Test Equipment vs The Ear


Just posted this link in another thread,

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Sound/earsens.html

Could the ear actually be superior to test equipment?

What do you think?

0d301723 f175 4ed0 a219 478df16b0dc3tls49
I did not see anything incorrect about that collection of tidbits, but nothing there says anything about the ear vs. test equipment.


Test equipment tells me how something measures whereas my ears tell me how it sounds.  To me, the latter is more important.
+1 brf, perfectly stated!!
Not everything that is audible is measurable, and not everything that is measurable is audible. 

There is probably no practical limit to the number of examples that could be cited to illustrate each of those two cases.

To the designer, measurements and listening are both essential tools.  To the consumer, measurements that are published or are otherwise available can often be useful **if properly understood and applied** in narrowing the field of candidates that may be considered for purchase, in identifying candidates for purchase that may match up less than optimally with other parts of the system or with the listener's requirements, and in diagnosing problems.  The frequency with which John Atkinson's measurements that are provided in Stereophile are referenced in countless threads here testifies to those usefulnesses.  While of course to the consumer ears are and should be the decisive arbiter.

So IMO it is pointless to ask which is superior.  Each has its place.

Best regards,
-- Al
 
  I have been in this hobby for 37 years, and I trust my ears over measurements. 
almarg wrote,

"Not everything that is audible is measurable, and not everything that is measurable is audible.

There is probably no practical limit to the number of examples that could be cited to illustrate each of those two cases."

>>>>>I’m not sure what you mean by things that can’t be measured, but just for grins here are a few of my candidates for the top of anyone’s list: Tice Clock, Clever Little Clock, Silver Rainbow Foil, Flying Saucers (copper foils) for Windows, WA Quantum Chips, the difference between two power cords that are identical except one has a black jacket and the other a white jacket, and Morphic Message Labels. Top those if you can.

I think it’s a straw man dichotomy.

I think the bigger issue is that test equipment doesn’t get a job, subscribe to Hi Fi magazines and spend days worrying about their first speaker purchase.

I think it is also important to note that tests become useful only after they measure something important. IM distortion for instance. I’m sure it was heard long before it was measured, or understood as "intermodulation distortion." Then came the gear, the parameters and measurement protocols. Then experimental circuits to eliminate it, then listening and experience.

How long between the invention of the telephone did the concept of harmonic distortion come about?

This is not an either or world I live in, it is an integrated, circular hole. At the same time, when my measurement microphone pays for a speaker component I will let it choose what to buy, but not before.

Best,

E
tls49
Test Equipment vs The Ear

It all starts with designers doing prototypes using the laws of electronics and measuring, getting the best they can, then it’s listened to if they’re audiophiles.
Then if needs be, to make changes to the sound, they make changes to measurements or even the circuit, design, and then it’s re-measured to see if nothings wrong and if it sounds better, good, if not do more of the same.
But no designer in their right mind would change anything from the original and not re-measure to see if all is still fine.

Cheers George
How does one measure soundstage height? Bass slam? Inner dynamics? Warmth? Presence? Musicality? Liquid-ness? Separation of instruments? Realism? The noise contribution of RFI/EMI? How do you determine that the "information" you’re hearing is all (rpt all) of the "information" on the recording?



I'd go with the EAR every time.
Often measurements are inversely proportional to sound quality.  Great measurements can be achieved by usage of deep negative feedback, that will introduce unpleasant TIM distortions, that we don't even measure.  TIM distortions were unknown until 70's.   Do we know everything today?  Shall we allow some TIM distortions to dramatically reduce THD and IMD?  

THD stands for "Total Harmonic Distortions".  What if "Total" is the same, but made of different sets of harmonics?  Do we know which "set" sounds better.  Some people like euphonic harmonics and without them gear might sound clinical/analytic. Warm sounding even harmonics can be wonderful with voice or guitar but might sound horrible with the piano recordings.

Everything at the end always comes to "How does it sound to you?"
@eoffkait - I immediately thought sound-stage (or image) also - but the others you mention are equally immeasurable - except perhaps for dynamics?

At present, dynamics can be observed on an oscilloscope and if plotted against X-Y coordinates and factor in time, one could come up with some sort of measurement - e.g. slope/micro-second perhaps?

If anyone out there is aware of a measurement for dynamic performance I’d love to hear/read about it - thanks :-)

But I still ask - why bother - when the ear is so much more convenient and adept at discerning so many sound quality "improvements"..

I think it’s just "human nature" to want to qualify everything as proof of superiority - especially when our hearing starts to fail us.

