Monday, 26 December 2011

How do audiophile cables work? Part 5 - in the mind

Since we have established no electrical or construction cause for different cables producing different sound quality, we have to look at the other potential variable, the listener.

Cable believers howl when it is suggested that they are somehow hearing things or fooling themselves. But all of the very credible reports of cables sounding different (which includes myself) when sighted shows this is not the imagination at work. I believe it shows there is a strong link between the other senses and hearing and sound quality.

Here are some studies that link the senses

A study of contextual influences on sound quality evaluation … 6/art00005
"Product sound quality judgments are based on perception of both acoustical characteristics and various non-acoustical factors. This paper focuses on how non-acoustical, contextual, factors might impact sound quality evaluation. Three different experiments showed that a positive or negative attitude towards the product (induced by priming tasks, mood, or reading about others' opinions) systematically influenced how sounds were perceived. Moreover, temporary influences such as mood interacted with more stable individual differences such as noise sensitivity. These findings suggest that product sound quality evaluation is variant across people, and that both research and industry need to consider contextual factors to fully understand how the concept of quality is constructed."

A study into developments in sound quality evaluation … /572-0.pdf
which studies all sorts of sounds including car doors shutting and snoring!  It states "the image of brand names or audio-visual interactions can significantly influence sound quality judgements"

A study of country of origin and brand and their influences. … 97cems.pdf
It finds that identical CDPs were rated differently for sound quality depending on their supposed country of origin. (See page 43 of the report).

Sennheiser's annual report of 2010 has some interesting articles about the affect taste has on sound. Here is a description of a study by Heriot Watt University where volunteers tasted wine to different types of music and then described the taste. It was affected by the music. … _ears.html

It seems reasonable that sight affects sound as well, which helps to explain why we get so many reports of items such as cables, which should not sound different, sounding different.

There has been very little testing of cables, but here is one where a psychology students tests cables and sound vs value … Nkd2N0NmM2
where when the subjects know the value they can hear a difference, but when they are blinded they cannot hear a difference any more.
"For the past few weeks we have been learning about the brain and it's amazing properties, we decided it would be a perfect time to test the brains capability to alter reality.  Our minds after all are very powerful in the ability to deceive us.   We decided to perform an experiment that we have devised to determine if the whether cost of something really scales perfectly with the performance, or does the mind play a greater role in determining this.   If the latter is true, then, our mind's perceived value of equipment will increase the fidelity of what we hear when we listen to audio.  This would reinforce the concept that our minds are powerful enough to change even the way we hear based on factors other than reality. In order for us to test this experiment we gathered a group of volunteers with the promise of an experience they would not soon forget.  Our procedure is as follows: We setup a test platform consisting of an audio set up with changeable variables the first setup used cheap and easily obtainable stock cables, in the second set up we swapped these out for far more expensive cables.  The aim of our experiment was to test whether or not the perceived value of the setup changed the way the listener heard the sound.

How:   After that we blindfold the participants and repeat the listening experience but switching the cables randomly each time.  After the test subject has listened to music 4 times, we ask the order in which the cables were used.  After they explain to us what they think they have heard in order we tell them what the actual order is.  The target of our experiment was people who listened to music.  To collect the data from these individuals we had invited them over to a house with our equipment set up and allowed them to be comfortable and sat them down.  From there we had let them start our experiment. 

Our experiment was conducted by letting participants listen to both the cheap and expensive audio and then letting them make an analyses on what the sound quality is with both. After setting up the test station and gathering our test subjects, we began the test by first allowing the subjects to hear the cheap and the expensive cable separately. Each time we specifically told them which cable they were listening to. After a few tries, most subjects claimed that they were able to differentiate between the two. When the subjects were satisfied with what they heard, we blindfolded them and subjected them four random tests. Each one of the four consisted of either the expensive or the cheap set of cables. We did this randomly without sequence. After this, they explained to us what they thought they had heard in chronological order and then we told them what the actual order is.  All subjects we tested were unable to correctly identify between the cables despite having proclaimed a huge difference between the cables before the cable was put on. We did this for 12 participants including ourselves, we felt that we too were also viable candidates for the test, as bias was nearly impossible in this kind of test.  This was easily proven by the fact that even though we tested each other before conducting the experiment, our results matched those of our test subjects.

Results analysis: The participants could tell a difference in sound quality when the participants knew which audio cable we were using.  This had changed dramatically when we did not tell them what we were using and were blindfolded; none of the participants were able to tell the difference between the two cables consecutively.  These results tell us that the price of equipment affects our judgment due to the fact that our minds are powerful and that it can skew our judgment just by thinking that something is better than the other.  This would be due to the fact that our minds want to have a relation between both price and quality.  This might have to do with the fact that we do not want to be scammed into paying for something that is actually cheap.  In order for our minds to do this they will correct whatever we are missing or what we find is wrong.  A reason for this mental "safety net" could be to make us feel less regret when something bought that is expensive underwhelms us.  As these participants did not buy the equipment they might have subconsciously thought about how price will be matched linearly to quality thus altering what they think.

Due to the fact that before being blindfolded participants had stated they could tell a difference in sound quality between the two cables, most of which stated that the more expensive cable sounded better, we are able to conclude that our minds influence the way we hear things depending on the perceived value of what we listen to.  Therefore we can conclude that our hypothesis was correct and that perceived value really does change what we think is a better sound quality.  Some of the variables we may have missed though would be that our participants may have been subject to some type of hearing loss.  To prevent this, we would need to conduct this experiment on a larger scale then what we have previously tested.  Some other things that we can do is redo this test with a larger variety of cables.  This meaning that we could test new equipment to see if it really will make audio a better quality by using this same procedure.  Another thing that we could do is use the data to make things sound better to customers or the person receiving it by telling them that the equipment they are using is expensive.  This would revolutionize the way we see technology by learning that people will actively fix what our minds feel is missing.  This would mean that  doctors could prescribe "expensive" medication to amplify the effects of the medication being prescribed, a sort of "super" placebo effect. Our minds actively alters what the brain receives due to changes in expectations.  Despite it being only a minuscule or non-existent change it is amplified or created into something we perceive as a huge difference. Cognitively it can be said that does this due to expectation that have been set upon us.  We want to hear a difference because we expect a difference as a result of the price that we paid, therefore it can be argued that at times humans can easily be manipulated due to our expectation that value will scale linearly with performance. "

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