On Listening

AR-difs3.jpgDid your hear a difference? That's a question audiophiles ask themselves over and over again. Did you hear a difference between this preamp and that preamp, this DAC and that DAC, this speaker and that speaker - you get the idea. Of course this begs the question, "Differences in what?" Now we turn to the Lexicon of audio terms and definitions, largely formed by J. Gordon Holt, who spent over fifty years puzzling about this very same question - "Did I hear a difference?"

Sometime, somewhere, I read a rather pithy analysis of the audiophile mind, "that audiophiles make small sonic differences into large ones and large differences into small ones." I've walked into rooms at shows and within a nanosecond recognized that the system was out of phase. I've also walked into a room at the old Chicago CES, heard a marching band and instantly new it was real, 5 blocks away through a double-pane window. But occasionally it's taken me a couple of days to realize a source's R and L were installed wrong and the channels were reversed. It's all about ear training.

Harry Pearson once told me, early in my career, "I can teach anyone how to listen, but I can't teach you how to write." We audiophiles learn how to listen. It's an easily acquired skill IF, big if, you are willing to invest the time to learn how to do it properly - full attention, no distractions, with a kind of meditative attentiveness that the modern world seems to have less and less time for. Anything less is merely for background music - fine as a soundtrack for living, but not by any means suitable for making subjective quantitative quality assessments.

Like any other form of training, an important part of "ear-training" is a regular training schedule. I don't mean every day at 5:00 PM you must spend one hour in the sweet spot, martini in hand, listening, although that always worked for J. Gordon. But sometime, during every day, you've got to sit down and spend time listening to music. It's also vitally important to hear live unamplified music periodically to refresh your auditory memory data banks. I consider regularly listening to live acoustic music, both classical orchestras and roots ensembles, is a necessary and important part of my job.

Did I ever tell you how much I love my job? 

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