We love to judge

October 28, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

One of the readers of this daily post, Bernard, suggested I remind us of some famous words from Linn founder, Ivor Tiefenbrunn.

“If you haven’t heard it, you don’t have an opinion.”

Now that’s fairly direct and to the point. I don’t personally know Ivor but from what I gather he was always that way.

It’s often tempting to pass judgement on something we’ve not personally experienced, which makes sense when we’re discussing extreme activities like parachute jumping, rock climbing, or daredevil stunt flying.

When it comes to offering an opinion on something closer to home like the differences a fuse or a cable makes, I am guessing the vast majority of naysayers have never actually taken the time to do the work of listening.

Where I will argue with Ivor’s statement is easy: everyone’s got an opinion.

And we read about those opinions as if they were facts. Valid or not.

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47 comments on “We love to judge”

  1. ‘Here come da judge, here come da judge…’

    Reading through today’s ‘Paul’s Posts’ I immediately realised
    that Ivor had left out a key word from his mantra.
    It wasn’t until I got to the 3rd last word of Paul’s musings…there it is…”Valid” 🙂
    You can have an opinion, but it ain’t worth a pinch of sh*t
    if you don’t have the personal experience to back it up.

    Lastly, I am despondent to find out that audiophilia is not an extreme activity.
    I must sit down immediately & spin half a dozen CDs at 96dBs.


  2. I think what Tiefenbrunn meant is „If you haven’t heard it, your opinion is meaningless“. And that fits to what we hear as well as to what we read. But certainly, everyone’s free to point out meaningless opinions 😉

  3. I hope anyone who works in any field involving objective evaluation, whether medicine, engineering, the law or anything else, can tell the difference between fact and opinion. In the law, for example, fact is what actually happened, as reported by witnesses of fact, the only issue is the accuracy of their recollection. An opinion is a personal view based on assessment of a set of facts, as to what happened in the past or what may happen in the future. So a bunch of people waving flags is just that, whether they are tourists or insurrectionists cannot be established without further facts.

    That a stereo system plays music may be an accepted fact. Certain performance characteristics, such as power output, speaker sensitivity can be measured and accepted as fact. How good anything sounds is always a matter of opinion, often a matter of taste. The job of reviewers is to present the facts – what something does, how it measures, what it costs. Everything else is opinion, which I usually ignore. I’ve never bought anything on anyone else’s opinion, only on listening (my opinion) or specification (facts). If a reviewer doesn’t even present the facts, they’re not doing their job.

    Where opinions matter, such as in medical matters, there are regulators to ensure sufficient expertise is applied because lives depend on it. I suspect the less the amount of regulation, the less the opinion matters. Given many audio reviewers and armchair critics have no relevant training or engineering experience, I wonder why anyone pays much attention to them.

      1. Why now? Because of disinformation spewed out by vested interests on the internet?

        The whole point about regulation is that there is accountability. With no accountability, people can say anything, even if other people may die because of it.

        There is almost no accountability in audio other than with electrical standards, and a while back there were some IEC mains connectors made by Furutech or someone expensive that cost 100 times the connectors I use and they didn’t even comply with British Standard BS7671 for UK mains circuits.

    1. I’m once more on the opposite path 😉

      I’m bored by reviews which mainly describe the facts I can read out of the manufacturers brochure myself. Yes, opinions are subjective, but the opinion of a reviewer whose procedure and results I can estimate from past experience and who includes comparative elements, is the only meaningful point of a review for me. Fremer is by far the best for me in this regard for any equipment type. Most other reviews are completely meaningless for me, as they usually mainly describe technical data, construction and marketing information, followed by a positive but isolated sound quality description without any comparative element to enable a cross check with competitors’ offers the reviewer also experienced.

      1. Hi jazznut,
        There are at least 3 current & very good home audio reviewers who specifically stay away from mentioning objective & manufacturers data because they know that the readers can find that information elsewhere.
        These three are primarily concerned with what they hear.
        Choose your reviewers well 😉

        1. Yes, I’m sure.

          But you rarely find some who also tell when something’s less good and who are not shy to mention meaningful cross comparisons. That’s more or less non existing except for Fremer.

