D I O... P A P E R
sound / Bad Sound
During a recent
interview with Srajan Ebaen of 6-Moons, he made the observation
that many accomplished musicians have rather mediocre stereo gear.
Gear that by most audiophiles standards would be considered mid-fi
at best. His explanation was basically that musicians play
a participatory role in the experience of music. They only
need a guideline or sketch of the music to recreate it in their
minds which explains why when offered hi-end stereo gear to replace
their mid-fi components most showed little if any interest.
of all this is that during a human beings shift from discovering
music as a child to becoming a seasoned audiophile, the participatory
or imaginative process employed when enjoying music when you were
young (regardless of sound quality) is gradually replaced with expensive
audiophile gear. Srajan accurately points out that this attempt
at substitution does not work. What it does do is create restlessness
in audiophiles while they passively wait for their wonder gear to
get them off on command. This is the reason why audiophiles
constantly go through different gear in that never ending search
for something that they used to have as a child, or can only find
at a live concert hall.
help to define the active role of enjoying music to draw a clear
contrast with the way a reviewer must listen while writing a review.
Two different things that were never meant to overlap but
often audiophiles who are supposed to be enjoying music are instead
trying to hear all of the adjectives they read in the reviews.
some of us in the industry can wear both hats because experience
has thought us generally not to wear both hats at the same time.
After many years of A/B testing components and cables you develop
new networks in your brain to process and or hunt for anomalies
that do not correspond with the way you imagine it should sound.
It doesnít take a golden ear to become good at it. This
analytical subroutine that now runs constantly in restless audiophiles
did not exist when they were children. Instead it crept up gradually
as years of subliminal programming from exposure to audio hype took
its toll. I suspect that these restless audiophiles
have not even realized these subroutines now exist in their brains
nor would they realize they are counterproductive to experiencing
music nor would they know how to turn it on and off.
On of the
reasons music is an experience is because you physically go to it.
It typically doesnít come to you without out at least being
actively invited. If stereo gear is intended to recreate
the audio portion of a musical event then listening to it should
be approached in a similar way. Think of a combination
of planned and anticipated listening sessions with some spontaneous
encounters, never forced.
How well we
master the ability to use the correct side of our brain when listening
to music on our stereos depends on experience and personality. It
can be hard to turn off the subroutine so that you can have one
of those WOW experiences that justify all the money youíve spent
while you listen. The techniques used will no
doubt differ from person to person and are not as important
as awareness of where to focus your attention when you listen to
aspect of listening to high fi gear was in part lost when CD players
replaced the more precarious hands-on turn table and then when remote
controls were invented. I bring up the key word
ďritualĒ to point out that preparation and anticipation, two fundamental
parts of any ritual, are components needed to enjoy music as opposed
to finding yourself listening to gear trying to get it to sound
better / which is often what happens when you expect a quick fix.
Hereís a few
ideas for getting the door of musical ecstasy to open for you:
STEP ONE -
Approach each listening session with respect in the knowledge that
you donít know yet if you will have wonderful sound or unexplainably
STEP TWO -
Warm up your gear for 10 to 20 minutes before pushing play, or starting
the record. This lets your mind and your ears still and creates
anticipation. Not to mention lets your amps warm up.
- Tease yourself into it by selecting less aggressive music and
playing it at a low volume. Stay here for at least 5 or 10
minutes minimum. You can stay here the entire time, there
is no pressure to move on.
- Ask the moment in time your in if itís okay to proceed. You
really donít have to ask. At this point you either have
developed a lust for more or your expecting it to become what it
presently is not. This is where you either get on or
step off. Never force it, it will not happen forced.
Good sound is like a basset hound, you canít force it to do
anything, only ask and wait.
- If step four failed but youíre not willing to give up (a dangerous
bridge over disappointment) you can visualize your situation as
a person standing in front of a door. You can hear the music
behind the door and the door is locked.
KEY ONE -
To unlock the door you need keys. The first bunch of keys
on your ring can be simply different recordings. Try them
all if you have the patients.
KEY TWO -
These are master keys, which are basically components, cables, speakers
and room/system layout. Selecting a key from this group could
be something like switching the amplifier or preamplifier. These
are pretty potent keys for unlocking the door because of a little
thing called perspective. If you replace the amplifier with
another one you have laying around, one of two things is going to
happen. Either you will like it better than the previous one
or you will not. Regardless of the outcome make sure you listen
to it for at least 10 minutes minimum. If you like the sound
better than this 10 minutes could easily turn into an open door.
If you think the sound of the amp is worse, then re-install
the original amp and listen to it again. Now your mind
is focused on the things about the amp that are better than the
one you just tried and this is usually the point where you suddenly
decide you like the way itís sounding and the door begins to open.
- Retire and try it again some other time. If you consistently
have this problem and are constantly buying and selling gear stop
for awhile and quit reading about stereo stuff. Look at the
similarities in the equipment you buy. Consider trying
something ( or everything) completely different to break the pattern.
For some this can be moving from high power systems to low
power/high efficiency while for others it could be moving all their
present stereo gear into a different room.
to music with the wrong side of your brain is just liking buying
gear with your eyes. Itís something everyone including myself
must wrestle with from time to time, itís what makes us human. As
a professional I have developed the ability to listen to gear or
music but I can only experience music as good as any other human
being. Hearing the subtle phase cues that construct a palpable image
and the texture or speed of a given capacitor in a circuit against
what I want to be hearing at a given time is highly developed skill.
This is a requirement for artistry in equipment design and in equipment
review. However, the less of it you develop the easier
it is to enjoy the experience of music on a given stereo system.
with the jarring shift from left to right brain during a listening
experience, itís logical that you would become distracted and have
difficulty re-entering the experience. Just as it is logical
that the better your gear actually sounds against the grand scale
of perfection, the less likely it is to do something distracting
to the music. That makes it easier for those inflicted audiophiles
to reach step 4.
In my work,
my mind is the canvas and the amplifiers or speakers (whichever
Iím developing at the time) are the paint. I have to be able
to discern the difference between what I have (presently hearing)
and what I think it could be at itís potential. I started out doing
this by simply building two of everything and then making small
changes to only one and listening for what changed. 20 years
later it has developed into the ability to multitask in real time
during an evaluation. When I listen to a component I hear
how it sounds and while listening also hear how I think it could
sound almost like a parallel sound track running right next to it.
Then I a few bars at a time I compare the two in my minds
ear and define the differences. As a musician I find
similar processes are active when composing music. I
have also noticed that after a few drinks this process becomes
modified to leave out what I hear - leaving only the perception
of what I think it should sound like. Not terribly unlike
the natural ability we were all born with and lost somewhere in
the process of becoming audiophiles.
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