Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Way I see it

Originally Written: Thursday, June 02, 2005

There is little scientific evidence for the differences that audiophiles hear. Two amplifiers that measures similar, nearly identical in fact, can and often times do sound drastically different. Why does one amp have a extremely deep soundstage and another doesn't? Why is this CD player better at extracting the acoustic clues that allow us insight into the original recording environment? These are some of the mysteries that the audiophile industry has been struggling with since it's birth, whenever you consider that to be. For the last twenty years Stereophile, the leading audiophile publication has been doing extensive measurements on all of the equipment they review in hopes of finding correlations between those measurements and various elusive performance parameters. They haven't really succeeded, which they readily admit. There are always theories but scientific proof is hard to find on any of these subjects.

What I can tell you is that if two knowledgeable people listen to the same system and are asked to describe it their descriptions will have much in common. Their preferences may differ but, that is not really all that important. Chris and myself regularly listen to new gear separately and compare notes later and our findings are extremely similar, but the conclusions that we draw from these findings does occasionally differ. In much the same way that two astute wine drinkers could both taste the same wine, describe it in similar language, and then differ on if it is a good wine or a mediocre vintage.

I believe that most of this comes down to a lack of funding for research into this area of human perception. Most of these high-end companies are small and barely stay in business from year to year, they can't afford to fund major scientific studies. Universities aren't going to study anything that doesn't involve grant money. Governments don't see an outcry from the general public for answers. One of the rare exceptions is the Canadian government which has been conducting an on going study into how we hear and then making that data available to Canadian speaker companies for free through the National Research Council. Is it a coincidence that affordable Canadian speakers such as Paradigm, Energy, Mirage, and PSB sound so good? Probably not.

The Stereophile website recently published a story on a debate between John Adkinson, the editor of Stereophile and one of the magazine's biggest internet critics. A large portion of the debate can be downloaded as an MP3.

I will readily admit that there are many products in the high-end audio industry that make me cry snake oil at first blush. What I will also mention is that I came to this hobby as an open minded skeptic and I'm still skeptical when a new concept is introduced to me. At the end of the day all of this comes down to trusting YOUR ears. I have learned to trust MY ears. If the music is more enjoyable then go for it.

Would I like scientific answers? Sure. Do I demand them? Not on your life.


No comments: