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ASR Getting Into Measuring Headphones!

amirm

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#1
The heading says it all: we are going to be officially measuring, reviewing and characterizing earphones and headphones (likely more of the latter than the former). Some of you know the evaluation process I went through this summer of the BK 5128 Head and Torso headphone measurement system. The company was wonderful to work with but alas, lack of research using that new system made interpreting the results very difficult. And then there was the cost for which you could buy a luxury car! Post that I evaluated the GRAS 45CA which has been used in research and results were much more encouraging and the cost much lower. So a couple of months ago I decided to put in the order for one and here it is!

GRAS 45CA-10 Headphone Measurement Fixture.jpg


The fixture is incredibly heavy but that is goodness as it won't move when you try to adjust the headphone. Because the fixture is not a manikin, I actually find it a lot easier to try different positions to get better alignment of the headphone. The unit is stereo so I am able to quickly compare one channel to the other for alignment purposes and also for driver matching.

There are many variations of 45CA. The one I have purchases is the 45CA-10. Options on it are anthropometric pinna (human looking ear), model KB5010, which you can see more clearly here:

GRAS 45CA-10 RA0402 KB50101 Anthropometric Pinna and High-frequency ear simulator 26CS Preampl...jpg


The old pinna were rigid unlike a real ear. That caused headphones that sat on the ear to sit proud, completely messing up their low frequency response. The pinna as supplied is quite soft -- much like a babies ear. My own ears are more rigid (as they should be for someone as King of Audio!!!). So some variation always remains but at least we are closer.

The other option is the high-frequency ear simulator/coupler (microphone) model RA0402. Traditional couplers were of "711" type and had too much resonance in higher frequencies. The RA0402 has a more muted response in that region. This would avoid the temptation to try to pull those peaks down post measurements as they were likely not matching real ear response. That said, the correction is somewhat arbitrary to so confidence remains low in higher treble region (due to this and reflections inside the cup).

External constant current is needed to drive the microphone pre-amplifiers built into the system. So I had to purchase a GRAS 12AX 4-channel power supply and amplifier (though I will be using it as a 0 dB buffer). The microphones are pre-polarized meaning you don't need a high voltage power supply to drive then as you used to.

The retail cost is around $15,000 so this was another significant investment in our toolset to quantify performance of audio products.

I know some of you think headphone measurements have already been done and other think they are inaccurate so whey bother. I had to resolve both of these issues in my mind before deciding to spend this money so let me give you my justification for proceeding.

1. Measurements have been done. This is indeed true for the most part. It is impressive how the headphone community has embraced measurements to such a degree compared to speakers which was hardly touched as far as proper measurements. Part of this is due to lower cost of measurement gear but still, the effort to measure literally hundreds of not thousands of headphones was not free.

While the data is great, having so many versions of it is not so. There are a number of different fixtures uses resulting in different measurements. Super experienced headphone users know how to wade through these and get the information they need. But it is not for everyone.

Then there is our method of doing things. You could have found electronic and speaker measurements elsewhere but we have managed to not only catch up but leave behind many other sites that do this type of work. There is a "style," method and even attitude that goes into my reviews that is unique and works for both me and the readership. This combination does not exist elsewhere as it is unique by nature of it. Indeed the few headphone reviews I have done created a ton of interest. Importantly for me, they quantified the performance of the headphones I tested beyond what I had read elsewhere. Maybe that is my issue but again, how to clearly communicate what a piece of audio is about is what I specialize in. And will bring the same to headphones.

2. Why bother to measure headphones as data is inaccurate. This is what led me last year to invest in speaker measurements than headphones. The research about speakers is far more conclusive and measurements a ton more standardized. But something changed when I got the GRA 45C evaluation system. I measured, saw the deficiencies, applied judicious EQ that resulted in incredible sonic improvement in these headphones. This demonstrated that the objective data is indeed highly instructive. And that just a bit of EQ transforms the performance of any headphone, making them not only more accurate but far more enjoyable. As I type this, I am listening to AEON Flow closed headphone post EQ and it sounds so nice. In some respects, it is outperforming some of the best speakers I have tested!

