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Discussion Starter #1
We have other threads that get into "Can we hear a difference?" type questions, the biggest one about amps, located HERE. So this thread is not asking the question "Can we hear a difference?", but asks the following question:

How can one learn to listen for and hear the differences between Amps, DACs, Preamps, Processors, Media File Bit Rates and Resolutions, Cables, and audio components in general?

Here are the assumptions for the thread:
  1. All suggestions are welcome, but the focus should be on systematic approaches by those who believe they have proven, reliable methods for hearing these differences.
  2. Minimizing variables will be a top priority. If Amp "A" sounded like this in one system/room and sounded like that in another system/room three months later, that experience seems suspect. Comparison methods that emphasize control of variables will be appreciated.
  3. Auditory memory can be addressed. How does one be sure one's memory of a sound is reliable?
  4. If possible, please try to suspend disbelief for this discussion. I admit that I cannot hear these differences, but if it is possible to develop the skill, I would like to be able to. So this is a teaching and learning and exploration thread. However, valid counter-arguments and sanity checks are also welcome.
Then here we go...

First question: Are the assumptions fair?

If so, second question: How does someone get started listening for these differences?

Edit: The original assumptions for this thread have been changed to be consistent with normal posting guidelines for HTS posting. This thread is open to all discussion pertinent to the subject of the thread.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
I just added media file bit rates and resolutions to the list of differences I would like to learn how to be able to hear.

And let me be clear: This is a sincere effort to learn. I have been a skeptic in the past, and will always look for ways to stay grounded and make sure I am not fooling myself, but if there is a way to learn to listen and hear differences in more detail than I have been able to before, I would truly like to develop or unlease the skill.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Are those differences heard immediately or are they only discerned after extended listening (a few minutes, hours, days)?

Are those differences heard when listening to specific test tracks or are they heard pretty much regardless of the material?
 

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Thank You for this, I have been looking for a way to put forth ideas and beliefs in a gentile way without bashing ones head against the wall, on either side that is.

I shall now retreat to my lab and respond in due course,
 

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I can't speak to most of the hardware side of things, but I do have a decent amount of experience with digital files.

The best way to begin to understand how bitrate effects the sound is to start by taking a nice high-bitrate file (say a FLAC) and crunch it down into a super low rate Mp3 file - As low as your converter will let you go. Unlike physical media where no-one ever tried to deliberately create bad recordings, in digital we can make bad recordings and compare them to an 'identical' file to see what happens when we start clipping the dynamic range etc.

Over time you'll be able to tell the difference between different bitrates in the same codec etc, but it will take a loooong time for it to be instinctive as to why.

I'd certainly say that sense memory has a big part to play; you are always comparing what you are hearing to what you think it should sound like, so you need to have the side by side comparison to really get a fair comparison. As you say - If you can't tell the difference in a blind test then it's not achieving anything. It needs to be apples to apples.
 

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As simple as it sounds, I found that I had to narrow my test tracks down to just a few, maybe three or less. These songs are super familiar. I can close my eyes and predict what I think the voices, instruments, drums, etc. should sound like. These aren't my favorite songs, nor are they the best recordings of all time. Rather, I have heard these songs thousands of times on thousands of combinations of file types, components, speakers, and environments.

For me, it is not easy or realistic to be able to blind test everything. Most of my decisions to purchase, move, tweak, or convert something in my system have to come from a feel (an impression) that I get. Most of the time all I have is my memory- my current vision of how my trusty tracks should be revealed. I find this to be an all-important starting point. It is my frame of reference that is not grounded in scientific proof, yet is has helped me improve almost every aspect of my system.
 

