Can there be a right and wrong?

January 20, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Whether you believe in gravity or not you’re going to get hurt when you hit the pavement after falling off a 30-foot ladder.

It’s not a question of right or wrong to wonder about the validity of gravity. The decision to fall off the ladder might be one where right and wrong play a role, just not the outcome.

Gravity is always right.

In a distantly similar vein, the question of right and wrong becomes less clear as it applies to transducers, connecting cables, and electronics.

And this is because, like cables, cartridges, electronics, and loudspeakers, none are perfect.

One cannot with any accuracy suggest this microphone, that phono cartridge, that amplifier, or that connecting cable is “right” because unlike the finality of gravity all to some degree are wrong.

And once you grasp the idea that everything in our system is in error, then it becomes a lot easier to pick and choose between imperfections to get as close as possible to what feels right.

Right for the moment; right under the circumstances; right for today.

When it comes to audio reproduction there’s no right or wrong.

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53 comments on “Can there be a right and wrong?”

  1. Who needs Spidergraphs and SINAP to tell you right or wrong when you’ve got two ears glued to the side of your head?

    The problem with Measurementalism is that it is so unbelievably dull and boring. It’s the ultimate in Nerd’s Corner. Measurementalists’ rigid belief that there is only one true path to Enlightenment makes me want to weep in pity. Do they tap their feet? I doubt it, it would be the ultimate in human frailty.

    By all means the engineers at PSA should measure everything to get things right, because that’s how they do their job, but in the end the ears have it.

    No doubt CtA and Barsley will chirp in how we are so misguided to accept the limitations Paul describes and, heaven forbid, buy stuff that we think sounds enjoyable, rather than buy stuff that is slide-rule perfect and costs no more than $37. And they are always right and I am so ignorant, gullible, misguided, frivolous with money and have never worked in the audio industry. Thank heavens for that, and I haven’t lived in a cave either.

    I don’t suppose the Measurementalists pay any attention to phono cartridges given they are Neolithic technology. Perhaps my love of vinyl suggests I should be living in a cave after all.

    1. Speaking of caves; I take it, especially now you’re in the middle of winter, that
      all renovations at Casa del (surname) have been completely completed?
      And what type of glue do you use to attach your ears…is it audiophile grade?

    2. You know I can’t get over how much some of those vinyl cartridges cost. Perhaps Paul’s future post may explain why one piece of your turntable set up can cost more than an entire very highend headphone set up. 😉
      I have a feeling the expense will kind of be involved like cables where by it is the rarity of raw materials used.
      I think there might be a right or wrong aspect of audio here. 😉

      1. I suspect there is quite a bit of premium pricing on some cartridges. They are quite difficult to make and are made by hand, using expensive equipment. A good cartridge can be re-tipped and serviced for say $400 and last for at least 5 years. Wet-cleaned records help dramatically. I have a SoundSmith, who offer a replacement cantilever assembly for 20% of the new cartridge price. This is tremendous value, so for my unit I effectively get a new one for $300. Boron was favoured because of rigidity and weight, by the SoundSmith is an aluminium tube. There are a lot of very good cartridges and turntables at very sensible prices. I think it is one of the few areas of home audio to benefit a lot from drip-down technology into very affordable products.

    3. You should always use all the info you have. It’s a combo of listening and measuring although you need to know which combo of measurements to use. I will always recall about 40 years ago when a friend who modified Grado pick ups and measured as much as he could what he changed. I had a copy of Hi Fi Choice that only tested pickups and did about 50 or so. The tests include a frequency graph, a separation curve and a 1 kHz square wave. My friend paged through the book and could only see the measurement data. And he suddenly stopped and said. I want that one; I know how it sounds. We bought the pickup and my friend was correct.

      So some times a few smart people can make measurements work. And it’s as much a mistake to ignore them as it is to only rely on golden ears(we all assume we have two)

      But I agree, most of the time our final decisions, end up being subjective and in an imperfect universe intelligent personal taste is a valid factor in ‘good’ subjectivity.

    4. The issue with measurements is an underlying arrogance (conscious or not), that:

      1) You have identified all relevant aspects to measure (including the correct values)
      2) You have a way to measure them accurately, and properly understand tolerances.

      The measurements we have are geared more towards circuit behavior. Over time, engineers have found that “x” effects sound in “y” way, and have developed a decent set of guidelines. However, they are not absolute. Additionally, it’s complicated with separate components and associated interaction, room differences, varying hearing abilities, etc.

      What would be a most meaningful measurement is if there could be a reference set of recordings, with measured sound from the live event, provided for comparison. You could then play those on your system, measure them and compare for accuracy.

