Sonic Relativism?

It seems that over the last few months there has been alot of contention about whether we can hear differences in the equipment we buy. This point-of-view has been propounded by a small number of amateur psychologists who insist that we are deluding ourselves into thinking that we hear improvements, when actually Double-Blind Testing(in their opinion) would show that we actually cannot discern anything, and that everything sounds the same. To go further into their profundity, just seeing the equipment will lead us to believe which one sounds better. And then we will manufacture that difference in our minds.

I believe that being an Audiophile is, by definition, one who pursues more faithful reproduction of music by using better performing equipment as his means. This requires that there be some differences in capabilities of gear to provide better sonic qualities.

Years ago, there was a group that insisted that specifications meant everything about the capability of the equipment. Once a certain level of low-distortion was attained, they all sounded the same. After that failed, I believe that this same group formed the double-blind study cult, that is simply designed to introduce doubt in people's minds as to whether their perceptions of audio products are valid, or imagined.
This is identifiable, because if a person hears a difference between the items, it is considered to be a "flawed" test or anomaly, and if they do not, it becomes part of the "useful" data. In any case, the data is presented with the obvious goal of introducing doubt in the listener of his own abilities to judge sounds on his own, in absolute terms.

The goal of this activity is the end of the Audiophile. Once absolutes are replaced with subjective relativism, there is no anchor, and everything declines into a morass of subjectivism, with no truths considered valid. Personally, I consider this to be nothing less than an attack on my hobby. It will also be the end of this website forum, since nobody will agree on anything, and thus nobody's advice, tweaks or experiences could be considered valid for anyone else.

If I were to engage in a little "amateur psychology", I would say that these "relativists" are those who cannot hear differences on their own, and who strive to convince others that they, also, cannot hear differences. And they have even manufactured a "pseudo-science" called DBX to advance their activity.

It is my opinion that this is a destabilizing activity to the audiophile community, for whatever reason, and should be looked upon with great suspicion. I see no possible good that can come of it. Ultimately, it would strive to destroy the high-end industry, since, by their methods, they would seek to ridicule anyone who would pay more for a product when there is no difference that wasn't(in their opinion) imagined.

I oppose this movement. I oppose it based on the invalid nature of their precepts and the destructive nature of the inevitable goal(if they were to succeed with the deception).

If they hear no differences between equipment, fine. They can enjoy whatever they are capable of hearing. But, this is not about that. It is about convincing the rest of us that we can't hear. And no amateur psychologist is going to tell me what I can hear. I have had about all I can take of this.

Your comments please.
the flat earth society has been around for a long time and they don't confine their endeavors to audio. fortunately, because of the closed minded nature of their thinking they are not transparent and can be easily ignored. i believe in 1st amendment rights and believe that they should be free to talk to each other any time they want. i just don't answer the door bell on sunday mornings any longer.
Xanax might be more appropriate...with the added benefit of treatment for ringing ears. See indications.

Alprazolam is an antianxiety agent, benzodiazepines. Used primarily for short-term relief of mild to moderate anxiety and nervous tension. Alprazolam is also effective in the treatment of activity depression or panic attacks. It can be useful in treating irritable bowel syndrome and anxiety due to a neurosis as well. Alprazolam may help the symptoms of PMS if extreme, some cancers pains if given with various narcotics, agoraphobia, essential tremor, and ringing ears.
Listening is subjective by defenition. Nobady can tell you what you can and cannot hear. We filter all information coming into our 5 sences through one very crucial system that not even the most empirical experts have come to completely understand; the brain. We can devise studies and tests that try to rule out the brains ability to imply the exixtence of stimuli, but that still doesn't mean that we have not truly experienced that stimulus. Phantom limb syndrome is a good example of this. Amputees truly feel their missing thumb itch, but we all know that the thumb is gone, so it cant possibly itch. That doesn't mean that I dont believe that they cant still feel the itch. This hobby assumes a modicrum of faith, and boils down to what makes you happy. If your new cables make your system go to the next level then GREAT! You found something that makes you happy and has value to you. Who the hell cares what you spent for them, and who the hell cares if they cant hear what you hear? It's your ear/brain, your money, and your time. Now, if you paid for those cables instead of, say, your kid's tuition, then maybe you should re-evaluate your ego/brain connection.
Having been in this hobby for 3+ decades, my feeling is that there are many instances where perceived differences in gear are imagined; and when not imagined they are overblown in importance ( for example: a less than 1% actual improvement in a given parameter might translate into a staggering "night/day" difference in audiophile terms).

I also feel that small differences between wires, amplifiers, capacitors, and other components do exist and are important to the critical listener. However, because of the way the brain works, such differences are not readily evinced in "double-blind" tests.

I have a friend who tells me that in double-blind tests that he's personally conducted with a few of his audiophile friends, his experienced panel could not reliably differentiate between cheap and expensive CD players, preamps, amplifiers, and other gear. Does this mean that there are no differences of any significance. I think not.

I believe that the classic "double-blind" test is simply a flawed vehicle for audiophile applications. My opinion is that this is related to two factors: 1) the very real limitations of short-term memory, and 2) the brain's adaptability in filling in missing items in a sequence.