Yes, you have to be careful how you approach the measurement data. I am not a fan of hugging a target curve to the max and spitting out 10 EQ bands to apply to them. The measurement data is not that reliable to enable this. But a softer approach works and works wonderfully.

A bonus of measuring headphones relative to speakers is speed. I am able to characterize the frequency response of a headphone in 5 seconds. Same process takes hours with speakers and lugging around heavy boxes around.

Ultimately I thought I had no choice but to test and review headphones. They are part and parcel of my own music listening and countless audiophiles. We have to treat them as well as we do other audio products, Leaving their testing to others did not make sense leaving a hole in our arsenal of bringing the best sound to everyone.

The main barrier was of course the cost. The capital investments in this effort have long gone the crazy land even when I purchased my Audio Precision analyzer let alone the Klippel speaker measurement system. I don't know when I am going to recoup those dollars. So investing even more did not at all seem logical. But I just decided to hell with it and proceed. Asked my wife what she thought and she could tell in my eyes there was not a "no" in what I was expecting from her. :)

As with our other measurements, there will be some growing pains as we develop and mature our measurement suite for headphones. I will as always carry a hard line in listening to complaints. :) But I will internalize some and will make them more perfect as time goes. I ask you to leave negativity behind and work constructively to get more data under our belt about this super important transducer. Last thing I need is dealing with food fights on this subject in addition to new workload of testing headphones.

So there it is. I am poorer financially but am confident I will be far richer emotionally to bring more data to our collective audio life.

P.S. I picked up the 45CA in person from Audio Precision headquarters since they are the sister company to GRAS. Alas, half way down the check engine line came on in our Mercedes Sprinter RV. :( Read the code and it is two emissions (NOx) sensors going bad. Hear huge horror stories about how expensive such repairs are at Mercedes. Have a call into them to see if they are covered under emissions warranty (the van is 4.5 years old with only 18,000 miles). I got home only to see a message from them that the power supply had just arrived and was not in the box I picked up! So I had to wait a week for that to arrive. Not a good start but hopefully things will change from here on.

------------

Any donations are appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

MZKM

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#2
Gonna be a lot cheaper than speakers for members to send in their units!

Haven‘t really looked into it, but I am assuming I can easily calculate the preference rating for these, assuming an accurate Harman compensation.

I assume, as before, you will be measuring both sides, that way we can see driver consistency, something you can’t quickly/cheaply do with speakers.

Gonna be a challenge, but I’d still give my recommendation for response consistency, meaning slightly different placements (ear cups moved up/down/left/right and maybe tilted forward/backwards; just a tad), as well as something to symbolize wearing glasses, maybe some makeshift wood apparatus.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #5
OP
amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #6
The condition of the pads and date of manufacture or purchase will need to be taken into account, though. I've seen left and right drivers measuring quite different while belonging from the same exact pair of phones.
Indeed I was just looking at my HD-650s last night and seeing that differential. I can compensate to some extent with level adjustment.
 

keebz28

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#7
I am so glad that headphone measurements are going to be done on ASR. Another repository of good measurements to make it easy for many people that struggle with picking out good headphones due to lack of knowledge and opinions that do not necessarily stack up for a product. Kudos AmirM.
 
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#9
Wonderful news as I'm a pure headphone listener.

While I understand the Harman target (well, maybe not totally) and the need for a target curve for EQ. I wonder how much increased enjoyment you experienced with EQ was placebo. We know that if we change anything in our audio system that we think makes it "better," we will often perceive better sound. I'm not saying that the EQ doesn't matter, it's all subjective anyway, but our brain does wonders to trick us and/or smooth over the signals we receive. The end result has to be subjective because we can't reliably measure or standardize "enjoyment," but it's interesting to me to think about.
 

