw - Decca), Carmina Burana (Jochum/German Opera Orch - DG), D. Purple "Made in Japan" (old copy - ?).

Well spoken Gregm and nice concert! Cheers,
Yes, I agree prices are out of control in the sense that they do not necessarily represent the cost required to manufacture many of these products. But, this happens often, particularly with luxury items. Price is truly set by what buyers are willing to pay to own something. Apparently some are very much swayed by those who tell us that product A is the best available. Remember also that the High End Companies, whether large or small are often set up to thrive on the sale of a very small number of units. They are anything but mass market operations. That means they can do quite well in selling a small number of very highly priced (vastly overpriced?) units while putting a substantial amount of money into marketing (read Stereophile, Soundstage, etc.). That said, my participation on the 'net these last four years has led me to understand that there are many people who can accurately assess the sound qualities of any particular unit. I have also found that many non-audiophiles can do this easily as well. They may lack the audiophile "vocabulary" to describe what they hear, but they certainly hear it. In other words, many of us can at least agree on what it sounds like. We may not agree on whether that is good, or whether product A with its sonic signature is better than product B. There is another group however, perhaps which contains both audio enthusiasts as well as non-audio enthusiasts (note that I didn't call them Audiophiles), which have not yet figured out why one amp sounds "better" than another to audiophiles. These people either haven't heard the difference between these two amps or, if they have heard the difference, don't see the differences as important to the reproduction of the sound. I don't look down on these people. Who is to say that they don't enjoy the music as much as I do while (hopefully) they spend very little on sound equipment? However, there are those of us that don't need double blind testing to identify what we hear. I do suspect that if you forced all who claim to be audiophiles to participate in one well-designed double-blind test, you would find that they fall into three categories: those who definitely cannot tell the difference between products, those who definitely can, and those who sometimes can. If you played two well-known amps (or cables) in a double-blind test for me, using the same program material, I am sure that I, like many people here on Audiogon, would have little trouble in distinguishing the two. Even though we would be able to identify the differences, the listening panel would likely not agree on which sounds best. I agree that the most expensive products would often be found to be not the best for all the reasons given earlier. That is why when reading someone's estimation of a particular amp or cable, when they state it's much better than product B without stating why, I find it absolutely infuriating. It gives no information to simply state one product is better than another, since we all have our own biases. And if you can't state why or are afraid to do so, you need to keep your opinion to yourself.
Gregm, seems something has gotten lost here in going from the general to the specific. My second post to you was made on the belief that you had said that you heard huge differences between the two sets of mono blocks I had taken has an example. As it turns out your statement was, from what I get in your reply to my various questions, of a more general nature. Seems the tone and content of my intervention here displeased a number of people. My contention is not that there are no differences. My belief is that most of these differences are a question of degree, certainly not of kind, and usually very few degrees at that. What I had in mind was more on the topic of power amps and not on differences between one complete system at a given price level with another at an entirely and much greater price level. I still believe that some components are easier to design and build than others, that with some parts in the audio chain a plateau has been reached and that further developments are less likely than in other areas. Power amps, to me are the prime example of components that may have reached a plateau (I don't know if digital amps will change my idea on this), whereas speakers are the prime example of an area where research and development would yield the greatest benefits. I am more apt to believe in considerable differences between two speaker systems than between two power amps. The other source for my questions is twofold. Firstly, I keep hearing comments on equipment that is not run of the mill and always wonder where on God's green earth did the person actually listen to such equipment. I, maybe unfortunately, jump to the conclusion that it was either in a store or at a show. From experience, I can tell you that I always feel under some degree of pressure in a shop and that I don't trust my judgment is that kind of an environment. Insofar as shows are concerned, I feel, maybe wrongly, that they are even worst in that your not dealing with one retailer, but with a whole bunch of manufacturers and distributors. Talk about for the frying pan to the fire. Secondly, the other aspect which opened up on the "dreaded subject", is my belief that we are imminently subject to the power of suggestion and that it should be avoided in the making of a decision which is just a notch below the purchase of an automobile. I may have imposed a standard of conduct that should only be required of persons making their living reviewing equipment, I don't know. In closing let me say that I feel entirely justified in encouraging audiophiles to use a greater degree of rigour and method in appraising equipment. This is echoed, I think, in a thread that I seem to have seen were someone was asking what type of music should be used to evaluate equipment or, I may be mistaken, speakers. Some say any music the person knows and likes. I can't disagree with that. No one should be forced to listen to music he/she doesn't like. But, on the other hand, I think that this is not a very useful or valid answer. I think one should have a variety of recordings, calling upon different qualities of any given system (including some poorly recorded stuff to see if the system may not be even too revealing in some instances), and that once chosen, a person should stick to these and play the same tracks to avoid confusion and to be able to form some kind of valid judgment. If this is too strict a procedure, I do believe that we have very little to gain in sharing our opinions. I believe well reasoned and enlightened opinions are the only ones worth sharing and considering, and, no, I don't profess to hold a patent on this. I trust that my esteemed (or is that steamed) colleague, disciple of Themis, will agree. Regards.
Pbb is correct. Blind testing does not have to include becoming stodgy and humorless. Some of us like listening to music, every now and then, (in between test tones.)

