The problem with opinions

May 27, 2019
 by Paul McGowan

A recent YouTube comment is worth reprinting.

“If you can’t audition, watch as many reviews as you can. The reviewers will be your eyes and ears. Examine the comments sections to see what others may think. There are a whole bunch of audio reviews on YouTube to help you make better informed decisions on what to buy.”

Good and reasonable advice except for one thing. How do you match someone else’s opinion with your own?

This is a classic problem and one of the reasons I never pay attention to Yelp or movie reviews. What’s the likelihood our tastes match each other?

I am a vegetarian who does not like most fast food and rarely the fair that comes out of commercial kitchens. How does the opinion of someone with unknown tastes bear any relevance to me?

I love rich, detailed, full-bodied stereo systems. How does the opinion of someone who prefers lean, over-etched, emasculated bass matter to me?

People like us prefer the same sorts of things. The problem is, how do we align our tastes to each other?

This issue is likely why we hang out with like-minded people, read the same sorts of information, visit the same places, watch the same movies, and buy similar stereo equipment.

The influencers in our lives are important hand selected assets even if we use them to know what not to buy.

Opinions matter only if you know where they come from.

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44 comments on “The problem with opinions”

  1. Why base one’s opinion on a self-proclaimed authority? If I am seriously engaged in a hobby I would follow the goal to become an expert myself. And when it is about perception and tastes everybody is always his own authority! There is no objective taste.

  2. I’m very lucky because my wife and I have similar cultural tastes, so we see a lot together, but some things we don’t. She’s going to the theatre today with a friend, I wasn’t invited. I do the same, usually with music and opera. On Saturday I previewed an exhibition at the British Museum, we will go back together. Preferences also change over time.

    I don’t know how anyone can start to establish their own tastes without the personal experience, whether audio or theatre, dance, whatever. Someone else’s opinion is, frankly, just their opinion. The only critic we trust in any genre is Giles Coren, a food columnist in The Times.

  3. Stick to good brands and you generally won’t be disappointed. Headphones and speakers are one thing that it’s best to demo yourself. Electronics have a little more leeway.

  4. There is a difference between subjective opinions… ie: sound quality, politics, etc….

    and an opinion based on training and real world experience…. ie: what transistor has less noise, what capacitor works best in this circuit etc…..

    I probably wouldn’t ask Paul where the best steakhouse in town is, but I wouldn’t hesitate to ask his opinion on circuit design.

    The good news about opinions is that you can accept them or not. That’s not the case with cold hard facts.

    1. Sure it is. People choose which facts they want to believe all the time. Take climate change. The facts are quite clear. We’ve already lost 50% of the species on Earth and more are leaving daily. There’s an atmospheric cancer growing at an alarming rate and it is caused by us and it will kill us.

      Those are facts.

      Just look at what happens to those facts in the hands of folks who want to believe otherwise.

      We can pick and choose which facts support our worldview.

      1. It is correct that one can pick and choose what they want to believe, But that doesn’t change what is fact.

        Opinions don’t have to be based in fact and quite often aren’t.

      2. I have read a great deal about climate change which was once called global warming. I’ve examined both sides of the argument carefully. Contrary to what the media tells you there are strong arguments by well respected scientists on both sides. One thing I’m certain of is that those arguing climate change have told a lot of lies to fit their argument. For example there was the famous case in 2009 involving fudged data by a group in East Anglia University. There is the fudge that measuring stations are being removed leaving those close to cities which are heat islands skewing data. If these people are right they are doing their cause a great disservice. It also won’t matter what we do if China doesn’t do something drastic very soon… assuming what the proponents say is true but they refuse consistently to hold China’s feet to the fire. Selling the argument that Americans must live worse so that Chinese can live better is political dead meat.

        I read all this research asking two questions. Is climate change real? Is it caused by human activity? After all I’ve read and seen my conclusion is…. I just don’t know what to believe. The arguments on both sides are inconclusive. Just my opinion.

      3. Global warming is a fact only as long as average global temperatures continue to rise. The cycle of global warming — how long it will last and why it is happening — is theory. There is no real evidence that man is the primary cause or even a significant cause of global warming! The contribution of man to CO2 in the atmosphere is minuscule compared to other natural causes: solar activity (sun spots), gyrations in the axis of the earth, volcanic activity, lightning-sparked forest fires, etc. There is no doubt average global temperature readings (many in fixed locations that have seen development grow around them) have risen a degree or two over the past decades and the trend is up, but that has happened countless times before the Industrial Revolution. Sea levels are rising in some parts of the globe; sea levels are falling in other parts of the globe (such as Alaska). I have studied sea level rise in California over the past 1-1/2 centuries. The sea level rise from the start of measurement is a uniform, straight line function that in no way correlates with the hyperbolic rise in atmospheric CO2. The rise in sea level was happening long before the big increase in industrial activity. CO2 rise is a delayed response to temperature rise caused mainly by natural cycles such as solar activity affecting cloud cover. As average global temperature rises, the ocean (a giant storehouse of absorbed CO2) releases CO2 into the atmosphere. In periods when the global temperatures decline, the ocean absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere. This cycle is part of nature and has nothing to do with man.

