You've heard the expression "he's a great listener". Or the opposite. "…as deaf as a hornet."
No, we're not talking about physical hearing abilities. This post assumes our ears work ok. But what of our acuity?
Here's the thing. We listen with our brains - in the same way we see with them. The ears and eyes are instruments that need interpreting–often, training–even education. Stand close to a Monet painting. As you move away the image snaps into focus and makes sense.
Some of us have better sound memory retention than others. I know people that can make mental carbon copies of sound for later comparison and be reasonably accurate. Others, like myself, remember impression of what we hear rather than actual copies. I might remember this DAC sounded bright, or forward, while the other one sounded distant and unengaging. When I hear these again, I am reminded of the way they made me react - rather than the actual sound - or specifics.
We can all learn to be better listeners of both music as well as music systems. I used to cringe at opera, now I swoon. It was exposure to enough of it, and the right kind, that did the trick for me. Improving your listening powers has great benefits when it comes to high end audio: easier to make judgments of equipment, better skilled at assembling systems, knowing what works and what doesn't without having to trust the opinions of others.
Working on sharpening our skills is always a benefit, but be careful. Like discovering fine food, it's hard to go back to what used to suffice.
Me? I'll take better, any day.