Confirmation Bias – Why You Won’t Hear What You Don’t Want to Hear

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Steven Novella has a wonderful critical thinking blog I only just discovered today, and in it was this article discussing the Dunning-Kruger effect. An extract:

Dunning summarizes the effect as:

“…incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are,”

He further explains:

“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

Could this explain why so many audiophile reviewers are so bad at their jobs, especially the ones who are most well-known and highly regarded (leaving aside for the moment their exceptional amounts of self-regard)?

But hold on just a minute: What about us? Aren’t we as susceptible to these critical thinking errors as anyone else?

Of course we are. But that’s where our famous Hot Stamper Shootouts come in. They are the only way we manage to (almost) always stay on the straight and narrow.

By regularly revisiting the same records over and over again under blind testing conditions in our shootouts, playing the best “new” copies against our reference copies multiple times a year, we make sure our “findings” are as correct as is humanly possible

We’ve discussed this issue in depth on our site. The commentary below gets at most of it:

After doing our first shootout for this album a few years back I can honestly say I had never heard this music sound remotely as good as it did on the best Hot Stamper pressings. More importantly, from an audiophile point of view, I can honestly say that I never imagined it could sound as good as I was hearing it. The sound was just OUT OF THIS WORLD.

It’s why we link the Revolutionary Changes in Audio commentary to so many of our Hot Stamper listings. The revolutionary changes we discuss are precisely what make it possible for any audiophile (this means you) to hear better sound than you ever imagined for all your favorite albums.

All you have to do is do all the stuff we do.

Let’s face it: Hot Stampers simply do not exist for most audiophiles.

Most audiophiles don’t have the system (power, equipment, room, tweaks) to bring them to life. Or the listening skills to recognize a Hot Stamper pressing if they heard one.

The most damning evidence? Most analog-oriented audiophiles are quite happy with the sound of Heavy Vinyl pressings, the kind of BS Vinyl that we regularly trash around here. Those records set a decidedly low standard for sound quality, to our ears anyway, so if the typical audiophile is happy with them, what does that tell you about his audio chain and his critical listening skills?

Rock Your Own Boat

Our Hot Stampers will of course still sound quite a bit better on even a run-of-the-mill audiophile system than any Heavy Vinyl pressing you care to name, but if you’re happy with a $30 reissue, what’s your incentive to spend five or ten or twenty times that amount, based on nothing more than my say-so? Even with a 100% Money Back Guarantee, why rock your own boat?

On the site we take great pains to make it clear that there are many ways that an audiophile — even a novice — can prove to himself that what we say about pressing variations is true, using records he already owns. You don’t have to spend a dime to discover the reality underlying the concept of Hot Stampers.

So-Called Skeptics

But perhaps you may have noticed, as I have, that most audio skeptics do not go out of their way to prove themselves wrong. And a little something psychologists and cognitive scientists call Confirmation Bias practically guarantees that you can’t hear something you don’t want to hear.

Which is all well and good. At Better Records we don’t let that slow us down. Instead we happily go about our business Turning Skeptics Into Believers (one record at a time of course), taking a few moments out to debunk the hell out of practically any audiophile LP we run into, for sport if for no other reason. (They’re usually so bad it’s actually fun to hear how screwy they sound when played back correctly. Who knows — on a ’70s-era Technics turntable running into a Japanese receiver they might sound great. When we buy old audiophile collections that’s the sort of table we find collecting dust along with the vinyl. Might be just the system you need to get them to sound their “best”.)

What About Loggins and Messina Already?

Before we get too far into the sound of this record, I have to link to another commentary that talks a bit about what we listen for. You see, this LP is the perfect example of a record that is not tonally perfect, yet has other qualities that far outweigh this otherwise serious shortcoming. This record has the LIFE OF THE MUSIC in its grooves like nobody’s business. No other copy could touch it.

Sure, it has a little smile curve problem — the top and bottom are a little hotter than they should be. But a minute into this amazing side one and you will have forgotten all that audiophile stuff and just be groovin’ to the Loggins and Messina magic. It just doesn’t get any better.

Smile Curve

Practically all copies have a bit of boost in the bottom end; the kick drum really kicks, more than it should in fact. And almost all copies have too much top end right around 10k. (The ones with the worst case of boosted highs and boosted bass sound like they were mastered by Stan Ricker and pressed in Japan, much like those by a certain audiophile label that many to this day fail to realize made some of the phoniest sounding records ever pressed.)

There is also a fairly serious sibilance problem with the recording. Some copies keep it under control, while other, more crudely mastered and pressed copies suffer greatly from spitty vocals, especially noticeable on Danny’s Song.

This copy manages to keep the EQ anomalies within bounds, while giving us full-bodied pianos; rich, lively vocals, full of presence and brimming with enthuisam; harmonically-rich guitars, and a three-dimensional soundstage that reveals the space around them all.


Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

We have 70+ Audio Exercises you can try at home for fun and profit.

We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

 

 

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