Bias feeding

December 8, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Ever notice how the more you become convinced of something the more you feed that belief?

If we believe analog is superior to digital or vice versa, we tend to gravitate toward other groups that believe the same thing. It seems true in politics, stereos, cars, and perhaps even stamp collecting. We’re looking for affirmational support that we made the right choice.

Newbies to our hobby don’t suffer the same bias. They’ve yet to form an opinion and thus are free to experiment, learn, and see what works.

I am not convinced that the long-term feeding of our personal biases is altogether helpful.

Short term? Absolutely the right way to go. Dive in deep. Learn all you can. It’s what we call focus.

But, when you come up for air from all that immersion, I find it really helpful to open up the closing bias trap and test again the waters of the opposing view.

Still nothing there of value?

It’s easy enough to dive back into the deep end.

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43 comments on “Bias feeding”

  1. I’m only biased toward CDs because I was sick & tired of having to listen to the incessant
    ‘snap, crackle & pop’ (groove & surface noise) of vinyl records, completely ruining the music.
    Live & let live, I say.
    If someone prefers vinyl to CDs then that’s absolutely fine with me, as it doesn’t affect my enjoyment of listening to music one iota.
    These days, I’m too invested in digital music storage & reproduction, since late 1987, to go
    back to vinyl…I mean OMG, have you seen the prices of some of these modern-day liquorice pizzas?? 😮

    1. There is a very well defined collectors’ market for vinyl, and if you’re serious you don’t even take the wrapper off and play it. Quite a few sell at big premiums online. Or it’s about getting old stuff in perfect condition.

      My local record shop has masses of good old vinyl at $5 to $15, sometimes a bit dog-eared, some in need of a clean.

      Is it pretence? Bragging rights? If I had something worth $500 I’d sell it and put the money to better use. I doubt I have a disc worth $100.

      1. There are collectors for just about everything in this world…”This is not a wine for drinking; this is a wine for laying down & avoiding” – Eric Idle (Bruce)
        But to buy vinyl & not even play it is, to my mind, just plain pointless.
        ‘Discogs’ has masses of good old CDs between $5 & $15 & I always clean them with dishwashing liquid, warm water & a soft sponge before they are allowed to enter my SACD player.
        I have one hybrid (SACD/CD) MoFi 24K gold plated Doobie Brothers album that cost me AU$58 four years ago & an SHM SACD manufactured in Japan, Steely Dan – ‘Aja’, that I bought a month ago for US$50…but with Express air mail shipping, tracking, Australian GST (your VAT) & the currency conversion, it ended-up costing me AU$112.
        All of my other CDs are decades old or are between that $5 to $15 quoted above.
        That particular Steely Dan – ‘Aja’ SHM SACD is getting rarer & rarer & so it will only go up in value & I can still play it to my heart’s content without wearing out any vinyl grooves 😀

        1. Collecting and the value of a particular album is tricky business. I have some Japanese SACD’s that fill in the Doobie Brothers’ albums that were not done by the MoFi SACD’s. They are all OOP. I’ve seen one of the Japanese DB SACD’s on ebay for over $1K. That is crazy! Doobie Brothers for over $1K! 😮

          Now let’s talk about the Aja SHM-SACD. I have one of these and I love it. It is also OOP and I have not idea what it is worth, but in about six months or so it will be worth less. Analog Products is re-issuing the entire Steely Dan catalog with most of it being UHQR vinyl at $150 and album ( 45 RPM, 2 discs ) and $35 SACD’s. Thus when you can get an Aja $35 SACD from AP instead of an OOP SHM-SACD at some crazy ebay price, most people will go with the AP SACD.

          Tricky business!

          1. Yes. Very correct. Even stranger I’ve found some SHMCDs sound better than higher resolution SACDs. But SHMSAcDs are usually the bomb.

            Whether the new Analog production SACDs or albums are better who knows. I’ve found them to be hit or miss as well.

            I have a 24/96 needle drop of Darkside of the Moon from the original English pressing and it blows all the subsequent remastering, high resolution, and all of those tedious collections away. Yes it even tromps the MFSL album. No doubt.

            1. I had the MFSL (MoFi) 24K gold ULTRADISC remaster & found that the Pink Floyd Records (PFR8) 2011 Das Boot Recording remaster sounds better than said MFSL 24K
              gold ULTRADISC.
              So MFSL is no longer the gold standard or benchmark,
              even though most of their CDs are gold plated.

