So how much do you think the placebo effect impacts our listening preferences?


My hypothesis is that for ~%97 of us, the more a headphone costs the more we will enjoy the headphone.

My secondary hypothesis is that the more I told consumers a headset cost, the more they would enjoy the phones. i.e. a $30 headphone < $300 headphone < $3,000 headphones <<< $30,000 headphones.

I’m willing to bet that if I put the kph 30i drivers in the focal utopia’s chassis and told participants in this fake study that the phones cost $4k.... Everyone except for the 3%ers would never guess something was up. The remaining 97% would have no clue and report that it was the best set they ever heard.

Then if I gave them the kph30i and explained it was $30. 97% of people would crap on them after hearing the same driver in a different chassis.

My ultimate hypothesis is that build quality and price are the two most important factors in determining if people will enjoy a set of headphones. This how I rationalize the HD8XX getting crap on when only 3 people have heard it and publicly provided their opinion lol. "It’s a cheaper 800s, of course it’s going to sound worse!"

mikedangelo
Your inference is 97% of people on ANYTHING couldn't tell the difference. I think you like A/B testing too, don't believe that a fuse can change the sound of a piece of gear, cables don't matter and what else?

Are you just here to tell people they are SUCKERS? AND why spend THEIR money on what they like? I can see this one going a little wiggy pretty quick.. 
Who exactly is this "our" who is such a lousy listener they are swayed by such nonsense? This is what psychologists call "projection": when YOU feel a certain way and so you project YOUR frame of mind onto others.

This is a cop out. If you can't hear just say so. No shame. Component evaluation is after all a skill that can be learned and constantly improved. So work on that, and nevermind about the other guy. If this "our" can't evaluate and assess, still in the end he gets the system he wants. What do you care?
“Who exactly is this "our" who is such a lousy listener they are swayed by such nonsense? This is what psychologists call "projection": when YOU feel a certain way and so you project YOUR frame of mind onto others.”

WARNING...WARNING...Irony Reactor Overload...WARNING...WARNING
My hypothesis is that for ~%97 of us, the more a headphone costs the more we will enjoy the headphone.

From my experience here in Agon 97% of us is way out of your reality.

My ultimate hypothesis is that build quality and price are the two most important factors in determining if people will enjoy a set of headphones.
Glad you limit the list only on headphones.

@mikedangelo,

Perhaps it’s the 3% that are getting their knickers knotted over sound quality?

For most folks these so called night and day differences are entirely placebo.

There’s a reason why the AT50s and MDR7506 have been around for decades and decades.

When it comes to headphones (cables, amps, cd players etc) the sonic differences between them can indeed be shockingly small.

I’ve got around 7/8 pairs of well respected headphones but the ones I use the most are the Sennheiser PX100s (indoors) and the ultra budget JVC Flats (outdoors).

They not only sound virtually as good as their far more costly counterparts but are considerably more comfortable too.

If I want the best sound quality/comfort ratio I’ll use my Porta Pros.

Sadly I hardly ever bother with my Creative Aurvana or PSB models. Far too heavy and too uncomfortable, and too impractical. Even the Bose set I was given as a present have hardly been used.

I really ought to sell them on as they’ve hardly been used...

I want headphones that not only sound great but those I can also forget I’m wearing.
 Could be.  Try it and see. 
If there is a placebo effect and I have doubts about that, it is only temporary and will disappear after enough critical evaluation. You can only fool yourself for so long, then reality sets in.  
People who really care about sound — whatever that % is — won’t fall for the placebo effect because they use their ears to judge sound, not their eyes. As for the rest, it’s the same as everything else — a fool and his money...

I’ve got around 7/8 pairs of well respected headphones but the ones I use the most are the Sennheiser PX100s (indoors) and the ultra budget JVC Flats (outdoors). They not only sound virtually as good as their far more costly counterparts but are considerably more comfortable too. If I want the best sound quality/comfort ratio I’ll use my Porta Pros.
Ha! “Well respected” by who? Creative Aurvana? PSB? Really??? My man, you need to get out more. The PX100s and Porta Pros are mere toys compared to what’s out there these days, and if you don’t know that then you haven’t heard a truly good pair of headphones (or maybe you just use a crap source of music). Then again, if comfort/weight overrule sound quality I can see why you’re happy — whatever blows your skirt as they say. But don’t come on here and say that your little comfy plastic toys sound “virtually as good” as far more costly headphones because that’s just ignorant silly talk that belongs on Reddit, not here.
Here's an ethical reason that I worry about the placebo effect. I'm not saying others should look at it this way. This is just my way.

