The Placebo Effect

One of the things that should be taken into account in the evaluation of audio equipment, tweaks, etc is the Placebo Effect.

In the medical world, Placebos (open label or concealed) appear to mostly work on subjective symptoms, such as pain. They don’t work on an objective symptom — something a doctor could see or diagnose, such as a fracture on a bone. Placebos don’t shrink tumors, they don’t change your diabetes, and they’re not going to actually lower your blood pressure for more than 15 minutes, Basically, placebos appear to work on things that pass through the brain’s perceptual systems — where they can prompt the release of opioids and other endorphins (chemicals that reduce pain) in the brain. Bottom line, placebos can result in perceived improvement even where no actual improvement exists.

The same applies to our hobby. Probably too often, we sense improvement in SQ because of the Placebo Effect. Our money spent, hardware bias's, effective marketing, or being influenced by the experience of others (regardless if true), often have us believe that we have obtained improvements that don't really exist. This is not necessarily a bad thing because a perceived improvement, whether real or imagined is still an improvement to the listener. This may explain part of why certain "improvements" can't be measured. 

I remember when my subscription copy of Stereo Review, December 1987(?) came in the mail. It had an article called Do All Amplifiers Sound the Same?*. So the argument has been going on at least that long. In other words, it's not going away any time soon. Firm convictions are impossible or hard to break, as shown by the creationism vs. evolution debate.
There is also what I call The Inurement Effect:  WE get used to what sound the best about our system, learn to concentrate on that, and repress the bad parts  I think that anyone who has more than one good system experiences this.  Yes, parts burn in, but our Inurement is responsable for a lot of our getting used to the sound as it starts sounding better to us.  Switching systems demonstrates this.  For examle, for having a remote, I used a Rotel preamp/tuner for my TV system, along with some older B&W speakers and a Bryston amp.  The preamp sounded so bad to me, I thought about returning it, but since I had paid $15 plus $15 shipping for a surprise bid win, I kept it.  It sucks, but started to sound OK, so I replaced it with a spare Audire, without a remote, and I have learned to enjoy it. despite that fact that it is the entry level model.  The Rotel now controls an old Adcom amp. that I did not like, but now enjoy my third system (Also TV with older B&W's), with very little time needed to adjust my ears and brain.
Is any person on this thread a scientist/clinician who has actually conducted clinical trials in which the placebo arm impacted participants? Placebo effects:
  • Can act on so-called "objective" clinical measurements;
  • Do not only last 15 minutes - that is nonsense;
  • There is no evidence of a placebo effect in human studies where the participants are evaluating audio systems
The only reasonable insight that I read here is that we do not know a great deal about the human brain, only that the auditory system of an individual listener is the most important variable in judging audio "quality." No objective measurements can control for this variability.
-Prof. Higgins, Ph.D., M.D.
Mahgister, the first thing a piano tuner pulls out is a tuning fork. The tuning fork is his reference and yes, from there the rest is by ear.

Perhaps the problem we have is that we have no reference to compare our systems to and never will. What does a band sound like in your living room? Are you even interested in that? I would think most of us would be more interested in "hearing" the venue the band was at. There are obviously systems that seem to sound more realistic and if we were listening as a group to such a system I would bet we would all agree that it was a fine sounding rig. Based of what? It seems what we usually want to "hear" coming out of a system is quite surrealistic and based on what we expect in our imaginations to "hear." Imagination. An image in our brains, a quasi electrical event which varies from one of us to the next and changes based on the emotional state of that individual. I have noticed in myself that the same system can sound different based on god knows what, my emotional state maybe? I certainly do not seem to have expectation bias. I just hooked up a brand new set of speakers and was very disappointed.  After working for hours everything just sounded worse. I had to put it away, give myself a break. After three weeks and another $500 I think I can get back to enjoying music again. But, true audiophiles are never happy with their systems because in their imagination they can always sound better. 
The placebo effect is definitely a thing and it most definitely applies to a lot of the decision making applied to high end audio. If you think it sounds better, then it simply must be better. 

Since so much audio is about subjective perception, I don’t know that the placebo effect is a negative when brought to bear here.