Can your ears always be trusted?

One of the most-frequently given answers to last week's Vote! was a variation on "trust your ears." But can your ears <i>always</i> be trusted?

Can your ears <i>always</i> be trusted?
Yes, all the time
24% (50 votes)
Most of the time
43% (90 votes)
Some of the time
27% (55 votes)
I don't trust my ears
6% (12 votes)
Total votes: 207

Austin Kuipers's picture

It's your enjoyment that counts. Although most people enjoy equipment with better "specs" more than equipment that tests badly, in the end, if you fancy bloated bass or mind-numbing sibilance, I hope you find what you are looking for.

Xenophanes's picture

A terribly confused question. What it usually means in audio is, "Can our audio perceptions be trusted?" For many purposes, yes, we trust them every day. In audio, whether you enjoy the music is a matter of your experience. Whether you like a piece of equipment is up to you. For detecting small audio differences, no, our perceptions are not reliable. To determine whether small audio differences are audible, such as between accurate electronics, patch cords, and speaker cables, data from blind tests is necessary—either directly or by comparing measurements to known thresholds of audibility.

Jerry's picture

If I enjoy the sound that is presented to my ears, what makes you a better judge of the sound that brings joy to my life? If I were to start doubting what I hear or began constantly believing what you say I should hear, I could easily start down the slippery slope of excessive-compulsive fixation that consumes far too many audiophiles. Many alleged audiophiles (?) obviously aren't enjoying the music like they should be. Isn't the pleasure that comes with listening to the many genres of music or exploring new artists the goal of this hobby? Your goal may be to become the audiophile equivalent of what Frasier and Niles Crane in the TV series Frasier were to wine sampling, but that fanaticism is not my desire.

Chuckie's picture

If they can't be trusted, I'm certainly in the wrong hobby.

Will W's picture

After all, it is what we hear that is the ultimate goal of reproduced music. So if it sounds good, what else matters—right? However, listening can be influenced by human subjectivity, mood & emotional state, placebo effect (since I just paid big $ for that last tweak), the color of my shirt, etc. Therefore, care and skill is needed when using listening for purchasing decisions. Equipment measurements are useful for deciding what equipment is worth auditioning. Room measurements, such as RTF, are great tools for diagnosing issues when something in the set-up sounds peculiar, and they help improve critical listening skills.

Leon, Rancho Mirage California's picture

After all, a warmed-over MG always sounds way better than a Prius—until a Maserati V8 clears its throat.

Allan's picture

Use instruments to achieve a baseline, then fine-tune with ears.

Eric Geers's picture

Nope. Scientific test have shown us that our ears are quite useless as a testing tool. Only blind-testing under controlled conditions with large listening panels and many repetitions makes sense.

Teresa's picture

Music listeners believe what they hear with their ears. Audio scientists do not believe what they hear unless they can quantify and measure it. If they cannot measure it, it does not exist and they convince themselves they are not hearing what they hear! My quest is to show the wisdom of enjoying the sound of music and accepting what one hears, even if it cannot be scientifically proven.

kbchristian's picture

All I want is that it sounds very good to my ears, which is reasonable.

Max L's picture

If it sounds good to me, it is good for me—and that's the end of the inquiry.

David Lord's picture

They're my ears and they are the only ones I've got, so I have to trust them. I do find it easier to hear things I don't like in a component and so decide not to get it. Also, I play an instrument, so I have a gauge of (at least for that instrument, cello) not sounding right.

VC's picture

If the value is subjective, and not measurable, ears are the only way to go. Otherwise, I'll go with measured values.

suits_me's picture

Anyone who claims they can always trust their perceptions is not to be trusted.

Noah Bickart's picture

The ears are not the problem. What is between them sometimes is. I can "hear" a difference between S/PDIF coax cables in a sighted test. ABX proves that I can not. Blame the brain.

Tonko Papic - CHILE's picture

In my home "audio room," I trust my ears 100%. However, in the listening rooms of audio sellers, that's another thing.'s picture

The only time I can't is when I'm stuffed up with a cold. Otherwise, my ears, my taste, my money.

Mike Agee's picture

All the time, assuming the system has had ample time to settle in after it was conscientiously tweaked (within reason) and positioned, being mindful that the trust is actually between our emotions and the music, not between an imposed checklist and the technical properties of the system.

Paul's picture

Our ears might be trustworthy, but we listen with our minds. In double-blind tests, I've confirmed that I can detect differences moving from component A to B, but not from B to A. It seems that the nature of the difference is important.

ch2's picture

Your ears are the end-of-the-line transducers of your audio system. Whatever message they send to your brain is as good as you can get. Nothing else matters. If you're deaf, you don't need an audio system at all.

Jonathan Cohen's picture

Going to be a problem if you can't use your own ears.

Bob SF's picture

Confronted with any change, your ears take time to "reprogram, so what you hear first can be very different from what you hear later.

Steve NM's picture

Sure. They're your ears. What counts is how your system sounds to you.

jason's picture

Measurements are like the man searching unsuccessfully for his keys by a street lamp. When asked why, he said because that's where the light is. We measure only where the light is. Our ears alone "measure" the total listening experience and not all ears hear the same any more than all speakers or microphones sound the same.

Jared Gerlach's picture

My ears are the best instruments I know of for evaluation of audio equipment and music, but not at all times. If I am tired, have any sort of sinus issue, if the barometric pressure is rapidly changing, or if I'm just plain having a "bad ear day," then they aren't so good.

D.A.B., Pacific Palisades, CA's picture

They call me "golden ears" in the business. I sometimes wonder.

Paul J.  Stiles, Mtn.  View, CA's picture

Yes, I can trust my ears to provide sound-based stimulus to my brain. I make no claim as to whether my ears (or brain) can tell me what is accurate audio reproduction or not. What really matters is if I am pleased or entertained by what I am listening to. My mood also affects my perception of sound, so another variable is in the mix.

Marc's picture

Over 10 years in audiology have proven to me that people often wildly delude themselves.

Jim Tavegia's picture

If I really like the sound of some music or gear, that is all I need to make a buying decision. Often I will let measurements guide me to some piece of gear, but the ear always decides if it is a buy or not.

ACF's picture

Witness reliability is a long-standing problem—auditory witnessing even more so. Memory, room, lighting, electrical supply—yikes, it's complex. So thank you, John Atkinson for the necessary measurements. Words and numbers improve the hearing.