Ole Witthøft

Compact speaker wins blind test, but headaches persist

The Q113 Evolution has won the exciting blind test at DELTA SenseLab, making it the project's first winner. Take a look behind what is probably the first blind test of speakers in Denmark and join the conversation about why the method is not more widely used. Three speakers have been developed in the Q113 project. The Q113 Evolution compact speaker won the first major listening test and now the blind test. 25 people took part in the blind test of Q113 speakers at DELTA SenseLab and pointed to the Q113 Evolution, or SA pandion 2 as it is now called, as the speaker with the best sound quality. In second place comes the old champion SA2K, which is finally being beaten by a younger model. The less flattering 3rd place goes to the beautiful floorstanding speaker, while last place goes to the otherwise very well kept wall speaker. The result is entirely in line with the rating given to the same speakers by 92 of Ingeniørens readers in a similar test earlier this year. It's a great step for the Q113 project to have a product that can win, whether it's judged by its "friends" or some pros who have no relation to the product at all.

27-Nov-2013-2

Laboratory humor. Following on from the Q113, DELTA SenseLab has come up with this brand new test method for people who want to identify good speakers.

Read the full report

I would encourage you to go to the DELTA website and find the report that describes the test in depth. It's a really good read about testing loudspeakers in a completely different way than you've seen before. Write an email to me at ole@system-audio.com if you want the report sent to you as a PDF. Blind tests are not commonplace in the audio industry and this project is also supported by the Danish Agency for Research and Innovation, because there are probably some future opportunities with the test method once it is fully developed. But what is it about blind tests?

27-Nov-2013-3

The special listening room in DELTA SenseLab. You can't see the speakers you're comparing the sound of.

Is the blind test the industry's black sheep?

The audio industry has entered the 21st century without embracing tools such as blind testing, even though the testing method probably provides the most truthful assessment of, for example, the sound quality of a speaker. To the consumer we provide some technical specifications which we know are useless to identify good sound and even if science today is able to provide some other information that can better describe the perceived sound, we still do not use these tools and do not provide even a minimum of information that says something about the sound quality of the products. Manufacturers such as yours truly can present a new product to the consumer and claim in the best sense that "the new product sounds better than the old one". No one would even wonder about the postulate. But a bold consumer might ask: "Says who? Who found out that the new model is better than the old one?" and most of us producers would answer: "We did!". Those of us who have every reason to praise the new model! Now, I have no evidence to comment on whether everyone's new audio products are better or worse than their predecessor. Nor do I have any reason to claim that it is wrong to develop products based on one's own experiences and preferences.

27-Nov-2013-4

The test participant indicates his impression of the sound by placing a cursor on a screen.

Food is created with input from consumers

In fact, I don't even know if there is a better alternative to the current practice. I would just say that in other industries, such as the food industry, the assessments of selected consumers have been taken into account in product development for many years. The food industry has a deep knowledge of, for example, what flavour compositions consumers like. They know which colours to use to make the right impression on their target group and they have a clear sense of which way the wind is blowing in relation to consumers. The blind test can also give a more nuanced view of products that are in the development phase, because you don't have the same wet eyes when you switch between your own darling and the unknown guest when you don't know what you are testing. But do we need another test?

27-Nov-2013-5

The Spider Plot - a completely different diagram. The more the speaker spreads out in the circle, the higher it scores. That is, except for distortion, which is rated best the less of it there is. That is, the closer the dot is to the centre. The compact speaker has the red marks.

The sound can be described in so many ways

It's not that this world lacks ways to test speakers, but it's well known that measurement equipment doesn't tell us the full truth about the speakers' sound. Our human ears can hear more than we can measure, and in this project we did extensive listening tests, then worked on the sound of the speakers to make our ears happy with the results in the end. The measuring equipment could not have helped here. However, this does not mean that the different speakers of the project sound the same. Nope. It means that we've gotten all the sonority out of the designs that we possibly can, but the speakers are never going to sound the same no matter how much we work with them.

27-Nov-2013-6

The setup in the listening room. The test loudspeaker (T) is positioned exactly in relation to the reference loudspeaker (R) and the test participant.

Blind test focuses on sound alone

Critical engineers in the project have argued that a blind test is the only real way to find a winner. When working to create world-class sound quality, it must be the audio experience alone that has the final say. An argument it's hard to disagree with. The experience of a loudspeaker may even consist of impressions such as the design, the size of the loudspeaker, the price, the construction, the reputation of the brand, etc. that make it difficult to say whether one is judging the sound alone. Our brains probably mix it all up and an experience of a speaker is a mishmash of all sorts of things. Add to this the fact that there may be speakers that we intuitively dislike because, for one reason or another, they are not made to the book, look wrong or are just not constructed according to the norms. Here, a blind test might reveal that they really are good, once the brain with all its assumptions, superstitions etc. is put out of action.

27-Nov-2013-7

DELTA SenseLab will help Danish companies with tests that tell how the product is experienced by consumers.

DELTA SenseLab is developing a method for blind testing

In a blind test, it is, so to speak, people who act as measuring devices. This means that reliability has a very high priority, because a test taker has to be trusted to give the same answer every time he or she is given the same task. That is why DELTA SenseLab has a selected and trained listening panel consisting of musicians, sound engineers, acoustics students and others who work professionally with sound, but also "ordinary people" with good ears. Where the measuring equipment uses numbers, curves and diagrams, people use words and concepts, so it is of the utmost importance that the test participants associate the same expressions with the sound experiences and that the words do not have, for example, multiple meanings. The possibility to perform listening tests with a trained listening panel is being developed at DELTA SenseLab, because they have seen a perspective in helping Danish companies with product tests that tell how audio products are perceived by the end user.

27-Nov-2013-8

Dumped again. It's time to think about the future of the project wall and floor speaker.

The headache is back

I will ponder the further fate of the floor and wall speaker, both of which are really well liked but have repeatedly given rise to headaches. They have stood as the innovative section of the project and have carried the name Revolution to show that there really is something going on here. Now they've gone into the ditch (again) and next time, I'll take a sober look at their future, because it seems they're not going into production in their current form! In the meantime, a debate on blind testing might be interesting, I think. Is it a relevant testing method that can give more insight into the product's performance? Could blind testing eventually be used to identify a number of characteristics that people prefer over others? Is there a good reason why the method is not more widely used? etc.

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Ole Witthøft
Ole is the founder of System Audio. His 3 greatest passions are music, design and technology. Every day, Ole is working on some kind of projects, and you find him in the workshop, in the production, behind a computer or on one of his many presentations around the world.

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