Garbage In, Garbage Out! What's An Audiophile Quality Listening Experience?
Garbage In, Garbage Out!
Garbage in, garbage out was a common statement in my household growing up. Normally it wasn't being used in a musical sense but that the choices we make in life will impact how our lives will develop. But the same can be said about listening experiences.
Please keep in mind that I am not a professional sound engineer, producer, musician, or vocalist, etc. I have not done any scientific research, measurements, or in-depth testing of any kind; just my own listening, comparing and internet reading/research. I have limited, real-life experience with recording, mixing and mastering gear. I have been involved since my teenage years with various churches as an amateur sound booth technician.
Please take these thoughts, opinions and reasoning's as just that, my honest audiophile thoughts, opinions and reasoning's. This is a very subjective topic so please read this with an open mind and a willingness to accept my subjectivity even if yours differs.
One person's flaming pile of garbage is another's prize possession. When it comes to audio there is a lot of garbage out there for us to pick through. Not all garbage is garbage and some prize possessions aren't prize possessions; we all hear and see it differently. In the following paragraphs, I am going to try to explain my reasons why and what are the important aspects for developing audiophile quality listening skills; as well as how to discover the ever elusive, mysterious synergy of a quality listening experience.
A solid foundation is the key to building anything. In order to build you have to ensure the foundation is solid and secure.
There are so many variables that come into play when we scrutinize gear but the most important are quality recordings and neutral, natural, accurate sources.
Quality recordings are a major key for an accurate reproduction of sound. The mixing and mastering process plays a large part in how resolving and dynamic a track sounds. If a track is mixed and mastered poorly it will sound poor on any playback gear but especially on good reference playback gear. A well mixed and mastered track will sound good on any playback gear but will sound amazing on good reference playback gear. Finding excellent mixed and mastered music to use as a reference will help you to develop an audiophile quality listening experience.
Another important part of building an audiophile quality listening experience is the playback gear. I want the most accurate and true reproduction of the music as possible so that I can give the most honest impressions of the gear. To obtain the most accurate and true reproduction I use Audirvana Studio as my music management program, and have it set to play "bit-perfect" and do not use any of the enhancement options that are available. I listen at volume levels between 65db and 75db. I use the Mytek Liberty DAC ii as my benchmark DAC as it offers the most neutral, natural, and accurate sonics.
I use the Mytek Liberty THX HPA as my benchmark amplifier as it offers the cleanest and most accurate sonics.
Headphones that I use are the Audeze LCD-5, MrSpeakers Ether C, Sennheiser HD660s2, Austrian Audio Hi-X60 as they offer the best neutral, natural and accurate reproductions of sound.
I also use the CTM Da Vinci X, ADV M5-12D and Softears Studio 4 as IEM benchmarks. Speakers that I use as reference are the Martin Logan Motion15 and Wharfedale D310.
Understanding how instruments and vocalists sound in a natural setting is a major necessity for an audiophile quality listening experience and to develop audiophile quality listening skills. Orchestral, jazz, and acoustic genres are the best recordings for presenting a natural and realistic reproduction of instruments and vocalists. Attending concerts and performances give you listening experiences to use as a reference and comparison to your playback gear. I use specific tracks in jazz, orchestral and acoustic genres because they include the most important aspects of music in natural tone, timbre, accurate soundstage width, depth, layering and reproduce accurate imaging, placement with excellent details and resolution. To understand if gear has good tone and timbre, the music must use acoustical instruments. Natural and accurate levels of reproduction is what an audiophile seeks and that isn't obtained by gear that is boosted, elevated, and enhanced.
But even more importantly is that fact that you need to have heard instruments and vocalists in a natural environment so you can recall those moments and compare to your playback gear. To utterly understand the capabilities of gear you need reference music that is reproduced in a natural and accurate way. If gear can accurately portray a tonally correct piece of music, it can portray any musical piece accurately.
Starting with a neutral and natural DAC and amp and an honest, tonally correct track; you can determine if a headphone, earphone, or speaker is struggling in any way of sonic reproduction.
Listening skills take a long time to develop. To be honest, you never stop learning how to listen. Is it possible to enjoy music while listening with a critical ear? Is there a difference between casual and critical listening? Of course you can enjoy listening critically or just casually but there is a significant difference. Lets define the differences between casual and critical listening.
Casual Listening: Listening without showing much attention. However actual attention may vary a lot from person to person. Its importance lies in the fact that even though we are not listening carefully, our sub-conscious is alert to it.