          2. Tony,
            In mid 2019 I sold a, still in its factory shrink-wrap, mint condition, MoFi ULTRADISC II 24K gold plated (44.1/16) double CD for AU$350.00 (US$255.00).
            I bought it back in 1992 for AU$75.00…actually I bought two copies, which is why I still had one copy in its original factory shrink-wrap.

              1. The other two SHM SACDs that you recommended, ‘Who’s Next’ & ‘Sticky Fingers’, are only available from Japan & through ‘Discogs’ are going to cost
                me around AU$200 each, & so those two are ‘right out of the question’ for me.

    2. FR,

      It’s possible to have a vinyl rig without the snap, crackle and pop if you’re fussy enough to find NM (near mint) copies of your favorites. When I demo vinyl most are astonished at how quiet it can be and very rewarding to play a $4 or $5 LP that sounds fantastic albeit requiring a fairly substantial outlay for the analog rig itself.

      1. Even the dirtiest records can be free of SC&P if wet cleaned with a Loricraft, Degritter or similar good device. Static is as much a problem as dirt so I always wash new records as well. Most of by ±$10 purchases come out sounding excellent.

        1. Steven,
          Yeah, I’m not going to all of that time wasting trouble to
          listen to a few songs when there’s absolutely no need to do so.
          It takes five seconds to clean & load a CD, & to press ‘PLAY’

      2. kcleveland,
        Unfortunately, that was not the case in 1987 with the shitty Australian pressings back then & that’s why I decided that CDs were the better option.
        “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” & so, I did 😉

  2. Newbies? My kids are 22 and 25. One never goes to gigs, but loves music, especially rap, and uses headphones and Spotify. The other has very wide tastes, streams to headphones and has a large vinyl collection. He has never bought hifi, he uses hand-me-downs. They don’t have to make choices because they enjoy music in all its forms, live and recorded. When your musical choices are defined by the technology used to produce it, then your bias is towards the technology rather than music. It’s not illegal, but to most people very odd, more than the fascination with cars, for example, which for most people are the means to get from A to B.

    The last thing I would have about hifi is insecurity. It’s a hobby. Most hobbies seem a bit weird, as they usually involve spending money on something that is unnecessary and rarely of intrinsic value, such as stamp collecting. If you’ve got the money, then great. If there is insecurity, it is primarily driven by audio marketing telling you you need to spend more money, which you may not have.

  3. I am not bias against vinyl other than it’s just too big an investment to make at this stage in my life. So I stick with digital, not really knowing if vinyl would sound better in my system.

  4. Good morning everyone!
    Before I get starded, I will tell you all this first in all caps.
    This is a question that I’ve been wanting to ask Paul for quite awhile now.
    But sense he opened the door in this early morning post, I feel as if I can ask this question to him now.
    Paul, if you’re reading this, please explain this to me.
    Power tubes and output transformers have come a very long way sense the last past 80 or 90 something years.
    Why are you biased against power tubes and output transformers?
    I bring this up because, I’ve heard you say in a cupple of your videos, that you like tubes on the inputs.
    But you don’t like tubes on the outputs.
    And you went on to say that you didn’t like them on the outputs because they cupple the speakers to output transformers in all vacuum tube baced power amplifiers.

  5. I’m biased towards live music.
    It helps that I live close to Boston Symphony Hall, Sculler’s Jazz Club and Regattabar.
    No system comes close 🙂

    1. I was reading recently about Wallace Clement Sabine, to whom you should say a prayer of thanks every day, who was the first modern acoustic engineer. Symphony Hall was apparently the first commission of a concert hall based on theoretical acoustics, around 1900. It is still rated among the best in the world. The main reason it goes wrong is when the commercial people insist on squeezing in more seats.

      I am totally biased to live performance, in the last week been to Covent Garden (1857), St Martin in the Fields (1721) and two plays, what we would give for a decent symphony hall. What gets me is that I’ve been to wonderful performances in the most unlikely of venues with very different acoustics – we have a major summer music festival that ranges from large scale symphonic works to jazz and a lot else, and it’s staged on the second floor of an multi-level car park – and audiophiles fuss and argue over the most inconsequential of things.

