Seeing what we can’t see

January 11, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

We can’t see a dust mite but we know they exist.

And the same is true for sound and electrical waves. We cannot see them with our eyes but, through our equipment, we can generate a visual representation.

That representation is not the real deal, but rather a translation or interpretation molded to fit our limited senses.

What this means is that we build our systems around invisible forces and then manipulate them for best results through mental constructs built around less than perfect (and certainly incomplete) translations of real events.

It’s a leap of faith that the constructs we rely upon to make decisions are correct.

We don’t really see if using an optical cable vs. a coaxial one is better or worse. Using our measuring equipment we can get an incomplete glimpse of the results, but those results are only one view of the invisible.

We can also use our ears to test the validity of our theories as to what works and what doesn’t.

Either method of observing that which we cannot see has its pluses and minuses.

If I can hear it I don’t need to see it.

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65 comments on “Seeing what we can’t see”

  1. Personally I would’ve gone with, ‘Hearing what we can’t see’, but then this is Paul’s Posts 😉

    “We don’t really see if using an optical cable vs. a coaxial is better or worse.”
    Well, no we wouldn’t Paul.
    However we can usually hear the difference & if the audible difference is negligible then I’d go with the optic fibre cable, if for no other reason than the electrical isolation.

    If I can hear it then I don’t need to measure it.
    If it sounds terrible I’m not going to buy it & if it sounds great I’m going to listen to music through it, but at no stage do I need to measure it with anything but my ears.

    “If I can hear it I don’t need to see it.”
    ‘If it sounds great then it doesn’t have to look great, because I don’t need to see it if I’m too busy listening to it…because it sounds so f…..g amazing.’

  2. “ What this means is that we build our systems around invisible forces and then manipulate them for best results through mental constructs built around less than perfect (and certainly incomplete) translations of real events.”


  3. Decent post and it makes me think back to Paul’s hilarious short video on this.

    This has to be my favorite video from Paul of all time.
    Anyhow, can we say accurately is this what dirty power looks like? Either way, what a great leap of faith in the first place. 🙂

  4. Claims of “If I can hear it I don’t need to see it” and in the same breath (post) state we have “our limited senses” doesn’t instill a great deal of confidence in “trust my limited senses…” To subtly elude Industry Standard testing, is more than a leap of faith, it is an assumption everyone likes what you hear. It’s the circle of confusion.

    1. Barsley,
      I have a spare 10 minutes so I thought that I would bring this to your attention.
      Re: Paul’s Posts – ‘The Icing On The Cake’ Jan 8; your 6:03 am reply…
      …”In this position he works with all Harman International companies, such as JBL, Infinity, Harman/Kardon, Mark Levinson, Revel, Lexicon, AKG, Studer, DOD and Soundcraft.”

      So what?
      None of these brands are anywhere near high-end home-audio.
      In fact Harman International produce nothing of any high-end home audio note.
      Even Mark Levinson himself weeps at how Harman Industries have taken his name & virtually reduced it to Pioneer or Sony or Kenwood.
      In fact by mentioning all of these mediocre brands you have only strengthened my belief that Floyd Toole is nothing but an audio hack.

      If you had told me that Harbeth or Magico or AudioNote or DeVore Fidelity or Wilson Audio or Joseph Audio or any other truly high-end loudspeaker manufacturer had courted Floyd Toole for his 2 cents worth (on whatever it is that he does) as a consultant, I might be slightly impressed with his home-audio/loudspeaker ‘knowledge’.

        1. Barsley,
          No, no, no don’t deflect onto Olive.
          And we’re not talking about Altec-Lansing in the 1940’s.

          YOU are the embodiment of the ‘circle of confusion’.

          1. I would first have to place value in what you just said to be insulted. Nice try. Have a great day.

            There is a reason for Industry Standards. Anechoic data is not a new concept. It’s leaves little doubt.