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I um, did reserve a space for discussion but in reality I think I am going to get creamed and may rethink my involvement a bit. I have several DAC's at my home for instance and they all have a slightly different hue to them during playback of the same music though the same audio system. Can I show that by using numbers ? No I cannot, but as mentioned before, the human experience cannot ever be defined by numbers as that is not what we play music for, out complete human eco system is designed to experience that which comes from within or without and no two experiences will be alike. That is not to say others wont hear a difference if they so choose, but for me it took a long time to listen for what happens and still today I do not hear anything close to what the experts do. If some folks can detect differences, brilliant, if some cannot, brilliant as well, but then why do those that cannot feel a need to badger those that can until the cows come home ? It makes no sense to me. Maybe with an open mind, many of those that decry foul when it comes to differences may suddenly be able to experience something new.

In saying all electronics, be it amp, dac, wire, interconnect, sound the same would be akin to saying all Chevrolet's are the same or all Fords, refrigerators, footballs, bats, light bulbs, computers etc, because each of those things is designed to do a thing. Same as audio components but that does not mean they all do said thing equally. If all these things were found to be the same, we could live in Russia and all drive a Lada, how pleasant would that be ??

Good Listening

Jack
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks for getting the discussion started.

Savjac, you expressed reluctance about digging into this, not wanting to get "creamed." I added another assumption to post #1, that this thread will be a safe place for this discussion, and that negative or contrary or doubting or ridiculing or discouraging posts - assuming they comply with forum rules - may go into other pertinent threads but will be deleted from this thread without hesitation. If anyone disagrees with that approach, please PM me or Sonnie. It is a different, more stringent set of rules than normal, but I think it is appropriate for the discussion at hand.

Hopefully, all can feel comfortable with an open dialogue under these conditions.

Edit: The assumptions for this thread, expressed in Post #1, have been changed to be consistent with normal posting guidelines for HTS posting. This thread is open to all discussion pertinent to the subject of the thread.
 

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Thanks Wayne,

I've been looking forward to this review/comparison. As far as "how" to set up the comparison, I found an article @ the audioholics site that linked some free software that appears to do exactly what you are talking about. Scroll down to #5.

http://www.audioholics.com/how-to-shop/best-free-audio-software

It reads like it could be just the ticket for this eval. Read over it & let us know if it looks promising to you.
 

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Thank You Wayne for this forum that will allow us to share thoughts, ideas and explanations that some of us have been involved with over the years.
I really see no problems with your assumptions and would look forward to expanding on them as time goes on.

Yes, we can learn to listen for and hear the differences between Amps, DACs, Preamps, Processors, Media File Bit Rates and Resolutions, Cables, and audio components in general IF differences exist in the first place, which to some may or may not seem obvious.

Like operating machinery, a computer, a car or even a remote control, it often takes time and practice to do these things efficiently and as if it were a second sense. Few of us just "Know" how to do something naturally without some practice and the more complex the thing we are trying to learn is, the longer it will take to train the senses to ignore things that do not matter and concentrate on that which does matter. A good example would be an automobile body shop. If you have ever tried to fix a small dent or bit of damage on your vehicle you know that it takes a very trained and skilled hand to ensure the damage is cleaned, covered, sanded smooth, primer applied properly so paint and buffing can be done. Same with making a violin, guitar, trumpet and on and on, without experience, talent or both, we would most likely produce junk. Even with weeks or months or trying we still make construct junk without someone showing us how to do things properly. I think that makes sense although most will read it and feel that we know how to listen, its obvious, why would we need to be show what to listen for ? Well with time, maybe things will become clear....or maybe I am just nuts :coo coo:

I am not sure which item to start with but in all cases, it is important to start with a known entity also known as a control item, be it amp, cable, bit rate, Dac or what ever. We will not start by trying to determine which item is better or worse, but merely which item is DIFFERENT from another. This is the first step in the learning process as we really do not want to overload our senses. It may be easiest to start with what we own as a control sample and then introduce the comparative item, maybe even an item that is known to be a problem or is known to be a lessor quality product. I will try to come up with a good test that most of us can do easily and post same shortly, I need to think of what will be easiest.
 