      1. Yes, I am quite lucky.
        That said, I have seen a number of very satisfying performances in suboptimal venues.
        I also thank Paul and the PS Audio team for the equipment that makes my home listening quite satisfying. It’s all about being as close as possible to the art.

  6. I believe this concept points out a huge failure of our system of education. I was lucky to have a relatively good education… I learned it is very important to be able to view choices and situations from out side, or from the opposite side, of our own opinions. Only by examining a given topic or choice from all possible points of view does one truly gained an informed opinion, and the ability to make a reliable, and good educated choice. Unfortunately, so many persons are on “one side” of any given issue and do not (cannot?) make the intellectual jump to have a view from the opposite perspective.
    This is as true of HiFi as it is of our political choices.

  7. I have two points to make about last night.

    My friend and I went to the Amaturo Theater in Fort Lauderdale Florida last evening to hear my friend Emmet Cohen and his trio. Row K Orchestra Center. I was not happy with the acoustics in a row that typically would make me happy, especially sitting center stage. Three years ago in the same venue Row D center Orchestra that sounded like I was in a different music hall,that’s how much better it was. So, just like the catastrophe that went on for years at Avery Fisher Hall, I’m biased against poor Acoustical Engineering.

    At intermission we worked our way Backstage which was in a lower level to say Hi to Emmet and the rest of his Trio…we spent close to 15 minutes chatting away as we hadn’t seen each other for three years. At the end of our conversation, Emmet asked me to help him put together a small music system for his apartment. There wasn’t much time to speak about this so I’ll be contacting him find out when he has some free time to discuss exactly what he’s in the market for but he did mention that he only wanted a turntable as his source. I know he’s owned av CD player in the past but he just seems to be interested in analog at least for a starter.

    Emmet and I know each other reasonably well and if anyone does not express bias, it’s this extremely well balanced young man. So, I may be helping him to select a system based on his musical tastes (besides jazz), room shape and dimensions, budget and whatever else I can think of to get the ball rolling. I did mention to him that if he wanted to add either Streaming and/or a CD transport that he would be able to add additional sources down the road with the other equipment that I choose. That’s where we left the conversation because he needed to get back on the stage and I’ll send him an email in a few days to make sure he’s really serious about this because he is on the road over 200 days a year or playing in New York jazz clubs or in local areas around Tri-state area and he also holds court on his Monday night “Live at Emmet’s Place” and composes his own music and so many other things that a professional musician has to take care of during the course of the day.

    The Sprout package with Elac speakers you recommend for a package Paul may be just what he needs because I don’t think that Emmet is into spending Megabucks as he’s on tour most of the year. We shall see if this was ‘small talk’ or wanting my help. I’ll find out soon. I’d really like to help him set up a system in his place.

    You may want to label Emmet as biased but he’s entitled to his own opinions just as we all are, yet I would like to believe that he truly knows the sound of acoustic instruments in real space rather well and that he would like to reproduce that sound to his satisfaction.

  8. I think Paul’s point is about what President Obama calls confirmation bias. He said that he can tell how one votes based on where one gets their news. The same goes for audiophiles and music lovers. We look for what we want based on our biases/preferences.

    Some of you have mentioned practical reasons for preferring digital to analog, such as cost and hassle. I agree that those points are valid. I’d have to give the nod to analog, tubes and panel speakers based on my experience. That’s my bias. I also love the BBC speakers like Quads and Spendor BC1s. Speaking only for myself, I find analog, tubes and panels work best. Warmer sounding, more immersive and more dimensional.

    With that said, my analog rig is nearly twice the cost of my digital setup and does not sound twice as good. If I were starting over, I may go all DSD but that ship has sailed.

    Best to all of you for your decisions on gear and music.

    One final note…I listed to the Speakers Corner LP of The Doobie Brothers The Captain and Me. OMG! It reminded me of what analog can do. And the whole LP setup including cartridge makes it all happen. Paul as usual is right.

  9. I have a bias for grey. We have grey automobiles, a grey exterior house, some interior walls are grey, and I have a lot of cloths that are grey. There is no logical reason why I like grey. Some people would say I have a preference for grey. Preference is a nicer word than bias.

    The important thing here is “logical reason”. If you are faced with a choice and there is no logical reason to choose one over the other than go with your preference or bias. However, if there is a logical choice, but you want to choose the one that is you preference or bias choice then stop and ask yourself what are the consequences of not making the logical choice.

