The 2011 Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture: "Where Did the Negative Frequencies Go?" Is There Something There?

Is There Something There?
Over the almost 35 years during which I have taken part in or organized listening tests, I have become convinced that what is fundamentally important is to respect the listeners—to listen to what they tell me. Yes, there may be a trivial explanation for what they hear. But there may be something there. When I first heard of so-called LP "demagnetization"—where an LP sounds better after being subjected to the action of, for example, a bulk tape eraser—I was skeptical. But I didn't dismiss the reports; I just filed them away for further investigation, if and when I had the time: it is never clear where the science ends and the silliness starts!

Then, inadvertently, I took part in a blind test examining this very factor. I was visiting one of my reviewers, and while I was setting up my speaker-measuring gear in the vestibule outside his listening room, he was playing LPs to my assistant, Stephen Mejias. There was a short delay after one cut, then it was played again. From where I was in the vestibule, it had more bass.

"Was that a different pressing?" I yelled.

"No, we demagnetized the LP before playing it again."

Okay, so I heard a difference from something that, to the best of my knowledge, could not produce any difference.

Back to the first-principles thing. There are two facts:

1) The reviewer took the record off the turntable, "demagnetized" it, then played it again.

2) I heard a difference.

I could think of three hypotheses to explain these facts, one involving what was done, one involving what it was done to, and the third involving the listener:

1) Subjecting an LP to an intense AC magnetic field that decays over time does something that produces an audible change?

2) When you play an LP soon after an earlier play, the prior deformation of the groove walls changes the sound when it is played again?

3) As Stereophile writer Art Dudley has said, perception is not a linear continuum: The second glass of wine doesn't taste the same as the first, and the sixth glass of wine definitely does not taste the same as the second.

Which one (or more) of these hypotheses is correct? I have no idea. More work is required, and I am happy to leave that work to others. In any case, the cost of a Benjamin bulk tape eraser is low enough that if there is a real benefit from "demagnetizing" LPs, it is not going to break anyone's bank. So I filed away that day's events in my Perhaps file.

As I wrote in Stereophile 20 years ago, "If a tweak sounds unlikely but still costs very little, then try it. Why not? The price of admission is low enough that even if the effect is small, the sonic return on the financial investment is high. You can enjoy the improvement while reserving judgment on the reasons why.

"If the price is high but the explanation offered for any sonic improvement fits in with your world view, then try it. Your intelligence is not being insulted, and you can still decide that the improvement in sound quality is not worth the number of hours you have to work to earn the money to pay for it.

"But when the price is high and the explanation is bullshit, life's too short! File it away in your Pending tray until someone else you trust tries it out. Either the effect will be real and the price will fall as commercial success comes the inventor's way, or the effect will turn out to be as fictitious as the explanation."

But what puzzled me was the reaction of others when I published the account of this inadvertent blind test:

"You didn't hear a difference!"—except that I did.

"There's nothing in an LP to be demagnetized!"—except that the carbon black used to make LPs black is often contaminated with iron. (If that matters.)

"You were hearing what you expected to hear!"—except that I had no expectations. I wasn't even in in the room, nor was I aware of what I was listening to. And as a listener, you must throw yourself open to what your ears are telling you without your brain intervening. The Placebo Effect works in both directions, in that it is possible for people not to hear what they don't expect to hear—more on this vexatious topic later.

All I had were my three hypotheses and an agnostic attitude as to which one of them was correct. To return to Richard Heyser, "I no longer regard as fruitcakes people who say they can hear something and I can't measure it—there may be something there!" I take seriously all tweaks that someone, somewhere has found to result in a sonic improvement. Some will turn out to be bogus, but there are those magic few whose effects are real. The absence of rational explanations for these effects shouldn't prevent audiophiles from appreciating their sonic benefits.

The Golden Rule for listeners: To thine own ears be true.
An example: When I was preparing Stereophile's Concert CD in 1994, I received reference CD-Rs from the mastering engineer, who awaited my approval of them before starting the plant's presses rolling. To my surprise, though the engineer had assured me he had not used any equalization or compression—all he did was to add the PQ subcodes—the CD-Rs sounded different from my masters. I ripped the CD-R data and compared them against the original data. Not only could I not null the production data against the archive file, the production master was longer by one video frame (1/30 second) for every 20 minutes of program.

Examining the difference between the files, I found that all the changes made to my data were at such a low level—30dB or more below the analog tape hiss—that you would think that whatever the mastering engineer had done, the differences introduced should have been inaudible. Yet what had alerted me to the fact that the data had been changed was a change in sound quality—a change that I heard even without having the originals on hand for an A/B comparison!

