More piff and waffle from Stuart after a bit of a bar room psychology lesson courtesy of Auntie Beeb.
As we’ve been driving back from another hugely successful North West Audio Show (1002 miles not including the ferry) we’ve had the rare joy to listen to Radio 4 in the car. However, our journey has been filled with highs and lows; as a keen stay in Europe believer Friday morning left me somewhat shell-shocked and unsure of the future in store for Europe.
One of the great programs we managed to catch on our long, wet and windy drive South was a program all about cognitive dissonance, and needless to say the whole of the program had a distinctive post Brexit referendum bias. The basic question the program was asking was; as voters, do we reinforce our decision to vote one way or the other once we have put our X in the box in a behavioural way and would those that voted to leave reinforce their decision in the weeks and months to come; in essence would their convictions be bolstered, or would they go down the cognitive dissonance route and have thoughts that swung wildly from thinking they were correct to thinking they’d made a terrible mistake?…and naturally this got me thinking about Hifi…how could it not?
We have endless debates in the Hifi community about whether analogue is better than digital and vice verse, whether one cable is better than another…or indeed whether cables make a difference at all and we air our views pretty publicly. Airing our views is stating our position to our peers – a kind of making our mark in the polling station and airing our views makes each of us more steadfast in our own personal beliefs…or so the theory would go.
From Wiki “Dissonance is felt when people are confronted with information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. If the dissonance is not reduced by changing one’s belief, the dissonance can result in restoring consonance through misperception, rejection or refutation of the information, seeking support from others who share the beliefs, and attempting to persuade others”
Last month I wrote an article and basically came to the conclusion that every decision we make with regards to the products we use is simply down to taste and that none of us were right and yet everyone was right. It must have struck a chord as a virtually identical article appeared on a US site only a couple of days later. But now, given my bar room psychology lesson courtesy of the Beeb, I began to question whether I was right to suggest that “everyone was right and, at the same time, everyone was wrong”. Perhaps what we are actually doing is reinforcing our decisions after we’ve bought product X, or made statement Y. It’s caused me to do a bit of soul searching if truth be known and made me question whether I’ve made purchasing decisions purely on what I’ve heard, or if I’ve bought something and then talked myself into the mindset that I had indeed made the right decision.
I’m sure everyone reading this article will have made a substantial audio purchase, got it home and then wondered if they had made the right decision and then either subconsciously talked themselves into loving the item in question or swung wildly from loving it to hating it and back again, I know I have. I remember when I first got into Hifi in my teens and going round to friends houses who had systems and pretty much everyone of them sounded better than mine and then I’d go home pop on a record and loathe my system with a passion, but not having the money to buy better gear I’d listen to it and look for all the positive things I could and come round to loving my system again. However, reality would raise its head again when I’d go round to friends and realise that in actual fact their systems really did sound better than mine and that’s when I got a serious case of upgraditis and the audiophile rot well and truly “set in” for good.
Being in the review game I find myself in a fortunate position of not having to worry about the need to convince myself of a products merit or otherwise. If something comes in that sounds better than the gear I have then it is bought and it stays in the system…providing the money is there! If a product sounds worse then I make notes, and convey my thoughts on it as honestly as I can and it gets sent back to the manufacturer. Of course there is stuff that comes into the house and it trounces the reference gear sonically but it is so expensive as to be unobtainable; what to do now, do I save for the better item or do I do what I did as a teenager and go back and convince myself my system is “better”? The thing is I no longer need to do this, I can accept that some things will never be and move on, happy in the knowledge that my system does what I need it to do.
So what about the guys that box-swap constantly; what is going on in their minds? Do box swappers live in a constant state of insecurity about their systems merits, are they perpetually searching for the curate’s egg, or are they simply trying to listen to as many different permutations of gear as possible to satisfy some kind of inner curiosity? Again I’ll draw on my own personal experience (YMMV!). As I mentioned earlier, as a teen I just didn’t have the dosh to swip and swap my setup, but about ten years ago I got back into Hifi in a big way and found myself in the fortunate position of being able to box swap pretty much whenever I liked, within certain budgetary constraints; some of the swaps were positive and some were negative. If I’d made a mistake the item in question would be moved on and I’d get something else in and over the past decade this (what I consider to be) fairly “careful” and considered box swapping has led me to the current system we use as the reference. I suppose, to an extent, I’d put myself in the searching for the curate’s egg camp of box swappers, though individual items do stay in the system for a lot longer than they used to and I can honestly not see me changing one item in the current system for quite some time…oh hang on, I’ve just bought a new reel2reel player and know that I’ll be looking for a different one in the near to mid future.
So, the question I suppose once again all boils down to who is right and who is wrong and do you know what, I don’t think it matters. We are all in the audiophile game for our own ends and whether you swing wildly from loving your system to hating it, or find yourself completely content with your system it doesn’t matter so long as you are happy and enjoy what you do. I got a bit of flack and got called a cop out for saying that “everyone was wrong and everyone was right” and that everything came down to taste in the final analysis, but I stand by my statement and believe that if you are enjoying your setup as it stands or want to swap components in and out all the time then feel free to carry on.
Oh hang on a minute, I think I’ve changed my mind.