Like you - I trust my ears every time - I stopped reading specs back in the 80’s.

Regards - Steve
The problem is that human hearing is not very good - your dog is much better at it. The good news is that for most parts of the audio chain it is now possible to design and manufacture units that are better than what humans can reliably discern. The differences that are still there are inaudible, but sometimes still measurable (and different is not necessarily better). The second problem with listening is that conditions have to be carefully controled. Levels have to be matched within 0.2 dB, because the brain interprets louder as better. This can only be achieved with a proper volt meter. The third problem is that comparison has to be near instantaneous because the brain cannot remember sound for very long. Finally, there is that old devil expectation bias (requiring double blind testing).

willemj
The problem is that human hearing is not very good - your dog is much better at it. The good news is that for most parts of the audio chain it is now possible to design and manufacture units that are better than what humans can reliably discern. The differences that are still there are inaudible, but sometimes still measurable (and different is not necessarily better). The second problem with listening is that conditions have to be carefully controled. Levels have to be matched within 0.2 dB, because the brain interprets louder as better. This can only be achieved with a proper volt meter. The third problem is that comparison has to be near instantaneous because the brain cannot remember sound for very long. Finally, there is that old devil expectation bias (requiring double blind testing).

Speaking frankly, I think maybe someone pulled a bad joke on you. Because almost every single thing you said is an old wives’ tale. An old wives’ tale promulgated by pro-measurement anti-audiophile naysayers since Edison wore his hair in a page boy.

 Audiophile ears reject test equipment so they're best.
Show me the research in peer reviewed journals that show that what I said is an old wives’ tale. Here is a famous one from me: http://www.keith-snook.info/wireless-world-magazine/Wireless-World-1978/Valves%20versus%20Transistor...
Here is kind of what I am getting at.

I used to work in food service. We had a certain amount of meat / sandwich. 2 oz or something like that.

We had to weigh each portion. After the first week, my eye/brain mechanism had learned exactly what 2 oz was. I think most of us can do this.

I have learned the same with frequency response curves. Once I knew what I liked, I incorporated that into my crossover simulations. Now I can pretty much tell speakers that are brighter or more dull than what I make, and I"m usually spot on, but this has been integrative, not separate.

I'm sure we can learn to listen for, or completely ignore, other things as well.

Best,

E
Everything that is audible is measurable, but not everything that is measurable is audible.

Often what people think they hear is really just what they see.  I'll bet anyone a nice polished block of Mpingo wood if they truly hear some things in a valid test.
Sure you can learn to listen. Research has shown that with humans the threshold for hearing level differences (and deviations from the flat frequency response) is about 0.2 dB. If it less than that, you cannot hear it so it does not matter (but you can measure it). On the electronics side, it is relatively easy to stay below this threshold of 0.2 dB, and if e.g an amplifier fails this requirement it is not what Peter Walker called a straight wire with gain (and hence it is not good enough). But with speakers this 0.2 dB is unfortunately an impossible target for now. So speakers will sound quite different from each other, unfortunately. Hence also, it is worth spending relatively a lot on speakers.
@willemj

While frequency response is the single most detectable aspect of a speaker's performance, it is not the only one.

My ears are particularly sensitive to room acoustics and driver compression.  A measure not included in that. :)

Best,

E
It was Harman Kardon back in the 70's who was touting the audible effects of inaudible frequencies. They claimed that their ultra wide-band receivers, preamps, and amps (4Hz to 140kHz) would outperform the competitor products (typically 20Hz to 20,000kHz) even though they were outside the range of human hearing. They didn't compare a competitor's product against their unit, rather they built (2) identical units and limited the bandwidth on one to the 20-20 range. Supposedly over 80% of the professionals they played them for identified the wider bandwidth as more musical.  Harman Kardon's explanation was that inaudible frequencies produce harmonics in the audible range. 

willemj
Show me the research in peer reviewed journals that show that what I said is an old wives’ tale. Here is a famous one from me: http://www.keith-snook.info/wireless-world-magazine/Wireless-World-1978/Valves%20versus%20Transistor....

Whoa! Hey! What? Is there a full moon? What’s up with folks suddenly thinking an audio forum is some sort of platform for peer reviews? Most likely this is simply a case of being gullible or naive if you actually believe what you wrote. There is no such thing as audio memory and the whole idea of having to maintain level is just silly. Any audiophile worth more than ten cents can distinguish between volume and dynamic range.

I recently had my hearing tested. One of the tests had the earphones placed on my skull above and forward of one ear and below and behind the other and it was amazing how well I could hear the test tones. 

