Ethan Winer on Perception

Ethan Winer in Tape Op, on how the limits and fallibility of human perception cloud our judgments about sound (or should I say sound judgment?):

Hearing fallibility has implications beyond doubting our own mixing decisions. It’s the main reason audiophiles believe the sound of their hi-fi improved after replacing one perfectly competent AC power cord with another, or after raising their speaker wires off the floor on special “anti-resonance” cable lifters. Understand that I’m not talking about real differences, such as the sound of modern digital recording versus analog tape or vinyl records. Those differences are real, and are easily measured using the standard metrics of frequency response and distortion. Skilled listeners can easily identify which is which every time in a blind test. Rather, what I’m addressing are differences that are perceived but not real—the placebo effect if you will, or perhaps wishful thinking.

Bob Clearmountain chimes in the next issue’s letters section:

Hats off to Ethan Winer! His article, “Perception—The Final Prontier” echoes my sentiments exactly. It’s great to see that someone in this business has the balls to apply intelligence and reason to the science of audio…You can make a great record from pretty much any recording and mixing device, if you have four things: 1) a great song, 2) a great performance, 3) great production and 4) a great mix—in that order. And the last two aren’t even necessary if the first two are incredible. When it comes to the gear it’s more important that the recordist, mixer, producer and artist are comfortable with it and that it doesn’t get in the way of getting a great performance.

In other words: Get your hands on some decent tools, learn how to use them quickly and effectively, then promptly and completely forget about them, so you can focus on, ya know, the music.