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 .