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  • Measurements Versus Hearing

    I'd like to start a new topic on the subject of measurements versus hearing. One of our members asked why some of us prefer analog over digital since he said analog masks the music. If I misunderstood this question or statement, I stand corrected. But assuming that is what was said, do measurements show that analog masks the signal and digital does not. And the other subject this begs is do measurements quantify all the human ear perceives? If I hear depth on my monitor system and even a fatness to an instrument (which is part of why I love analog tape) can that be measured. It is unlikely I'm imagining this depth and fatness as I have heard it for years and years on tape and not in digital (which I love also for other reasons). I'd love to hear views on this and learn something. This is not an analog versus digital argument but a discussion or measurement versus the human ear.
    JLH

  • #2
    the problem is we can measure things we can not hear and we can hear things we cannot measure.
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    • #3
      Hearing and measurement are two different things.

      Measurement objectively quantifies all aspects of a physical wave, electrical or acoustic.

      Hearing starts with the modification of acoustic wave by the acoustic properties of the chest, head, and pinna, followed by the conversion of the modified wave to neurological signals, which are then processed by the brain, with perception being the result of the complete hearing mechanism, experience, and expectation.

      Stimulus perception of all kinds is subjective, measurement is objective.

      The sonic qualities we describe, fatness, depth, height, dark, bright, brittle, etc., are mostly analogies to non-audible physical qualities. We have a very limited audio-specific vocabulary we can use to describe sound. All of the descriptive qualities are the result of perception, and most are the result of the perception of something other than audio. Perception is subjective, and includes individual hearing qualities, experience and expectation, with expectation being driven strongly by non-audio sensory input. It's one of the reasons we can achieve a sense of space, depth, height, more easily in a dark room. Our expectations no longer reinforced by the vision of a limited space.

      All sensory mechanisms are designed to work together with each other and with the brain. There are very few natural situations in life that are limited to sensory input to only one sense. Audio listening is one condition (not a natural one) where one type of sensory input is in strong disagreement with the others. As a result, perception is easily biased by non-audio input and expectation.

      We can measure everything about a stimulus wave, including the causes of the perceived audio qualities, but we cannot measure actual perception of that wave. That means measurements must be correlated with perception to be meaningful, but since perception is subjective, precise correlation is challenging. Some correlations are easy, like broad-spectrum frequency response or noise. Others are difficult, like harmonic distortion, phase response and time-domain response.

      We can measure things we cannot hear. We do not hear aspects of the stimulus wave that are not measurable, all aspects are measurable. We cannot measure perception because it is subjective and only exists within the brain. There will not be a soundstage meter, but we can measure the aspects of signal modification that alter the perception of soundstage. We cannot measure fatness (at least, of sound), but we can measure the aspects of signal modification that result in the perception of fatness.

      Since we can measure everything included in any kind of signal modifier, all aspects of a nonlinear system, like tape for example, can be characterized. The data collected with be contained in a sort of three-dimensional data array, which can then be applied to digital signal processing to replicate the sound of tape with complete accuracy. You can buy this now in the form of DAW plug-ins, even one that simulates classic vintage pro tape machines, right down to wow and flutter. But they are not replicating all of the stimulus that tape provides, only the audible portion. Therein lies the failure, and some of the basis for the belief that we can't measure everything we hear. We can measure the resulting stimulus wave quite accurately, but we routinely ignore the tactile and visual stimulus, and the expectation. If we were to remove the tactile and visual stimulus of tape, and remove expectation by placing a machine in another room, then present the tape vs digital simulation, differentiation would be on the order of random guessing. But that's not what we do when we play tape. Or vinyl. Or use tube gear. There are quantifiable "masks" to each of those, we can replicate them fully, but we don't present the image of the device on a holodeck, so the illusion is unsupported, and therefor fragile. If there is disbelief at work as an expectation bias, the audio-only simulation fails. It's not a failure in measurement, or a failure in replication of the nonlinear signal modifier, it's the lack of the complete set of stimulus and inability to control expectation that fails.

