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
bernardperu's picture

JhonnyR

 

If Stereophile has the principle of not doing DBT and for you doing so is a matter of principle why oh earth would you even care to read Stereophile? Your statement above suggests you have very extensive knowledge of the content of Stereophile's articles. So you keep reading stereophile's reviews knowing they are irremediably flawed?? How perverse is this?

 

The real question lies on your double blind tested hatred. 

 

Whatever your answer is I will have to assume that your hatred is a broken record and it will just go on.

GeorgeHolland's picture

He probably reads them as I do for the laughs.smiley

JohnnyR's picture

......on your error filled post above so why should I comment on your assumptions? If you wish to worship Fearless Leader then by all means bow down and do so. I myself prefer to ask questions and be skeptical about his "methods" and the reason "why" he doesn't test ALL items under review.

John Atkinson's picture

Andreasmaaan wrote:
It's a pity that some proponents of DBT as the only valid methodology have used the comments thread here to launch personal attacks against JA.

Indeed. I am not sure why I have become a lightning rod for these audio skeptics. Perhaps it is because it is a matter of religious belief on their part - having had extensive experience of blind testing, I rejected it and thus became a heretic in their eyes. Or perhaps it is just our courtesy in allowing them the space on this website to express themselves.

Andreasmaaan wrote:
JA does measure every piece of gear his reviewers review - a practice which ensures that the opinions of the reviewers are grounded in objective data, or otherwise as the case may be.

As my reviewers do not see the measurements until after they have written the review, I take my hat off to them.

Andreasmaaan wrote:
To cut what is risking becoming a lengthy expression of indignation short: thank-you JA for a wise and thought-provoking read.

You're welcome and my thanks to everyone else who appreciated the preprint. It was an honor to have been invited by the Audio Engineering Society to give this lecture - it's not often that you get the opportunity to look back over a 4-decade career!

A Happy New Year to everyone who surfs this site.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture

You ignore the errors and just plow along blissfully gobbling up the unwarranted praise.

"JA does measure every piece of gear his reviewers review"

As I pointed out above, along with other errors on the part of Andreasmaaan,you do NOT test every piece of gear your reviewers review, but then you pretended that you do in your response. Only certain items are tested by you. Please get your own facts straight if that's even possible for you to do so.

Regadude's picture

Johnny, I wish you a great new year 2013, in which you sell 10 times more of your home made speakers than in 2012. 

Since you sold zero of your speakers in 2012, you need to sell 10 X 0=0 speakers in 2013 to meet this objective. Maybe you can hire George Holland as your director of marketing and sales... 

Get cracking, you have only got 364 days left to sell your quota...

JohnnyR's picture

[flames deleted by John Atkinson]

Unlike yourself Raghead, I will be DESIGNING and BUILDING my own speakers and learning. You do know that word "learning"? Hmmmm maybe you stopped after age 10. You on the other hand will be on here *yawning* and acting the fool and spending your money on Stereophile reviewed crapola.yes

Regadude's picture

So according to you Johnny, everything Stereophile reviews is crapola?! There is not one good piece of equipment that has been reviewed by Stereophile? Hundreds of reviews, not one good product?

But you, in your basement, build quality speakers... 

I have challenged you before (as well as George) to name your gear. What kind of gear merits the Johnny seal of approval? 

As always, you always ignore my challenge (George chickened out to). It seems you can only complain, but cannot even provide a list of your gear. 

I guess ever seeing pictures of your "famous" speakers is also out of the question. 

All talk and no action. 

Regadude's picture

So Johnny, where are your speakers pics and specs?

In your imagination.... [flame deleted by JA]

GeorgeHolland's picture

Johnny never offered to show you anything other than his backside which I think is approriate considering the childish actions of yourself.What does it matter what our audio components are? Anything we mention would be ridiculed by yourself no doubt. Sorry but I'm not playing your silly game. Good God grow up and act like a man for once will you? angry

John Atkinson's picture

JohnnyR wrote:
As I pointed out above . . . you do NOT test every piece of gear your reviewers review, but then you pretended that you do in your response. Only certain items are tested by you. Please get your own facts straight if that's even possible for you to do so.

Out of morbid curiosity, I looked at the past 15 issues of Stereophile - we published 98 full reviews and follow-up reviews. Of those 98 reviews, 83 were accompanied with a full set of measurements, or 84.5%. So even if not every review includes measurements, the vast majority do, which supports Andreasmaaan's point.

I have explained to you before, in other comment threads, why we do not publish measurements of analog playback components, which is due to lack of resources. I have also explained to you why we do not publish measurements of tweaks, which is that it it is difficult to determine exactly what to measure. I don't see any reason to reopen those discussions, but that you continue to be fixated on these two issues and continue to raise them is sad.

And, as I have warned you, JohnnyR, I am continuing to delete comments from you, and others, that are nothing more than flames aimed at other readers.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture

"Reviews" means just that, any item reviewed by your staff. If you think "tweaks" don't qualify then they should be labled as "Opinions" not a review.angle All of those full reviews you speak of were what speakers, amps, preamps, cd transposrts and the like?

