My take on subjective vs. objective

I’ve been thinking about these words lately and feel there is a disconnect with how these words are being used in audio forums and how I would normally use them. I think of subjective statements as statements of value judgement while objective statements are statements of material fact, whether true or false. "The cat is on the mat." That’s an objective statement. "It is good and proper for the cat to be on the mat." That’s a subjective statement. So if an audiophile declares that one cable sounds better than another, that is on its surface a subjective statement - a statement about a preference. But there is an objective statement hidden in it, and that is that the cables do indeed sound different, as measured objectively by the listener’s senses, presumably by their hearing alone. The argument comes in as to whether they can still perceive that difference if they don’t have any other information to work with other than their hearing. Can the ears alone distinguish the sound or is the sound perceived to be different only when other senses are involved? This argument is purely an objective one about what can actually be perceived by the ears alone or what requires other senses to be working in conjunction with the ears in order for the difference to be perceived.

So the people that get labeled "objectivist" are the ones who want to know what can be heard when other sensory data is not available. The ones labeled "subjectivist" are the ones that want to know what they can perceive as sounding different when they are fully informed about what kind of equipment they are listening to. These are both objectivist. One should be called hearing exclusive objectivist while the other is called fully sensory informed objectivist.

A similar situation in the visual would be to compare lengths of things by eye. If a person looks at a piece of dowel sitting on a table, and then looks at another piece of dowel nearby and declares that one dowel is longer than the other, that’s a perceptual measurement they have made by eye - an objective measurement. They could also subjectively declare one length to be better looking than the other. They could then put the dowels side by side to give the eyes a more direct perspective. It may be noticed that they seem identical in length when right next to each other, so they then measure them with a gage that repeatedly and consistently reveals that one dowel will fit into a slot a bit easier than the other, so that indicates that one is slightly longer than the other. But maybe it’s not the one that the observer thought was the longer one. Maybe one dowel weighs more than the other, so this gave the observer a sense that the heavier one must be longer. It’s still all objectivity here. All objectivity requires perception. Tools give us different ways to assist our perceptions and perhaps draw logical conclusions. If the person insists that the heavier one is longer visually even though it fits in the slot easier, they are making an objective statement that it looks longer, not that it actually is longer.



Do Pepsi and Coke (or Budweiser and Heineken) still taste the same once you know which is which?

Or only after you know which is which?

I think it’s undeniable that adding a visual element to any comparison is bound to influence the conclusions.

How could it not when sight is so closely related to memory and preconceptions?

Therefore I would argue that no sighted comparison can ever be called objective. Many experiments have also previously suggested as such.


A truly objective result is one that can be independently repeated time and time again.

This usually requires a carefully controlled environment and carefully calibrated measuring equipment targeted on precisely the specific quality you are seeking to measure.

Once you bring human beings and their impressions into the equation you have lost objectivity and are now lost in the realm of subjectivity bias.

Of course opinions and impressions can still be useful, but without evidence to back up those opinions and impressions, that’s the most they ever can be.


Whether we like it or not, we’re just not very good at measuring things with just our senses alone, are we?

I can practice all that I want, but I’ll never be more accurate at timing exactly what 2 minutes is than my watch is.

I agree with you in that it is true that there are degrees to subjectivity. This is the main reason, I suspect, why we tend to trust certain reviewers more than others.

Ultimately though, they’re all subjective of course.

I was recently reading about a particular model of Acoustic Energy loudspeakers and was surprised to find one reviewer calling them tonally warm and rich, and another who stated that he found them slightly dry.

Do Pepsi and Coke (or Budweiser and Heineken) still taste the same once you know which is which?

Or only after you know which is which?


Not even close on that one. Heineken smells like a skunk, Budweiser smells like sewage treatment plant  in the summer . 


You need to think a little more.

I’m working on it!


Therefore I would argue that no sighted comparison can ever be called objective. Many experiments have also previously suggested as such.

I would argue that sighted comparisons should be called objective, just not necessarily reliable in terms of correlation with other methods of comparison. The sighted comparisons are objective comparisons, as are the unsighted ones. While it is interesting, and I think telling, that the unsighted and sighted perceptions don’t always correlate well, it doesn’t move either of them into the realm of subjectivity. It’s only the part about a person preferring one of their perceptions over another that is subjective.

Once you bring human beings and their impressions into the equation you have lost objectivity and are now lost in the realm of subjectivity bias.