        There are many scientists who provide plausible explanations for the rise in CO2, and many of them do not accept that man is the culprit. Most people who accept CO2 reduction as some kind of cure-all have never studied the research and alternative theories. Like a religion, they just believe what they are told and jump on the media bandwagon. Can anyone in this forum provide evidence that man is causing global warming…other than just citing some UN-sanctioned scientific paper that they don’t understand. Quoting a scientist is not proof. Scientists at universities have to say man causes global warming or they would be ostracized or denied research grants.

        Yes, global temperatures and CO2 have risen over the past few decades, and yes, there is a correlation between temperature and CO2 in the atmosphere. That does not prove CO2 is raising temperatures. The evidence shows the opposite: temperatures are raising CO2. All man can do is watch it happen.

        When I was in college in the early 70s, science taught that the earth was entering another ice age. A Time Magazine cover announced that and included all the hard evidence. A popular book called The Late Great Planet Earth gave proofs that the end of the world would occur in the 80s. None of these things happened, despite the proofs and publicity.

        Pollution is bad, no doubt. Man causes pollution, no doubt. Environmental controls to limit and reduce pollutants is a good thing. But CO2 is not a pollutant. If it were, a crowd of people stuffed in a room at an audio show would suffer from more than audio fatigue.

        1. You are correct, CO2 is not a pollutant, it is a natural constituent of the atmosphere. Saying it is a pollutant as the EPA insanely designated it is like saying water is a pollutant because you have too much of it where you don’t want it in a flood. The water may contain pollutants in it but the water itself is not a pollutant.

          One problem for the CO2 theory is that it is a lagging indicator of temperature rise, not a leading indicator. That means increased CO2 may be the result of warming, not the cause. As the earth warms there will be more water evaporated into the air creating more cloud cover. This causes additional reflection of solar radiated heat back into space.

          There are plenty of scientists who say that we are heading for an ice age. One theory has it that very little sun spot activity will cause what’s called a Maunder minimum that caused a mini ice age a few centuries ago. I watched a presentation on C-SPAN about 15 years ago by the official cartographer of the United States. He was also an “expert” on climate change. He said he feared that global warming would precipitate return from what has been a local warming period in a 26 million year old Pleistocene ice age back to ice age conditions. The US Army predicted that in the unlikely event of the weakening of the gulf stream northern Europe would be plunged into an ice age. During an ice age there were glaciers as far south as New York City.

          Another theory I heard in 1970 long forgotten was that the hydroelectric dams built by American engineers for Stalin to the feeders of the Aral Sea would dry it up and that the evaporative cooling effect it has on air passing over it would be lost causing an increase in temperature in the Northern hemisphere. The Aral Sea was the fourth largest body of inland water in the world once. Now it’s bone dry and you can see fishing vessels in the sand next to piers that tower overhead where there was once a lot of water.

          There are a lot of other theories, observations, conclusions, predictions, but I am so baffled by all of them I don’t know who is right. One thing I do know is that with our current technology if we take steps to drastically reduce CO2 emissions quickly hundreds of millions of people will starve to death because agriculture produces a lot of CO2. It would have to be sharply curtailed. The UN and medical experts say we have to stop eating meat because animals bred for food create a lot of methane which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. BBC predicted that the thawing of the permafrost in Siberia would release a lot of methane trapped under it into the atmosphere.

          It hardly matters. Life on earth is already doomed due to the consequences of the accident at Fukushima. Less than ten years after it happened the entire Pacific Ocean, the largest body of water in the world is a dead zone. Fish and marine mammals with serious mutated deformities are washing up- all over the west coast of the western hemisphere. Birds are dying off and washing up on shore too because there are no fish left for them to feed on. Eventually the radiation will be in everything, rain, drinking water the air you breathe, the food you eat. But not to worry, science has found an even faster way to kill off life on earth, 5G technology. It’s deadly to all living organisms including insects and bacteria and it will be everywhere. 240 prominent scientists and medical experts have signed a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations asking that the UN ban 5G all over the world. 5G operating at 24 Ghz will nullify 70% of data from weather satellites that measure atmospheric moisture setting weather forecasting back 40 years reducing the alert time for predicting the landfall of hurricanes. NOAA and NASA are going to engage the FCC and the telecom industry in a battle over banning 5G.

        2. Focusing on the minutiae of terminology is missing the point. No, of course C02 is not a pollutant unless it is in excess. Try going into a room full of people and have the C02 levels get too high and you’ll all pass out.

          The Earth depends on C02 as a warming blanket. But there’s a balance and there’s no question we have exceeded that balance. And there is no question man is the culprit. How this gets swept under the table is beyond me. That not all scientists agree chooses to focus on the minutiae again. The overwhelming number of scientists agree and the evidence is presented in plain sight.