What wasn't amazing, but rather depressing, was what I couldn't hear. 😩

There's so much reinforcement going on with more than our ears than we appreciate. Factor our brain into it and you'll find that it is highly nonlinear when deciphering sound. Test equipment, on the other hand is very linear in measuring sound. Or, used to be unless you have the money for some really serious tests.

Hearing aids have always been poor performers in restoring hearing acuity. It's down to what area do you prefer compared to what you can do without. Around the early 90s, some group came up with nonlinear signal processing to get closer to approximating what it is that we actually hear. I don't know if it actually worked or if it's  commercially available. 

Based on that, can we finally put to rest the falsehood that what we measure is what we hear, and nothing more?

All the best,
Nonoise


Measuring requires at least some knowledge/understanding of electrical engineering -- something that most audiophiles don’t have. Discussing measurements with audiophiles is a waste of time.
Discussing measurements with audiophiles is a waste of time.

Just as listening to music with an electrical engineer is a waste of time.
Just as listening to music with an electrical engineer is a waste of time.
Dear friend, that is a bold claim. Why would that be a waste of time? Have you ever listened to music with an EE?
Have you ever listened to music with an EE?

Yes, as a matter of fact, my best friend is an EE.
To him, everything sounds the same.
He is perfectly happy with his Adcom electronics and Polk speakers pointing in strange outward directions towards the side walls.

He laughs at my ARC/Pass Labs gear. Total waste of money in his opinion.
He also thinks vinyl is dumb....sigh.

I don't argue anymore, we just do other things together these days, no more listening to music together.

It's funny though how you found issue with that line, but felt no issue with your line:
Discussing measurements with audiophiles is a waste of time.


One line in no more or less foolish than the other.
Just as listening to music with an electrical engineer is a waste of time.
Not if that EE is also an audiophile, as then he could tell you where you could improve your system, with mods to whatever you have if it's not sounding the best.
And you can bet he'd be using the laws of EE and measurements to do those mods if he's worth his salt.

Cheers George
Appeal to Authority Alert! Whoa! That’s two in one day! What are the odds? 🎲 🎲

@williewonka    

I am surprised you are not aware of Soundstage linearity measurements on Speakers.

These show how bad most speakers are. Severely lacking in dynamic range and audibly compressing at 90 DB in most cases.
@shadorne - if you are referring to...

https://www.soundstagenetwork.com/measurements/test_loudspeakers.htm

I do not believe any of those tests indicates the ability of a speaker to respond to a very dynamic transient signal - such as a drum strike.

They would need to record the transient response i.e. the slew rate and rise time of such transients

It is something the ear can discern very easily and something you can see on an oscilloscope, but to my knowledge (which has its limitations) I do not know of any such measurement reported specifically for speakers at present.

From Wikipedia...
Transient response
.... In loudspeakers, transient response performance is affected by the mass and resonances of drivers and enclosures and by group delay and phase delay introduced by crossover filtering or inadequate time alignment of the loudspeaker’s drivers. Most loudspeakers generate significant amounts of transient distortion, though some designs are less prone to this (e.g. electrostatic loudspeakers, plasma arc tweeters, ribbon tweeters and horn enclosures with multiple entry points).

As for the tests above
- I do appreciate the value of such tests if a person does not have resources (i.e. good audio stores) for audition purposes
- Personally, I have been fortunate in the past to have access to some very good stores that allowed me to audition their very high end products. which has helped me in choosing the components i now own.
..
Mostly, I value the opinions of forum members - but ultimately I trust my ears.

Cheers


@williewonka    

Yes. This non linearlity as measured by Soundstage affects dynamic range directly. Acting as a limiter or compressor to the louder sounds. The Speaker will sound dull boomy and congested - nearly all speakers do at louder levels - Soundstage readily admits that the majority of speakers have problems with this test.

Group delay is important - especially in bass where many resonant designs have excessive audible group delay in order to deliver more bass output - however this is not so much a dynamic range effect but a smearing that does muddy the sound.

I n speakers I think transient performance is more related to driver integration, flat frequency response and a lack of coloration or "ringing" from the driver - as a percussion strike has many frequencies that all need to be delivered seamlessly and correctly placed in time. A good test is the waterfall plot - a nice clean waterfall will present transients well and without adding coloration. Electrostatic panels like Quad present transients very well. 


Appeal to Authority Alert!
Serious listeners are far better listen to them, than listening to witch doctors, or snake oil peddlers.
https://ibb.co/bwyCRG

Cheers George