    IMO, there is no logical way to choose between analog or digital. Vinyl, CD’s, SACD’s or streaming. Choose what like. As FR said in the first comment “who cares what the other guy is doing”.

  10. That’s true, it’s not helpful to feed a blind spot and make it bigger instead of smaller.

    My bias is more differentiated than it might seem and I constantly compare(d) a lot in my audio life.

    My experience is, that vinyl remasterings and masterings are mostly clearly better sounding than digital media ones. When played back on a certain grade of record player this imo far overrules advantages digital hardware may have.

    So my bias for vinyl is mainly software related.

    Pure hardware related my bias is rather digital orientated up to a quite high level of record players (ignoring the above mentioned software superiority). Others prefer vinyl playback on any hardware generally.

    Format related my bias so far is rather analog, as there are some important characteristics of the sound quality of recordings, I so far only heard from analog ones, even when played back on digital equipment. But digital also has advantages and as the recording technique far rules out format, I’m not strongly biased here.

  11. Sometimes I have to waste hours, if not days scouring through hundreds, even thousands of flawed tests, studies and reviews before I EVENTUALLY find that one test, study or review that finally confirms and proves what I knew to be right all along.

    Speaking of bias, I watched Where The Crowdads Sing other night. (Not bad, but has that too common feel of ‘millennial tries their best to screenplay works written by great writers of the past). The opening credits shamelessly plugged the “Featuring Carolina by Taylor Swift”. Oh, great. GREAT!! Another sell-out company CAVES to the current trending pop garbage. So, I am a credit junkie and before the pre-meditated “Hey Google – Mute TV” – the song began. Wait, what’s this? A MINOR chord? This can’t be it. It has a southern folk flare to it. Then the singing. Yup – it’s her. Well…. I didn’t hate it. Oh I wanted to… I was prepared to… but it wasn’t horrible! Well then, I wonder who wrote or co wrote it for her – nope – t’was her composition. Not only does it have two minor chords and two major chords, (yup – FOUR of them!) it has verses, pre-choruses AND a bridge. And it isn’t about her latest gurl issue or breakup. It’s like she went from haunting exes to actually writing something that sounds haunting. I listened to the end. Hmm was all I could muster with eyebrows raised. Hmmm!
    Ok, I’m not about to Tidal favorite it, or don a full disguise and go out & buy the record but as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t say it was a bad song!

    So…. what happens on this forum STAYS on this forum….right?

  12. All vinyl fans are biased. That would be the weight of anti skate bias on their tone arms, parallel and laser trackers excepted of course.

    I think it’s quite possible that a newbie to this hobby could well be biased. Their interest will have been stirred by something, and that event or experience will quite likely have planted seeds of bias, or at least preference, giving a direction of approach to the hobby. If the interest continues, learning and knowledge increase and those previously held opinions may well change. I know this has been my experience when exploring a new hobby. That’s where the newbie has the advantage, unlike the more established enthusiast who is stuck in either a groove or a pit or maybe now a stream. It could be all three, but what this is about is choice. Freedom of choice, we’re lucky to have it.

    1. All vinyl fans are biased?? Are you saying that someone like me who has a Turntable, a CD player and DSD DAC/Steamer in his audio system are biased Richtea? I’m a vinyl fan but not to the exclusion of the other mediums. Vinyl is around 10% of my listening at most but I still love the musicality of well recorded vinyl records. Variety is the spice of life.

        1. That’s my MO Martin. For someone who loves to joke around, I certainly can’t see the forest from the trees when it comes to some of these comments. My apologies to Richtea.

        1. Good morning RichTia!
          This may sound a little cracy, but this is something that I would like to pull off if I can.
          Paul spoke of cutting DSD to vinyl many times.
          But what does DSD sound like, if you were to put it on a magneted tape?
          But I’m not talking cassettes here, I’m talking about recording DSD to open reels here.
          With a tape recorder that has been rebuilt with top of the line heads and audiophile components.
          I am willing to bet that, noone has ever thought about doing anything like this!
          What do you think?

          1. John Price,
            I think that you entertain a lot of strange ideas.
            Hey John, did you ever end up paying Neil for
            that phono amp that he sold to you last year?

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