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Of Audiophiles and Snake Oil - A story in the making

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#1
I posted a long'ish' thread on Reddit regarding audiophiles and their ideas on 'expensive being better' -

https://www.reddit.com/r/headphones/comments/acvas7
I'd love to know what everyone here thinks about this.

Am I among the handful who feels like objectivity is the only 'objective' for DACs/Amps? Should I do what they say and 'trust my ears instead of measurements'? To be clear, I do not deny that people have sound preferences (some like warming, some like V-shaped, some prefer fast transients in e-stats, some like a bit of decay) I'd love to know if any of my statements and understanding is incorrect, and also a reason for why it is so. I like the place and the people there in general but this is in conflict with my sense of logic and preference for the Scientific method?

TL; DR: Headphone store owner/audiophile 'educated' me that expensive DAC/Amps exist for a reason- they sound better and are better overall, and citing measurements makes me a dumbfuck because they can 'hear' that those expensive amps are 'better'.
 

andreasmaaan

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#2
Short answer: you're right, they're wrong.

Longer answer: sure, trust your ears if you like, but if they're talking about DACs and amps then one would have to be dealing with some extremely poorly measuring devices for there to be audible differences. If they think there's an audible difference between a mid-level well-engineered DAC and the high-end options they suggested you listen to, they are wrong and there's a problem in their blind test setup.

Final note: I've rarely come across anyone in the "trust your ears" crowd who literally does controlled testing so that their ears are the only factor. Usually "trust your ears" means trust your ears and eyes and inherent psychological biases and make no effort to separate one from the others.
 

RayDunzl

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#3
Another short answer:

You're talking to a salesperson.
 

JJB70

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#4
Yep, it's probably a rare sales person who advises customers that that $200 DAC is well enough made and will sound pretty much the same as the $2000 on the other shelf, but the expensive stuff looks good and will impress audiophools.
 

svart-hvitt

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#8
I have found it in other segments such as cycling but very rarely in audio. I think some audio dealers genuinely believe the audiophile myths.
Yes, the definition of delusional must be a person who claims to hear a difference between power cables while at the same time saying that God does not exist.

I believe logic has always been in short supply. Maybe it’s (absence of logic) an innate survival strategy?
 

JJB70

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#9
I think that a really good sales person knows how to balance maximising the sale with giving some consideration to what the customer needs so as to build a good relationship that brings return business. I have nothing against sales people trying to up sell so long as they don't try and push it. I have walked out of several car showrooms when salespeople wouldn't give it a rest. I once enjoyed telling a Mercedes Benz sales guy that he'd convinced me not to buy the E Class I was close to buying as he wouldn't take no for an answer when trying to sell a £500 paint sealant. I thanked him for being honest enough to tell me that the quality of paint was rubbish and that if they couldn't paint a car properly then they were unlikely to be capable of building the rest of the car properly. Wasn't well received.....
 

pwjazz

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#10
My persistent issue with a lot of audiophile claims is that they lack a working theory of causality and are unfalsifiable. If expensive amp X sounds better than cheap amp Y, there has to be something in the design build that accounts for it, yet this is rarely asserted and the cost alone tends to be considered sufficient cause for the better sound. Either the designer did something to make it sound better, in which case I'd like to know what so that I can attempt to reproduce the result, or (s)he didn't, in which case there's no reason to believe X is any better than Y.
 

andreasmaaan

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#11
Equally problematic are the complex technical explanations (think those for cables, R2R DACs, etc.) that have just enough truth to them to fool someone who understands just a little, but not enough, about the topic.
 
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#12
"Trust your ears, don't trust your lying brain."
I totally agree with you.

If you look at the additions I made to the original post after discussing with a few redditors, they are -

The scientific method exists to have a quantifiable and provable data point for everything, even 'preferences'-
  • Double-blind tests exist to find which 'feels' superior.
  • The Harman curve is a product of years of Sean Olive doing research with thousands of test subjects to validate 'preference'
  • Research of HRTF, cone of confusion, compensation fields etc show what we like and
  • If that doesn't work, you have EQ for fine-tuning. Given a headphone that is technically solid(low distortion to changes, matches the transient and impulse response you like) you can EQ your FR preference.
  • Tubes are not the 'amazing retro thing'. They do not introduce 'warmth'. The introduce distortion in the lower frequencies, which changes the FR. The same can be achieved with DSP.
  • In this era of digital, I can easily argue any hardware related changes that people might enjoy can be simulated, with better resolution, more control and a better degree, using software.
Henry Ford once said -
' If I had asked what the people wanted, they would have asked for faster horses'.
The path to enjoyment is real, but efficiency, both in terms of cost and in terms of overall performance is what engineering pushes for. But the plateauing and scenario of diminishing returns do exist - case to point is Moore's Law.
I can showcase another sensory organ as an example here - eyesight. If you focus on near and farsightedness (myopia and hypermetropia) - Your doctor prescribed -1.5 glasses for your myopia. You go get them. Someone telling you that getting a pair of glasses with -1.6 is going to make some aspect of your vision 'clearer' is downright incorrect.

