Hearing Into The Music

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Hearing Into The Music

One of the smartest and most experienced HiFi fanatics I know is my good friend, John Hunter of REL subs.

In response to one of my recent posts about musicians, John wrote to me what I consider a beautifully crafted lesson in the art of listening. It bears repeating.

“Hi Paul,

I once dated, briefly, a French horn player for the San Francisco Symphony.
She had great ears and quickly grew to love high end audio. She brought some of her fellow musicians over to our store in Berkeley (DB Audio) a couple of times trying to expose them to what she had fallen in love with. It never took. Watching them and their reactions, I quickly understood why. For them, the performance (musical, not audio quality) was all that mattered. They were listening carefully for their part being played and if they could follow it through the system what else mattered?

I did this myself early in my guitar playing career, playing along endlessly to tons of rock records, memorizing great solos. etc. But it was my older brother who sat me down one night when I was 12 and asked me “How many guitars are playing right now?” I didn’t understand the question; I was a lead guitar player, it was easy to hear “my” part. That night he put on recording after recording and it gradually emerged out of the murk of a mid-‘70s low Rez system (a Sansui all-tube receiver feeding Wharfedale sand-filled speakers and a Dual 1015 turntable if I remember correctly). Slowly I picked out the rhythm guitar, wait, no 3 rhythm guitar tracks. One was tuned differently and I later learned from my friend Joel Bernstein who was an all-everything to many of rock’s greatest acts that I was hearing a high tone guitar–a regular guitar tuned with the high strings a 5th higher that gave a wonderful, jangly, sparkly effect.

What I started to learn that night helped me learn to hear into the mix, dissect what I was hearing and without realizing it, put me onto the path of listening acuity that has defined my career in audio. If your readers don’t already know how to do so, pick out a particular instrument they love and start listening, first for their favorite and then for those instruments that seem to play off that instrument. Then gradually expand your listening focus around that core group until you begin to hear it all. It’s brought me so much joy and insight over the years, I hope this helps those in our hobby as a tip.”

Well said, John. And thank you.
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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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