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Thread: Is 'What It Sounds Like' All That Matters'?

  1. #1
    Join Date: Aug 2009

    Location: Staffordshire, England

    Posts: 19,011
    I'm Martin.

    Default Is 'What It Sounds Like' All That Matters'?

    Plenty of technical discussions about h-fi on the interweb but you will always get someone who crops up to say something like:

    'Did you listen to it?'
    'What it sounds like is all that matters'
    'I just use my ears'

    And so forth.

    What's more these statements will be made with a bemused/confused tone. As if it is obvious: If it sounds good it is good, why complicate what is so simple? The logic is straight-forward.

    Or so you would think. However 'Just listening' has some major drawbacks when used as the sole method of evaluating a piece of equipment or even a format. If you don't, or are unable to put what you are hearing in context, you can end up making some wrong assumptions, and consequently make some poor buying decisions. Whilst it is always pretty clear-cut whether we like the sound we hear or we don't, making any further assumptions solely from that input can lead us down a garden path. Here are some examples where 'Just Listen' falls over:

    1) Manufacturers don't always tell the truth, at least not the whole truth. You hear a component and like what it does, The maker says the reason their X sounds better is because they use Y technology in it. So you jump immediately to the conclusion that anything using Y technology will be good, that Y tech is ground breaking, a paradigm shift etc etc. Whereas in reality Y tech is just marketing babble and the reason that X component sounds good is simply that it is well engineered. 'Well engineered' is, depressingly, not a concept that marketing can sell in the modern age. Hence the need to emphasise the use of Y tech. Will all components using Y tech sound good? No. Only the well engineered ones.

    2) Something could be broken or not performing optimally but you don't know this. You try X amp in your system, doesn't sound very good. You don't buy it and you tell everyone 'yeah, I tried X amp, it isn't up to much.' 6 months later you discover there was a fault with your speakers, or your cartridge was out of alignment, etc etc.

    3) There is an incompatibility between X and the rest of your system. You don't know this because you didn't check out the spec first, you 'just listened'. Again you don't buy and if asked you tell people that X is not up to much. In reality it did not have enough gain for your amp, or it was underpowered for your speakers, etc etc

    4) You 'just listened' but you didn't listen enough. A few audiophile recordings does not a summer make. Did you try every genre of music? Every time period from early 1960s simple recordings to modern, digital multi-tracks? Music with loads of deep bass? Music with close-miked female voices? If the equipment (especially loudspeakers) has a flaw you may need to listen to 40 or 50 different recordings before you notice it. Once you hear it on one recording you hear it on them all. Equipment is rejected, but at a great cost in time. (plus your 14 days to send it back has probably expired).

    5) You can be the problem How much we enjoy listening to anything is dependant on our mood and a host of other factors we cannot always verify. Whereas I am personally of the opinion that 'expectation bias' and 'placebo effect' are totally overblown as excuses for why we perceive differences when there should technically be none, we still can't escape from the fact that if we listen to a good system in a good frame of mind the experience will be much more impactful than if we are listening when tired, depressed, have stuff on our minds, or when it is a chore and we would rather be doing something else.

    You might have memories of a particular evening at a friends house, playing music all night, the sound was amazing. You mention it to a few people, maybe even think about replicating that system for yourself. Some months later, you go back for another listen, same system, same music, it sounds utterly prosaic. What has changed? Mains quality? Or you? Which is more likely?

    'Just Listening' is just not enough.
    Martin



    Current Lash Up:

    Sony X505ES CD Player * NVA P90SA passive pre / NVA A30 Power amp * JM Lab Electra 926 loudspeakers *



    "I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me." - Hunter S Thompson

  2. #2
    Join Date: Feb 2013

    Location: W Lothian

    Posts: 41,039
    I'm Grant.

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    As King Kenny Dalglish once said. "Maybe's aye, maybe's naw"

    I don't think you should try and overthink something you already like as it causes more problems and results in heartache.
    Regards,
    Grant ....

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply-doesn't-work
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  3. #3
    Join Date: Jan 2008

    Location: Wrexham, North Wales, UK

    Posts: 75,063
    I'm AudioAl'sArbiterForPISHANTO.

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by struth View Post
    As King Kenny Dalglish once said. "Maybe's aye, maybe's naw"

    I don't think you should try and overthink something you already like as it causes more problems and results in heartache.
    Wise words indeed... "Overthinking" things can certainly negatively influence matters, just as much as under-thinking them.

    I think you should always carry out some research on stuff before buying it, and not simply by reading the blurb from manufacturers either (or magazines), which has pitfalls, as Macca outlines, but also by finding out what people think who are already using the product you're thinking of buying, and then trying to get as many diverse opinions on it as possible.