I guess this means I am banished as well.

Take care,

Charles F. Daniell, D.V.M
Brunswick, GA
Gallaine, I did what? I don't even own a gauntlet. I have not waived math since high school, and have never waived it as a sceptre. Nothing so aristocratic for me. I like the expression "arts & sciences" though and I think it applies to audio equipment quite well. I won't trouble you with a dissertation on trees falling in the forest with nobody there to listen. I have no intention of talking about paradigms or the lack thereof. I will not even mention that a bad theory is better than none at all. There are many ways of getting at the truth. When it comes to understanding the physical phenomena that surround us, I doubt anything has rivalled science thus far. Magic thought certainly hasn't. I would merely suggest that audiophiles should show some method to their own madness and have some sort of basic procedure when evaluating equipment so that the fewest variables are introduced. Maybe this standard should only apply to professional reviewers, I don't know. It seems to me unfortunate that comments, good or bad, can be made about equipment heard on the fly or in less than good conditions (unknown room, unfamiliar music, changing the music used every time and the list could go on). By the way, I do not own, nor I have I ever owned, an oscilloscope, spectrum analyzer, calibrated microphone, SPL meter, fast Fourier analysis computer or other such piece of equipment or an ABX box for that matter. I would certainly appreciate it though if the manufacturer of the equipment I buy does and uses them, and interprets the results properly. If the manufacturer stops there we may not have the sound we want, we do appreciate that the component be evaluated by actual humans, listening to music and that suitable tweaking be done to have it perform at its best. I simply doubt the manufacturer could get to the tweaking stage without benefit of the hard data to start with.
If I might insinuate myself into this conversation between Pbb and Gregm, I would say that I don't object to double-blind testing. It certainly is a means to guard against the power of suggestion. However, I don't see that it much applies to listening evaluations of amps or any other audiophile equipment. Many of us are pretty sure of what we hear, so any double-blind test would be for the non-believers like Pbb rather than for us. However, I will gladly participate in any double-blind amp evaluation test that Pbb would like to set up. If he would just send the airline ticket to me so that I can be at the location of this test ... As far as the sound quality of power amps are concerned, two amps, both highly respected and of similar quality quite often sound very different, in other words easily recognizable from one another, using double-blind testing or not. I would agree that speakers show more sonic variation than amplifiers, but amplifiers are still easily discernable and identifiable from one another. I think that because amps "measure" much better than speakers, they are considered to be much more accurate reproducers of sound. And, if they are more accurate, they must sound the same, very similar, or at least so similar that few can tell the difference between two high quality amps. I think that the mistake here is that what is measured for either power amplifiers or speaker systems is not necessarily the final determinant of what the human ear can hear or all the aural information the human brain can process. Eighty to ninety percent of the measurements taken today for amplifiers (or speakers) they were measuring 50 years ago and while amplifiers have improved by orders of magnitude, they still don't sound live or anywhere near perfect, or even that much alike. So Pbb, let us know where the double-blind test is to be held.
Pbb: It was Bryston 7s & Accuphase 1000 (not 2000). My mistake for sounding general. I was just detailing the system & surroundings, as you had asked for in your 11/9 post.
Thanks for yr latest informative response. I agree with your experiences re, shows and dealers and, indeed, your commendable rigorous approach to judging equipment, etc.