      Comment


      • #4
        Hearing you still have your hearing you must be one of the younger members of this form

        Comment


        • #5
          Measurements versus hearing... I look at it as "quantitative analysis" versus "qualitative experience". Or in another way "science" versus "art". Or yet another way "truth" versus "beauty".

          We had an interesting presentation at the local audio society once put on by a local expert on video technology. An interesting distinction between audio in general and video is that video has evolved with considerable quantitative parameters, standards and tools for advancing the art and improving the image/virtual reality. Whereas audio is much more subjective by comparison.

          In audio, take the listening environment for example, big differences in the experience due to room size and acoustics, and a total shift when listening over headphones... A lot can be measured and quantified, but the resulting sound can only be experienced and appreciated or enjoyed by the listener. Tastes vary considerably.

          Reproduction of music needs the science to advance but in the end it is an art form. And if the end product does not excite, stir your emotions or make life worth living, the science needs to continue to advance.

          I was at a customer/friends place yesterday and he was interested in me hearing his new DAC. He is purely a digital guy and very serious about the latest internet streaming such as Tidal and Qobuz services. Internet streaming can sound very good and is a viable sources for high quality music in my opinion. What was interesting was an exaggerated reduction in noise level caused by a new power cable he was using to power the power supply for a network switch. We swapped cables and the effect went away. Measure that.

          We could spend the rest of our lives debating truth versus beauty, but I prefer to just listen.

          Comment


          • jonathanhorwich
            jonathanhorwich commented
            Editing a comment
            Fascinating Joe. This isn't a debate so much as I'd like to learn something from it.

          • Joe Pittman
            Joe Pittman commented
            Editing a comment
            I was being glib about by debate reference, sorry. This is an enjoyable topic and something i spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing with other enthusiasts. I had no intention of distracting the subject away from the pursuit of knowledge. On the contrary, the more I think I know, the more I know I don't know.

          • jonathanhorwich
            jonathanhorwich commented
            Editing a comment
            Joe got it and agreed 100%.

        • #6
          "Measurements vs hearing"
          "quantitative analysis" vs "qualitative experience"
          "science" vs "art"
          "truth" vs "beauty"


          All of the above put two entirely different things in opposition to each other. In reality, none of them are opposites at all, they are just different things. Each can be used to augment the other, inspire the other, aid in achieving the goal. To place them in opposition is to place artificial walls where none are needed or desired. It would be just as ineffective to place in opposition things like "apples" vs "an old shoe" or "gasoline" vs "a kiss".

          Measurement and Hearing are completely different, as I've attempted to outline previously.

          Quantitative analysis is objective. Qualitative analysis is also objective with assigned goals, values or preferences. "Experience" is completely different, and includes all sensory input, experience and expectation, thus subjective and not directly measurable. That doesn't mean objective qualities are in opposition, rather they contribute.

          Science is not in opposition to art, in fact art would not exist without science. All art media is based on science, and the understanding of science to be able to use the creative tools. Science is applied in art and design, color principles, perspective, dimension, etc. Art, though, is expression, and cannot exist in isolation from science. Certainly not in opposition.

          Why anyone would pit "Truth" against "Beauty" is a real puzzle. Do we not find beauty within truth? Do we not find truth in beauty? Can you have a thing of beauty that is not a form of truth, truth in expression, truth in idea, truth in execution of the art? The two are not opposites, not contenders. The must work hand in hand. Otherwise we only have ugly truth and lying beauty. Neither is very satisfying.

          Noise is one of the easiest things to measure. A cable swap that changes perceived noise is either measurable or the result of bias. Noise is a stimulus, hearing responds to all stimulus, stimuli are measurable. However, hearing also results in perception. Perception is no simply response to stimulus, there is a lot more going on.