          50% of the species on Earth have vanished in the last decades and more are going extinct daily. Not since the Great Dying have we seen this level of extinction. You can track the extinction along with the rise in industrial pollutants (as expressed as too much of any number of excesses).

          This is not a political issue.

          The extinctions are the canary in the coal mine.

          Let us not take sides other than that of the planet. If you choose to believe man’s not responsible then at least recognize the severity of the situation and be open to man trying to change it.

            1. This is true. Plants eat it and in return give us oxygen. I heard a claim that a million years ago there was more CO2 in the atmosphere then there is today. Probably due to more volcanic activity then we have today.

        3. I think we all agree that industrial pollutants are bad and we should support all efforts to reduce them, whether or not they contribute significantly to global warming. Industrial pollutants are poison and have been shown to kill life. I live in L.A. where reduction of pollution is vital, yet they still allow gasoline mowers, blowers, motorcycles and wood-burning fireplaces to spew pollution into the air without any filtering. Also, old cars on the road pollute more than all the newer cars put together. So much work still to be done.

        4. Subsequent to the comments offered by Paul and others, it prompted me to do more research. In my original comment above I said man’s contribution of CO2 is “miniscule” compared to natural CO2 contributors. I was wrong in using that term. According to articles I have read, human activity contributes about 8% of the total CO2 released into the atmosphere each year. 8% is not miniscule. Most of the natural CO2 comes from the ocean (40%), plant and animal respiration (26%), soil respiration and decomposition (26%), and (almost insignificant) volcanic eruptions. The 8% from man is certainly enough to affect temperature IF temperature rise is due to the rise in CO2 (and not the other way around) and IF the contribution from natural sources remains constant and the earth does not have a natural mechanism to moderate or limit the increase. 87% of the 8% contributed by humans is from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) for electricity generation and heating, transportation, industrial, and other uses). If this is true, then the obvious solution is to drastically cut the use of fossil fuels by going “all-electric” and moving toward nuclear power generation (preferably fusion rather than fission), solar and wind power generation, and hydroelectric power wherever that still makes ecological sense. Until we can wean ourselves of fossil fuels, we also have to cut back on discretionary travel, energy-hog appliances and audio amplifiers(!), purchases requiring long-distance shipments, air-conditioning, foods flown or trucked in from other regions–in other words, PAINFUL sacrifices and rationing for the sake of the environment. The economy will not like this. Also, going “all-electric” won’t work until the zero-carbon emission electrical power generation facilities can be engineered, funded and built with low-carbon emission equipment and material sourcing. It’s much easier to study and theorize about global warming than to do what it takes to stop it. It would be nice to have a national D.O.E. that can provide attention to these issues, wouldn’t it?

      4. I’m not denying that man is causing climate change and specie extinctions, a lot of it by hunting, but there has also been at least 6 mass extinctions on earth caused by good old mother nature from asteroid or comet strikes, to Super volcanic eruptions, to ice ages, to Sun activity, to the poles reversing. The earth always recovers and whatever we are doing the earth will swat it away and recover once again. We may not recover but the earth will.

        The Sun won’t die for 5 billion years but in 1 billion years it will have grown larger and hot enough to boil away all of our oceans. Yellowstone is long overdue to blow. So we do have to have a plan B for Mother nature as well as ourselves. Those who do survive a massive nature strike are most likely those people in tribes who have always lived off the grid separate from the modern world. The Amish people as well are well suited to survive all but the most extreme catastrophes like a 200 mile sized asteroid strike for example that would kill everything on earth including bacteria.

        The question is how fast are we destroying the Earths species? How much of it is us or nature? So many conspiracy theories as to why some say it’s happening fast by man. One conspiracy is it’s political by those seeking the new world order one world government and it’s one way the globalists can take control of the world if all countries have to sign onto it. The more global regulations signed on by countries the less nation sovereignty you have and more power goes to the UN that has been taken over by the globalists who want to rule the world and depopulate down to 500 million people where they can easily control everyone.

        Here’s a video where the founder of the weather channel argues that he’s not a denier but rather a skeptic and gives his reasons for it. He says he has 33 thousand scientists on his side. One is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. He claims the facts are bought and paid for by political groups with an agenda to destroy nation sovereignty for the NWO. It’s a short direct to the point video and does have me wondering.

        1. Also it seems the powers to be only want greenhouse regulations enforced on the USA which forces businesses to relocate to China for example. Nobody pressures China because profits off cheap labor soars for Wall Street. So basically we moved the greenhouse gas from the USA to China that has little regulations on industry but that’s OK because they work cheap there. It’s all about politics. Greenhouse gases are fine as long as the profits are good. We do need fair trade to go along with free trade this way our workforce can compete with other countries around the world.

  5. IMO, you have to go hear gear at a show, friends house, or a dealer 1st to get a reference of what you like and dislike. Then you can start looking at reviews (watch out here because every review in a trade mag is rated high) and YouTube videos to associate yourself with people that have the same views/liked as yours. There are so many different pieces of gear out there you have to physically go see and hear it 1st to start your process of deciding which piece to get.

