Why I Hate Measurements (I don’t)

I don’t hate measurements but some people think I do because I am often critical of how people interpret them. These are two very different things.

Measurements, when properly performed, can tell us about aspects of a piece of kit’s performance—no ifs, ands, or buts. What measurements do not tell us is how a given piece of kit will sound to us when it becomes part of our hifi, playing our music, in our home.

Measurements can be helpful when it comes to matching up components and speakers. They can be a useful guide. Reviews, all reviews are subjective by definition, can help when it comes to narrowing down gear to audition. They can be a useful guide.

There are two basic types of hifi hobbyists when it comes to measurements: those who value measurements most, and those who value what their hifi sounds like playing music. I include myself in this latter group, which helps explain why I’ve spent years (and years) writing about listening to music on the hifi.

What’s the worst-case scenario for each of these types? For the measurements-first folks [footnote 1], you could very well end up with a hifi you don’t enjoy listening to. For listeners, you could very well end up with a hifi that does not perform well under certain test conditions.

J.C. Morrison, who I am very happy to call a friend, recently touched on this subject on the TM Facebook page:

An electrical signal isn’t music. Music is culture. And subject to all the messy conflicts and caprice humans are capable of.

Let that sink in for a minute or two.

a joke (I post these on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube on a regular basis)

Here’s something I wrote for Stereophile in an As We See It from 2010:

Let’s redefine high fidelity as being faithful to the passion for and discovery of music. This means that the best hi-fi is the one that perpetually fans the flame of this passion.

I have since refined that last part to say, the best hifi is the one that’s used most often. While obvious, I’d like to point out that this point of view is completely inclusive—it allows room for everyone, even the measurement-first folks. This is called reality.

another joke

If you’ve ever read what the measurement-first folks, also self-defined as “objectivists”, write about when they write about hifi, you’ll notice a few things:

  1. measurement-first folks know what you should buy
  2. measurement-first folks discount other people’s experience and enjoyment based on their unnecessarily restrictive world view
  3. measurement-first folks dictate the reasons you listen to music on the hifi
  4. the stuff the measurement-first folks own is better, and often cheaper, than everything else
  5. measurement-first folks condemn products, people, and companies based on their unnecessarily restrictive world view

And these people take pleasure in these things.

While obvious, I’d like to point out that this point of view is completely exclusive—it allows room for anyone who is in agreement. Everyone else is wrong or ignorant, or so their thinking goes. This is called fantasy. It’s also all I need to know to know that these fine folks and their beliefs have no bearing whatsoever on my enjoyment of this wonderful hifi hobby.


1. My friend and colleague John Darko over on darko.audio coined the term “Music-First Audiophile”