Such differences in sound quality are often dismissed as being due to expectation. But note that I was emotionally and financially invested in wanting the reference CD-R to sound the same as the originals. If I were to hear any difference, it would both cost Stereophile a lot of money to have the project remastered, and delay shipment of the CDs. In fact, it took time to work through the cognitive dissonance to recognize that I was hearing a difference when I expected—and wanted to hear—none.

Yes, what you think you are hearing might by dismissed as being imagination, but as the ghost of Professor Dumbledore says in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, "Of course it's all happening in your head, Harry Potter, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"

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Comments
JohnnyR's picture
Misguided?

I haven't seen one iota of explanation from yourself yet as to why both of us and Harman Kardon and the other links George posted to are wrong. Still waiting ChrisSy.

ChrisS's picture
Georgie & JRusskie = Harman Kardon?

Has HK hired you guys as DBT consultants?

 

Hey JRusskie,

Can you answer this one?

If A=B and C=B, then A=?

If you pass the test, then perhaps someone will hire you... But you and Georgie might have to fight over the job.

JohnnyR's picture
Duhhhhhhhhhh........

"i think THESE are the sort of differences between individuals that make DBT difficult: everyone hears differently. there is no absolute sound."

The sole purpose of DBT is to see if the person listening can distinguish between A and B. If they can't then for all practical purposes there is no difference in the sound from A and B. You and ChrisSy seem to think it's all about what the person "likes". It's a straight forward test method and "likes" has nothing to do with it.

Please explain to us all how Harman Kardon manages to use DBT all the time and do it well? I will be awaiting your reply Ariel.

ChrisS's picture
Twas the night...

So every household has a Harman Kardon product? And you and Georgie have living rooms that look like anechoic chambers? No fireplaces, of course....

ChrisS's picture
And, and...

Hearing a difference between a Harman Kardon product and another product in a anechoic chamber means what to you, Georgie and JRusskie?

Do you know that Ford makes the best trucks in the world?

ChrisS's picture
That's the Pepsi....No, it's...

Are you sure I didn't say 'licks". You know maybe tasting an audio product will yield just as useful results in a DBT.

ChrisS's picture
It's So Easy, Even A 3 Year Old...

JRusskie,

Now run out to your nearest Boris' Convenience store and get yourself a can each of Pepsi (do you even have Pepsi in the Former-USSR?) and Coca-Cola and set up your own Pepsi (or whatever passes for cola in Russia) Challenge.

Wiki has a nice explanation of how to do a DBT...

Once you've done your very own Peps(k)i Challenge, please send us your conclusion. We're curious...

The next step now is to get everyone in your subsidized housing project to participate in your Pepski Challenge.

Gather up that data, compare it your own conclusion and let us know how useful that information is.

I'm sure you'll enjoy the challenge of your doing your very own DBT's! (You won't even have to ask Harman Kardon to use their anechoic chamber!)

John Atkinson's picture
Some knowledge of statistics required

JohnnyR wrote:
The sole purpose of DBT is to see if the person listening can distinguish between A and B. If they can't then for all practical purposes there is no difference in the sound from A and B.

And that's the problem with these tests. If a formal blind test gives results that are indistinguishable from what would be given by chance, formal statistical analysis tells us that this result does _not_ "prove" there was no difference in the stimulus being tested, only that if there _was_ a difference, it was _not_ detectable under the conditions of the test. No more general conclusion can be drawn from the results. And as I have said, it is very difficult to arrange so that those conditions don't themselves become interfering variables. Even the fact that it is a test at all can be an interfering variable, as I explain in this lecture preprint.

JohnnyR wrote:
Please explain to us all how Harman Kardon manages to use DBT all the time and do it well?

I have visited Harman's facility in Northridge and their blind testing set-up is impressive. They have worked hard to eliminate interfering variables and their testing is time- and resource-consuming and painstaking. Even so, they have to make compromises. Blind testing of loudspeakers, for example, is almots always performed in mono. And despite the rigor of their testing, you still have anomalous results, like the Mark Levinson No.53 amplifier, which was designed with such testing but fared poorly in the Stereophile review.

While formal blind tests are prone to false negative results - not detecting a difference when one exists - sighted listening is prone to false positives, ie, it detects a difference when none exists or perhaps exaggerates the degree of difference. As neither methodology is perfect, we go with the one that is manageable with our resources. We therefore offer our opinions for readers to reject or accept in the context of their own experience and I believe Stereophile does  a better job of that than any other review magazine or webzine.

If you are uncomfortable with that policy, then you should not read the magazine. And if I remember correctly, JohnnyR, you admitted in earlier discussions on this sute that you neither subscribe to Stereophile, nor do you buy the magazine on the newsstand. So why should anyone pay attention to your opinions on how the magazine conducts itself?