  6. I guess this goes back to our roots living in tribal societies where outsiders presented real dangers. The problem today I suppose is that we create an echo chamber of our own prejudices. Marketers count on this phenomenon, as do politicians and those who exploit social media groups. Every once in a while a true genius comes along who is not constricted by the assumption of predetermined outcomes.

  7. A man Paul respected named Harry Pearson said trust your ears. Sounds like good advice to me. But first you have to train them how to listen. It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes many years and some guidance which I’ll explain later.

    The first thing you have to do is decide what your goal is. Pearson’s goal was “the absolute sound” by which he meant he wanted to duplicate the sound of live musical performances. Why is this a worthy goal? Because music can be a life enriching experience and so a good facsimile of music which I define as a direct communication from one person to another through sounds can impart some of that enrichment. But it can be a technically difficult task and sometimes a time consuming and expensive one to create the technology. However, music sometimes rises to the level of a fine art and within it at that level is the justification.

    If you want to duplicate something you must first study what you want to duplicate so that you understand it and remember it in all of its details. A poor facsimile may be better than nothing but it is hardly worth as much money, time, and effort as it can often cost. When the technology becomes and end in itself and not the means to and end it serves an entirely different purpose. And when it is a means to an end that is an ill defined end or an end of lesser value then it is difficult to say what is good or bad, right or wrong because there either is no real goal or not a worthy one.

    The guidance I referred to is learning to understand music. This has to mean hearing live unamplified music, the best the world has to offer, hearing it frequently over a long period of time, studying music, learning to play one or more musical instruments, and developing an understanding of what fine art in music is and isn’t.

    The sound of music is the result of four factors all of them important. The first is the composition, the point of creation. This is where most music breaks down terribly. Most music is not fine art because the composer who created it was not up to it. Some paintings hang in the worlds greatest museums. Most don’t because those who have the money and appreciation through their own training to buy it either for themselves or for a museum understand its intrinsic value as art, not because it is an investment they will later sell for more money. The second is the skill of the musician. A great musician devotes a lifetime to mastering his instrument and understanding the music he or she plays. Technique is necessary but not nearly sufficient. There is a big difference between a fine musician and a world class virtuoso. Fine musicians can play in great orchestras but only the greatest virtuoso performers are worth going out of your way and paying a lot of money listening to live where their talents are showcased either as soloists or as the principal artists who play solo parts with an ensemble. The third is the instruments they play on. The quality of sound they produce can vary from very irritating to extremely pleasing, a joy to hear. They also are capable of a wide range of expressiveness in the right hands. Creating the best of them is an great art in itself. For the human voice the singer is both the musician and the creator of the instrument. Poor Linda Rondstadt. She loved the opera La Boheme and wanted to sing the role of Mimi but her voice wasn’t nearly up to the task. The great operatic voice is the finest of all vocal instruments. And then strangely enough fourth is the place where the music is performed and what vantage point you hear it from. This has so much influence on what you hear it can greatly enhance or completely destroy all of the other factors no matter how good they are. So all of this is what you must learn and drum into your head before you are qualified to start forming opinions.

    The people who render opinions whether for free or for pay are mostly not qualified by this standard to make any judgments at all. But even among those who are they aren’t very good at it for the most part or they’d give the end results of the sounds they hear a scathing denunciation every time. But they don’t. There are two camps of thought among them. One camp has it that if they just can perfect what they’ve been doing they will achieve their goal. The other camp flat out says it can’t be done. I rejected the first camp out of hand. Their best efforts have always fallen far short of the goal. Among the people who create these systems, their efforts could best be described as groping in the dark, not scientific research and engineering or they’d know the route they are on is a dead end. I set out to see if the second group was also wrong and having acquired the requisite skills I learned to my own surprise that they were also wrong. So I have learned to trust no one’s opinion but my own. I’ve created a machine by myself for myself. It’s a one of a kind experiment and it lies on an entirely unique path others have not traveled.

    To justify such an effort which took a lot of time and and energy but surprisingly little money it was necessary to accumulate a large library of recordings of many if not most of the greatest musical art the market has to offer. There are a lot of lesser recordings in both that genre and other genres in that library too and they also benefit from this strange machine but the most enjoyment and satisfaction is in listening to the best examples of the best music that has been recorded. And that is my opinion.

    1. I am coming to this excellent summary late. You have told this story a hundred different ways, this is the best recount I can recall.

      I have been on a parallel course, but we are like the blind men and the elephant. You have been working on a model of sound in the back of a symphonic hall, and I have been working on a model of a front row seat in a chamber hall, more like conductor, soloist and concertmaster’s perspective; you have been working at home with existing recordings, I have been working on stage to make my own recordings.

      At least we agree that you have to go to concerts regularly to judge reproduction, and that only a small minority of recordings are worth reproducing.

      I have criteria of opinions that rules out most of them. I have found that a long-term shared auditory environment is essential for aligning opinions about sound, which verges on a tautology. Here is the problem: the more experience you have listening to audio, the less I trust your opinion unless it is accompanied by direct comparison to purely acoustic sound, or you listen to live acoustic sound more hours per week than you do to audio from childhood, and in a low noise acoustically flat environment.