          I would welcome the opportunity to evaluate the true efficacy of a cable swap. In fact, already done it. Short story: you won't like my results.

          Comment


          • Bill Hart
            Bill Hart commented
            Editing a comment
            Agreed, shouldn't have to be a 'versus'---

          • Kingrex
            Kingrex commented
            Editing a comment
            I have heard big changes in cable swaps, but it is more an affect when the gauge is changed. I got in a big fight with a distributor when I said I could hardly hear a change from my $250 interconnect to his $2,500 interconnect. We don't do business anymore.

        • #7
          Thanks Tech 7738. One of the things I hope to learn from this is if science technology has discovered all forms of measurement in audio so it might correspond to all aspects we hear. Maybe impossible maybe not. I think you said all the measurements are there more or less. Surely the most important such as in tuning up a tape deck or building audio equipment. So if I'm hearing depth or fatness in analog is that measurable for sure. Or is that me imagining it. Which is fine from my view, don't mind if I am. But curious about the extent of existing measurement to explain what I or we think we hear. You've touched on it but would like a direct summation of it.
          JLH

          Comment


          • #8
            I eliminate the 'versus' and rely on both. Why fight when the goal is to make informed judgements? I suppose you could get into some interesting theoretical arguments, but....
            I'm simple minded. There's an art to taking the complex and making it understandable.
            There's also something to translating the technical into what you hear.
            The big variables are synergies among equipment, set up, room, and ears/preference.
            Once you 'spec and check' per whatever tools or measurements you use, you listen, no?
            I recall one brand (not going to mention) that is very accurate- has some very highly regarded engineers behind it-- almost 'too precise' sounding, for me. For others, maybe they want that analytic quality.
            Source material too- I don't buy records for sonics- it's nice if the sonics are good, though and I'll get spendy or search to find a copy with better sonics if it is something I like enough to bother with.

            Comment


            • jonathanhorwich
              jonathanhorwich commented
              Editing a comment
              Correct, there is no versus in this discussion. But this is also not about taste per se but what can measurements do or not do these days and do they correspond to what we hear or not and if not, why not. Hope this makes it clearer.

          • #9
            Originally posted by Tech7738 View Post
            Hearing and measurement are two different things.

            Measurement objectively quantifies all aspects of a physical wave, electrical or acoustic.

            Hearing starts with the modification of acoustic wave by the acoustic properties of the chest, head, and pinna, followed by the conversion of the modified wave to neurological signals, which are then processed by the brain, with perception being the result of the complete hearing mechanism, experience, and expectation.

            Stimulus perception of all kinds is subjective, measurement is objective.

            The sonic qualities we describe, fatness, depth, height, dark, bright, brittle, etc., are mostly analogies to non-audible physical qualities. We have a very limited audio-specific vocabulary we can use to describe sound. All of the descriptive qualities are the result of perception, and most are the result of the perception of something other than audio. Perception is subjective, and includes individual hearing qualities, experience and expectation, with expectation being driven strongly by non-audio sensory input. It's one of the reasons we can achieve a sense of space, depth, height, more easily in a dark room. Our expectations no longer reinforced by the vision of a limited space.

            All sensory mechanisms are designed to work together with each other and with the brain. There are very few natural situations in life that are limited to sensory input to only one sense. Audio listening is one condition (not a natural one) where one type of sensory input is in strong disagreement with the others. As a result, perception is easily biased by non-audio input and expectation.

            We can measure everything about a stimulus wave, including the causes of the perceived audio qualities, but we cannot measure actual perception of that wave. That means measurements must be correlated with perception to be meaningful, but since perception is subjective, precise correlation is challenging. Some correlations are easy, like broad-spectrum frequency response or noise. Others are difficult, like harmonic distortion, phase response and time-domain response.

            We can measure things we cannot hear. We do not hear aspects of the stimulus wave that are not measurable, all aspects are measurable. We cannot measure perception because it is subjective and only exists within the brain. There will not be a soundstage meter, but we can measure the aspects of signal modification that alter the perception of soundstage. We cannot measure fatness (at least, of sound), but we can measure the aspects of signal modification that result in the perception of fatness.