Let's say that I have $2k to spend on headphones. Let's say I feel like I could also give some of that to the local food bank or to a local museum or another group that needs a donation. Let's also assume that I love my luxury sound so much that I would spend the $2k on headphones if I could hear a difference.

Ok, so now I test out two pairs of headphones. Let's say they are $1000 different in price -- $2000 and $1000. If I honestly cannot hear a difference, I get great headphones and create a huge benefit for people who really need some help. If I don't try to hear a difference, I'm not being honest with myself when I think, I really want to help people who need it.

*That's* the reason debunking the placebo effect might matter for me.
russ69
If there is a placebo effect and I have doubts about that, it is only temporary and will disappear after enough critical evaluation. You can only fool yourself for so long, then reality sets in.
Exactly. The placebo effect won't cure cancer, either.
The problem isn’t that the placebo effect wears off (just like hypnotic suggestion eventually does if not constantly repeated and reinforced) it’s that the consumer/customer in their desperation might move onto the next placebo once it does.

My mother for example has been looking for the magic pill that will cure all of her ailments for over 50 years. She still seems to think her doctors are somehow conspiring to hide it from her.

Nowadays we get bombarded by adverts for all kinds of wonderful health restoration products, and some might feel, at least for a while, that they work.

It’s not unreasonable to question whether some audiophiles might be doing the same thing, is it?

Now I have to confess that since cutting down on my sugar/carb intake I feel a lot better physically (at least that’s what my lungs/legs tell me after a run) but I don’t believe this is a placebo effect because this feeling is growing stronger and not weaker in time.

Of course initially it was no joke going without sugar in my tea or cutting back on cake etc but it’s definitely something I’d suggest everyone to try regardless of their current blood sugar levels.

Besides that way you may enjoy the occasional dip into sugar all the more. Or even better, you may even find yourself going off sugar for good.

And that can only be a good thing, can’t it?
That is true for the majority of today's equipment and headphones, but when you get to hear the good stuff you can immediately tell the difference and you will hear things like i have never heard that before and i have listened to that over 100 times.
cd318 wrote:
"When it comes to headphones (cables, amps, cd players etc) the sonic differences between them can indeed be shockingly small"


They can also be "shockingly large". Just saying...
I've been making mouthpieces for saxophones going on forty years and if I had the time and energy I could tell you some unbelievable stories of the mind tricks I've played on sax players and top level ones to boot.  It's funny though, I used to do blindfold tests in an effort to enlighten someone to certain things and when proven wrong they'd go into denial mode and insist they were right even after I had just disproved them wrong.  Some people just feel safer paying more.  
@tsushima1 

VERY good.

I'm feeling like a lab rat.
If you know what you hear, you know what you hear. Only if you don't, then you can make excuses and dress them up with fancy pseudo-sciency names like placebo effect. To hide the sad fact you don't know what you heard. It really is that simple.

Wouldn't it be a whole lot easier (and more honest) to just admit you don't hear anything?
...I'll take my placebos' neat, no chaser.....
Hello,
This is ridiculous, so vague! Maybe I am part of the problem for responding. As we talked about before there are some newcomers and new people to AGon or being an audiophile who read this. Then they believe that a basic headphone sounds the same as a $3000 headphone. It’s doesn’t! I’m not even a headphone person but I do know about the sound differences of products. The only thing I will agree with is the laws of diminishing returns. The less people buy of something or the more it costs to make the more it’s going cost to buy due to proprietary parts.  How many people can afford  six figure Wilson’s compared to how many can afford Tekton speakers. A 42” plasma used to cost $20,000. Now they fill our dumps. I know this is my opinion. If any new people need to learn about products or have good questions to help build your system please ask away. Most are hear to help. Also, if your are going to post. At least read and respond to the posts. Why drop a ridiculous comment and walk away when you are the OP. Most see my posts and I try to help anyone who asks on and off the forum and others do the same for me. So when I leave a post like this it’s a big deal. 
Whoa, brave question, but I am glad you raised it.