      Designer and reviewer trust factor only increases if they listen to live acoustic music regularly (more than once a week) and use recordings made with a near coincident pair of microphones and zero processing – no mixing or mastering.

      There are rare exceptions. Just as there are particularly adept actors who can learn a foreign language well enough to speak it without detectable accent as adults, there are people who have the genius to learn to hear music starting after their cranium stops growing.

      There are a handful of engineers who can produce emotionally deep and moving sounds within the limits of audio like Kavi Alexander, Todd Garfinkle, Morton Lindberg, Leif Mases, Andrew Lipinsky, Pierre Sprey, the crew at Chesky and Manfred Eicher. These are not necessarily strict minimalists, but at least they know a good signal when they hear it.

  8. There is a fine philosophical tradition in the discussion of subjective versus objective reality, which in a general sense is relevant to today’s topic. I was tempted to delve into it. To my credit, I have resisted 🙂

    A single review of a system or component may not be a reliable guide to how you will react to it, but if you read a bunch of them then common factors can emerge. Even in individual articles the component can be compared to other components; if you are familiar with one or more of those others you have a known point for assessment. If you are an assiduous reader of reviews an individual reviewer will probably have assessed something you are familiar with, so you can judge how well his taste corresponds to yours; from your point of view not all reviews are equal. A review does not have to be in a magazine, you can get opinions from people you know, and whose taste you know.

    In the end you are stuck with reading reviews. In the absence of a personal audition of a system or component what else do you have? Pictures, and manufacturers data sheets?

  9. I only read PROFESSIONAL reviews to find a pattern of positive vibes towards a component, not for make or break advice. If the professional reviews are largely tipped to good or bad, I have found that generally agree with them. However, it’s just one input into a decision.

    I have a group of guys that I listen with on a regular basis. We all are pretty aligned on our sonic preference, but our speakers vary. The difference in speakers create a different need upstream to create the same desired sound. My Magnepans are light years different that the Fried speakers one of the guys has.

  10. I disagree, Paul. A little. I think it’s pretty easy to figure out whether a YouTube review is useful or useless. There are a few things to look for. The reviewer must: provide good reasons for his or her opinion; talk specifically about performance areas that I care about; if possible, name the source material used for the review; have a fair amount of agreement from other commenters.

    That probably eliminates 90% of YouTube reviews. 😉

  11. “A man Paul respected named Harry Pearson said trust your ears.”

    This would be sound advice, if, conditions were a constant. Some days–maybe due to barometric pressure, weather conditions, my mood, or factors beyond my control–my stereo sounds differently to me. It is never so bad that I prefer fingernails on a chalkboard, or worse, but it doesn’t sound quite “right”.

    I am fortunate to have a very simple workaround. Because I have a tube amplifier for my Headphones, which also serves as a tube buffer for the Sprout100, I bypass my Schiit stack of Wyrd, Modi MB, and Valhalla, and trust PS Audio to handle the DAC duties.

    If that “sounds better” then that’s how I roll.

    Or, I switch tubes in the buffer, which changes the sound. I am finding a sweetspot from within the gear I own. And somedays, my mood wants Jennifer Warnes, “Famous Blue Raincoat” over Alison Krauss and Union Station, “Paper Airplane”. Within the variables I can control, I soon find that which is pleasing to my ears.

    YouTube reviews are a starting point. Steve Guttenberg and I see things similarly–had it not been for his review of the Sprout100, I may never have heard Beck, “Morning Phase” and would have never listened for the “veil” (Which I think was Steve’s imagination) which I couldn’t hear…but what it did do was introduce me to the Sprout100. Another reviewer opened my eyes to the Audio-gd line of NOS ladder DACs.

    So Harry Pearson was right, to trust what I can hear, and he was also right about the Advent Large Loudspeakers.

    1. I like Steve Guttenberg’s reviews. I don’t trust him anymore than I trust anyone else but I like his videos. Maybe I’ll subscribe. Here’s his experience with reviews. It’s quite instructive and should give you caution about believing anything you read no matter who wrote it except when I wrote it. That’s a different matter altogether. Trust me 🙂

      1. I initially did too, but isn’t one of those that discounts the differences in sound between cables, or at least some types on theoretical grounds ?

        1. You might have to restart these from the beginning.

          I’ve made my opinion known about cables many times. In brief as an electrical engineer of many years of experience I can tell you confidently that cables are an LCR filter network. How they perform in a sound system depends not only on the cables themselves but on what they are connected to. IMO the same results for any of them can be exactly duplicated with a graphic equalizer. As for power cables they should be heavy enough gage to carry as much current as the load demands without any significant voltage drop. To each his own. It’s not my money so whatever others do with theirs is of no concern to me. And that’s my opinion.