            1. I don’t want to buy audio measured by Industry Standards, as I don’t have Industry Standard ears or an Industry Standard room (there is such a room in British Standards). I don’t have an Industry Standard wife either, but on paper alone she could be confused with an FR-30 speaker, which is described by PS Audio as “elegantly slim”. You can spot the difference between her and the speaker because, although “elegantly slim”, she doesn’t weigh 104kg.

              Mr Toole and Mr Olive are suitable metaphors for the well-known Australian saying that proof that measurements don’t count for much can be found dangling between your legs.

              1. As stated before, I prefer the actual performance data revealed from the spinorama, rather than someone telling me, trust my ears, I’m the defining standard of what “good” is…

                “ANSI/CTA-2034-A – Standard Method of Measurement for In-Home Loudspeakers” is a set of instructions on how to set up the measurement and is the accepted Industry Standard in North America. These types of measurements have been utilized for more than half a century

                No one told you that you had buy speaker A or B. However, the spinorama can show you how well Speaker A performs in comparison to Speaker B. The anechoic chamber information is the great marketing equalizer. Who cares what you wife weighs.

                1. ANSI/CTA-2034-A (searching it on google, took me directly to ASR – what a surprise!) says on page 7:

                  “All testing shall be conducted in an anechoic chamber or equivalent environment.”

                  Which says it all really. But just to elucidate a little, a speaker that performs great in an anechoic chamber may be the ideal for a recording studio, but not for most people’s homes. Good engineers of consumer speakers, who are often the same people as designers of the world’s best studio monitors, engineer them to perform best in the type of domestic setting they expect them to be used, which includes, for example, assuming how close listeners will sit. That’s why consumers prefer home trials of speakers.

                  If you read the measurement sections in Stereophile etc., they often take care to explain how the measured performance has been tuned to domestic use.

                  So just to make it quite clear – performance measured in an anechoic chamber is going to be pretty useless unless you interpret it for domestic use. But most people just prefer to take a listen and make their own minds up.

                  1. You are going to argue against utilizing an anechoic chamber for measurements? It seems obvious you haven’t ever worked in the audio industry.

                    That would be like saying, “you can tell how fast a car can go by the diameter of the steering wheel.” (you would look at the guy as if he is crazy)

                    1. It is reasonable to assert that the speed of a car can be determined by the sizeof the steering wheel, because it is a proposition that can be tested. What I would do is find a very slow car with a very large steering wheel. That is called falsifiability. Likewise, I could use the same methodology to disprove the assertion that loudspeakers that meet those Standards always make good domestic speakers, by installing them in a home and measuring how many people soon suffer from palpitations, high blood pressure or migraines. Once that assertion has been disproved, relying on measurements alone to identify good domestic loudspeakers is invalid.

                    2. Steven, obviously you want to argue the absurd. A VW Beetle from the 60’s has a 14.5″ steering wheel. A Dodge Challenger Hellcat has a 14.5″ wheel.

                      Concerning the ANSI spec, you could go to the ANSI website, but it will cost you over $100 for a copy. I simply provided a free one for you. How silly of me. Next time I’ll send you to the pay to see site. My bad.

                      One thing you may have missed, the ANSI/CTA-2034-A – Standard Method of Measurement for In-Home Loudspeakers is self defined for in-home speaker evaluation use. (but is actually applicable to use anywhere)

                      If you feel the need to continue to argue, I’ll just simply ignore you. Have a great day.

        2. Thank you for that link! I somehow missed that interview. It is still hard for me to understand how someone can watch that interview and, without any competing work of their own, just disregard the scientific method Floyd and Sean have used to determine what aspects of sound reproduction makes people enjoy one loudspeaker over another, but to each their own.

          1. He does what he says in the headings of the published papers – it’s multiple regression modelling of sound preferences. It’s a good way of finding out what most people consider the most favourable characteristics.

            However, multiple regression tells you nothing about individual choice and cannot take account of the fact that speaker choices are often based on excluding specific negative factors.

            It is also the case that drawing conclusions from multiple regression models is in itself subjective.

            It is, however, a very good methodology to use if you are a company looking to make a product that is likely to be more popular with the greatest number of people, which is I presume why they used it.