Yeah I know why you don't test tweaks, that would involve you using those horrible SBT or DBT. That's a really nice system you have set up. "We don't believe in DBTs or do them or can't afford to do them"......"We don't know what to test on the tweaks"..........add the two up and you get "We don't have to show that tweaks actually do anything other than what our "reviewer" subjectivly alludes to in their sighted biased listening using their golden ears"......EXCUSES Mr Atkinson plain and simple. no

Once more I ask you to read and comment about this link:

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

You seem to think DIY can't do anything right in your previous post in answer to Raghead. Insulting intelligent people that actually build better speakers than the status quo can produce is beyond being pompus in your case.THAT is what's SAD.

Don't you have some real work to be doing instead of being on the forums? I thought that was Ariel's job. Let him earn his pay.

ChrisS's picture

JRusskie,

Look up "fixation" and "perseveration" in your dictionary. "Absolute truths" regarding audio products seems to exist only in your basement and in your head.

John Atkinson's picture

JohnnyR wrote:
John Atkinson wrote:
I looked at the past 15 issues of Stereophile - we published 98 full reviews and follow-up reviews. Of those 98 reviews, 83 were accompanied with a full set of measurements, or 84.5%. So even if not every review includes measurements, the vast majority do, which supports Andreasmaaan's point.

"Reviews" means just that, any item reviewed by your staff. If you think "tweaks" don't qualify then they should be labled as "Opinions" not a review.angle

I am not sure what you mean. You were objecting to Andreasmaan's statement that Stereophile accompanies its reviews with measurements as not being true. I offered the analysis above to show that he was correct.

JohnnyR wrote:
Once more I ask you to read and comment about this link:

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

You need to consult with your fellow traveler GeorgeHolland, who criticized me about linking to other sites :-)

JohnnyR wrote:
You seem to think DIY can't do anything right in your previous post in answer to [Regadude.] Insulting intelligent people that actually build better speakers than the status quo can produce is beyond being pompus in your case.THAT is what's SAD.

With respect, you are arguing with the voices in your head here. I haven't written anything about DIY speaker designers not being able to do "anything right." What I have said is that a DIY designer, like yourself, doesn't subject his loudpeakers to the scrutiny of a disinterested marketplace, something professional designers do as a matter of course. So the question whether or not DIY designs are superior to commercial designs isn't put under independent scrutiny. It remains unsupported conjecture, as far as I am concerned.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

GeorgeHolland's picture

Mr Atkinson, you could  compare DIY against manufactured speakers but of course you won't. Might upset those that can't make good speakers and I'm not talking about the DIY cheeky

Johnny plainly stated that "tweaks" are reviewed in your magazine and online yet they aren't tested, hence you don't test every component under review. You have a reading comprehension problem? How many components reviewed by Jason Serinus have been tested? uh huh, right.

So now you wuss out about commenting on links? That proves you had nothing to say in the first place about it so you shouldn't have opened your mouth.Cop out time for Mr Atkinson.

The only unsupported conjecture on here are your abilities to print honest reviews. Your ability to avoid testing  alot of audio components is well known by now. Very impressive spinning you do on here.wink

John Atkinson's picture

GeorgeHolland wrote:
Mr Atkinson, you could  compare DIY against manufactured speakers but of course you won't. Might upset those that can't make good speakers and I'm not talking about the DIY cheeky

Back in the early 1990s, Stereophile's Corey Greenberg was one of the judges for a DIY loudpeaker competition in San Francisco. There were 2 winning designs and as part of the prize, those 2 speakers were subject to a full set of measurements in Stereophile, published in the March 1992 issue. The speakers' measured performance was good but not great and certainly didn't embarass professional designers.

GeorgeHolland wrote:
Johnny plainly stated that "tweaks" are reviewed in your magazine and online yet they aren't tested, hence you don't test every component under review. You have a reading comprehension problem?

I don't believe so. JohnnyR was wrong, in that we very rarely publish full reviews of tweak products. Of the 98 reviews published in the magazine January 2012 through March 2013, there was just one review of a "tweak," Robert Deutsch on the HiFi Tuning Supreme Fuses in May 2012. ( I don't count the AudioQuest power strip reviewed by Kal Rubinson's review in December 2012 as Kal didn't make any comment on its sound quality, only on its utllity.)

GeorgeHolland wrote:
How many components reviewed by Jason Serinus have been tested? uh huh, right.

The correct answer is none. But that doesn't support JohnnyR's case either, as Jason's reviews are published on the website Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity, which has no connection with Stereophile. I hardly believe I am obliged to support reviews of products in competing publications with measurements in Stereophile.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture

"Back in the early 1990s, Stereophile's Corey Greenberg was one of the judges for a DIY loudpeaker competition in San Francisco. There were 2 winning designs and as part of the prize, those 2 speakers were subject to a full set of measurements in Stereophile, published in the March 1992 issue. The speakers' measured performance was good but not great and certainly didn't embarass professional designers."