          1. I don’t switch cables for effect. Having reviewed very High-End cables, I found that a properly terminated, and well-shielded run of Belken sounded just as good on the speakers. I like the looks of Anticables ICs, for $50 I bought the look, rather than thinking that they ‘should’ sound better than a run of Monoprice RCA cables. I use a Pangea AC-14 power cable, again because I read about them in Audio Advisor and it sounded like they should be better than stock. A stereo system is a collection of components, each either adding to your listening pleasure or adding noise to the signal. My ears tell me if one of my speakers has one tip-toe turned on its side before my eyes see the tilt.

          2. Absolutely not true! Anybody with experience in high precision instrumentation knows that all dielectrics exhibit non-linear dissipation factor and dielectric absorbtion that can’t be nulled on a bridge by any combination of resistance and reactance. Using a Navy surplus GenRad 1650 I was able to correlate the adverse sound of cables and cheap capacitors (AE, Ceramic, PE, PC) with non-linear DA. Cables typically have PVC insulation and jacketing, and PCBs have polyester resins that have measurable non-linear DA.

            The most extreme case was a custom tube amp with a topology that only used one coupling capacitor. A panel of experienced listeners was able to agree on the difference between “Audiophile” cast film Teflon capacitors and Mil Spec oil-filled skived Teflon film capacitors. This was using audiophile recordings, a tapped transformer volume control and Quad electrostats.

            Note that the Mil Spec caps were developed to objective criteria of maximum precision in measurement circuits, and the other measurable parameters (ESR, ESL) were more or less identical. The audio performance was a side effect.

            A lot of this controversy is over how small a difference is audible. In my experience and my world, what humans can hear and what the textbooks claim are the limits of human hearing are orders of magnitude apart. There are some peer reviewed papers to support my views, but I believe the use of speaker listeners from noise polluted environments is the biggest selection bias in the history of science.

            Hearing develops according to the daily sounds of childhood, and if you don’t listen to Natural sounds unmasked by the sounds of motors and metals, you simply do not grow the brain cells to decode the kinds of differences I am talking about. Therefore I do not buy any arguments about thresholds of distortion based on audiological research after 1932, which is tainted by radio, electronic phonograph and industrial development.

          3. An LCR network has a characteristic time response that can’t be duplicated by a series of fixed frequency variable Q filters like a graphic equalizer. Dielectrics are not linear so most cables have responses that can’t be modeled by a linear circuit; and transmission lines have terminal reflections from characteristic impedance mis-match, which is not modeled by equalizer circuit delays.

            These are masked by your extensive phase shifts going through multi-stage high Q filters, artificial reverb such as electronic delays and multi-speaker splitting of the signal which I believe are all components of your proprietary reproduction systems.

            I don’t doubt that you can’t hear significant cable differences under these conditions – but I am also certain that I can hear cable differences in my system.

            You may be satisfied to learn that I use contractor grade fine stranded OFC Copper with low dielectric absorbtion insulation, pay under 50 cents a foot for 14AWG, four conductor cable spools and use $3-$5 Neutrik Speak-On connectors (12AWG for long runs).

            Although I CAN hear differences in higher priced cables, I am not sure which is better! The flaws in recordings, speakers and rooms dwarf cable problems past a point, and most cable advocates listen to recordings that drive me from the room. I don’t even like Reference Recordings and Telarc.

    2. Pearson was also right about the Sound Dynamics Ti-300s, which I bought sight unseen and enjoyed for years. The thing is that it was possible to compare what I like against what he did, per his reviews, and make some decent estimations, contrary to today’s blog entry.

  12. George Orwell wrote; ‘All animals (‘experts’) are equal, but some animals (‘experts’) are more equal than others.’ Animal Farm

    Pulling from a prior post: Is it live or is it Memorex? Don’t let the pseudo-experts be your influencers, no matter how entertaining (i.e. Bill Nye the ‘science guy’)…

  13. Users have a real problem being able to audition equipment in many cases and I don’t see where today’s blog helps. In fact, the careful reader and listener can learn the tendencies of reviewers, use their reactions to equipment you are familiar with, and learn the language people (users) employ to describe sound to narrow the field, if not make reasonably good judgments. For instance, I head the other direction when people talk about neutral as opposed to warm, or give reviews that rave about all kinds of sonic attributes but don’t discuss tonality (those raving about the latest DS firmware fall into that category). In the opposite direction, my choice of ATC active home speakers, ordering from abroad, was in good part based on a review whose point of listening tastes seemed to correspond with mine. And that’s turned out very well (and even better after auditioning power fuses).

    The irony here is that after trying numerous power cords and being dissatisfied, I would not have even tried PS Audio’s AC-12 power cords were it not for a review I read somewhere that seemed to jibe with my tastes. And then having liked those and what the P5, then P10 did for my system, I trusted Paul’s thoughts about the MG Audio Design interconnects and was rewarded. OTOH, I along with some others who focus on tonality first have found the latest DS dac firmware update to not only be unlistenable, but also tonally the opposite of what PS Audio has long seemed to aim for, including in previous versions of the same firmware. Which has raised a question in my mind as to what’s going on in the PS Audio listening room. Is it the new room or is what’s going on being masked by not sufficiently isolating the dac’s effect, or is there something causing random effects, as Ted Smith has suggested, or…?

