Opening up

June 27, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

If we’re lucky, we learn something every day.

While auditioning with the artist a new set of Octave record mixes we asked them to tell us which of the two they preferred. On the first go-round, the two musicians shrugged and said they didn’t hear much in the way of differences.

Knowing they were not used to listening to a reference system like that in Music Room Two I let them settle in and relax. Before long, they were hearing all sorts of differences. And accurately identifying exactly what we had been working on.

What was interesting to me was to watch the time it took for them to relax enough in the new environment to be open to hearing differences.

Their ears and hearing were always the same, yet relaxed vs. uptight made all the difference in the world.

We are not machines.

Listening—really listening—is an emotional event.

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40 comments on “Opening up”

  1. Which may be why on some days, my system sounds pretty good and some days meh. Or maybe the hot weather is putting extra demand on and futzing up (a technical term) the power grid. Or maybe some combination of the two. Or something completely different. Neurology/biology is an enormous kludge, but it’s what we got. Electronics/physics (non-quantum) is at least consisitent.

    1. Glitchy ears?? 😉

      But seriously, the same happens to me;
      some days amazing audio & others..’meh’.
      It’s winter here & I definitely believe that
      colder air moves soundwaves faster.

      **Three days on**
      My thoughts are with the good people of Miami,
      Dade County, FL, & those suffering from the collapsed
      apartment building.

      1. Yes, it does. Other things being equal (which, of course, they never really are), lower the temperature and the air molecules are not bopping around (another technical term) quite so fast and snuggle in together a bit (awwww). Higher density generally equates with higher propagation rate of the sound pressure waves through the medium.

        And amen for the people affected by the Surfside , FL apartment building collapse. And the multitudes dealing with other sierra around the world (I could get specific, but this is not a social/political forum).

        Count your blessings.

        1. Okay, a little review of the Newton-Laplace equation (physics classes were so long ago) I had forgotten about the influence of adiabatic processes and heat capacity of gasses. I am too tired at this point to work this all out in detail, but yeah generally the speed of sound does increase with temperature. There is a detailed article on the subject in Wikipedia, if anyone is interested.

          Sorry for the misinformation Mr. Rat. The density thing works better for solids (physical geology/seismology, also long ago and not really used much in my line of work since then; I had more to do with fluid dynamics and aqueous chemistry.

          And so to bed.

  2. It would be interesting to play an unamplified musical instrument (guitar, cello, piano, drum kit) in Music Room Two & then hear the same passage played back through the ‘reference’ BHK/IRSV rig.

    ‘Opening up’ is a good way to describe the difference in sonic presentation & soundstaging between my Onkyo – ‘A9070’ & the recently acquired Musical Fidelity – ‘M6i’ 🙂

    1. Old Dog and Young Turk sound engineers walk into a recording venue and immediately get into an argument over which microphone to use and where to put it.

      1. kline42,
        Huh?!
        What chew talkin’ ’bout Roger (Willis)??!
        There’s no box with an X at the end of my post…only a ‘smiley face’
        Btw, don’t feel dumb, as I can’t explain it.
        Except, maybe…

        …apparently if you want an email alert to a reply to one of your
        comments on ‘Paul’s Posts’ you’re supposed to but an ‘x’ in
        the box, but even though I’ve done it about 7 times now I’m
        still not getting any notifications, so as far as I’m concerned
        it’s a load of BS.

    2. The same with me fellas. There are times my system sounds so good I never would think about changing a thing. Other times I’m scratching my head and saying what the hell happened. Must have been because my chair moved or the power company lowered it’s output. Maybe my ears need cleaning or the humidity is too high.

      1. One time I pushed back my TV closer to the wall after I brought it out and that dramatically improved the sound. My speakers are narrow and deep and are meant to be placed near a wall. They are deep enough to load the side firing woofer thats to the back of the speaker and still bring the front baffle out into the room for soundstaging but not as far out as most speakers need to be so its important not to have the TV parallel with the front baffle. The TV creates its own wall and an effect as if the drivers are right against the wall and that hurts the soundstaging.

  3. How much time had these musicians previously spent in recording studios mixing and editing? I’m sure professional recording engineers can hear every last detail on monitoring systems, after all it’s their job. It requires concentration, not emotion, although it may be emotional. I suspect to a professional engineer emotion may be more of a distraction.

    I tend to hear more at a live event because I am often more focused and there are no distractions. The music may not be relaxing at all. I suspect for most people music at home is more about relaxation and casual listening, for which the last detail is irrelevant.

    1. Steven, What do you think it takes to be a “professional recording engineer”? Do you think they have a bachelor’s degree in physics with an emphasis on acoustics? Do you think they were given a hearing acuity test before being hired? To the best of my knowledge, there are no professional requirements for people working in the “audio engineering” business.

      1. One of the guys my son lives with is a sound engineer working in theatres. He is a graduate in Digital Music and Sound, a well regarded specialist course at Brighton Uni, hence he got into the business soon after graduating. These courses are designed to give theoretical and practical experience so graduates are able to hit the ground running in the real world.

