What Audiophiles Could Learn from Food Scientists

Product development, engineering, and human preference are multiple related but not identical practices which for some reason eludes a lot of audiophiles, including some very highly educated one’s. I was thinking recently that the development of new snacks was an ideal analog (pun intended).

There are many types of food scientists, but the two I think are relevant are quality assurance, and tasters. The taster’s job is to measure the goodness, or desirability of the snack. Mind you, they are highly trained, and use detailed criteria to describe food, but their job is to be the mouth/brain/wallet interface. To put the snack in their mouths, experience it, and help guide a business to determine how competitive this snack is going to be on the shelves.

The other side of it are the scientists who figure out how to manufacture the snack en masse as well as the one’s who measure the quality of the snack coming out of the conveyor belt. They are the tool users and technicians. They may taste it also, but when making snacks by the ton, you probably want a machine to tell you the saltiness and sugar content as well as correct level of crispness. Heineken for instance h as a machine which pours beer into a glass and measures the height of the head.

This dual role DOES happen in audio. Harman, Bose and other organizations spend a great deal of money to measure desirability across many factors. This connection from measurement to wallet is critical for them. Nelson Pass does this as well somewhat. He has written regularly about foregoing absolute technical measurements for the sake of ear succulence.

Part of what has made me think of this is the site, Audio Science Reviews, which thinks of themselves as a scientific site. They aren’t. They are practicing quality control without the research. In fact, their basic practices of measuring first, then listening after wards is what I call "confirmation bias."

What is my overall point? Don’t put metrics, by themselves, on a pedestal. A metric is not pleasure. It is not happiness or joy or a step towards enjoyment of musical culture. It is a tool. It is far removed from experience, and we should remember this. It takes several more steps, like the food taster, or the audio science researcher to put that together with desirability, value or enjoyment. Of course, the ultimate arbiter of a snack, or a speaker, is you. Buy what you like, so long as it doesn’t shorten your lifespan. :)


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It seems like it is all or nothing in the battle between 'objectivists' and 'subjectivists". 

I admire the way most of the ASR types stick to falsifiable observations (a scientific habit), and I find the independent measurements useful. 

However,  I'd agree a few of them show just as little humility  as the many golden ears here about the limits of their audio epistemology.  In general, I give very little credit to anyone who rants with 100% certainty about non-falsifiable theories. For instance, I infer from his/her bluster that the individual here who told me to "GET OUT OF THE GAME" when I admitted i couldn't hear the difference between many high end amplifiers, was compensating for some personal issue that has nothing to do with me, or amplifier differences.  I make similar inferences about an ASR denizen who gratuitously dumps all over people who claim to hear differences in electronics and cables. 

I favor skepticism in all things, but most particularly of  individuals declaring their certainty from a pulpit.  I don't bother with those who write in a way designed to obfuscate, condescend, and complicate, rather than clarify in a spirit of mutual discovery. 

Perhaps more to your point, I don't understand why one would evaluate one's future purchases in a way that has nothing to do with how one consumes them.  Why not evaluate your equipment *exactly* how you consume it, so you can be sure you'll be happy with it in the long run?  If my brushed metal faceplate and high quality internal construction is improving my listening experience, so be it.  I stipulate a 'subjective' contribution to the listening experience*.   Put it on the rack and let me bask in its fierce permanence. 

Of course, they (our now badly stereotyped ASR objectivists) are free to enjoy the hobby any way they like.    Personally, I spend exactly none of my time measuring my equipment.  I'm weird that way.

*in fact, I think the evidence is abundant on this point.

Interesting Thread...

I'd like to think that there is one additional metric that the food industry uses that I also hope the audio industry uses...especially the "little guys"..and that is safety. 

I tend to think of quality assurance as consistency from batch to batch...but safety is all of the product design/testing done up front to make sure that the product won't hurt people.  For audio, that means catch fire, shock people, suddenly play at insane volume levels, etc.

Finally, as for Harman type testing...no doubt that their spinorama data can get many people "into the park" at least as to what type of loudspeaker might sound good to them...notice I used a lot of qualifier words because with our hearing and sound preferences, there are a lot of variables.

Along those lines, let me mention just one...spinorama tends to point you in the direction of controlled directivity...BUT...if you have a really large room, there is a good chance that you will actually prefer speakers with more horizontal dispersion as it will likely add more ambiance and spatiousness...but as above, this is not a "guaranteed" will work for everyone.
btw, on Harmon - I think sometimes the things the average customer likes about a customer in a quick showroom demo may be different from what makes them happy night after night at home.  Listener fatigue is a big thing IMO.
Audio for the masses, food for the masses, movies for the masses, TV for the masses. What could go wrong? 
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btw, on Harmon - I think sometimes the things the average customer likes about a customer in a quick showroom demo may be different from what makes them happy night after night at home. Listener fatigue is a big thing IMO.

This is, to me, a big deal.. I do think that there are ways to sell a speaker that are different from ensuring long term enjoyment.