Listening, Levels & Truth
We are overwhelmed with information about the technical performance of audio-devices, the newest most sophisticated measurement techniques and the finest and highest precision measurement instruments.
But very little is said about Listening.
It seems to be so close to us that we simply forgot about it.
But there are not only personal listening preferences, there are also Levels.
There are Different Levels of Listening Awareness.
As you may know, there are musicians that can identify the exact pitch of a note being played. Others can even write down the chords of a complex and unknown piece of music while listening to it for the first time. Many musicians can't tell the pitch of a tone. Their level of musical awareness may not be fully developed.
When listening to an audio system, we normally do not try to identify the pitch of the notes being played, except perhaps, you are a musician and want to train that ability.
But when listening to an audio system we can try to evaluate the quality of the sound and this evaluation may reflect two things: our preference AND our current listening level. If we mix those two things together (what we unknowingly do), we can define our personally experienced quality of the audio system.
There are many aspects of listening levels.
The most general aspect is the sensivity to detail:
Some people say, they cannot hear the difference between two CD-players. Others can easily. Some can hear the difference of a coin put under one foot of the player. Even others can distinguish whether a piece of paper is put below an external DAC device.
Another aspect is the sensitivity to phase:
Some people don't bother at all while other's nerves are put upside down, when they enter a room with a hifi-system playing and on the spot they complain that one of the mid-frequency speakers is connected out of phase. Sensitivity to phase also partially employs the perception of the 3-dimensional qualities of the musical performance, i.e. placement of the instruments, depth of soundstage, etc...
Then there is sensitivity to tone:
Does this sound wood-like? Is this really a violin? There may be a metallic character in the sound that does not fit the instrument played. Is the singing tone of Larry's ES-335 as it should be?
You must not at all be sad, if at this moment you do not belong to the most golden ears walking around on the planet. You can also enjoy music without caring about detail, phase or tone.
But one thing you should pay attention to:
Is your listening defensive ?
Depending on your environment it is possible that your are subjected to sounds that you don't like at all: This may be traffic noise, the sound of a machine you work with (I hate the sound of needle printers), or even the voice of another person.
If you are subjected to unwanted sounds for a longer period of time, your listening can become defensive. That means protection mechanisms are at work and shut your ears down.
It is good to have that protection mechanism, but its not good if you don't know about it, since it makes your ears insensitive.
There are not few hifi-systems or speakers that sound 'horrible' to some but are chosen by people with defensive listening. They need a sound that is able to penetrate through their protection mechanism, in order to be enjoyed at all. Unfortunately the problem is not solved by their choice, since this system will fatigue their listening even more and make it more and more defensive.
So what to do?
I suggest that you find out if you have a problem with certain sounds, and if so, eliminate them from your daily life as good as possible.
What's wrong with wanting a silent computer ? Tell the DJ or the mixer of the concert, if you dislike the sound or if its plain too loud. If he don't hear you, use earplugs or just go. Your ears are more important than staying with the mass. Tell your friend to lower his voice if you have a problem with it.
SEEK PLACES OF SILENCE, SO THAT YOU CAN ENJOY LISTENING AGAIN.
As you then sit in front of your hifi-system and listen to it, you may become extremely disappointed, since what you thought to be of very high quality is nothing but noise.
But you may also become very happy, if what you thought to be dumb is now plain revealing.
You will however recognize if the sound of your hifi-system is such, that you can listen to it with open ears, or if your ears go into defense mode.
This makes a pivotal difference, since a hifi-system that can be listened to with open ears, may not need more than 1 Watt of power, since with open ears you are able to experience dramatic levels of dynamics, which you are unable to enjoy with a 100 or 1000 Watt system that puts your ears into defense mode.
This may also explain to you the assertion of some people that subjectively vinyl has a higher dynamic range than CD, while measured in numbers, it has not.
However, as soon as you are able to put your ears out of defense mode, your listening levels will become higher and higher. And this empowers you to assess the quality of any hifi-system or component without the need of messages that you read in hifi-magazines or elsewhere.
At this time, Truth enters the scene.
Your listening preferrences may have changed during the process. They may also have stayed the same but are much clearer now. So it can happen that you stick to quite unspectacular or cheap components, that your ego had thought to be inferior before.
Do you know how many hifi-components are bought only to be respected or adored by other people ? Damn too many, I would say.
The thought behind is: "I can't trust my own listening, so I will ask the pro's what is good and what is bad, I also willingly accept the message that - the more expensive, the better - and will buy according to my monetary means and the social status I would like to represent"
The day your listening awakens, Truth enters the scene, and YOU will tell the PRO's, what is good and what sounds bad.
If you want to read more about listening, I recommend:
Altmann Micro Machines Dipl.-Ing. Charles Altmann Erlenstrasse 15 42697 Solingen Germany
phone +49-212-233-7039 email