what value listening tests 2010-03-09 10:19:33 There is much discussion that revolves around a/b type listening tests, mostly concering the results of course, but also a large amount concerning the details of the tests and how they are carried out. However so far I have never seen anyone express concern about the fundamental premise of listening tests, and to whether they can ever produce really meaningful results. It seems to be just accepted that the idea of listening tests is a good one, its just a matter of figuring out how to best carry them out.There is, I believe, such a huge and very fundamental difference between listening to music under normal circumstances and listening to music during a listening test. Normally when we listen to music its not a purely concious process, rather its more or less an automatic process - we simply let the music kind of wash over us, and leave it up to our subconcious mind to do the work, to invoke an emotional response, and to provide us with a pleasurable sensation (hopefully).This is very different to the very concious process during a listening test, where people sit in moods of deep concentration and furrowed brows, focussing their attention on bits of the music, comparing, making notes, remembering, judging, etc.I dont believe the two processes are comparable enough to draw any conclusions that might apply equally to both scenarios, apart from very crude and broad ones. Normal listening and listening tests are as different as chalk and cheese. If I can invoke a slightly rude example, it is like the difference between a couple having passionate, romantic sex in the privacy of their own bedroom versus doing it in a laboratory in front of technicians and cameras. Its only when you are really listening to music, as opposed to examining it under a microscope, that you can fully appreciate all the nuances of it - the nuances that will go right over you head and out the window in a listening test. You might think you can hear them, but your ability to pick them up will be skewed by the mood and state of mind you have to be in to do the test.My advice to anyone trying to evaluate a codec is to convert a large portion or indeed all of your music to the codecs you want to test, load each one successively onto your player, listen to it during the course of a day (and i mean listen normally, not examine), and note down at the end of the day how much enjoyment and pleasure you got from the experience. Take particular note of the times you felt really enthusiastic about the music, when you enjoyed even some of your least favourite tracks, and the other days when you found you kept wanting to skip past tracks, or found your attention wandering from the music.This is I think much the best way to really properly judge a codec, or a piece of equipment. I found that when I conducted a/b type listening tests with mp3 and wma codecs at high bit rates, I was unable to pick large differences, and wound up thinking that mp3 sounded quite ok. However, subsequent actual lsitening experience revealed that mp3 was very unsatisfying, and during the days I had mp3's on my player, I almost completely lost interest in listening to music. When I put wma versions of the same music on my player, I was suddenly interested once again, and enjoying the music once again. I actually performed this test by accident, accidentally replacing the wma with mp3, which i discovered later - a perfect example of unbiased testing. You normally listen to music with your subconcious mind, but compare and judge it with your concious mind. Make no mistake the two are very different.My advice is by all means conduct listening tests, but take them with a pinch of salt. The best way to judge music is when you are listening normally, not when you are in judgement mode.Anyway, thats my two cents worth (or less?) for now.