            1. Having studied Multivariate Analysis at university level, I hope I know something about multiple regression. Anyone who has done it knows that it is only as good as the questionnaire design and subjective interpretation of the regression results.

              1. Data points derived by Standards testing is not subjective. Empirical data is not subjective. By contrast, non-empirical evidence is subjective, depending on the observer. That’s why we have the American National Standards Institute to define the empirical Standards.

                  1. You just revealed you haven’t a clue as to what a spinorama is. A speaker that has poor off-axis performance in the anechoic chamber, will still perform poorly no matter the size of the room. I’m not confusing anything.

                    1. I’m fully aware of what spinorama is. It is a chart deified by people who believe that if you don’t worship at the altar of Toole and Oliver you deserve to have red hot pokers shoved in your ears. Meanwhile, everyone else refers to a range of measurements, some of which make sense to me, some of which don’t.

                    2. So what’s off-axis response got to do with the difference between “non-empirical” with “non-scientific”? What are you going to change the subject to next?

                      This is all quite fun because seeing your responses just highlights how the likes of Fat Rat, me and others here just like to listen to good music with varying interests in hifi, and post here for some light-hearted fun courtesy of our genial host Paul, whereas ASR types just like to read charts and tell other people how wrong and ignorant they are.

                      The irony is that I profess my ignorance about audio on an almost daily basis, but it doesn’t stop me enjoying our chats here and my stereo system immensely.

                    3. You’re sorely confused and uninformed. Anechoic data has been around much longer than either Toole or Oliver and has been the defacto-standard of speaker performance metrics for over half a century. You’re imposing on me your animus to others. None the less, the fact remains that brand or price do not dictate good performance. In fact, a popular brand under $2,000 a pair can outperform some very expensive boutique brands if you know how to examine the data. It’s your money, go spend it any way you want. I don’t care. But what you may like or prefer is not what everyone likes or prefers. You or RP are not the author of truth. Your subjective viewpoint is irrelevant. This is why we have testing.

                      But that isn’t the issue. The issue is the same as for the need for Federal laws concerning advertisements of amplifier power from the late 90’s. It’s called truth in marketing. The reason manufacturers don’t want to reveal data, is more times than not, they don’t want their baby called ugly, thereby losing sales figures.

                    4. Wow – that last past, we got there in the end: the ASR Mantra in 100 words … or 150, but who’s measuring?

                      I’ve re-read it – it’s epic – not a single talking point missing. Just posted on the wrong website.

                    5. Personally I’m not a fan of Gene from Audioholics or Amir at ASR. Again you speak from ignorance claiming you know that which you don’t. Same self styled, ill willed keyboard expert with no experience in the field. Have a great day.

  5. “Either method of observing that which we cannot see has its pluses and minuses.”

    Yet the “two crowds talk” in absolutes with no credibility to the other side. That is until some small part of the other’s side’s way helps make their belief more believable.

    ✌️ OUT

  6. So, as Donald said,
    Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
    Sometimes I think he was talking about high end audio!

  7. I’ll never forget the time when a preacher was introducing my father who was a famous scientist in his field, made the comment “this man knows everything about electricity”. “We know everything about electricity”. I was fresh out of school and feeling a righteous dose of ‘I know it all’ as any young healthy whipper-snapper right out of school would. I was about to pipe in and say Yes (because now I did too).
    Dad shook his head no. I was shocked. The preacher was shocked. Dad said he did not know much about electricity. He said we don’t really know what is going on or why it behaves the way it behaves. We have mathematical formulas that work and helps us theorize and explain what is going on. But why it works the way it works we really don’t know. It’s a big mystery to us…

  8. Reading rapidly through Paul‘s post this morning, for a moment I thought the discussion was regarding subatomic particles and quantum mechanics, versus anything regarding audio equipment.

    Perhaps Stephen Hawking’s book “A brief history of time” is currently on Paul’s nightstand.

