Audio McCarthyism Page 5

"It is important to realize that ABX tests and psychoacoustical studies and FFT measurements and subjective listening tests are each one-dimensional attempts to describe or analyze our experience of music listening. But music listening is a holistic, multidimensional experience that includes emotions, reactions, and involvement in the music. As scientists, it is important for us to remain cognizant of the fact that we are always looking through a small window on a very complex experience and to remain forever skeptical of our own conclusions and methods and as well as remain open-minded about the conclusions of others." (enthusiastic applause from a section of the audience)

Loudspeaker designer Ken Kantor, of NHT, made a similar statement of reconciliation: "I make a plea for cooperation between people on different sides of this issue. It is very easy for subjectivists to point fingers at scientists and say 'all you want to do is protect your agenda and read meters,' and it's very easy for people in the AES to look at subjectivists and say 'it's all an illusion.' Personally, I happen to feel that cables are not an important part of progress in audio. I also know that tests such as we witnessed here and in many other circumstances will not change anybody's mind. They do not prove anything. They are not well conducted either in terms of environment or equipment...[interrupted by applause]...and so I would like to see an attempt at open-minded cooperation between audiophiles and open-minded engineers to satisfy both camps. Only in this way will anybody's opinion be changed in one way or the other."

Ken Kantor then asked Mr. Lopez: "You're dealing here in a field where efficacy is a very hard thing to define. You are dealing in a field where expert testimony exists on both sides of the issue. People with significant credentials are willing to stand up and testify to the validity or importance of certain products. In this situation—which cannot be quantified in quite the way that the date of origin of a Persian rug can be quantified—how does your department make the determination about the efficacy of products?"

Wilfredo Lopez replied: "I do believe that a great deal of this, at least I suspect that a great deal of this, can in fact be measured by scientific means...[interrupted by a few derisive laughs from audience] far as the transmission of an electronic signal from one point to another, I have a firm belief that such a thing can be measured accurately. As far as one's opinion—a subjective opinion on a matter—of course one will never be able to take effective measures against one's personal opinion. And yes, there are many areas where you have testimony on both sides, ad infinitum. This is why I ask the community to get together amongst itself as to a clear understanding as to whether this is a myth or if this is a new technology and then speak to us. Enlighten us as to what you feel is fact and what you feel is purely subjective or may in fact be myth. Approach us so that we might better understand and protect you from an unfair and uneven market and protect consumers from unscrupulous dealers that may or may not exist." (his emphasis)

Because Lopez believes that measurements can quantify every aspect of loudspeaker cable performance, the objectivists' doctrine of "if it can't be measured it can't be heard" has now become "if it can't be measured it can't be sold." Note his "firm belief" that such things can be measured. Note the pejorative use of the word "subjective" in "subjective opinion on a matter." Also note the apparent lament that "one will never be able to take effective measures against one's personal opinion." Further, Lopez's distinction between "fact and what you feel is purely subjective" would appear to make him a mystic; mystics believe that all subjective impressions—including the physical world—are illusory.

Psychologist Jeff Corey, in answer to a comment from the audience, seemed to hedge his radical position, perhaps in reaction to the rational comments of the well-respected audio professionals we just heard. He said: "Suppose there is some small measurable difference, and you ran a thousand people in a thousand trials and there is a slight statistical difference. Statistical differences don't necessarily mean significant real-world differences either. I shouldn't put it down. Maybe there are people who can tell the difference. I know I can't."

In Dr. Corey's view, any positive identification of cables under double-blind conditions is therefore meaningless. Just because an audible change has no musical significance for him, should those of us who find these differences musically important be subjected to the kind of attack Dr. Corey launched at audiophiles during the workshop—P.T. Barnum and the Fiji Mermaid? Moreover, I have found the opposite to be true in audio—indications of a tiny statistical significance reflect huge real-world differences—and vice versa.

Dan Dugan closed the "workshop" with some final comments. Read them closely, for they reveal the real motivation behind this event and his McCarthy-like tactics.

"Over ten years of watching this, I've become disgusted with [audio subjectivism]. There is now an audiophile establishment. There is an Academy of High-End Audio—you know, it just keeps getting more and more established. I don't see any progress at all and I don't know what to do about it."

Ah ha! It isn't cables that have so upset Dugan—it's audiophiles and critical listeners in general! Loudspeaker cables are just a convenient vehicle for the attack. In decrying that High End is "getting more and more established" and that he doesn't "know what to do about it," Dugan seems to have appointed himself the leader of the crusade against those who judge reproduced sound quality by listening rather than by looking at a series of mathematical representations on paper.

Dugan then attempted to invoke a philosophical justification for his witch hunt:

"What I see as the problem is a problem of philosophy, okay, I mean, it comes down to a philosophical problem and the nature of science. Science before the 20th century was empirical—experiments were done. But something new has happened really in the 20th century—I mean, some people knew before that—but we can really point to, say if you look at the history of medicine, really after World War II medicine to become scientific. And before that it was just empirical which means try things and see how they work" (footnote 9).

I'll spare both of us the rest of Dugan's convoluted philosophical bloviation—you get the idea (footnote 10). Dugan's really the one to lecture on the philosophy of science; after his previous attempt to discredit audiophiles in which six out of seven listeners correctly identified the high-end cable under double-blind conditions (the only one who couldn't hear the difference between cables was a psychologist who had presented a diatribe against cables that evening), he felt "embarrassed" at the results and, in light of the outcome, thought he might be held at "fault" for conducting the test. "Embarrassment" and "fault" are hardly the words of an impartial experimenter following what is purported to be scientific method.

Footnote 9: Let's examine just one sentence of this self-appointed philosopher of science: "Science before the 20th century was empirical—experiments were done." Did Isaac Newton perform experiments in formulating his law of universal gravitation and its application to celestial mechanics? Of course not. When Newton saw an apple fall from a tree, he performed a creative, heuristic act in inventing the metaphor that likened the apple's fall to the solar system's workings. One of the greatest scientific "discoveries" of all time thus took place entirely in Newton's mind.

Footnote 10: If Dugan really wants to understand the philosophical underpinnings of the conflict between audio objectivists and subjectivists, I suggest he read: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig; Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, by Michael Polanyi; Science and Human Values, by Jacob Bronowski; and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn.

sudont's picture

Clearly there are differences in sound between various components, even cables. What disturbs me, is that over the last couple of decades, reasonably priced cable has all but disappeared from the market. If there's a justification for the ridiculous prices of cable, I haven't heard it. It's certainly not in the cost of the materials.