Why HiFi Gear Measurements Are Misleading (yes ASR talking to you…)


About 25 years ago I was inside a large room with an A-frame ceiling and large skylights, during the Perseid Meteor Shower that happens every August. This one time was like no other, for two reasons: 1) There were large, red, fragmenting streaks multiple times a minute with illuminated smoke trails, and 2) I could hear them.

Yes, each meteor produced a sizzling sound, like the sound of a frying pan.

Amazed, I Googled this phenomena and found that many people reported hearing this same sizzling sound associated with meteors streaking across the sky. In response, scientists and astrophysicists said it was all in our heads. That, it was totally impossible. Why? Because of the distance between the meteor and the observer. Physics does not allow sound to travel fast enough to hear the sound at the same time that the meteor streaks across the sky. Case closed.

ASR would have agreed with this sound reasoning based in elementary science.

Fast forward a few decades. The scientists were wrong. Turns out, the sound was caused by radiation emitted by the meteors, traveling at the speed of light, and interacting with metallic objects near the observer, even if the observer is indoors. Producing a sizzling sound. This was actually recorded audibly by researchers along with the recording of the radiation. You can look this up easily and listen to the recordings.

Takeaway - trust your senses! Science doesn’t always measure the right things, in the right ways, to fully explain what we are sensing. Therefore your sensory input comes first. You can try to figure out the science later.

I’m not trying to start an argument or make people upset. Just sharing an experience that reinforces my personal way of thinking. Others of course are free to trust the science over their senses. I know this bothers some but I really couldn’t be bothered by that. The folks at ASR are smart people too.

nyev

Just to give one recent example to relate to my prior post: Last year I bought a second USB cable (Audioquest Diamond) while I had the original for a few years. The new one sounded inferior. To the degree that I wondered if there was a design change or changes to production. But after a few hundred hours, I could no longer tell them apart. Yet existence of burn-in is endlessly debated.

Another recent example is what I found with length of USB cables, where a Nordost Valhalla 2 2m cable sounded superior to the equivalent 1m cable. Intuitively I would have expected the 1m cable to sound better, as I had not at that time read the theories, to my knowledge unproven, that USB cables should be longer than 1.5m to accommodate “reflections”.

And I don’t know if this one is proven or if people just have theories grounded in science, but the whole anti-vibration/isolation tweaks that really do make a surprising difference. I introduced a friend who is newly into HiFi to Herbie’s Tenderfeet, and he promptly cut up some yoga mats to replicate the benefits himself. He tells me it worked! It’s easy to identify whether the feet were added or removed, at the transition points.

I wonder, would @amir_asr be able to measure the differences I’m hearing, in each of these example cases? Not a rhetorical question; I’m genuinely curious. If the answer is no however, I think the assumption might be that it’s all in my mind. Just like what the researchers said about those hearing meteors, 25 years ago, because they were not measuring the right things or applying the right science to explain our perceptions.

@amir_asr Regarding system assembled on blind test methodology...

You do not have to go so far, you can simply set up system, based on components that you recommend and publish it. It should not be difficult to replicate it and to hear first hand what (for you) represents the ’good’ sound.

I agree that lots of hi fi gear is overpriced and many simply does not sound good, but its the same thing with various different products, cars or ’wonder’ diet pills, or whatever else. But, that is common knowledge and everyone is trying to find the best value for its money, or his needs. Even among people from the same camp, aka the ’subjectivists’ it is often very hard to find consensus for many things. Building a great sounding system is a sort of an art form,put ’wrong’ cable on a ’wrong’ place and its ’arrivederci’ Roma (sound)

In the same time and please dont take this personally, I am surprised that there are people pretentious enough, who are trying to convince others that their choices are the ’right ones’. But, than, why stop only on hi fi? I am sure that there are more interesting challanges, or more noble ones?

As for your ’camp’, the prevalent atmosphere on Asr forum scares me. Or amese me, but not in a nice way. Owning tubes, vinyl, cables, or anything ’expensive’ is potential health hazard if one finds himself surrounded by that bunch. What I really do not undersatnd is why so many people refuse to trust their ears and why so many people need dogmatic ’guidance’ ?

But, silly me. Everything that is happening in our world, on much larger and ominous scale shows us how the mass psychology works. Pity that even a simple hobby, idiosyncratic as it might be, can not be spared of such folies

 

Just to give one recent example to relate to my prior post: Last year I bought a second USB cable (Audioquest Diamond) while I had the original for a few years. The new one sounded inferior. To the degree that I wondered if there was a design change or changes to production. But after a few hundred hours, I could no longer tell them apart. Yet existence of burn-in is endlessly debated.

Did the cable change or did you change?

 

Another recent example is what I found with length of USB cables, where a Nordost Valhalla 2 2m cable sounded superior to the equivalent 1m cable. Intuitively I would have expected the 1m cable to sound better, as I had not at that time read the theories, to my knowledge unproven, that USB cables should be longer than 1.5m to accommodate “reflections”.

>1.5 meters is for SPDIF, not USB.

@thespeakerdude , the cable changed not me. How do I know? Because I had a control (the original cable).

And actually the >1.5m is the guidance for USB according to some - pretty easy to google. Even Mark Coles of Sablon confirmed to me that he’s heard that as well (he said he hadn’t heard that for AES/ SPDIF). But as I mentioned I don’t believe this is “scientifically proven” anywhere. As a side note I repeated this finding with a .7m Audioquest Diamond USB cable that sounded very compressed and closed in compared to the equivalent 1.5m Diamond. I even preferred a generic USB cable to the .7m version of the Diamond.

Not that vendors are to be believed, but Nordost has minimum cable lengths listed on their FAQs and suggest >1.5m for all digital cables. I wouldn’t have put much stock in this if I hadn’t FIRST encountered this in my own trials, without having any expectation at all being ignorant of the guidance at the time.

These and the other HiFi phenomena in I referenced are differences I know beyond any doubt (to myself, not for others of course!) that I hear.  My mind intuitively expected the shorter USB cable to sound better, and I found the opposite to be true.  
 

I know the argument remains unresolved - are these things in my mind, or is it that science has not yet figured out how to measure certain things that we perceive in audio?  It’s not really an argument that can be conclusively won in either direction in discussion.  After all, how can one prove the existence of something we don’t yet know?  But I think it’s a good discussion.


 

 

 

 

It's amazing how our senses can sometimes pick up on things that science can't quite explain yet. It's great that you trusted your own perception and kept an open mind, even when scientists were saying it was impossible. And now, with new research, it's clear that what you heard was real! This just goes to show that there is always more to discover and learn about the world around us. Keep being curious and open-minded, and who knows what other incredible experiences you might have in the future!