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Archimago's Musings: Computer audio mythos? A comment on The Linear Solution's DS-1
#11
In cases like these I like to remember Daniel Boorstin’s observation;”The greatest enemy of progress is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”

Austinpop made some subjective observations (I trust his ears as i’ve personally tried and confirmed several of his observations) then he goes on to ‘speculate’ (his word) what may be causing them.  Like the vast majority of audiophiles who are not EEs, he does not have access to the extensive hardware nor perhaps the skills required to make the highly complex measurements, so we’re left with his educated guesses, which he carefully qualified as guesses. Well that’s some progress....at least we have an idea of where those improvements may be coming from in the unlikely event that someone with access to the extensive hardware and necessary knowledge decides to dedicate months if not years to doing a complete investigation.
Then along comes this Archimago and rubbishes the whole enterprise. So what would he prefer, that no one tries these new pieces of hardware and reports on the result? No, clearly that wouldn’t work as he’d have nothing to rubbish

As part of my job I used to participate in technical meetings. To prove a point about creativity I once measured the dynamics of the meeting.

Whenever someone was presenting a problem or criticism of something or someone they were allowed to speak uninterrupted and people listened. But, whenever someone was presenting a new proposal or something creative, 30 seconds was the longest they spoke before being interupted by critics of the proposal. Of course the interruption was carefully listened to. If we look at history there’s a multitude of people remembered for their discoveries and creativity. I’ve yet to see any of their critics remembered for their contributions, likely because they didn’t actually make any. Armchair critics are 10 a penny and while its easy to shoot down others’ ideas, its also valueless.
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#12
I am a bit of a fan of Archimago. I am a bit of a fan of Austinpop as well. So this one is a little awkward! It is classic objective versus subjective stuff, but in this case I think Archimago has been a little harsh on Austinpop, and is either deliberately trying to make him look as stupid as possible, or perhaps has missed the point a little.

Austinpop is a completely unashamed subjectivist, he will judge kit based on listening experiences and if he hears a difference, then for him there is a difference. Interestingly, he does also have a very good technical knowledge, in particular with audio software, so he is perhaps one hardcore subjectivist who can properly understand many of the objective arguments.

Austinpop is very open minded, if he hears a difference when the objective evidence tells him he should not, then starts to think about what we do not know, what we have missed, it is a journey of open-minded discovery. Of course, the objectives can shut this down by claiming it is all imagined and the result of expectation bias, but as @Blackmorec has eluded to above, staying open-minded is more likely to lead to progress and discovery, even if there are a few dead ends along the journey.

So back to the article, Archimego is keen to ridicule Austinpop for his statement that the OCXO clock is the reason for the bulk of the improvement. OK, in no way has this been proven by measurement, but that is not what Austinpop is about. What Austinpop has done is spend a lot of time in the past experimenting with high-quality clocks upstream of USB DACs. By doing this he has come to understand the differences this makes to sound quality, and indeed, the particular aspects of sound quality that are improved by better clocks. Austinpop is also very familiar with the basic NUC that the DS-1 end point is based on. So for Austinpop, he knows what the NUC sounds like, he knows what difference better upstream clocks make to sound quality, and when he hears the DS-1 and hears this difference over the basic NUC, then for him he has the answer, it is clearly related to the OCXO clock. Of course, the objectivists can then strike back and claim he is imagining it all, it is just expectation bias, and we go full circle. It is perhaps worth pointing out here that companies like Sonore, SOtM, Innuos, Aurender, and many others have been installing better clocks in their latest products despite the fact that objectivists will claim this makes zero difference in an asynchronous USB system. Here the objectists will claim that the manufacturers do this because they are selling to a market that falls for this stuff and they should prove it by measurement. Maybe it makes a difference but the manufactures cannot currently measure it? Who knows, I just hope that one day this can be proven, or circular arguments will continue. I recall reading about Uptone Audio making prototype versions of the Iso Regen. These were sent to testers labeled A, B, C. All of the testers preferred the same version, which just happened to be the one with the better clock. Proof? Not really, but it is evidence, and it seems to be the best we can expect at the moment. It does lead me to suspect that there is something here that we cannot measure, but itis just a supposition.

I also notice that Archimago has quoted some of Austinpop's words a little out of context. As an example, Archimego quotes as one of Autinpop's claims " Network streaming computers like this still need to "burn-in". In this case, sound improved "dramatically" over 24 hours." What Austinpop actually wrote was "Given that this unit has an OCXO clock, I expected that it would need some time to stabilize thermally and burn-in. Indeed, the unit's sound improved fairly dramatically over the first 24 hours, after which I stopped really paying attention and have just been using it." The truth is, OCXO clocks do need time to stabilise, maybe not 24 hours, but if you are a typically paranoid audiophile, then you would want something powered up for 24 hours to be sure this variable is eliminated. It has to be said though, what Archimego is ridiculing Austinpop for saying is not what he actually said, very poor show, and not very objective either.

I could go on, but the key point is that Archimego is asking for proof. Autinpops modus operandi is to explore with his ears unhindered by those who demand proof. I respect Austinpop for this, although I can see that there will be times when he gets things wrong. I respect Archimego for his efforts to cut through some of the snake oil nonsense that exists in audio.

Personally, I think I am somewhere in the middle of all this. My view is that we should let the subjectivists / observationalists / experimentalists do their thing unhindered. Then when they make a "discovery" those that like measuring should try and measure, those that like blind testing should test, and indeed, those that like to listen should listen. That's my view, and I can see that this could make progress, as long as those that like measuring do not simply do relatively crude measurements planned to debunk. (this is seen to a degree on ASR, but they do have occasional success) I would actually like to see dealers making an effort to get people into their shops by setting up blind test events. They have the kit and environment to do it. Of course, it might stem the sales of some more dubious products, but it might make some sales too. I would be more willing to part with cash for something if I clearly preferred it blind. For a whole host of reasons though, I suspect this will never happen, or not very often at least. Dan at OAC did perform a quick blind test of two Melco streamers once, which was highly enlightening and could have resulted in me buying the more expensive unit, I would love to see more of this.

I might be wrong, but I think a majority of us on this forum sit somewhere between the objective / subjective extremes, some leaning one way, some the other, it is part of what makes audio reproduction so fascinating. Long may it continue!

As a final note, I am intrigued by why "low latency" software such as Audiolinux provides a subjective improvement. Could there be something in this? I certainly think the very latest SOtM firmware sounds better in my sMS-200ultra Neo, as do others, although I have no idea why. Maybe we are all imagining it? Time for a blind test I think.
1000 Pro - KEF Blade - SOtM sMS-200Ultra Neo - tX-USBultra - Mutec REF10 - MC3+USB - Pro-Ject Signature 12
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