  9. “It is not sufficient to see and to know the beauty of a work. We must feel and be affected by it.” Voltaire

    “I hear, I know. I see, I remember. I do, I understand.” Confucius

    “Seeing confirms what we think we felt or heard.” JosephLG

  10. [Paul: If I can hear it I don’t need to see it.]

    Agreed! I’ve always said, Hearing Is Believing! Once I have a component (speakers, cables, electronics, etc.) in My Home Music room, then specs and measurements mean Nothing, as my ears have the Final Say-So!!!

    However, if I’m searching for a certain component, then I will start with stated mnf. specs, testing data, ownership reviews and overall customer usage long-term satisfaction feedback (for both component and the mnf.’s reputation)! In other words, I do my homework and still, unless I have the opportunity to have that component in my hands with some type of trial-period-return policy, then I may not even consider it at all!

    IME, too often specs, testing and even ownership data did not “Guarantee Me” that a particular component will align perfectly and synergisticly with my existing setup, expectations or audio listening desires. Specs and detailed scientific testing have their rightful place, but no matter what the anechoic, spin data, manufacture claims, or other owners state…in the end, listening for Myself in My Environment Is the Final Answer!!! 😉

  11. Audio is purely hearing. It has no connection with sight. So why bother about optics? Some have suggested that one can hear through the eyes but that, if true, would be vibration related same as the WOW! factor related to crescendos. Anyway a sound system is absolutely personal for the discriminating so it’s best to be satisfied with what one has achieved. Regards.

    1. Well, when eyeballs resonant at 18Hz it is said you see things, and “brown outs” where a human supposedly loses bowel control is said to be somewhere between 5 and 9Hz. So maybe it does include sight and smell. From the peanut farm 🙂 🙂

    2. I agree that audio is about hearing. But there are some instances where seeing helps us identify and better appreciate what we are hearing. Like a live concert. Seeing the movements and expressions on the faces of the performers has some effect on how we interpret what we are hearing.

    1. Lp,
      I can’t wait for the, hopefully razor sharp, images to start coming back to us.
      Imagine the 30 foot by 15 foot wallpaper feature walls that we will be able to
      have in our homes soon 😮 😀

      1. Probably not razor sharp images like from the Hubble (at least after the corrections for the misground primarily mirror; fortunately it was not so far away that it was beyond reach of the space shuttle and a corrective device could be installed). The James Webb operates in the infra-red. To quote Paul from above:

        “. . . We cannot see them with our eyes but, through our instruments, we can generate a visual representation.

        That representation is not the real deal, but rather a translation or representation molded to fit our limited senses.”

        The James Webb space telescope, way out a Lagrange Point 2 ‘far beyond the moon’, is one insanely great instrument. It is still on it’s way there, it will take about 29 – 30 days from launch to reach this gavitationally stable location. Much of the data streams will be analyzed by computer programs rather than converted into beautiful pictures for coffee table books, but if you know how to read them, the charts and diagrams generated by those programs can provide understanding and just maybe a bit of enlightenment. I hope it works as expected, answers many questions, makes discoveries, and leads to even more questions.

    2. Indeed I am. If you read my comment yesterday, you know my professional background. You may think that practitioners of the science of geology (geo = earth, logy = study ) look down. And we do. But we look around and we look up, also. We’re tend to be scientific gadflies that take bits and pieces of other scientific disciplines: physics, biology, chemistry, etc. and thus we get exposure to and frequently appreciation for them. Sometimes we come to geology from other disciplines (chemistry in my case). Jacks and Jills of many trades, masters (or at least advanced journeymen and women) of some in our studies. Astronomy is way cool.

      1. Hey, Confused, interesting background. I started with Earth Science in high school, then picked up again in the local Osher Lifelong Learning Institute with everything from local state geology to the formation of the solar system. And climbed more than my share of mountains in between. Love those animated videos of how the continents floated around in the past. LOL Humanity is such a flash in the pan. Be well.

        1. I was initially an undergraduate chemistry major, took a course entitled Environmental Geology based on the environmental adjective, and first learned about plate tectonics. It literally changed my life.

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