Judging success

June 12, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

I wonder if it’s possible to measure a person’s judgment.

I suspect not.

We might be able to keep score: based on judgment, how many times has one gotten the expected results?

But is keeping score the same thing as making measurements?

For example, what would happen if instead of arguing over whether or not an amplifier with measured THD levels of 0.1% sounds different than one with 0.01%, we instead kept score? Take a collection of 10 reference audio tracks and score our like/dislike through both amplifiers.

Could we then say the one with consistently high scores measures better?

Or are there things like emotions, judgment, hearing, and perception that cannot be measured?

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20 comments on “Judging success”

  1. In pain therapy we measure pain using different approaches for a pain score. And there are many techniques for measuring brain activity using brain mapping methods. However these measurements are more sophisticated than simply measuring volts or amperes. But the promise of HIFI is most simply: the signal which is catched by the microphone is identical with the signal reaching the ear. And those signals can be measured with incredibly high accuracy!

  2. Wow, it’s definitely ‘CtA’ week!
    Another question that I doubt can be answered by the ‘only scientific measurements matter’ men.
    I measure audio with my ears & brain, as it should be done & as, I suspect, that the majority of contributors here also do.
    However there are those who post on this forum only what they can ‘Google’, because they haven’t got a clue about what is ultimately important…emotions, judgement, hearing & perception…about home audio.
    The ‘only scientific measurements matter’ men are still able to access this site even though they appear to be nothing more than robots…uncanny!

    **’CtA’**
    Since we still have no reply notifications on this site, as Kevin is too busy being a male model for Stereophile magazine, this is the only way that I can point out a few things about your 10:24am post a couple of days ago (June 10th) titled ‘Armchair Quaterbacks’
    You
    i) appear to be incapable of answering a simple question
    ii) seem to be very good at Googling information & yet you can’t seem to educate yourself on what “etched sound” refers to (means).
    iii) can only deflect (not answer questions about home audio) by insulting others.
    iv) can only Google information & regurgitate it here on this forum (you appear to have little to no personal opinions nor personal home audio experience)…it’s all about what others have to say about audio; hence your prowess at Googling other people’s findings, so as to appear intelligent, knowledgeable & relevant here on this forum & in the field of home audio.
    And lastly, even though you have, on at least 3 occasions, commented about how “mediocre & uninteresting” my posts on this forum are, lo & behold you are (as is evidenced by your “123kgs” comment to me) STILL reading & digesting my said mediocre & uninteresting comments…umm, what’s with that?

    We have a saying here in Australia (you should Google it) regarding your 10:24am post of June 10th…we say, ‘He spat the dummy’; in reference to an infant wailing in frustration (attempting to hurl insults, in your case) whilst being faced with an insurmountable task, such as answering a simple question about your current ownership of loudspeakers.
    You are hilarious sir 🙂

    1. Preaching to the choir and also to CtA et al.

      In my former (I’m retired now) career as an geologist, primarily concerning groundwater (or ground-water or ground water, depending) for a state environmental regulatory agency, we based decisions concerning contamination of the environment on measured parameters as compared to established levels; as promulgated in U. S. federal regulations (California has several of their own frequently more stringent legal standards, but our state laws do not officially recognize them). As a regulatory agency with legal authority, this was a necessity in the event that our decisions were challenged in court where only measured evidence was admissible. There were times when our human senses (which pale next to a dog’s) indicated that there was taste and odor evidence of contamination that we could not sample and measure using best techniques. To our occasional frustration, we could not then legally require further action from the responsible party, There are also occasions where a responsible party for historical cases could not even be determined. In cases of significant risk to human health and the environment, the site could be referred to the U. S. Superfund and if accepted within their labyrinthine regulations, the American taxpayer would then foot the bill. The laws of physics, chemistry and biology are such that remediation to pristine conditions will never be possible in the real world. Another source of frustration.

      What all this is finally leading up to is that billions of years of cumulative biological trial and error by evolution can make determinations beyond the current state of the art in design and measurement, which have been around for only a bit over a century (“Mr. Watson – come here – I want to see you.”). Maybe some technological breakthrough will change this, but we ain’t there yet. In the mean time, we can only trust in our central nervous system, the most elaborate system in “Known Space”, even if it is a kludge.

      Happy listening! 🙂

  3. I think the less technical data and half knowledge is available to us clueless, the better. We should listen only.

    It’s not better if some who have knowledge just measure and don’t listen…that’s maybe the most misleading in case those folks have publicity.

    1. Theory would require point-source loudspeakers or line source loudspeakers, the latter an infinite number of point-sources from floor to ceiling. Seeing the huge deviation of every real world loudspeaker design from these ideal technical sound sources there is a huge playground for minimizing all kind of inherent flaws. Just take a trumpet or human voice as a natural sound source. You need multiple drivers rarely arranged phase aligned to reproduce the signal of these near point source instruments. Only earphones or headphones might be able to come close to the sound wave patterns generated originally. And then there is the problem of listening room acoustics versus the concert hall room acoustics. However there is a most simple device to measure the quality of a stereo system: a foot-tapping meter. Just take the pedals of a kick-drum connected to a group of serious listeners and record the movement! 🙂

  4. Things like emotions, judgment, hearing, and perception are inherent to each individual. So if ‘the group’ wants to position an ‘exalted one’ as the standard of audio measurement then be my guest. I’ll be in the opposition.

