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Old 21st November 2003, 02:28 PM   #1
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Default Your Ears

About a year ago I decided to invest some money into a new CD player. My hope was to rediscover my library of CD's as some reviewers put it. I had a crappy 5-disc sony player and was looking forward to be blown away by a new one.
In the store I compared the Rega Planet to a few Arcam products and I thought the Planet sounded superior. So, I bought it, thinking that if it sounded better than the Arcam's it would be way better than the Sony. Needless to say, I got it home, "burnt it in" like suggested, and compared it to the Sony, I couldn't tell the difference? I must be an idiot if I can't notice the difference between the two!!
I was so sure that they sounded the same that I drove 3 hours from school back home to the store so they could listen to the two of them. I took two identical Dave Matthews CDs and we flipped from the Planet to the Sony, I still could not hear the difference. The guy from the store said he could hear the difference. Another employee said that he could clearly hear the difference and he was outside the room! He popped in a reference recording and I could then hear only a slight difference, I left the store dissapointed.

So I got to thinking, a revalation I know, if there is enough demand for this equipment (obviously there is) then one or all of three things is happening:

1. Some people can physically hear much better than others.

2. Some people that can't hear a diference will still talk themselves into buying it, I don't know why but that's what I did.

3. Some people can train themselves to be better listeners and although they might not have superior hearing they can accurately listen to the music, this is what I hope to accomplish.

Some people on this forum say that when they change the feet of their amplifier the sound changes. These people, assuming integrety, must have exceptional hearing and I don't mean that sarcastically. I would love to be able to hear these subtle differences.

I pose two question to the forum,

How many people can, and have always been able to, hear all the differences in audio, from feet and interconnects to resistors and capacitors?, be honest.

if no then,

Is there a skill to listening? Can you, to some degree, become a better listener?
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Old 21st November 2003, 02:49 PM   #2
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Default Re: Your Ears

Quote:
I would love to be able to hear these subtle differences.

You could always look at this in a different way, because as long as you enjoy the music, what's the matter if you can't tell the difference between a $200 CD player and a $2000 one.

I know that even though I can hear little diffences in music if I realy listen when I change something about, I generaly don't want to do this, it is far to exhausting. I would much rather have a set of equipment that I like the sound of, so that I can just sit back and enjoy my music without worrying if I can hear "everything" possible in it. I mean, just look at the tube guys (I will probably be killed for saying this) but the amount of colouration added to the music by the amps surely means you can't be getting every little detail just as it was recorded, but they all love the sound it makes.

So, I guess I'm saying, after all that, just go and enjoy your music (even if it is on your sony CD player) and spend the extra money you save on a nice bottle of wine or to to enjoy whilst you're listening.

Andrew.
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Old 21st November 2003, 02:57 PM   #3
RHosch is offline RHosch  United States
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I think all three are true to some degree. Obviously, some people's hearing is better than others, in both frequency range and musical aptitude (for lack of a better word). Also, it isn't really that difficult to "train" the average listener for what to listen for in a certain recording. Most often, it's just knowing what to focus on, and this training can be done quite rapidly (as opposed to the years and years most people claim). Then there is probably a general experience built up over time where you already know what to listen for without having to be told on a specific recording, though that is probably a very subtle effect.

The most dominating, sad as it is, is your second suggestion. Test have repeatedly shown that hearing isn't just about what the air waves are doing. A multitude of factors influence us psychologically and alter the way we "perceive" sound. Some people are convinced that a certain color carpet sounds better than another, or that putting pictures of yourself into your freezer improves the sound of your audio system.

What you experienced was, to be frank, quite rare. The case is usually that someone who has parted with a lot of hard earned cash for a product will "hear" that product as being "vastly" superior to their previous products, and likely to most competing products as well.

This question you asked is quite controversial:
Quote:
How many people can, and have always been able to, hear all the differences in audio, from feet and interconnects to resistors and capacitors?, be honest.
What do you mean by "hear?" If you mean to simply perceive, then many on this forum will claim that they have always been able to do so. If you mean to actually hear, then you can only establish that ability when you have removed the possibility of the above mentioned psychological influences. That is done through blind testing.

Again, it is unusual for someone to be as honest with themselves as you were. Had you made the sales representatives listen to the Pioneer and Rega CD players under blind conditions, they may have had just as difficult of a time as you have hearing the differences. Mind you, I do believe that under controlled conditions it would still be possible to identify a difference between the two, though I think that difference would be rather small, contrary to the superlatives that are often applied to expensive products.

Where are the real differences? Number one on the list is the room environment. Nothing, IMO, has as great an impact on the sound as the room... not even speakers once you reach some basic level of quality. Next are the speakers themselves, distantly followed by the DAC. Running an almost "out of the race" fourth are the specific amplifier and preamplifier designs, though I think preamp is a bit more important than the amplifier due to the amplification of any noise generated in the preamp. Not even in the running are speaker cables and interconnects. The myriad isolation devices, quantum filters, magic beans, and other nonsense items are laughable at best.

