Can we measure what we actually hear? This has been a hot button issue throughout high-end audio pursuits, er "debates."
Optic science is helping get us closer to that goal, by allowing measurement of the acoustic waves in air. Check out this link:
Actually the laser vibrometer is measuring the vibration of a membrane panel in the acoustic field. The vibration modes of the panel can be easily predicted and/or calibrated to deconvolve any influence of its modal nature.
This is a powerful tool. The current focus (so to speak) is to assist in better speaker design. In the future, this technology should allow us to unravel all kinds of mysteries. For example, does a cable "upgrade" really change the sound, and how, and how much? Does this or that tweak really do anything? How can we optimize room treatment?
I bet John Atkinson would love this instrument!
An even more direct and expedient approach is to measure the change in optical refractive index of the air directly, in 3D. This is the domain of acoustic holography. The sensitivity of this technique is not adequate, at least not yet.