Do you remember mixtapes? Cassette tape copies of curated LP tracks.
Today we call them playlists.
Only, something’s lost. With mixtapes, one shared with a friend what was, in essence, a one of a kind handmade LP. That was pretty special.
Compare that to a modern playlist that can be shared via email, posted on the net, listened to by hundreds. Somehow, it doesn’t feel as personal.
As we move forward in time things change, often not always for the better. Different, yes.
Playlists are awesome and allow people all over the world to enjoy hand-curated music, but they are rarely one-of-a-kind and they can live forever.
Not so with physical media.
Over time, your copy of a cassette tape or a vinyl LP will become unique depending on the number of plays, how it is handled, how it was first created.
I am fine with the new but sometimes get a bit nostalgic for one-of-a-kind hand-crafted treasures.
They were personal.
I’m almost always listening to the entire whole, but every so often, something startles me and I then go micro. Either way, it is fun.
Our feelings towards music often depend in part on our view. Micro, or macro. Are we listening closely or from afar?
When we listen intently to our stereos we’re focused on the minutiae. Details are more important than the overall presentation: the scrape of a bow, the strike of a drum, or the sweetness of a reed.
Stepping back and broadening our view we can more easily hear the proverbial big picture. Instead of the sonic details, we might find ourselves engaged with the conductor’s performance or the orchestra’s overall tonal color.
I generally move from macro to micro, though I know plenty of people who do the opposite.
For me, if the big picture presentation fits, it’s valuable to dig deeper into the details. Others may want to have a closer look before zooming out.
Regardless of your listening style, it’s helpful to know you even have a style and then to be comfortable with it.
For the times we’re lucky enough to enjoy new musical treasures, it might be beneficial to note whether you’re in the micro or macro mode at the very point where enjoyment is at its peak.
That’s a good place to return to when the next opportunity arises.
What happened in our country to music and art?
How is it that in the wealthiest country in the world we cannot afford to include music and art education? Our schools are suffering massive budget cuts and the first expenses to be trimmed are arts and music. After all, it is reasoned, we don’t require knowledge of music to earn a living.
And while I am at it, how is it that as a nation we’re alright paying for 12 years of public education but add on another four and funding is off-limits?
Who drew that line?
100 years ago we were an agrarian society moving into the age of cities and factory jobs. 12 years of education was more than sufficient. One didn’t require a college education to drive a tractor or sit on an assembly line.
The society of 2020 is a far cry from that of 1920.
Perhaps it’s worth considering that as we move deeper into our technologically demanding society art and music become increasingly important as a means of maintaining our humanity.
As a country, we need 16 years of public education just to stay up with the rest of the world, but in the affording of that, we shouldn’t exclude the arts.
Music and art feed our humanity.
I don’t ever forget to breathe while listening to music through my stereo , but I do know what he’s saying….
Take our breath away
It doesn’t happen often but when it does it makes everything worthwhile.
Losing your breath.
Sometimes my connection to the music is so intimate, personal, emotional, that I stop breathing for fear I might break the spell.
“It took my breath away” is more than just a saying.
When the lights are low, the family’s gone to bed, the music starts to play, we can enter the zone.
Few pleasures in life are possible with the simple touch of a button on a remote.
Hitting the sweet spot. Being in the zone. The music’s alive.
It can take your breath away.
I’ve been having a blast learning and working with musicians, producers, and engineers at Octave Records. It’s fast paced: quick learning steps leading up the ladder to new understandings of more than just the subject at hand, especially as it relates to how we listen.
When you and I are playing music on our stereo systems we’re constantly evaluating the work of producers and recording engineers. Up until recently, the only control we had over how their efforts sounded involved only the playback chain.
Once you’re immersed in both the playback and recording an entirely new vista of comprehension opens up. If I hear something not quite right in Music Room 2 I can go into the mixing room and change it: depth, width, tonal balance, room size, etc.
There is much to think about with this new found control—questions that we have been asking ourselves for decades. How do we voice our electronics for the greatest number of our HiFi Family members becomes how do we voice our recordings for the greatest number of HiFi Family members? What’s right and what’s wrong? How does it honor the music? The musicians?
Fortunately, there is a common thread that we’re confident in. If it sounds great on our reference system it will sound great on the vast majority of our HiFi Family’s systems. That’s a wonderfully comforting thought—one we have verified time and again over the years with efforts like our Mountaintop DAC upgrades and how our products sound and perform in the field.
But this is new. The level of control when one starts at the microphone and gets to optimize the entire chain right up to the ear is startling, to say the least. Much more will come of this. We are just beginning to scratch the surface.
I predict our future holds not only lots of great recordings but discoveries and revelations on the playback side too.
