How we listen

Most of us were brought up with music as a sort-of “soundtrack for our lives”–something that was on while we did other things. We might give it our full attention for a few moments or sing along during our favorite parts, but the concept of sitting completely still and giving attention to nothing other than what’s entering our ears for an extended period of time is a foreign concept to most of us.

Many years ago, before smart phones, the Internet, and cable TV, music playback was less ubiquitous and therefore more appreciated–even a luxury. Playback of recorded music was a special occasion; families and groups of friends would assemble around the record player and listen to entire album sides together without interruption. Odd as this seems in today’s multitasking culture, there are still some who regularly set aside time exclusively for listening to music.

There are many ways to enjoy music playback just like there are many different ways to appreciate most things in life. However, appreciation is almost always enhanced with greater attention. You may have discovered this with other interests like enjoying craft beer, fine wine, single malt scotch, gardening, photography, golf, video games, or just spending time with someone you love. Music is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget that this principle applies to enjoying music playback as well.

Deeply appreciating music playback does not require particularly great hearing. Just time and focused attention–being present for the event while limiting distractions. If it’s been a while since you’ve tried this, I encourage you to move your favorite chair to a spot that’s equidistant to your best pair of loudspeakers forming something close to an equilateral triangle. Adjust speakers and/or chair height so that your ears and the tweeters are the same distance from the floor, and toe-in the speakers until most vocals seem to come convincingly from a spot midway between the two speakers. Queue up an album you have not heard in a while and try to listen intently to it from start to finish with no interruptions. Chances are high that you’ll hear things in familiar music that you’ve never noticed before. You may even discover a new perspective on how we listen.

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Just another amateur audiophile