[I]t’s not uncommon for people to be asking the question, “can you really hear the difference?” This is very good news for music and music lovers.
Rob then goes on to describe a particularly thorough method for conducting audio tests.
But it doesn’t matter.
If you have to squint to hear the difference, the difference doesn’t matter. We’re talking about comparing two different signal chains and the audio difference between them is so slight that you need an ABX test to tell them apart. If that’s the case, the minuscule difference will be dwarfed by other practical considerations. You know, real-life factors like cost, ease-of-use, ability to impress people, availability, etc.
MP3 encoding is a great example. Low-resolution (below 128kbps) MP3 encoding is easy to hear. You don’t need a controlled test to know when you’re down there. But above a certain point (192kbps for me), MP3 is *almost* indistinguishable from uncompressed audio. At that point, it doesn’t matter how close it is, because the fact that it takes a fraction of the time to transfer online is far more important.
In fact, MP3 encoding is a great example because if you’re encoding your audio with a lossy format, you already don’t care about perfect reproduction.
Amp sims are another example. They sound just fine. People doing extensive comparative testing are wasting their time (unless they’re developing amp sims themselves!). Amp sims suck. They don’t suck because they sound terrible. They don’t (they used to, but thankfully we’re past that point). They sound great. Amp sims suck because they don’t give you the experience of playing in front of a kicking amp (also, iso booths suck for the same reason!). A better performing experience will give you a better performance. And that is what matters.