The importance of measurements

May 29, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Somehow the opinion that I am hesitant to embrace measurements as a means of determining sound quality has grown into a “thing”.

It’s funny how ideas and notions can become a thing. Perhaps it’s time to set the record straight.

Over the past 50 years, there isn’t a product we’ve released that hasn’t benefited from measurements. In fact, let me go a step further by saying there isn’t a product we’ve released that hasn’t spent the majority of its development—hundreds of hours—on the measurement bench. And not just to check the results of our efforts. The designs themselves are mostly a result of measurements.

I remember the endless hours I spent sitting at my bench while designing new amplification circuits. Before me were my trusted friends: a scope, an HP analyzer (and later an AP), and signal generator. Without them I would be lost.

Only near the end of the process do we haul the device into the listening room for the final phase of development.

Where I think we cross swords is the idea that measurements (or listening) are all that one needs.

Black and white.

Positive and negative.

It either is or it ain’t.

The truth, like so much of life, is found in the in between grays of middle ground.

We need measurements and we need listening.

One without the other offers only incomplete results.

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35 comments on “The importance of measurements”

  1. It depends on the measurements and they aren’t always the standard ones. I recall decades ago David Berning and Murray Zeligman telling me it was amp linearity(it a volt in has 2 out then 2 volts in should be 4 out) that most correlated with accurate sounding reproduction(and they demoed an experiment to show me..

    And Murray showed me it on speakers it was the transfer function at crossover(the response produced by the driver and crossover at crossover that was sonically important, that the shape of the roll of was important to sonic quality.

  2. Not much being said today. The post itself pretty much says it all.

    From what I read the real rift between those who rely solely on measurements and those that don’t rely solely on them happens after a product is released. Seems a little late then…. Especially if the goal is to sit back, listen and enjoy to something that sounds good to you.
    If the belief is that only measurements can provide the factual guide for accurate enjoyment for you then go for it.

    If you believe your way for musical reproduction and listening enjoyment is the only way …. And everyone who doesn’t follow those beliefs is just plain wrong… then there is no need for discussion.

    Once a product is released, is Truth in advertising being verified for consumer protection? Or is some entity looking for a “gotcha”?

  3. The question to me is are measurements important to most of us? They are not to me

    In one way measurements have become a thing primarily from some who want or need proof of the listening experience of others. I am sure that measurements are fundamental in the design and engineering audio component. I have no measurement instruments and I probably would not understand and appreciate the benefit of the results. I don’t think that I am unique in this context.

    I have never decided on what to include in my system on measurements. I listen. I suggest that many or most of us are focused just on our respective listening experiences and maybe some trust in and the reputation of the designer. I consider that our individual listening experiences are just individual. If you consider all the variables that go into the mix of our listening experiences, I suggest that no one system is the same as another. From the beginning of the start with the power input to the final result of the room and the brain and the possible varying listening experiences combinations are probably infinite.

    To me it seems that the prime reason for a reliance on measurements comes from those who have difficulty in acknowledging the listening experience of us who do not rely on measurements to justify our explanations of our listening.

    1. Saying you listen and measurements are unimportant is like preferring to eat fried fish, but being convinced, pans are not important. A pan might be uninteresting for you, but the cook needs it to make your meal. You can leave the care for measurements to the manufacturer, that’s fine, but claiming measurements are unimportant generally would miss the point.

  4. Why not letting the discussion based on pure logic? The goal of hifidelity is to deliver the recorded signal pure and non-distorted to the loudspeakers. And only measurements allow you to get the distortions minimized. But then there is the enormous complexity of multi-driver loudspeaker with more or less complex crossovers and more or less strange cabinet designs and the complexity of listening room acoustics. Not to mention the recording progress being characterized by a huge amount of data reduction compared to the sophisticated data processing of the ear-brain system listening to the live music. No wonder that the sonic result concerning the goal of stereo is most frustrating and disappointing if there is no heavy tweaking via multiple plug-ins and artificial reverb of the mixing console and no “corrections” concerning the interactions between loudspeakers and power amps (is the frequency response still flat when the amp sees impedance values hugely varying with frequency ?) and between loudspeakers and listening room. If done correctly measurements might give you valuable information concerning correlation between perceived sound quality and varying design parameters for only (!) a specific amp/loudspeaker/room setup.

    1. Hey paulsquirrel,

      You touched on a what may be the ‘real’ issue(s). All the focus is on the playback side. That’s only 1/2 the equation. The recording side needs to be perfect 1st. Then the final format of that of recording needs to be perfect. We now have Multitrack recordings, then manipulated tracks to provide the final entity format the most of us listen to. Trying to fool the ear so to speak.

      Measurements provide somewhat of a means and a clue, but that’s all. Nobody seems to question or want detailed measurements of the electronics, the cables, the mixing board, etc found in many recording studios.

      Your last sentence sums it up well for me.

