What We Measured, What We Heard

The correlation between perception and reality is an eternal question.

If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

It depends on the definition of the word sound. Is it a physical event or a perceptual phenomenon? Is sound the pressure wave or is it the perception of the pressure wave? Coming to terms with the distinction determines the answer to the question. It’s no conundrum when a definition is agreed upon. As a physical manifestation, the answer is yes; as a perception, the answer is no. But this ancient conundrum is not a question looking for an answer; it’s a question for stimulating thought about what it means to make a sound.

How we approach a subject determines how we see it. The subject of measurements and their correlation to what we hear is often disputed. Some argue there is no correlation and therefore measurements are irrelevant. The problem, obviously, is finding the correlations. Without a disciplined, methodical approach the numerous variables can get crisscrossed in the process of listening, and then the results turn up undecipherable. This makes the stance of “no correlation” perfectly understandable, but if one takes carefully devised, properly controlled, step by step experiments tied with systematic evaluation of the data, the correlations become apparent. Where we still hit a wall is at the point where measurements go beyond the threshold of perceptibility. There again is when the tree makes no sound.

And here is where Gordon Gow comes into the picture. He was VP of McIntosh in its early decades. The link below takes you to a transcript of the presentation given by Mr. Gow speaking about a new product, its history, its hows & whys, and a few side topics. This nearly 50 year old talk remains relevant today. It still holds because physics hasn’t changed. The properties for faithfully reproducing sound are the same today as they were in 1971, only the technological means for achieving the goal have evolved.

He makes several important points. These points were founded not on supposition, nor by a post-hoc argument applied to wiggle a way to justify the new product. Rather, the product was developed out of findings from a combination of experimental testing and subjective experience. Their research was based on both measurement and listening. If only all products were thoroughly tested before being manufactured, sold to consumers, and passed off as something special.

Here’s the link : [Gordon Gow]

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