        If you want a career in the media or arts these days there are highly specific courses and most employers are looking for graduates.

  4. I think in all respect, this is the reason why tasks should be left to those with experience in them and there are enough stories from mastering engineers where it was hard work for them to avoid the worst from letting musicians decide about recording/mixing/mastering topics. It’s good what they listen for and they do it for good reason. Not sure if it’s beneficial to the music to make them listen for other characteristics, but it’s honorable. Ideally they should have reason to trust their staff for everything else than the musical content.

  5. When I first saw the title of today’s post, I thought that PS Audio was opening up for interested civilians to drop by your facility for a tour and short listening session.

  6. Every day when I listen to music I feel the same about my audo set, i.e. the soundquality is always excellent.
    Makes me wonder, am I even human… or a machine 🙁
    And NO, in colder air the soundwaves are NOT moving faster. On the contrary.

    1. jb4,
      Colder air is denser meaning there’s more air molecules packed in per cubic cm,
      therefore more contact to transfer sound energy…it’s called physics.

  7. Yes, the speed of sound is a function of air temperature. The higher the air temperature, the faster air molecules vibrate, increasing the speed with which sound energy travels through the air. The question is whether it’s audible if the sound energy is in the form of music.

  8. Were the differences the artists finally heard due to coaching or at the very least being being put on the right path? (Outside influence)

    I can’t remember a time where emotion is what I take away from listening. I’m not wired that way. The Enjoyment of the sound presentation and music is ‘wired in’. When I get in a ‘critical’ listening phase the enjoyment even wains. More time spent trying to figure out what’s wrong versus what’s correct.

    I don’t listen to music genres on the system that I don’t enjoy listening to thru a system. But will gladly listen to those genres in a live setting.

    Regarding the side discussion or listening in warm air or cold air…. That one’s easily resolved… dehumidify the room, with Air conditioning of course, and drop the temp as low it will go. In fact that could be the next audiophile craze… think of the business opportunity… an audiophile destination in Antarctica or in the Arctic….

  9. Fat Rat,
    Yes it’s called physics. Obviously you didn’t pay attention in high school.
    You are wrong.
    Just like me hrboucher did pay attention in high school.
    Don’t turn from a Fat Rat into a stubborn Rat. Just ask a (any) physicist.

      1. I do think it is important to point out that at 1000C we would all be vaporized and there would be no one to give a damn what the speed of sound is. 😀

    1. jb4,
      Yes, I was wrong.
      I do like to try & sneak a bit of BS in from time to time & see if I can get away with it 😉
      Good on you for pulling me up!

      What I actually meant to convey was that the music from my home audio rig sounds clearer & crisper (more punch) when the ambient temp is around 15degC, as opposed to 35degC.

      1. Let’s see it positive, you have 2 attentive readers. For lot of BS (I just cite), that’s not bad, more than many others of us can hope for 😉

      2. Ha Fat Rat, you’ve started something here, interesting stuff. I’ve not clicked the link but did a bit of my own research. Whilst sound travels FASTER in warm air it can travel FURTHER and CLEARER in cold air (think yodelling 😉 ) which was exactly your experience. So it would seem for the clearest sound we now need to be chilling our listening room. I’ll get my coat.

  10. Our world is so full of noise we can’t hear the Tiger in the woods. During the day I have to force myself to listen intently. My best listening sessions are between 3am-4am when all is quiet. So it is only natural in today’s world for a persons brain to adjust to intentional listening.

  11. I know quite a few musicians with hearing damage caused by years of live gigs, drummers especially.
    My wife who plays sax (tenor, alto or soprano) in a band pre covid often mentioned to me the excessive level of the trumpet next to her.
    Even with mixing sound levels set I wear some sound attenuation – once damaged it don’t come back!
    Not many musicians are into home systems that I know of.

  12. I knew a tv music director who controlled his sound at high levels. Which damaged his hearing.
    As a result his trebles were too high.

    What. Levels are used in the industry? Tony Faulkner English super ear for Hyperion etc mixes on Quad 63s at mid 80s SPL.

    Don’t some others play it really loud “to hear what is in the mix.”

        1. NO apologies needed. What’s interesting is that now one gets notified of every post from the time going forward from when the box is checked. Versus the old school way of replies to just the respondent post. Just means cleaning out the mailbox more often. 😀 ✌️

          That just means adjusting to the new way of doing things.

          1. Seems you have to check the box each day to receive notifications for that days topic rather than just the once like before which, thinking about the number of replies some posts elicit, I’d see as a good thing 🙂

  13. Absolutely agree with Paul. You gotta settle in. Brain burn in and even body burn in is very real.
    Get comfortable and have a peaceful environment to indulge and enjoy. I find there is no other way.

    1. “System hops” is a new term to me but I think it means home hifi meetings.
      Our Melbourne Audio Club with 100+ members has been going strong for 45 years. Mostly because of our many regular “hops.” Pop, Rock, Opera, Jazz, Classical plus DIY every month. Anyone can organize a meeting anyone can attend.
      ITS ABOUT THE MUSIC that keeps us vigorous.

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