I am an objectivist. I work in the lab with the belief that what I am doing is relevant and makes LOGICAL sense. Sitting on the fence and letting people think that it is ok to 'prefer' stuff which might also be heavily affected by cognitive bias is not the way to go.
 

RayDunzl

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#14
I once enjoyed telling a Mercedes Benz sales guy...
I needed tires. The OEM tires (Toyo) went 85,000 miles. The folks at the tire store were like, wow, no way, never happened!

Tires installed, they try to sell me an alignment so my new tires (which turned out to be crap) would last longer.

Uh-huh.

(Was still on its factory alignment)
 
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#15

andreasmaaan

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#16
Tubes are not the 'amazing retro thing'. They do not introduce 'warmth'. The introduce distortion in the lower frequencies, which changes the FR. The same can be achieved with DSP.
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding your post. Although adding distortion does have a (usually negligible) effect on FR, this is not the primary or desired audible effect of adding distortion, nor can the same effect be achieved merely by altering the frequency response with DSP (although distortion can ofc be added with DSP too).

Holy moly what is this exactly?
https://www.synergisticresearch.com/acoustics/atmosphere/
Atmosphere? What does this do? Says something about ultra-low frequency.
Are these speakers, white/pink noise generators, low-frequency speakers....... I don't even understand what it is.
Exactly what I was about to say :confused:
 

Purité Audio

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#17
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#18
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding your post. Although adding distortion does have a (usually negligible) effect on FR, this is not the primary or desired audible effect of adding distortion, nor can the same effect be achieved merely by altering the frequency response with DSP (although distortion can ofc be added with DSP too).



Exactly what I was about to say :confused:
I would like to be corrected if I am wrong, but AFAIK tube amps do not change FR, but just add distortion at all frequencies but particularly at the lower ones? This means that if I run a 50Hz wave the resulting output would be either distorted at the same wave or/and its harmonics. This leads me to think a digital filter can give out a 'tubey' sound by fudging with waveform with either jitter or power?

Brainfart there Jitter is a DAC only thing :p

Someone please educate me on tubes if my understanding is wrong.
 
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Purité Audio

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#19
The high output impedance of tube amplifiers ‘can’ change loudspeaker’s FR, I believe.
Keith
 

svart-hvitt

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#20
I totally agree with you.

If you look at the additions I made to the original post after discussing with a few redditors, they are -

The scientific method exists to have a quantifiable and provable data point for everything, even 'preferences'-
  • Double-blind tests exist to find which 'feels' superior.
  • The Harman curve is a product of years of Sean Olive doing research with thousands of test subjects to validate 'preference'
  • Research of HRTF, cone of confusion, compensation fields etc show what we like and
  • If that doesn't work, you have EQ for fine-tuning. Given a headphone that is technically solid(low distortion to changes, matches the transient and impulse response you like) you can EQ your FR preference.
  • Tubes are not the 'amazing retro thing'. They do not introduce 'warmth'. The introduce distortion in the lower frequencies, which changes the FR. The same can be achieved with DSP.
  • In this era of digital, I can easily argue any hardware related changes that people might enjoy can be simulated, with better resolution, more control and a better degree, using software.
Henry Ford once said -
' If I had asked what the people wanted, they would have asked for faster horses'.
The path to enjoyment is real, but efficiency, both in terms of cost and in terms of overall performance is what engineering pushes for. But the plateauing and scenario of diminishing returns do exist - case to point is Moore's Law.
I can showcase another sensory organ as an example here - eyesight. If you focus on near and farsightedness (myopia and hypermetropia) - Your doctor prescribed -1.5 glasses for your myopia. You go get them. Someone telling you that getting a pair of glasses with -1.6 is going to make some aspect of your vision 'clearer' is downright incorrect.

I am an objectivist. I work in the lab with the belief that what I am doing is relevant and makes LOGICAL sense. Sitting on the fence and letting people think that it is ok to 'prefer' stuff which might also be heavily affected by cognitive bias is not the way to go.
FWIW...On the scientific method: One needs to be very wary of the pitfalls.

«Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig; es ist nicht einmal falsch!»

It’s not right. It isn’t even wrong!

Background; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_even_wrong

It’s a battle and takes great effort to practice «the scientific method». I make errors in thinking (logical errors) all the time. So I feel happy and grateful every time I discover a flaw of my own thinking.
 
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