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I understand what this website is trying to say/do but I am not sure that using a bit of software to record some differences in whatever is being testing can really tell us all we need to know. For example, if we tend to be Fond of Amplifier "A" and we are less fond of Amplifier "B", and both amplifiers seem to be in good order, testing would not really tell us what it is we like or dislike. Especially if we are as suggested, putting a microphone in front of a speaker to test differences, we may never explain what is going on. Measurements have their place but like so many things in this hobby, they will not tell us everything. Listen, if we then hear an issue, try to measure for what we are hearing, although there are some things that, at this point cannot be measured.


Thanks Wayne,

I've been looking forward to this review/comparison. As far as "how" to set up the comparison, I found an article @ the audioholics site that linked some free software that appears to do exactly what you are talking about. Scroll down to #5.

http://www.audioholics.com/how-to-shop/best-free-audio-software

It reads like it could be just the ticket for this eval. Read over it & let us know if it looks promising to you.
 

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Nicely spoken, it is good to hear your experience & perspectives on these issues. While I think subjective comparisons may very well be what decides ones decision on a purchase, I also think that measurable/reproducible characteristics from one product to another would more likely tweak the interest of most readers. Blind listening has proven to be fallible, our minds preconceived conceptions have to be taken into consideration. I think this leaves us with deciding on certain measurable characteristics, combined with real world, subjective impressions to guide our evaluations. The best of both worlds.

PS: I think we will have to agree that "passing/failing" the blind listening portion should not be considered a good or bad thing or a source of ridicule. It should merely be part of the process.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Maybe this is a good way to start:

I am thinking/shopping for a good DAC/headphone amp combo. I will come up with a list of candidates and perhaps others with experience with specific DACs, who have heard them and can describe the sonic differences, can suggest a couple I could get on an eval basis and have time to compare directly. Then those with experienced ears could give me some guidance as to what to listen for and how to listen for it for those specific models. Does that make sense?

I appreciate the input.
 

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Absolutely, I agree. Thank You for your input Tonto, it is important to us all.


Nicely spoken, it is good to hear your experience & perspectives on these issues. While I think subjective comparisons may very well be what decides ones decision on a purchase, I also think that measurable/reproducible characteristics from one product to another would more likely tweak the interest of most readers. Blind listening has proven to be fallible, our minds preconceived conceptions have to be taken into consideration. I think this leaves us with deciding on certain measurable characteristics, combined with real world, subjective impressions to guide our evaluations. The best of both worlds.

PS: I think we will have to agree that "passing/failing" the blind listening portion should not be considered a good or bad thing or a source of ridicule. It should merely be part of the process.
 

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I am most willing to assist you in this quest for a good headphone DAC. Will send a message,

Thank You for sticking with me, this may take a bit of a while.



Maybe this is a good way to start:

I am thinking/shopping for a good DAC/headphone amp combo. I will come up with a list of candidates and perhaps others with experience with specific DACs, who have heard them and can describe the sonic differences, can suggest a couple I could get on an eval basis and have time to compare directly. Then those with experienced ears could give me some guidance as to what to listen for and how to listen for it for those specific models. Does that make sense?

I appreciate the input.
 

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I believe being able to hear differences in recording and equipment is a journey.

I have been listening since the late 60es and I didn’t have a clue as to what I was listening too. Everything sounded good but some things sounded better but I could not put words to why it sounded better it just did.

This journey was made easier with a guide to help me along. In the late 60es and early 70es the audio magazines would review equipment by checking the specs and declaring the item was the best they ever heard. Sometime in the early 70es on a trip into Chicago with my buddy Savjac to listen to the really expensive stuff I picked up a magazine called The Absolute Sound. They based their reviews on how equipment sounded instead of there specs. The absolute sound they were talking about was live unamplified music and that meant finding recording that captured that music as faithfully as possible. The Absolute Sound created a language to communicate what they were hearing making it easier to talk about the sound.