MDAguy

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#11
let's see how those $5000 Abyss headphones measure up???
 

Dreyfus

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#12
Would be great to see some measurements with varying sealing conditions. There are not that many sources sharing such information.
Be aware that the ear and cheeck simulator does significantly overestimate the quality of seal because of its flat and even contact surface! You could implement a standard measurement for obstacale frames to address this issue. Maybe even some thicker hair?

For those who think sealing does not matter in practice, see my personal K371 experience:
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...-harman-target-curve.17914/page-3#post-587304

:rolleyes:
 
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MZKM

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#13
And oh, Sean has a linear regression for them as well: https://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=19436

You want to brush up on that if you have not? :)
I have looked at it, it allows >100 for the score (Oratory calculates it and for some EQ’d models they get like 106; don’t know why the loudspeakers use the 0-10 scale and headphone use 0-100.

114.49− (12.62*SD)−(15.52*AS)
SD: standard deviation from 20Hz-10kHz
AS: abs of slope of linear regression line from 20Hz-10kHz

Besides log spacing, it doesn’t even treat bass different, whereas the speaker formula does. With just 2 variables, I’m surprised by the stated accuracy, oddly same as speakers, 0.86.
130 people with 31 headphones.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #14
While I understand the Harman target (well, maybe not totally) and the need for a target curve for EQ. I wonder how much increased enjoyment you experienced with EQ was placebo.
Given the large tonal difference EQ makes, I find the possibility of placebo quite small relative to other changes one may make.
 

dmac6419

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#15
The heading says it all: we are going to be officially measuring, reviewing and characterizing earphones and headphones (likely more of the latter than the former). Some of you know the evaluation process I went through this summer of the BK 5128 Head and Torso headphone measurement system. The company was wonderful to work with but alas, lack of research using that new system made interpreting the results very difficult. And then there was the cost for which you could buy a luxury car! Post that I evaluated the GRAS 45CA which has been used in research and results were much more encouraging and the cost much lower. So a couple of months ago I decided to put in the order for one and here it is!

View attachment 97136

The fixture is incredibly heavy but that is goodness as it won't move when you try to adjust the headphone. Because the fixture is not a manikin, I actually find it a lot easier to try different positions to get better alignment of the headphone. The unit is stereo so I am able to quickly compare one channel to the other for alignment purposes and also for driver matching.

There are many variations of 45CA. The one I have purchases is the 45CA-10. Options on it are anthropometric pinna (human looking ear), model KB5010, which you can see more clearly here:

View attachment 97138

The old pinna were rigid unlike a real ear. That caused headphones that sat on the ear to sit proud, completely messing up their low frequency response. The pinna as supplied is quite soft -- much like a babies ear. My own ears are more rigid (as they should be for someone as King of Audio!!!). So some variation always remains but at least we are closer.

The other option is the high-frequency ear simulator/coupler (microphone) model RA0402. Traditional couplers were of "711" type and had too much resonance in higher frequencies. The RA0402 has a more muted response in that region. This would avoid the temptation to try to pull those peaks down post measurements as they were likely not matching real ear response. That said, the correction is somewhat arbitrary to so confidence remains low in higher treble region (due to this and reflections inside the cup).

External constant current is needed to drive the microphone pre-amplifiers built into the system. So I had to purchase a GRAS 12AX 4-channel power supply and amplifier (though I will be using it as a 0 dB buffer). The microphones are pre-polarized meaning you don't need a high voltage power supply to drive then as you used to.

The retail cost is around $15,000 so this was another significant investment in our toolset to quantify performance of audio products.

I know some of you think headphone measurements have already been done and other think they are inaccurate so whey bother. I had to resolve both of these issues in my mind before deciding to spend this money so let me give you my justification for proceeding.

1. Measurements have been done. This is indeed true for the most part. It is impressive how the headphone community has embraced measurements to such a degree compared to speakers which was hardly touched as far as proper measurements. Part of this is due to lower cost of measurement gear but still, the effort to measure literally hundreds of not thousands of headphones was not free.