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture
Silly Boy

So you are saying that if in a DBT the listeners could NOT tell a difference between two amps using music of their own choice then that doesn't prove the amps sound alike?  Funny stuff there Atkinson. For one who thinks you should trust your ears to evaluate components you just bashed the ONE single TRUE way to test by USING YOUR OWN EARS in a DBT.

"And that's the problem with these tests. If a formal blind test gives results that are indistinguishable from what would be given by chance, formal statistical analysis tells us that this result does _not_ "prove" there was no difference in the stimulus being tested, only that if there _was_ a difference, it was _not_ detectable under the conditions of the test."

Your own words are saying that "if there was a difference it was not detectable under the conditions of the test"........oh you mean like letting the listener use the music of their own choice and switch back and forth endless times between two amps and then guess wrongly enough times so that they can't tell which one was which? LMAO if that's not proof that both amps sound alike then what sort of test WOULD prove that they do?  Come on Atkinson you just don't like DBTs because they would show up so many components that people think sound "oh so better than the rest"

Opinions from you and your reviewers are the Gospel now folks. No need to test anything really just trust good ol'JA and his flunkies. Yay.

"If you are uncomfortable with that policy, then you should not read the magazine. And if I remember correctly, JohnnyR, you admitted in earlier discussions on this sute that you neither subscribe to Stereophile, nor do you buy the magazine on the newsstand. So why should anyone pay attention to your opinions on how the magazine conducts itself?"

Oh just maybe because  a lot of people care for this little thing called the TRUTH? When magazines like your's take liberties with the truth by having shoddy reviews instead of in depth testing, then it's everyone's and anyone's responsibility to speak up when crappy falsehoods are published and the readers are supposed to take it all on faith. That's why. I for one do not take your opinions on anything audio related as worthwhile at all for the simple reasons that you show so much promise when you measure speakers but fail to even bother with the snakeoli products that you let slide under the radar yet let your reviewers give them glowing reviews sans any testing what so ever. Maybe that's the sighted listening bias you just spoke about yet you fail to even try with those type of products to get to the real TRUTH.

ChrisS's picture
Inconclusive?

JRusskie,

If you like Harman Kardon marketing, but you're not sure if Ford makes the best trucks in the world, then get yourself an F-150 and whatever truck you used to rumble across Afghanistan with, do your DBT (just like  the Pepski Challenge) and let us know what you come up with...

You are marketing TRUTH now? How pure is it?

I know some construction workers who might be interested...

ChrisS's picture
A War In Your Head...

JRusskie, Just looking at your response to John's post and comparing word-for-word what John wrote and what you think he says, there's such a huge world of difference!! There's a war in your head!

[Flame deleted by John Atkinson].

GeorgeHolland's picture
"Even so, they have to make

"Even so, they have to make compromises. Blind testing of loudspeakers, for example, is almots always performed in mono."

Well Mr Atkinson the reasoning behind testing speakers in mono is to eliminate the dreaded comb filter affect that would otherwise show up if a stereo pair were auditioned and the listener moved their head even a couple of inces. I'm surprised you didn't mention that fact but then again you think DBTs are hard to do, so if you don't know how to do them then indeed they are hard to do. *Chuckle*  Any DBT done should be auditoned is such a manner. The rest of your "excuses" for not doing them is the same old same old from you, nothing surprising there.

ChrisS's picture
"Kiss the girls..."

So Georgie Porgie,

Let's say JRusskie is DBT'ing a $1500 speaker and a $500 speaker and can't hear a difference, and you are DBT'ing a $4500 speaker and a $4000 speaker and you happen to have enough working neurons to hear a difference... Which set of speakers should the ex-shepherd construction worker buy?

John Atkinson's picture
Mono vs Stereo testing

GeorgeHolland wrote:
John Atkinson wrote:
Even so, they have to make compromises. Blind testing of loudspeakers, for example, is almost always performed in mono.

Well Mr Atkinson the reasoning behind testing speakers in mono is to eliminate the dreaded comb filter affect that would otherwise show up if a stereo pair were auditioned and the listener moved their head even a couple of [inches].

That is a consideration, of course, but in my opinion a minor one. As I had understood from Floyd Toole back in the day, the additional complexity required  of  Harman's physical speaker shuffling apparatus to do blind speaker testing in stereo was not justified by the results, ie, they felt that the stereo performance could be predicted from the mono results.

I don't agree with that, but more importantly, this illustrates the thesis offered in my lecture, that when you move the testing situation a step away from how the product is going to be used, you can't be sure that the assumptions you make haven't invalidated the test. As I write in the abstract to the lecture, "perhaps some of things we discard as audio engineers bear further examination when it comes to the perception of music."