To make a long story short it took years of live concerts and listening sessions with lots of different equipment and recordings for my brain to know how to listen and what to listen for and I am still learning.

Ed
 

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Discussion Starter #18
I have been in A-B test situations where I felt pressured or rattled or felt extra variables were being added at random and found the experience to be stressful, a confidence buster, and did poorly. In other situations where I felt in control, relaxed, confident, that there were no extra variables, I did much better. Making the environment friendly to the listener under test is a key. This can be done while still keeping it a clean blind test.

My approach for purposes of this thread is going to try to learn to hear the differences between pieces of equipment, to get to where I can do it consistently, and then try to find a way to verify with blind testing. The emphasis will be on learning the skills first, and verification will come later. The verification will be important, no doubt, but I do not want it to trip up or get in the way of the initial learning process.

I do not pretend to know where this is all going to end up. To approach this undertaking honestly seems to require surrendering to the subjective side for part of the process, then switching to a more objective mode later on, finding a way for the subjective and objective sides to work together without either overriding the other completely. Time will tell how well this can be done.
 

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I've been involved in blind and double blind tests with pretty much the same kind of results AudiocRaver reports. Many years ago when they were the rage a buddy and I bought an ABX tester. We had mostly the same sort of inconclusive results.

I've settled on what I call the LTLT (long term listening test). I insert device "x" (cable, gear, whatever) into my system and leave it there for a couple of weeks. I keep informal notes about how much time I spend listening. There is no pressure and no trying to analyze whether or not I hear something different.

What I have found is that some devices (cables and gear) cause me to listen less. I've tried this multiple times with the same devices and the results are always the same. That is, some things cause me to do less listening. I don't consciously hear any difference and if pressed I'd have to say "I don't hear any difference.". However, when I replace the "offending" device with something else my listening pattern changes.

This is reason enough for me to acknowledge that some things must sound different whether I can consciously hear a difference or not. All the gear and wiring I now use passes my LTLT test in that the other devices I tried caused me to listen less than the ones I currently use.

I have a bench full of test gear and the educational background ( B. Sc. Elec. Eng.) to know how to use it. Even so, I've determined that my ears should be and are the final and IMO the best arbiter of what to use.
 

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I believe being able to hear differences in recording and equipment is a journey.
I have been listening since the late 60es and I didn’t have a clue as to what I was listening too. Everything sounded good but some things sounded better but I could not put words to why it sounded better it just did.
This journey was made easier with a guide to help me along. In the late 60es and early 70es the audio magazines would review equipment by checking the specs and declaring the item was the best they ever heard.
Hi Ed,

Welcome. You've been around a little longer than me :).
I wholeheartedly agree that manufacturers have done a poor good of correlating specifications and audio relevance.
The 70s was about when audio comic books started appearing. Folks devoid of electro-acoustic scientific knowledge, started expressing their purely subjective, human error-prone (unbeknownst to them) perceptions of electro-acoustic devices, as unerring representations of physical reality and objective, transferable facts. That birthed the entire "high end" industry and where it is today. The 70s were also a time where some great sounding equipment (Infinity, Magnepan, Audio Research, etc.) was produced, like the stuff I'm sure you were hearing. With of course, sufficiently high pricing to cause this well known (to science) effect. Good sound = high price is as pervasive in audio as anywhere else, including wines as so aptly demonstrated in that field of study.

To make a long story short it took years of live concerts and listening sessions with lots of different equipment and recordings for my brain to know how to listen and what to listen for and I am still learning.

Ed
Can't think of a better way to train the ears to know what real instruments-music sound like. I do the same. Just keep in mind that when playing back an electronic capture of such an event, that one is judging the entire process, from recording through playback equipment in room...and your mood/perceptions at that time. A lot of variables involved. Use care when making judgements on any one item, when lots of variables are involved.

cheers
 
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