A couple of posts ago I touched on the seemingly never-ending debate between audio subjectivists versus objectivists. The former rely on their ears (and subjective impressions) when evaluating audio components, while the latter argue that technical specs tell the true story.
I'm firmly in the objectivist camp - a distinct minority in the audiophile community, at least, where subjective opinions claiming all sorts of dramatic sound differences among end-user electronic equipment and components (like op amps and cables etc.) are the rule. The problems with the subjectivist approach are well known, and I'm not going to rehash them here.
The bigger question may be, does it matter? Listening to audio (usually music) is ultimately a subjective experience. In fact, it seems for many people audio playback quality plays little role in their enjoyment of the content.
For the rest of us, "better" audio quality usually leads to greater listening enjoyment. For some, however, "better" may mean sound with a particular tonal balance, or with the added distortions of tubes or vinyl, while others may prefer audio playback that is as transparent to the source material as possible.
And there are clearly significant psychological factors at play here as well. For some, the packaging and aesthetic appeal of high-end luxury audio equipment will add to their listening enjoyment, while others may derive great satisfaction from listening to a do-it-yourself project they built themselves in a plastic electronics project box.
On that note, my previous post on this subject mentioned a reviewer/engineer who has recently been bringing a much-needed (IMO) objective measurement-based testing approach to the audiophile/DIY community. Now he has put his money where his mouth is and designed an objectivist-based DIY headphone amplifier that sports some pretty impressive specs.
Will it sound obviously better than other competently designed such amplifiers? Probably not under most normal circumstances. But as a long-time headphone user I'll be building this project for sure. And knowing that its technical specs are just about second to none, I know I'll subjectively enjoy the sound from it all the more.
Comments, questions or suggestions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Audio subjectivist vs. objectivist debate
Audio cable break-in, analog vs. digital nonsense
Vinyl vs. CD myths refuse to die
Audio Myths Workshop video