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Here are some facts to consider:

  • Playback systems function as a system and any change within it will affect the final sound.
  • We can never assume that an assembled array of playback equipment, or any single device is perfect.
  • The perfect recording does not exist.
  • There is no absolute sound.
  • Things change over time.
  • People are easily fooled.
  • A change anywhere within a system can and should impact the system’s sound.
  • Each person listens and hears differently.
  • All systems are different and a device under test will perform differently in them.

Unless you are the producer, recording engineer, tracker, mix guy, and mastering man (rarely even the same team let alone the same person) responsible for the recorded material, with a vast understanding and experience with your recording and playback systems, you can never know the recording’s nature and accuracy. Besides, isn’t music about fidelity of emotion. (So if you roll in at a Zu demo, chattering about how you know what a particular recording is supposed to sound like, well lets just say it’s hard to take your comments seriously.)

  • General listening specific assumptions can be made after a large enough sampling of systems and observers but it is only relevant to the state-of-the-art of playback systems within its sampled generation. (Loudspeakers that are known to sound good in today’s systems will generally sound bad when used within a system from the ’40s or ’50s. That is not to say a loudspeaker from the ’40s will sound bad in today’s systems.)

It’s easy to present situations that cause a desired result. Both in oneself and in those you wish to influence. For the most part it’s quite easy to know performance changes relative to primary system attributes. Shades and gradients of primary and secondary attributes are much harder to wrap your ears around but it is usually within the combined secondary attributes that we find the magic we are looking for.

Zu makes cable, so lets take a look at cable evaluation. If observers are really trying hard to hear a difference because they believe the difference will be subtle, this will compound the potential for outside or psychological influence. If the observer has a predisposition to a model or brand being compared there will likely be subconscious events that will shape the outcome. Also, if a demonstrator wants to influence the observer there are several tricks he or she may use to produce the desired results:

  • The second set of listening of the same material results in increased awareness by the observer, particularly after a brief calm or distraction, and so the second devise tested is usually psychologically perceived as the better sounding.
  • Observers usually relate a small increase in amplitude (1 – 3dB) to increased fidelity, especially in a well damped room.
  • Playback of recordings that are known to work with or against the bias.
  • Playback with equipment that works with or against the bias.
  • Observers are influenced by the demonstrator. Combine this with the “second set” phenomenon and the demonstrator can easily skew data.
  • Rumor, reputation, price and looks of the device.

The only way to know the performance of a device is to follow some semblance of scientific observation. A double blind test within a large enough sampling of gear and people with the observers keeping their notes to themselves until the completion of the study. But even then, the whole system thing is pretty massive.

Bottom line, search for your sense of sound and trust yourself, you know what you are looking for. If you don’t, you wont find it in the forums.

Courtesy of the good people at Zu