Listening to critics

June 11, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

We’re all a bit worried about being criticized.

What if those we respect don’t agree with us or have differing opinions?

What would happen if you played for someone your favorite track on your perfect setup and they were unimpressed? Or worse, pointed out problems?

We all love it when our friends and family swoon over what’s important to us.

And we all know and tell ourselves that at the end of the day it is us that we’re working to please. That the opinions of others don’t really have an impact on our decisions.

But we know that’s not true. Not really.

It’s kind of lonely being the only person that agrees with you.

Perhaps another way to think about the critics is to flip the whole idea on its head. That it is indeed we that we’re working to please first and, if we’re happy with the results, maybe our critics are focused on something different than we are. For example, I might be focused on the ecstasy of the high frequencies while another hones in on a small problem in the bass.

They aren’t focused on what you are.

Please yourself first. Then figure out what the differences are between you and your critics.

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29 comments on “Listening to critics”

  1. Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? Thus beauty of a sound system’s output is in the ear of the listener. Better try to come to more objective results by using test CDs with defined localization of voices and instruments for checking the ability of holographic imaging. Then compare the in-room frequency response and the data made by the manufacturer of the loudspeaker in an anechoic chamber thus seeing by comparison the room modes. A measurement takes just some seconds. Unless you haven’t made these basic task it makes no sense to start a more detailed and subjective analysis.

    1. Ha, I see a danger that such comment could turn this into another measurement vs subjective analysis thread 😉 But seriously, whilst I don’t doubt the logic and sentiment of taking in room measurements it did make me wonder how many here have the necessary equipment to do so? I know I don’t. Okay, there could be an app that does the job but I would have great reservations about the accuracy of measurements taken using the mic on my iPad.

      On second thoughts I’m not so sure about the logic of in room measurement. So you measure and find it some way off manufacturers spec. What can you do about it? Surely just better to juggle equipment positioning until you find the sound pleasing to your ear?

      1. Richtea,

        I for one invested in a usb measurement microphone and associated software. ( about $200 US or less). It helped with sub integration, and defining overall room characteristics and changes that can be made using diffusion and absorption. I don’t use it frequently but every so often (especially if something changes in the room or equipment wise) if nothing else it gives some more info to add to the “sound equation” besides just my ears.

      2. In the end it is all about where to invest your budget for getting a significant (!) and not only marginal improvement in sound quality. A „better“ DAC whose improvements are barely audible but ask 6 k$? Or a new amp which rarely will give audible improvements (My 20 years old amp hasn’t yet found a serious rival!). Or a new power cable costing 20 k$? I got most astonishing and the biggest improvements ever by taming the measured room modes (bass peaks) using the internal EQ of my preamp and by applying inter-speaker crosstalk cancellation. Just try it yourself. The only component in an audio chain which will always show huge differences in sound “quality” is the loudspeaker.

  2. Yes, but I’d mainly say:
    Always listen to different great systems, collect references, get aware of the strengths and weaknesses your setup has, get aware of what makes real differences (it might or might not be the tiny tweak you have in mind or the Mk 2 version of what you already have), don’t overly hype every status you reach, don’t cheat yourself…then you’ll not be surprised of valid and experienced critics…then you’ll agree with them.

  3. Critics and thus criticism are like The proverbial phrase concerning arseholes and opinions. Everybody does it and everybody has one.

    Respect is gained by the way the critic presents the criticism. It’s always good hear and ponder another point of view. You’ll know when the critic has some tact, or if they are just so pompous as to be totally arrogant. Those are the types I try to avoid, like CoViD.

    1. We were kids at the 45rack in SS KRESGE (to be Kmart) and i asked my big brother which 45 i should buy. He said GardenParty. So i got enough coins from my pocket and bought it. I’m pretty sure he was screwing with me and randomly picked something,but i listened and listened to it on the record player with a couple pennies taped to the tone arm.

  4. This is why I miss audio shows. It’s not easy to find someone in the neighborhood who has a system that you can compare to yours. Unfortunately since you can’t have audio shows outdoors, I doubt if I will be attending them anymore. 🙁

  5. I would much rather have someone be honest, and I never take anything said personal. I know if someone asks me what I think, they will always get my honest opinion. My best improvement was adding subwoofers, which was a result of someone telling me my system lacked bass. I thought I had good bass at the time. Several others had heard my system, and no one mentioned a lack of bass. However, now that I have properly tuned bass from two 15 inch stereo subs, there is no going back.