Humans and their impressions must always be involved. That's not the essence of what makes thing subjective. I agree with you though that repeatable and consistent perceptions through a variety of testing means helps us to interpret our perceptions better. Objectivity is not necessarily correctness. And correctness will only be determined by further human perceptions. I've given the example of flying an airplane without visual reference and no instruments before. A person can try to keep a plane flying straight and level by feel alone. They are using their perceptions of motion as an objective method of controlling the airplane to the best of their ability. A radar operator may have a different perception of how the airplane is doing. From their perspective on the radar scope the airplane may appear to be banking hard left and diving toward a mountain. Future perceptions of airplane wreckage on the side of that mountain correlate better with the radar operator's perception than the pilot's. 

" Can the ears alone distinguish the sound or is the sound perceived to be different only when other senses are involved?"

The answer is DEFINITELY no.

Ears alone can't do crap unless adjacent to the living brain.

If there are ears, but no brain, it's an issue. 

Don't get me started on food and drink. Go to Paris. Go to Naples. Go to Hong Kong. Go to New Orleans. Just for starters, why is the stuff my wife cooks (she's the cyn in edcyn) so much better than the stuff I attempt?


When I say "ears alone" I am suggesting that the ears are working and attached to a conscious living person who is using them to listen, but they can’t see or otherwise know what equipment they are listening to.

However, ears can do all kinds of interesting things when not attached to a living brain. They can reflect light, warm up or cool down in response to ambient temperature, be dissolved in acid, decompose or be digested by rats. That's just a short list of all the things ears alone could possibly do. Whether or not they can "do crap", well I think you're right. I don't think they can "do crap." But maybe there's a way they could even do that!  


why is the stuff my wife cooks (she's the cyn in edcyn) so much better than the stuff I attempt?

Maybe she adds love as an ingredient. Or maybe she's just a better cook. You're lucky she'll cook for you!


Good find! It's one thing to gaze at one's navel, another to be observant while gazing and notice the lint.

""I don't think they can "do crap." But maybe there's a way they could even do that!  "

Certainly I get some sulfur out of these from time to time as a normal hygiene 







Hong Kong


New York



Osaka area



… lots of great places… depends on where you go… 



I love the fact that there's good food all over the earth. Go to the moon and I'll bet you can't find anything good to eat there right now.

Imagine a world where all audio equipment was designed by listening alone.

A world with no reference points.

No frequency response data.

No dispersion plots.

No resonance waterfalls.

No calibrated crossovers.


Now imagine a world where it wasn't.

What's the difference?

Only about 150 years of scientific progress.


I daresay even a hundred years from now there'll still be some people who will claim to prefer the former.

But none of them will be designing audio equipment.


Or look at it another way, if you go back 200 years, you won't find anyone having this debate.

In fact you won't find any audio playback equipment at all.


Perhaps what subjectivists really seem to searching for might just be a graphic equaliser module to tailor the sound to their own particular preference?

The only thing they will ever convince objectivists such as scientists, engineers, designers, manufacturers etc is that they see the world differently.

We already know that.

Scientists, engineers, designers and manufacturers are all subjectivists and objectivists at the same time. It's not being objective that reliably creates good results, but careful testing of objective claims. Subjective claims can't be tested except subjectively. Does this banana taste good? Let me try it. Yup, I like it. Or at least I liked that bite. If I say that is a good tasting banana, that's a subjective statement, but it implies an objective fact that I like the taste of that banana.  If I say I like that banana, that is an objective statement about myself that can be tested. Let me try another bite and see if I still like it. If I say I like this banana's taste more than another banana, that is an objective statement about myself that can be tested with a double blind test. I might be wrong about it. It might be the look of the banana that is affecting my perception of the taste. I'm enjoying one banana more than the other but misunderstanding the reason for my enjoyment. Or maybe not. So called "subjectivists" actually make many objective claims that they don't carefully test. That's not subjectivity. 

It's not being objective that reliably creates good results, but careful testing of objective claims 

Knowing human senses are fallible and accepting the results of tests over your senses is objective.  I make an "objective claim" 2 DACs that measure basically identical sound different. I test my claim using generally accepted scientific methods and I fail the test, I can't tell them apart. I realize my claim was wrong, that's being objective.  

This isn't rocket science.  When you accept human limitations and trust the testing you're objective.

@edcyn , Cynthia is obviously a better cook than Edward. In my house Michael is a better cook than Gena but, I would never call myself Gemi. 

