Learning to Be a Better Listener
I believe that learning to be a better listener can significantly enhance your overall enjoyment and appreciation of this hobby in the long run. Now I can’t claim to be great at this, as I’ve just relied on instinct so far. But as I get deeper into this hobby, I can’t help but wonder if I can use a more informed and organized approach to become a better listener (and get the most out of my money spent).
Like taking a class on music theory deepens your appreciation for great musicians or playing a few years of sport increases your awe of elite athletes, learning to spot and understand the nuances of sound can help you to better know and love your gear. Another way to put this is: how can I invest in myself to improve the enjoyment of this hobby?
In a way, it makes sense. It would be silly to spend thousands on pro sports gear and expect to perform like a pro right away. Similarly, despite the fact that audiophile performance is far more dependent on equipment, there is a significant aspect of personal input that’s largely ignored. I would like to explore this aspect together.
What is Better Listening?
I believe this to be the combined package of everything that an individual can influence in order to improve their enjoyment, independent of the gear, the music, and physical capabilities. Our gear is constrained largely by budget and availability. Music quality is largely up to the creators (and also your budget, though cheap / free high quality music is becoming more available). Physical capabilities are down to genetics and your past habits, both of which you can’t really change.
What we’re left with are those things that we can improve with care and effort. These include:
- Time management
- Improving the listening environment
- Maintaining ear health
- Learning to listen for details
- Studying excellently mixed / mastered music (even if it’s not your preferred genre)
The first 3 aspects have already been explored at length in various topic here. It’s the last 3 that I feel warrant more discussion. I’ll go into each of them below.
Learning to Listen for Details
Tell me if you’ve had this experience before. You put on your favorite gear and play that one song that blew you away yesterday, but find that it simply doesn’t sound the same. You swear you heard more yesterday, and after trying again and focusing real hard, you are again able to pick out those sweet details. Why? You were distracted the first time around.
If you haven’t already, check out Apollo Robbins’ “The Art of Misdirection” on TED. He brings up something very interesting there, which is the concept of limited attention. He likens our conscious mind to a security guard named Frank, who has a whole bunch of inputs coming in all at once. Now Frank can only pay attention to so much at a time, and when Frank focuses on a few things, he ignores the rest.
I think that when it comes to being an audiophile, training our inner Frank can be very fruitful. So how do we train Frank to be more present with the music? A lot of things can contribute, like environment, background noise, stress levels, diet, sleep, energy, and more. I believe that those known to have a “golden ear” have to some degree trained their inner Frank to listen to music a lot better.
Now what goes into this training is up for discussion. Meditation can help. Preparation and warmup can work too.
Question 1: If you have a golden ear, what do you do to improve your presence and awareness?
I also believe this plays a factor in those of us (like me) who can’t easily spot the difference between mp3 and lossless audio in ABX tests. Maybe we haven’t learned to listen to the right things and are distracted by the wrong things. It’s like playing “Where’s Waldo” or “Spot the Difference” with sound.
Question 2: Those of you who are very good at this – can you teach what to listen for in these exercises?
Studying Excellently Mixed / Mastered Music (and, by suggestion, live music!)
Just like film study for movie buffs, listening to exemplary audio with an informed ear can be a great training for audiophiles. This flows from the previous step.
This just comes down to a list of songs with some guidance on what to listen for. A GREAT example of this is The Ultimate Demonstration Disc on Spotify.
Question 3: Once you know what to listen for, which pieces of music can you use to train yourself? Please share your suggestions
Getting better happens with practice. So learning to be a better listener also improves with focused practice. This is another area where I hope the experts can share their wisdom.
Question 4: Do you routinely dedicate any time towards exercises to improve your listening? If so, please share your regimen and experience.
Can you Teach Better Listening?
Question 5: And lastly, if this can be learned, can it be taught? If so, how can we put together great training resources?
Benefits of Training Yourself
Ultimately, I feel that I am able to identify and appreciate a lot more today than I was able to last year. I enjoy more types of music, better appreciate the music I already love, know a lot more about good sound, and can share my enjoyment with others at a deeper level. I want this pattern to continue, both for myself and others.
I also think this helps your wallet a heck of a lot. If you can learn to get more out of the gear you have now, you won’t need to spend thousands to get that little bit more. And if you do end up spending thousands, you get a lot more value out of it by being a better listener.
I would really like to hear your thoughts on this aspect of “Audiophile Personal Training”, whether they are specific answers to the questions above or overall thoughts on the matter. I am especially keen to learn from those that have the access to and experience with TOTL gear, combined with excellent listening skills.