    The endless debate just goes on. For those that need measurements to determine the overall sound and quality, maybe a go fund us page should be started, or better yet a world body convened who’s sole purpose it is to scientifically design experiments and reproducible results such that all one has to do is read the specs. Then we will all know exactly how something will sound.

    That world body could then become the world authority and enforcer of everything audio. Then over throw and exile the exalted one. Finally dictate what everyone should have as a system to listen to. Ahhh, ✌️ at last.

    One more thought…. The ability of test equipment to measure more precisely as the technology and techniques improve is a fact or truism. Does that in itself make for better sound or just more accurate measurements? (Especially if it not known exactly what to measure). Worse yet what happens when you get 2 things that measure as good as possible and exactly equal, yet they sound different?

    Enough of this, off to the golf course….

    1. Not quite to the course yet 😀

      They way I see it… measurements are essential for comparison and design. Listening is essential for individual judgment.
      Both are necessary at some point along their respective lines and converge to a point when the final choice is made.

  5. I subscribe to six audio and/or music magazines. All are in English and of the audio magazines the best are HiFi News & Record Review ( considered by many , including me, as the gold standard in audio journalism ), Stereophile and The Absolute Sound. Interestingly HFN&RR and Stereophile do measurements of the gear they review while TAS does not. Stereophile has often pointed out that some of the gear that the reviewer gives high praise to does not measure well. They also point out that they are constantly striving to improve their measurements so that they can better understand what makes gear sound good ( HFN&RR, of course, also tries to improve its measurements ).

    I have never bought any major gear based solely on reviews and/or measurements. I use reviews to make short list of what to listen to when I am looking for new and better gear or perhaps what to listen to at the next audio show ( if I ever go to another audio show ). I will admit that as a retire scientist who always followed the data that came from measurements that I like it when ear that reviews well and sounds good to me t also measures well. I wonder if this is due to my past or whether is simply because I understand the measurements. There are times when measurements are very important. If you know that your speakers have very low impedance ( less than 2 Ohms ) at certain frequency you want to make sure that any amp that you buy will behave well when driving a low impedance load.

    While I believe that we still must ultimately rely on our ears when we judge gear, I certainly would never recommend that you ignore measurements when they are available.

  6. Measurements are a necessity for manufacturers, of course.
    For me, as a consumer, there’s only one thing that matters : how does “it” sound in my room.
    And that is subjective, not measurable.
    Well, maybe it is, via our brain waves, as paulsquirrel suggests.
    However, talking about measurements, impedance of speakers is important to me.
    I don’t want to smoke my amp because of the impedance being too low.
    And then a little thing about yesterday…
    tonyplachy, I don’t know whether or not your 11:18 comment was a response to my 9:47 comment.
    I think it was, given the content (“these names and analogies are silly. If you want to think of your amp, cable sans AC power as the foundation of your system go ahead do so”).
    I don’t think you would have used the same words to PmcG, given the fact that you are usually much more polite to him, more obedient and subdued.
    But you were barking up the wrong tree. I only tried to clarify what PmcG meant with his post.
    Having said that, I have to admit to you I totally agree with yesterday’s post.
    So for me mcGowan vs Plachy 1 – 0.

  7. What is your judgment if my reference recordings come from brilliant performances of the music by Wolfgang Rihm, John Cage, Luigi Nono, Hans Werner Henze, Luciano Berio, Iannis Xenakis and Karlheinz Stockhausen? I think that in this case many of the self-proclaimed audiophiles would reply that they find the system best where they would hear the least of the music, not to say a muted system, but only because they don’t like it.

  8. I recently bought a Topping Pre90 preamp, a unit that measures spectacularly well. I put it in my system, but it could never make music that made me want to listen for very long. I tried balanced and se cables, different power cords,moved my speakers around, but the pre90 just sounded lean. Precise and clear, but not engaging. Those that follow measurements to the exclusion of listening will think that there is a problem with the rest of my system. I have a Quad preamp on the way that measures similar, I cant wait to listen to it and hear the difference. I think that the scientists, rather than telling me what I can hear and what I cant, should be searching for the measurable aspects that we can hear but not yet measure.

  9. I once read an online review in which the reviewer compared the PS P10 regenerator, the SR 12 UEF SE power conditioner and the HF MC-6 power conditioner in his reference system. The reviewer did exactly what you suggest. He compared the differences (likes/dislikes) he heard in various reference audio tracks. I don’t recall any measurements in the review. It was all about sound quality. He applied the same power cable to all three and then tried a different power cable with them, keeping everything system-wide as equal as possible. The power cable made a difference. His approach made for a much more valuable review than if he had just reviewed a single product. The benefit also was that he pointed out the areas of relative strength and weakness in each product, in his listening judgment, which of course cannot be measured.

  10. Speaker’s get knocked for being the worse component in the chain yet they are thee most important part of the chain besides the ears. Without speakers we would never know how the components before the speakers actually sound because tests don’t tell us how a component sounds. Speakers and our ears do which are completely analog and mechanical devices. While speakers can have frequency and harmonic inaccuracies that show higher distortions levels than electronic components what the best ones also do is accurately and ruthlessly reveal the tiniest nuances on a recording and in the sound of a component. Don’t forget the speaker that tests innaccurate are tested by electronic components when the ear is the best mechanism for testing speakers. I say it damn well don’t matter how a component tests as long as the results are just tiny differences. Let a good pair of speakers and ears do the judging.

  11. The people at Harman do pretty much what Paul postulates— gifted listeners consistently mark sound quality.
    With narrow “confidence intervals” in statistic talk.

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