@asctim, you have your objectives and subjectives mixed up. One Dowel looks longer than the other is subjective. One Dowel is 12" and the other is 18" is objective. There is nothing objective about human senses because they are interpreted by a very subjective device called a brain which is one of the most unreliable gizmos ever invented. Everything we hear is subjectively evaluated. The question is what is accurate and what is not. When it comes to HiFi this is a very difficult it not impossible question to answer. So, why bother. I only care that, subjectively my system sounds accurate to me. What everyone else thinks is of no consequence. 

So, why bother. I only care that, subjectively my system sounds accurate to me. What everyone else thinks is of no consequence. 

Finer, truer words have not been spoken.
(in this thread)

All the best,


To determine that something is 12" or 18" is still going to require perceptions that have to be interpreted. I don’t think it’s useful to call every interpretation of an instrument readout "subjective." At that point everything becomes subjective. Subjectivity I feel is a word better limited to describing our feelings about what we perceive, if we find it pleasurable, distasteful, intriguing, boring, etc. Saying one dowel looks longer than the other isn’t saying anything about feelings. It’s just a factual perception, which may change when more perceptions become available. Your system sounds accurate to you. No need to add the word "subjectively." If you like the fact that it sounds accurate to you, that says something about your subjective state. 

Subjectivity is only what you think.

An opinion.

An impression.

Something depending on no more than a casual mood.

Something that can change from month to month, week to week, day to day.

Or sometimes, from even hour to hour.


A never-ending merry-go-round way of spending vast sums of money chasing an impression only to eventually find yourself back back to where you started from.

After which you will find none of the eager money collectors prepared to accept liability for encouraging you and leading you on this time and money consuming wild goose chase.

They will have moved on to the next mug, err I meant to say, enthusiast.

Not that I know anyone like this. 

Pause for laughter.


Objectivity is an attempt to discern what's actual.

Something measurable and repeatable.

A way of comparing the fidelity of the original recorded signal to the signal being transmitted by the loudspeakers.

It's called progress.

There is no need to be scared of objectivity when it comes to audio playback.

You will lose nothing by having a more accurate reference point upon which to base your listening pleasure.

Why wouldn't you want your playback to represent the recording you are listening to more accurately?


Even better, if you are so inclined and so wish, there's nothing thereafter to prevent you bringing your imagination into play as you listen.

If you don't, you will still have a faithful representation of the recording before you.



I agree with what you are saying overall but I think calling poorly established objective claims "subjective" is not the best use of that word. It suggests there's just a sliding scale where some facts are more objective and some ore more subjective depending on how well they've been established. So that means anything can be called subjective or objective depending on where you set the threshold for required evidence. David Hume divided things into "is" and "ought." He pointed out that you can never logically derive an "ought" from an "is." An "ought" will always be subjective, and an "is" will always be objective, even if the "is" isn't correct. The nature of the kind of statement is what makes something subjective or objective, not the experimentally established truth of the statement. If someone says their stereo sounds the way a stereo ought to sound, that's a subjective statement and there's no amount of repeatable testing that can make it objective. If someone says they can hear the difference between two cables, that is an objective statement and no amount of testing that proves they really can't will ever make it a subjective statement.

Why is it the arguments against subjectivity always entail taking the road to hell and ruination? These hyperbolic screeds are so.....boring.

All the best,

This discussion includes enough over analyzing that I am compelled to make an attempt to contribute.


I think of objective as being certain and without question.

Example: Speaker A has more drivers than Speaker B


I think of subjective as being open to bias.

Example: I prefer the sound of Speaker A when compared to Speaker B.


All listening tests are affected by personal preference so are therefore subjective.  If A/B testing were to show that the listener can reliably identify a difference in the sound when a change is made to the system, it demonstrates that there is an audible difference.  If another listener cannot reliably identify a difference in the same setting, it most likely demonstrates that the listener is unable to perceive the change.

Some people have the ability to taste or smell things that the majority of people simply cannot and some of these people are literally paid to taste and smell things.  It stands to reason that some people are also able to hear things that the majority of people simply cannot.  It's also reasonable that some of these people would enjoy music and become members of a forum such as this.

If a person that can hear things that the majority of people simply cannot also has an amazing audio system, it is very reasonable that they will be able to describe things that the majority will simply never be able to experience.  Horton Hears a Who comes to mind.  I do believe that some audiophiles suffer from expectation bias and placebo and have convinced themselves that they are hearing more than they really are.


....maybe enjoy what you have until you don't and decide to change Something.

