Building a pattern

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One of the most valuable tools I have in my listening arsenal is a set of favorite recordings I use over and over. Most of you probably have a few favorites as well, but in my case Paul's Dirty Dozen plays a very critical role in the development of products and new designs.

The selections are quite varied and each serves a specific function in my listening evaluations. What's important to understand here is not which tracks Paul's Dirty Dozen are (there's certainly nothing magical about them) but that I have a set of selections I rely on at all times. The repetition, consistency and familiarity of these tracks is what I am after.

The goal is to have a familiar pattern I can apply to any listening situation at my listening room, yours, or anywhere I have to go evaluate something.

If you remember yesterday's post I wrote about the difficulty reviewers and Audiophiles share when evaluating different pieces of gear within a complex system. Part of that problem involves source material: which tracks will show off a product's merits and demerits better than others? Perhaps a new power amplifier you're evaluating is great at low level detail but sucks when it comes to loud crescendos. Choosing the proper source material can help narrow that down and that's what many people do - but not me.

This is not what my dirty dozen is for and that's not really how I use them. Each of the dozen or so tracks I use gives me a certain emotional response and it is this response that I memorize and am intimately familiar with. Some tracks give me a great sense of hall, soundstage and presence. Some tracks I struggle to hear what's going on during complex passages, while others have tonal qualities to the instruments that are uncanny in their presentation.

Once memorized over years of use, it is then fairly easy to run through the dozen and figure out if I am getting the same, better or worse emotional response to the tracks. And because of the variety of music I have chosen it is easy to pinpoint the difficulties in terms I am familiar with.

So, the first step in your journey to become a Golden Eared listener is to start to develop your own Dirty Dozen and then learn their pattern. It doesn't really matter if your system can't resolve some of the tracks you choose - in fact, that's great - because someday a piece of kit will come your way that solves the track's deficiencies and when that happens, you know instantly what the new gear did and its value to you.

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Paul McGowan

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