  14. I agree with Paul’s premise, but not the application. When I last shopped for new speakers, in 2009, I decided to narrow down my audition list (not eliminate it), by carefully following threads on speakers and brands that held some interest for me that I could afford on a modest budget. I didn’t get too far before I came upon a thread on a an audio forum that was quite long, and included numerous owner reviews of a direct seller’s brand of speakers that were in my price range. Although I had heard some of this manufacturer’s speakers years before, all I recall was that I liked the sound. But as I read through hundreds and hundreds of posts, complete with musical examples, I started to think that my search might just end with this brand. Although Paul is correct, in that everyone has their own preferences, many of the posts went into detail about the owners’ preferences. Just like Paul says he “love[s] rich, detailed, full-bodied stereo systems…”, I began to notice a common theme from among the posts of owners of these speakers. They all liked what I like, or at least claimed to. Just as Paul’s preferences for “rich, detailed, full-bodied” sound jibes with my own taste, so, too, did the preferences of the owners of this speaker brand jibe with my own priorities for what makes a speaker appealing. Since the speakers were available with a generous in-home trial period, and I would only lose out on shipping if they weren’t what I thought they would be, I took a chance, without auditioning a bunch of speakers at dealer showrooms. Long story short, I still have these speakers today, and, frankly, think they may be my last pair. I have made many upgrades to electronics, but the speakers stay, and get better with every improvement in gear I make. So, at least in my case, learning from other users’ experiences proved incredibly valuable.

  15. Paul,
    Sorry, but you contradict yourself. Climate change is real, and facts are facts. But climate change was much more dramatic before the emergence of our species, and there is scant evidence that humans have any meaningful impact on the earth’s climate. We like to believe we have a lot more influence than we do, but facts show otherwise.

    Flying off in private jets to remote places for meetings on climate change where the participants dine on imported lobsters and drink champagne to congratulate themselves on all the fine work they do to save the planet does not persuade me of an impending problem. Nor am I impressed by the endless studies done at taxpayer expense at major universities on a subject where a consensus has supposedly already been reached. And I say this as a person who does care deeply about our environment and the legacy we leave behind.

    What does astound me are the hucksters who profit from promulgating fear and the lengths they go to to protect their franchises.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more. The whole climate change thing has gotten fat cats fatter, divided people, and we watch has some profit on lobsters and islands.

      But, let us not let the way we humans take advantage of bad situations cloud our judgment. There is an atmospheric cancer that is gobbling us up and it is we that are responsible. Not specifically you or me, but we as an industrial society.

      The Earth has gone through very radical climate change in the past. That’s for sure. You’re absolutely correct. And what’s good about that is it gives us a history we can measure and figure out what’s going to happen in our future. The problem is the rate of extinction. Our ecosystem is crumbling as species are dying. It’s not just the C02 or the methane, or the pesticides.

      The Great Barrier reef, the largest living organism on the planet is near collapse. Nearly 50% of all species on Earth have gone extinct in a remarkably short period of time and more go daily.

      This is not a political issue.

      1. You are, of course, absolutely correct, and it is a subject close to my heart. The issue I suppose is what to do about it. We can take the Darwinian approach and say that certain coral species will adapt to warmer, more acidic ocean waters while others disappear. We can go to the other extreme of overt government intervention which invariably carries unforeseen consequences and winds up doing harm in other ways, as with the history of poor management of our national parks.

        We can take personal steps to reduce our own negative impact. But, invariably, there will be large numbers of people who are migrating up the development ladder and experiencing the benefits of electricity, clean water, decent food for the first time. When I hear that upwards of 19,000 children die every day from preventable causes (mostly due to lack of clean water and medications), would I stop developmental processes from benefiting them if I had the power, even though that process of industrialization carries negative consequences for the environment and other species?

        I give you the power–what would you do?

  16. Since one has to live with the sound of one’s stereo system it’s only logical that it sound good to that person. That is why many reviewers recommend listening to a piece of equipment before buying it. Other’s opinion should be considered but the final decision should be the buyer’s that is if one is discriminating about one’s preferences. Otherwise one system is as good as another. Regards.

  17. Fascinating topic. My 2 cents… IMHO, we’re all a little bit different and have different backgrounds and tastes. One of my favourite lines is “You see, people aren’t interested in your opinion, they’re interested in their opinion coming out of your mouth”. I was pondering the very point Paul M mentions in this post the other day. For me here’s some of the missing information in reviews.

    1. Size of room (resonance frequencies – room modes)
    2. Location / size of openings / doors etc.
    3. Exact speaker placement in the room including height. Are they on stands?
    4. Location of listener in the room and if moving around significantly changes the sound.
    5. Type of walls (brick / drywall etc)
    6. Room treatment to remove reflections
    7. Type of floor E.g. Hardwood / carpet etc.
    8. Type of furniture / morphology in the room.
    9. Average preferred listening level in DB by the reviewer.
    10. DC / AC impedance and length of speaker cable.
    11. AC power source and it’s cleanliness which can affect noise floor.