Pbb, I would be interested in knowing what kind of evaluation you perform when choosing between components. My post wasn't meant as a defense for either side of the issue. But too often the spectre of double-blind testing, and science in general, is used like a trump card to "win" an argument. The problem is that most who use such don't bother to practice what they preach or to provide any "real" evidence. You have broached a sensitive subject and in retrospect my comments were probably too harsh. What I want to know is what you propose as an evaluation method that is rigourous enough to remove at least some of our tendency toward suggestion. I would even be willing to try it out.
These are not my words, (in fact I hope that the gentleman who wrote it will understand my intentions for posting it here.)


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Double blind tests need to be organized in a way that is stress reducing, not stress building. Listeners need to have free, sighted PRE-testing of the devices under test with the program material that will be used. They need to have as much time as needed to listen for differences and characterize them so that any difference they believe they are hearing they can be familiar enough with it to recognize it during the double blind experiment. At any time during the double blind experiment they should have the freedom to go back to a sighted casual mode to RE-learn any difference they may feel that are having a hard time identifying during double blind. Also, at times it is good to set up a double blind test that can include extended listening with each device, even days if desired, to more closely simulate the listeners normal approach to evaluating equipment.

Double blind does not have to be a rushed, rigid session that takes all the control away from he listener. I feel the listener should be given all the control possible, short of knowing what device is playing at any given time.

When you do the experiments this way, what you find is that for any REAL differences you can actually detect them easier in the controlled testing than you can with casual sighted testing. I've shown this many times in the past by introducing just noticeable distortion levels and asking listeners to try to notice the change. Most listeners find it very hard to hear a real, just above threshold difference when it is introduced in their system without controls and careful level matched, blind switching. When we go to the controlled method they can identify differences quite easily.

This doesn't seem to sink in with the subjectivists that plug in a new component and immediately wax rhapsodic about the amazing changes they hear.

I try not to get people involved in double-blind "challenges" because those often create a stressful situation that serves no one. They need to be set up as a quest for answers rather than a challenge. That is why it is often much better to train listeners who have no particular stand on the situation rather than use seasoned audiophiles with preconceived notions.

I tend to avoid using double blind tests for vengeful purposes...except when unduly provoked.

It turns out that most uncorrelated differences (ones attributed to, but not related to, different devices under test) are most often heard due to one of four things:

1) Level mismatch

2) Lack of controls relative to listener position, head position or room acoustics constants. Even listening by your self vs. having a friend on each side of you creates a dramatically different acoustic which changes amplitude
responses to levels above audible thresholds.

3) Inherent poor audio memory that us humans have (much worse than most audiophiles know or are willing to admit).

4) Including and related to 3 and most often the culprit: We don't usually compare with a short repeat loop of program material and most instruments actually sound slightly different throughout a song depending on which moment of the song we are comparing to another moment. Music itself is inherently a very poor test signal, from a control standpoint. Most differences can actually be heard much easier with nonmusical test signals but I don't know many audiophiles that want to accept that notion either.

These are the things affecting real perceived differences but not related to the equipment. These don't even include the dreaded imaginary differences due to beliefs about particular equipment or a predetermined attitude that there will be some kind of difference between any two DUTs.

Lot's of room for error folks. Everyone, whether subjectivists or not must not think they are somehow exempt from these illusion creating variables. If you control all of these things you will find that your non blind listening will take on a lot more reality. Double blind can become less necessary to those who use proper care in their controls.

Either use the controls to have more assurance of uncovering reality or don't and just have fun enjoying your system.

Both are valid activities, just be sure to notice which it is that you are doing and don't pretend to be doing one when you are really doing the other.