    The key thing, after doing that, with whatever the item is in question, and forming a positive conclusion on it or otherwise, is to trust your GUT INSTINCTS, and go with them, and not be put off by 'what science says', or specs or measurements, as very often it has little bearing on the results of real-world listening *in your own system*, which at the end of the day is all that matters.

    Then, when whatever it is arrives for you to evaluate, listen to it carefully over a reasonable period of time, using familiar music as the arbiter, for judgement on its efficacy or otherwise, and in the final analysis, TRUST YOUR OWN EARS, no-one else's, even if some so-called 'facts', or the views of 'experts' appear to contradict what you're hearing.

    Essentially, at the end of the day, HAVE FAITH IN YOUR OWN JUDGEMENT, and don't need your choices or decisions 'validating' by others. Have the gumption to make up your own mind, and if you're sure that you're right, stick with it, no matter what anyone else says!!

    That's half the problem these days with hi-fi, as so many folk need led, like sheep, and TOLD what to do, by consulting their self-appointed 'guru', as they lack the confidence to think and judge things for themselves...

    Marco.
    http://www.thestainedglasscompany.com

    "A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do" -- Milan Kundera.

  4. #4
    Join Date: Aug 2009

    Location: Staffordshire, England

    Posts: 19,011
    I'm Martin.

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    I'm suggesting that the problem is under-thinking, not over-thinking. And that the problem is now at a point where it is hindering the production of quality audio equipment. So quite serious.
    Martin



    Current Lash Up:

    Sony X505ES CD Player * NVA P90SA passive pre / NVA A30 Power amp * JM Lab Electra 926 loudspeakers *



    "I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me." - Hunter S Thompson

  5. #5
    Join Date: Jan 2008

    Location: Wrexham, North Wales, UK

    Posts: 75,063
    I'm AudioAl'sArbiterForPISHANTO.

    Default

    Yes, but as Grant says, overthinking things can be just as much of a problem as under-thinking them!

    For me, the bottom line (once all other avenues have been explored) is trusting your own ears and judgement. If they're any good, you won't go far wrong. Also, always be willing to learn from others, and never think that you know it all (because, quite simply, you won't)

    Marco.
    http://www.thestainedglasscompany.com

    "A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do" -- Milan Kundera.

  6. #6
    Join Date: May 2008

    Location: Surrey

    Posts: 5,954
    I'm Rob.

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    Even if you have bad ears and bad judgment you make a system that you like. What others think is irrelevant unless you are bothered by what others think.
    Buy Bose...And get your parking validated!.

  7. #7
    Join Date: Jan 2008

    Location: Wrexham, North Wales, UK

    Posts: 75,063
    I'm AudioAl'sArbiterForPISHANTO.

    Default

    Indeed, although as you correctly point out, "bad" or "good" is highly subjective... The key thing is to stick with what your idea is of "good", as long as YOU enjoy it, and bugger what anyone else thinks!

    That said, it also pays to consider the views of those whose ears and experience you trust (for whatever valid reason), and never be so stubborn/dogmatic that your conclusions or opinions, on any subject, are immovable.

    If necessary, always be willing and prepared to learn new things, or in some cases, reassess/re-evaluate what you *thought* you already knew...

    Marco.
    http://www.thestainedglasscompany.com

    "A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do" -- Milan Kundera.

  8. #8
    Join Date: Apr 2008

    Location: Warrington

    Posts: 2,758
    I'm Neil.

    Default

    Interesting. I think one way to be safe is to make use of 30 day sale or return policies. A day in a showroom is not enough, neither is a home visit from a dealer. The one true measurement is your own long term listening enjoyment, which takes weeks at least.


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  9. #9
    Join Date: Jan 2008

    Location: Wrexham, North Wales, UK

    Posts: 75,063
    I'm AudioAl'sArbiterForPISHANTO.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yomanze View Post
    The one true measurement is your own long term listening enjoyment, which takes weeks at least.
    Ain't that the truth, bro! And ultimately, it's the only one that matters. It's also something that neither technical measurements/specs, nor 'scientific facts' can predict or dismiss.

    Marco.
    http://www.thestainedglasscompany.com

    "A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do" -- Milan Kundera.

  10. #10
    Join Date: Jan 2008

    Location: Norwich

    Posts: 516

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    I'd just add a couple of pointers which I use. (1) Does it grab your attention when you turn it on ? (2) Do you just sigh, sit back and enter into another world when you flick the mute switch, regardless of source (except TV)?

    Twice a week, if those two parameters are met, all's right with the world. Because I don't trust my hearing (age related and well down on one aural channel) I invite younger ears in for a session on occasion. I am where I am because of critical audiophile local opinion, but it's been a long and interesting half-century plus journey.

    MARCO, thanks for your comment on a thread t'other week. Only my wife ever logged me out but I've stayed passively engaged for quite a long time. Didn't know how to relay this directly, so apologies to o.p.

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