I used to work in the Pharma industry and know that the placebo effect can have a big effect on what you perceive. I mean, people have been operated on without anaesthetic  and not felt pain thanks to placebo. I have been tested myself and honestly reported experiences that subsequent video evidence showed me did not happen, even though I clearly remember it. Our preconceived notions affect what we sense. Placebo is everywhere, making us unreliable witnesses; so placebo must be a factor in audio, like it or not. It's something we have to deal with, watch out for. I try to manage myself, but it is tough. Some examples:

A few of times I have gone into a headphone store, and just gone down the line, sticking on 'phones, coming to snap, completely unfair, opinions. When I find one that sounds nice, I think, oooo nice, and look at the sticker and usually find it's the dang most expensive pair on display. Maybe my brain is quietly figuring out brands, and position in the line up, or the build quality, so I can't be sure if they really sound better. But to me, they do.

Certainly with wine I can spot a nice wine from a poor one, even if I can't see the labels.

When I bough my first proper record player (back in the day) I went in asking to hear a Linn and the guy spent 2 hours playing us (I had brought a wingman) various decks, which I could not see, but were all similar price. Both of us had a strong preference for one. I bought it never having seen it during the demo or knowing anything about the company or ever having read a review. So I sort of managed placebo there. 

I have a little personal HiFi scale. 1) I notice a big improvement, and so does my partner, even though I try not to let on that I have been fiddling or buying gear. 2) I notice some improvement and my other half does not immediately, but does start saying things like "sounding nice tonight" or some sort of complement. 3) She notices nothing and I think I do but am not sure. Placebo is lurking in level 3, and maybe level 2. 

Examples of level 1 improvement: replacing a small cheap amp with a KSA Krell. 
Of level 2: cartridges, DACs
Of level 1: cables (sorry). I have strong opinions about cables, but I accept that placebo might be playing a role in what I hear. 

Don't kill me. 


Take two placebo and call me in the morning.
This is a funny post.

I certainly can tell the difference listening to my Focal Elear vs My Grado RS 1e vs. 

placebo plashmedo. 

Think the parallel would be expectation bias.
Certainly price has a lot to “expect”. 
I believe that within the line of any Audio company the price dictates the SQ. Considering diminishing returns. And, mostly, being able to point out a sweet spot.
But comparing similar products at various prices of different companies SQ frequently does not jive with price.
And when listening to SQ of a particular piece it is best to listen then replace it with the previous piece. If you miss the SQ of the new piece then you are sure of the improvement… unless so obviously better you don’t want to even go back.
“Expectation bias” really refers to being fooled to think that the SQ is better because of the price.
rols
I mean, people have been operated on without anaesthetic and not felt pain thanks to placebo ...
That sounds extremely doubtful unless other techniques were used, such as this. Otherwise, it would be an unconscionable experiment.
This reference frequently refers to alternative treatments like acupuncture or hypnosis. Acupuncture for sure and hypnosis when the subject is open to it.
нет, спасибо
@philbarone,

"Some people just feel safer paying more."

Particularly it would seem musicians. Didn’t Joshua Bell pay some astronomical sum of money for his Stradivarius, yet other violins are often preferred in blind listening tests?

To be fair to Bell his Strad is likely to be a great investment and if it makes him feel better.. why not just as long as neither he or we insist it sounds better?

I’ve long given up suggesting to my sister and daughter that more expensive doesn’t always mean better, but their argument is they don’t have the time or the inclination to do any research. So they tend to go on price, as is suggested more or less everywhere you look these days.


As you say,

"It’s funny though, I used to do blindfold tests in an effort to enlighten someone to certain things and when proven wrong they’d go into denial mode and insist they were right even after I had just disproved them wrong."

That’s people for you, and don’t the marketers know it.

Apple seem to be the masters of this image projection. I know quite a few people who will immediately upgrade to the new iPhone 13 in a few months without thinking.

I already know it would be a waste of time suggesting to them that my Xiaomi (OLED, 2 speakers, 5000 mAh battery etc) at a quarter of the price might be a better buy.


@cleeds,

One of my colleagues has been telling me for years that her husband Eric is so scared of needles he’s even prepared to have fillings without anaesthetic!

The best I ever managed was to have a deep clean and, despite the blood and pain, the proximity of the attractive dentist plus some some self induced placebo got me through.

I definitely would not try it with any drilling involved but I can believe others may be able to. The words 'root canal' still fill me with fear.

Of course it’s well known that under extreme duress people have been known to perform feats far outside their normal capabilities.

The power of placebo should not be casually dismissed. Even politicians understand it and use it accordingly.

Let’s face it, it’s everywhere and so familiar that eliminating its effect is far from easy.

Did someone happen to mention blind listening tests? Or are we all too scared of risking invoking cognitive dissonance?

Red pill or blue pill?
Which one do you prefer?
Just how much truth can you handle right now?

Tough questions in tough times.


https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_pill_and_blue_pill

From what I've heard about pain killing placebos is that they don't actually work when measuring pain objectively - which is usually done with a range of motion test. A person on a placebo will say they feel better and the pain is less bothersome, but when they are asked to lift their arm up, as in the case of shoulder pain, they can't actually lift it any higher. With a real pain killer they can - although maybe they shouldn't!
My favorite is to mix real pain killers with alcohol. Get drunk enough and your expectation bias goes sky high! The trick is to get the Amazon drone to deliver while you still have a full placebo effect buzz on. Eventually of course you will barf up a steaming pile of buyer's remorse. No problem! Keep drinking! When you go from blind drunk to double-blind drunk then order a DSP and with a push of a button calculate your BAC and be glad you did this all from home.   

Pop quiz: how may audiophile cliches can you find there?
Funny millercarbon .

I've been enjoying the hell out of my $1,600 HiFiman Arya headphones. Out of curiosity, I purchased the $3,000 Focal Stellia with a return policy.
I went back and forth for one month with these headphones. Honestly, I had to coach myself to not fall head over heels for the Stellia because of their build quality and aesthetic and reputation. To me, they are gorgeous. Aesthetically they are way more beautiful than my bland and boring Arya. The build quality also easily beats out the Arya. So going into this shootout, I had a subconscious bias towards preferring the Stellia. I WANTED them to win. I wanted something just to look at while I wasn't listening to music just so I can gush over this gorgeous headphone.

However, at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. I much preferred the Aryas sonics to the Stellia. I also much preferred the comfort of the Arya.

I returned the Stellia. Not because of the price. Price was irrelevant to me. I wanted something that sounded good and I enjoyed wearing.



“So how much do you think the placebo effect impacts our listening preferences?“


A lot. It’s a real thing.
This issue is all about insecurity and lack of self confidence.If you go the right direction, it will go away. But it needs work, and trust in yourself.
I noticed that many audiophiles who are in the middle / early stages of their audio road try to use cost as a pointer to quality. When you are trying to figure out what you hear, and what makes a "better" sounding gear better... at this stage people have no CONFIDENCE in them yet, because they do not have enough experience to gauge the sound. All you can tell at this point is whether you like something or not. Maybe not even that!
And, frankly, most stereo has so may flaws, that we cannot call an upgrade as having better sound, because there are more weaknesses surfacing as well.

When you develop skills, you are comfortable navigating the waters of audio, it's when the habit to check for prices goes away. People don't realize that refined gear is just half of the story.
It's you who has to step up, develop hearing, and SELF CONFIDENCE.
Measuring equipment excel at analyzing SIMPLE signals (sine or square waves), and they absolutely FAIL to analyze complex signals (music). Brain works the other way around - we are generally clueless listening to pure sine waves (which never occur in nature), yet we can tell tiny variances in a complex music. Dedicate yourself to improve and develop. Trust in Yourself.Without that, audio is just a waste of money & time.

Post removed 
6. DSP.   
7. push of a button.   
But we grade on a curve so you get an "A".   
(boxer12- incomplete. Didn’t show his work ;)
Was trying to edit and deleted instead...funny! Can't believe I missed  6 & 7.


As with anything, sound is a preference.  What sounds good to you should be what you buy.  Some prefer lots of bass, some midrange and some treble.  I do believe people think they hear things because of price or name brand.  It would be better if the cost wasn’t shown before you decide.  That would never happen.  
I actually own the Focal Utopia headphones. 

I have to tell you - you are paying for beryllium (a very toxic metal) to be properly implemented inside a headphone. Why? Performance characteristics. Focal and TAD both use beryllium; getting it right isn't an easy task. 