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Again, not my composition, but it does have my full endorsement. Enjoy the music! Charlie
Oh but to be so sure of one's self! I don't put this out as some kind of procedure to follow under pain of banishment or anything like that. Just a few thoughts. For sake of discussion let's divide this into three phases: prior to, during and after auditioning. Prior to, I would recommend not reading any review of the piece(s) of equipment you are interested in. Not easy. Cuts down on the reading on the loo. I would recommend not talking about it to audiophile friends and acquaintances or non-audiophile friends and acquaintances. The former will surely have a ready made opinion and the seed will be planted. The latter will look at you in stunned disbelief and mention that you have a sound system, what you need is a giant projection HDTV compatible what's it. Never talk about your project to your wife/girlfriend, the money will become an issue and you will go for the cheaper model every time. Have some idea of what you are going to audition prior to going. Tear out the reviews and articles from the mags if you must, and only read the advertising, at least you know where they're coming from (dolus bonus, in Latin, I guess). Impractical? Maybe. But what the hell. À la guerre comme à la guerre. During the audition: Make sure you are in familiar surroundings. You should go to the audio shops so regularly that you are on a first name basis with the people there. Double back to see if they abruptly stop talking to each other when you re-enter their premises. The frequency of your visits, especially without ever buying anything, should be such that the audio shop personnel have learnt to detest you. Make it a home trial if you can. Better on everyone's nerves. Listen in your sound room, you should be familiar with the acoustics of the place, and at your normal listening position and volume level. Listen to a variety of recordings (including some poorly recorded material, mono, multi-miked or just plain bad, you would be surprised what they can reveal). Have a set play list of cuts that put different demands on the system. Play them in the same sequence. Play them through. Make sure you have something from all the audio food groups. Make sure you have spoken word, that's what we are all more familiar with. Make sure you have plain sounds of things that don't or barely qualify as musical instruments: hand claps, wood block, something along those lines. If you listen only to heavy metal or techno or whatever comes solely out of machines or amplifiers, you may discontinue the process as soon as you have ascertained that the whole thing plays loud. You need the voice of a male and a female singer, signing. On the topic of what constitutes "singing", tune in later. You need solo instrument recordings of piano, of guitar and something close to the range of the human voice, let's not quibble, say a clarinet. You need a well recorded small group, such as a small jazz ensemble or a chamber music group. You have to include one very dynamic excerpt of a symphonic work, well recorded. You need some kind of big band. You must have a violin, well played and well recorded. You need one monster organ recording of a real organ, in a real space, recorded by a real pro. You should have a dab of bass, both acoustic and electric. You need a very small sliver of rock and let's say a handful of blues, well played and well recorded. You need to believe that 95% of the time, three microphones are enough for a decent recording. If you listen to both analog and cd, you have to double your pleasure, double your fun, (sorry, no gum chewing while you listen) although I am not sure you need exact duplicates of these recordings in both formats. Why not, makes it more of an even match, just kidding. You are to avoid the demon rum and the demon weed and anything which may affect the usual chemical reaction in your brain. You should never do any of this if you have a migraine, cold, sinusitis, tinnitus or deafness. You may drink black coffee, but don't put the cup on top of the speaker enclosures. Do not cook on power amps while listening, wait until later. Preferably, you have to be alone. If you must, ask the other ears not to talk. Throw in that you don't want any obvious body language either. At this stage you will wind up alone, which is how it should be to start with. Warm up your trusty sound system. Acquaint yourself with the hardware you are going to audition. Only make one change at a time in, as we say in French, your hi-fi chain. Listen a second time to the cuts that have incited some overly negative or overly positive reaction on first hearing. Take notes. Get the lingo you want to use in these notes straight in your mind before you commit to paper. Never decide on buying the equipment on the spot. Negative reactions are very hard to get rid of. Positive reactions may not survive the light of day. After auditioning: make a note of your play list, place all your little records back on the shelf, ask yourself if you have actually heard a significant improvement in the overall sound quality with the new component in the chain. Remove the said component from the chain and go back to what you had before. Do you miss something the new component brought? If yes, you may be on to something. If no, stand pat. If you are unsure, don't push it. They ain't no hi-fi police gonna bust ya, unless someone on Audiogon reports you to the authorities. If you remain unconvinced, take the money you were going to spend on that upgrade, in whole or in part, up to the greater of $1,500 or whatever you fell like blowing, and go to the record shop, store, supermarket, and buy records with it. Yes, blow a wad on cds or lps, get the little plastic basket and fill it up with what you consider good music (I always think the people doing that have just settled that claim for the break-in with their insurers). You get to keep the records, you know. It's about the music in the first place, you know. Don't be a smart ass. Promise yourself no to do any of this for a considerable period. Six to twelve months, depending on the severity of your addiction. Hope there is something of some use to someone in here. The use of the actual "dreaded subject" is just the punishment for telling all those little white lies to others and, especially, to yourselves on the good, better, best vector. Regards.
pbb: clever, well-put and practical advice, done with a sense of humor. i applaud you (one hand, only) :o). -cfb
And here is my other hand to clap with!
Pbb: Your method attests of exemplary rigour (as we might say in French :>)). To be followed, I say!