    I’m still amazed at how properly tuned bass impacts the entire audio picture. It’s like black levels in a projector, the entire picture (even white) benefits from it being deep black. The entire audio band (even the highest frequencies) are sonically impacted. Now a system lacking bass sounds washed out… almost unlistenable.

    1. Wholeheartedly agree about how subwoofers can have an impact across the whole frequency spectrum. I’ve no experience with a projector but can imagine how blacker blacks lead to whiter whites, it’s a contrast thing. Wonder if such a slogan would work in an advert for washing powder?

  6. A reviewer somewhere…London, I think….wrote that my playing was “parlor tricks”. Did it bother me? Nope. I laughed at the comment.
    I don’t get why anyone would care about someone’s opinion of their system. I really don’t.

    1. SG, I depends ( like most things in life ). If it was someone who mostly listens to music from his smart phone on earbuds I would be interested, but I mighty not take it too seriously. On the other hand, if it were Paul, or Alon Wolf, or Michael Fremer, or John Atkinson, or Anthony Cordesman I hang on every word they said. I certainly be very interested in the opinion of the people here.

  7. When I was a child & an adolescent I would be concerned
    about criticism, however as an adult criticism rarely worries me.
    I’ve learned to fight fire with fire.
    As far as critics go, I’d rather listen to some music than to
    what the critics have to say ✌

    1. Fighting fire with fire. One way. Some people prefer to fight the fire with cold water.
      What ever warms your cockles or floats your boat ✌️ 😀

      1. That’s what happens when you grow up in a tough environment.
        Certainly I would put out a fire with water, unless it’s an electrical fire.
        There’s relevant criticism & they there’s arrogant BS…I think that we
        both know who we’re talking about here 😉

  8. Ricky Nelson…
    likely the first manufactured talent. Many hundreds have followed.

    Just my opinion 😉

    PS. Those were the records my older sisters played.

    1. I think it was more a nurtured talent than a manufactured talent. His mother was a singer and his father was a musician and bandleader.

  9. Some advice from some famous people:

    “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” – Aristotle

    “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.” – Benjamin Franklin

    “I don’t take constructive criticism from people who have never constructed anything.” – Eric Thomas

    “When men speak ill of thee, live so as nobody may believe them.” – Plato

    “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.” – Bob Dylan

      1. That makes me think of When I Get to Heaven where John Prine said:
        I’m gonna open up a nightclub called “The Tree of Forgiveness”
        And forgive everybody ever done me any harm
        Well, I might even invite a few choice critics
        Those syphilitic parasitics
        Buy ’em a pint of Smithwicks
        And smother ’em with my charm!

  10. Hello everyone ,

    Looks like we have a combo of late nighters and early risers. Everyone hears different. The double edge sword. Resolving vs Musical. I have to say my system is not “High End” and not a lot of money invested. An AVR, another amp, preamp, tuner ( yes radio), turntable, dvd/sacd player and 3 pairs of speakers all bought second hand. But I Enjoy it. I think we all get to know the limit of our systems and know what music to play on which amp or speakers when we play a different variety of music. Do I continue to look at ways to improve it? you bet I do. I don’t have but a few friends that actually buy CDs and Vinyl anymore. Used of course. Alexa or Google players is good enough for most these days. I did buy my first SACD, Audiophile V from Octave. Don’t know what to do with the data disk. I would welcome constructive criticism, but for now the only critic that counts is mine. Oh yes, I don’t hear so well in left ear, especially when its ringing!! Enjoy the music…Enjoy another great day of listening….

  11. All critics speak only to their own preferences, seldom (never, in my experience, but one must allow for possibility) is a critic interested in knowing what the artist is trying to accomplish, providing notes of assistance. It is well written about criticism at Insight is what mentors and coaches are for, a critic is neither of these, but rather a parasitic performer using other people’s work as a foil.
    That said, critics can offer important perspective as long as the artist realizes that only a fool would try to please them.
    Two things to keep in mind:
    The artist cannot function in a vacuum; the artist must accept full responsibility for the outcome. In other words, what the artist offers the world is detached insight, a donation of self to others, a gift without strings attached.
    To allow criticism to hurt you or control you is to abandon the special self determination that makes one an artist, but to make art with a disregard for people is to structure mere propaganda. Betwixt the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, that’s the line you must walk, longing for appreciation but never expecting it, and never, ever succumbing to it. This is a dynamic dilemma that only the continual making of art can resolve.

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