      1. Indeed, context is everything and nothing ever really measures the same including several of the very same product. We are always dealing with an extraordinarily complex system. When something seems to measure well but sounds bad, it simply means the wrong thing has been measured. We want audio to be simple, but it never is.

    5. One of my favorite antiques is my slide rule from high school. It still slides smoothly–was built to outlast its usefulness. Fortunately, I haven’t outlived my usefulness.

    6. Steven, you have stated, “No doubt CtA and Barsley will chirp in how we are so misguided to accept the limitations Paul describes and, heaven forbid, buy stuff that we think sounds enjoyable, rather than buy stuff that is slide-rule perfect and costs no more than $37. And they are always right and I am so ignorant, gullible, misguided, frivolous with money and have never worked in the audio industry.”

      You attribute to me things never said, but you seem to have some type of animus to anyone who doesn’t buy into your specific position. What I do find interesting is that you want others to accept your opinion on some given position, and yet deny other’s to their own. Have a great day.

      1. Have you sworn a pledge to a secret society to use the word “animus” in every post you make on the internet?

        Paul stimulates interesting discussions, even if they wander a bit from time to time. We all try and keep it in good spirits, sometimes I fail, but the end result is we learn a thing or two, pick up a few tips and do it with a laugh or a smile.

        Reed put it excellently – most people here do audio for a hobby. Trying or buying stuff based on Spidercharts or a 0.000005674% difference in THD would be no fun at all.

        1. “At PS Audio Inc. we allow users on our forums to create Content which is user-generated and respect the fundamental right to speak freely. However, this is an online community so please be respectful and reasonable while communicating with others.”

            1. I would ask that you not use my comment as the vehicle to take a swipe at a user who has not posted in this thread. Thanks in advance for respecting my request.

                  1. Barsley,
                    Please refer to my 4:53 pm reply to you.
                    Thank you…btw, it is great day here in Sydney, Australia today; I hope that you are having one too, wherever you are! 😀

                  2. I think it’s interesting Barsley ….
                    From your quoted comment above the few words …. the fundamental right to speak freely…. Seems to me FR is just exercising that right.

                    But now you want to dictate who responds to you

                    If you don’t want a discussion then ignore it all and don’t respond to them?

                    Seems fairly hypocritical ?

                    1. Mike, the terms of service PS Audio has asked it’s user to adhere to also include; “Post any Content that is disrespectful, harmful, harassing, discriminatory, defamatory, illegal, lewd, pornographic, unlawful, obscene, invasive, inflammatory, fraudulent, threatening, violent, distasteful, or otherwise hateful;”

                      Rather than use the silent treatment, I preferred to simply make a request, since FR’s comments, as well as Steven, towards me as well as some others, seems to be moving towards crossing a line that I consider nothing short of violation of the TOS. This appears to be, if one takes time to review the threads over the last year, becoming more prevalent. I’ll ask kindly once, and if the request is ignored, that speaks for itself. I’m sorry you don’t seem to understand, or like that. Have a great day.

                  3. Barsley,
                    Again, I hope that ‘CtA’ reads what you have quoted to ‘Mike’ at 2:54 am today, since he (‘CtA’) likes to insult people.
                    Have a date gray 😉

                  4. Barsley,

                    Apparently you want to be the enforcer of the rules. You offend me with your postings so maybe you’re the one in violation of your interpretation of the TOS. You’ll never see it that way

                    So rather what you say is a request I read it as a demand. Typical one way….

                    Rather than ask if you believe you’re being hypocritical I wish I could remove the ? mark.

                    It seems your only reason for posting is to antagonize, not to discuss.

                    I find your reply to me offensive, demeaning and condescending. No surprise there either.

                    1. Mike, if you feel offended concerning a comment I made to you or another poster, or offended by the TOS you agreed to, then let me invite you to contact Paul or email [email protected] with your concerns.

                1. I fear you’re wasting breath flogging a dead bolted horse. I’m having trouble following Barlsey’s rules for posting here.

                  1. Steven,
                    He’s obviously making it up as he goes along…I guess that that is his prerogative.
                    Mike’s 6:52pm reply pretty-much says it all.
                    So much for Barsley’s credibility….

                    I’m just having some fun whilst I listen to music…it’s a sunny Sydney afternoon & all’s well in my listening room, & so I am indeed having a great day 😀

                    1. You’ve more patience than me. According to Alexa it’s 0 degrees C outside. Why she can’t say it’s freezing, I don’t know.