          1. The same three that I mentioned will only do ‘meaningful’ comparisons with audio gear that they still have on the premises, ie. they wont even do comparisons from memory with gear that they previously listened to & have since sent back.

  4. As an alternative take, I am happy to express a view on anything as opposed to an opinion, which implies a judgement. And judgements can only be made on the basis of evidence.

  5. I love an opinion, they’re fascinating. They may not stand up in a court of law but I find they can be very useful in everyday life. We all gather information in many different ways and an opinion is just another source of information. If it’s a valid opinion borne of experience then even better. 😉 As previously noted, everyone has an opinion, so that is a huge resource. Opinions may converge and a consensus is formed. Is the consensus of the masses always correct? Possibly not, but is to be ignored at your peril. For me, the best part of another’s opinion is that they might have a point of detail, method of operation or some other considerations that I have completely missed. That could be extremely useful in preventing poor decisions and saving unnecessary expense. Once all the sources are assimilated, informed decisions can be made.

    1. Good point, RT. If reviewers, show-go-ers, and people on forums all love Brand X, whether their opinions are valid and based on experience or not, it probably bodes well for the re-sale value of the brand, which can be useful information, indeed. Of course, you can check the brand’s history on Audiogon, too.

  6. Once again we are discussing a very multi faceted topic that has very different implications and consequences depending on how and where you apply it.

    If you take Ivor’s statement literately it is false, since as stated earlier several times, everyone has an opinion about almost everything. If you apply it only to consumer audio then what it says to me is that the only opinion that matters when it comes to consumer audio gear is the opinion of people who have heard it. But even this very limited interpretaation brings up all kinds of problems. I take it as fact ( you may not ) that no two people hear exactly the same thing when they listen to sound. So why does anyone’s opinion of how it sounds matter? What kind of opinion matters: do you like it or not, do you think it is good, very good or excellent, will you buy it or not? We have discussed many times here how difficult it is to always be able to audition audio gear in today’s eCommerce world. This opens the discussion to reviews and reviewers, facts, experience, technical and non technical understanding. etc.

    Finally there are always opinions that impact other opinions. I personally believe based on my experience that choice of phono cartridge ( MM versus MC ) impacts the sound of music on vinyl more than the choice of turntable type ( sprung verses not sprung ).

    As always, YMMV.

    1. The turntable one is interesting to separate fact from opinion. An MC cartridge is often better because having the coils on the cantilever rather than the magnets, the suspension is lighter and more sensitive, in particular to higher frequencies. The downside is that you have far fewer coils than in a MM where the coils are in the body of the cartridge and you can fit many more. Hence less induction and a much lower output from MC than MM. The lower output puts greater emphasis on amplification and, given 10 or 20 times more gain may be needed, to do it well can be difficult and expensive. This is just physics/engineering that most people using vinyl should know. It’s also why I chose a SoundSmith MI medium output cartridge, it has a very light cantilever and outputs about 2mV. Best of both worlds. It was a purchasing decision based purely on the engineering, not on anyone’s opinion.

      The type of turntable you use requires context. I have an unsprung turntable. Mount it on a wall or on an isolating base and the problem is solved. Again, basic engineering and finances, as good suspended decks can be very expensive.

      For me a good review is one that explains the facts and engineering, including interviewing the designer to explain the design objectives. With my turntable (Claro Dual), I’d seen it at a show and met the designer and I read a review by Jimmy Hughes in HiFi Choice, a known turntable expert. Jimmy had used the unit for 3 months. His review is an object lesson in factual presentation and objective assessment, and he only mentions one recording in the process. I then met up with Jimmy to discuss it, bought it, and I’ve never looked back.

  7. Dear TonyPlachy,

    Thank you for illuminating the nuances of the topic which most people lack the interest, the introspection, the intellectual honesty or the intellectual capacity to appreciate.

  8. Richtea and Fat Rat, you guys nailed it. We should not dismiss opinions simply because they may not be based on fact. Opinions give us valuable insights into what people think and why.