You are also paying for carbon fiber yokes, higher than average build quality, lambskin earpads, and a cool factor/design. Are they worth the money? YES. Focal replaced my busted drivers free of charge. How do they sound? The transducers make all the difference.

You simply can't compare flagship/studio grade driver units in headphones to substandard "consumer grade" celebrity headphones. However, I think what you're saying is that the general population (most people don't care about audio as a hobby) wouldn't be able to tell a difference 🤔

That's because they do not care.
@asctim,
"From what I’ve heard about pain killing placebos is that they don’t actually work when measuring pain objectively - which is usually done with a range of motion test. A person on a placebo will say they feel better and the pain is less bothersome, but when they are asked to lift their arm up, as in the case of shoulder pain, they can’t actually lift it any higher. With a real pain killer they can - although maybe they shouldn’t!"


Good point.

The placebo effect seems to have no objective foundation on reality and appears be almost entirely generated within the mind of the subject.

That’s why there are regulations that all stage hypnotists are required to adhere to.
The world of the subconscious mind still remains largely unexplored and mysterious over a 100 years after Freud drew our attention to it.

However you can bet your bottom dollar that all kinds of folk, all the way from government research and law enforcement agencies to vast international marketing and advertising departments are all deeply interested in its workings.

Oh what big eyes you have grandma!
The better to help you spend your money my dear!


Placebo effect play full range when people stay " passive" consumers...

Placebo effect is under the spell and control of "active" players BECAUSE They experiment with their listening and gear...They TEST the placebos....No need to use James Randi Blind test.... Any simple blind test will do....

Money means way less than people think in audio and placebo is neutralized easily in mechanical, electrical and acoustic experiments and embeddings controls....

Biases are not only negative influences to be eliminated they can be also a positive teacher to be used all along the RIGHT path for the ears and mind.... Call that a self education...

For headphones, i scrap all my 7 headphones ( magneplanar, electrostatic, dynamic and hybrid) for my 500 bucks rightfully embedded system at low cost because they cannot hold a candle to it....Then placebo with headphones? No more....It is more easy to control the room/speakers relation than the ready made shell box and the limitations of any headphones...

People dont learn to trust themselves, they trust money and reviews.... 


I am man enough to admit when I was wrong. The placebo effect is in fact very real. In fact, the placebo effect is so powerful that last night it transported me from Bo Derek’s place to Bo Jackson’s. Could almost swear I caught a glimpse of Bo Peep just before the effect wore off.

Jackson I must say is holding up better.
@mahgister  

"It is more easy to control the room/speakers relation than the ready made shell box and the limitations of any headphones."


WWWWWWWWWHAT???

The room/speaker factor is the single most difficult thing in a loudspeaker system to get correct. Room dimensions, reflection points, nulls, etc. This is the single greatest headache of getting a loudspeaker system correct, in my opinion.
With headphones, you don't have to worry about any of that.

Please clarify because I'm having a hard time trying to make heads or tails of what you said.


The room/speaker factor is the single most difficult thing in a loudspeaker system to get correct. Room dimensions, reflection points, nulls, etc. This is the single greatest headache of getting a loudspeaker system correct, in my opinion.
With headphones, you don’t have to worry about any of that.

Please clarify because I’m having a hard time trying to make heads or tails of what you said.
You are right the room/speakers is the most difficult thing to get corrected FOR SURE....

BUT when you start with an empty room the road is LONG and the POSSIBILITIES in acoustic controls HUGE...

Then the difference between your room BEFORE acoustic treatment and controls and AFTER it, is nothing less than COLOSSAL....If rightly done and remember that passive treatment in general dont replace active control with Helmholtz method....


When you buy an headphone if you mod it, damp it, anyway possible the difference between before and after are relatively big sometimes NEVER colossal... Because you are stuck with the acoustical properties of the shell chosen by the designer...


The room enclosure by contrast is malleable like an acoustical clay.... Give me a room i will recreate it at no cost....I know how now...

my headphones i modded all of them the seven with success....But no comparison between them and the COLOSSAL potential of the speakers/room SQ...They all sleep in my drawer now... 2 dynamic 2 electroacoustic, 2 magneplanar, one hybrid...I begin my audio journey 8 years ago or 9  with many headphones because i was flabbergasted by the improvement in S.Q. compared to my speakers/room untreated and uncontrolled...

