Oh, If we're issuing generally, non-specific challenges to delineate subjective impressions with more specificity, I think we can do "better" than that . . . (wink, wink, nudge nudge).
Though, it does bring to mind a friend that is seeking to move the decision bearing metric of a certain business enterprise from SWAG to AFD ("strategic wild ass guess" to "actual f-ing data"). A complicated and difficult proposition, that, but I certainly share your instinct and longing for AFD. So, let's bring that.
The powers that be in High End Audio, answered this years ago. In fact it's the FIRST commandment of High End Audio. If it cost more, it's better. If pressed they will say, not better specs, but better parts used. What about better sound? That's in the ear of the beholder. If a person says he can hear it, that's all that matters. Well, I can't hear any difference between the $20,000 amp and the $500 dollar amp. They will say, that's because you are an inexperienced hearing impaired fool.
That was my experience when I raised a similar question. Good Luck!!
A component, such as an amplifier, can measure "better" than another, in its ability to accurately pass a square wave or some other known input signal. But that's really meaningless in terms of the audio experience, IMO. It doesn't matter if a component is "better". All that matters is that you, the listener, like it "better". Too many audiophile purchase based on what is claimed to be "better" and then end up whining about how their system is harsh or lacks detail, or some other BS. When you listen to two component in your system, the one you prefer is "better". That's it.
Nonoise: yea, had the SWAG v AFD dropped on me at a party, and immediately fell in love with it. Caught the first few episodes of House of Lies, then lost the thread (life had the gall to interfere, as it will). Definitely rings of management consulting mumbo jumbo, no doubt.
"Better" can be one of two things, depending on the system-builder's goal:
Better is a component that makes (lets) a sound system sound more pleasing to that person; without a specific reference in mind, other than that person's sonic preferences. Or:
Better is a component that makes (lets) a sound system sound more like what live music sounds like. Familiarity with the sound of the real thing makes it possible to have this be a useful reference, in spite of all the variables.
thank you for the connotations of the word "better".
unfortunately, because of the two "concepts, i.e., better as closer to lack of coloration, and better as to preferred, when the word is used in a sentence without qualification, its meaning is unknown.
02-15-12: Rok2id Of course on a macro level, everything is probably better than components were decades ago.
The re-sale prices of many pieces of vintage gear would seem to contradict that statement.
Frogman, that is a good description, but one must always remember to weigh time in with that equation. Many times I have felt that something sounded "better" according to your definitions, only to realize 6 months or a year later that it was simply different (better in some areas, weaker in other areas) and not really better overall. You have to account for the "new component euphoria" phenomena. Too many times folks listen for 2 hours and expound on the virtues of a new toy. We all find a piece of gears "faults" over time.
"The re-sale prices of many pieces of vintage gear would seem to contradict that statement."
I get your point. I would agree that vintage gear was built more substantially. Built to last. This was pre the (I have to change amps every week) era. Designed by the greats. And all of that gives vintage equipment value. But I would also say that in the current era, things are put together rather sloppily, assembled by low paid unskilled labor, mass produced and even sold in big box stores.(gasp!) A lot of the appeal of pride in ownership and pride in the manufacturing process is lost. HOWEVER, this technical age is proving that the nature of the technology allows shoddy, cheap, plastic stuff to outperform the vintage, almost hand built stuff. Cameras and cars are two other good examples of this. Computers and automation killed the craftsman's factor. The up side is, it's all great bang for the buck.
Let me hastily add, IMO, otherwise someone will think it's fact, and attack. Peace.
I'm not attacking Rok2id, just clarifying. Your point about technology improvements bears some weight, but mostly only in the digital realm. For technologies that have changed very little, like amplification, many find a vintage component sounds better because of it's simplistic design and signal path.
Just look at the fact that many folks in this hobby still spend a LOT of money on tube and vinyl gear. Technologies that are MUCH older than digital and solid state. I'm not trying to start up one of those SS vs tube or vinyl vs. digital debates again. I'm just pointing out that newer, even by decades, does not equal better for many designs. I don't care what the glossy rags say, you can't re-invent the wheel....it's still a wheel.
I agree, I was mainly thinking digital. You are correct about the analog and tube stuff. We in audio can appreciate the older stuff, but the society as a whole probably sees analog and tubes as ancient 'back in the old days' stuff. My overall thought process was, we live in a virtual throw away age, where stuff can do wonderful things, but have a very short 'life', and do not retain any value once their 'day' has passed. This applys to many things outside of audio.
Just as an example, there is an auto ad currently running on TV, Lexus I think, shows the car as it speeds pass many outdated bits of technology. The ads touts the car's state of the art technolgy. One of the items it speeds pass is a turntable. :) I thought of the guys on audiogon when I saw it. Thanks for the post. Peace.
Your last paragraph gave me a chuckle. I was just flashing back to a medical report that I read last week from a doctor of psychology written in 1934 where he reported about the "ultra modern" techniques they were employing in a study. I remember chuckling as I read it, thinking that anyone in any scientific field should not use phrases like that in a descriptive measure. As time changes, "ultra modern" becomes "outdated" in the blink of an eye.
To me better applies to how real or realistic the music sounds. Go to a concert in a small venue and listen. Go to an outdoor concert with drums and band and listen. Then listen to similar sound in your home. Is is even close? Do you get the dynamics of a snare drum that you heard outside? how real is the sound coming out of your system? When doing an A/B listening comparison, that is my focus.
I appreciate Mrtennis's question, and especially Elizabeth's response. Every hobby has its own vocabulary, words that help us explain what we're doing and experiencing. Last year I stumbled across some reviews by Jeff Day (6moons.com) and appreciated how he distinguished between two sets of attributes: soundstaging, transparency, imaging, and detail recovery on the one hand, and things like beat, rhythm, and melody on the other. He mentioned that components and systems that excel at the former often lose the latter. Elizabeth pointed out that none of us are neutral, that we all favor some aspects of performance over others. If we use specific audio terminology to explain why one component or group of components serves our needs better than another, the ambiguity Mrtennis laments will be resolved, and the reader will understand why person A can think a Rega RP6 is clearly better than a SOTA Comet (about the same price once you add a dustcover and hinge kit to the Comet) while person B thinks the opposite.