BTW (by the way) since Pbb mentions loo reading, most of our matl is OFF hobby: cars & business reviews, cartoons, etc... audiophiles' loo-reading: subject for another thread of psychoanalytical dimensions...?
Sorry to have to table an addendum so soon. Two points to be added: one, wait until all the evidence is in before deciding; two: burden of proving that the component should be adopted by you, lies on the equipment being evaluated and is not the same depending on type, in the case of sources (analog or digital), preamplifiers and speakers, should be on a balance of probabilities- in the case of power amplifiers, should also on a balance of probabilities, but assume it's all circumstantial evidence, (this is based on fuzzy logic, so don't get too technical with me here), in the case of interconnects, speaker cables and items, charitably described as "accessories" or "tweaks", beyond a reasonable doubt. As they sometime say in translation matters: "when in doubt, leave it out" or you may ascribe to the chicken soup theory, "it can't hoyt", this largely depends on the price to be paid. I leave it up to you to decide whether items in these last three categories should be treated as though adopting one and finding out, on sober second thought, that it was just not worth the bother is a capital offence or not. Sorry for the awkward analogies.
Pbb, I find your last post interesting in light of your previous ones (yes, I did go back and read them). You have some good suggestions. But, I am at a loss as to how all of this applies to the "...decent standards in judging a component's performance through the use of human hearing" you mention in a previous post. Your original commentary was clearly opposed to very expensive equipment on the grounds that the differences couldn't possibly justify the cost: "Hearing an irrationally priced piece of equipment is tantamount to going to the Gypsy woman to get your fortune read, even if you don't believe in it, it plays on your mind." But your thoughts in this last post don't seem to support this view. In fact, if I followed your advice I could conceivably find that that "irrationally priced" piece of equipment is indeed the best and worth every cent. So, I am still wondering how you came to your conclusions. Did you use these methods to audition equipment and find that very expensive equipment just wasn't that much better? What equipment have you reviewed?

You also suggest double-blind testing: "Gregm, I have three words for you, which will forever and a day relegate me to the level of the great unwashed tin-eared mid-fi legions: "double blind testing". I'm sorry, I am a sceptic." How does this fit into your method? The point I was trying to make in my original post was that you shouldn't suggest double-blind testing as a refutation of someone's views if you don't plan to use, or have ever used, it yourself.

I was truly interested in the "decent standards" you hinted at. Your reference to double-blind testing led me to believe that you at least had some idea of what they should be. I'll use your own words to apologize if I seem a bit harsh, "Sorry if this looks like the Great Inquisition...."
Gallaine, your approach to my blurbs on this site is way too Jesuit for me. I have contradicted myself in the past, and certainly will in the future. In this case, though, I think I have been pretty consistent. What I have a hard time with is what appears, to me at least, as a free for all. Any thing that is exaggerated becomes insignificant. I don't wish to bore anyone with discourse on defining what the word "HUGE" means in the context of audio systems. In my book that should be reserved for something like the difference between a Pioneer 35w receiver of '70s vintage feeding a pair of Dynaco A-25 speakers and, just for sake of argument, a Musical Fidelity amp driving Pro Acs. That two similarly rated, high power, high current amplifiers, of recent design could exhibit "HUGE" differences is beyond my comprehension. That they have some kind of signature that can be heard on some passages, of some music, while driving a certain pair of speakers, I agree; more than that leaves me somewhat perplexed. Now how much someone is willing to pay for any such subtle improvement, I am not prepared to say. I know how much I am willing to pay. I also know that I won't pine for that last little bit of improvement, real or imagined, that I may be missing by not having the flavour of the week component. There's another thread asking whether audiophiles lie to themselves at times. I think it is more prevalent than we care to admit. Let's not take a very incremental improvement as a revolution and, worse yet, any change between one component and another, as an improvement. If someone can't provide me with a somewhat logical explanation as to why is stuff sounds better, I simply lose interest. Isn't my fault, I'm Cartesian, I guess. Does not mean it doesn't exist, just means my ear/brain processor don't get it. Call it my loss, your gain and let's leave it at that. Goodnight.
I agree with your assessment that "HUGE" is used too often to describe subtle changes. Though, in fairness, since I haven't actually auditioned many of the components that garner such "praise" I can't be 100% certain. However, I still believe that a willingness to pay for these "HUGE" differences is a personal decision. In addition, I don't think that such decisions should be ridiculed. Are there children starving in Somalia? Yes. Is there vast unemployment in parts of Africa? Yes. Could that $75,000 for a pair of speakers be used to lend a helping hand instead? Yes. But it is not up to me to decide whether or not someone else's money should go to such worthy causes. And that at least was the crux of my disagreement with your statements concerning exorbitant prices for components. Value isn't always determined by cost alone - and in fact can be subjective rather than objective. There is gross excess in this country. But just what is considered excess is often relative not fixed.

