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Failing Audiophile 103

Let's talk metrics. The audiophile community loves talking metrics. Since I can't match the technobabble of a true audiophile, I will retaliate with rambling.

Most metrics are meaningless. They mean nothing. And assembled, they have even less meaning. It's not because the metrics are wrong, it's because you and I don't really understand what the metrics mean or how they go together, and so the metrics truly are meaningless. If you cannot make a meaningful decision with your metrics, they are meaningless.

So when it comes to audio gear, I can't actually assess it based on the numbers. Quite honestly, most people can't.

What do we do instead? $$$. We look at the price as a stand-in for metrics, and you can see where the mischief starts there, can't you? If you want a better performing product, just give it new packaging and price it higher. "Now with 30% more statistics!"

The thing about metrics is that metrics are all that we really have. They are the only way to guarantee that we have improved anything.

For example, we can put a signal down a speaker wire and compare the resulting signal with the original signal. We can do that for any number of materials and gauges. The end result? If you buy quality wire, then your signal loss will be negligible on any scale that you are likely to construct. Could you improve on that to get better sound? Sure, but just how much better than negligible are you going to get? These days, most normal humans won't hear any difference in their wiring useless something about the environment is weird.

Sometimes I hear about lousy power supplies. I am continually astonished by the number of amp manufacturers who sabotage their amplifiers through the use of cheap Chinese power supplies. Its like they don't know that the power supply makes the amp sound bad. Or maybe it's because they aren't that dumb? The manufacturers can compare the signal going into their device with the signal going and they can measure that. The end result is that even a cheap-ass amp gives marvelously clean amplification because engineers aren't stupid.

I'll say this again. Engineers aren't stupid. Marketeers may be stupid, though, and also bean counters. But engineers for higher end audio products? If they can get good sound with an easy upgrade of parts, they will get sound with an easy upgrade. Why? Because high-end audio is brutally competitive.

And then there are materials. "The speaker is made with paper, so of course it's sounds bad. All the cheap speakers are made of papers." Compare this with, "The car is made of steel, so of course it drives bad. All cheap cars are made with steel." The materials used in a product do not determine the final quality of a product. Bad speakers are bad because they are designed that way, not because they are made from paper. Even "paper" isn't just paper. Different formulations of paper at different price points will produce different speakers. A well designed and constructed paper speaker can sound good because engineers, you remember them, record the output of those speakers and measure the distortion. If the measured distortion is too high, they redesign the speakers.

Here's what you can expect. Engineers will start from the cheapest sound tech and work to the most expensive, building their products to a certain price point. They will do this because they are in competition with the other audio manufacturers who are doing the same things. They all want you to have the best experience per dollar than you can get because they want your money. For each improvement that the engineers put into a product, the product will gain progressively smaller improvement in sound while progressively going up in price. The most minute improvements prove most expensive.

Some things can't be reduced to metrics. Given a list of promises on a box, does the product deliver on those promises? How does the product compare against the competition? How do the headphones fit? How aesthetic is the unit in question? I don't know a way to measure those things.

Note that none of this says that you won't get ripped off by being sold crap. We've all done it because metrics don't mean anything, and there's always someone willing to lie and take you lunch money at every price point.