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Positive Feedback ISSUE 62
july/august 2012


Why I'm a Subjectivist
by Teresa Goodwin


In our world of music enjoyment there are subjectivists and objectivists. I'm a subjectivist.

The problems I encounter with many objectivists on the internet has to do with their mindset, they are closed-minded to anything sounding different if it cannot be measured. Whereas subjectivists are open-minded and accept as true experiences what anyone else hears, even if they don't hear it themselves.

Objectivists often demand that subjectivists somehow prove what they do or don't hear. Objectivists seem unwilling to listen for themselves and don't understand that everyone hears differently and that a difference important to one person may not be to another person, whereas a subjectivist knows that each person must listen for themselves to determine if the sonic improvement is important or even audible to them.

Some objectivists are on an ideological crusade to save audiophiles from themselves, this is especially true of objectivists who preach against aftermarket power cables, interconnect cables, speaker cables, CD treatments, and many other products and tweaks without ever trying them themselves, just based solely on their blind belief in scientific rhetoric. Whereas subjectivists have a live and let live attitude and anything that makes music sound better for someone else is wonderful. In addition many subjectivists might even be willing to try it for themselves as long as they get a 30 day satisfaction guarantee. And if it's a free or inexpensive tweak all the better.

TIM distortion in early solid state designs and jitter in digital playback would never have been discovered were it not for subjectivist engineers trusting their ears to find out what was wrong with equipment that measured perfectly yet sounded poor. I know there are other currently unknown distortions that have yet to be discovered, this is why many tweaks give an audible sonic improvement as they are lessening or curing a problem we haven't yet learned how to measure. Subjectivists are the pioneer's of audio because if and when the effect of the cure can be measured, objectivists may then be willing to listen and perhaps even trust their ears since science now allows them to.

My Definitions

Objectivists believe in a dictatorial unyielding totalitarianism of science over human interaction with music.

Subjectivists believe in total freedom to enjoy music however one chooses, without any scientific validation.

Objectivists and Subjectivists

My motto is "If a cable, tweak or any other audiophile device works for me I use it, if not I don't, however I never criticize anyone else for using something that didn't work for me". If something sounds too silly to work I may not give it a chance and it may be my loss as it may have been a difference I would appreciate. This is where another huge difference between objectivists and subjectivists exists: subjectivists will never belittle anyone for trying a tweak that sounds silly to them, however objectivists get some perverse pleasure in belittling what they call the gullibility of subjectivists. Especially when a subjectivist praises a tweak that objectivist's say violates one or more of the current rules of science.

Objectivists do not trust their ears, if they hear a difference and cannot measure or quantify it, they believe they are imagining the difference and reject it. While subjectivists have no problem with this odd behavior of objectivists, we do object to their calling subjectivists gullible and demanding proof for everything we hear simply because we prefer to listen to what sounds the best to us, and never require or search for scientific explanations on why music sounds better, we just accept what our ears tell us and enjoy the music. On the other hand subjectivists never require objectivists submit proof on why they don't hear a difference, we just accept that everyone hears differently.

Music lovers have nothing to prove

Music lovers are natural subjectivists as they have no desire to prove to themselves or others what they like and what they don't like. It really is quite simple, music lovers listen to what they like, they do not listen to what they do not like. This is a concept totally foreign to objectivists who do not believe their own ears, claiming the difference they thought they heard was not real because current scientific theory cannot explain the difference. They further state they were fouled by a placebo effect. Instead objectivists trust outside sources and ABX tests to determine what they are allowed to like. In my chronicle of the long history of ABX testing protocols that ensures everything sounds statistically the same, I explain why it is absurd as it doesn't take into account how real live human beings listen to music. See: "Why ABX Testing Usually Produces Null Results with Human Subjects"

ABX testing does not work with human subjects, since CD does sound better than MP3, SACD sounds better than CD, and DSD sounds better than PCM. All one has to do is actually listen in a comfortable environment using ones ears. The listener will purchase and listen to what they actually enjoy, especially if they are not influenced by these pseudo-scientists into not trusting their own ears.

