One of the more controversial topics among audio researchers is whether or not trained listeners should be used for audio product testing and research. The argument against using trained listeners is based on a belief that their tastes and preferences in sound quality are fundamentally different from those of the general untrained listener population for whom the product is intended.
There are few published studies to support the notion that trained listeners have different loudspeaker preferences than untrained listeners. To study this question, the author conducted a large study (see reference 1) that compared the loudspeaker preferences of 300+ untrained and trained listeners. Over the course of 18 months, an identical controlled, double-blind listening test was repeated with different groups of trained and untrained listeners who rated 4 different loudspeakers on an 11-point preference scale using 4 different music programs. Loudspeaker positional effects were controlled via an automated speaker shuffler that moves each loudspeaker into the exact same position.
The mean loudspeaker preference ratings for the different groups of listeners are summarized in the above graph. In terms of rank order, the loudspeaker preferences of the untrained listeners (highlighted in red) are essentially the same as those of the trained listeners (highlighted in blue). As a group, the trained listeners tended to give lower ratings, suggesting they may be more difficult to please. An important conclusion from this study is that the loudspeaker preferences of trained listeners can be safely extrapolated to the tastes of consumers having little or no formal listener training. The study did find significant differences between the trained and untrained listeners in terms of how well performed their listening task. This will be discussed in Part 2 that will appear in the next posting of this blog.
Reference 1: Sean. E Olive, "Differences in Performance and Preference of Trained Versus Untrained Listeners in Loudspeaker Tests: A Case Study," J. AES, Vol. 51, issue 9, pp. 806-825, September 2003.
This paper can be purchased from the Audio Engineering Society here, or downloaded for free courtesy of Harman International.