I will admit that I confused your call for more rigid standards in reviewing components as a defense that the perceived differences between inexpensive and astronomically priced components are not justifiable in so far as price is concerned. I now understand, I think, that your argument was for better reviewing methods in determining the magnitude of the differences - more objectivity as opposed to subjective measurements. I'll agree to that.

My major issue with these types of discussions is the certainty with which people argue a point without having actually auditioned the equipment; this is especially true for discussions involving expensive cables. A healthy dose of skepticism is good. But skepiticism without the facts to back it up or at least the willingness to investigate the facts is no better than blind faith (as I have stated before). What is often brought forth by skeptics as a trump card is double-blind testing. The problem is that most of us have never actually conducted a proper double-blind test, or any scientific test for that matter. It is my belief, again, as I have stated before, that you had better be willing to provide detailed results if you use that trump card.

Your call for more rigid reviewing methods to quantify actual differences with an eye toward saner pricing is admirable; I might even go so far as to say necessary. But your own reviewing methods don't seem to incorporate this idea. My point has been that you seem to be a skeptic with no plan to implement your own suggestions. I'm not trying to be personal, just honest.
hey pbb, you really are an audiophile. most sound like lawyers, argue and argue and come up with the same result. but you at least say it how you feel it..have a good christmas, and may we have peace out of control....
Sonrisa, your Christmas wishes may have been directed to Pbb but I'll wish you a Merry Christmas just the same. I plan on enjoying the music of this season and I hope you do to.
Its out of control but do not underestimate paper cones. If paper is properly done it is still with the best in the world.
Something tells me that if I were smart I'd stay out of this.... Nonetheless, a few very brief observations.

1. It is naive to think that people who have spent thousands of dollars on cables, for example, are going to be convinced to try DBX testing of their investment against zip cord from home depot. Should they agree to make such a test and subsequently be unable to tell the difference between the two, it would be doubly naive to think that they wouldn't discount the testing methodology.

2. It is juvenile to say, "Have you done DBX testing yourself? If not, shut up." (I've heard that said by persons on both sides of the argument.) The literature is replete with reports of carefully and thoughtfully conducted DBX tests of audio equipment. Go read them, then comment knowledgably, one way or the other.

3. Although I am, myself, an advocate of DBX evaluation, I must say that I find the tone of many objectivists (skeptics, you-fill-in) more than a little mean-spirited. They seem to feel a compulsion to be spoilers.

4. On the other hand, I wonder why so many people who say, "I know I can hear differences; I don't need to do any testing" are so reluctant to demonstrate this ability.

5. This is a hobby, not an exercise in public policy. If someone is persuaded that he can hear a significant improvement in sound if he shines a blue light on his CDs before playing them, what business is it of anyone else to put him down about it?

6. Conversely, if a knowledgable listener participates in a properly conducted DBX test of an off-the-shelf Sony amp from Best Buy versus a Mark Levinson at 100X times the price and can't reliably discern which is which, why should anyone decry either the testing methodology or the listener's hearing?

7. Let's be honest. Most of us would drive a Land Rover in preference to a Sportage if we could afford it, or a Maserati in preference to a Miata. Nothing to be ashamed of about that.

Let's stop goring each other's oxen and just enjoy the music.
Great post Bishopwill. I Especially agree with your last sentence. Well said.
I just got thru readin' this hear thred an i got confuzed. So i got in my dodge to go to the mazzeratte store to drive one of them thar cars just to see if it was bettur. But i got lost and winded up back at the trailur. Before you new it i wus drinkin a can of schlitz and havin' fun with my sistur. But then somebody told me beer was bettur outta boddles. So i just said to hell with it and turned on my tranzistur raddeo.