Critical Listening: A process for understanding what is said, evaluating, judging, and forming an opinion on what you hear. The listener assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the content, agrees or disagrees with the information, and analyzes and synthesizes material.
Anybody can be a casual listener but not everyone is a good casual listener. Some of us can't focus on more than one audio source at a time while others can. For example, my wife can carry on numerous conversations at the same time and I struggle to carry on one.
Not everyone is a critical listener yet alone a good critical listener. To become a critical listener takes time to grow and develop skills. Listening critically to music is a different type of listening all together. To begin listening critically you have to have an understanding of what you are hearing. You need to understand audio terms and definitions and how they apply to what you are hearing. You need to understand how instruments and vocalists sound in a live, natural setting. You need dedicated and intentional listening to your surroundings and to all the various noises and sounds of nature; this will help to develop a sense of space, depth and imaging. Daily focusing on the intricacies of music and applying the terms and definitions will help to grow your listening skills.
Having an understanding and some working experience with audio production gear or instrument and vocal performances is beneficial but not necessary.
Listening to other peoples explanations of what they hear and what gear they are using will help you to determine opinions about what you believe is accurate and inaccurate. Having the foundation of what you have heard and experienced will help you to hone in your listening skills till you have a solid, confident trust in your ears and you aren't dependent on others telling you what you are hearing. Also developing those listening skills will wean you off the dependence of graphs and measurements to tell you what you are hearing but you will understand what the graph is pointing out or leaving out.
Age doesn't play a part at all! No matter our age we all enjoy music! Age does alter a few things with physical changes. Ear health is important but just because you've lost the ability to hear up to 20k doesn't mean you can't enjoy music. Most of what the human ear hears is in the mids between 300hz and 8k and little beyond; up to about 12k in the treble; down to about 100hz in the bass. Ear protection is important and with unhealthy ears we can't enjoy the music as well as we can with healthy ears. Do all you can to protect your ears now so you can enjoy the music just as much in the future. Playing music loud is something that we all have done and experienced at one point or another in life. Who of us hasn't pushed the volume knob higher than the norm when our favorite song comes along? Loud music is all around us but does it sound better the louder it is played? Researching how instruments and vocals place in the frequency ranges will prove that you can still hear all them very well even when you've lost the ability to hear those upper frequencies beyond 10k.
Dependence on your preferred reviewers or the graphs and measurements to tell you what your hearing won't get you an audiophile quality listening experience. If you understand what you are seeking for your music preference, understand terms and definitions and what the reviewer is listening to and how the reviewer explains it all; then you can find the gear, you are seeking. But if you don't understand what the reviewer listens to for reviews and what they mean with terms and definitions then you may be in for a frustrating search. It is particularly important in my humble opinion that you get to know your reviewer as best as possible, understand their terms, definitions, music preferences, gear used,how they listen and experiences.
In all honesty, dependence and preference has nothing to do with an audiophile quality listening experience The truth of the matter is that it is the actual recording, what instruments, how they are recorded and the playback gear that matters the most. Limiting your test material to one or a few genres will limit your impression of the gear. By expanding your test tracks list to cover a variety of genres, you will expand the opportunities to find out more capabilities or disabilities that your gear has. Also, being extremely familiar with the test tracks and source gear is important so that you can determine when something isn't being reproduced properly. The only thing you should be preferring and depending on are your own ears, your gear and your experiences.
Garbage In, Garbage Out!
Here is a link to the Honest Audiophile Listening Level Challenge: https://www.thehonestaudiophile.com/post/how-loud-is-too-loud-does-it-sound-better-an-honest-audiophile-listening-level-challenge
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Audeze LCD-5: https://www.audeze.com/products/lcd-5
Rosson Audio Design RAD-0: http://www.rossonaudiodesign.com/
Meze Empyrean: https://mezeaudio.com/products/meze-empyrean
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Austrian Audio Hi-X60: https://austrian.audio/headphones/hi-x60/
Audeze LCD 2 Closed: LCD-2 Closed Back (audeze.com)
CTM Da Vinci X: https://cleartunemonitors.com/products/da-vinci-x-universal
Mytek Liberty DAC ii: https://mytek.audio/shop/lbrt-dac-ii-287#attr=
HeadAmp GSX-Mini: https://www.headamp.com/products/gs-x-mini
Tor Audio Roger: https://toraudio.com/main.html#
Schiit Audio BiFrost 2: https://schiit.com/products/bi-frost-1
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