  5. I only send it off to be measured if it sounds bad.

    Measurements made for design & production…absolutely.
    Measurements made once the product is sold to the end user…next to useless.

      1. Hi Tim,
        Sure, but that’s not a viable long-term solution.
        If you’re rig all of a sudden sounds bad then more
        than likely something is not performing within specification
        …hence off to be measured & probably repaired.

  6. Paul, You are so right. Why anyone gets hung up on measurements of audio gear is, however, understandable. The people at ASR have done a lot of harm. We have two camps: first, measurements are worthless, if it sounds good it is good; second, if two pieces of gear measure the same they sound the same. These two positions cause some people anxiety. “I like the sound of amp A, but it measures worse than amp B. What should I do?” The correct answer is trust your ears, but be aware of what the measurements mean. Only if you are willing to learn what the measurements mean can you use them to your benefit.

  7. The interesting thing is, that different manufacturers care for different measurements and it’s usually not in the know how range of consumers to safely judge, which philosophy is better or worse in theory. That’s the point where listening decides. If we leave the measurement topic to the manufacturers, we’re better off. When a third party reviews gear by measuring it only, that’s as silly as reviewing steaks by chemical analysis.

  8. There was a brilliant article by Piers Morgan in The Times today, about how to influence people to change their ideas about guns. So we never had a gun culture in the UK, but in 1996 we had a school massacre at Dunblane and within a year guns were banned, with severe penalties for being caught with one. After Sandy Hook, when he was working for CNN in the USA, he ranted on American TV about banning guns. There was a petition to throw him out the country. Jay Leno explained to him that no one will ever listen to an outsider about how to change their lifestyle. The USA has a gun culture and change will only come from the community of gun owners.

    Likewise, we all know measurements are vital in the design of audio equipment. A small group of people shout loudly and vociferously that were should all use measurements for evaluation. They might as well be shouting at a wall as no one is really listening. If people wanted more scientifically based information on audio equipment they would demand and get it. Change will only come from within. When noise and distortion were more significant, people did demand and get the data.

    As most audio equipment these days is well designed and measures very well, it is inevitable that it usually boils down to personal preference based on listening.

  9. There are a lot of good components and speakers out there with the same parts available to every manufacturer. It’s really how the chef implements those parts to sound their best. We listen to hear who did the best job for the money. We all have a budget. The trick is to get the best system for your allowable budget and that takes a lot of research to confirm what professional reviewers and consumer feedback is telling us since there is no way to listen to so many components and speakers out there.

  10. Amen! I share your frustration Paul, and not just regarding music reproduction. Some folks, for whatever reason, can’t “see” gray. Consideration of any shade of black or white requires thought, effort and openness to other perspectives.

  11. This post has me cueing up my Ghost in the Machine album by the Police. Man meets Machine while wrestling with philosophy & psychology. With the tracks “too much information” and “rehumanize yourself”. Not my favorite Police album due to their dive into electronics, but fun and interesting on its own.

  12. Lots of stuff measures well but sounds awful. Some stuff sounds great but measures awful. My experience with mastering monitors has been that both measuring and sounding great is what translates best to the rest of the world.

  13. All the standard measurements, distortion, frequency response, etc. are really static measurements and while they should be good they don’t necessarily predict a sense of live sound. The measurements and graphs I find predict sound that makes me think live music have a dynamic element to them as described in my initial comment.

  14. Every time we undergo blood tests, the doctors are looking at dozens of measurements. If we fall within a certain optimal range, we are pronounced “healthy” or even “exceptionally fit.” But if you look at different people with the same excellent test measurements, you would certainly not want to spend the rest of your life with most of them. Measurements are only part of the story. Similarly, our tastes for certain audio gear goes beyond measurements. There are other qualities that turn us on or off.

  15. Paul I hope someone like Amir from (ASR) didn’t compel you to write this post to feel like you have to justify yourself.
    You have one of the very best audio company’s in the entire industry and that is a testament to how awesome and well built your products are.

    I’m grateful to be part of the family and my P3 is performing just as well today as the day I bought it 2 1/2 years ago. I use it everyday as well. 🙂

      1. Absolutely and I think that you’ve earned yourself the right to not have to even entertain any justification when it comes to measurements. Your products speak for themselves.

        Listen when I bought the P3 the measurements came second to words of testimony for how the thing bloody well works…and it does! I don’t care how the P3 measured because in the end my whole system sounds better with it. 🙂

        Lately I’ve been really into tube amplifiers and I’ve read from Dennis Had, who is of Cary Audio that he has really skimmed down on how his amplifiers measure because he feels he loses too much musicality. I can understand that and this is a guy who can build some of the very best Transformer coupled amplifiers.

        At the end of the day, Paul for what it’s worth. You’re the man. There aren’t many who are even close to being as well established as you and PS AUDIO. 😉

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