Mostly subjective with a twist of the objective towards an objective.

Same old....just different frosting....

Thanks y'all for clearing the air on all that... ;)

@nonoise, Thank you. I hope you feel the same about your system.

@asctim , I'm afraid you have lost me. I am after all, a very simple minded person. 

@cd318 , that sounds logical.

So I see I am not persuasive in my attempt to shift the use of words. People can use "subjective" and "objective" as they see fit. Ultimately words are defined by how people use them, not by how someone like myself feels they should be used. So yes, I see that people use the word "subjective" to mean something determined by direct individual perception without any robust testing controls. The senses can be blended together in a completely uncontrolled manner and whatever perception comes to a person is said to be that person’s subjective perception. It becomes objective, or at least more objective, when some kind of control has been placed that forces a person to discriminate without any kind of knowledge about what they are listening to other than the sound that reaches their ears.

So what do you call it when a person passes a double blind test and prefers one sound over the other? We just call that preference and say that preference is not subjective? That means that subjectivity only involves uncontrolled perceptual issues of external fact, not preference, which seems a bit bizarre to me but I could get used to it.


I remember reading that Paul Klipsch hired people he called "golden ears" to test his speakers on. These people were typically not audiophiles or musicians or recording engineers, just people who demonstrated an unusual ability to hear things that others couldn’t. Of course they scored great on standardized hearing tests, but they also could do things like properly equalize an intentionally imbalanced signal very quickly with a high degree of accuracy by ear, or detect distortion at unusually low levels.

I like your "open to bias" interpretation of "subjective." It’s hard to be biased about certain facts that are plain to almost everyone, like the number of drivers on a speaker. One of the useful things about science is that it can take something that is open to bias and make it plain through alternate methods of observation. When a person claims they can hear the difference between two devices but only when they know what they are listening to from visual and other sensory input, it’s difficult to prove them wrong. You can trick them by switching components when they don’t know but for whatever reason even when you let them know they’ve been tricked it fails to be compelling evidence to them because when they’ve checked and are sure about what they’re listening to the perception comes back to them. It can be very hard to overcome perceptions, which is why it takes some considerable training to learn to safely fly a small airplane on gyroscopic instruments when there’s zero visibility out the windows. Proprioception doesn’t match what the little gages and dials are showing my eyes.

So what do you call it when a person passes a double blind test and prefers one sound over the other? We just call that preference and say that preference is not subjective?

DB tests of electronic equipment like DACs, amplifier etc.. are  usually not about preference but differentiation.  There isn't a reason I know of for tests like that.  Speaker DB tests can be about preference or differentiation. 


I would imagine the goal with electronics is to make them consistent enough that DB differentiation is not possible for even those with the best ability to discern. It seems like it could be possible with those kind of devices, unlike speakers that don’t have as tightly defined performance parameters, such as what the dispersion pattern should be.

I believe it was Harman tests that showed "most" people liked a flat FR and wide dispersion  speakers,  but yes, speakers are a different story. 

ghdprentice -- Thumbs up on Taiwan, Budapest and Milan as food meccas.  And maybe it's because I'm an L.A. native, but I ate exceedingly well during my many years there. That anonymous ethnic hole-in-the-wall where nobody speaks English can offer up extremely good food. Hey, for a while I could order an Indonesian rijstafffel at a joint within walking distance of my house in Sherman Oaks.

Post removed 

I’d like to point out that science starts with observation. You observe phenomena, then come up with theories to explain the phenomenon, and test them to verify they can predict the results you observe. 

I quickly learned that the few measured parameters failed to predict sonic outputs. So, while I may scan published parameters… I observe to determine the effects of all things audio. 


I'm totally with you about how measured parameters can fail to predict my perception of sonic outputs during sighted listening. My  theory is that my hearing perception can be heavily influenced by various factors other than the actual qualities of the sound itself. So far non of my experiences have contradicted this theory, but multiple situations have confirmed it. 





Or, your ears are incredibly sensitive receptors and they can discern nuances in sound. I’m just guessing you haven’t found experiences to contradict this theory either. 

Subjective audiophiles tend to be happy with their systems. They will from time to time make adjustments to various pieces of gear, but it is all based on how it sounds to them and what makes their system enjoyable to them. 

Objective audiophiles love measurements and seem to feel something cannot be measured it has no value and is automatically dismissed. They also seem to be generally miserable and love to argue and fight. 

