It's easy!

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Yesterday we launched a new operating system for DirectStream called Pikes Peak. The raves are coming in and we are very gratified to read them and share experiences. Ted's work on the DAC continues to evolve and we all enjoy the benefits of his brilliance. That the upgraded operating system is free is another benefit we are happy to pass along to our customers.

But upgrading an operating system is complex work; work most of us do not understand, written in a language that's as understandable as Greek (unless you're Greek and then it's whatever language you don't speak). The final steps in releasing an upgrade like Pikes involve weeks of listening and evaluation among different versions of the OS. This too is difficult work and takes a skilled set of ears to do it. At our company the chief evaluator is Arnie Nudell of Infinity fame. Arnie's got the best set of ears I know, up there with the late HP and other masters of the art. But how perfect is Arnie's hearing? And another question, as he (and we) get older, does not our ability to evaluate equipment change, perhaps degrade?

I think the answer to this question is worthy of some discussion because the perfection of one's external sensors (ears) is only partially responsible for evaluating equipment. It is not critical you have perfect hearing. Truth is, none of us do. But even if you had ruler flat hearing out to 20kHz (and no one does) it is not so much the ability of your ears but the strength of your brain connected to those ears. Listening for a living, as we do, is a complex task that takes years of training to become consistent. And we should understand the real art is the way your brain adjusts to the deficiencies of your ears. This happens over a long process of comparisons of references.

Imagine for a moment you went to the symphony regularly and for many years, or at least a concert of some type with acoustic instruments. And further, imagine that your hearing wasn't all that good and perhaps degraded over time; you had dips and bumps (as we all do) and your response was limited at the extremes. Here's what happens. Over time your brain adjusts so that if one of the instruments in the group you watch changes, you know it instantly. Why? Because it is your brain, not your ears, that takes information and compares it to the memory of what the last one sounded like. It doesn't matter what the perfection of the original capture was. It could be very poor. The point is you capture an enormous amount of timbral, spatial, textural, tonal, dynamic and phase information for all that you hear. It doesn't take a lot of deviation from what you have recorded in your head to what you hear live. And that is what an experienced listener brings to the table.

Arnie's particularly amazing because of his years of continued exposure to live music in concert settings, coupled with an extraordinary memory of what he mentally recorded. For fifty or sixty years now he has faithfully memorized the sounds of live instruments and it's 'easy' for him to compare that which is in his memory, to that which is being presented on a piece of electronics. And when I say 'easy', I mean easy in the same way it was easy for Arthur Rubinstein to play piano.

It's instructive to remember this lesson because it answers a fundamental question many of us have: how is it people with poor hearing can be so perceptive a listener? The perception of real vs. simulated real comes from the memory and training, not from the instruments of capture, our ears.

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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