While the data is great, having so many versions of it is not so. There are a number of different fixtures uses resulting in different measurements. Super experienced headphone users know how to wade through these and get the information they need. But it is not for everyone.

Then there is our method of doing things. You could have found electronic and speaker measurements elsewhere but we have managed to not only catch up but leave behind many other sites that do this type of work. There is a "style," method and even attitude that goes into my reviews that is unique and works for both me and the readership. This combination does not exist elsewhere as it is unique by nature of it. Indeed the few headphone reviews I have done created a ton of interest. Importantly for me, they quantified the performance of the headphones I tested beyond what I had read elsewhere. Maybe that is my issue but again, how to clearly communicate what a piece of audio is about is what I specialize in. And will bring the same to headphones.

2. Why bother to measure headphones as data is inaccurate. This is what led me last year to invest in speaker measurements than headphones. The research about speakers is far more conclusive and measurements a ton more standardized. But something changed when I got the GRA 45C evaluation system. I measured, saw the deficiencies, applied judicious EQ that resulted in incredible sonic improvement in these headphones. This demonstrated that the objective data is indeed highly instructive. And that just a bit of EQ transforms the performance of any headphone, making them not only more accurate but far more enjoyable. As I type this, I am listening to AEON Flow closed headphone post EQ and it sounds so nice. In some respects, it is outperforming some of the best speakers I have tested!

Yes, you have to be careful how you approach the measurement data. I am not a fan of hugging a target curve to the max and spitting out 10 EQ bands to apply to them. The measurement data is not that reliable to enable this. But a softer approach works and works wonderfully.

A bonus of measuring headphones relative to speakers is speed. I am able to characterize the frequency response of a headphone in 5 seconds. Same process takes hours with speakers and lugging around heavy boxes around.

Ultimately I thought I had no choice but to test and review headphones. They are part and parcel of my own music listening and countless audiophiles. We have to treat them as well as we do other audio products, Leaving their testing to others did not make sense leaving a hole in our arsenal of bringing the best sound to everyone.

The main barrier was of course the cost. The capital investments in this effort have long gone the crazy land even when I purchased my Audio Precision analyzer let alone the Klippel speaker measurement system. I don't know when I am going to recoup those dollars. So investing even more did not at all seem logical. But I just decided to hell with it and proceed. Asked my wife what she thought and she could tell in my eyes there was not a "no" in what I was expecting from here. :)

As with our other measurements, there will be some growing pains as we develop and mature our measurement suite for headphones. I will as always carry a hard line in listening to complaints. :) But I will internalize some and will make them more perfect as time goes. I ask you to leave negativity behind and work constructively to get more data under our belt about this super important transducer. Last thing I need is dealing with food fights on this subject in addition to new workload of testing headphones.

So there it is. I am poorer financially but am confident I will be far richer emotionally to bring more data to our collective audio life.

P.S. I picked up the 45CA in person from Audio Precision headquarters since they are the sister company to GRAS. Alas, half way down the check engine line came on in our Mercedes Sprinter RV. :( Read the code and it is two emissions (NOx) sensors going bad. Hear huge horror stories about how expensive such repairs are at Mercedes. Have a call into them to see if they are covered under emissions warranty (the van is 4.5 years old with only 18,000 miles). I got home only to see a message from them that the power supply had just arrived and was not in the box I picked up! So I had to wait a week for that to arrive. Not a good start but hopefully things will change from here on.

------------

Any donations are appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
Head Fi gonna be mad with you lol,they have the bk5128 this should be interesting.
 
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#16
Given the large tonal difference EQ makes, I find the possibility of placebo quite small relative to other changes one may make.
You're probably right; even if there's an effect it's probably too small to measure or matter. Just that with EQ evaluation, I think the proper control is listening to randomized EQ (blinded) with similar parameters instead of comparing to no EQ. I wonder if anybody has done that? I imagine it would be a mess, but it's just my experimental mind talking.
 