    They are important sources of information and reveal things that might otherwise be missed, which indeed can prevent poor decisions and unnecessary activity or spending.

    What someone says wrong is just as, if not sometimes more helpful, in crafting win-win solutions.

    Playing “Gotcha!” is not nearly as productive as thanking others for sharing what’s on their minds.

    1. If an opinion is not based on fact, what else can it be based upon? Faith? The weather?

      I learned this at age 13 when asked by a teacher what I thought about a picture by Henri Matisse. I said I hated it. He told me that was an unacceptable response, but it I could make a rational argument based on observations why I hated it, that was perfectly fine.

    1. I pretty sure that audiophile are less than 1% of the population so hopefully we all do know our ass from a hole in the ground or at least from a turntable. 😉

  9. I met Ivor, back in the 80’s. I’m pretty sure you and he would not have gotten on!…. Ivor had, and still has, a legion of admirers, and I am one of them. But he remains a poster boy for the aphorism “you should never meet your heroes”.

      1. When the discussion of some of these famous audio design icons comes into play I think about some of the great chess players who were absolutely out of their minds. I am wondering if any fish 57 broke out at an audio show.

    1. I’ve exchanged a couple of emails with Ivor in years gone by. Let’s just say he does not think fondly of people who tinker with his LP12 design. I’ve noted that in recent years Linn has devoted much more time to further development of the LP12, but at great cost to the consumer, given their high engineering standards and high overhead costs.

  10. Thanks to social media creating an echo chamber for individuals with common opinions to congregate and drink each other’s foul bath water, opinions based on validity of facts are being overwhelmed by opinions based on the number of vehement believers.

    Thankfully, at least on this social media site, there is very little risk of participants ever reaching a common opinion on any topic:-D

  11. Linn should market Ivor’s quote on T-shirts. I’ll bet it would be a big seller at audio shows. I might even be willing to spend the big bucks for a sweatshirt. 😎

  12. I love it…
    Sometimes I’m certain that the moment before Paul strikes the “Send Post” button, he envisions himself as the experimenting curator viciously rubbing his palms together about to drop a bag of raw meat labeled “The Sky Is Blue” into a shallow muddy pool filled with opinionated sharks, alligators, crocodiles and the odd dolphin muttering to himself:
    Tee-Hee – watch this! Look at ’em GO! .

    Dolphin: “Do you hear something?”
    Alligator #7:”Sounds like a CAN OPENER!”
    Shark #11: “Does anybody else smell worms?”
    Crocodile #1: “I don’t smell worms.
    Barracuda # 6: Doesn’t that mean you’re having a stroke?”
    Alligator #2: No, no, NOOO! That’s if your dorsal goes all tingly and you can’t raise your left fin!”
    Shark# 7: Ah, Tunash1t! I read on Snoutbook that strokes are caused by an enzyme released rove box jellyfish when they eat triggered plankton.”
    Stonefish # 3: “Technically the sky is NOT blue as it merely refracts the visible waves of ligh……
    Dolphin: “Good gawd, I’m surrounded by idiots…And THESE guys survived the ice age AND the K/T extinction??? Oy Vey! I’m going back to Amity Island…”

  13. The picture of Paul rubbing his hands in glee at the fact that he can throw a few sentences together each day and, however brilliant or inane, count on the responses of mostly the select same few, belongs in the Audiophile Hall of Fame.

    It reminds me of Psych 101, learning about Pavlov’s dog experiment, where he could get dogs to salivate by ringing a bell.

    I wonder what the many thousands who subscribe to the posting think about it all. They don’t participate so it’s hard to know. I wonder why more don’t contribute.

    Most of the time it’s good entertainment, if not good learning. And the wit among those who participate can be downright remarkable.

    1. So true, John, a good example and role modeling is the best way. It works most of the time. Unfortunately, not always. Nothing is absolute. Sometimes spelling out the fault is a needed precursor to successfully create.

  14. I don’t know why but this also reminds me of that old adage: “if you can’t measure the difference/improvement, you can’t be hearing it”. Um, surely we could just be measuring the wrong thing, or even not aware that the measurable “thing” even exists!

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