    Without these and many more details it’s really hard to know what a system will sound like in your listening room. I generally see a list of gear when reading reviews but rarely are there details about the exact environment / listening levels. Add in that that pairing gear does matter and it seems like it’s the wild wild west out there. Closer to home I’ve had multiple experiences of a system sounding amazing in one environment at a specific listening level and not so good in another environment at a different listening level. Details do matter.

  18. Wow… This seems like the perverbial tip of the iceberg. Many years ago, in normally concentrated areas, anybody who wanted to go to dozens or more dealers that carried different speakers, or any thing else you wanted to audition could be done. In todays world I think we have Apple, Amazon, and Google creating Bluetooth devices for the masses that says this is good enough. In today’s world, if we are buying NEW high end devices, I somehow think that gives us 5% or less of possible buyers, and maybe a few local stores. Even if we audition, we know that the store’s audio room won’t be the same as our audio room and gives us only 4 or 5 speaker lines to choose from as most will carry just 1 speaker line. But isn’t it worse than that? Our common local hifi chain store doesn’t even carry the best speaker in the line, so we can’t even listen for what has been sacrificed by the lower cost speaker. What happens is our few choices are designed by someone that feels that they know better than myself. Hopefully they do. If I am looking for a center channel speaker, and I prefer a midrange / tweeter / midrange configuration, I may have only 1 choice. Do I settle for the 1 design that fits most closely with what I think I want and can afford? In today’s world most of us live with compromises and financial constraints. Do we allocate funds for a high end stereo in a rental apartment or we buy 70%, 80%, or hopefully better of what we want audio quality, and accept a limited footprint size? So, don’t we need to build trust somewhere in the purchase process? At least trust in the electronic component manufacturer / designer? Do we build trust in someone who listens to a $250k amp, writes about it, but can’t afford it? As a techie , I might marvel at its construction, but I will never be able to justify its cost. If it generates excess electricity , it still could never pay for itself. And if that other $5.5k amp sounds 99.6% as good, then is the diminishing returns on the excess dollars worth it? I have a overkill dedicated audio/video room, but it is open on one side and that side is the kitchen. Do I go and contact my Subzero fridge manufacturer and ask them is their a way to make it quieter when it does this or that? No, its normal life. Or I am near SFO airport and sometimes get noise from that. Maybe we can learn little bits of information from others? Like with speakers, if you have a massive audio room, will the smallest sats play the Telarc 1812 or the Reference Recording Jim Brock’s Tropic Affair drums at an acceptable volume without self destruction and massive distortion? Me, I love the idea of having PS Audio having a audio room and maybe someday I will visit and buy another audio device that questions my sanity. Why would a $100+ audiophile power cable make a audible positive difference than the best power cable that I could buy from “Home Depot”? Maybe PS Audio’s DAC, or amp or… Minimally, listening and reading about the subject at hand teaches us something and hopefully opens another new avenue to find major improvements where I / we thought we had minimal chance of improvements.

  19. Various decades ago, Consumer Reports reported on orange juice brands. I happened to prefer Florida’s Natural, but they downgraded it because it had a stronger taste of orange oil than Tropicana and others. That’s one reason that I (still) prefer Florida’s Natural. CR’s description was accurate but their tasters’ opinions differed from mine and had no effect whatever on my personal preference.

  20. Our great huge oceans are the air filters of the world. Sure, industry does produce pollution. But, when its bad, its effects are regional and localized. The earth’s atmosphere is huge. Industry’s contribution is a pinhole in size in comparison. Like I said, the effects are localized. What industry is producing is the equivalent of someone farting in the Colorado Rockies Stadium. Its potential to disturb will effect only the immediate vicinity. If anything, the lawless Chinese are killing their own. The global warming invention is a one world organization attempt to demand control over sovereign nations. Its sinister. Heard reports coming from MIT students during one hyped scare saying the weather scare is a farce. We simply believe what we want. Whatever fits our world view agenda…. There will be a great world wide weather fiasco in the future. But, it will not be caused by industry as we now know it.

    1. Gosh, if only this were true. (well, you’re certainly correct that the oceans are our filters and as they filter the C02 they are being acidic to the point of toxic).

      How do you explain the continued rise in C02 levels, the highest they have been in 100,000 years and the fact they’ve shot up in the identical period of what we now call the Anthropocene (beginning in about 1950)? The glaciers melting? Do you believe that data, pictures, etc. are fake?

      Let’s imagine for one moment they are real. Then the only counter-argument could be they are not manmade. Can we please agree that regardless of how they are made continuing in the direction we are heading we’ll not be here to care? That over 50% of Earth’s species have vanished and more each day.

      I understand it’s tempting to buy into the prolific rhetoric that all this is not our doing or it’s the doing of other “lawless” people. Whatever. Are you satisfied to do nothing and let it happen, whatever the cause?

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