Written by 6:00 am Audiophile, Audiophile Music • 10 Comments

Does Sleep Deprivation Impact Your Audiophile Listening Experience?

Mark Smotroff looks at how sleep can affect your sound preferences…

AR-SleepCow225.jpgI’ve been thinking about sleep lately a lot, partially because I haven’t been getting a whole lot of it lately for numerous reasons. I am trying to fix this as I know that sleep is so important for overall health and wellness as well as weight loss (my lifelong struggle). I recently had an experience which also reminded me that sleep can impact how we react to certain types of music and sounds.  

I must underscore before I continue that this commentary is decidedly non-scientific and purely based on my own experiences. I am not a doctor nor an expert on hearing and sleep. But I am familiar with my body, so I can talk about that comfortably. Perhaps this will trigger some healthy discussion on the topic.


So how this all came up is that after Record Store Day, I began working on a review of the new 1977 Billy Joel live at Carnegie Hall concert which was just released on vinyl for the first time.  This performance had been previously released as part of the 2008 deluxe edition box set celebrating the 30th anniversary of Billy’s smash hit album The Stranger. I am a long time fan of Billy, pretty much from the beginning when one of my older brothers brought home the Piano Man album.  

So I was hopeful about this concert LP release. My expectations were very high that the LP version would sound significantly better than the CD. I started listening to it at night after a very busy, hectic day and was initially quite disappointed. Going back-and-forth between the CD and the new LP, I’d began drafting my review and it was initially quite negative — I don’t usually spend my precious limited review time/space on negative reviews but this one annoyed me initially. 


A couple of days later, however, after I had let my review draft sit a little bit so I could review and edit it with “fresh eyes,” I noticed somebody had posted a picture of the Billy Joel Carnegie Hall album being played on one of the Facebook music enthusiast groups (thats what some of these vinyl groups are about, btw). Counter to my initial impression, the person was raving about how great it sounded; this perplexed me.

I went back to the CD, listening again with fresh, more rested ears during the day time. It sounded pretty good like I remembered, yet indeed sounded like a CD. Then I put on the vinyl album and I was hearing the difference the Facebook fan was talking about! It still wasn’t perfect and I still had some issues with other parts of the recording which you can read about in my review. But there was no question it was sounding better than the CD. 

AR-BuckinghamsEar225.jpgThis gave me some pause. I thought about it for a moment: what was the big difference here changing my perception of how the music sounds? My stereo system hadn’t changed at all. I wasn’t sick or anything. No, the only real difference was that I was well rested!  

Suddenly, a little “ah ha” lightbulb went off over my head.  This was a good reminder to me that just like driving while you’re not tired, critical listening should be done at a time when you are fairly fresh and at least have clear state of mind and physicality.  

And, like a late friend of mine who was a restaurant critic — who made a point of returning to a restaurant a couple time before reviewing and then again revisiting it months later — it is important to listen at least a few times to make sure you really heard what you think you initially heard. 


Now, obviously many of us like to listen to music as a purely relaxing thing to get over the stress of the day, I certainly understand that. But when you’re making some decisions as to whether recording is better than something you might already have… or if it is a demo-worthy album consideration… or if you are a musician/producer in a studio trying to make decisions on your own recordings, you really want to make sure that your ears are well rested. 

Hope you all have a restful weekend ahead for happy healthy accurate listening! 


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