BTW, I am still waiting for you to acknowledge that the criticism you made of my lecture, that it was not about Richard Heyser, was incorrect.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

GeorgeHolland's picture
More excuses?  I see what

More excuses?  I see what Johnny meant. You are never wrong. I am pretty sure Haram Kardon knows what they are doing. Please address any criticisms to them not me.

I am afraid that comb filtering IS a big deal. That would explain why cables "sound" different. It's not the cable but the listener changing where their head is between "testing"

You will be waiting a long time for any ackowledgement about your "lecture". Stop being the primadonna already.

Regadude's picture
Prima donna supreme

Georgie wrote:

"Stop being the primadonna already."

Look in the mirror and repeat those words!!!! laugh

ChrisS's picture
Oops! My head moved...

So how does one differentiate speakers that sound differently, amplifiers that sound differently, pre-amps, turntables, tonearms, cartridges, DAC's, etc., if a turn of one's head makes that much difference?

Where's your reliability, Georgie? Doesn't science depend on reliability?

JohnnyR's picture
For The Lazy and Mentaly Deficient.......

I can see what George is up against in here with Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee tag teaming and showing their ignorance.

http://www.ethanwiner.com/believe.html

Golly look what he meant.I think Ethan was banned from here ages ago for showing up Fearless Leader and his cronies and out right showing how REAL science works. BWAHAHAHAHAHAH loser boys.

Regadude's picture
For Johnny, about Johnny...
John Atkinson's picture
Ain't that the truth

Just bookmarking the link for future reference.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture
Atkinson..........

......when you start doing a single DBT or even a SBT then you can talk about the "truth". Have you EVER designed and built your own speakers? Nahhhhhhhh you are too lazy or too "busy". Still finding plenty of time though to post online all the time though strangely enough.cheekyTill then you aren't an engineer so take your own advice and don't comment on speaker design anymore.

If you are going to save the link then please also save this link where discussion about it unfolded.

http://forums.audioholics.com/forums/loudspeakers/83412-diy-loudspeakers...

As you can see the original post was just one of many OPINIONS about the topic that is if you bother to read it at all. There are various OPINIONS about the topic and notice just how many of the so called "hobbyists" ended up being professional speaker builders. If you just pick and choose certain OPINIONS from the thread then you are guilty of leaving out facts.

For starters read the sixth post down by Jinjuku regarding Jeff's post that pretty much sums up where DIY has progressed.

ChrisS's picture
You think, therefore it's true...

Not real science either...

GeorgeHolland's picture
Frick and Frack strike again.

Frick and Frack strike again. Regadude and ChrisS always come up with strawman replies and ignore the links posted."Not real science "? How pompus can you get? Mr Winer measured the effects of comb filtering, what did you measure ChrisS the length of your nose when you typed that reply? You dismiss anything people link to yet show us nothing in return. Regadude, posting opinions isn't real science just so you both understand. Now run along lil boys and study real hard, maybe in another 20 years you might be able to hold your own in a discussion.

ChrisS's picture
Georgie thinks....

Has Winer's results been verified?

Did you know that Harman Kardon makes the best audio products in the world? And Ford makes the best trucks, right?

JohnnyR's picture
Do Some Testing Yourself Genius

Or is that above your abilities like thinking?

Go ahead, put on a pink or white noise source and move your head about and tell me the sound doesn't change. You won't bother so forget it ChrisSy.laugh

ChrisS's picture
ADHD

When moving a microphone while recording a person's voice, the sound changes. Did the voice change?

GeorgeHolland's picture
You never answer a question ,

You never answer a question , you just put forth silly questions of your own. That's what people do when they don't know or are scared to try.

Moving a microphone while recording a person's voice? If that's how you do things then no wonder you don't know what Johnny was talking about. Yes the sound changes as recorded by the microphone so what?  Genius.angle

ChrisS's picture
Dear Georgie...

I'll answer you this one... You and JRusskie always answer your own questions that you pose to everyone in these discussions. There's no need to provide any answer to you. As well, your attitudes and limited knowledge of the application of research methodology make civil and thoughtful discourse impossible.

So my questions to you and JRusskie are formed to reveal how each of you think whenever you provide a response.

You provide enough information for me to say that I find the "best" use of my time in these discussions is to make fun of you and JRusskie.

Ariel Bitran's picture
And Chrissy

makes some sense of the whole darn thing.

Regadude's picture
Tweedle dee and tweedle dum...

The only duo that strikes here George, is you and Johnny. You both STRIKE OUT!

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