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Letters to the editor – Weeks #28 – 30, 2022

  • Amir M. writes…

    re. Happy to be on your show

    Hi Darko.

    This is Amir Majidimehr from Audio Science Review. I just finished listening to the interview you had with Karman on importance of measurements. I actually found your questions and attitude overall quite friendly and flexible which I appreciated. Alas, you brought someone on your show which has little expertise in these topics. Karman has no formal experience in signal processing, psychoacoustics, research into audibility of measurements, engineering design, etc. While he has learned some things from measuring gear, he is by no means “an expert” as you called him. He is also quite contradictory. He made his mark by criticizing MQA using objective tests and no listening tests. Yet now he routinely discards measurements and goes by purely subjectively tests. I don’t see how he can have it both ways. Well, I can but I won’t go into it. 🙂

    Anyway, I am fortunately enough to have experience in all of these fields. My job and career for years depended on understanding measurements, signal processing, hardware and software design, psychoacoustics, etc. If you want to know the true answers — as much as they exist — I am happy to explain them on your show in any manner you see fit. Until then, the picture he and others paint of “us” is quite a caricature that doesn’t match reality at all. To wit, we love, absolutely love listening tests and value them well above measurements. The only requirement we have is that the testing be limited to what you hear and other variables eliminated from it. Our goal is always being able to back our opinion with something reliable. Only this type of listening tests and proper measurements do this.

    Anyway, please let me know if you are interested. If not, I can go ahead and post a video answer on my channel.

    Best regards,

    Amir

    Me:

    Hi Amir

    Nice to hear from you and I’m glad that you dig the friendliness and flexibility of my podcast presentation style. If only I could manage the same with the written word. Please forgive me if I sound stuffy or stiff via the elevated formality of the written word. It’s an ongoing issue that I can’t seem to shake loose.

    When you say ‘Karman’, I assume you mean Cameron from Golden Sound?

    Summarising the first paragraph of your email, you claim that Cameron:

    • has little expertise in measurements
    • has no formal experience in the various fields that you mention
    • is not an expert
    • is contradictory (I think you mean self-contradictory?)
    • made his mark by criticising MQA
    • now routinely discards measurements and goes ‘purely’ by subjective tests

    I can’t speak with 100% certainty to the first four points but on the fifth re. MQA, I would agree. On the sixth point, Cameron’s website remains chock full of measurements and as recently as this week he measured the ENLEUM AMP-23R. See here: https://goldensound.audio/2022/07/12/enleum-amp-23r-measurements/

    One of the reasons I invited Cameron onto my podcast was because of the extensive measurements published on his website. Next to Michael Lavorgna and me, he is a measurement expert. It’s why I referred to him as such. His sizable YouTube following, almost identical to your own, Amir, I think also speaks somewhat to Cameron’s good standing as an Audio Precision user and measurement data interpreter.

    But please know that I also invited Cameron onto my podcast because he and I have spoken on the phone at length where he comes across as just as agreeable as he does in his videos. Of considerable further appeal is that Cameron is someone who speaks from (and to) the middle ground of the measurement/listening test dichotomy.

    It pleases me immensely that you wish to do likewise, Amir – that you value listening tests just as much as measurements (maybe more so!). However, the specifics of your email as they relate to Cameron (listed above) give me pause. I’m not sure my podcast is the appropriate place for you to challenge Cameron’s standing as an expert on measurements and/or rebut his assessment of ‘you’ (ASR) as having become a “caricature” of itself. Heck, I’m not sure that he even said that — but as you point out, you can respond on your own YouTube channel.

    I am in no position to tell you how to conduct your affairs, Amir. I don’t know you and we’ve never spoken but I would ask: why make your disdain for Cameron’s expertise so public? Why not email Cameron directly and in private?

    I believe that demonstrating public collegiality is more important than being ‘right’, especially when dealing with a difference of professional opinion. Doubly so when dealing with a colleague who is, all things considered, a ‘net benefit’ to the audio community.

    Would you not expect the same degree of courtesy?

    Perhaps not, as evidenced by yours and Danny Richie’s very recent tit-for-tat. I believe public exchanges of minor hostility and/or passive aggression between prominent professional members of the audio community diminish the overall standing of the community. And I am sure you will understand that in wanting to remain ‘friendly and flexible’, I want no part in anything that might devolve into a public spat.

    This is Cameron’s email address: redacted AT redacted .co.uk. I have bcc-d him into this reply so that he is aware of the background to any email that you may send him. I’m using bcc because I don’t wish to be a part of any conversation that might ensue from the use of cc.

    Lastly, if you choose to publish this email on your website, Amir, I ask that you publish it in its entirety without alteration and alongside your original email to me. I will do likewise if only to underscore that my engagement in this matter starts and ends with this email.

    Wishing you all the best,

    John

    Simon M. writes…

    re: You changed my mind and it really meant something

    Hi John,

    I’ve been listening to some of your podcasts over the past weeks and just wanted to tell you how they had a real impact on me. Sorry for the long email 🙂 I’m not trying to get anything from you, just to give a view of how your content actually matters – and has the power to change minds.

    Ok, so full disclosure: I was in the audio scientism camp for a long time. Getting really comfortable with the fact that good measurements were the best purchase advice I could get. I’ve also been guilty of criticising other people online for choosing high-end gear for subjective reasons – getting into the objectivist “schadenfreude”, throwing around accusations of snake oil and expectation bias whenever people tried to advocate things like r2r DACs or tube gear.