One who relies solely on double-blind data to make equipment choices will inevitably end up with a cheap system that sounds like crap. Those who can discern small incremental improvements will inevitably end up with the most impressive sounding rigs.

I/you may not be able to reliably differentiate between two competent amps in a double-blind test -- but let me (or you) live with both candidates for a day or two and I'm confident that a clear preference for one over the other will emerge.

TWL, I hope this helps to calm your "demons". :)
Twl: I think just about every sentence of your post here is factually wrong, so responding would take me all day. You've mischaracterized the assertions of those you disagree with, which is a clever but illegitimate form of argument.That said, I'll repeat a recommendation I've posted elsewhere: Anyone interested in learning something about what humans can and cannot hear, and why we know it, should go find a basic psychoacoustics text, rather than reading web postings.

People here seem to get bent out of shape whenever anybody makes an objectivist argument about something. Well, if you don't like it, just ignore it, and don't start threads like this one.
(I would prescribe ten of Haldol & one of Ativan for now, and two daily of Risperdol. No benzos, they are addictive to those with an addictive nature. See you back in six weeks.)

Hey, I hate everyone that disagrees with me to. As far as impact, though, I think high-end audio industy is staring at real issues right now. And with all the grandiose crap products comming out, there is nothing wrong with a little counter-insanity. But when ABXers do show up in this tiny, little town, don't you worry, Albert and Arnie will ship 'em out. So your saying, 'Follow me!' shouldn't suffer.
I appreciate the humor. :^) And I agree, that the high-end audio industry does have its problems of late.
Bomarc you said:"Anyone interested in learning something about what humans can and cannot hear, and why we know it, should go find a basic psychoacoustics text, rather than reading web postings."

For the record, I went in for a psychoacoustic test but there weren't enough testing people there to get me past the "psycho" part of it. Can't say I didn't try.

I remain,
Objectivism vs. subjectivism. Postmodernist critiques of Englightenment rationalism. As I academic I hear a lot of this--though not in my field. Can be paralyzing. But in life we need to make decisions, e.g., which DAC?. However, since the issue here is participation in a discussion forum with constructive communication as the goal, my response to the recent posts takes a less philosophical bent than TWL's.

Compare two threads. 1. "I bought a new X. It doesn't seem to perform as expected. What is wrong? What can I do? Should I have purchased something else to accomplish Y?" 2. "I bought a new X. I feel stupid. It doesn't sound any better than my $95 1980s X. I have become convinced that there are no differences in audio equipment. I wasted my money. So are you. Justify your existence." Personally, I will enjoy thread 1 more because, given that I am interested in audio, I might learn something I could use in the future and will contribute if I can. I find thread 2 less useful because it is more a statement of newfound faith and challenge to others than an invitation to discussion.

There is, of course, a subjective element in audio. For my part, I can hear differences between different system setups--though the subtle differences may take a little time. My girlfriend cannot. The TV sounds the same to her whether run through the TV speakers or the main system speakers. Her system consists of computer speakers (no sub). It makes her happy. However, since there are biological similarities in human hearing and perception, I would take the comments in response to thread 1 seriously when I think about upgrading even if my subjective results may vary. My 2 cents.
BOMARC, Here, hear! Do you think that anybody sees the difference between those two words? They sure sound the same!
I agree with Bomarc. The scenario presented is outrageously flawed in its premises. Again, same as Bomarc, to counter each premise of TWL's argument will take all day. However, I just like to add, researchers, particularily statiticians, form their research in a way that their procedures will pass or fail their hypothesis. When they reach a result that supports their hypothesis, the data "passes" but with the understanding that there is a certain degree of error based on sample size and standard deviation.
There is probably more truth to the statement that says: When their results meet their presupositions, the data passes.
I have had people come over to listen to music that have not been over for several interations of the system and they (being non-audiophiles) often describe the same improvements I have noticed.
I mailed a DIY PC to a friend and asked him to use it and listen. After nearly a week of use and no input from me, he described the exact same sonic impression of the cord I experienced. Isn't it funny that we suffer the same dillusion!
The biggest problem with the 'measurement' crowd is they don't know what they are measuring, or how to quantify it. It would be akin to measuring distance in grams.
TWL makes many valid points none of which have been disproven by any of those who responded. bomarc and viggen use an ad hominum arguement rather than addressing the issue. No two systems sound alike. How can the same basic system sound the same when pieces have been replaced.
If anyone really bought into this relativism, why would they be here, on a site designed to improve the sound of their system?
This defies logic!
The physical make-up of every speaker or piece of equipment is different! How could they sound the same?
Is every car the same? Do they all sound the same?
Get serious!
I don't think anyone here is saying all like equipment sounds the same. At least, I hope not. I do think that the audio believer is all too eager to jump on the latest gadget band wagon, in hopes of finding a magic bean that will cure all major equipment faults.

I trust my ears, when it comes to audio. I was lucky enough to have heard an ultimate system when I first started my quest. What I heard was so real, if you told me it wasn't, I'd call you a liar. That was in a day when silver wires, massive plugs, and cones did not exist. All I wanted to do was replicate that experience.... I have.... And that is without succumbing to cable swapping, DAC tweaking, or TacT correction.