Is it clearer?

It will take very serious headphones to beat my 500 bucks system room now...none of my 7 one could do it....Even improved by mechanical and acoustical controls....

I dont want to pay 6 thousand dollars for a dedicated headphones system to be relatively on par with my room even if possible but it is not.....Save perhaps the more costly one i dont know....
“So how much do you think the placebo effect impacts our listening preferences?"

Pretty much totally.
Only Miller thinks he is totally objective.
And he is wrong.

He denies the results of many many scientific experiments.  But then he denies science most of the time anyway.

He believes what arrives in his brain from his ears is always the totally objective truth and nothing else is relevant.
He is wrong.
He is no more wrong that those who think that all audiophile impressions are pure subjectives impressions to be eliminated...

Reality is more complex than what those who argue here one against the others think...

I never negate myself the pervasing presence of biases positive or negative one, biases to be eliminated and biases to be cultivated...

I never put all the eggs of my audio basket in the engineering design upgrade market either.... i looked for ways to embed any system with science at hand or in some cases without any science available to me, but only my ears, in strings of CUMULATIVE listening experiments...

Call that an audio journey...

Then i prefer Millercarbon "alleged" ignorance to the "alleged" knowledgeable believer in engineering design power only, with their systematic blindtests, they never used anyway save in shows and arguments...

I dont need systematic blind test to tune my room nor to eliminate vibrations and to control the electrical noise floor...Simple informal occasional accidental or implemented blindtest of my own will do it....At no cost....

When you buy an headphone if you mod it, damp it, anyway possible the difference between before and after are relatively big sometimes NEVER colossal... Because you are stuck with the acoustical properties of the shell chosen by the designer...

This is true. Great information!
I love a good audio placebo effect - especially if it's cheap. I know I'm susceptible to my audio perception being amazingly transformed simply by being told something about the sound source or given a suggestion of what I should be hearing. Ever hear those evil rock 'n roll records played backwards before someone tells you what the devil's words are supposed to be? I never can make out a single word until I'm told what the words are supposed to be, and then I hear them suddenly very clearly, and can't unhear them. Also, what I'm looking at makes a big difference for me. If I can see that I'm in a wide open space I hear more spaciousness, even when I'm wearing headphones. Walking at night with headphones can be amazing.  
Audio is lacking in information, forcing our brains to make up what's not actually detected by inference from other senses. Just like the spinning ballerina silhouette illusion - I can't determine which way she is spinning with the information given, but my mind makes a decision in ways I know not and it's very difficult at that point for me to envision her spinning the other way. People talk about depth and layering in audio. With our visual system we actually have depth detection from both triangulation and shifts with small head motions, as well as comparing relative sizes of know objects at a distance. With sound it's not nearly as precise, and what one person perceives from a pair of speakers as depth and layering another person with perfectly good hearing may perceive as something less good. There's a lot of corrective imagining going on to create the effect of audible depth because what is actually reaching your ears is significantly different than what a real signal at the perceived distance would be. I used to say you have to mentally cross your ears correctly to hear the effect, like those picture books with the repeating patterns. If you get your eyes set correctly you'll "see" the 3D shape. If you do it wrong everything will be perceived as inverted, quite awkward and unnatural, but you'll still see the shape of the teapot or whatever. I know the same can happen for me with audio, and a depth effect can be created with some equalization effects. This sounds very bad though if my brain refuses to decode it as depth. Instead I just get strange tone from a sound source that I'm perceiving as being closer to me. 


Headphones = less headache. I understand that you can doctor and Taylor the sound to your liking when you deal with a loudspeaker system with room acoustics and speaker placement and swapping cables, etc.
However, the money required to get it right is vastly greater than the money spent on a good headphone system.


In my opinion, you definitely get more bang for your buck with a quality headphone system.

I’ve chased the dragon with loud speakers for 25 years. Spent tens of thousands of dollars in the process.
I put together my headphone system in just a few purchases and relatively speaking, not that much money spent.
It’s gotten me more enjoyment with less money spent and less time invested than the loudspeaker systems I’ve had over 25 years.

But that’s me. I’m just giving my experience. I’m sure many people disagree.
I'm glad you are enjoying your system devilboy. That is what it's all about.