Subjectivists care far less about objectivists opinions and are off enjoying their systems while objectivists are looking to pull out their handy FFT analyzer to help make themselves even more miserable just to prove a point that does not matter at the end of the day.

Music, writing, recording methods, painting, photography, really anything creative, are all subjective endeavors by definition. 



You are correct! My ears can be quite sensitive to nuance and the whole of my ears and brain together can be quite discerning at times, for instance hearing distortion that my analyzer software has mistaken for background noise, or detecting a very slight shift in imaging that turns out to be a contact that needs to be cleaned or tightened down. 


 I consider myself a subjectivist that finds measurements useful. Measuring the placement of speakers very carefully can be quite handy as a starting point rather than just trying to eyeball them into position. If it still sounds off and you know the speakers are positioned very accurately and symmetrically, at least you know positioning is not the cause of the problem. Taking a near measurement sweep of one speaker and then the other and comparing them can tell a lot too. It may not reveal what the sweep should look like to sound subjectively best to you, but it's a pretty safe bet they should look very close to the same or the imaging will be off. 


Or look at it another way, if you go back 200 years, you won’t find anyone having this debate.

In fact you won’t find any audio playback equipment at all

Very true. Back then people worried about dying of starvation or disease.

Now we have to worry about which cable will provide the right about of "air".

Life is never easy.

Objectively speaking, if you don't subjectively like the sound of your system, you are wasting your time.


Life is never easy.


Unfortunately not.

Try as we may there just always seem to be too many variables at play for any lasting peace of mind.

Perhaps something is amiss in the human condition?

Or perhaps we’re just biologically built to endlessly go forwards, endlessly competing whilst forever seeking beauty, peace and perfection in some inscrutable Darwinian cycle?


Is there any wonder that so many of us still cherish the thought of a less complicated afterlife even though it’s quite beyond us to imagine how that would work out.

Now let’s imagine something a little easier, shall we?

How about this?

An audiophile walks into a dealers and asks for a loudspeaker that has full bandwidth dynamics, zero cabinet/panel resonances, a point source output with perfect omnidirectional sound and imagery, a ruler flat frequency response and a life-like instant transient response with no smearing whatsoever and with a real world instrumental timbre?

How would the dealers response go?


Perhaps something like this?

"I’m sorry sir, but we don’t currently have anything of the sort in loudspeakers, our loudspeakers are all hopelessly flawed in one significant way or another, but perhaps sir might care to visit our headphone department...?"


'Research proved that in a live musical environment, approximately 30% of what we hear is direct sound while 70% is reflected from walls, ceilings and floors and only reaches our ears a few milliseconds after the direct sound.

The human brain uses direct sound for identification and to calculate location, but uses reflected sound to determine musicality and spaciousness, as well as direction.'


Definitely something worth knowing.

This probably explains why the venue matters so much at concerts.

I wonder what the ratio is in most domestic arrangements?

I guess a lot must also depend upon the distance you're sat from your loudspeakers. 


"I ask myself all the time why do I enjoy my boombox at work? Never even give "sound quality" a thought. But dislike (somewhere between tolerate / listen through the audiophile smog to hate) my home stereo?

Is it expectations based on price?"


Yes, I'd say so. It's natural to expect something that costs many many times more to perform considerably better. That's the reason why I usually wait a while before watching highly rated new films or listening to '5 Star' reviewed albums.

Otherwise they're usually a disappointment. They're bound to be.


"Is it that a cheap, but well balanced, system beats an expensive one if something is off?"


Yes, always. Sometimes you can learn to hear through defects, mainly by focusing on strengths, but sometimes you just can't.


"Does the home stereo reveal too much or is interaction with the room a problem?"


Well, yes, resolution can be a double edged sword as anyone who's a fan of selfies might tell you. Apparently there are still loudspeakers out there that have the infamous BBC/Gundry dip around the 2kHz mark to deliberately soften the sound a little.

I've never had room problems, probably because I've never had speakers that could go down low enough, but I think it's also undeniable that some rooms are just better (more lively?) than others.

I can remember from my days of amateur radio how most studio microphones would improve the sound of the presenters voice, especially whilst they were sat in a tiny room.

None of them actually sounded like that in real life.

And no one sounds the same outdoors.

Your post brings up a thought I’ve had for a long time.  Every poster here, of course, has his own view of what’s good or bad sounding. One person may have an extremely advanced system, another a fairly rudimentary one.  Yet, both speak to each other in the same forum as if they’re talking about the same thing.

Apples and oranges.