In short ABX testing is not relevant as it is unable to reveal very audible differences that music listeners hear that are important to them for the enjoyment of music. Thus it is used as an excuse and a crutch by those easily fooled by "pseudo" science not to seek out better equipment and superior recordings. Make no mistake ABX testing is "pseudo" science of the worst kind as it doesn't just make everything sound the same, but the stress endured by the human subjects makes everything sound the same level of awful. Music can be beautiful, relaxing and a pure joy to listen to with the right recording techniques, high enough resolution and a comfortable non-stressful listening environment.

I'm not against all testing, for example parts used in stereo equipment need to be tested to insure they reach their design specifications. However, my friend audio designer John Curl has told me that parts from different manufacturers with identical values and that measure the same can sound different so that is why it's important to compare each part by listening before committing it to his design. He also said we can only measure a very small percent of what we can hear. Measurements are important as they can reveal poorly designed and faulty component parts. He has an entire room of nothing but test equipment. With parts that measure exactly the same, it's his ears that he uses to chose the one that sounds the best and thus is the most accurate. John Curl also agrees that ABX testing is a fraud as do most people in the industry I have spoken to.

Tweak Bashing

On some of the forums I visit, some posters tweak-bash without ever trying the tweaks under discussion. I feel if one is unwilling to try a tweak then it is not polite to comment at all, pro or con, all comments should be from real experiences of listeners who have actually tried the tweaks.

Some of these closed-minded individuals also bash people for hearing differences in interconnects, speaker cables and power cables. Again if one is unwilling to try a product because of their scientific beliefs then they should not comment at all.

Personally I only comment on tweaks, interconnects, speaker cables and power cables I have tried and that make a positive sonic difference to my ears. I prefer tweaks that are free or cheap and I make sure the more expensive ones have a 30 day money-back guarantee. I only try tweaks I am interested in. I have to listen to tweaks or cables myself, just the same as with equipment and recordings. Scientific evidence or even measurements are no substitute for actual listening. If I like a tweak I use it and if I do not I don't use it. I never comment on tweaks, equipment or recordings I have not heard, as I feel it is inappropriate.

Sonic Differences real or imaginary

Subjectivists know differences in sonics are real, whereas objectivists reject any differences they hear that does not have scientific proof as placebo effects. An attitude I will never understand as I trust what I hear. Hearing what I like is more enjoyable than trying to endure what I don't. Whatever makes music more enjoyable for anyone is fine by me, even if I don't understand the reasons why.

Subjectivists believe in individual freedom, subjectivists accept not only what they hear with their own ears but also everyone else's listening experiences and they don't expect their listening experiences to match anyone else's. What works for one person, in one system may not work for another person in another system. We all hear differently and have difference expectations in recorded sound quality. In addition subjectivists never comment on the sonics of something they have not tried in their own systems.

Objectivists by contrast try to impose their pseudoscientific beliefs on others by telling them they don't hear what they are hearing. That is why I call pseudoscience a religion and objectivists fundamentalists because it takes a lot of faith to believe their so-called scientific results. In my opinion if one believes in this phony so-called science all one needs is MP3s played on the cheapest mini-system one can find and 14 cent a foot 20 gauge speaker wire as these scientists in their quest to destroy high-end audio have proved with their AB and ABX double-blind testing protocols that everything under the sun statistically sounds the same. For example in the concluding comments of both the Stereo Review Amp and CD player tests they state that audio equipment should not be purchased based on sound quality because any differences are all imagined but by features, build quality and reliability. This is destructive bull of the worst type, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that objectivists unrealistic belief's are absurd, I reject them all as irreverent and will continue to select audio equipment, tweaks and recordings based on how I like their sound.

I am proud to admit I'm a subjectivist.

Further reading:

Audio McCarthyism
By Robert Harley

Blind Listening Tests are Flawed: An Editorial by Robert Harley|

Why ABX Testing Usually Produces Null Results with Human Subjects