  2. Casa del Cosy is almost there. We got the building certificate last week, which is issued on behalf of the local authority that all the works meet the design and legal specification requirements. They inspect everything and the gas and electric checklists and certification are now on a national online database. There was a month-long discussion over whether the smoke and heat detectors had to be inter-linked, and it turned out they were inter-linked anyway. Awaiting some furnishings.

    The only thing missing are some lights, because they are going through beta testing. I will end up with about 30 speaker/lights (all installed) and 25 lights-only units. I saw yesterday that the product won the 2021 CEDIA Global award for best new hardware product, which is reassuring. Except it’s not a global product yet. I’m one of the lab rats, but a happy lab rat.

  3. “ When it comes to audio reproduction there’s no right or wrong.”

    This statement above seems totally wrong thus not right in its meaning. In fact I would think all posting here including Paul would be outraged.

    Maybe in the overall scheme the statement has some validity. In that every piece of electronics and or speaker has some amount of distortion or error.

    If you follow that statement to a conclusion there’s no real reason to be investing a life’s work in the world of audio. In fact there’s no reason to even discuss any of this audio stuff. Just stop at your local one box store or on line retailer and pick out something. There is no right… there is no wrong… there just is. Why pay for FR30’s BHK’s Dragon’s or any other sort of high end equipment when they are not right?

    You first have to define what Audio right is. Then build it, then assemble a whole system, then find the right recording. Once you do that you can define wrong.

    Gravity in itself is neither right or wrong. It’s a defined phenomena. Falling off a ladder is wrong.

    If you want to talk in the wishy washy terms of audio systems – then there are varying degrees of better. But take todays post in a literal sense, and none of those systems are right. Thus they are all wrong…

    Take two other words to substitute for right and wrong. PASS /FAIL If you Follow todays logic then anyone dabbling or interested in audio is a flunky….

    The degree of flunking depends on whether you use you ears or measure…

    To stay along the same thought process… my audio equipment manufacturer didn’t get it right, my music recording entity didn’t get it right…. Yet somehow I enjoy what I have despite all their failure. ✌️ out

    1. Mike, thanks for your reply. I find it fascinating. You’re more a literalist than me.

      Could we agree that since nothing gets it perfect and everything in our chain is to some degree flawed, that some is simply more right than others?

      1. This is what happens when you read words literally instead of trying to interpret the intended hidden meaning, or worse imply your own meaning and commentary to what is stated.

        Degrees of correctness we can agree upon. Or maybe even more correct, degrees of pleasure obtained by folks like me from the work and determination of people like you and those at PSA and Octave.

        Absolutes in a subjective environment are always difficult….

        I’ll change my last statement to this 😀 ….

        I enjoy what I have and strive for better sounding to me despite some degree of flaws. (In both the equipment and myself)

        I thought I was on a roll with my earlier reply…. Too literal?

      2. When I was young I was so literal my mother called me “painfully honest”. It took quite a while to put a filter on it. As I recall I managed it just about the time I started dating!

  4. That’s so true Paul, and imo a reason why arguments around accuracy and neutrality (as a goal after our non-perfect recordings, media etc.) – not surprisingly – don’t necessarily lead to the best sounding result, even if they theoretically should, may it be in digital, solid state or other technology and concepts. That’s why those who listen and who got rid of dogmas, fixed agendas and input requirements for their activities, will at the end enjoy the better results in an absolute sense. Others might just have the best result possible by their initially fixed approaches and lost years of better sound by sticking to their dogmatic self-limitation.

    E.g. the goal to today provide best possible sound by today’s findings is a different one than the goal to make a technology leading, which isn’t yet.

    In many technology fields we experienced that the hype started years or decades before reality and partly failed to appear at all.

  5. This is what makes the hobby interesting vs. just buying something with the best measurements.

    My biggest complaint with the current state of things is the lack of brick and mortar stores where I can listen to differing whole systems, and have interactions with folks at the store. It feels “home schooling” for audio, which I’m not a fan of.

  6. IMHO, if your music reproduction goal is to recreate a LIVE performance in your listening environment, and you achieve a consistent “Suspension of Disbelief” with playback of all acoustical music genre, then the answer to Paul’s question is…YES!!! 🙂

  7. When it comes to right or wrong in audio, I think it’s good to remember that we each have our own personal set of ears that only work well for us. We all have different sensitivity or lack there of in that department. If you have four people listening to the same recording, they will probably all mostly hear the same thing, but all four could still be hearing something a little different, which might lead them to like it or not. That’s not right or wrong. Their impression of the recording is going to be skewed by their audio sensory system.

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