Objective subjectivity.” Apostolis Geroukos write
“There is yet one method to eliminate some of our [buying] options; there is one
way to -more often than not- end up with a decision which will ultimately satisfy our
needs; and that solution is what I will henceforth name…
Provided you read last week’s entry, you will find the above opening paragraph quite
familiar. That’s how I decided to end the previous discussion concerning why audio
gear matters. So in this episode, objective subjectivity is the star of the show. Don’t
try to look it up online or in a dictionary, most likely you will end up empty-handed.
Let me offer some insight here and explain what this term I have coined stands for.
What I mean by objective subjectivity is that, objectively speaking, everyone has
subjective preferences when it comes to sound. This is not only objective since we
cannot deny it, but also subjective as we are talking about what we like and prefer.
Hence the notion of objective subjectivity.
A logical question you might have is “why don’t we all prefer the same sound?” To
find an appropriate answer, it’s safe to start by mentioning what science has already
proved: we all hear differently! Every pair of human ears has its own unique
interpretation of auditory cues, which means we all hear sounds with differences in
the perceived volume of certain frequencies, be it a few decibels up or down.
Ultimately, this affects the way we hear things or, to be more specific in our case, it
changes the way we perceive the low, the mid and the high frequencies. So the next
time you find two contrasting reviews of an audio product (exclusively in terms of
sound quality), keep that hearing variation in mind.
If we set the -objectively different- hearing perception each and every one of us has
aside, we can safely move on to the next part of the answer: preferred sound
signatures. There’s no doubt that if we conducted a sample survey as to what sound
profile a small group of listeners prefers, the results would be totally different, to say
the least. Some would choose a warm, easy-on-the-ears sound with elevated bass
and smooth treble, others would opt for an analytical, brighter presentation with
elevated treble but less bass, and so on. Apparently, what I may find bass-heavy or
hot treble, you might find bass-light or smooth treble for the sake of your own tastes.
It all comes down to personal preference and what sound signature your ears feel
right at home with. But how can we know what is the sound signature of a product
beforehand? Well, frequency response measurements as well as reviews are your
safest bet. When done right, measurements can illustrate the frequency response of a
product and give you a sneak peak on what to expect in terms of overall signature,
however it isn’t the end-all be-all parameter by which one should judge audio
Given the fact that not every human being hears the same and that sound preferences
vary wildly among listeners, it comes as no surprise that sound quality can easily
become a hot debate, especially when reading product reviews. For example, a
reviewer may dislike a warm headphone because they actually prefer a brighter
signature, or vice versa. It is for such reasons that we should take everything we see
or read with a huge grain of salt whenever stumbling upon audio reviews; just
because somebody is dissatisfied with an audio product, this doesn’t necessarily
mean we will relate to their experience.
So how can we eliminate some of our bying options like I mentioned too many times
already? The answer is simple: discover the sound signature you enjoy the most. If
for example, you are a fan of warm sound, you know in advance that bright
sounding gear is out of the question for you. This way, it’s safe to say that based on
our listening preferences, some products will suit us more than others, and the means
to find this out is either by demoing or doing our research on finding different
reviews or opinions. Demoing is definitely a difficult path to take and is solely based
on where you live, but researching can easily be done online. We can read reviews,
gear measurements and, in general, spending time to carry out a market research
helps us purchase something which will meet our audio expectations in the end.
Think about it like this: would you rather buy something blindly and then regret
having spent your money because the product turned out to be far from your cup of
tea, or would you prefer to make your research carefully and then end up with a
Ultimately, the deciding factor is what you hear, so trust your own ears. After all, if I
were to describe music listening as a hobby summarized in a phrase, that would be
different strokes for different folks.