Golly "only" 20 years ago and as we all know, nothing new has happened since then to make speaker design any better (Insert BIG sarcasm face here) cheeky Talk about a lame example Atkinson.

Yeah yeah, "full reviews" whatever, Plenty of "little revews" though all the freakin time and all they are , are OPINIONS but you know what? You let your reviewers get away with murdering the intergrity of the audio world with their stupid banter about  "blacker backgrounds,lifted veils and HUGE improvements in the sound" without them having to justify their claims, Pretty slick there pal.

Oh and Jason Serinus "reviews" as posted about the recent RMAF isn't connected to Stereophile? Give us all a break, Your EXCUSES are even lamer this time than usual.

Yep typical Fearless Leader goobley gook. Did you major in Universisty in the double speak of Orwell's 1984? If not then you are gulity of plagiarizing the concept.

John Atkinson's picture

JohnnyR wrote:
Golly "only" 20 years ago and as we all know, nothing new has happened since then to make speaker design any better...

Again you are arguing with the voices in your head, JohnnyR. Of course a lot has happened in the past 20 years, especially the advent of low-cost measuring equipment. But you're missing my point, which is, as I wrote earlier today, that a DIY designer doesn't subject his loudpeakers to the scrutiny of a disinterested marketplace, something professional designers do as a matter of course. You have repeatedy claimed that your speakers are as good as if not better than commercial designs. However, unlike engineers like Kevin Voecks, Paul Barton, Richard Vandersteen, Jeff Joseph, etc, your ability to pay your mortgage and feed your family doesn't depend on your skill as a speaker designer. Their's does, and it makes a difference.

Look, if you seriously believe your speaker designs are fully competitve with commercial designs, email me your measurements. I'll get back to you with my interpretation of what they mean, assuming they are as comprehensive as what I publish with every Stereophile speaker review. Put up or shut up.

JohnnyR wrote:
Yeah yeah, "full reviews" whatever, Plenty of "little revews" though all the freakin time and all they are , are OPINIONS but you know what? You let your reviewers get away with murdering the intergrity of the audio world with their stupid banter about  "blacker backgrounds,lifted veils and HUGE improvements in the sound" without them having to justify their claim...

You're not making sense. "Andreasmaaan" was discussing reviews in the magazine being accompanied by measurements. I was discussing reviews in the magazine being accompanied by measurements. You seem to be discussing something that exists only in your mind. And unlike Professor Dumbledore's quote, that doesn't mean it's real :-)

JohnnyR wrote:
Oh and Jason Serinus "reviews" as posted about the recent RMAF isn't connected to Stereophile?

That was a show report. No-one other than yourself equates a magazine's coverage of a show with its formal equipment reviews. Are you seriously suggesting that magazines shouldn't publish show reports without including a full set of measurement data for each room they report on? Really? There isn't an audio magazine or website that does that.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture

Go have another pink drink Fearless Leader.

Me let YOU interpet my frequency response? Don't make me LAUGH. You can't even interpept Wilson't ragged ass frequency response laugh

[usual flames deleted by John Atkinson]

John Atkinson's picture

JohnnyR wrote:
John Atkinson wrote:

Look, if you seriously believe your speaker designs are fully competitve
with commercial designs, email me your measurements. I'll get back to
you with my interpretation of what they mean, assuming they are as
comprehensive as what I publish with every Stereophile speaker review.

Me let YOU interpet my frequency response? Don't make me LAUGH.

You make my point for me, JohnnyR. It was a serious offer on my part. Professional loudspeaker designers send out their products for review and for the public scrutiny of possible customers. Amateur speaker designers, such as yourself, are often afraid to let anyone else judge their work.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophilee

Regadude's picture

I have been challenging Johnny tp provide pictures and or the specs of his speakers. He has never met my challenge.

Now the editor of Stereophile offers to look over his data. Johnny again makes up excuses to avoid providing any information on his heavenly speakers.

Big talker...

bernardperu's picture

Dear Jon,

What should have been an enlightening discussion of your great lecture has been contaminated by ill-conceived comments. Some individuals have posted comments that have created an environment of nastiness. 

I would seriously urge you to start deleting ill-conceived comments from now on, whether they use flamable language or not. Some people are just turned on by the flames, but others aren't. And those others would much rather focus on the joy of engaging in the music and exchanges related to it.

You do not run a state-owned site but a private one that is likely to become a lot less lucrative (in all senses) if such nasty comments are to become visible.

I am not even pointing out names and we all know who I am talking about.

I am just giving you feedback that comes from an avid reader of Stereophile online. 

Finally, the correction of my use of English was mentioned by one of these individuals. Please allow me to say that English is my second language and it is oxidized. Sorry about that. 

Thanks!

 

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