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.


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,