            Since we can measure everything included in any kind of signal modifier, all aspects of a nonlinear system, like tape for example, can be characterized. The data collected with be contained in a sort of three-dimensional data array, which can then be applied to digital signal processing to replicate the sound of tape with complete accuracy. You can buy this now in the form of DAW plug-ins, even one that simulates classic vintage pro tape machines, right down to wow and flutter. But they are not replicating all of the stimulus that tape provides, only the audible portion. Therein lies the failure, and some of the basis for the belief that we can't measure everything we hear. We can measure the resulting stimulus wave quite accurately, but we routinely ignore the tactile and visual stimulus, and the expectation. If we were to remove the tactile and visual stimulus of tape, and remove expectation by placing a machine in another room, then present the tape vs digital simulation, differentiation would be on the order of random guessing. But that's not what we do when we play tape. Or vinyl. Or use tube gear. There are quantifiable "masks" to each of those, we can replicate them fully, but we don't present the image of the device on a holodeck, so the illusion is unsupported, and therefor fragile. If there is disbelief at work as an expectation bias, the audio-only simulation fails. It's not a failure in measurement, or a failure in replication of the nonlinear signal modifier, it's the lack of the complete set of stimulus and inability to control expectation that fails.
            Ok let me ask you this.
            Can we measure bad timbre lol.
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            Comment


            • #10
              Originally posted by Alrainbow View Post

              Ok let me ask you this.
              Can we measure bad timbre lol.
              Yes we can.

              Comment


              • Tech7738
                Tech7738 commented
                Editing a comment
                Timbre can be characterized with impulse response. That encompasses frequency response and time-domain response, which then includes resonances that don't show up on time-blind response tests. Pink noise and an RTA won't do it (time-blind), you have to look at what happens over time.

                What is more interesting is the recent Harmon research that shows a general preference for smooth response with a gently falling high end. You can play with timbre within that, but smooth and damped seems a clear preference even by those who state a preference for something else, like "I'm a bass head!" or "I like an open airy high end". Turns out, not so much.

              • MylesBAstor
                MylesBAstor commented
                Editing a comment
                You know Harman isn’t the only company doing research? Nor do these people agree with Harman? And there are now lots of ways to predict performance and design speakers? One software package in particular that is used by four major companies. The major downside is its with all its modules up to $250k.

                But Harman is basically the one that uses their “research” for advertising? And if you look at the testing methodology it’s a joke. But it sounds great to non-scientists. Just don’t know anything about biology, memory or testing and you are home free.

              • Tech7738
                Tech7738 commented
                Editing a comment
                "You know Harman isn’t the only company doing research?"
                Yes, of course.

                "Nor do these people agree with Harman?"
                Not knowing who "these people" are, can't say if that's true or not.

                "And there are now lots of ways to predict performance and design speakers?"
                Of course. That's not what we're discussing, though.

                "One software package in particular that is used by four major companies. The major downside is its with all its modules up to $250k."
                Almost all scientific and application-specific software has expensive initial releases. There is cost to software development, you know. It can't all be free and good too.

                "But Harman is basically the one that uses their “research” for advertising?"
                Their research does have to be funded. It's unfortunate that manufacturers are some of the few involved. I have the exact complaint about MQA, only with about 40dB of gain.

                "And if you look at the testing methodology it’s a joke. But it sounds great to non-scientists. Just don’t know anything about biology, memory or testing and you are home free."
                Yeah, well, it didn't make me laugh. Perhaps share the joke? Research can never be completely all-inclusive. If we had to wait for that we'd never learn anything. I'm sorry, I don't see your point here.