What does my above rant mean? Well, I guess my point is that you should attack the areas that offer substantial (indeed, at least tangible) benefits. Improve your room. Upgrade your speakers, and make sure the amplification is adequate for the speakers requirements. If you want to start upgrading electronics, start with a quality DAC, and follow that with a competent pre-pro (my favorite being the rare competent multichannel processors like the Lexicon and Meridian).

Can you train yourself to become a better listener? Of course you can. Just don't expect to be able to hear the difference between differently colored wires, or the difference between your amp being one inch or three feet off the ground. You might well train yourself to consistently hear the difference in that Pioneer and Rega CD player, but that amount of money spent on resonance treatment and proper broadband absorption in your room could be heard by someone half deaf.
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Old 25th November 2003, 04:18 AM   #4
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Default Re: Your Ears

Quote:
Originally posted by RobPhill33

1. Some people can physically hear much better than others.
Yes, but...

Quote:
2. Some people that can't hear a diference will still talk themselves into buying it, I don't know why but that's what I did.
Absolutely. Why? You were conditioned to believe that you were supposed to hear a difference. So if you didn't initially, then there is the ever present; Oh, you need to burn it in argument. Right. Fact is, most people, once they get something home most likely won't take it back. The longer you have it, the less likely you are to return it. It's a marketing ploy to overcome what is known as an objection.

Quote:
3. Some people can train themselves to be better listeners and although they might not have superior hearing they can accurately listen to the music, this is what I hope to accomplish.
Maybe. How do you know what you're listening for? Then what happens when you take it home and play it on your speakers, in your listening environment?

Quote:
How many people can, and have always been able to, hear all the differences in audio, from feet and interconnects to resistors and capacitors?, be honest.
I don't know about this forum, but there are those forums where there is an entire culture based on this assumption.

Quote:
Is there a skill to listening? Can you, to some degree, become a better listener?
Maybe, but again, what are you listening for? There are other problems. We have built in mechanisims(added to by our other sensory inputs) that, well, make up what is needed in order that we hear what we were expecting to hear. This applies to other things too, like the medical industry.

This is why blind testing was developed, to starve out other sensory inputs so we are(hopefully) just using our ears to hear differences. Of course, it also takes a properly constructed and conducted test.

As someone else mentioned, you sit these golden ears down in a blind test and chances are, they won't be able to hear those differences any longer either.

-Bruce
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Old 25th November 2003, 05:58 AM   #5
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I've discovered that there is a point beyond which I can't hear the difference and a different point below which I can easily discern changes in smoothness, tonal balance and instrumental accuracy. The former is when the equipment exceeds my biomechanical resolution, the latter because I have musical training and know the live sound of many acoustic instruments, including voice. But, there is a huge grey area in between those two. Much of my equipment still lies in the upper half of this grey area, but only just. The problem is that it requires a lot of DIY learning or thousands of dollars before I can't resolve the difference. You may be fortunate for not knowing those differences (yet?).

Fortunately for me, I can often enjoy the music for what it is, singing along, (often in harmony) but there are times when I notice that the presentation is off. I hate those times... Sometimes it is the recording, other times, a slight mis-step in my components, but it is usually very slight. In your case, you may not have picked a very good recording to test with. Not to say that the recording is bad, but the one Dave Matthews album I've heard was highly compressed. Plus, Marshall amps distorting a Strat pick-up is the easiest way to fool ourselves since no-one actually knows how they are supposed to sound at any given moment; there is no standard pre-set for every guitarist. OTOH, a saxophone has very defined flavours between the combinations of makers and mouthpieces and it is easier to tell if there is too much distortion or the wrong tonal balance coming from the speakers.

You also never did say what Sony you had, nor what Rega model you bought. They both may be good enough that you can't now hear a difference. Also, you should take a certain amount of satisfaction just knowing that your CD player is top-load and is so much cooler-looking than your friends' players. You also never did say if the rest of your system was better or lesser cost (quality?) than the store demo system. It also could be that you have much better AC power at your home - the Sony may have showed it's weaker power supply when at the store.

My advice, don't be disappointed as this is an great opportunity to learn about your own hearing and listening skills, and to do your own private A/B testing. Keep both the Sony and the Rega plugged in and play your favourite CD's in both of them. At length you will find that one of them will show you sounds that you never heard before - and not those weird artifacts, harmonics or other wrong noises, but sounds intentionally recorded by the artists and engineers. Hopefully, then, it will be the Rega that shows you it's stuff and you can happily part with the Sony. Even if the Sony wins out, then you'll have proven (to yourself at least) that mass mfgs are capable of good quality equipment.

Cheers!

:)ensen.
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Old 25th November 2003, 07:45 AM   #6
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Quote:
Is there a skill to listening? Can you, to some degree, become a better listener?
I've related this story on a number of threads/forums before but it serves retelling..

In 1988 when I was 16, I was fortunate enough to be staying with a well to do family in Germany on student exchange.

The family had decided that they were going to give the father a new turntable for christmas, the budget was in the order of US$1000.

I accompanied the son on his shopping excursions to one of the local hifi stores. This was not a cheap chain store, I can recall that they had Michell tenderfeet for sale and also Naim equipment. As it was before I became much interested in audio, I don't recall what else was there but you get an idea of the level of gear we're talking about.