YSC

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#17
Interesting! I can’t wait for focal, Hifiman sennheiser etc. getting measured! As the smear is soft is it possible to get some in ear or custom in ear measured with say a CIEM made for the supplied “ear”?
 

napilopez

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#18
Congrats and thanks @amirm! Funny, I was just wondering if there was an update on this, since I just spent several days trying my darndest to find an average 'rough' calibration for the MiniDSP ears I have to match it to GRAS results. It will never work great because of the different acoustic loading but I got something roughly useable for my own purposes.

But man, I still think making and interpreting accurate speaker measurements, at least on a budget, is way easier than headphones!

Looking forward to what comes of this.
 
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#19
The heading says it all: we are going to be officially measuring, reviewing and characterizing earphones and headphones (likely more of the latter than the former). Some of you know the evaluation process I went through this summer of the BK 5128 Head and Torso headphone measurement system. The company was wonderful to work with but alas, lack of research using that new system made interpreting the results very difficult. And then there was the cost for which you could buy a luxury car! Post that I evaluated the GRAS 45CA which has been used in research and results were much more encouraging and the cost much lower. So a couple of months ago I decided to put in the order for one and here it is!

View attachment 97136

The fixture is incredibly heavy but that is goodness as it won't move when you try to adjust the headphone. Because the fixture is not a manikin, I actually find it a lot easier to try different positions to get better alignment of the headphone. The unit is stereo so I am able to quickly compare one channel to the other for alignment purposes and also for driver matching.

There are many variations of 45CA. The one I have purchases is the 45CA-10. Options on it are anthropometric pinna (human looking ear), model KB5010, which you can see more clearly here:

View attachment 97138

The old pinna were rigid unlike a real ear. That caused headphones that sat on the ear to sit proud, completely messing up their low frequency response. The pinna as supplied is quite soft -- much like a babies ear. My own ears are more rigid (as they should be for someone as King of Audio!!!). So some variation always remains but at least we are closer.

The other option is the high-frequency ear simulator/coupler (microphone) model RA0402. Traditional couplers were of "711" type and had too much resonance in higher frequencies. The RA0402 has a more muted response in that region. This would avoid the temptation to try to pull those peaks down post measurements as they were likely not matching real ear response. That said, the correction is somewhat arbitrary to so confidence remains low in higher treble region (due to this and reflections inside the cup).

External constant current is needed to drive the microphone pre-amplifiers built into the system. So I had to purchase a GRAS 12AX 4-channel power supply and amplifier (though I will be using it as a 0 dB buffer). The microphones are pre-polarized meaning you don't need a high voltage power supply to drive then as you used to.

The retail cost is around $15,000 so this was another significant investment in our toolset to quantify performance of audio products.

I know some of you think headphone measurements have already been done and other think they are inaccurate so whey bother. I had to resolve both of these issues in my mind before deciding to spend this money so let me give you my justification for proceeding.

1. Measurements have been done. This is indeed true for the most part. It is impressive how the headphone community has embraced measurements to such a degree compared to speakers which was hardly touched as far as proper measurements. Part of this is due to lower cost of measurement gear but still, the effort to measure literally hundreds of not thousands of headphones was not free.

While the data is great, having so many versions of it is not so. There are a number of different fixtures uses resulting in different measurements. Super experienced headphone users know how to wade through these and get the information they need. But it is not for everyone.

Then there is our method of doing things. You could have found electronic and speaker measurements elsewhere but we have managed to not only catch up but leave behind many other sites that do this type of work. There is a "style," method and even attitude that goes into my reviews that is unique and works for both me and the readership. This combination does not exist elsewhere as it is unique by nature of it. Indeed the few headphone reviews I have done created a ton of interest. Importantly for me, they quantified the performance of the headphones I tested beyond what I had read elsewhere. Maybe that is my issue but again, how to clearly communicate what a piece of audio is about is what I specialize in. And will bring the same to headphones.

