Developing critical listening skills

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When Alon Sagee was a wet behind the ears audiophile he spent his days hanging around stereo shops. Today he is the president of the San Francisco Audiophile Society.

“At 20, I bought my first audiophile gear at HiFi Haven, a high-end audio dealer in my college neighborhood in New Jersey. This was definitely not a part of town you’d expect to find an expensive audio store. On its left was a raunchy strip club and on its right was Greasy Tony’s, purveyor of questionable cheese steaks to students, vagrants and felons alike. This infamous establishment was open all night, every night, and was staffed by the shadiest, crustiest characters you can imagine. While some of my friends frequented one or both of these paragons of local culture, I found more excitement wandering around expensive stereo systems. Names like Dahlquist, DCM Time Windows, Nakamichi, Linn and Mark Levinson populated my daydreams.

One day, as I was wandering through the store, a salesman named Peter Cuddy noticed the hungry look in my eyes as I ogled the gear on display. He seemed to enjoy my enthusiasm, and without any hesitation or pressure to buy anything, took it upon himself to teach me how to listen, not just hear.

At those fortunate times (for me, anyway) when the store wasn’t busy with actual paying customers, my new mentor taught me how to listen deeply into the music he selected, revealing to my attention new layers of nuance and subtlety that I completely missed before his instruction. Soon, I was beginning to discern not only whether the gear in question had the ability to place me in the recording venue and involve me emotionally in the musical event, but whether it could also reveal the intent of its composer and/or performer. Once again, I was completely enthralled by this new world that was unfolding before my ears.

Not long after he took me under his wing, Mr. Cuddy handed me a photocopied sheet that would serve as my main reference throughout my education. That single page of roughly typed but timeless questions cut through to the heart of what is meaningful to audiophiles.”

Alon sent me this document, entitled Developing Critical Listening Skills, and I thought it was valuable enough to offer it to you today. You can download a copy here.

I think it delivers a timeless lesson we all benefit from.