At the hifi store I remember 3 different table/arm/cartridge combos being demonstrated, I remember the salesman and my host brother discussing background detail, nuances and the like but most importantly, I remember hearing no difference at all.

So, back then when my ears were arguably in better condition than they are today but when my listening abilities were undeveloped I couldn't pick the difference. Had you asked me then, no doubt I'd have said "They all sound the same, why waste your money on a more expensive turntable?"

Today, the opposite is true. While I can't hear mains cables (or I admit, absolute phase or cable directionality) I can hear differences in interconnects, speaker cables, tube rolling changes in componentry, switched attenuators vs pots etc. And most definitely the differences between turntables.

So for me, option 3 is most definitely true.

Yes, some folks are cloth eared or tome deaf and will never hear differences

Yes, 90% of the population uses music as a form of "Aural Wallpaper" and couldn't give a rats if it comes from the tv, a boombox, a Mark Levinson/Revel system or SET's and Horns.

But YES, for some of the population the ability to listen can be learned and developed.

More than my 2 cents...

Drew
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Old 25th November 2003, 06:43 PM   #7
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An equally valid, and more likely explanation, is that as you became more "educated" about the "nuances" of audio, your expectations and psychological bias changed. Under blind conditions, you would likley find that you can no more hear the difference betwen speaker cables today than you could that day back in the German hi-fi store.
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Old 25th November 2003, 07:53 PM   #8
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An equally valid, and more likely explanation, is that as you became more "educated" about the "nuances" of audio, your expectations and psychological bias changed. Under blind conditions, you would likley find that you can no more hear the difference betwen speaker cables today than you could that day back in the German hi-fi store.
I beg to differ.

On occasion I've listened to systems (which i have to assume were poorly matched) that i expected to sound far superior due to pricetag, brand label, reputation etc and found them utterly unmoving while other cheaper systems with less impressive brands or prices have wowed me.

As far as blind testing goes, I tried to replace a pair of Monitor Audio speakers I had with the identical (well run in) store model after a burglary. Before I purchased them, the previous owner had them internally rewired. No matter what we did with the stock models (using an identical amp, interconnects, cd player and speaker cabling) the speakers just wouldn't sound right. The only difference was the internal cabling which, up until then I had not thought would be that significant. This was in a store where I've listened lots before and am familiar with the sonic signature of the room so you can discount that as a variable.

As a result of these previousl experiences, pricetag, brand, topology, boutique components etc don't sway my judgement, i trust my ears. (even if it means I have to say that I can't pick between the MOSFET PP amp and the triode amp)

As far as not hearing a difference in the German TT's, it beggars belief that with a well set up demo system (where the intent is to bring out the differences) 3 differeing turntables with different arms and cartridges will sound the same. There are way too many mechanical variables to give a common result I would believe, unless the rest of the downstream system was seriously flawed.

Drew
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Old 25th November 2003, 08:06 PM   #9
RHosch is offline RHosch  United States
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That's why I used speaker cables as an example, and that was intentional. For sure, you might be able to hear the differences in the 3 turntables that you couldn't previously, and I never meant to suggest otherwise.

As for your anecdotal evidence for your imunity to perceptual bias, I must remind you that psychoacoustic phenomenon need not be predictable, consistent, or logical.

I personally have participated in a few fairly well controlled blind tests. On one occasion, I could swear that I could hear differences between two speaker cables when sighted, yet consistently failed under blind conditions to distinguish the two. Even after several rather convincing trials in the blind testing phase, I still was convinced that I could hear a difference while sighted. This, even after knowing that any differences were inaudible, and what I was perceiving was solely due to my own perceptual biases. It isn't necessarily logical, but it still happens.

Until you have sucessfully passed a well designed blind test, your anecdotes remain just that.
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Old 25th November 2003, 10:20 PM   #10
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Until you have sucessfully passed a well designed blind test, your anecdotes remain just that.
Accepted

My point is that, in some notable cases, I was expecting to get better results with the higher priced system and didn't, and was expecting no difference with the replacement speakers and got one.

The basic gist of psychoacoustics and the rationale behind blind testing (if I understand it correctly) is that you hear what you expect to hear.

ie

If you expect that because the system has megadollar cabling, Electrocompaniet Class A amps and Meridian 800 series transport and DAC it's going to sound great then it will sound great to you (which it didn't).

or

If you expect that because everything else in the system is the same and the only difference in the speakers is a tiny bit of interior wire then the system will sound the same (which again, it didn't).

I'm getting just as impartial results under viewed conditions as blind testing conditions.
So either my psychoacoustics is working backwards from everybody elses, or, in some cases I can reliably trust my ears.

I believe that when I was younger but only new to hifi I had less ability to pick the differences, ie my listening skills (rather than my brand-related self delusion skills) have developed. Not suprising considering that instead of just listening for melody (exposure to Linn delaers makes me wary of using the term "tunes") I now listen for imaging, tone, PRaT, low level detail, dynamics etc as well. The criteria around which I judge reproduced sound are more developed.

Drew
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