            • #11
              Originally posted by jonathanhorwich View Post
              Thanks Tech 7738. One of the things I hope to learn from this is if science technology has discovered all forms of measurement in audio so it might correspond to all aspects we hear. Maybe impossible maybe not. I think you said all the measurements are there more or less. Surely the most important such as in tuning up a tape deck or building audio equipment. So if I'm hearing depth or fatness in analog is that measurable for sure. Or is that me imagining it. Which is fine from my view, don't mind if I am. But curious about the extent of existing measurement to explain what I or we think we hear. You've touched on it but would like a direct summation of it.
              Ah, well direct summation...kind of like the DIY book,”Brain Surgery for Dummies”. Probably not going to happen.

              Just take one one thing like the quality of “fatness” of analog tape. Tape adds:
              Even-order harmonic distortion
              Odd-order harmonic distortion
              Intermodation disotrtion
              Noise
              Modulation noise
              Time-base errors (wow/flutter)
              Crosstalk
              Intetchannel timing errors
              Non-flat frequency response

              Each of the above is signal dependent in some way, and differently for each. The composite result is perceived, and arbitrarily defined as “fatness”. The major players are IMD, THD (even and odd), and Frequency response. The others play minor roles. The ancillary sensory reinforcement is tactile- threading up the machine, visual- big rotating reels and bouncing meters, olfactory- tape has an odor. Add others as you recognize them. The expectation bias is working too, it’s analog, smooth, warm, vintage, etc., all can be positive reinforcers. None of these properties are responsible for the tape sound on its own, roll them together and you have it. If we flatten response and remove IMD and THD, then put the machine out of sight, we no longer experience analog tape.

              Comment


              • jonathanhorwich
                jonathanhorwich commented
                Editing a comment
                Okay got what you're saying now. I need to think that over. Thank you.

              • MylesBAstor
                MylesBAstor commented
                Editing a comment
                And we still haven’t learned anything since the ‘60s when we applied measurements related to tube electronics to solid-state electronics and pronounced ss gear with 0.0001% THD perfect.

                We’ve hardly figured measurements out either. People like KOJ have spent their whole lives doing this. It’s not one measurement in isolation-just like one blood test isn’t going to tell you about your heart health-that gives one the necessary information.

                Bottom line is everything has distortions since none of it sounds like real instruments. The best give us momentary glimpses into the live event; the rest is up to the brain to make up. For music is just another language like English, German or Japanese. You just need to learn to become fluent in it like musicians. While you may not speak German perfectly, a native born German can still understand what you are saying. Hopefully anyway.

              • Tech7738
                Tech7738 commented
                Editing a comment
                "And we still haven’t learned anything since the ‘60s when we applied measurements related to tube electronics to solid-state electronics and pronounced ss gear with 0.0001% THD perfect."
                Well, that's puzzling. The tools and methods of the 1960s were like doing surgery with an axe. A distortion analyzer was a manually-tuned distortion bridge that with careful adjustment you could null a fundamental and read as a ratio the remaining voltage. It was spectrally blind, and static. No dynamic measurements, and so cumbersome to null that distortion readings were only done a a handful of frequencies and at one level. Correlation to audibility was impossible because the data was so limited. So distortion figures were, in fact, pretty meaningless from both a scientific and audible standpoint. Even so, the conclusion that less distortion was better than more was not wrong, so at least a little correlation to audibility. But that was then.

                Today we have the ability to fully profile a nonlinear system at all levels and frequencies, with spectral content, and even over time. I think that's a tiny bit better, and frankly, I was never sad to give up tuning distortion analyzers. Audibility correlation is still the trick, but not so big a trick anymore. We know that distortion takes time to be perceived, and we know that distortion products can be masked by music content. We know that distortion products spectrally removed from fundamentals, and not harmonically related are more objectionable. We even have the means to reveal differences between systems that have been hidden before, for example with the use of multiple tone IMD that reveals spectral contamination.