2. Why bother to measure headphones as data is inaccurate. This is what led me last year to invest in speaker measurements than headphones. The research about speakers is far more conclusive and measurements a ton more standardized. But something changed when I got the GRA 45C evaluation system. I measured, saw the deficiencies, applied judicious EQ that resulted in incredible sonic improvement in these headphones. This demonstrated that the objective data is indeed highly instructive. And that just a bit of EQ transforms the performance of any headphone, making them not only more accurate but far more enjoyable. As I type this, I am listening to AEON Flow closed headphone post EQ and it sounds so nice. In some respects, it is outperforming some of the best speakers I have tested!

Yes, you have to be careful how you approach the measurement data. I am not a fan of hugging a target curve to the max and spitting out 10 EQ bands to apply to them. The measurement data is not that reliable to enable this. But a softer approach works and works wonderfully.

A bonus of measuring headphones relative to speakers is speed. I am able to characterize the frequency response of a headphone in 5 seconds. Same process takes hours with speakers and lugging around heavy boxes around.

Ultimately I thought I had no choice but to test and review headphones. They are part and parcel of my own music listening and countless audiophiles. We have to treat them as well as we do other audio products, Leaving their testing to others did not make sense leaving a hole in our arsenal of bringing the best sound to everyone.

The main barrier was of course the cost. The capital investments in this effort have long gone the crazy land even when I purchased my Audio Precision analyzer let alone the Klippel speaker measurement system. I don't know when I am going to recoup those dollars. So investing even more did not at all seem logical. But I just decided to hell with it and proceed. Asked my wife what she thought and she could tell in my eyes there was not a "no" in what I was expecting from here. :)

As with our other measurements, there will be some growing pains as we develop and mature our measurement suite for headphones. I will as always carry a hard line in listening to complaints. :) But I will internalize some and will make them more perfect as time goes. I ask you to leave negativity behind and work constructively to get more data under our belt about this super important transducer. Last thing I need is dealing with food fights on this subject in addition to new workload of testing headphones.

So there it is. I am poorer financially but am confident I will be far richer emotionally to bring more data to our collective audio life.

P.S. I picked up the 45CA in person from Audio Precision headquarters since they are the sister company to GRAS. Alas, half way down the check engine line came on in our Mercedes Sprinter RV. :( Read the code and it is two emissions (NOx) sensors going bad. Hear huge horror stories about how expensive such repairs are at Mercedes. Have a call into them to see if they are covered under emissions warranty (the van is 4.5 years old with only 18,000 miles). I got home only to see a message from them that the power supply had just arrived and was not in the box I picked up! So I had to wait a week for that to arrive. Not a good start but hopefully things will change from here on.

------------

Any donations are appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
This is so exciting. I will donate some money next Friday to help with the costs. Cheers, Amir!
 

ROOSKIE

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#20
Wonderful news as I'm a pure headphone listener.

While I understand the Harman target (well, maybe not totally) and the need for a target curve for EQ. I wonder how much increased enjoyment you experienced with EQ was placebo. We know that if we change anything in our audio system that we think makes it "better," we will often perceive better sound. I'm not saying that the EQ doesn't matter, it's all subjective anyway, but our brain does wonders to trick us and/or smooth over the signals we receive. The end result has to be subjective because we can't reliably measure or standardize "enjoyment," but it's interesting to me to think about.
Just because I'm feeling like chatting...
Placebo isn't what I believe you meant here. A placebo effect is an actual change in experience.
Like taking a sugar pill that you think is Tylenol and your headache goes away.
Confirmation Bias is likely what you meant. Which is a perceived change that actually is not there.
Such as hearing more bass because someone told you they turned the bass up but in fact they did not actually adjust anything.
Placebo Effect is real, confirmation bias is not.
 
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