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Has anyone tried to differentiate between a chain of audio devices (and files) which are perceptibly indistinguishable from each other individually?

Razor54672

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I wanted to know whether or not a blind test has been conducted to determine whether imperceptible differences observed in individual components become perceptible when added together. I have heard of this idea before (I think) and wanted to know of any study (amateur or professional) that took this into consideration.

So for instance, a DAC / AMP / Cable / Opus File combo being compared to another one with higher end counterparts (Opus being replaced by FLAC) and then subjected to a blind test. Yes, it would take a lot of effort, but barring headphones, this is actually a test which can be reliably conducted without technical limitations.

I think once completed, and if of good scale, could serve as a guidance to anyone getting into audio gear / tech in general as many tend to dive into this pool and perhaps it really is not worth it for a small difference (or none at all?).
 

Roland68

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I've heard such theories before, but there is neither logic nor sense behind them.
What kind of result do you expect? Compare two completely different device chains with two different audio file formats?
What kind of statement should be made afterwards, except on which chain it sounds better? There can be no conclusions about individual components.
 
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Razor54672

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I've heard such theories before, but there is neither logic nor sense behind them.
What kind of result do you expect? Compare two completely different device chains with two different audio file formats?
What kind of statement should be made afterwards, except on which chain it sounds better? There can be no conclusions about individual components.
Surely, there may not be conclusions about the individual components (which is NOT the intended goal of such a study) but what we can conclude is that those individually imperceptible differences add up to something.
 

Roland68

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Surely, there may not be conclusions about the individual components (which is NOT the intended goal of such a study) but what we can conclude is that those individually imperceptible differences add up to something.
What exactly would the intended goal be?
 

Walter

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I've wondered the same myself, but with a very important distinction--using the exact same source (files and hardware) and speakers for each chain. My idea was to take a DAC, preamp, and amplifier, each of which is just above the level that is considered "audibly trasparent" and compare to a chain of equipment that measures far better, although not necessarily state of the art. If a large enough sampling of both trained and untrained listeners could not reliably tell the difference in a blind test, then the question is answered (for me, at least).
 

Roland

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The absence of an answer to this question is what makes this forum so perplexing because the whole philosophy here is that the answer is that there is no difference. It is self evident (from the measurements), but there is no actual evidence from listening tests.
 
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Razor54672

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I've wondered the same myself, but with a very important distinction--using the exact same source (files and hardware) and speakers for each chain. My idea was to take a DAC, preamp, and amplifier, each of which is just above the level that is considered "audibly transparent" and compare to a chain of equipment that measures far better, although not necessarily state of the art. If a large enough sampling of both trained and untrained listeners could not reliably tell the difference in a blind test, then the question is answered (for me, at least).
Yes, that can also be done. I also included changing file types (but keeping the headphones or output device constant) so as to replicate the majority of scenarios representative of common media consumption, which is not FLAC a lot of the times. However, the chain MUST be consisted of components that are otherwise (when independently tested) indistinguishable from their more expensive counterparts. Because if that is not ensured, the conclusion cannot be isolated that it is "the chain that made audible / inaudible differences (depending on the result)"

While at the other end of the spectrum, supposedly top of the line (which is often proportional to the cost) equipment could be used and compared.

If the results come out as inaudible or barely audible, for most individuals, a common guideline can be formed referencing to this study that "Whoever is looking to dip their toes into the audiophile community, AT BEST you are going to get these results. It is upto the individual to decide whether such differences are worth seeking or not". I believe that this would definitely save a lot of time for people who might otherwise think that they are in for a substantial upgrade after spending hours and hours of media consumption on this topic (YouTube reviews, statistical data on ASR, User Opinions, Product Specifications etc.)
 
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Razor54672

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What exactly would the intended goal be?
Well, if a $200 headphone connected to a modern smartphone produces same or extremely similar results to a $1000+ External DAC / AMP / Cable combo, I reckon that would be useful to everyone. Because a lot of the time, you end up paying a high price for something different but not necessarily better (where better is defined as improvement in factors conducive to a positive listening experience for the majority of users). This study would aim to find whether the latter is achieved by using supposedly high end equipment.
 
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Razor54672

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The absence of an answer to this question is what makes this forum so perplexing because the whole philosophy here is that the answer is that there is no difference. It is self evident (from the measurements), but there is no actual evidence from listening tests.
Measurements are to be complemented by such tests because yes, the former indeed may determine almost all of the characteristics of audio that we know of, but until sufficiently substantiated by evidence from experimental results, we cannot know for sure whether that is the case or not.
 

kyle_neuron

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Changing many aspects of a test setup at once is the definition of a test that’ll give results that are damn near impossible to correlate to statistical significance.

How do you then define what caused any perceived change? How do you account for and identify guesswork, or the effects of training?

It’s a nice idea, but you’d need to identify and quantify the specific factor you want to investigate - combined total distortion, or jitter, or whatever - then recreate that for the purposes of the test.
 

Jimbob54

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There is a practical problem making such a test hard. Even keeping the source file and the speakers the same, it's pretty impossible to swap amps quickly enough so we don't lose the auditory memory of A when playing set up B.
 
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