                I don't remember any SS gear of the 60s being pronounced THD perfect, nor being able to measure to .0001% in the 1960s. We didn't even have oscillators that clean. And I recall quite a few, myself included, hating early SS gear because it sounded so much worse than our modest tube rigs.

                "We’ve hardly figured measurements out either. People like KOJ have spent their whole lives doing this. It’s not one measurement in isolation-just like one blood test isn’t going to tell you about your heart health-that gives one the necessary information. "

                Yes, you cannot isolate measurements and expect meaningful result. But that doesn't mean they haven't been figured out either.


                "Bottom line is everything has distortions since none of it sounds like real instruments."
                True, very little sounds like real instruments, but that's also a natural flaw of two-channel stereo, and our means of recording with microphones, reproducing with two speakers in a new acoustic space unrelated to the original, not things like amplifier or recording distortion. You've bundled many unrelated aspects into "distortion" coupled with perceived flaws in measurement. Right arrow, wrong target.

                "The best give us momentary glimpses into the live event; the rest is up to the brain to make up. For music is just another language like English, German or Japanese. You just need to learn to become fluent in it like musicians. While you may not speak German perfectly, a native born German can still understand what you are saying. Hopefully anyway."

                All true, but not relevant to a measurement discussion. Yes, we can improve our participation in listening. Yes, there are fatal flaws in the two-channel stereo method. The best we can ever do is suspend disbelief for a while. But none of that has to do with not being able to measure, or even the application of audibility thresholds to the resulting data. But it's an interesting talk-around.

            • #12
              Measurements versus hearing... Another thing that I find interesting is the subject of speaker technology and hearing. Speaker technology and resulting sound characteristics vary considerably. Take the various types for example like horns, cone drivers, electrostats, planar magnetic, ribbons, etc., they each have their own unique flavor. You can measure many aspects, but the measurements alone don't fully describe them. The speaker technologies are grouped using abstract terminology to describe them.

              Music exists only in time. This is profound. It's like we use a two dimensional language to describe a four dimensional problem.

              Comment


              • #13
                We can measure everything right up until it hits the eardrum. After that we can’t measure a thing, and I can tell you right now, my brain is one helluva distorted processor 🤪
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                • Tech7738
                  Tech7738 commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Funny! Yours and everyone else’s too.

              • #14
                Originally posted by Joe Pittman View Post
                Measurements versus hearing... Another thing that I find interesting is the subject of speaker technology and hearing. Speaker technology and resulting sound characteristics vary considerably. Take the various types for example like horns, cone drivers, electrostats, planar magnetic, ribbons, etc., they each have their own unique flavor. You can measure many aspects, but the measurements alone don't fully describe them. The speaker technologies are grouped using abstract terminology to describe them.
                Yes, abstracts are used to describe them. But we can measure speaker qualities quite well, and in great detail. The problem is it’s never just the speaker, it’s the entire acoustic system, room, LP, all of it. Measure a speaker in an anechoic space, you get the speaker alone, andit’s only of limited relevance. Measure the speaker in a real room at the primary LP (technically a cluster), and now you characterize the entire system. But what do you publish? Speakers all radiate a 3D sound field onto a 3D space. It’s a study in application. But measurement itself is not a problem.
                Originally posted by Joe Pittman View Post

                Music exists only in time. This is profound. It's like we use a two dimensional language to describe a four dimensional problem.
                We have had Time domain 3D measurement capability for quite some time. Measurements of 4d systems requires 4d measurement systems. That’s 3D plus time.
                Last edited by Tech7738; 05-18-2019, 07:54 PM.

                Comment


                • #15
                  Originally posted by Skylab View Post
                  We can measure everything right up until it hits the eardrum. After that we can’t measure a thing, and I can tell you right now, my brain is one helluva distorted processor 🤪
                  Because our hearing-another skill-is shaped by our childhood development.

                  There was an article in Scientific American Mind many years ago by a researcher at the Univ of Arizona in which the author pointed out that inter-person, aural differences swamped out any ability to reliably define anything.
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