    But I’ve always had that nagging thought in the back of my mind…is this really it?

    Your talk with PS Audio designer Darren Myers, I think, kicked it off for me. He just sounded really thought through, clearly a very clever young man in the business, but philosophically humble and explorative. A true scientist, I think, in the sense that he had equal respect for the unknown as for his AP analyser and engineering theory. Just an absolute joy to listen to his genuine curiosity and musical journey towards insight – both in the advance of audio science, but also in advancing personal, musical understanding for his peers. For us.

    And later, in your talk with Srajan Ebaen, one of the “subjectivists” that people like me used to ridicule. He said something really insightful right at the end of your long conversation: he said, “the more resolving a system becomes, the less there is left for the listener to do.”

    I’m trained in (but not practising) behavioural psychology, a branch called cognitive semiotics, and Srajan’s comment really struck a chord with me, because that’s so true about how perception works in the brain. It’s an additive process, where perceptions and emotions are constructed in a mix between sensory input and internal memories and expectations. It’s just a biological fact of brain economy: the brain can’t perceive every detail every single time, so it spends its energy concentrating on the important stuff.

    In that sense, expectation bias is a good thing. It helps the brain build up perceptions in broad strokes very easily, so it can spend more energy on what really matters. What we’re really searching for. Or listening to. Without cognitive bias, there wouldn’t be any room for deep, active listening. Or for being surprised and inspired, when something violates that expectation.

    Srajan’s point that subjective participation is needed to achieve involving musical experiences was really important to me.

    Choosing listening over measuring is not all subjective placebo, it’s about allowing the brain to do what it does best. And for that, we need a lot of subjective listening experience to build our personal libraries so the brain can consult them during future experiences. This is how preferences are made. How we learn about ourselves.

    The last point I’ll mention is your conversation with Cameron from Golden Sound. It just shines through that he has a genuinely humble approach to audio science. He was adamant about the importance of measurements, but also about contextualising its importance in a clear way. His point being, I surmised, that measurements are more of a disqualifier than a qualifier. But at some point, it got turned around online, and that catered to our want for easy-to-apply, seemingly scientific explanations. A qualifier for decision making and, at the bottom, for fortifying our reasons for acting the way we do. There’s an incredibly strong cognitive pull at work here too. I see it as a drawback of the same cognitive biases that helped us before: it’s much more expensive, cognitively, to change our perception, so the brain will go to great lengths to preserve our worldview.

    Anyway, I’m rambling on 🙂

    Thanks, John, for your curiosity and your courage to keep digging into this debate in an open and critical way. You have helped change my mind and for that I’m grateful. Even if it turns out I’m wrong, I guess, because that will just be another opportunity to change and learn again.

    Added 29th July 2022

    Erin H. writes…

    John (or whoever is reading this),

    I’ll try to be as brief as possible because I know you’ve got a lot to get through.

    My name is Erin. I run a small little YouTube channel and website (Erin’s Audio Corner) where I review speakers with a lean toward measurements to correlate what I hear to help me better provide the kind of review I want.

    For me, it’s not that measurements exist solely to say “this speaker is bad”. The measurements are there to help us understand what it is about a speaker we may or may not like. We can use that information to make purchases that make the most sense for us. If you are interested, I have recently tested the KLH Model 5, linked below, and toward the end, I discuss just how – if one were looking solely at the data without context – the measurements can be misleading. I think there is a LOT of room for understanding and that’s what I’m really trying to do in the community.

    If one is to ask if I am an objectivist or subjectivist I would say I am both. I use my ears to listen. I use the data to provide analysis and rationale for the things I heard. I think bridging the gap in the community that has seemingly been driven wider the past few years is more important than being “right”… if “right” is even possible. I’ve had many loudspeaker engineers on my channel (Martijn Mensick, David @ Kef, Laurie Fincham from Kef/THX, Greg Timbers of JBL, Floyd Toole, Sean Olive, etc) and I always like to discuss how a good design incorporates both listening and data so people will understand that it’s not black and white and there is a lot of gray.

    I listened to your recent discussion with GoldenSound and enjoyed it. Like anything in life, there were some aspects I agreed with and some I didn’t. No big deal. While GS is versed in electronics, he doesn’t measure loudspeakers which is an area I feel is more useful with respect to measurements. Frankly, I just find speakers more interesting because they can be so different from room to room while electronics don’t care about the room. Everything from frequency response to radiation patterns. These are factors for what we hear in our rooms and can explain why some speakers work better in some rooms than others (among other topics). I feel this subject could use representation in a future episode.

    If – in the future – you would like to discuss the link between measurements and speakers I’d love the opportunity to have a chat with you. But, if that’s not your thing anymore then I understand. I just wanted to offer some perspective from the speaker side of measurements

    As an aside, if you are concerned I’m just an Amir/ASR clone who believes solely in data and nothing else, the answer is “no”. I disagree with Amir on a lot of topics. I’m even banned from his forum.

    Me:

    Hi Erin

    Thanks for your email. I watch your channel and yes, I’d be more than happy to have you on the podcast later in the year. Perhaps we could run with the same theme: what the measurements can and cannot tell us about a loudspeaker’s sound? What do you think?

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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