The closer one gets to the source, the easier it will be to uncover the truth.
How attached are you to your stereo rig? So attached that you take everything on a very personal level? Detached enough to objectively work on improving its performance?
I find fascinating the art of detachment.
As an stereo engineer, I need to detach from the emotional aspects of the musical listening experience in order to objectively and dispassionately look at facts, measurements, and results.
As a listener, I need to reattach myself into the emotional beauty and connection music brings into our lives.
To successfully produce products worthy of your time and trust it’s necessary for us as engineers, designers, advisers, and craftspeople to commutate between attachment and detachment in service of honoring both the customer and the music.
As in most things the best happens when we do not go too far in any one direction, but rather stay focused on the road ahead.
An interesting bit of history. I know some audiophiles that could use one of these.
For years I have heard the term tin eared referring to someone without a lot of hearing acuity—the opposite of a golden eared listener. In fact, the dictionary defines tin ear (plural tin ears) (idiomatic) Insensitivity to and inability to appreciate the elements of performed music or the rhythm, elegance, or nuances of language. (idiomatic) Insensitivity to the nuances of the current situation or the subtleties of a craft; indifference to somebody else’s attitudes and moods.
Turns out that while this all may be true today, there’s a long ago history of that word. As early as the 17th century, hearing loss was helped by what was known as an ear trumpet.
The ear trumpet became increasingly popular so that by the late 1800s and early 1900s, tinsmiths were hammering out custom tin ear trumpets by the thousands.
And yes, you guessed it, people who used a tin ear trumpet became known as tin eared (I am sure not a very nice name).
So the next time someone refers to a tin eared listener, you’ll know where it came from.
If you want to hear how an high end audio system performs, really get a measure of what it’s capable of, then you probably should select some music that shows off its best qualities.
I certainly have my baker’s dozen I whip out to impress first-time listeners to the system: sure winners with great soundstage, proper tonality, and often impressive low end.
But then the real test comes in. For most experienced listeners, like Audiophiles, playing their favorite track of music on a new stereo system is the key to getting its measure. That’s why at trade shows so many audiophiles go from room to room hoping their discs will be played by the manufacturers. Many will not. From the manufacturer’s viewpoint, they are there to show off their system’s prowess to as many people as possible. Putting on someone’s unknown music has the potential of pleasing one at the risk of alienating many.
The way we handled these situations was to ask the person to wait for a brief lull in the crowds before we played their track. Sometimes we were rewarded with discovering great new music, but always, our visitors were rewarded with hearing a track they were familiar with.
It’s great to have your sonic spectaculars at the ready—and you should—but it’s also helpful for guests to hear what their favorites sound like on a new system.
In this way, we both benefit.
I’m often asked the same question: If the ultimate goal is to perfectly recreate what was on the recording, then why wouldn’t we be duplicating the monitoring systems in recording studios?
It’s a great logic puzzle because it seems so obvious. If we had what the recording engineer had then we’d hear what they hear.
Like so many puzzles were stumped because the question has a not so obvious flaw. As proposed there’s only one answer. Yes. If we stood in the same room with the same audio equipment then we would hear exactly the same thing. But here’s the rub. Unless we’re thinking about duplicating in its entirety a recording studio control room, and only listen to the very same track mastered in that very room, the argument begins to fall apart.
Our stereo systems have to accommodate all sorts of recordings and do so evenly without favor to one type or another. This is one of the reasons I have my list of tracks that vary in quality and content across a broad spectrum of music.
It’s a great question, but the answer reveals more than one might expect.
We are not trying to duplicate anything other than the sound of music.
PS Audio has a new product that will [probably prove to be an excellent value, although they don’t work through dealers any longer, so I have no way of knowing for sure.
In order to keep up with our engineering load of 8 major ongoing projects our Director, Barry Solway—an accomplished software engineer, project manager, and gifted author—has hired a few interns for the summer. Among them, his son Carl who just graduated engineering school.
Carl’s job is that of a software tester and, as such, his task is to dispassionately go through every feature and function a product might have to make sure it operates as expected. His first project was our new amplifier, Strata.
When it came time to test Strata’s high-resolution streaming functionality with services like Tidal and Qobuz young Carl got stuck. He removed his headphones, signaled for his father to come to his side, and, in an apparent state of disbelief, said, “Whatever this Stellar device is, it’s crazy! I am hearing things in my favorite music that I have never heard before. How is that possible?”
Carl’s job was not to listen or evaluate the quality of music through Strata. Yet despite his mandate to remain detached from the device under test, he couldn’t.
This once again goes back to my long-held theory that when we’re presented with something dramatically better than what we consider normal, we often wonder if perhaps magic might have just happened.
What better joys are there than uncovering unexpected magic?