It’s not right. It’s not even wrong. Why scientific foundation matters.
Several years ago, I attended our annual distributor dinner event in Frankfurt, where Ilpo Martikainen offered an interesting speech on marketing. I had long learned to relish the moments when Ilpo shared his thoughts in this way – so unlike a typical commercially or technology-oriented company leader. Regardless of his engineering background, his mind often zoomed in on subjects of social, cultural and philosophical importance.
On the evening in question, he raised the importance of maintaining a factual foundation in marketing. This is particularly true, he argued, in the world of audio, where subjective viewpoints and individual perception can prove highly influential when critically evaluating audio quality – whether consciously or otherwise. In his speech, he referred to Harry G. Frankfurt’s books, “On Truth” and “On Bullshit”, both of which discuss the background and motivation for the misrepresentation of facts – as well as the dangers to our civilization of becoming indifferent to such activity.
Now we are in the era of social platforms and the data economy, enabled by unprecedented developments in the fields of data collection, computing and networking, and indifference to mistruth has become a real danger. Thus, for the good of society, it is more than ever before the responsibility of individuals, companies and other organisations and communities, to represent themselves faithfully and honestly.
At Genelec, we believe that the objective and subjective assessment of reproduced sound should always go hand-in-hand. The subject is a human, the setting is planet Earth, and the question is “what are we able to hear, given enough time?”. Repeatability and falsifiability are equally important qualities in distinguishing facts from fiction, hence the headline of this blog, a quote from Austrian physicist, Wolfgang Pauli: “A claim may be worse than wrong if it neither can be proven correct, nor falsified”. Consequently, selecting the objective measurements that are most relevant in professional audio, then reporting them consistently and honestly is a guiding principle that Genelec has always followed.
There is significant research that demonstrates the direct inter-relation between the objective and subjective aspects of reproduced sound quality, but there is also often a tendency to remain favourably disposed towards the one or another. Too often, one may encounter claims such as “it doesn’t matter what a measured flat frequency looks like, it only matters how it sounds”. Such a statement might sound appealing, and it’s not even incorrect because it is based not on the purpose of flat frequency or acoustical calibration, but rather an alternative interpretation of “truth”, and thus it is misleading.
The starting point of any high-end monitor design is the scientific foundation, and the neutrality and standards that foundation requires to deliver quality assurance. The end quality of reproduced sound is shaped by several factors, including the audio material, the monitor design, the room in which the audio is played and the monitor’s interaction with that space, as well as perceptual influences. But without a foundation of facts, it would be impossible to find any reference for the quality perception which is, by definition, a subjective concept.
Genelec’s education-oriented marketing therefore reflects our philosophy of providing truthful monitoring systems with respect for the human user. Indeed, the truthful reproduction of sound has been the cornerstone of the Genelec design philosophy since the origin of the company in 1978. Accordingly, we maintain a harmonious approach towards electro-acoustic design, while our incorporation of digital technology is intended to further this goal. For example, the development of Genelec Loudspeaker Manager (GLM) based systems now enables us to contend with far more challenging acoustic environments. In addition, it enables the reproduced sound to be customised in a predictable way, but always while maintaining a flat frequency response as its foundation.
The emotional engagement between a brand and its users is important and desirable, but we believe that the foundation of such an engagement must always be based on facts related to the products or services offered to the users. The adoption of a scientific foundation has been an essential ingredient in the development of human civilisation. Science can’t cover all the facts around us but so far it has provided the most reliable ground upon which we can build.
As Ilpo understood, good marketing is all about being able to tell a powerful story, and the best story of all is always the truth. That’s the best way to educate, inspire and create real value for users, while avoiding the trap of indifference.